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Volume 3 CHAPTER I ‘LOST TO HER PLACE AND NAME.’
Having come to Borcel End to perform a certain duty, Maurice Clissold gave himself up heart and soul to the task in hand. Pleasant as it might have been to him to spend the greater part of his time in the agreeable society of Mrs. Penwyn and her guests—playing croquet on sunny afternoons, or joining in a match of billiards in the old hall, meeting the best people to be met in that part of the world, and living that smooth, smiling life, in which care seems to have no part—pleasant as this might have been, he gave it up without a sigh, and spent his days and nights strolling about the farm, or sitting by the hearth where the sick woman’s presence maintained an unchanging gloom.

Every day showed the swift progress of disease. The malady, which had made its first approaches with insidious slowness, was now advancing upon the sufferer with appalling rapidity. Every day the hectic of the dying woman’s cheek took a more feverish brightness, the glassy eye a more awful light. Maurice felt that there was no time to be lost. His eyes, less accustomed to the aspect of the invalid than the eyes of kindred who had seen her daily throughout the progress of decline, clearly perceived that the end was not far off. Whatever secrets were hidden in that proud heart must be speedily revealed, or would remain buried there till the end of time. Yet how was he, almost a stranger, to win confidence which had been refused to a son?

He tried his uttermost to conciliate Mrs. Trevanard by small attentions. He adjusted the window-curtains, so as to temper the light for those weary eyes. He arranged the invalid’s pillow as tenderly as Martin could have done. He read to her—sometimes reading passages of Scripture which she herself selected, and which were frequently of an awful and denunciatory character, the cry of prophets and holy men against the iniquities of their age.

Those portions of Holy Writ which he himself chose were of a widely different tone. He read all that is most consoling, most tender in the Gospel. The words he chose were verily messengers of peace. And even that stubborn heart was touched—the woman who had prided herself on her own righteousness felt that she was a sinner.

One afternoon when Maurice and Mrs. Trevanard were alone by the fireside—Martin and his father being both at Seacomb market, and old Mrs. Trevanard being confined to her own room with a sharp attack of rheumatism—the invalid appeared struck by the young man’s kindness in remaining with her.

‘I should be dull company for you at the best of times,’ she said, ‘and it’s worse for you now that I’m so ill. Why don’t you go for a ride or a drive, and enjoy the country, instead of sitting in this dismal room with me?’

‘I am very glad to keep you company, Mrs. Trevanard,’ he answered, kindly. ‘You must find time heavy on market days, when there’s no one here.’

‘Yes, the hours seem very long. I make one of the girls sit here at her needlework. But that’s almost worse than loneliness, to hear the click, click, click of the needle, and see the girl sitting there, with no more sense in her than a statue, or not so much, for a statue does no harm. And then one gets thinking of the past, and the things we have done which we ought not to have done, and the things left undone which we ought to have done. It’s a dreary thought. When I was well and strong, and able to bustle about the house, I used to think I had done my duty in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call me. I knew that I had never spared myself, or given myself up to the lusts of the flesh, such as eating, and drinking, and slothfulness. The hardest crust or the poorest bit off the joint was always good enough for me. I was always the first up of a morning, summer and winter, and my hands were never idle. But since I’ve been ill, and sitting here all day, I’ve come to think myself a sinner. That’s a hard thought, Mr. Clissold, after a life of care and labour.’

‘Perhaps it is the best thought any of us can have,’ he answered, ‘the natural conclusion of every Christian who considers how far his highest endeavours fall short of his Master’s divine example. Remember the story of the publican.’

And then he read that sublimely simple record of the two men who went up into the temple to pray.

He had hardly finished when Mrs. Trevanard burst into tears, the first he had ever seen her shed. The sight shocked him, and yet inspired hope.

‘I have been like the Pharisee, I have trusted in my own righteousness,’ she said at last, drying her tears.

‘Dear Mrs. Trevanard,’ Maurice began, earnestly, ‘there are few of us altogether blameless—there are few lives in which some wrong has not been done to others—some mistake made which, perhaps, has gone far to wreck the happiness of others. The uttermost we can do, the uttermost God will demand from us, is repentance and atonement—such poor atonement, at least, as we may be able to offer for the wrong we have done. But it is a bitter thing to outstand God’s hour, and hold by our wrong-doing, to appear before Him as obstinate sinners who know their sin, yet cleave to it.’

The words moved her, for she turned her face away from him, and buried it on her pillow. He could see the feeble frame shaken by stifled sobs.

‘If you have wronged any one, and seek to atone for that wrong now in this eleventh hour——’ said Maurice.

Mrs. Trevanard turned quickly round, interrupting him. ‘Eleventh hour,’ she repeated. ‘Then they have all made up their minds that I am to die?’

‘Indeed, no! Your husband and son, and all about you, most earnestly desire your recovery. But you have been so long suffering from this trying disease, without improvement, that a natural fear has arisen——’

‘They are right,’ she said, with a gloomy look. ‘I feel that my doom is upon me.’

‘It will not shorten your days, or lessen your chances of recovery, if you prepare for the worst, Mrs. Trevanard,’ said Maurice, determined to push the question to its ultimate issue. ‘Many a man defers making his will, from a dim notion that to make it is to bring death nearer to him; and then some day death approaches him unawares, and his wishes remain unfulfilled. We must all die; so why should we not live prepared for death?’

‘I thought I was prepared,’ replied Mrs. Trevanard, ‘because I have clung to the Scriptures.’

‘The Gospel imposes certain duties upon us, and if those duties are unfulfilled our holding by the Bible will avail us very little. It isn’t reading the Bible, but living according to its teaching, that will make us Christians.’

‘You talk to me boldly,’ said the sick woman, ‘as if you knew I was a sinner.’

‘I know nothing about you, Mrs. Trevanard—except that you seem to have been a good wife and a good mother.’

At that word mother, Bridget Trevanard winced, as if an old wound had been touched.

‘But I believe that you have some heavy burden on your mind,’ continued Maurice, ‘and that you will know neither rest nor peace until that load has been lightened.’

‘You are a shrewd judge,’ said Mrs. Trevanard, bitterly. ‘And pray how came you to think this of me?’

‘The conviction has grown out of various circumstances, which I need not trouble you with. I am a student of mankind, Mrs. Trevanard, a close observer by habit. Pray do not suppose that I have watched you, or played the spy at your fireside. Be assured that I have no feeling but friendship towards you, that my sympathy is ready for your sorrows. And if you can be induced to trust me——’

‘If I could trust you!’ repeated Mrs. Trevanard. ‘If there was any one on earth I dared trust, in whose honest friendship I could believe, in whose word I dare confide the honour of a most unhappy household, heaven knows I would turn to him gladly enough. My husband is weak and helpless, a man who would blab a bitter secret to every acquaintance he has, who would look to others to drag him out of every difficulty, and make his trouble town-talk. My son is hot-headed and impulsive, would take trouble too deeply to heart, and would be betrayed into some act of folly before I was cold in my grave. No, there are none of my own household I dare trust.’

‘Trust me, Mrs. Trevanard.’

She looked at him earnestly with her melancholy eyes—looked as if she would fain have pierced the secrets of his heart.

‘You are a man of the world,’ she said, ‘and therefore might be able to give help and counsel in a difficult matter. You are a gentleman, and therefore would not betray a family secret. But what reason can you have for interesting yourself in my affairs? Why should you take any trouble about me or mine?’

‘First, because I am honestly attached to your son; and secondly, because I have felt a profound interest in your afflicted daughter.’

At that word the mother started up from her reclining position, and looked at the speaker fixedly.

‘Muriel!’ she exclaimed, ‘I did not know you had ever seen her.’

‘I have seen her and spoken to her. I met her one evening in the copse at the bottom of the garden, and talked to her.’

‘What did she talk about?’

‘You—and—her child.’

This was a random shot, but it hit the mark.

‘Great heaven! she spoke to you of that? A secret of years gone by, which it has been the business of my life to hide; which I have thought of through many a wakeful night upon my weary pillow. And she told you—a stranger?’

‘I spoke to her about you, but at the word mother she shrank from me with a look of horror. “Do not speak to me of my mother,” she cried, “what has she done with my child?” That speech made a profound impression upon me, as you may imagine. The remembrance of that speech emboldens me to ask for your confidence to-day.’

‘I saved that unhappy girl’s good name,’ said Mrs. Trevanard.

‘There you doubtless did a mother’s duty. But was it the maintenance of her character which occasioned the loss of her reason?’

‘I don’t know. It is a miserable story from first to last. But since you know so much I may as well trust you with the rest; and if, when you have heard all, you think there has been a wrong done that needs redress, you will perhaps help me to bring about that redress.’

‘Be assured of my uttermost help, if you will but trust me fully.’

‘You shall hear all,’ said Mrs. Trevanard, decisively. She took a little of some cooling drink which always stood ready for her on the table by her easy chair, and then began the story of a family sorrow.

‘You have seen Muriel,’ she said, ‘and you have perceived in her wasted countenance some faint traces of former beauty. At eighteen years of age she was a noble creature. She had a face which pleased and attracted every one who saw her. Her schoolmistress wrote me letters about the admiration she had excited on the breaking-up day, when the gentry, whose daughters attended the school, met to witness the distribution of prizes. I was weak enough to shed tears of joy over those letters—weak enough to be proud of gifts which were destined to become a snare of the evil one. Muriel was clever as well as beautiful. She was always at the top of her class, always the winner of prizes. Her father and I used to read her letters again and again, and I think we both worked all the harder, looking forward to the day when Muriel would marry some gentleman farmer, and would require a handsome portion. We were quite content with our own position as simple working people, but we had given Muriel the education of a lady, and we counted upon her marrying above her station.’

‘“After all, she’s a Trevanard,” her father used to say, “and the Trevanards come of as good a stock as any in Cornwall—not even barring the Penwyns.”

‘Well, the time came for Muriel to come home for good. She had not spent much of her holidays at home, for there’d almost always been some of her favourite fellow-pupils that wanted her company, and when she was invited to stay at gentlefolks’ houses I didn’t like to say no, and her father said it was a good thing for her to make friends among the gentry. So most of her holiday time had been spent out visiting, in spite of old Mrs. Trevanard, who was always grumbling about it, and saying that no good ever came of people forgetting their position. But now the time had come for Muriel to take her place beside the family hearth, and share our plain quiet life.’

The mother paused, with a bitter sigh, vividly recalling that bygone day, and her daughter’s vanished beauty—the fair young face which had smiled at her from the other side of the hearth, the happy girlish laugh, the glad young voice, the atmosphere of youth and brightness which Muriel’s return had brought to the grave old homestead.

‘Her grandmother had declared that Muriel would be dull and discontented at home, that we had made a great mistake in having her educated and brought up among her superiors in station, spoiling her by putting false notions in her head, and a good deal more of the same kind. But there was no discontent about Muriel when she came among us. She took her place as naturally as possible, wanted to help me with the dairy, or about the house, or to do anything she could to make herself useful. But I was too proud of her beauty and her cleverness to allow that. “No, Muriel,” I said, “you’ve been educated as a lady, and you shall not be the less a lady because you’ve come home. Your life here may be very dull, there’s no help for that, but it shall be the life of a lady. You may play the piano, and read your books, and do fancy work, and no one shall ever call upon you to soil your fingers in dairy work or house work.” So when she found I was determined, she gave way and lived like a lady. Her father bought her a piano, which still stands in the best parlour. Her gave her money to buy all the books she wanted. Indeed, there’s nothing she could have asked of him that he would have denied her, he was so proud and fond of his only daughter.’

‘She brought you happiness, then, in the beginning?’ said Maurice.

‘Yes, there couldn’t have been a better girl than Muriel was for the first year after she left school.

‘She was always the same sweet smiling creature, full of life, never finding the old house dull, amusing herself day after day with her books and piano, roaming about the fields, and along the beach for hours together, sometimes alone, sometimes with her little brother to keep her company.’

‘She was very fond of her brother, I understand?’

‘Yes, she doted upon Martin. She taught him to read, and write, and cipher, and used to tell him fairy tales of an evening, between the lights, sitting in a low chair by the hearth. She sang him to sleep many a night. In fact, she took all the trouble of him off my hands. She and her grandmother got on very well together, too, and the old lady having nothing to do, Muriel and she were often companions. Mrs. Trevanard was not blind at that time, but her sight was weak, and she was glad to get Muriel to read to her. Altogether our home seemed brighter and happier after Muriel came back to us. Perhaps we were not humble enough, or thankful enough for our happiness. Anyhow, trouble soon came.’

‘How did the evil begin?’

‘As it almost always does. It stole upon us unawares, like a thief in the night. The Squire’s eldest son, Captain Penwyn, came home on leave, before going on foreign service with his regiment, and spent a good deal of his leisure time fly-fishing in the streams about here. It was splendid summer weather, and we weren’t surprised at his being about the place so much, especially as folks said that he and his father didn’t get on well together. Now and again he would come in on a warm afternoon and take a draught of milk, and sit and talk for half an hour or so. He was a perfect gentleman, or had the seeming of one. He was grave and thoughtful in his ways, yet full of kindness and pleasantness. He was just the last kind of man that any father and mother would have thought of shutting their door against. His manner to Muriel was as respectful as if she had been the greatest lady in the land, but he and she naturally found a good deal to say to each other, she having been educated as a lady, and being able to understand and appreciate all he said.’

Mrs. Trevanard paused. She was approaching the painful part of her story, and had need to nerve herself for the effort.

‘Heaven knows, I had neither fear nor thought of fear at the time our sorrow came upon us. I had complete confidence in Muriel. If I had seen her surrounded by a score of admirers I should have felt no anxiety. She was a Trevanard, and the Trevanards had always been noted for beauty and pride. No female of the Trevanard family had ever been known to lower herself, or to forfeit her good name. And she came of as good a race on her mother’s side. The last thing I should have thought of was that my daughter would degrade herself by listening to a dishonourable proposal. Well, time went on, and one day Muriel brought me a letter she had received from her late schoolmistress, asking her to go and stay at the school for a week or two at Michaelmas. The school was just outside Seacomb, a handsome house, standing in its own gardens, and there were very few of the pupils that were not gentlemen’s daughters, or at any rate daughters of the richest farmers in the neighbourhood. Altogether, Miss Barlow’s school stood very high in people’s estimation, and I felt flattered by Miss Barlow’s asking my daughter to visit her, now that Muriel’s schooling days were over, and there was no more money to be expected from us.’

Again a pause and a sigh, and a few minutes of thoughtful silence, before Mrs. Trevanard resumed.

‘Muriel was very much excited about the invitation. I remember the bright flush upon her cheeks as she showed me the letter, and her curious, half-breathless way when she asked if I would let her go, and if I thought her father would consent to her going. “Why, you’re very anxious to run away from us, Muriel,” I said, “but that’s only to be expected: Borcel End must be dull for you.” “No, indeed, mother,” she answered quickly, “Borcel End is a dear old place, and I’ve been very happy here; but I should like to accept Miss Barlow’s invitation.”’

‘You consented, I suppose?’ said Maurice.

‘Yes, it wouldn’t have been easy for us to refuse anything she asked, at that time. And I think both her father and I were proud of her being made a friend of by such a superior person as Miss Barlow. So one sunny morning, at the beginning of the Michaelmas holidays, my husband drove Muriel over to Seacomb in the trap, and left her with Miss Barlow. She was to stay a fortnight, and her father was to fetch her at the end of the visit; but before the fortnight was over we had a letter from Muriel, asking to be allowed to extend her visit to three weeks, and saying that her father needn’t trouble about fetching her, as Miss Barlow would arrange for sending her home. This wounded Michael a little, being so proud of his daughter. “I thought my girl would have been glad to see her father after a fortnight’s separation,” he said. “She always used to be glad when I went over to see her on market days; and if I missed a week she used to call me unkind, and tell me how she had fretted at not seeing me; but I suppose things are changed now she’s a young woman.”’

‘Did she come back at the time promised?’

‘No, it was two or three days over the three weeks when she returned. She came in a hired fly from Seacomb, and I had never seen her look more beautiful or more a lady than she looked when she stepped out of the carriage in front of the porch. “Ah,” I thought to myself, “she looks as if she was born to hold a high position in the county;” and I thought of Captain Penwyn, and what a match he would be for her. I did not think he was a bit too good for her. “There’s no knowing what may happen,” I said to myself. Well, from this time forward she had a strange fitful way with her, sometimes all brightness and happiness, sometimes low-spirited. Her grandmother noticed the change, and said it was the consequence of over-education. “You’ve reared up your child to have all kinds of wishes and fancies that you can’t understand or satisfy,” she said, “and have made her unfit for her home.” I wouldn’t believe this; yet, as time went on, I could see clearly enough that Muriel was not happy.’

Again a heavy sigh, and a brief pause.

‘Captain Penwyn left Cornwall about this time, to join his regiment in Canada, and after he had gone, I observed that Muriel’s low spirits, which had been fitful before, became continual. She evidently struggled with her grief, tried to amuse herself with her books and piano, tried to interest herself in little Martin, but it was no use. I have often gone into the best parlour where she sat, and found her in tears. I have asked her the cause of her despondency, but she always put me off with some answer: she had been reading a book that affected her, or she had been playing a piece of music which always made her cry; and I noticed that at this time she rarely played any music that was not melancholy. If she began anything bright and gay, she always broke down in it, and her father sometimes asked her what had become of all her lively tunes. All at once it struck me that perhaps she had grown attached to Captain Penwyn, little as they had seen of each other, and that she was fretting at his absence. Yet I thought this would be too foolish for our Muriel. Or perhaps she had been wounded by his indifference to her. A girl accustomed to so much admiration as she had received might expect to make conquests. I used to puzzle myself about the cause of her sadness for hours together as I went about the house, but in all my thoughts of Muriel, I never imagined anything near the horrible truth.’

She stopped, clasped her hands before her face, and then went on hurriedly. ‘One night, when Muriel was sitting by this hearth, with her brother in her arms, singing to him, she broke down suddenly, and began to sob hysterically. Her father was frightened out of his wits, and came fussing about her in a way to make her worse, but I put my arm round her and led her to her own room. When we were together there she flung herself upon my breast, and then the awful truth came out. A child was to be born in this house—a child whose birth must be hidden, whose father’s name was never to be spoken.’

‘Did she tell you all the truth?’

‘She told me nothing. There was a secret, she said—a secret she had solemnly sworn to keep, come what might. She asked me to trust her, to believe in her honour, in spite of all that seemed to condemn her. She asked me to send her away somewhere, to some quiet corner of the earth where no one need know her name or anything about her. But I told her there was no corner of the earth so secret that slander and shame would not follow her, and no hiding-place so safe as her father’s house. “If you were to go away it would set people talking,” I said.’

‘There may have been a secret marriage,’ suggested Maurice.

‘I asked her that question, but she refused to answer. I cannot believe that she would have kept back the truth from me, her mother, in that hour of agony. I asked her if George Penwyn was the villain who had brought this misery upon us, but this question also she refused to answer. She had made a promise that sealed her lips, she said. I must think the worst of her, if I could not trust her.’

‘Would it not have been better and wiser to believe in your daughter’s honour, even in the face of circumstances that seemed to condemn?’ asked Maurice, with a touch of reproach.

‘Who can be wise when they see all they have most loved and honoured suddenly snatched away from them? The discovery of my daughter’s dishonour was more bitter to me than her sudden death would have been. When I left her that night my prayer was that she might die, and her sorrow and her blighted name go down unknown to the grave. A wicked prayer, you think, no doubt; but you have never passed through such an agony as I felt that night. I lay awake thinking what was to be done. I had no doubt in my own mind that George Penwyn was the man who had slain my daughter’s soul. There was no one else I could suspect. When I rose at daybreak next morning I had my plan, in some measure, settled.’

Maurice listened breathlessly; he felt that he was on the threshold of the household mystery—the sacrifice that had been made to the family’s good name.

‘Whenever any of us were ill, old Mrs. Trevanard used to doctor us. She has all kinds of recipes for medicines to cure small ailments. It was only when a case was very bad that we sent for a doctor. Now my first precaution was to remove Muriel to the room above her grandmother’s, a room cut off from the rest of the house, as you know, and to place her under old Mrs. Trevanard’s care, in such a manner that the house-servant—we had only one then—had no chance of approaching her. To do this, of course I had to tell Mrs. Trevanard the secret. You may suppose that went hard with me, but the old lady behaved well throughout my trouble, and never spoke a reproachful word of Muriel. “Let her come to me, poor lamb,” she said, “I’ll stand by her, come what may.” So we moved Muriel to that out-of-the-way room, and I told her father that she was ill with a slight attack of low fever, and that I thought it wisest to place her in her grandmother’s care. He was very anxious and fidgety about her, and a dreadful gloom seemed to fall upon the house. I know that I went about my daily work with a heart that was ready to break.’

‘It must have been a hard time, indeed,’ said Maurice, compassionately.

‘It was so hard as to try my faith in God’s goodness. My heart rebelled against His decrees; but just when my despair was deepest, Providence seemed to come to my help in a most unlooked-for manner. It was winter at this time, near the end of winter, and very severe weather. The moors were covered with snow, and no one came near Borcel from one week’s end to another. One evening about dusk I was leaving the dairy, which is detached from the house, and crossing the yard to go back to the kitchen, when I saw a man and woman looking over the yard gate, the snow beating down upon them—two as miserable objects as you could see. My heart was hardened against others by my own grief, so I called to them to go away, I had nothing to give them.

‘“If we go away from here it will be to certain death,” answered the man. “As you are a Christian, give us a night’s shelter. We left Seacomb early this morning to walk to Penwyn Manor, having a letter recommending us to the Squire’s charity; but the walk was longer and more difficult than we knew, and here we are at dark, just halfway on our journey. I don’t ask much from you,—only enough to save us from perishing—a night’s lodging in one of your empty barns.”

‘This was an appeal I could not resist. There was room enough to have sheltered twenty such wanderers. So I took these two up to a hayloft that was seldom used, and gave them a truss of old hay for a bed; and I carried them a loaf and a jug of milk with my own hands. I don’t know what put it into my head to wait upon them myself, instead of sending the servant to them, but I think it pleased me to do this humble office, knowing how low my daughter had fallen, and feeling as if there were some kind of atonement in my humility.

‘These people were not common wanderers. I soon discovered that they were very different from the tramps who came prowling about the place in summer, begging or stealing whenever they had a chance. The woman was a pretty-looking, gentle creature, who seemed deeply grateful for small kindnesses. She had not long recovered from a serious illness, the husband told me, and her delicate looks confirmed his statement. The man spoke well, if not exactly like a gentleman, and his clothes, though worn almost to rags, were not the clothes of a working man. I fancied that he was a lawyer’s clerk, or perhaps, from his fluency of speech, a broken-down Methodist parson.’

‘He spoke like a man accustomed to speaking in public, then, I conclude,’ said Maurice.

‘Yes, that was the impression he gave me,’ replied Mrs. Trevanard. ‘I went back to the house after having made them tolerably comfortable in the loft,’ she continued, ‘and all that night I lay awake thinking about these two people. They seemed to have dropped from the skies, somehow, so suddenly and unexpectedly had they come upon me in the winter dusk; and it came into my head, in that weary night, that they were instruments of Providence sent to help me in my trouble. I had no clear thought of what they would do for me, but I felt that since I should be compelled to trust some one, by and by, with some part of our fatal secret, it would be easier and better to trust waifs and strays like these, who might wander away and carry their knowledge with them, than anybody else. Neighbour or friend I dared not trust. My sole hope lay among strangers.’

‘Did none of the farm people know of these wanderers’ arrival?’ asked Maurice.

‘No. The men were at their supper when I took these people to the loft. It was a loft over an empty stable, and was only used at odd times for a surplus supply of fodder. I knew it was safe enough as a hiding-place, so long as the people kept tolerably quiet. I had warned them against making their presence known, as my husband was a hard man—heaven forgive me for so great a falsehood—and might object to their being about the place. Well, the snow came down thicker than ever next morning, and to try and find a path across the moor would have been madness. Those most accustomed to the country round would have been helpless in such weather. So I took the people in the loft a warm comfortable breakfast of coffee and bread and bacon, and I told them that they might stay till the weather changed.’

‘They were grateful, I suppose.’

‘They thanked and blessed me, with tears. I was ashamed to receive their thanks, knowing my selfish thought had been only of my own trouble, and how little I had cared for their distress. The man told me that his name was Eden, and that he was a broken-down gentleman. I think he said he had been in the army, and had wealthy relations, but they had discarded him, and after trying to earn his living by the use of his talents, he had fallen into extreme poverty. He and his wife had come to Cornwall, having heard that living was cheap in the west of England. I gathered from him that he had tried to pick up a living by teaching, but had failed, and was at last compelled to leave his lodgings, and in his extremity had determined to appeal to Squire Penwyn, whom he had heard of as a wealthy man. For that purpose he had rashly attempted to walk across the moor, the snow having held off for a little, with his weakly wife. “Heaven help you if you had found your way to the old Squire!” I told him. “He’s not the man to do much for you.” I told them both that they might stay until the weather was better, or stay till Mrs. Eden had picked up her strength by means of rest and good plain food, provided they kept themselves quiet in the loft; and they blessed me again as if I had been their good angel.’

‘It was a welcome boon, no doubt.’

‘In the course of that day it came out that Mrs. Eden had not long before lost her first baby, and that she had fretted for it a good deal. This confirmed my idea that these people were instruments sent me by Providence, and I laid my plans, and arranged everything clearly in my own mind. A fortnight went by, and the snow began to melt in the valleys, and our men had hard work to keep the place from being flooded. Michael was out all day helping to cut drains to carry the water off the stackyard. As the weather brightened Mr. Eden seemed to get uneasy in his mind. “You’ll be wanting to get rid of us, ma’am,” he said. “The wayfarers must resume their journey through the wilderness of life.” But I told him he could stay till the weather was milder, on account of his sickly wife. I was not ready for them to leave yet awhile.’

‘And in all this time no one discovered them?’ asked Maurice.

‘No; that part of the premises lies out of every one’s way. You may go and look at it to-morrow, if you like, and see what a deserted corner it is. They had a fright once or twice—heard the men’s voices near, but no one ever approached the loft. I took care to pay my visits to them at meal-times, when there was no one about to see me. I always kept my dairy under lock and key, and I used to put the supplies for my pensioners in the dairy. It was easy to carry things from the dairy to the loft without being observed. I fed them well, gave them a few old books to read, and gave Mrs. Eden working materials, and a piece of calico to make under-clothes for herself, and a useful gown or two into the bargain. I had ample stores of all kinds hoarded up, and it was easy enough for me to be charitable.’

‘Your pensioners did not grow tired of their retreat?’

‘Far from it. They had suffered too much from actual want not to be thankful for food and shelter which cost them nothing. Mr. Eden told me that he had never been happier than in that loft. I had contrived to take them over blankets, and a few old cushions to sit upon, and many other comforts, by degrees. Mrs. Eden’s health had wonderfully improved. One day, after she had been talking to me of the child she had lost, I asked her if she could love and cherish a motherless infant confided to her care. She said she could, indeed, with all her heart, and her whole face softened at the thought. It was a kind and gentle face at all times. I asked her no further questions upon the subject, but I felt full confidence in her. A week after that I took her a new-born babe in the dead of the night—a sweet little lily-faced creature dressed in the baby clothes my own fingers had stitched for my own first born child, Muriel. Heaven knows what I suffered that night when I laid the innocent lamb in Mrs. Eden’s arms—she only half wakened, and scared by the suddenness of my coming. I had meant to tell her that the infant was the child of one of my servants; but when the time came I could not utter the lie. I told her only that the child was motherless, and that I confided it to her care from that hour, and that on consideration of Mr. Eden and herself taking the babe into their keeping and bringing it up as their own, I would give them a good sum of money to start them in a respectable way of life. But before I did this they must pledge themselves never again to appear at Borcel End, or anywhere in the neighbourhood of Borcel End, and never to make any application to me on account of the child. From the hour they left Borcel End the child would belong wholly to them, and there would be no link to connect it with me. I said all this hurriedly that night, but I repeated it again next day in a formal manner, and made them take a solemn oath upon my Bible, binding them to perform their part of the bond.’

‘Did they stay long at Borcel after the child’s birth?’

‘Only five days, for I dreaded lest the baby’s crying should be heard by any one about the place. Mrs. Eden took great care of the helpless little thing, and kept it wonderfully quiet, but the fear of its crying haunted me day and night. I was always fancying I heard it. I used to start up from my pillow in the dead of the night, with the sound of that child’s crying in my ears, and used to wonder my husband was not awakened by it, although it would not have been possible for the sound to reach our bedroom if the child had cried its loudest. But though I knew this, the sound haunted me all the same, and I determined that the Edens should start directly it was reasonably safe for the infant to be moved. The weather was now mild and dry, the mornings were light soon after six o’clock.’

‘How did you get them away secretly?’

‘That was my great difficulty. There was no possibility of going away in any vehicle. They must go on foot, and make their way back to Seacomb. At Seacomb they would take the train and get out of the county. After thinking it over a long time, I decided that the safest thing would be for them to leave at half-past six o’clock in the morning, when the men would be all in the fields. I knew exactly what was going forward upon the farm, and could make my plans accordingly. It would be easy for me to take care that the maid-servant was safely employed indoors, and could see nothing of Mr. and Mrs. Eden’s departure.’

‘Did you give these people much money?’

‘All that I possessed in the world—my secret savings of years. Good as my husband is, and well to do though we were from the beginning, it had pleased me to save a little money that was quite my own, to dispose of as I pleased, unquestioned by Michael. I had wronged no one in saving this money, it was all the result of small economies, and of self-denial. My husband had given me a five-pound note for a new gown, and I put the money away, and turned my last silk gown instead of buying a new one, or I had reared a brood of choice poultry, and sold them to a neighbouring farmer. The money was honestly come by, and it amounted to over two hundred pounds, in notes and gold. I gave it to the Edens in a lump. “Now remember, that this is to start you in life,” I said to them, finally, “and that on consideration of this you take the responsibility of this child’s maintenance henceforward, and that she shall be called by your name, and as you thrive she shall thrive.” This they pledged themselves to, most solemnly. Mrs. Eden seemed honestly attached to the desolate baby already, and I had no fear that it would be unkindly treated. Desperate as my necessities were, I do not think I could have entrusted that helpless infant to any one of whose kindness I had not felt confident.’

‘Was the child christened when it left Borcel End?’ asked Maurice.

He had a reason for thinking this question of considerable importance.

‘No. I might have baptized it myself, had it been in danger of death. But the child was well enough, and seemed in a fair way to live. I told Mr. and Mrs. Eden to have it christened as soon as they had left Cornwall, and settled themselves in a new neighbourhood.’

‘Did you tell them what name to call the infant?’

‘No. It was to be their child henceforward. It was their business to choose its name.’

‘They got safely away, I suppose?’

‘Yes, they left secretly and safely, just as I had planned. I shall never forget that grey morning, in the chilly spring weather, and the last glimpse I had of those two wanderers—the woman with the child nestled to her breast, wrapped in my Muriel’s blue cloak—the cloak it had been such pleasure to me to quilt when I was a young woman.’

Mrs. Trevanard sighed bitterly.

‘I can remember sitting in this room at work at the beginning of my married life,’ she said, dreamily, ‘thinking what a grand thing it was to be married, and the mistress of a large house and a prosperous farm. I look back upon my life now—nine-and-thirty years of wedded life—and think how heavily the care of it weighs against the happiness, and what a life of toil it has been. “Heaping up riches, and ye know not who shall gather them.”’

‘Did you never hear any more of Mr. and Mrs. Eden, or the child?’ asked Maurice, most anxious to hear all that was to be told by lips that must ere long be silent.

‘From that day to this not a word. They have kept their promise. Whether they prospered or failed, I know not. They were neither of them past the prime of life, and there seemed to me no reason why they should not get on pretty well in some small trade, such as I advised them to try, beginning humbly with a part of their little capital. Heaven knows what may have become of them. The child may be dead—dead, years ago, taking that quiet rest which will soon be mine.’

‘Or she may be living. She may have grown up beautiful, good, and clever; such a grandchild as you would be proud to own.’

‘I should never be proud of a nameless child,’ answered Mrs. Trevanard, gloomily.

‘The child you banished may not have been without a name. Forgive me if I speak plainly. Far be it from me to reproach you. I offer you sympathy and help, if help be possible. But I think you acted precipitately throughout this sad business. What if there were a secret marriage between your daughter and Captain Penwyn? Such a marriage might easily have taken place during the three weeks that your daughter was away from home, ostensibly on a visit to her late schoolmistress. Did you never question that lady?’

‘It was not possible for me to do so. Miss Barlow retired from business very soon after Muriel’s visit, and her school passed into the hands of strangers. She went abroad to live, and I could never find out where to communicate with her. But even if I had known where to address her, I should have feared to write, lest my letter should compromise Muriel. My one all-absorbing desire was to hide the disgrace that Providence had been pleased to inflict upon our family, doubtless as a chastisement for our pride.’

‘What effect upon your daughter had the loss of her child?’

‘Ah, that was terrible! After the baby’s birth Muriel had a fever. It arose from no want of care or good nursing, for old Mrs. Trevanard nursed her with unceasing devotion, and there couldn’t be a more skilful nurse than my mother-in-law. But Muriel missed the child, and the loss of it preyed upon her mind; and then, in her feverish delirium, she fancied I had taken the baby away and murdered it. We had a fearful time with her, old Mrs. Trevanard and I, while that delusion lasted, but by care we brought her through it all; and as the fever passed off she grew more reasonable, and understood that I had sent away the child to save her good name; but she was different in her manner to me from what she had been. She never kissed me or asked me to kiss her, or seemed to care to have me near her. I could see that my only daughter was estranged from me for ever. She clung to her grandmother, and it was as much as I could do by and by to get her to come downstairs and sit among us. I was very anxious to do this, if it was only to pacify her father, for he had been anxious and fidgety all the time she was away from us, and after the Edens had taken the baby away, I had been obliged to call in a doctor from Seacomb, just to satisfy Michael. The doctor listened to all that Mrs. Trevanard told him about Muriel, and just echoed what she said, and did neither good nor harm by his coming.’

‘And your daughter resumed her place in the family?’

‘She came among us, and sat by the fire, reading, or sometimes singing to little Martin, but she seemed in all things like the ghost of her former self, and it was heart-breaking to see her poor pale face. She would sit, with her melancholy eyes fixed on the burning logs, for half an hour at a time, lost in thought. You may judge how I felt towards the wretch who had worked this evil, when I saw his victim sitting there joyless and hopeless—she, who might have been so bright and glad but for him. Her father was dreadfully cut up by the change in Muriel. He would hang over her sometimes, calling her his poor faded child, and asking her what he could do to make her happy, and to bring the roses back to her cheeks; and sometimes, to please him, she would brighten up a little, and pretend to be her old glad self. But any one could see how hollow her smile was. I never said my prayers, night or morning, without praying God to avenge my daughter’s great wrongs, and it never seemed to me that such a prayer was sinful.’

‘Did your daughter ask you what had become of her child?’

‘I saved her the pain of asking that question. As soon as reason returned, after the fever, I told her that the child was in safe hands, with kind people, and would be well cared for, and that she need give herself no anxiety about its fate. “Let that dark interval in your life be forgotten, Muriel,” I said, “and may God forgive you as freely as I do now.” She made no answer, except to bow her head gently, as if in assent.’

‘How was it that her mind again gave way, after this recovery?’

‘I am coming to that presently. That was the heaviest blow of all. Just when I was beginning to hope time would work her cure, just when I fancied I could see a glimmer of the old smile brightening her pale face now and then, the blow fell. We were sitting round this hearth one evening, Muriel and her grandmother, and little Martin and I, when Michael came in, looking very much agitated. We asked him what was the matter. “The saddest thing I have heard of for many a year,” he answered. “Well, we’ve all got our troubles! There’s been bad news for the Squire up at Penwyn.” Muriel started up with a faint cry, but I caught hold of her, and squeezed her hand tight, to warn her against saying anything that might betray her. “Dreadful news,” Michael went on; “Captain George, the eldest son, the one we know so well, has been murdered by the savages. Lord only knows what those red devils did to him. Scalped him, they say, tied him to a tree, and tortured him——” Muriel gave one long piercing scream, and dropped upon the stone floor. We lifted her up and carried her to bed, and the doctor was sent for post haste. I was sore afraid she would let out her secret, in her father’s hearing or the doctor’s, when she came round out of that death-like swoon; but I need not have feared. Her mind was quite gone, and all her talk was mere disjointed raving. From that day to this she has been the helpless, hopeless creature you have seen her. We have kept her out of a madhouse by keeping her close, under old Mrs. Trevanard’s care. We have done all we could think of to soften the misery of her state, but she has never, for the briefest interval, recovered her reason. And now I have told you all, Mr. Clissold—without reserve, confessing the wrong I have done as freely as when I acknowledge my sins to my God.’

The sick woman sank back upon the pillows, pale to the lips. That indomitable strength of will, which had been ever the distinguishing mark of her character, had sustained her throughout this prolonged effort. And deeply as he compassionated the sufferer’s state, Maurice felt that it was vital to obtain from her at once, and without delay, all the information she could give him.

‘I am grateful to you for having honoured me with your confidence, Mrs. Trevanard,’ he said, kindly, ‘and now that you have so fully trusted me, receive once more my solemn promise to do all that may lie in my power to obtain justice for your daughter, and your daughter’s child. I am inclined to think that Captain Penwyn may have been less base than you believe him, and that his unhappy death alone may have prevented his making some atonement, or revealing the fact of a secret marriage between himself and your daughter. I can hardly think that a girl brought up as your daughter was brought up could be so easy a victim as you imagine her to have been. My endeavour shall be to ascertain the truth upon this point of marriage or no marriage. A young London clergyman, a friend of mine, has told me many a curious fact connected with private marriages—stray leaves of family history,—and I see no reason why this Captain Penwyn, who impressed you as an honourable and a well-meaning man, should not have contracted such a union with your daughter.’

‘God grant that it was so,’ ejaculated Mrs. Trevanard. ‘I should go down to my grave with an easier mind if I could believe George Penwyn something less of a villain than I have considered him for the last twenty years. When I heard of his dreadful death in the Canadian forest, I said to myself, “The Almighty Avenger of all wrongs has heard my prayer!”’

‘It shall also be my endeavour to find your granddaughter,’ said Maurice. ‘I have a curious fancy upon that point, but perhaps a foolish fancy, and therefore hardly worth speaking about.’

‘Pray tell me what it is.’

‘It is really too foolish, and might only mislead you. All I ask is that you will give me any detail which may help me in my attempt to discover the girl you entrusted to Mr. and Mrs. Eden. What kind of man was this Mr. Eden, for instance?’

The sound of wheels rolling towards the door prevented this question being answered. In another moment the dog-cart drew up before the porch, father and son alighted, and came into the room, bringing a gust of fresh moorland air along with them. The opportunity of obtaining further detail from Mrs. Trevanard was gone for the time being; and it might be long before Maurice again found himself alone with her, or found her inclined to speak. He heartily wished that the attractions of Seacomb market, or of the homely hostelry where the farmers eat their substantial two o’clock dinner, had detained Michael Trevanard and his son just a little longer.

The invalid was more cheerful that evening than she had been for a long time, and something of the old air of domestic comfort seemed to return to the homestead parlour, as Maurice and the family sat at tea. Both her husband and son noticed the improvement.

‘You must be rare good company,’ said the farmer, ‘for Bridget looks ever so much brighter for spending the afternoon with you.—Cheer up! old lady, we may cheat the doctors after all,’ he added, bending over his wife affectionately as he handed her a cup of tea, the only kind of refreshment she now enjoyed.

‘The doctors may have their own way about me, Michael,’ answered Mrs. Trevanard, ‘if I can only go down to my grave with my mind pretty easy.’

Her son drew his chair beside hers after tea, and sat with his hand in hers, clinging to her with melancholy fondness, sadly expectant of the coming day when there would be nothing on this earth more distant from him than that motherly hand.

Maurice Clissold had pledged himself to spend the next day at Penwyn, where there was to be a cottager’s flower show, in which Mrs. Penwyn and Miss Bellingham were deeply interested. It was the Squire’s wife who had organized the annual exhibition, and stimulated the love of floriculture in the peasant mind by the offer of various useful and attractive prizes—a silver watch, a handsome rosewood tea-caddy, a delf dinner service, a copper tea-kettle—prizes which were dear to the tastes of the competing floriculturists, and which were eagerly competed for. The most gigantic yellow roses, the longest and greenest cucumbers, the finest bunches of grapes, the most mathematically correct dahlias were produced within a ten-mile radius of Penwyn; and by this simple means the cottage gardens and flower-pots in latticed casements which Mrs. Penwyn beheld in her walks and drives were things, of beauty, and a perennial source of joy.

The show was held in a vast circular marquee erected in the grounds of the Manor House. Lady Cheshunt was one of the lady adjudicators, and sat in state, gorgeously attired in a tea-leaf coloured silk, fearfully and wonderfully made, by a Regent Street dressmaker, who tyrannized over her customers, and seemed to gratify a malicious disposition by inflicting hideous combinations of form and colour upon her too submissive patronesses.

‘I really can’t say I think it pretty, dear Lady Cheshunt,’ said Madge, when her friend asked her opinion of this tea-leaf coloured abomination.

‘No more do I, my love,’ replied the dowager, calmly, ‘but it’s strikingly ugly. All your county people will be blazing in what they call pretty colours. This dirty greenish brown is chic!’

After the cottage flower-show came a German Tea for the gentlefolks, and croquet, and archery, and the usual amount of indiscriminate flirtation which accompanies those sports. Maurice found himself amongst pleasant sunshiny people, and almost enjoyed himself, which seemed, in some-wise, treason against Justina.

But even in those piney glades, while the click of the croquet balls was sounding to an accompaniment of silvery laughter, his fancy went back to the Bloomsbury parlour and the happy hours he had wasted there, and he longed to sit in his old corner reading Victor Hugo, or sipping tea out of the dragon china.

It was late when he drove back to Borcel in Michael Trevanard’s dog-cart, which had been placed at his disposal for the day. When he came down to breakfast next morning, Mrs. Trevanard’s chair was empty. This startled him, for, ill as she was, she had been rigidly regular in her habits, coming downstairs at eight o’clock every morning, and only retiring when the rest of the family went to bed.

On questioning Mr. Trevanard, he heard that the invalid was much weaker this morning. She had not been able to rise.

‘It’s a bad sign when Bridget gives way,’ added Michael, despondently. ‘She’s not one to knock under while she has strength to bear up against her weakness.’

The next day and the next the chair remained empty. Maurice hung about the farm, hardly knowing what to do with himself in this time of trouble, yet nowise willing to desert his post. On the third day he was summoned to Mrs. Trevanard’s room. Ph?be, the housemaid, came in quest of him to an old orchard, where he was fond of smoking his cigar.

‘Missus is very bad, sir, and I believe she’s asked to see you,’ said the girl, breathless.

Maurice hurried to the house, and to Mrs. Trevanard’s room. Husband and son were standing near the bed, and the dying woman lay with her hand elapsed in Martin’s, her eyes looking with a strangely eager expression towards the door.

At the sight of Maurice her wan face brightened ever so little, and she gave a faint choking cry.

‘Want—tell you—something,’ she gasped, half inarticulately.

He went close to the bed and leaned over her.

‘Dear Mrs. Trevanard, I am listening.’

‘A Bible—gave—family Bible.’

That was all. She spoke no more after this; and before nightfall the windows were darkened at Borcel End, and the careful housewife had gone to that land where there is no thought of sordid things.


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