Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/The silver cord - Part 38

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THE SILVER CORD.

BY SHIRLEY BROOKS.



CHAPTER LXXXVI.

When Mr. Berry left Mrs. Hawkesley, after the interview in which he had made his strange revelation, he went over to Canonbury Square, and sent in his name to her father.

Archibald Vernon was in his favourite position, on a sofa drawn so comfortably near the window as that the light fell full upon his newspaper, while the curtain shaded him from the glare. He was, of course, in a morning robe and slippers, and the air from the opened sash played pleasantly with his soft white hair—once or twice he had permitted himself the fancy that he was somewhat in a draught, but having deliberately balanced the comparative inconvenience of moving, and that of enduring the slight breeze, he had decided in favour of bearing the latter until some one else should come in and close the window for him. And he was deep in the long-winded sentences of a President’s Message.

Mr. Berry followed close upon the servant, and Mr. Vernon, though rather vexed at being interrupted so soon after breakfast, rose to receive him with the courtesy habitual to the man whom the world had used so ill.

“It is some years since we met, Mr. Vernon,” said Berry, “but I need not recall myself to your recollection.”

“My sojourn in Lipthwaite,” replied Mr. Vernon, smiling, “was so pleasant in many respects, that I am not likely to forget a Lipthwaite friend. Pray sit down.”

And being on his feet, Mr. Vernon availed himself of the opportunity of closing the window.

“Have you read the Message?” he asked, pointing to the “Times.” “It is singularly interesting.”

“What message?” replied Mr. Berry. “Some telegraph?”

“The President’s Message. We have been expecting it most anxiously for some days.”

“Not I. I really forget who is President, and I am sure I did not know that he was going to issue a message. I suppose that it is all moonshine and verbiage, as usual?”

“I see you retain your old Tory notions, Mr. Berry,” said Mr. Vernon. “We used to battle over them in Lipthwaite, you will remember. Do you recollect contending that the barren platitudes we call a speech from the throne were better than the well-reasoned and eloquent essay which a republican president addresses to the people?”

“I dare say that I did. I know that I should take the same side, if I cared enough about politics to discuss such matters now.”

“Now, my dear sir? Why, politics now have a commanding interest, a grand importance which they have never had before. Every event has its significance, and all events are tending to bring on a great and mighty change, a regeneration of mankind.”

“Mankind wants regenerating, badly enough, but I don’t suppose it will be done by Presidents’ Messages and newspaper gabble. However, if such things amuse you, you are right enough to look after them. I shall not interrupt your studies very long, but I shall be glad of a little conversation with you.”

“Nothing disagreeable, I hope,” said Mr. Vernon, with sincerity, and looking keenly at Mr. Berry.

“We are both of us too old to be afraid of disagreeable subjects,” said Berry, who was in no mood to make allowances for the selfishness of his companion.

“The less time we have before us, the more pleasantly we should try to occupy it,” said the other. “That is one of the pieces of wisdom which my white hairs have taught me. But, of course, if you feel that there is anything I ought to hear—though I would much rather it were put into writing—”

“I have been a lawyer, Mr. Vernon, and we write when we do not mean to come to the point. I shall not detain you long, and I cannot write what I wish to say.”

With a wistful look at the paper, which Mr. Vernon knew would be called for in less than an hour, he begged Mr. Berry to proceed.

“I shall make no apologies to you, Mr. Vernon,” said Berry, “for bringing a painful subject before you, for I am certain that as a father you will feel that none are needed.”

“Painful,” and “a father.” The first word was a good deal stronger than “disagreeable,” and the second called up a still more unpleasant train of recollections in the mind of Mr. Vernon. How he wished that he had gone out for the walk which he had always intended to take after his breakfast. But there he was, and there was no escape for him.

“None of my children ill?” he said.

“I suppose that, if so, it would hardly have been left to me to inform you.”

“Nay, I did not know. Canonbury is a good way from my daughter Beatrice’s, and Laura is still, I suppose, in some part of France. To tell you the truth, I do not see either of them quite so often as when we were all at Hermit Hut. But I am glad to hear you say that nothing is the matter.”

“I said nothing of the kind, Mr. Vernon,” said Berry, whose manner, formerly so genial, had become incisive and unpleasant. “Ill-health is not the worst thing that can come upon us.”

“In my mind, the very worst, except perhaps poverty. I hope that, as a professional man, you do not come to tell me of any pecuniary misfortune.”

And Archibald Vernon thought, uncomfortably, of the regularly paid rent for his very comfortable board and lodging, and that a quarter would be due in a short time.

“No, sir. But I come to tell you of something that should affect you more than either of the misfortunes which you have mentioned. When I have told you, I shall leave it to you to act as you may think your duty dictates.”

“To act” was another phrase that grated upon Vernon’s organisation, but he had sufficient reliance upon his own powers of self-conviction to assure himself that it must indeed be a powerful cause that should drive him to any action more distasteful than writing a letter, or perhaps entering a series of protests in his private diary. So he listened with the composure which we feel when we have our destiny in our own hands.

It must be allowed that the tone of his companion was not one calculated to overcome the passive resistance of Mr. Vernon.

“You are a thinking man, Mr. Vernon,” said Berry, almost sneeringly, “and, therefore, I address myself to your head, and not to your heart.”

The speech was abrupt and offensive, and Vernon felt it, and said with some dignity:

“You will deliver your business in your own way, Mr. Berry. I trust that it may be less disagreeable than the manner in which you seem inclined to open it.”

“I dare say that it will excuse any defect in manner, sir. I am too old to be very fastidious, and you are not, I take it, much my junior.”

“I am unaware that we are ever too old to be courteous, Mr. Berry.”

Mr. Berry looked at him for a moment, and might have intended to make a more harsh reply. But, after a pause, he said:

“Mr. Vernon, when you were in Lipthwaite, I had some opportunity of observing the mode in which you educated your children. I have a perfect recollection of having more than once made you aware that I did not think your system—if it deserved the name—was a proper one, or that it would be attended with happy results. I recollect, also, that though you were always prepared to debate the affairs of Europe, or of Madagascar, or any other place, with the utmost fulness, you showed a touchy impatience at hearing a word upon matters that really concerned you. On one occasion, the last, you met me with an answer that prevented my ever alluding to the topic again.”

“It is years ago, Mr. Berry, and I do not remember the circumstance, but it was not unnatural that I should decline the advice of a gentleman who had no kind of right to offer it.”

“I will not say that I had no kind of right, sir, for it happened that, at the time, I filled a public office in our town, and certain matters came under my knowledge, partly because of my filling that situation. But I used my own judgment, and I decided that I was not warranted in saying more to you than one acquaintance might say, in private friendship, to another. It might have been better had I been less scrupulous, but that consideration is now beside the question. Let me go on to say that subsequent circumstances seemed to show that you had been more fortunate than I thought you deserved to be. Each of your daughters married, and married well, and appeared to lead a happy life. There was, therefore, no more to be said.”

Mr. Vernon made no reply.

“I heartily wish,” continued Berry, “that it had never been my fortune to hear again of any of the ladies, except that they continued to be good wives to the husbands whom they had been so fortunate as to secure.”

“Mr. Berry,” said Vernon, reddening, “I do not sit here to listen to anything implying that any husband whom a daughter of mine could marry was not at least as much honoured in the marriage as she could be.”

“Those words and that look, Mr. Vernon, would well become a father who had fulfilled his duties to his children, instead of bringing them up with no care except what a day-school could afford, but from you they are simply vain and arrogant. Hear me out, sir. The politics of Europe, and of America,” he added with a glance at the paper, “have engrossed your attention so much, that you have not had enough time for so unimportant a question as the position of your own children. A stranger, therefore, has to call upon you, and inform you that of the three children whom you brought up so well, and whose alliance did so much honour to their husbands, one has disgraced her husband, and has fled from France to England to avoid his vengeance, and another has abandoned her home, and fled to Paris, and, as her husband has reason to believe, for the same cause that drove away her sister.”

Archibald Vernon, who, at the outset of this brutal speech, had gazed fiercely at Berry, and seemed but to await its close in order to lay a violent hand upon him, turned suddenly pale as the last sentences were uttered, bowed his head into his hands, and broke into weeping.

Mr. Berry looked on with a cold eye.

“I have seen a good deal of suffering in my time,” he said in an under-voice, and as he walked to the other end of the room, “but I never noticed that a man who cried suffered long.”

And he compared his watch with the clock upon the mantelpiece.

“You have no doubt as to what you are telling me, I am sure,” said Mr. Vernon, raising his head, and speaking in a voice of distress.

“I wish for their sakes, and for that of their sister, that I had any doubt,” said Berry, from the hearthrug.

“But—but,” said Archibald Vernon, rising, and approaching him, “you have not mentioned a name. Which—which—is it Mrs. Urquhart?” he added, in a troubled whisper.

“Mrs. Hawkesley is in her house, and doing her duty,” was Barry’s indirect reply.

It were harsh to say that a ray of comfort shot through the mind of the father at this assurance—yet it was Beatrice who had the charge and care of his welfare, and it was to her that he turned in any of his small and self-made troubles—let it be said only that the news that his eldest child had gone would have grieved him more deeply than the fate of the others.

“And such is destiny,” said Vernon, placing his handkerchief to his eyes, and returning to the couch, on which he threw himself in a despairing manner.

“Destiny!” repeated Berry, again glancing at his watch.

“I have nothing to reproach myself with, Mr. Berry,” said Vernon, rising again after some minutes, during which his companion watched him calmly, and without a single word or sign of sympathy. “I repeat that I have nothing to reproach myself with. I acted upon my own conviction that I was pursuing a right course, and if circumstances over which I have had no control have brought grief and sorrow, I can only mourn, but I have no right to condemn the system on which I proceeded. Still, it is sad—most sad.”

And again he covered his eyes with his hands.

“I will give him a quarter of an hour,” said Berry, “to convince himself that all is well.”

“Yes, Berry,” said Mr. Vernon, in a melancholy tone, “I am cut to the very soul, but I will not be untrue to my principles. Poor girls, poor girls. The fault is not with me. I am not responsible—deeply, profoundly as I feel the grief. You have differed from me, Berry, as to the mode in which children should be educated, but you will do me the justice to own that I adhered sedulously and conscientiously to my system. I held, and I hold still, that the heart of a child is the flower-garden which it is not for man to lay out according to his own presumptuous fancies—”

“But he should leave it to the devil to sow tares in,” said Berry, roughly.

“The devil,” said Vernon, raising his hand in deprecation of its being supposed that he believed in such a being, though he was then in too much distress to argue the question. “We have thought differently, my dear Berry, and your views now seem to be triumphant. Poor Laura, poor Bertha!”

“He is comforting, fast,” muttered Berry.

“I have not been to blame, I solemnly declare,” said Archibald Vernon. “I have sacrificed myself, indeed, and my opportunities, for my children. It was in compliance with the will of narrow-minded relatives, who meant, I am sure for the best, but who were bigoted beyond description, that I buried myself for years in Lipthwaite, where my talents were unavailable, and I could take no part in the great questions of the day. I went further, and if there be any blame attaching to me, it is in this, that I yielded to the will of those relatives, and for the sake of the comforts which their money gave to my dear ones, I permitted them to go to the school in your town. I might have done better to have kept them at home. Yet I am conscious that if I yielded, it was for their sakes, and that I never compromised my own belief that it is not for us to seek to form the natures and characters of one another. Had they not, dear things, gone to that school, they might have been saved from this grief and evil.”

And amid all his feeble folly, Vernon unwittingly spoke the truth in these last words.

“He is consoled,” said Berry, once more looking at his watch. “And it is under the time. So much for tears.”

“You bear this heavy blow well and manfully,” said Mr. Berry, “and I was right in saying that I would appeal to your head, not your heart.”

But either the tone, or some instinct of nature, made this speech unpleasing to Mr. Vernon, and he turned away in silence.

“I will waste little time on him,” said Mr. Berry, contemptuously.

He read the man, but it was in the coarse way, that takes no account of the foot-notes and marginal readings. Those who, early in our story, learned to know Vernon better, will perhaps have fuller knowledge of him. But that weak and superficial nature (inherited by his second child, Bertha, but in her case made painfully frivolous by the want of intellect, and made actively selfish by a feebler organisation than his own) was of the class which beyond most others excites the scorn and hate of a busy, practical mind. Judge Vernon by what we know of him, but do not judge Berry for knowing less.

“I have broken the news abruptly to you, Mr. Vernon,” he said, “for with such a story in one’s mouth, it is difficult to frame one’s lips to delicate language, and when one speaks to a man of resolution and character, the sooner one’s news is broken the better. But I beg your pardon if I have been hasty, and I will only say that if you knew what cause of sorrow I have in my own household, you would not be angry that I have few words to spare for the troubles of others.”

Mr. Vernon had waved his hand slightly as Mr. Berry began, but, as he concluded, Vernon came up to him, and placed his hand in Berry’s.

“You, too, are in affliction?”

“I have left a wife who is, I believe, dying.”

“Ah, my friend,” said Vernon, “I, too, have known that sorrow. But it came to me when such blows are bitterer.”

“I do not wish to speak of my own grief,” said Mr. Berry, “but you will remember it when you recall this conversation. But to return to your own family affairs.”

“I have heard enough for one sad day,” said Vernon, seating himself, with one hand on the end of the couch, and with his handkerchief shading his eyes.

“But you must hear me out, Mr. Vernon,” replied Berry, “for it is not probable that we shall meet again, and I have something to add.”

“You have no new sorrow to tell me—surely I have nothing to hear that will add to my sufferings?”

“You have asked me for no details, Mr. Vernon.”

“Nay, spare me those. I could not bear them. It is enough to know the terrible truth.”

“But you have imperfectly listened to what I said, or you would have been eagerly questioning me. I said that in the case of one unhappy person, there was—there were circumstances that would make any action on your part, or that of the family, worse than useless. But in the case of your youngest child you could not have heard me say that there is only a belief that she has forgotten her duty.”

“Did you say that? I was so stunned by the first intelligence that I did not catch your words. Pray—pray explain.”

“Without going into needless detail, accept this as a fact. Mrs. Lygon fled from her home, but it was partly to obtain the possession of certain letters, of which a dreadful use has been made. Mr. Hawkesley and Mr. Lygon are also in Paris, and they are endeavouring to get at those letters. If they or Mrs. Lygon obtain them, the first impulse will be to destroy them with all their foulness and treachery. If that be done, your child’s happiness is gone. Will you believe this from me?”

“Unquestionably. I have known you long and as a man of honour.”

“You believe this without asking more questions?”

“Fully.”

“And you love your child?”

“Love my own Laura!”

“And you have influence with her?’

“As much as a loving father can have. My youngest child, and perhaps my favourite, though dear Beatrice—”

“You have influence with Mrs. Lygon—pardon my abruptness.”

“I have indeed, I hope.”

“Then do not lose an hour, but go over to Paris as fast as possible, and see her, Lygon, and Hawkesley, and impress upon them with all the force in your possession that they must bring those letters to England. Do not wait to understand why—you will understand that too well when all is explained, but go at once—go by to-night’s train, and help to save your child.”

“By to-night’s train!” repeated Mr. Vernon, aghast.

“Yes, for a train lost may lose the object, and you will then repent the delay to the last hour of your life.”

“I am in no state to travel,” said Mr. Vernon, dropping each hand by his side, and looking exceedingly wretched. “Night travelling too. Besides,” he added, instinctively feeling that he needed some other justification, “I must see my daughter, Mrs. Hawkesley. I must consult and deliberate with her, and ascertain her convictions as to the propriety of this course.”

“I come direct from her, and she begs and implores that you will hurry off to Paris.”

This was said so emphatically, that Mr. Vernon received the announcement in helpless dismay.

“But Paris,” he stammered, “that is a wide direction—”

“The exact directions are written down on this paper.”

“This is most extraordinary. I really feel that I must have time for reflection.”

“You have said that you fully believe all I have told you, and that you have influence with Mrs. Lygon, and your daughter Beatrice urgently entreats you to go—you speak of self-sacrifice for the sake of your children, and I am sure that you will not hesitate when you see what vital interests are concerned.”

“I would do anything—that is—anything that is reasonable”—said the now thoroughly unhappy Vernon. “But surely a letter—if I were to write to her—it would arrive at the same time, and it would be kinder to her, and more delicate. It would be painful to her to meet her father’s eye under the circumstances, and clearly it seems to me that a strong letter—I will write it immediately—”

“It would not reach her, and all will be lost. You, on the contrary, will be with her in a few hours.”

“If there were no other difficulty,” said Mr. Vernon, “and I see many objections which must be removed before I admit that there is no other, the journey is a long one, and it so happens that—”

“There are twenty pounds, in sovereigns,” said Mr. Berry, placing a packet on the sofa beside Mr. Vernon. “You have only to call at this address for a pass, which will be given as a matter of course, and you have nearly all the day before you.”

“But my preparations,” said Vernon feebly, for he felt heartily ashamed of his attitude of resistance, and yet could by no means bring his mind to the idea that in a few hours from that time he should, of his own will, order a conveyance, and depart for France.

“Preparations—for a night’s journey? Take nothing, and get what you want in Paris. The train leaves London Bridge—there, I have written down the exact hour for you. I will say no more. If you go, you may save your daughter—if you do not, believe that it is destiny that has destroyed her, and see what kind of comfort that thought will be upon your death-bed. Do something to atone for the system of neglect that has brought about such misery.”

He went out as he spoke. And he had better have left the last words unspoken. For Archibald Vernon was ever one of those who think more of words than things, and who think last words of more significance than the first.

Vernon echoed that last sentence, and pondered upon it, and the longer he did so the more comfort it brought him in his present trouble. Not for the trouble, not the sorrow that the tidings of Berry had caused—for those he had an ample recognition, and they were to be considered and deplored in due course—but his own immediate exigency now demanded all his thought. Before Berry had left, Mr. Vernon had fully resolved that he would write, at all events, before thinking of moving—but how to justify this to himself? He had nearly succeeded, by dint of the hundred objections to action which ever spring to the aid of one who seeks them—when the charge of Beatrice, the direct, urgent charge of the daughter who chiefly ministered to his own comforts came upon him, and he had almost yielded to the belief that he should depart on the errand.

But Berry’s last words came to save him.

‘Atone for the system of neglect that has brought about such misery,” he repeated once more. “How dares he, how dares any man speak thus of the convictions of another? This man, of all, whose whole life has been given to the coarse and selfish prosecution of a pursuit for which there would actually be no place at all, were society what it should be. First, a hard and greedy lawyer, and then, when I knew him, the puppet-official of a miserable borough, a man who blustered at the poor, and fawned upon the rich, and made his gain by it, building himself a house, and buying the land of some client whom he had oppressed into selling it. That man dares to come to me, and in my own room to tell me that my system has brought my children to wrong. And am I to bow to his bidding, and hurry to Paris as if I were his clerk? No. I will not stoop to that humiliation; and dear Beatrice, though she may be angry at first, will own that I was right to vindicate myself. This money is, of course, hers, and I will return it the first time I can get over to Maida Hill. But I will write to Laura—and to make sure that she receives the letter, I will send a copy to Charles and to Arthur. That will be the most prompt and secure method of acting. Dear Beatrice wishes me to go, but her busy mind has not had time to comprehend the delicacy of Laura’s position. Beatrice does not, at the moment, see how painful it would be for Laura to meet my eye, but will feel this when I explain the reasons for my course. I will go over to her the first thing to-morrow—or rather, I will write and tell her what I have done, and ask her to come to me, and take away her money. That is clearly my course, and I regret that Berry left the house before I had time to announce to him what it should be. I will, however, write to him also, in a few days, perhaps when I receive a reply from Paris. A coarse, greedy, ignorant man—yet useful enough in his way, I doubt not. Poor Bertha, poor dear child. I should like to hear her own story of her life. When the fitting time comes, I will ask her to send it me—that vulgar lawyer has but one word for every shade of error, and who is he that he should judge a gentle, sensitive woman?”

Many more reflections of this kind occupied Archibald Vernon. Did he deceive himself, or did he endeavour to do so? One would not decide. But as the letters for France could not depart till the evening, a reader will scarcely be surprised at hearing that, after a sigh for the sad things that had come upon his family, Mr. Vernon read to the end of the American Message, or that the letters required too much consideration to be dispatched that day. What the father had been in his youth, he proved in his age.

Mr. Berry had no further business in London, and yet he seemed in no haste to leave it. He chose to walk from Canonbury to the city, although a young walker must have stepped out well to save the next train for Lipthwaite, and although there was not another until late in the day. Yet we have heard what he told Mrs. Hawkesley of one whom he had left at home—we have heard him repeat to Vernon that a dying wife lay there, and he had spoken the truth.

He went through the formality of entering the station, and of looking at the clock and time-bills, and seeing that he had missed the train. He then took careful note of the next departure, and went out. And the old man turned back into the old city, and wandered aimlessly through the narrow and quaintly-named streets and lanes, sometimes standing still with no apparent object, sometimes watching the sturdy labourers, as they loaded or unloaded carts, and sometimes following with his eye the slow ascent of huge sacks to the hooded doors of the warehouses—but Mr. Berry could have given but poor account why he had stood still, or what he had seen. But he wandered on, and twice crossed the river, by different bridges, and lingered so long upon the lonely arches of one of these that he became an object of interest to an officer on duty, who watched him so sedulously that even Berry himself became aware that he was dogged.

“You seem to know me,” he said at last to the policeman.

“Well, no, sir,” said the officer, whose shrewdness told him that the stranger was eminently respectable up to that moment, whatever might be his views for the future; “but don’t you find it rather hot, walking about here so long together?”

“It is hot, is it?” said Mr. Berry.

“I would not walk here, if I had no call to it,” replied the officer.

“Ah! if you had no call to it,” repeated Mr. Berry, mechanically. “Well, perhaps I have no call to it.”

“Then I would get in the shade, off the bridge, sir.”

“In the shade, off the bridge. I dare say that you are quite right. When you come off the bridge here is something to help to cool you.”

He put a shilling into the hand of the man, and walked away, but the present, though not unaccepted, did not prevent the officer from following pretty closely, as if to be ready should the suspected man take his advice, and suddenly place himself in the shade and off the bridge by a spring from the parapet. Once through the gate, and Berry’s life would be in charge of some other initial and number.

But Mr. Berry had no such thought as that which entered the mind of the officer, and he returned to Lipthwaite by the afternoon train.

Every one about the station knew him, and he imagined that more than one person who would, ordinarily, have addressed, or at least recognised him, seemed to keep out of his way. This idea took stronger possession of him when, in a street leading to the station, a gentleman with whom he was rather intimate crossed over, and thus avoided speech, although saluting Berry as they passed.

“It has happened,” he said, “and they don’t want to tell me.”

He walked out less rapidly in the direction of his house, with that strange sensation which we experience when making our way to a scene in which we are to meet a new expression on every face around us.

At the gate of his house was the carriage of the medical man who was in attendance on Mrs. Berry.

“Is he still here? I am too late—and too soon.”

But as he opened the gate, the doctor came from the house, and shook hands with him.

“Well, we are low, but not more so than yesterday,” said the medical man, in answer to Berry’s look. “There is great persistency, great persistency.”

Mr. Berry did not ask for an explanation of the word, but manifested evident relief.

“I had feared to hear a worse account,” he said. “My visit to town was on the most urgent business, as you may imagine.”

“Certainly, certainly. And this kind of thing may continue a long time, and yet may be abruptly terminated. There is no new symptom to-day. But I want to say a word to you,” he added, they being within hearing of his servant. “Just take a turn with me in the shrubbery. She is sleeping now, so that you could not go up. Just a word.”

 

CHAPTER LXXXVII.

The boat from Boulogne to Folkstone was loosed from her moorings, and was beginning her way between the piers of the harbour.

Laura was on board.

She had gone down into the cabin, from an instinct that made her avoid heedless observation, rather than with any view of concealment, and she designed to come on deck again as soon as the vessel should be well on her course. In her hand, from which it never seemed to part, was a large packet, carefully sealed, and directed, to provide against any possible accident, with the address of Mr. Hawkesley. But the care which Mrs. Lygon bestowed upon her charge seemed to render it in the highest degree improbable that it would escape from her keeping.

To the surprise of the few passengers below, the vessel suddenly slackened speed, which it did not resume.

Three or four hurried on deck, to ascertain the cause of the delay, but Mrs. Lygon remained below, almost alone.

She quietly waited the resumption of the voyage, attributing the delay to some casual obstruction, when the steward entered the cabin, and spoke to the only two persons who were in it, besides Mrs. Lygon. They looked a little surprised, but with much docility obeyed the man’s invitation to come out with him.

Laura was alone. The next moment there entered a tall gentleman in plain clothes, who advanced towards her, raised his hat, and in English, but with a slight accent, begged to know whether he had the honour of addressing Mrs. Lygon.

Somewhat tremulously, Laura replied in the affirmative.

“In that case, I have also the honour of bearing a message to Mrs. Lygon.” He handed to her a telegraphic dispatch. It was from Charles Hawkesley. And it said,

Have no hesitation in handing to the bearer what he will ask from you. It is absolutely necessary. Fear nothing.

“Does the message explain itself, Madame?”

“I know the name of Mr. Hawkesley,” replied Laura.

“He instructs me to ask you for a packet. By the description in the message to myself”—and he produced another paper—“I should judge that the packet beside Madame is the one in question.”

Laura’s treasure—her sheet anchor—her last hope! No. She steadily refused compliance, and the stranger, with slight attempt to change her resolve, bowed and departed. On went the vessel, and Laura held her treasure fast when she wistfully gazed on the white cliffs of England.