Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Eleanor's victory - Part 7
BY THE AUTHOR OF “AURORA FLOYD,” “LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET,” &c.
CHAPTER XI. RICHARD THORNTON’S PROMISE.
Eleanor Vane looked very sadly at all the common, every-day sights connected with the domestic economy of the Pilasters, when she went back to Bloomsbury, after her interview with Mrs. Bannister. She had only lived a year and a-half in that humble locality, but it was in her nature to become quickly attached to places as well as persons, and she had grown very fond of the Pilasters. Everybody about the place knew her and loved her. The horses looked out of their open stable-doors as she passed; the dogs came tumbling from their kennels, dragging half-a-dozen yards of rusty iron chain and a heap of straw at their heels, to greet her as she went by; the chimney-sweeps’ children courted her notice; and at all the little shops where she had been wont to give orders and pay bills for the Signora, the simple tradespeople tendered her their admiration and homage. Her beauty was a pride to the worthy citizens of the Pilasters. Could all Bloomsbury, from Dudley Street to the Squares, produce sunnier golden hair or brighter gray eyes than were to be seen under the shadow of the dilapidated colonnade when Eleanor Vane went by?
In this atmosphere of love and admiration, the girl had been very happy. She had one of those natures in which there lies a wondrous power of assimilation with the manners and habits of others. She was never out of place; she was never in the way. She was not ambitious. Her sunny temperament was the centre of perpetual peace and happiness, only to be disturbed by very terrible thunder-claps of grief and trouble. She had been very happy with the Signora; and to-day, when she looked round the little sitting-room, her eyes resting sadly now on the old piano, now on a shelf of tattered books, romances dear to Richard and herself, and not too well treated by either; now on the young man’s flaming magnum opus, the picture she had loved to criticise and abuse in mischievous enjoyment of the painter’s anguish; now as she looked at these things, and remembered how soon she must go away from them, the slow tears trickled down her cheeks, and she stood hopeless, despondent on the gloomy threshold of her new life.
She had found the familiar rooms empty upon her return from Bayswater, for the Signora was away teaching beyond the regions of the New Road, and Richard was hard at work at the Phœnix, where there were always new pieces to be produced and new scenes to be painted. Eleanor had the little sitting-room all to herself; she took off her bonnet and sat down upon the old-fashioned chintz-covered sofa. She buried her head in the cushions and tried to think.
The prospect of a new existence, which would have been delightful to most girls of her age, was utterly distasteful to her. Her nature was adhesive; she would have gone to the furthest end of the world with her father if he had lived, or with Richard and the Signora, whom she loved only less than she had loved him. But to sever every tie, and go out alone into the world with nothing between her and desolation, was unspeakably terrible to this affectionate, impulsive girl.
If it had been simply a question of her own advantage, if by the sacrifice of her own advancement, her every prospect in life, she might have stayed with the friends she loved, she would not have hesitated for a moment. But it was not so. Mrs. Bannister had clearly told her that she was a burden upon these generous people who had sheltered and succoured her in her hour of misery. The cruel word pauperism had been flung in her teeth, and with a racking brain this poor girl set herself to calculate how much her maintenance cost her friends, and how much she was able to contribute out of her own pitiful earnings.
Alas! the balance told against her when the sum was done. Her earnings were very, very small as yet; not because her talent was unappreciated, but because her pupils were poor, and a music-mistress, whose address was Bloomsbury Pilasters, could scarcely demand high payment for her services, or hope to obtain a very aristocratic connection.
No, Mrs. Bannister—stern, uncompromising, and disagreeable as the truth itself—had no doubt been right. Her duty lay before her, plainly indicated by that unpleasant monitor. She was bound to leave these dear friends, and to go out into the world to fight a lonely battle for herself.
“I may be able to do something for them,” she thought; and this thought was the only gleam of light which illumined the darkness of her sorrow. “I may be able to save money enough to buy the Signora a black silk dress, and Richard a meerschaum. I should so like to buy Dick a meerschaum; I know the one he’d like—a bull-dog’s head, with a silver collar round the neck. We looked at it one night at a shop in Holborn.”
She rose from the sofa at last with an aching heart and troubled brain, when the early shadows of the spring twilight were gathering in the room. She made up the fire and swept the hearth, and arranged the tea-things on the comfortable round table, and then sat down on a low stool by the fender to toast great rounds of bread which would be as nothing in comparison to Richard’s all-devouring capacity after a hard day’s work in the scene-room at the Phœnix. How pleasant it was to perform all these little familiar offices of love and duty. How sorrowfully she looked back to her simple, free-and-easy life, now that she was to go amongst strangers who would exact all manner of ceremonious observances from her. The Bohemianism of her existence had been its greatest charm, and this poor benighted girl trembled at the prospect of a life in which she would have to go through all those terrible performances which she had read of, fearfully and wonderingly, in certain erudite essays upon Etiquette, but which had never yet come within the range of her experiences.
“It is my duty to go away from them,” she kept saying to herself; “it is my duty to go away.”
She had schooled herself in this difficult duty by the time her friends came home, and she told them very quietly that she had seen Mrs. Bannister, and had agreed to accept her patronage and services.
“I am going to be a sort of companion or musical governess—I scarcely know which—to a young lady at a country house called Hazlewood,” she said. “Don’t think I am not sorry to leave you, dear Signora, but Hortensia says it is better that I should do so.”
“And don’t think that I am not sorry to lose you, Nelly, when I tell you that I think your sister is right,” the Signora answered gently, as she kissed her protégée.
Perhaps Eleanor was a little disappointed at this reply. She little dreamed how often Eliza Picirillo had struggled against the selfishness of her affection, before she had grown thus resigned to this parting.
Mr. Richard Thornton groaned aloud.
“I shall go out and pull down a couple of the Pilasters, and bury myself under them, à la Sampson,” he said piteously. “What is to become of us without you, Eleanora? Who will come over to the Phœnix, and applaud my great scenes with the ferule of an umbrella? Who’ll cut up half-quartern loaves into toast when I am hungry, or have Welsh rarebits in readiness on the hob, when I come home late at night? Who’ll play Mendelssohn’s ‘Songs without Words’ to me, and darn my stockings, and sew buttons—absurd institutions, invented by ignorant people, who have never known the blessing of pins—upon my shirts? Who’ll abuse me when I go unshaven, or recommend blacking as an embellishment for my boots? Who’ll career in and out of the room with a dirty white French poodle at her heels, looking like a fair-haired Esmeralda with a curly-coated goat? What are we to do without you, Eleanor?”
There was a sharp pain at poor Dick’s heart as he apostrophised his adopted sister. Were his feelings quite brotherly? was there no twinge of the fatal torture so common to mankind mingled with this young man’s feelings as he looked at the beautiful face opposite to him, and remembered how soon it would have vanished from that shabby chamber, leaving only dismal emptiness behind?
The Signora looked at her nephew and sighed. Yes, it was far better that Eleanor should go away. She could never have grown to love this honest-hearted, candid, slovenly scene-painter, whose coat was a perfect landscape in distemper by reason of the many coloured splashes which adorned it.
“My poor Dick would have fallen in love with her, and would have broken his good, honest heart,” Eliza Picirillo said. “I’m very glad she’s going away.”
So from the road which Destiny had appointed for her to tread, there was not one voice to call Eleanor Vane aside. The affectionate and the indifferent alike conspired to urge her onward. It was only her own inclination that would have held her back.
“If I could have stayed in London,” she thought, “there might have been some chance of my meeting that man. All scamps and villains come to hide themselves in London. But in a quiet country village I shall be buried alive. When I pass the threshold of Mrs. Darrell’s house, I bid good-bye to the hope of crossing that man’s pathway.”
The letter came very quickly from Mrs. Bannister. Mrs. Darrell had accepted her dear friend’s recommendation, and was ready to receive Miss Vincent. It was under this name the stockbroker’s widow had introduced her half-sister to the notice of her friend.
“You will receive a salary of thirty pounds a year,” Hortensia Bannister wrote, “and your duties will be very light. Do not forget that your name at Hazlewood is to be Vincent, and that you are carefully to avoid all reference to your father. You will be amongst people who knew him well; and must, therefore, be on your guard. I have described you as the orphan daughter of a gentleman who died in reduced circumstances, and have thus strictly adhered to the truth. No questions will be asked of you, as Mrs. Darrell is satisfied with my recommendation, and is too well bred to feel any vulgar curiosity as to your past history. I send you, per parcel delivery, a box of dresses and other wearing apparel, which will be of use to you. I also send you five pounds for such little extra expenditure as may be necessary. Hazlewood is thirty miles from London, and about seven from Windsor. You will go down by the Great Western, and stop at Slough, where a conveyance will meet you; but I will write further upon this matter before you go. Mrs. Darrell has kindly accorded you a fortnight’s delay for such preparations as you may require to make. You will be expected at Hazlewood on the 6th of April.
“I have only one other remark to make. I know that your father cherished a foolish notion upon the subject of the Woodlands property. Pray bear in mind that no such idea has ever been entertained by me. I know the Darrell family quite well enough to feel assured that they will take care of their own rights, which I am content to acknowledge, Remember, therefore, that I have no wish or expectation with regard to Maurice de Crespigny’s will; but it is, on the other hand, perfectly true, that in his youth he did make a solemn promise that, in the event of his dying a bachelor, he would leave that money to my father or his heirs.”
Eleanor Vane took very little notice of this final paragraph in her sister’s letter. Who cared for Maurice de Crespigny’s fortune? What was the good of it now? It could not bring her father back to life; it could not blot out that quiet, unwitnessed death-scene in the Parisian café; it could not rehabilitate the broken name, or restore the shattered life. What could it matter who inherited the vile and useless dross?
The fortnight passed in a feverish unsatisfactory manner. Richard and the Signora took care to conceal the poignancy of their regret at parting with the gay-hearted girl, who had brought such new brightness into their narrow lives. Eleanor wept by stealth; dropping many bitter tears over her work, as she remodelled Mrs. Bannister’s silk dresses, reducing those garments to the dimensions of her own girlish figure. The last night came by-and-bye, the night of the 5th of April, the eve of a sorrowful parting, and the beginning of a new existence.
It happened to be a Sunday evening, and Eleanor and Richard walked out together in the quiet Bloomsbury streets while the bells were ringing for evening service, and the lamps glimmering dimly from the church windows. They chose the loneliest streets in the old-fashioned middle-class quarter. Eleanor was very pale, very silent. This evening walk had been her express desire, and Richard watched her wonderingly. Her face had an expression which he remembered in the Rue l’Archevêque, when he had told her the story of her father’s death—an unnaturally rigid look, strangely opposed to the changeful brightness common to that youthful countenance.
They had strolled slowly hither and thither in the deserted streets for some time. The bells had ceased ringing, and the church-goers had all disappeared. The gray twilight was stealing into the streets and squares, and the lights began to shine out from the lower windows.
“How quiet you are, Nelly,” Richard said at last; “why were you so anxious that we should come out together alone, my dear? I fancied you had something particular to say to me.”
“I have something particular to say.”
“What about?” asked Mr. Thornton.
He looked thoughtfully at his companion. He could only see her profile—that clearly-defined, almost classical outline—for she had not turned towards him when she spoke. Her gray eyes looked straight before her into empty space, and her lips were tightly compressed.
“You love me, don’t you, Richard?” she asked presently, with a suddenness that startled the scene-painter.
Poor Dick blushed crimson at that alarming inquiry. How could she be so cruel as to ask him such a question? For the last fortnight he had been fighting with himself—Heaven knows how sturdily and honestly—in the heroic desire to put away this one fatal thought from his mind; and now the girl for whose sake he had been doing battle with his own selfishness, strikes the tenderest of all chords with her ignorant hand, and wounds her victim to the very quick.
But Miss Vane had no consciousness of the mischief she had done. Coquetry was an unknown science to this girl of seventeen. In all matters connected with that womanly accomplishment she was as much a child now that her seventeenth birthday was past, as she had been in the old days at Chelsea when she had upset Richard’s colour-boxes and made grotesque copies of his paintings.
“I know you love me, Dick,” she continued, “quite as much as if I were your real sister, instead of a poor desolate girl who flung herself upon you and yours in the day of her affliction. I know you love me, Dick, and would do almost anything for my sake, and I wanted to speak to you to-night alone, because I am going to say something that would distress the dear Signora, if she were to hear it.”
“What is it, my dear?”
“You remember the story of my father’s death?”
“Only too well, Eleanor.”
“And you remember the vow I made when you told me that story, Richard?”
The young man hesitated.
“Yes, I do remember, Nelly,” he said, after a pause; “but I had hoped that you had forgotten that foolish vow. For it was foolish, you know, my dear, as well as unwomanly,” the young man added gravely.
Eleanor’s eyes flashed defiance upon her friend, as she turned to him for the first time that evening.
“Yes,” she cried, “you thought that I had forgotten, because I was not always talking of that man who caused my father’s death. You thought my sorrow for my father was only childish grief, that was to be forgotten when I turned my back upon the country where he lies in his abandoned grave—his unconsecrated grave, poor dear! You thought that nobody would ever try to avenge the poor, lonely old man’s murder—for it was a murder, Richard Thornton! What did the wretch who robbed him care for the anguish of the heart he broke? What did he care what became of his victim? It was as base and cruel a murder as was ever done upon this earth, Richard, though the world would not call it by that name.”
“Eleanor, my dear Eleanor! why do you talk of these things?”
The girl’s voice had risen with the vehemence of her passion, and Richard Thornton dreaded the effect which this kind of conversation might have upon her excitable nature.
“Nelly, my dear,” he said, “it would be better to forget all this. What good can you do by cherishing these painful recollections? You are never likely to meet this man; you do not even know his name. He was a scamp and an adventurer, no doubt; he may be dead by this time. He may have done something to bring himself within the power of the law, and he may be in prison, or transported.”
“He may have done something to bring himself within the power of the law,” repeated Eleanor. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that he may have committed some crime for which he could be punished.”
“Could he be punished by the law for having cheated my father at cards?”
“That sort of charge is always difficult to be proved, Nell; impossible to be proved after the fact. No, I’m afraid the law could never touch him for that.”
“But if he were to commit some other crime, he might be punished?”
“If I met him, Richard,” cried Eleanor Vane, with a dangerous light kindling in her eyes, “I would try and lure him on to commit some crime, and then turn round upon him and say, ‘The law of the land could not avenge my father’s death, but it can punish you for a lesser crime. I have twisted the law to my own purpose, and made it redress my father’s wrongs.’”
Richard Thornton stared aghast at his companion.
“Why, Eleanor,” he exclaimed, “you talk like a Red Indian! This is quite shocking. You frighten me, really; you do indeed.”
“I am sorry for that, Richard,” Miss Vane answered meekly. She was a child in all things which concerned her affections alone. “I wouldn’t grieve you or the dear Signora for the world. But there are some things that are stronger than ourselves, Richard, and the oath that I took a year and a-half ago in the Rue l’Archevêque is one of those things. I have never forgotten, Dick. Night after night—though I’ve been happy and light-hearted enough in the day, Richard dear, for I could not be otherwise than happy with you and the Signora—night after night I have lain awake thinking of my father’s death. If that death had been a common one; if he had died in my arms at the will of God instead of by the cruelty of a wretch, my grief might have worn itself out by this time. But as it is, I cannot forget; I cannot forgive. If all the Christian people in the world were to talk to me, I could never have one merciful feeling towards this man. If he were going to be hung to-morrow, I should be glad; and could walk barefoot to the place of his execution to see him suffer. There is no treachery that I should think base if employed against him. There is no slow torture I could inflict upon him that would seem cruel enough to satisfy my hatred of him. Think what a helpless old man my father was; a broken-down gentleman; the sort of man whom everybody pities, whom everybody respects. Remember this; and then remember the cold-blooded deliberation of the wretch who cheated him out of the money which was more than money to him—which represented honour—honesty—his child’s future—all he valued. Remember the remorseless cruelty of the wretch who looked on while this helpless old man suffered a slow agony of six or seven hours’ duration, and then left him alone in his misery and desolation. Think of this, Richard Thornton, and don’t wonder any longer if my feelings towards this man are not Christian-like.”
“My dear Eleanor, if I regret the vehemence of your feeling upon this subject, I do not defend the man whose treachery hurried your father to his unhappy death; I only wish to convince you of the folly you commit in cherishing these ideas of vengeance and retribution. Life is not a three-volume novel or a five-act play, you know, Nelly. The sudden meetings and strange coincidences common in novels are not very general in our every-day existence. It is not at all likely that in the whole course of your life you will ever again encounter this man. From the moment of your father’s death all clue to him was lost; for it was only your father who could have told us who and what he was, or, at least, who and what he represented himself to be. He is lost in the vast chaos of humanity now, my dear, and you have not the frailest clue by which you might hope to find him. For Heaven’s sake, then, abandon all thought of an impossible revenge. Have you forgotten the words we heard in the Epistle a few weeks ago: ‘Vengeance is mine,’ I will repay, saith the Lord. If the melo-dramatic revenge of the stage is not practicable in real life, we know at least, my dear—for you see we have it from very high authority—that wicked deeds do not go unpunished. Far away at the remotest limits of the earth, this man, whom your puny efforts would be powerless to injure, may suffer for his crime. Try and think of this, Eleanor.”
“I cannot,” answered the girl. “The letter which my father wrote me before he died was a direct charge which I will never disobey. The only inheritance I received from him was that letter; that letter in which he told me to avenge his death. I dare say you think me mad as well as wicked, Richard; but in spite of all you have said, I believe that I shall meet this man!”
The scene-painter sighed and relapsed into despondent silence. How could he argue with this girl? What could he do but love and admire her, and entrust himself to her direction if she had need of a slave. While he was thinking this, Eleanor clasped both her hands upon his arm and looked up earnestly in his face.
“Richard, dear,” she said in a low voice, “I think you would serve me if you had the power.”
“I would go through fire and water to do so, Nelly.”
“I want you to help me in this matter. You know as little of this man as I do, but you are much cleverer than me. You mix with other people and see something of the world; not much, I know, but still a great deal more than I do. I am going away into a quiet country place, where there is no possible chance of meeting this man; you will stay in London—”
“Where I may brush against him in the streets any day, Nell, without being a shade the wiser as to his identity. My dear child, for any practical purpose you will be as near the man in Berkshire as I shall be in Bloomsbury. Don’t let’s talk of him any longer, Nelly. I can’t tell you how this subject distresses me.”
“I won’t leave off talking of him,” said the young lady, resolutely, “until you have made me a promise.”
“That if ever you do come across any clue which may lead to the identification of the man I want to find, you will follow it up, patiently and faithfully, sparing neither trouble nor cost; for my sake, Richard, for my sake. Will you promise?”
“I will, my dear,” Mr. Thornton answered. “I do promise, and I will keep my promise honestly if ever the chance of doing so should come to me. But I must tell you frankly, Nell, I don’t believe it ever will.”
“Bless you for the promise, notwithstanding, Richard,” Eleanor said, warmly. “It has made me much happier. There will be two people henceforth, instead of one, set against this man.”
A dark frown over-shadowed her face. It seemed as if she had uttered those last few words in the form of a threat and a defiance, which the man, whoever he was, and wherever he was, might hear.
“You know all the strange things they say now about second sight, clairvoyance, odic force, magnetic attraction—all sorts of long words whose meaning I don’t understand, Richard—I wonder sometimes if this man knows that I hate him, and that I am watching for him, thinking of him, praying to meet him day and night. Perhaps he does know this, and will hold himself on his guard against me, and try and avoid me.”
Richard shrank from entering upon this subject; the conversation had been altogether disagreeable to him. There was a horrible discrepancy between this girl’s innocent youthful beauty and all this determined talk of fierce and eager vengeance, which would have been more natural to a Highland or Corsican chieftain, than to a young lady of seventeen.
It was dark now, and they went back to the Pilasters, where Eliza Picirillo was spending that last night very sadly. The shabby room was only illumined by the glimmer of a low fire, for the Signora had not cared to light the candles until her two children came home. She had been sitting by the dingy window watching for their return, and had fallen asleep in the darkness.
There is no need to dwell upon that last night. It was like the eves of all partings, very sad, very uncomfortable. Everything was disorganised by that approaching sorrow. Conversation was desultory and forced, and Richard was glad to be employed in cording Eleanor’s boxes. She had two trunks now, and had a wardrobe that seemed to her magnificent, so liberally had Mrs. Bannister bestowed her cast-off dresses upon her half-sister.
So the last night passed away, the April morning came, and Eleanor’s new life began.
CHAPTER XII. GILBERT MONCKTON.
Eleanor Vane was not to go down to Berkshire alone. The beginning of her new life, that terrible beginning which she so much dreaded, was to make her acquainted with new people.
She had received the following communication from Mrs. Darrell.
“Hazlewood, April 3rd, 1855.
“As it would of course be very improper for a young lady of your age to travel alone, I have provided against that contingency.
“My friend, Mr. Monckton, has kindly promised to meet you in the first-class waiting-room at the Great Western Station, at three o’clock on Monday afternoon. He will drive you here on his way home.
“I am, Madam,
Eliza Picirillo worked harder upon a Monday than on any other day in the week. She left the Pilasters immediately after an early breakfast, to go upon a wearisome round amongst her pupils. Richard was in the thick of the preparations for a new piece, so poor Eleanor was obliged to go alone to the station, to meet the stranger who had been appointed as her escort to Hazlewood.
She quite broke down when the time came for bidding farewell to her old friend. She clung about the Signora, weeping unrestrainedly for the first time.
“I can’t bear to go away from you,” she sobbed piteously, “I can’t bear to say good-bye.”
“But my love,” the music-mistress answered tenderly, “if you really don’t wish to go—”
“No, no, it isn’t that. I feel that I must go—that—”
“And I too, my dear girl. I believe you would do very wrong in refusing this situation. But Nelly, my darling, remember that this is only an experiment. You may not be happy at Hazlewood. In that case you will not fail to remember that your home is always here; that come to it when you may, you will never fail to find a loving welcome; and that the friends you leave behind you here are friends whom nothing upon earth can ever estrange from you. Remember this, Eleanor.”
“Yes, yes, dear, dear Signora.”
“If I could have gone with her to the station, I shouldn’t have cared so much,” Richard murmured despondently, “but the laws of Spavin and Cromshaw are as the laws of Draco. If I don’t get on with the Swiss châlet and moonlit Alpine peaks, the new piece can’t come out on Monday.”
So poor Eleanor went to the station alone, and was overcharged by the cabman who carried the two trunks which Richard had neatly addressed to Miss Vincent, Hazlewood, Berks.
She was received by a civil porter, who took charge of her luggage while she went to the waiting-room to look for the stranger who was to be her escort.
She was no more a coquette than she had been nearly two years before, when she travelled alone between London and Paris, and she was prepared to accept the services of this stranger quite as frankly as she had accepted the care and protection of the elderly gentleman who had taken charge of her upon that occasion.
But how was she to recognise the stranger. She could not walk up to every gentleman in the waiting-room, to ask him if he were Mr. Monckton.
She had in almost all her wanderings travelled in second-class carriages, and waited in second-class waiting-rooms. She shrank back, therefore, rather timidly upon the threshold of the spacious carpeted saloon, and looked a little nervously at the occupants of that gorgeous chamber. There was a group of ladies near the fire-place, and two or three gentlemen in different parts of the room. One of these gentlemen was a little man with gray hair and a red face; the other was very young and very sandy; the third was a tall man of about forty, with close-cut black hair, and a square massive face and head, not exactly a handsome face, perhaps, but a countenance not easily to be overlooked.
This tall man was standing near one of the windows, reading a newspaper. He looked up as Eleanor pushed open the swinging door.
“I wonder which of them is Mr. Monckton,” she thought. “Not that fidgetty young man with the red hair, I hope.”
While she still stood doubtfully upon the threshold, hesitating what to do—she little knew what a pretty picture she made in that timid, fluttering attitude—the tall man threw down his newspaper upon the sofa beside him, and walked across the room to where she stood.
“Miss Vincent, I believe?” he said.
Eleanor blushed at the sound of that false name, and then bent her head in reply to the question. She could not say yes. She could not fall into this disagreeable falsehood all at once.
“I am Mrs. Darrell’s friend and legal adviser, Mr. Monckton,” the gentleman said quietly, “and I shall be very happy to perform the duty she has entrusted to me. We are in very good time, Miss Vincent. I know that young ladies are generally ultra punctual upon these occasions, and I came very early in order to anticipate you, if possible.”
Eleanor did not speak. She was looking furtively at the face of Mrs. Darrell’s friend and legal adviser. A good and wise adviser, Miss Vane thought: for the face, not strictly handsome, seemed to bear in its every feature the stamp of three qualities—goodness, wisdom, and strength.
“I am sure he is very good,” she thought; “but I would not like to offend him for the world, for though he looks so kind now, I know he must be terrible when he’s angry.”
She looked almost fearfully at the strongly-marked black eyebrows, thinking what a stormy darkness must overshadow the massive face when they contracted over the grave, brown eyes—serious and earnest eyes, but with a latent fire lurking somewhere in their calm depths, Eleanor thought.
The girl’s mind rambled on thus while she stood by the stranger’s side in the sunlit window. Already the blankness of her new life was broken by this prominent figure standing boldly out upon its very threshold. Already she was learning to be interested in new people.
“He isn’t a bit like a lawyer,” she thought; “I fancied lawyers were always shabby old men, with blue bags. The men who used to come to Chelsea after papa were always nasty disagreeable men, with papers about the Queen and Richard Roe.”
Mr. Monckton looked thoughtfully down at the girl by his side. There was a vein of silent poetry, and there were dim glimpses of artistic feeling hidden somewhere in the nature of this man, very far below the hard, business-like exterior which he presented to the world. He felt a quiet pleasure in looking at Eleanor’s young beauty. It was her youthfulness, perhaps, her almost childlike innocence, which made her greatest charm. Her face was not that of a common beauty: her aquiline nose, gray eyes, and firmly-moulded mouth had a certain air of queenliness very rarely to be seen; but the youth of the soul shining out of the clear eyes was visible in every glance, in every change of expression.
“Do you know much of Berkshire, Miss Vincent?” the lawyer asked, presently.
“Oh, no, I have never been there.”
“You are very young, and I daresay have never left home before?” Mr. Monckton said. He was wondering that no relative or friend had accompanied the girl to the station.
“I have been at school,” Eleanor answered; “but I have never been away from home before—to—to get my own living.”
“I thought not. Your papa and mamma must be very sorry to lose you.”
“I have neither father nor mother.”
“Indeed!” said Mr. Monckton; “that’s strange.”
Then after a pause he said, in a low voice:
“I think the young lady you are going to will like you all the better for that.”
“Why?” Eleanor asked involuntarily.
“Because she has never known either father or mother.”
“Poor girl!” murmured Eleanor, “they are both dead, then?”
The lawyer did not answer this question. He was so far professional, even in his conversation with Miss Vane, that he asked a great many more questions than he answered.
“Do you like going to Hazlewood, Miss Vincent?” he said, by-and-bye, rather abruptly.
“Not very much.”
“Because I am leaving very dear friends to go to—”
“Strangers, who may illtreat you, eh?” muttered Mr. Monckton. “You need have no apprehension of that sort of thing, I assure you, Miss Vincent. Mrs. Darrell is rather rigid in her ideas of life; she has had her disappointments, poor soul, and you must be patient with her: but Laura Mason, the young lady who is to be your companion, is the gentlest and most affectionate girl in Christendom, I should think. She is a sort of ward of mine, and her future life is in my hands; a very heavy responsibility, Miss Vincent; she will have plenty of money by-and-bye—houses, and horses, and carriages, and servants, and all the outer paraphernalia of happiness: but Heaven knows if she will be happy, poor girl. She has never known either mother or father. She has lived with all manner of respectable matrons, who have promised to do a mother’s duty to her, and have tried to do it, I daresay; but she has never had a mother, Miss Vincent. I am always sorry for her when I think of that.”
The lawyer sighed heavily, and his thoughts seemed to wander away from the young lady in his charge. He still stood at the window, looking out at the bustle on the platform, but not seeing it, I think, and took no further notice of Eleanor until the bell rang for the starting of the train.
“Come, Miss Vincent,” he said, rousing himself suddenly from his reverie; “I have forgotten all about your ticket. I’ll put you into a carriage, and then send a porter for it.”
Mr. Monckton scarcely spoke to his companion half a dozen times during the brief journey to Slough. He sat with a newspaper before him, but Eleanor noticed that he never turned its leaves, and once, when she caught a glimpse of the lawyer’s face, she saw that it wore the same gloomy and abstracted expression that she had observed upon it as Mr. Monckton stood in the window of the waiting-room.
“He must be very fond of his ward,” she thought, “or he could never be so sorry because she has no mother. I thought lawyers were hard, cruel men, who cared for nothing in the world. I always used to fancy my sister Hortensia ought to have been a lawyer.”
By-and-bye, as they drew very near to the station, Mr. Monckton dropped his newspaper with another sigh, and turning to Eleanor, said, in a low, confidential voice:
“I hope you will be very good to Laura Mason, Miss Vincent. Remember that she stands quite alone in the world; and that however friendless, however desolate you may be—I say this because you tell me you are an orphan—you can never be so friendless or so desolate as she is.”