Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/The silver cord - Part 41

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THE SILVER CORD.

BY SHIRLEY BROOKS.



CHAPTER XCII.

What else passed between the two women in that chamber of death needs not now be told.

The sisters returned to London.

“You will write to Paris to-night?” said Mrs. Hawkesley, and they were almost the only words which she had spoken to her sister.

“Yes, I will write,” said Laura, slowly, and as if the resolution was but half formed.

But it was needless, for, before the evening, Mr. Hawkesley arrived, with Arthur Lygon.

 

 

That evening Ernest Adair also met an acquaintance whom he had not expected to see again so soon—if ever.

He had lost no time in obeying the orders of M. Wolowski, had engaged a small room in one of the obscure streets between the Regent’s Park and the great thoroughfare which lies to the west, and giving the people of the house an impression that he was a theatrical artist, and that his visitors would be connected with some place of amusement—thereby taking a character which, if the owner be tolerably solvent, is exceedingly popular among the lower class of lodging-house keepers—Adair, too restless to remain at home, made his way, and it was a long one, to the eastern side of the city. There he lingered, tolerably certain to meet no friends in the strange, bustling population of that district. About the wide, old, squalid, yet prosperous quarter, Ernest Adair wandered, and sought to interest himself in its noisy and multifarious commerce, in its open-air banqueting, and in its frequent quarrels, which the large infusion of a sailor-constituency somewhat relieved from mere ruffianism, and rendered a matter of course, amid the revelling, fiddling, and unceremonious love-making with which our sea labourers beguile their leisure ashore. Adair had stopped, and been hemmed in by an unsavoury crowd that promptly gathered to behold a savage conflict between two fine-looking men who had, five minutes before, been affectionately forcing their money upon one another, but whom the demonstrative coquetry of a Cynthia of the minute had roused into jealous and vindictive rage. The fight was at its fiercest, and Adair was so far interested as to struggle for his place in the front, when a voice behind him said,

“Bah! that’s child’s play; you cannot care for that, Monsieur Adair. The fools have knives, and don’t use them.”

Adair turned, and saw a coarsely-built man, with something of the foreign sailor about him, and whose long black hair and ear-rings, and the bull-neck below, suddenly recalled a scene of violence, the recollection of which had almost been extinguished by grimmer memories of more recent date.

“But he hits well, the fair-haired fellow,” continued the other. “Only they have drunk too much to be mischievous. We should not drink when we quarrel, unless we mean to use cold steel, Monsieur Adair, should we?”

“You in England, Haureau?” said Adair.

“Why not. England is as open to me as to you, I suppose?”

“I don’t know,” said Adair, contemptuously, and affecting to watch the combat even more eagerly than before.

But it was soon over. Cynthia, who had needed a few moments to make adequate reply to the fierce reproaches of her female friends, enraged that a lucrative evening seemed likely to be broken up through a ridiculous sentimentality, had clawed away the bonnet from one, and dashed a handful of oyster-shells into the face of another, and having thus repudiated their interference, threw herself between the combatants, and with that curious distortion of mouth which among women of the inferior class indicates pathos, weepingly implored the champions to desist. Even to such tears as hers the sailor nature is very compassionate, and the men began to regard one another in a maudlin and reproachful way, which made it clear to every dissatisfied spectator that in two minutes more they would be drinking together with horrible oaths of everlasting friendship. Adair withdrew himself from the murmuring crowd, and proceeded on his way, when Haureau came up beside him.

“What do you mean by the answer you made just now?”

“What answer?”

“You said that you did not know that England was as open to me as to yourself.”

“Nor do I, nor do I care.”

And he walked on at a quickened pace. But though the powerful limbs of his companion were short, his power of step was great, and he easily kept abreast of Adair.

“Don’t speak to me in that fashion, Monsieur Adair. I have earned the right to be used more civilly.”

“I have nothing to say to you—you can have nothing to say to me—let us take our own ways.”

“Mine happens to be yours—yes, and whatever yours may happen to be,” added Haureau, as Ernest turned round. “Now.”

“Then you have something to say. What is it?”

“I am not to be bullied, that is the first thing, Adair,” said the other familiarly. “Don’t try that game. What,” he added, with a coarse laugh, “you were actually looking at that clown in police clothes—were you thinking of asking him to deliver a gentleman from the importunities of a low ruffian, who insists on addressing him. Dieu, what an aristo we have become since we used to fraternise with barbers, and that kind of canaille!

Canaille, as you say,” replied Ernest, with as offensive a sneer as he could assume.

And with the air of one who is compelled to endure, he lit a cigar, and leaned against one of the rails which in that region fence the outlying merchandise of the shopkeepers.

“Thank you!” said Haureau, dexterously snatching the cigar at the moment of its illumination, and transferring it to his own lips.

Adair smiled, and lit another, as calmly as if no such insult had been practised on him.

“What, not angry!” said Haureau, emitting a large puff of smoke. “The English air agrees with your temper.”

“Angry! With you, or with him?” replied Adair, quietly, and gently pushing away with his foot a dog that came up against him.

The retort stung Haureau, who showed his sumptuous white teeth with anything but a pleasant smile.

“You have no business, I tell you, to be so rough with me. I don’t speak of the little affair at Silvain’s,” and he laid his brawny hand on the arm that Adair had wounded. “That you might remember, but I don’t care to speak of. But I was waiting to be your friend on another occasion, Monsieur Adair, when you would have been more pleased to see me than you look at present.”

“I am not aware of it.”

“Don’t tell lies, because I know you saw me. You see everything, even cards that you don’t like. And on a certain day when you thought that two if not three strong-bodied Englishmen were coming to settle an account with you, I know that you were not sorry to see me standing about, ready to take a friend’s part if needful.”

“I suppose that you were ready to help me, or to strike me down from behind my back, as those who hired you might order.”

“Perhaps I was, but then I never strike without orders, like some people, and in consequence I can walk about this town in freedom instead of skulking in quarters which I hate. That’s near the mark, Monsieur Adair.”

“I am leading the life of a galley-slave, eh?” said Adair, giving point to his words by a savage look. “I must not walk out of my yard. Very well. I am sure of your sympathy, Monsieur Haureau?”

“You are a brave fellow, Ernest Adair,” replied his companion. “I always said that, and I never knew how right I was till now.”

“Deeply obliged by the compliment. Have you any more compliments, or may we break off this interesting conversation?”

“We do not part in this way. We can be useful to one another, and I am sure that you will be glad of it. Where are your lodgings? I was thinking of proposing to come and stop with you.”

“Ah!”

“That means that you don’t feel inclined to give me a strong recommendation to your landlord. You do not like responsibility. That is prudent. But I have plenty of money, see.” And he thrust his large hand into his pocket and drew out a handful of gold. “I will pay in advance, if that is preferred.”

Something in his tone told Adair more than his words.

“If you want my address,” said Ernest, “I dare say that it will be furnished to you in good time. As I have private business to attend to, I will wait your visit instead of inviting you.”

“That is rude and inhospitable. We sailors feel hurt by that sort of thing more than I can tell you.”

“I am sorry,” said Ernest, knocking off the ashes of his cigar.

“You do not ask me home, then?”

“Why should I?”

“Because, if the gentleman to whom you have sent your address should call, and you should not be at home, it will be very convenient that another gentleman should be there to apologise for your disobedience to the orders given you in the garret where your hands were held behind your back.”

“Why not have saved trouble by saying so at first?” said Adair, calmly.

“I hoped that your kind and noble feelings would have made you show a more friendly spirit. I wish you were a good fellow as well as a brave one, we should be such excellent companions.”

“My address is Beevor Street, Marylebone, my number is 16, and my room is the second-floor front. My name is Hyde, and the name of the landlord of the house is Pangbury,” said Ernest Adair, walking away.

“Stop, Mr. Hyde.”

“What more do you wish to know?”

“Have you sent that address to the person who was to have it?”

“Yes.”

“How did you send it?”

“I left it at his office with my own hand.”

“At what time?”

“An hour ago.”

“He will not receive it until to-morrow, then, and a night is lost. There is some question of life or death in the matter. You are prepared to answer for the consequences of the delay?”

“I could not send an address until I had one.”

“I have nothing to say to that.”

“That is fortunate,” said Ernest Adair, haughtily. He had borne much, but the discovery that Haureau had been placed in charge of him, galled Adair almost beyond expression. He had injured and insulted the man, and the reprisals which the coarse nature of Haureau would certainly inflict, now that he had an opportunity, promised to be more offensive to Adair than the cold cynicism of his Parisian colleagues. But he was in the chain, and the taskmaster was behind him with the whip.

“I shall have something to say about that when we meet at our happy breakfast,” said Haureau. “I do not invite myself to supper, because suppers are not an English fashion, I am told, and because I have something to amuse me in this part of the world. Is it any use asking you to join me? You can do no good at home, as your letter is lying in that lawyer’s box, and you may as well spend a pleasant night.”

“I am going home.”

“Yes, I hardly hoped to tempt the aristocrat, by offering him our humble amusements, and yet I could make you known, Adair, to some very good fellows, who would receive you warmly.”

“I understand you. Let them find me out for themselves. I dare say they will be able to do so when it is necessary.”

“No doubt. But I think you are a fool. Pardon my rough tongue, or don’t pardon it, just as you like, it is all the same to me. Only I would ask you what good in the devil’s name you think to do yourself by riding the high horse, and pretending to be anything but what you are? At least, what’s the good of it with me? Do you think that I have anything to learn about you?”

The speech was brutal in tone and in words, and Adair replied with bitter contempt.

“Do you conceive it possible that I care one farthing, Haureau, what you know, or think about me? I thought I made it pretty clear to you just now,” and he pushed forward his foot, “that I do not. But while I have a choice between my own society, and that of a gang of low ruffians, I shall avail myself of that choice. Make the best of that statement when you make your report to your master.”

“I like you better than I ever thought to do. I swear I do, and I am devilishly sorry that you have shown yourself a brave fellow. I don’t want to get to care about you, but your spirit is honourable, and I respect it. By * * * I should be glad to see you escape, after all.”

“You are very good.”

“No, I am not. But I have seen a good deal of fighting-life in my time, and a good deal of cowardice, and a fellow that can turn to bay, when the rope is round his neck—round his neck, did I say?—when the men below have hold of it, and are only waiting the gun to run him up aloft—I say that fellow is made for better things. I swear to you, Adair, that if you think I bear malice about this hole in my arm, you are out. I don’t care for it a curse. I have had a worse cut from a screaming woman, when we had boarded, and cut down the crew, and were making the best of our prize. I bear no malice, and, though business is business, I’ll stand by you, if I can.”

And the ruffian and pirate, or whatever he had been, spoke with all the earnestness of his coarse nature.

“You can do nothing for me, Haureau,” said Adair. “Do your duty, but let me alone as far as you can.”

“I would do that,” said Haureau, “but there’s no latitude allowed me, my fine fellow. You are a dangerous man, and I don’t let you give me the slip.”

“Wolowski must be a fool,” said Ernest Adair, very angrily. “A fool,” he added with an oath. “When a rat’s in a trap, what need of poking at him?”

“Some rats have sharp teeth, and gnaw their way through the best traps, Monsieur Adair, and I take it that your teeth are among the sharpest. But that’s not my business. As for our friend being a fool, that may be, and in one respect I know he is, and you know it, too, or I’m mistaken.”

“About Chantal?”

“Yes, and another.”

“I do not know the other.”

“Yes, you do. It was always a weakness of yours to be sweet on the women. So it was mine, in a way, in days when I had the means of showing it,” and he laughed a laugh that perhaps meant a recollection of many a day of wickedness and cruelty. “You know the other.”

“A woman?”

“A girl, then, which is nearly as bad as a woman. To hear her say Papa Wolowski, so pleasantly, one would not think that she had false keys to all his drawers and boxes, or that she made a copy of his private cipher, and sold it to his master. I don’t blame her, mind you. She don’t know whether she is his daughter, or not; but she knows right well that the chief of the bureau is quite too much of a gentleman to give her false diamonds for real ones.”

Ernest Adair’s face lighted up with actual pleasure.

“What?” he said, with almost a scream in his voice. “What?”

It was not in the nature of the population of that district to hear a question without replying, and quick, if low, was the answer given, impromptu, by a passer-by, and loud was his laugh at his own ribaldry.

“Beast,” said Adair, but uttered in good temper. The fellow looked round, but the figure of Haureau did not exactly invite insult, so the other went on his way.

“Do you tell me,” said Adair, coming close up to Haureau, “that the demoiselle Madelon—”

“I thought you were such friends with M. ——, that he told you everything. But he keeps a woman’s secrets, I suppose.”

“She sells Wolowski!” said Adair, exultingly. “O yes, her father; he is her father, there is no doubt of that. Dieu! if the brute can feel, he will like that. Good little Madelon!—good little girl! I love you, Madelon!”

“Don’t say that. It may make M. —— jealous.”

“Ha! and Chantal, too, who is engaged to be married to her—he will be a happy man, the good Chantal!”

“I’ve told you pleasant news, then, Monsieur Adair.”

“Yes,” said Adair, fiercely, “you have told me pleasant news, and if you care to be thanked, I thank you. I had given up all hope that I should ever have a chance of stinging that cold-blooded villain, and here, in the middle of my ruin and helplessness, you come with news that he will be stung to the very quick by the only person he cares about in this world. That is good news, Haureau.”

“Go home,” said Haureau, with a kindly oath. “I don’t want to like you, I tell you, and you are making me do it. Now you speak like a man. Go home. I will see as little as I must of you, and whereas I was coming to breakfast to-morrow morning, I will be damned if I come near you. Can I speak more friendly than that?”

“Where are you going now?”

“I can show you, but I can’t tell you.”

“Show me then, for I won’t sleep till I have drunk to the health of Madelon Wolowski. I’ll go with you, Haureau, no matter whom we go to meet.”

“A gang of low ruffians,” quoted Haureau.

“Very likely, but they’ll not refuse my toast.”

“Not if you proposed the health of M. Satan.”

Haureau thrust his huge arm across the arm of Ernest Adair, and they plunged into an abyss of narrow and evil-smelling streets, and made their way towards the river.

 

CHAPTER XCIII.

So, for the first time during the period of our story, husband and wife were under the same roof.

At the sound of wheels, Mrs. Hawkesley had rushed to the door, had received the affectionate kiss of her husband, and had received Arthur with unusual warmth. Then she hurried the two men into the library.

“You know that Laura is here,” she said to Lygon.

“I expected to hear it,” was the calm reply.

Beatrice looked at him wistfully, and then said—

“Charles, I must tell all, though I had meant to tell you first. Charles dearest, and Arthur, I have such good news for you, for us all.”

And her eyes fairly ran over as she spoke.

“It has all been a wicked, base, conspiracy. All is confessed. The letters are forgeries, the horrible letters that imposed on poor Robert. Forgeries, by that wicked woman at Lipthwaite, helped by the villain Adair. She is on her death-bed, Charles, and she has confessed it all. I was there, and heard her. Arthur! do you hear me, forgeries? Charles, why is he not on his knees thanking God?”

“He will answer for himself, Beatrice,” said Charles Hawkesley, gravely.

“Arthur!” exclaimed Mrs. Hawkesley.

“This is Mrs. Berry’s confession, do I understand you aright?” said Lygon, in a low voice, but without agitation or excitement.

“Yes, yes. This very day. We have been at Lipthwaite together, Laura and myself, and it has all been told. Mr. Berry was present, and has made notes of what she said. Arthur! Why do you stand so coldly looking at me? Laura is in the room above.”

She spoke as if she expected him to make one rush from the room to the arms of his wife. But he did not move.

“Is he too much astounded to speak, Charles?” said the impetuous Beatrice, turning to her husband. “Is the happiness too much for him? Let him divide it with Laura.”

And she turned to the door, and then looked back at the faces of her companions.

“What does this mean?” she asked. “Is there any new sorrow come upon us? No! I have my husband, you and Laura are here, and all the children are well—what harm can the world do us? Charles, why are you silent?”

“I see all that your kind heart means, Beatrice,” said Lygon. “It is sad to have to answer you as I must do. You have believed that all was over, and that after my hearing what you had to tell me my happiness would be restored to me. This cannot be.”

“Cannot be?”

“I will not now discuss a painful subject. I have put your husband in full possession of my views, and he will explain them to you.”

“Explain!—I want only one word. Laura is in the house, and that wicked evidence against her is scattered to the winds—why is she not in your arms?”

“Be calmer, dear Beatrice,” said Charles Hawkesley. “There is, unhappily, a feeling which is not to be removed by your appeal—it has not been removed by graver arguments. Arthur must take his own course.”

“He shall hear his wife, however!” said Beatrice, agitated, and going to the door.

“Stay, Beatrice,” said her husband.

“You, too, tell me to stay. What is this?”

“Do you think I would stop you for a second, if it were not necessary? Arthur, will you tell my wife why it is necessary?”

“He has offended you, I see,” said Beatrice, quickly.

“He has grieved me. But that is not worth a word. Let him tell you—or shall I say it for him?—that no reconciliation with Laura is possible.”

“Arthur—are you mad?”

“Not so mad, Beatrice,” said Arthur Lygon, in cold, measured speech, “as to risk my life’s happiness twice.”

“Risk! You are speaking of my sister.”

“I am speaking of my wife, even a better guarantee, Beatrice, that I should not speak lightly.”

“You will break her heart!” exclaimed Beatrice, passionately.

“It will not be so.”

“Oh, Arthur! it must be my fault. In my hurry and eagerness to tell you the good news, I have told it badly, and you do not quite understand me. Dear Arthur! Mrs. Berry, the wife of your friend, is dying, and confesses to having forged the letters on which Laura was condemned. You have understood me now,” she sobbed, “fly up to her, dear soul, and assure her that she is to be happy again. What is it, Charles?” she added, piteously.

“I hope that Laura will long be happy,” said Lygon; “but her happiness will be separated from mine.”

“That it can never be.”

“It could be once, and it had been well for us all if—if we had not been parties to a fearful mistake. But we will not make it a second time.”

“For Heaven’s sake, Arthur, tell me what you mean! Do you not believe this story which I have told you, this confession of a dying woman? If you could have heard the solemn way in which it was uttered—”

“I know it to be true.”

“Bless you for saying that! Then what more is there between you and Laura? You have freed her from that wicked charge—what more?”

“That wicked charge! Beatrice, had that been all, how mad must Laura’s conduct have seemed? They were bungling forgers, those wretches. Had their letters been all that could be brought against Laura, she would have laughed them to scorn. The villain who wrote them, and his accomplice, knew little of their business. Until I had seen copies of the letters, I hardly knew what to believe, but half a dozen pages sufficed for me. Copies have been shown me, and my only marvel is that poor Urquhart could have been deluded into the belief that such letters could have come from the pen of a woman whom I had called wife.”

“She could not have written them?” said Beatrice, with tears running down her glowing cheeks.

“She could not. No English matron, whose taste as well as her heart had not been debauched by vice, could have written them—they are worthy the hands of a low profligate like Adair, and a half-mad and wholly bad woman like Mrs. Berry. Had those been the only evidences, Laura would have trampled the accusation under her feet, and have left her vengeance to me. I tell you, Beatrice, one glance at those letters was enough.”

“Then what remains?”

“The other letters, which Laura is afraid to disavow. The letters that show she has loved and been loved, and by a man whom she has not wedded. It was for those letters that Laura went to France, and the story which they reveal is the story that parts us for ever.”

“My God, Arthur Lygon! The mother of your children! Because when she was a girl, scarcely more than a child, she fancied herself in love with some boy who has long been dead, but who has much longer been forgotten by her.”

“I know not whether the object of her love be dead, or be alive, nor is it of importance. She was a woman when she wrote those letters, and she loved the man to whom they were written. Had I known it, she had never been my wife. As it is, she is my wife no longer. Let those words suffice.”

“Charles!” gasped Mrs. Hawkesley, “are you a party to this madness, this cruelty? No, I am sure you are not.”

“I am not.”

“He is not—I will not pause over your words, Beatrice—let me say that your husband is unable to understand my feelings, and has laboured with a zeal which ought to do more than satisfy you, that it is my duty to accept such love as Mrs. Lygon can offer me, and for the sake of the children to forget the deceit of the mother.”

“And was it so, Charles, that you urged the case of Laura?”

“Again I ask Arthur to reply.”

“I see,” said Lygon. “I have expressed my own feelings, not his. He is pleased almost to ridicule my feelings, and to condemn me for what he cannot understand. At the risk of offending you, Beatrice, I clear him from the blame you would give him.”

“And God bless you, Charles,” said his wife. “To you Arthur, what can I say, if you have shut your heart to such pleading as that which speaks for the mother of your children? This is indeed a new affliction, and I was presumptuous enough to say that there could be no more for us. Arthur, if ever woman loved deeply and truly, it is Laura. She has been devoted to you, and so proud of you that even when things have been said at which other wives might have taken fire—I might and should—I own it—Laura has been silent in her scorn of them—she knew you, and that was enough. If you could not see her love in her whole life, if you wanted the incessant assurance of it, indeed, Arthur, you did not deserve such a treasure as Laura. But even then you might think of her as a mother, and ask yourself whether one who so idolised her children, who watched over them with such perfect and patient love, had no place for their father in her large, warm, true heart. Oh, you know not what wild, wicked folly has entered your brain, what bitter tears you will one day pay for having been so wilfully blind.”

“I honour your sisterly love, Beatrice; in return, believe in my suffering. Now we will say no more on this. I had wished to spare you such an interview, but I was forced by your husband to assent to meet you. You have said nothing that I was not prepared to hear—do you need to be told that I would give my right hand to feel as you would wish me to feel?”

“See Laura,” sobbed Beatrice.

“Why inflict needless pain? She cannot desire to see me, after what has passed, and it is better for both that we should make our arrangements through others. Your sister, Beatrice, will have no reason to complain of me. I leave all in the hands of Charles and yourself.”

“Arthur, she will die.”

“Spare such appeals, Beatrice, because they force from me answers which I am grieved to make.”

“She will die.”

Arthur Lygon made no answer.

“Yes, Arthur,” said Beatrice, “it is true. But I will not say that her heart should break for one who has shown how little he deserves her love. You will destroy her in another way.”

“Beatrice?”

“Yes. Those children, whom she adores—”

“A word, Beatrice. Are you already so unjust towards me? Are you suspecting me of an intention to avenge myself—to repay Laura for her deceit, to punish her, in short? Think better of me. Your husband will tell you how far was such an idea from my mind—ask him.”

“It is due to Lygon,” said Hawkesley, “to say that his own resolution, taken without a word on the subject from me, is to leave to Laura the entire custody of the three children, with the single condition that they visit him when he desires it.”

“Or at times of her own appointment—when she can best part with them,” added Mr. Lygon.

“And men make law for women, and understand them no better!” exclaimed Beatrice Hawkesley. “Oh, Arthur, how little do you know Laura. How, if God is good to you—better to you than you deserve—you will look back with shame and humiliation upon what you have said to-day. Charles, dearest, I am not accusing you—it was not your province to know the depth of that loving heart, and yet you know it more truly than he who should have treasured it like his life. The custody of the children is to be entrusted to Laura,” she repeated, bitterly. “Oh, if you knew! And you shall know it,” she added, impetuously, “and I care not what follows.”

Beatrice hurried from the room.

“Do not reproach yourself, Charles,” said Lygon. “You did what you deemed right in bringing me here.”

“If I reproach myself, Arthur, it is because I am helping you to inflict pain where it is undeserved,” said Hawkesley. “I am in my own house, or I might say more.”

The door opened, and Mrs. Hawkesley led in Laura to the presence of her husband.

She was pale as snow, and she trembled visibly.

One glance, it was scarcely furtive, and yet timid as the look of a girl. She saw the worn and weary look on the handsome features of her husband, and then her eyes were turned away, and sought his no more. She had read enough, in failing to find that which woman reads with a glance of lightning.

Arthur Lygon bent his head in silence.

Mrs. Hawkesley spoke, and it was almost with solemnity—in a tone very rare in that cheery, kindly voice:

“Do not let us take one step more in a course which has begun in error, but which should not end in misery. Surely it is enough that one of three sisters is a miserable widow, through a fatal persistence in mystery and wrong. At least let the dead be mourned for, before we heap new sorrow on the living. Arthur, and Charles, I have brought Laura here, not that anything may be unsaid that has been said in this room to-night, but that you may understand something that was said by me. Arthur, your wife was in this house this morning, and refused to let me send for her children. Those children are in the house now, and their mother has not seen them.”

“May I—may I not see them, Arthur?” said Laura, faintly.

“My God!” said Arthur Lygon, pained to the very heart at her tone. “Why have you not seen them? Why do you not see them? Could I know this?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Hawkesley.

“Beatrice!” said Lygon, in astonishment.

“Let me speak for her,” said Beatrice. “Let nothing come from her lips that can add to the painful recollections of this time. How painful they will be, even when we are all happy, who can tell. Arthur, you do not need to be told how a mother’s heart is throbbing to feel her children pressing to it—you love them, but what is a father’s love to a mother’s?”

“Why are they not with her?” replied Arthur Lygon, almost angrily.

“Because Laura will not look upon the faces of her children—yes, and you may sever them if you will, until her heart has broken—but she will not see her children until her husband has forgiven an error which, when she dares, she will explain—which meant, as he will one day believe, that she loved him too well to be wise.”

May I see my children, Arthur?” said a sweet voice, broken by sobs.

He was silent for a few moments, and the sob of his wife came upon his ear.

“I have long since forgiven,” said Arthur Lygon.

Laura raised her head, and one look, such as should have been on his face, would have brought her with one rush to his arms. But the look was not there. She did not move.

“I have fully forgiven,” repeated Arthur. “Let the children come.”

Mrs. Hawkesley had not waited for the second word. A hurried cry of young voices without, a wilder cry from a mother’s voice within, and for a moment, at least, that mother was happy.