Archibald Floyd was very lonely at Felden Woods without his daughter. He took no pleasure in the long drawing-room, or the billiard-room and library, or the pleasant galleries, in which there were all manner of easy corners, with abutting bay-windows, damask-cushioned oaken benches, china vases as high as tables, all enlivened by the alternately sternly masculine and simperingly feminine faces of those ancestors whose painted representations the banker had bought in Wardour-street. (Indeed, I fear those Scottish warriors, those bewigged worthies of the Northern Circuit, those taper-waisted ladies with pointed stomachers, tucked-up petticoats, pannier hoops, and blue-ribbon bedizened crooks, had been painted to order, and that there were such items in the account of the Wardour-street rococo merchant as, “To one knight banneret, killed at Bosworth, £25 5s.") The old banker, I say, grew sadly weary of his gorgeous mansion, which was of little avail to him without Aurora.
People are not so very much happier for living in handsome houses, though it is generally considered such a delightful thing to occupy a mansion which would be large enough for a hospital, and take your simple meal at the end of a table long enough to accommodate a board of railway directors. Archibald Floyd could not sit beside both the fireplaces in his long drawing-room, and he felt strangely lonely looking from the easy-chair on the hearth-rug, through a vista of velvet-pile and satin-damask, walnut-wood, buhl, malachite, china, parian, crystal, and ormolu, at that solitary second hearth-rug and those empty easy-chairs. He shivered in his dreary grandeur. His five-and-forty by thirty feet of velvet-pile might have been a patch of yellow sand in the great Sahara for any pleasure he derived from its occupation. The billiard-room, perhaps, was worse; for the cues and balls were every one made precious by Aurora’s touch; and there was a great fine drawn seam upon the green cloth, which marked the spot where Miss Floyd had ripped it open what time she made her first juvenile essay at billiards.
The banker locked the doors of both these splendid apartments, and gave the keys to his housekeeper.
“Keep the rooms in order, Mrs. Richardson,” he said, “and keep them thoroughly aired; but I shall only use them when Mr. and Mrs. Mellish come to me.”
And, having shut up these haunted chambers, Mr. Floyd retired to that snug little study in which he kept his few relics of the sorrowful past.
It may be said that the Scottish banker was a very stupid old man, and that he might have invited the county families to his gorgeous mansion; that he might have summoned his nephews and their wives, with all grand-nephews and nieces appertaining, and might thus have made the place merry with the sound of fresh young voices, and the long corridors noisy with the patter of restless little feet. He might have lured literary and artistic celebrities to his lonely hearth-rug, and paraded the lions of the London season upon his velvet-pile. He might have entered the political arena, and have had himself nominated for Beckenham, Croydon, or West Wickham. He might have done almost anything; for he had very nearly as much money as Aladdin, and could have carried dishes of uncut diamonds to the father of any princess whom he might take it into his head to marry. He might have done almost anything, this ridiculous old banker; yet he did nothing but sit brooding over his lonely hearth — for he was old and feeble, and he sat by the fire even in the bright summer weather — thinking of the daughter who was far away.
He thanked God for her happy home, for her devoted husband, for her secure and honorable position; and he would have given the last drop of his blood to obtain for her these advantages; but he was, after all, only mortal, and he would rather have had her by his side.
Why did he not surround himself with society, as brisk Mrs. Alexander urged, when she found him looking pale and care-worn?
Why? Because society was not Aurora. Because all the brightest bon-mots of all the literary celebrities who have ever walked this earth seemed dull to him when compared with his daughter’s idlest babble. Literary lions! Political notabilities! Out upon them! When Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton and Mr. Charles Dickens should call in Mr. Makepeace Thackeray and Mr. Wilkie Collins to assist them in writing a work, in fifteen volumes or so, about Aurora, the banker would be ready to offer them a handsome sum for the copyright. Until then, he cared very little for the best book in Mr. Mudie’s collection. When the members of the Legislature should bring their political knowledge to bear upon Aurora, Mr. Archibald Floyd would be happy to listen to them. In the interim, he would have yawned in Lord Palmerston’s face, or turned his back upon Earl Russell.
The banker had been a kind uncle, a good master, a warm friend, and a generous patron; but he had never loved any creature except his wife Eliza and the daughter she had left to his care. Life is not long enough to hold many such attachments as these; and the people who love very intensely are apt to concentrate the full force of their affection upon one object. For twenty years this black-eyed girl had been the idol before which the old man had knelt; and now that the divinity is taken away from him, he falls prostrate and desolate before the empty shrine. Heaven knows how bitterly this beloved child had made him suffer, how deeply she had plunged the reckless dagger to the very core of his loving heart, and how freely, gladly, tearfully, and hopefully he had forgiven her. But she had never atoned for the past. It is poor consolation which Lady Macbeth gives to her remorseful husband when she tells him that “what’s done can not be undone;” but it is painfully and terribly true. Aurora could not restore the year which she had taken out of her father’s life, and which his anguish and despair had multiplied by ten. She could not restore the equal balance of the mind which had once experienced a shock so dreadful as to shatter its serenity, as we shatter the mechanism of a watch when we let it fall violently to the ground. The watchmaker patches up the damage, and gives us a new wheel here, and a spring there, and sets the hands going again, but they never go so smoothly as when the watch was fresh from the hands of the maker, and they are apt to stop suddenly with no shadow of warning. Aurora could not atone. Whatever the nature of that girlish error which made the mystery of her life, it was not to be undone. She could more easily have baled the ocean dry with a soup-ladle — and I dare say she would gladly have gone to work to spoon out the salt water if by so doing she could have undone that by-gone mischief. But she could not; she could not! Her tears, her penitence, her affection, her respect, her devotion could do much, but they could not do this.
The old banker invited Talbot Bulstrode and his young wife to make themselves at home at Felden, and drive down to the Woods as freely as if the place had been some country mansion of their own. They came sometimes, and Talbot entertained his great-uncle-in-law with the troubles of the Cornish miners, while Lucy sat listening to her husband’s talk with unmitigated reverence and delight. Archibald Floyd made his guests very welcome upon these occasions, and gave orders that the oldest and costliest wines in the cellar should be brought out for the captain’s entertainment; but sometimes, in the very middle of Talbot’s discourse upon political economy, the old man would sigh wearily, and look with a dimly-yearning gaze far away over the tree-tops in a northward direction, toward that distant Yorkshire household in which his daughter was the queen.
Perhaps Mr. Floyd had never quite forgiven Talbot Bulstrode for the breaking off of the match between him and Aurora. The banker had, certainly, of the two suitors, preferred John Mellish; but he would have considered it only correct if Captain Bulstrode had retired from the world upon the occasion of Aurora’s marriage, and broken his heart in foreign exile, rather than advertising his indifference by a union with poor little Lucy. Archibald looked wonderingly at his fairhaired niece as she sat before him in the deep bay-window, with the sunshine upon her amber tresses and the crisp folds of her peach-colored silk dress, looking for all the world like one of the painted heroines so dear to the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and marvelled how it was that Talbot could have come to admire her. She was very pretty, certainly, with pink cheeks, a white nose, and rose-colored nostrils, and a species of beauty which consists in very careful finishing-off and picking-out of the features; but oh, how tame, how cold, how weak, beside that Egyptian goddess, that Assyrian queen with the flashing eyes and the serpentine coils of purple-black hair!
Talbot Bulstrode was very calm, very quiet, but apparently sufficiently happy. I use that word “sufficiently” advisedly. It is a dangerous thing to be too happy. Your high-pressure happiness, your sixty-miles-an-hour enjoyment, is apt to burst up and come to a hard end. Better the quietest parliamentary train, which starts very early in the morning, and carries its passengers safe into the terminus when the shades of night come down, than that rabid, rushing express, which does the journey in a quarter of the time, but occasionally topples over a bank, or rides pickaback upon a luggage-train in its fiery impetuosity.
Talbot Bulstrode was substantially happier with Lucy than he ever could have been with Aurora. His fair young wife’s undemonstrative worship of him soothed and flattered him. Her gentle obedience, her entire concurrence in his every thought and whim, set his pride at rest. She was not eccentric, she was not impetuous. If he left her alone all day in the snug little house in Half-Moon street which he had furnished before his marriage, he had no fear of her calling for her horse and scampering away into Rotten Row, with not so much as a groom to attend upon her. She was not strong-minded. She could be happy without the society of Newfoundlands and Skye terriers. She did not prefer Landseer’s dog-pictures above all other examples of modern art. She might have walked down Regent street a hundred times without being once tempted to loiter upon the curb-stone and bargain with suspicious-looking merchants for a “noice leetle dawg.” She was altogether gentle and womanly, and Talbot had no fear to trust her to her own sweet will, and no need to impress upon her the necessity of lending her feeble little hands to the mighty task of sustaining the dignity of the Raleigh Bulstrodes.
She would cling to him sometimes half lovingly, half timidly, and, looking up with a pretty, deprecating smile into his coldly handsome face, ask him, falteringly, if he was really, REALLY happy.
“Yes, my darling girl,” the Cornish captain would answer, being very well accustomed to the question, “decidedly, very happy.”
His calm business- like tone would rather disappoint poor Lucy, and she would vaguely wish that her husband had been a little more like the heroes in the High-Church novels, and a little less devoted to Adam Smith, McCulloch, and the Cornish mines.
“But you don’t love me as you loved Aurora, Talbot?” (There were profane people who corrupted the captain’s Christian name into “Tal;” but Mrs. Bulstrode was not more likely to avail herself of that disrespectful abbreviation than she was to address her gracious sovereign as “Vic.") “But you don’t love me as you loved Aurora, Talbot, dear?” the pleasing voice would urge, so tenderly anxious to be contradicted.
“Not as I loved Aurora, perhaps, darling.”
“Not as much?”
“As much and better, my pet; with a more enduring and a wiser love.”
If this was a little bit of a fib when the captain first said it, is he to be utterly condemned for the falsehood? How could he resist the loving blue eyes so ready to fill with tears if he had answered coldly; the softly pensive voice, tremulous with emotion; the earnest face; the caressing hand laid so lightly upon his coat-collar? He must have been more than moral had he given any but loving answers to those loving questions. The day soon came when his answers were no longer tinged with so much as the shadow of falsehood. His little wife crept stealthily, almost imperceptibly into his heart; and if he remembered the fever-dream of the past, it was only to rejoice in the tranquil security of the present.
Talbot Bulstrode and his wife were staying at Felden Woods for a few days during the burning July weather, and sat down to dinner with Mr. Floyd upon the day succeeding the night of the storm. They were disturbed in the very midst of that dinner by the unexpected arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Mellish, who rattled up to the door in a hired vehicle, just as the second course was being placed upon the table.
Archibald Floyd recognized the first murmur of his daughter’s voice, and ran out into the hall to welcome her.
She showed no eagerness to throw herself into her father’s arms, but stood looking at John Mellish with a weary, absent expression, while the stalwart Yorkshireman allowed himself to be gradually disencumbered of a chaotic load of travelling-bags, sun-umbrellas, shawls, magazines, newspapers, and overcoats.
“My darling, my darling!” exclaimed the banker, “what a happy surprise, what an unexpected pleasure!”
She did not answer him, but, with her arms about his neck, looked mournfully into his face.
“She would come,” said Mr. John Mellish, addressing himself generally; “she would come. The doose knows why! But she said she must come, and what could I do but bring her? If she asked me to take her to the moon, what could I do but take her? But she would n’t bring any luggage to speak of, because we’re going back to-morrow.”
“Going back to-morrow!” repeated Mr. Floyd; “impossible.”
“Bless your heart!” cried John, “what’s impossible to Lolly? If she wanted to go to the moon, she’d go, don’t I tell you? She’d have a special engine, or a special balloon, or a special something or other, and she’d go. When we were in Paris she wanted to see the big fountains play, and she told me to write to the emperor and ask him to have them set going for her. She did, by Jove!”
Lucy Bulstrode came forward to bid her cousin welcome; but I fear that a sharp, jealous pang thrilled through that innocent heart at the thought that those fatal black eyes were again brought to bear upon Talbot’s life.
Mrs. Mellish put her arms about her cousin as tenderly as if she had been embracing a child.
“You here, dearest Lucy!” she said. “I am so very glad.”
“He loves me,” whispered little Mrs. Bulstrode, “and I never, never can tell you how good he is.”
“Of course not, my darling,” answered Aurora, drawing her cousin aside while Mr. Mellish shook hands with his father-in-law and Talbot Bulstrode. “He is the most glorious of princes, the most perfect of saints, is he not? and you worship him all day; you sing silent hymns in his praise, and perform high mass in his honor, and go about telling his virtues upon an imaginary rosary. Ah! Lucy, how many kinds of love there are; and who shall say which is the best or highest? I see plain, blundering John Mellish yonder with unprejudiced eyes; I know his every fault, I laugh at his every awkwardness. Yes, I laugh now, for he is dropping those things faster than the servants can pick them up.”
She stopped to point to poor John’s chaotic burden.
“I see all this as plainly as I see the deficiencies of the servant who stands behind my chair; and yet I love him with all my heart and soul, and I would not have one fault corrected, or one virtue exaggerated, for fear it should make him different to what he is.”
Lucy Bulstrode gave a little half-resigned sigh.
“What a blessing that my poor cousin is happy,” she thought; “and yet how can she be otherwise than miserable with that absurd John Mellish?”
What Lucy meant perhaps was this. How could Aurora be otherwise than wretched in the companionship of a gentleman who had neither a straight nose nor dark hair. Some women never outlive that school-girl infatuation for straight noses and dark hair. Some girls would have rejected Napoleon the Great because he was n’t “tall,” or would have turned up their noses at the author of Childe Harold if they had happened to see him in a stand-up collar. If Lord Byron had never turned down his collars, would his poetry have been as popular as it was. If Mr. Alfred Tennyson were to cut his hair, would that operation modify our opinion of The Queen of the May? Where does that marvellous power of association begin and end? Perhaps there may have been a reason for Aurora’s contentment with her commonplace prosaic husband. Perhaps she had learned at a very early period of her life that there are qualities even more valuable than exquisitely modelled features or clustering locks. Perhaps, having begun to be foolish very early, she had outstripped her contemporaries in the race, and had early learned to be wise.
Archibald Floyd led his daughter and her husband into the dining-room, and the dinner-party sat down against with the two unexpected guests, and the second course was served, and the lukewarm salmon brought in again for Mr. and Mrs. Mellish.
Aurora sat in her old place on her father’s right hand. In the old girlish days Miss Floyd had never occupied the bottom of the table, but had loved best to sit close to that foolishly doting parent, pouring out his wine for him in defiance of the servants, and doing other loving offices which were deliciously inconvenient to the old man.
To-day Aurora seemed especially affectionate. That fondly clinging manner had all its ancient charm to the banker. He put down his glass with a tremulous hand to gaze at his darling child, and was dazzled with her beauty, and drunken with the happiness of having her near him.
“But, my darling,” he said, by and by, “what do you mean by talking about going back to Yorkshire to-morrow?”
“Nothing, papa, except that I must go,” answered Mrs. Mellish, determinedly.
“But why come, dear, if you could only stop one night?”
“Because I wanted to see you, dearest father, and to talk to you about — about money matters.”
“That’s it,” exclaimed John Mellish, with his mouth half full of salmon and lobster-sauce. “That’s it! Money matters! That’s all I can get out of her. She goes out late last night, and roams about the garden, and comes in wet through and through, and say she must come to London about money matters. What should she want with money matters? If she wants money, she can have as much as she wants. She shall write the figures, and I’ll sign the check; or she shall have a dozen blank checks to fill in just as she pleases. What is there upon this earth that I’d refuse her? If she dipped a little too deep, and put more money than she could afford upon the bay filly, why does n’t she come to me, instead of bothering you about money matters? You know I said so in the train, Aurora, ever so many times. Why bother your poor papa about it?”
The poor papa looked wonderingly from his daughter to his daughter’s husband. What did it all mean? Trouble, vexation, weariness of spirit, humiliation, disgrace?
Ah! Heaven help that enfeebled mind whose strength has been shattered by one great shock. Archibald Floyd dreaded the token of a coming storm in every chance cloud on the summer’s sky.
“Perhaps I may prefer to spend my own money, Mr. John Mellish,” answered Aurora, “and pay any foolish bets I have chosen to make out of my own purse, without being under an obligation to any one.”
Mr. Mellish returned to his salmon in silence.
“There is no occasion for a great mystery, papa,” resumed Aurora; “I want some money for a particular purpose, and I have come to consult with you about my affairs. There is nothing very extraordinary in that, I suppose?”
Mrs. John Mellish tossed her head, and flung this sentence at the assembly as if it had been a challenge. Her manner was so defiant that even Talbot and Lucy felt called upon to respond with a gentle dissenting murmur.
“No, no, of course not; nothing more natural,” muttered the captain; but he was thinking all the time, “Thank God I married the other one.”
After dinner the little party strolled out of the drawing-room windows on to the lawn, and away toward that iron bridge upon which Aurora had stood, with her dog by her side, less than two years ago, on the occasion of Talbot Bulstrode’s second visit to Felden Woods. Lingering upon that bridge on this tranquil summer’s evening, what could the captain do but think of that September day, barely two years agone? Barely two years! not two years! And how much had been done, and thought, and suffered since! How contemptible was the narrow space of time! yet what terrible eternities of anguish, what centuries of heart-break, had been compressed into that pitiful sum of days and weeks! When the fraudulent partner in some house of business puts the money which is not his own upon a Derby favorite, and goes home at night a loser, it is strangely difficult for that wretched defaulter to believe that it is not twelve hours since he travelled the road to Epsom confident of success, and calculating how he should invest his winnings. Talbot Bulstrode was very silent, thinking of the influence which this family of Felden Woods had had upon his destiny. His little Lucy saw that silence and thoughtfulness, and, stealing softly to her husband, linked her arm in his. She had a right to do it now — yes, to pass her little soft white hand under his coat sleeve, and even look up, almost boldly, in his face.
“Do you remember when you first came to Felden, and we stood upon this very bridge?” she asked; for she too had been thinking of that far-away time in the bright September of ‘57. “Do you remember, Talbot, dear?”
She had drawn him away from the banker and his children in order to ask this all-important question.
“Yes, perfectly, darling. As well as I remember your graceful figure seated at the piano in the long drawing-room, with the sunshine on your hair.”
“You remember that! you remember me!“ exclaimed Lucy, rapturously.
“Very well, indeed.”
“But I thought — that is, I know — that you were in love with Aurora then.”
“I think not.”
“You only think not.”
“How can I tell!” cried Talbot. “I freely confess that my first recollection connected with this place is of a gorgeous black-eyed creature, with scarlet in her hair; and I can no more disassociate her image from Felden Woods than I can, with my bare right hand, pluck up the trees which give the place its name. But if you entertain one distrustful thought of that pale shadow of the past, you do yourself and me a grievous wrong. I made a mistake, Lucy; but, thank Heaven, I saw it in time.”
It is to be observed that Captain Bulstrode was always peculiarly demonstrative in his gratitude to Providence for his escape from the bonds which were to have united him to Aurora. He also made a great point of the benign compassion in which he heldJohn Mellish. But, in despite of this, he was apt to be rather captious and quarrelsomely disposed toward the Yorkshireman; and I doubt if John’s little stupidities and weaknesses were, on the whole, very displeasing to him. There are some wounds which never heal. The jagged flesh may reunite; cooling medicines may subdue the inflammation; even the scar left by the dagger-thrust may wear away, until it disappears in that gradual transformation which every atom of us is supposed by physiologists to undergo; but the wound has been, and to the last hour of our lives there are unfavorable winds which can make us wince with the old pain.
Aurora treated her cousin’s husband with the calm cordiality which she might have felt for a brother. She bore no grudge against him for the old desertion, for she was happy with her husband — happy with the man who loved and believed in her, surviving every trial of his simple faith. Mrs. Mellish and Lucy wandered among the flower-beds by the waterside, leaving the gentlemen on the bridge.
“So you are very, very happy, my Lucy?” said Aurora.
“Oh, yes, yes, dear. How could I be otherwise. Talbot is so good to me. I know, of course, that he loved you first, and that he does n’t love me quite — in the same way, you know — perhaps, in fact — not as much.” Lucy Bulstrode was never tired of harping on this unfortunate minor string. “But I am very happy. You must come and see us, Aurora, dear. Our house is so pretty!”
Mrs. Bulstrode hereupon entered into a detailed description of the furniture and decorations in Half-Moon street, which is perhaps scarcely worthy of record. Aurora listened rather absently to the long catalogue of upholstery, and yawned several times before her cousin had finished.
“It’s a very pretty house, I dare say, Lucy,” she said at last, “and John and I will be very glad to come and see you some day. I wonder, Lucy, if I were to come in any trouble or disgrace to your door, whether you would turn me away?”
“Trouble! disgrace!” repeated Lucy, looking frightened.
“You would n’t turn me away, Lucy, would you? No; I know you better than that. You’d let me in secretly, and hide me away in one of the servants’ bedrooms, and bring me food by stealth, for fear the captain should discover the forbidden guest beneath his roof. You’d serve two masters, Lucy, in fear and trembling.”
Before Mrs. Bulstrode could make any answer to this extraordinary speech, the approach of the gentlemen interrupted the feminine conference.
It was scarcely a lively evening, this July sunset at Felden Woods. Archibald Floyd’s gladness in his daughter’s presence was something damped by the peculiarity of her visit; John Mellish had some shadowy remnants of the previous night’s disquietude hanging about him; Talbot Bulstrode was thoughtful and moody; and poor little Lucy was tortured by vague fears of her brilliant cousin’s influence. I don’t suppose that any member of that “attenuated” assembly felt very much regret when the great clock in the stable-yard struck eleven, and the jingling bedroom candlesticks were brought into the room.
Talbot and his wife were the first to say good-night. Aurora lingered at her father’s side, and John Mellish looked doubtfully at his dashing white sergeant, waiting to receive the word of command.
“You may go, John,” she said; “I want to speak to papa.”
“But I can wait, Lolly.”
“On no account,” answered Mrs. Mellish, sharply. “I am going into papa’s study to have a quiet confabulation with him. What end would be gained by your waiting? you’ve been yawning in our faces all the evening. You’re tired to death, I know, John; so go at once, my precious pet, and leave papa and me to discuss our money matters.” She pouted her rosy lips, and stood upon tiptoe, while the big Yorkshireman kissed her.
“How you do henpeck me, Lolly!” he said, rather sheepishly. “Good-night, sir. God bless you! Take care of my darling.”
He shook hands with Mr. Floyd, parting from him with that half-affectionate, half-reverent manner which he always displayed to Aurora’s father. Mrs. Mellish stood for some moments silent and motionless, looking after her husband, while her father, watching her looks, tried to read their meaning.
How quiet are the tragedies of real life! That dreadful scene between the Moor and his Ancient takes place in the open street of Cyprus. According to modern usage, I can not fancy Othello and Iago debating about poor Desdemona’s honesty in St. Paul’s churchyard, or even in the market-place of a country town; but perhaps the Cyprus street was a dull one, a cul-de-sac, it may be, or at least a deserted thoroughfare, something like that in which Monsieur Melnotte falls upon the shoulder of General Damas and sobs out his lamentations. But our modern tragedies seem to occur in-doors, and in places where we should least look for scenes of horror. Even while I write this the London flaneursare staring all agape at a shop-window in a crowded street as if every pitiful feather, every poor shred of ribbon in that milliner’s window had a mystical association with the terrors of a room up stairs. But to the ignorant passers-by how commonplace the spot must seem; how remote in its every-day associations from the terrors of life’s tragedy!
Any chance traveller driving from Beckenham to West Wickham would have looked, perhaps enviously, at the Felden mansion, and sighed to be lord of that fair expanse of park and garden; yet I doubt if in the county of Kent there was any creature more disturbed in mind than Archibald Floyd, the banker. Those few moments during which Aurora stood in thoughtful silence were as so many hours to his anxious mind. At last she spoke.
“Will you come to the study, papa?” she said; “this room is so big, and so dimly lighted, I always fancy there are listeners in the corners.”
She did not wait for an answer, but led the way to a room upon the other side of the hall — the room in which she and her father had been so long closeted together upon the night before her departure for Paris. The crayon portrait of Eliza Floyd looked down upon Archibald and his daughter. The face wore so bright and genial a smile that it was difficult to believe it was the face of the dead.
The banker was the first to speak.
“My darling girl,” he said, “what is it you want of me?”
“Money, papa. Two thousand pounds.”
She checked his gesture of surprise, and resumed before he could interrupt her:
“The money you settled upon me on my marriage with John Mellish is invested in our own bank, I know. I know, too, that I can draw upon my account when and how I please; but I thought that if I wrote a check for two thousand pounds the unusual amount might attract attention, and it might possibly fall into your hands. Had this occurred, you would perhaps have been alarmed, at any rate astonished. I thought it best, therefore, to come to you myself and ask you for the money, especially as I must have it in notes.”
Archibald Floyd grew very pale. He had been standing while Aurora spoke, but as she finished he dropped into a chair near his little office-table, and, resting his elbow upon an open desk, leaned his head on his hand.
“What do you want the money for, my dear?” he asked, gravely.
“Never mind what, papa. It is my own money, is it not, and I may spend it as I please?”
“Certainly, my dear, certainly,” he answered, with some slight hesitation. “You shall spend whatever you please. I am rich enough to indulge any whim of yours, however foolish, however extravagant. But your marriage settlement was rather intended for the benefit of your children — than — than for — anything of this kind, and I scarcely know if you are justified in touching it without your husband’s permission, especially as your pin-money is really large enough to enable you to gratify any reasonable wish.”
The old man pushed his gray hair away from his forehead with a weary action and a tremulous hand. Heaven knows that even in that desperate moment Aurora took notice of the feeble hand and the whitening hair.
“Give me the money, then, papa,” she said. “Give it me from your own purse. You are rich enough to do that.”
“Rich enough! Yes, if it were twenty times the sum,” answered the banker, slowly. Then, with a sudden burst of passion, he exclaimed, “Oh, Aurora, Aurora, why do you treat me so badly? Have I been so cruel a father that you can’t confide in me. Aurora, why do you want this money?”
She clasped her hands tightly together, and stood looking at him for a few moments irresolutely.
“I can not tell you,” she said, with grave determination. “If I were to tell you — what — what I think of doing, you might thwart me in my purpose. Father! father!” she cried, with a sudden change in her voice and manner, “I am hemmed in on every side by difficulty and danger, and there is only one way of escape — except death. Unless I take that one way, I must die. I am very young — too young and happy, perhaps, to die willingly. Give me the means of escape.”
“You mean this sum of money?”
“You have been pestered by some connection — some old associate of — his?”
“I can not tell you.”
They were silent for some moments. Archibald Floyd looked imploringly at his child, but she did not answer that earnest gaze. She stood before him with a proudly downcast look; the eyelids drooping over the dark eyes, not in shame, not in humiliation, only in the stern determination to avoid being subdued by the sight of her father’s distress.
“Aurora,” he said at last, “why not take the wisest and the safest step? Why not tell John Mellish the truth? The danger would disappear; the difficulty would be overcome. If you are persecuted by this low rabble, who so fit as he to act for you? Tell him, Aurora — tell him all!”
“No, no, no!”
She lifted her hands, and clasped them upon her pale face.
“No, no; not for all this wide world!” she cried.
“Aurora,” said Archibald Floyd, with a gathering sternness upon his face, which overspread the old man’s benevolent countenance like some dark cloud, “Aurora — God forgive me for saying such words to my own child — but I must insist upon your telling me that this is no new infatuation, no new madness, which leads you to —” He was unable to finish his sentence.
Mrs. Mellish dropped her hands from before her face, and looked at him with her eyes flashing fire, and her cheeks in a crimson blaze.
“Father,” she cried, “how dare you ask me such a question? New infatuation! New madness! Have I suffered so little, do you think, from the folly of my youth? Have I paid so small a price for the mistake of my girlhood that you should have cause to say these words to me to-night? Do I come of so bad a race,” she said, pointing indignantly to her mother’s portrait, “that you should think so vilely of me? Do I—”
Her tragical appeal was rising to its climax, when she dropped suddenly at her father’s feet, and burst into a tempest of sobs.
“Papa, papa, pity me,” she cried, “pity me!”
He raised her in his arms, and drew her to him, and comforted her, as he had comforted her for the loss of a Scotch terrier-pup twelve years before, when she was small enough to sit on his knee, and nestle her head in his waistcoat.
“Pity you, my dear!” he said. “What is there I would not do for you to save you one moment’s sorrow? If my worthless life could help you; if —”
“You will give me the money, papa?” she asked, looking up at him half coaxingly through her tears.
“Yes, my darling, to-morrow morning.”
“In any manner you please. But, Aurora, why see these people? Why listen to their disgraceful demands? Why not tell the truth?”
“Ah! why, indeed!” she said, thoughtfully. “Ask me no questions, dear papa, but let me have the money to-morrow, and I promise you that this shall be the very last you hear of my old troubles.”
She made this promise with such perfect confidence that her father was inspired with a faint ray of hope.
“Come, darling papa,” she said, “your room is near mine; let us go up stairs together.”
She entwined her arms in his, and led him up the broad staircase, only parting from him at the door of his room.
Mr. Floyd summoned his daughter into the study early the next morning, while Talbot Bulstrode was opening his letters, and Lucy strolling up and down the terrace with John Mellish.
“I have telegraphed for the money, my darling,” the banker said. “One of the clerks will be here with it by the time we have finished breakfast.”
Mr. Floyd was right. A card inscribed with the name of a Mr. George Martin was brought to him during breakfast.
“Mr. Martin will be good enough to wait in my study,” he said.
Aurora and her father found the clerk seated at the open window, looking admiringly through festoons of foliage, which clustered round the frame of the lattice, into the richly-cultivated garden. Felden Woods was a sacred spot in the eyes of the junior clerks in Lombard street, and a drive to Beckenham in a Hansom cab on a fine summer’s morning, to say nothing of such chance refreshment as pound-cake and old Madeira, or cold fowl and Scotch ale, was considered no small treat.
Mr. George Martin, who was laboring under the temporary affliction of being only nineteen years of age, rose in a confused flutter of respect and surprise, and blushed very violently at sight of Mrs. Mellish.
Aurora responded to his reverential salute with such a pleasant nod as she might have bestowed upon the younger dogs in the stable-yard, and seated herself opposite to him at the little table by the window. It was such an excruciatingly narrow table that Aurora’s muslin dress rustled against the drab trowsers of the junior clerk as Mrs. Mellish sat down.
The young man unlocked a little morocco pouch which he wore suspended from a strap across his shoulder, and produced a roll of crisp notes; so crisp, so white and new, that, in their unsullied freshness, they looked more like notes on the Bank of Elegance than the circulating medium of this busy, money-making nation.
“I have brought the cash for which you telegraphed, sir,” said the clerk.
“Very good, Mr. Martin,” answered the banker. “Here is my check ready written for you. The notes are —”
“Twenty fifties, twenty-five twenties, fifty tens,” the clerk said, glibly.
Mr. Floyd took the little bundle of tissue-paper, and counted the notes with the professional rapidity which he still retained.
“Quite correct,” he said, ringing the bell, which was speedily answered by a simpering footman. “Give this gentleman some lunch. You will find the Madeira very good,” he added, kindly, turning to the blushing junior; “it’s a wine that is dying out, and by the time you’re my age, Mr. Martin, you won’t be able to get such a glass as I can offer you to-day. Good-morning.”
Mr. George Martin clutched his hat nervously from the empty chair on which he had placed it, knocked down a heap of papers with his elbow, bowed, blushed, and stumbled out of the room, under convoy of the simpering footman, who nourished a profound contempt for the young men from the h’office.
“Now, my darling,” said Mr. Floyd, “here is the money. Though, mind, I protest against —”
“No, no, papa, not a word,” she interrupted; “I thought that was all settled last night.”
He sighed, with the same weary sigh as on the night before, and, seating himself at his desk, dipped a pen into the ink.
“What are you going to do, papa?”
“I’m only going to take the numbers of the notes.”
“There is no occasion.”
“There is always occasion to be business-like,” said the old man, firmly, as he checked the numbers of the notes one by one upon a sheet of paper with rapid precision.
Aurora paced up and down the room impatiently while this operation was going forward.
“How difficult it has been to me to get this money!” she exclaimed. “If I had been the wife and daughter of two of the poorest men in Christendom, I could scarcely have had more trouble about this two thousand pounds. And now you keep me here while you number the notes, not one of which is likely to be exchanged in this country.”
“I learned to be business-like when I was very young, Aurora,” answered Mr. Floyd, “and I have never been able to forget my old habits.”
He completed his task in defiance of his daughter’s impatience, and handed her the packet of notes when he had done.
“I will keep the list of numbers, my dear,” he said. “If I were to give it to you, you would most likely lose it.”
He folded the sheet of paper, and put it in a drawer of his desk.
“Twenty years hence, Aurora,” he said, “should I live so long, I should be able to produce this paper, if it were wanted.”
“Which it never will be, you dear methodical papa,” answered Aurora. “My troubles are ended now. Yes,” she added, in a graver tone, “I pray God that my troubles may be ended now.”
She encircled her arms about her father’s neck, and kissed him tenderly.
“I must leave you, dearest, to-day,” she said; “you must not ask me why — you must ask me nothing. You must only love and trust me — as my poor John trusts me — faithfully, hopefully, through everything.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:47