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首页 » 经典英文小说 » A Strange World » CHAPTER IX ‘THE DAYS HAVE VANISHED, TONE AND TINT.’
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CHAPTER IX ‘THE DAYS HAVE VANISHED, TONE AND TINT.’
Maurice Clissold lost no time in setting about his search for Miss Barlow, the quondam schoolmistress of Seacomb. But the first result of his endeavours was a failure. The London Post Office Directory for the current year knew not Miss Barlow. Barlows there were in its pages, but they were trading Barlows; Barlows who baked, or Barlows who brewed; Barlows who dealt in upholstery; Barlows who purveyed butcher’s meat; or professional Barlows, who wrote Rev. before or M.R.C.S. after their names. A spinster of the musical profession was not to be found among the London Barlows.

In the face of this disappointment Maurice paused to consider his next effort. Advertising in the Times he looked upon as a last resource, and a means of inquiry which he hoped to dispense with. So many spurious Miss Barlows eager to hear of something to their advantage, would be conjured into being by any appeal published in the second column of the Times.

There remained to him the detective medium, but Maurice cherished a prejudice against private inquiry offices, and would not for all the wealth of this realm have revealed Muriel’s story to a professional detective. He was resolved to succeed or fail in this business single-handed.

‘If Miss Barlow is above ground her existence must be known to somebody,’ he reasoned, ‘to musical people more particularly. I’ll go down to the Albert Theatre and have a chat with the leader of the orchestra. Your musical director is generally a man of the world, with a little more than the average amount of brains. And I have heard Justina speak very highly of Herr Fisfiz. Flittergilt’s new comedy is in rehearsal, so I have an excuse for going behind the scenes.’

It was about noon on the day after his little entertainment to Mr. Elgood that Maurice arrived at this decision. He went straight from his club, where he had explored the Court Guide and Postal Directory, to the snug little theatre in the Strand, where, after some parley with the stage doorkeeper, he obtained admittance, and groped his way through subterranean regions of outer darkness, and by some breakneck stairs, to the side scenes, where, in a dim glimmer of daylight and fitful glare of gas, he beheld the stage on one side of him, and the open door of the green-room on the other.

Justina was rehearsing. Mr. Flittergilt, in a state of mental fever, sat by the stage manager’s little table, manuscript and pencil in hand, underlining here, erasing there, now altering an exit, now suggesting the proper emphasis to give point to a sparkling sentence, evidently delighted with his own work, yet as evidently painfully anxious about the result.

‘I shan’t be satisfied with a moderate success,’ he told Maurice. ‘I want this piece to make a greater hit than “No Cards.” You remember what was said of Sheridan when he hung back from writing a new comedy. He was afraid of the author of “The Rivals.” Now I don’t want that to be said of me.’

‘No fear, dear boy,’ remarked Maurice. But Mr. Flittergilt’s exalted mind ignored the interjection.

‘I want the public to see that I have not emptied my sack; that “No Cards” was not my ace of trumps, but only my knave. I’ve queen, king, and ace to follow! Did you hear the last scene?’ asked the author, with a self-satisfied smile. ‘It’s rather sparkling, I think; and Elgood hits the character to the life.’

Mr. Clissold did not approve this familiar allusion to the girl of his choice.

‘I’ve only just this moment come in,’ he said; ‘I’m glad Miss Elgood likes her new r?le.’

‘Likes it?’ cried Flittergilt, with an injured look. ‘It wouldn’t be easy for any actress on the boards not to like such a part. “No Cards” made Miss Elgood; but this piece will place her a step higher on the ladder.’

‘Don’t you think there may be people weak-minded enough to believe that Miss Elgood’s acting made “No Cards”?’ asked Maurice, quietly.

‘I can’t help people’s weak-mindedness,’ answered Mr. Flittergilt, with dignity; ‘but I know this for a fact, that no acting—not of a Macready or a Faucit—ever made a bad piece run over a hundred nights.’ And with this assertion of himself Mr. Flittergilt went back to his table and his manuscript, and began to badger the actors—being possessed by the idea that because he was able to construct a play from the various foreign materials at his command, he must necessarily be able to teach experienced comedians their art.

Justina looked up from her book presently, and espied Mr. Clissold. Her blush betrayed surprise, her eyes revealed that the surprise was not unpleasant.

‘Have you come to criticise the new comedy?’ she asked. ‘That’s hardly fair, though, for a piece loses so much at rehearsal. Mr. Flittergilt is always calling us back to give us his own peculiar reading of a line. I never saw such an excitable little man. But I suppose he’ll take things more coolly when he has written a few more plays.’

‘Yes; he is new to the work as yet. I am glad to hear you have such a good part.’

‘It is a wonderfully good part, if I can only act it as it ought to be played.’

‘Is your leader, Herr Fisfiz, here this morning?’ asked Maurice.

‘He is coming presently. There’s a gavotte in the third act.’

‘You dance?’

‘Yes, Mr. Mortimer and I. Herr Fisfiz has written original music for it—so quaint and pretty. You should stay to hear it, now you are here.’

‘I mean to stay till the rehearsal is over. I should like you to introduce me to Mr. Fisfiz; I want to ask him a question or two about some musical people.’

‘I shall be pleased to introduce you to each other. He is a very clever man, not in music only, but in all kinds of things, and I think you would like him.’

Maurice seated himself in a dark corner, near the prompter’s box, and awaited Mr. Fisfiz, amusing himself by listening to the comedy, and beholding his friend Flittergilt’s frantic exertions in the meanwhile. He had been thus occupied nearly an hour when Mr. Fisfiz appeared, attended by his ame damnée in the person of the repétiteur. The director was a little man, with a small delicate face, and a Shakesperian brow; spoke English perfectly, though with a German accent, and had no dislike to hearing himself talk, or to wasting a stray half-hour in the society of a pretty actress, or even bestowing the sunshine of his presence for a few leisure minutes on a group of giggling ballet-girls. He was evidently a great admirer of Miss Elgood, and inclined to be gracious to any one she introduced to him.

‘I think you’ll like the gavotte,’ he said, playing little pizzicato passages on his violin, with a satisfied smile. ‘It sounds like Bach.’

Justina told him it was charming. The dance began presently, and though she only walked through it, the grace of her movements charmed that silent lover of hers, who sat in his corner and made no sign, lest in uttering the most commonplace compliment he should betray that secret which he had pledged himself to keep.

When the gavotte was finished, Justina brought Herr Fisfiz to the dark corner, and left him there with Maurice, while she went on with her rehearsal.

Mr. Clissold gave the gavotte its meed of praise, said a few words about things in general, and then came to the question he wanted to ask.

‘There is a lady connected with the musical profession I am trying to find,’ he said, ‘and it struck me this morning that you might be able to assist me.’

‘I know most people in the musical world,’ answered Herr Fisfiz. ‘What is the lady’s name?’

‘Miss Barlow.’

‘Miss Barlow. How do you spell the name?’

Maurice spelt it, and the director shook his head.

‘I know no one of that name. No Miss B-a-r-l-o-w,’ he said. ‘I never heard of any one so called in the musical profession. Is your Miss Barlow a concert singer? Young—an amateur, perhaps, who has not yet made herself known?’

‘She is not a concert singer, and she must be middle-aged—probably elderly. The last account I have of her goes back to ten years ago. She may be dead and gone for anything I know to the contrary; but I have heard that she was living in or near London ten years ago, giving lessons in music, and that she was doing well. She was a retired schoolmistress, and had made money, therefore was not likely to go in for ill-paid drudgery. She must have had some standing in her profession, I fancy.’

‘I know of a Madame Balo—B-a-l-o—who might answer to that description,’ said the leader, thoughtfully, ‘an elderly lady, a very fine pianiste. She still receives a few pupils—chiefly girls studying for concert playing; but I believe she does so more from love of her art than from any necessity to earn money. She lives in considerable comfort, and appears to be very well off.’

‘She is a foreigner, I suppose, from the name. The lady I mean is—or was—an Englishwoman.’

‘Madame Balo is as British as you are. She may have married a foreigner, perhaps. But I really don’t know whether she is a widow or a spinster. She lives alone, in a nice little house in Maida Vale.’

‘I wonder whether she can be the lady I want to find? The description seems to answer. She may have Italianized the spelling of her name to make it more attractive to her patrons.’

‘Yes, you English seem to have a small belief in your own musical abilities, since you prefer to entrust the cultivation of them to a foreigner.’

‘Do you know this lady well enough to give me a note of introduction to her?’ asked Maurice; ‘if I may venture to ask such a favour at the beginning of our acquaintance.’

‘Delighted to oblige a friend of Miss Elgood’s,’ answered Mr. Fisfiz, politely. ‘Yes, I know Madame Balo well enough to scribble a note of introduction to her. She is a very clever woman, with a passion for clever people. And I believe you belong to the world of letters, Mr. Clissold?’

‘Yes, I have dabbled in literature,’ answered Maurice.

‘Just the very man to delight Madame Balo. She is a woman of mind. When do you want the letter?’

‘As soon as ever you can oblige me with it. I dare say a line on one of your cards would do as well. I merely wish to ask Madame Balo a few questions about a young lady who was once a member of her establishment at Seacomb; supposing that she is identical with the Miss Barlow I have spoken of.’

‘I’ll do what you want at once,’ said Mr. Fisfiz.

He seated himself at the prompter’s table, and wrote on the back of a card, in a neat and minute penmanship,—

‘Dear Madame,—Mr. Clissold, the bearer of this card, is a literary gentleman of some standing, who wishes to make your acquaintance. Any favour you may accord him will also oblige,

‘Yours very truly,

‘R. F.’

‘I think that will be quite enough for Madame Balo,’ he said.

Half an hour later Maurice was in a hansom, bowling along the Edgware Road towards Maida Vale.

Here, on the banks of the canal, in a somewhat retired and even picturesque spot, he found the abode of Madame Balo, stuccoed and classical as to its external aspect, with a Corinthian portico, which almost extinguished the house to which it belonged.

A neat maid-servant opened the iron gate of the small parterre in front of the portico, and admitted him without question. She ushered him into a drawing-room handsomely furnished, and much ornamented with divers specimens of feminine handicraft—water-colour landscapes on the walls; Berlin-work chair covers; a tapestry screen, whereon industrious hands had imitated Landseer’s famous Bolton Abbey; fluffy and beady mats on the tables and chiffoniers; and alabaster baskets of wax fruit and flowers carefully preserved under glass shades.

A glance at these things told Maurice that he was on the track of the original Miss Barlow. Such a collection of fancy-work could only belong to a retired schoolmistress.

A grand piano, open, with a well-filled musicstand beside it, occupied an important position in the room. Early as it was in the autumn, a bright little fire burned in the shining steel grate.

Maurice had ample leisure to study the characteristics of the apartment before Madame Balo made her appearance; but after examining all the works of art, and roaming about the room somewhat impatiently for some time, he heard an approaching rustle of silk, and Madame Balo entered, splendid in black moire antique, profusely bugled and fringed, and a delicate structure of pink crape and watered ribbon, which no doubt was meant for a cap.

She was a smiling, pleasant-looking little woman, short and stout, with a somewhat rubicund visage, and a mellow voice, nothing prim or scholastic about her appearance, her distinguishing quality being rather friendliness and an easy geniality.

‘Delighted to see any friend of Mr. Fisfiz,’ she said, with a gushing little manner that had something fresh and youthful about it, in spite of her sixty years; not affected juvenility, but the real thing. ‘Charming man, Mr. Fisfiz—one of the finest quartette players I know. We have some pleasant evenings here now and then, when his theatre is shut. I should be happy to see you at my little parties, Mr. Clissold, if you are fond of chamber music.’

‘You are very kind. I should be pleased to make one of your audience, however limited my powers of appreciation might be. But my call to-day is on a matter of business rather than of pleasure, and I fear I am likely to bore you by asking a good many questions.’

‘Not at all,’ said Madame Balo, with a gracious wave of the pink structure.

‘First and foremost, then, may I venture to ask if you always spelt your name as it is inscribed on the brass plate on your gate, or whether its present orthography—the circumflex accent included—is not rather fanciful than correct? Pray pardon any seeming impertinence in my inquiry. The lady I am in quest of was proprietress of a school at Seacomb, in Cornwall, eminently respected by all who knew her. It struck me that you might be that very Miss Barlow.’

The lady blushed, coughed dubiously, and after a little hesitation, answered frankly,—

‘Upon my word, Mr. Clissold, I don’t know why I should be ashamed of the matter,’ she said, smiling. ‘It is a free country, and we are always taught that we may do as we like with our own. Now nothing can be more one’s own property than one’s name.’

‘Certainly not.’

‘When I came back to England, after a lengthened sojourn in romantic Italy—the dream of my life through many a year of toil,—I found that I was still too young, and of far too energetic a temperament to settle down to idleness and retirement. I am speaking now of fifteen years ago. In Italy I had cultivated and improved my powers as an instrumentalist, and I had made myself mistress of the mellifluous language to which a Dante and a Tasso have lent renown. In Italy I had been known as the Signora Balo. Gradually I had fallen into the way of writing my name as my Italian friends preferred to write it; and ultimately, when I established myself in this modest dwelling, and issued my circulars, I preferred to appeal to a patrician and fashionable public under the Italianized name of Balo, and with the prefix Madame.’

‘Your explanation is perfect, Madame,’ replied Maurice, ‘and I thank you sincerely for your candour. And now may I inquire if you remember among your pupils at Seacomb a young lady of the name of Trevanard?’

Madame Balo looked agitated.

‘Remember Muriel Trevanard!’ she exclaimed. ‘I do indeed remember her. She was my favourite pupil, a lovely girl, full of talent—a charming creature.’

‘Have you any idea of her fate in after life?’

‘No,’ returned the schoolmistress, with a troubled look. ‘It ought to have been brilliant, but I fear it was a blighted life.’

‘It was indeed,’ said Maurice, and then, as briefly as he could, told Madame Balo the story of her pupil’s after life.

Madame Balo heard him with undisguised agitation. A little cry of horrified surprise broke from her more than once during his narrative.

‘Now, after considering this case from every point of view, I arrived at a certain conclusion,’ said Maurice.

‘And that was——’

‘That George Penwyn and Muriel Trevanard were man and wife, and that you were aware of their marriage.’

It was some moments before Madame Balo recovered herself sufficiently to reply. She sat looking straight before her, with a troubled countenance, then suddenly rose, and walked up and down the room once or twice—made as if she would have spoken, yet was dumb—and then as suddenly sat down again.

‘Mr. Clissold,’ she said abruptly, after these various evidences of a perturbed spirit, ‘you have made me a very miserable woman.’

‘I am sorry to hear that, Madame Balo.’

‘That poor ill-used girl—that martyred girl—condemned by her own mother—disgraced and exiled in her own home—tortured till her brain gave way—was as honest a woman as I am—a true and loyal wife, bound to George Penwyn legally and with my knowledge. Yes, there was a marriage, and I was present at the ceremony. I foolishly permitted myself to be drawn into Captain Penwyn’s boyish scheme of a secret marriage. It was to be the mere legal marriage, only a tie to bind them for ever—but no more than a tie until George should have won his father’s consent, or been released by his father’s death, and they should be free to complete their union. A foolish business, you will say, in the bud, but I was a foolish woman, and I thought it such a grand thing for my pet pupil—my bright and beautiful Muriel, whom I loved as if she had been my own daughter—to win the young Squire of Penwyn.’

Madame Balo said all this in little half-incoherent gushes, not strictly calculated to make things clear.

‘If you would kindly give me a direct and succinct account of this matter—so far as you were concerned in it or privy to it—you would be doing me an extreme kindness, Madame Balo,’ said Maurice, earnestly. ‘Much wrong has been done that can never be repaired upon this earth; but there is some part of the wrong that may perhaps be set right, if you will give me your uttermost aid.’

‘It is yours, Mr. Clissold. Command me. You have no idea how fond I was of that poor girl—how proud of the talents which it had been my privilege to develop.’

‘Tell me everything; straightly, simply, fully.’

‘I will,’ replied Madame Balo, ‘and if I appear to blame in this unhappy story, you must remember I erred from want of thought. I believed that I was acting for the best.’

‘Most of our mistakes in this life are made under that delusion,’ said Maurice, with his grave smile.

‘You want to know how I came to be mixed up in Muriel’s love affair? First you must know that before he went to Eton, George Penwyn came to me to be prepared for a public school. I was a mere girl, and had only just set up my establishment for young ladies in those days, and I was very glad to give two hours every morning to the Squire’s little boy, who used to ride over to Seacomb on his Exmoor pony in the charge of a groom. A very dear little fellow he was at nine years old. I grounded him in French and Latin—and even taught him the rudiments of Greek during the year and a half in which I had him for a pupil, my own dear father having given me a thorough classical education: and, without vanity, I do not think many little lads went to Eton that year better prepared than George Penwyn. He was a grateful, warm-hearted boy, and he never forgot his old friend, or the old-fashioned garden with the big yellow egg-plums on the western wall. He came to see me many a time in his summer holidays, and afterwards when he was in the army. I never knew him to be three days at home without spending a morning with me. He was about the only young man I ever let come in and out of my house without restraint, for I knew he was the soul of honour.’

‘Did he first see Muriel Trevanard in your house?’

‘No, he was abroad at the time Muriel was with me. My first knowledge of his acquaintance with Muriel, and of his love for her, came from his own lips, and came to me as a surprise.’

Madame Balo paused, with a sigh, and then continued her story.

‘Captain Penwyn came to me one day, just before the Michaelmas holidays—it was about a year after Muriel had gone home for good—and asked me for half an hour’s private talk. Well do I remember that calm September afternoon, and his bright, eager face as he walked up and down together in the garden at Seacomb, by the sunny wall, where the last of the figs and plums were ripening. He told me he was madly in love with Muriel Trevanard—deeper in love than he had ever been in his life—in fact, it was the one true passion of his life. “I may have fancied myself in love before,” he said, “but this is reality.” I tried to laugh him out of his fancy, reminded him of the difference in station between himself and a tenant farmer’s daughter; asked him what his father would say to such an infatuation. “That’s what I’m here to talk about,” said George. “You know what my father is, and that I might just as well try to turn the course of those two rivers we used to read about when you were grinding me as to turn my father from his purpose. He has made up his mind that I am to marry land—he dreams of land, sleeping and waking—and spends half his time in calculating the number of his acres. If I refuse to marry land he will disinherit me, and one of my younger brothers will get Penwyn. Now you know how fond I am of Penwyn, and how fond all the people round Penwyn are of me; and you may imagine that it would be rather a hard blow for me to lose an estate which I have always looked upon as my birthright.”

‘“I should think so, indeed,” said I.

‘“But I love Muriel Trevanard better than house or land,” replied he, “and I would rather lose all than lose her.”’

‘What did you say to this?’ asked Maurice.

‘I told him that he was simply mad to think about Muriel, except as he might of a beautiful picture which he had seen in a gallery. But I might as well have reasoned with the wind. He had made up his mind that life without Muriel wasn’t worth having. If ever I saw passionate, reckless, all-absorbing love in my life, I saw it in him. Nothing would content him but that Muriel and he should be married before he went abroad with his regiment. He only wanted the tie, the certainty that nothing less than death could part them. He would ask no more than that she should be legally his wife, and would wait a fitting time to take her away from her father’s house, and proclaim his marriage to the world. Nothing would be gained by my repeating the arguments I used. They were of no avail. He held to his foolish romantic purpose of calling Muriel his wife before he left England. “I shall only be away a year or two,” he said, “and who knows but I may gain a shred of reputation before I come back—return full major, perhaps, and be able to soften my father’s flinty heart?” He told me that he wanted my help, but if I refused it the marriage would take place all the same. He would not leave England until he had made Muriel his own.’

‘And you consented to help him?’

‘He talked me out of my better reason. Mr. Clissold, I must confess to a romantic temperament, and that reason is not my strong point. I was touched by the intensity of his love—the romance of the situation—and after a long argument, and doing my uttermost to dissuade George from the step he contemplated, I ultimately promised him my aid—and pledged myself to the strictest secrecy. Muriel was to be asked to spend the Michaelmas holidays with me, and then we were to go quietly to a little watering-place in Devonshire, where no one would know anything about us, or about George Penwyn. George was to slip up to Exeter for the licence, and everything was to be managed in such a way as to prevent the possibility of suspicion on the part of the Squire.’

‘Did Muriel consent readily to such a plan?’

‘I think not. But, however unwillingly, her consent had been given before she came to me, and when I, as woman to woman, asked her if she really wished this marriage to take place she told me yes, she wished all that George wished. He had a foolish idea that her father and mother would oblige her to marry some one else if he left her unfettered, she told me, and nothing would satisfy him but that indissoluble bond. Well, we went to Didmouth, the quietest little seaport town you can well imagine, and here Muriel and I lived in lodgings, while George had his quarters at the hotel. I think those were happy days for both of them. The country round Didmouth is lovely, and they used to wander about together all day long on the hills, and in the lanes where the blackberries were ripening, and the ferns beginning to change their tint. I never saw such innocent, happy lovers. The simplest things pleased and interested them. They were full of hope for the future, when the old Squire should relent. I don’t know how they supposed he would be brought to change his ideas, but they had some vague notion that he would come round to George’s way of thinking in a year or two. As the wedding day drew near their spirits drooped a little, for it was an understood thing that they were to part at the church door, and meet no more until the Squire’s consent had been won, lest, by any imprudent meeting, they should betray the secret of their union, and bring about George’s disinheritance. I made them both promise most solemnly that they would not meet after the wedding until George had told his father all, and settled his future fate for good or evil. I stood beside Muriel at the altar; I signed my name in the parish register. I saw bride and bridegroom kiss with their parting kiss, and then I took my old pupil off to the Didmouth coach—there was no rail to Didmouth in those days—and by nightfall we were back in Seacomb, worn out both of us with the emotions of that curious wedding day. A few days later Muriel went back to Borcel End, and I saw no more of her till the following Christmas, when I drove over to the farm one afternoon to say good-bye to my old pupil, after having advantageously disposed of my school in rather a sudden way, and on the eve of my departure for the Continent. I could only see Muriel in the presence of her mother and father, who received me with old-fashioned ceremoniousness, and gave me no opportunity of being alone with my pupil. And thus I left Cornwall ignorant of any need that Muriel might have of my friendship, counsel, or aid. I looked upon George Penwyn’s marriage as the foolish whim of a headstrong young man, passionately in love; but I had no thought that peril or ruin could come of that act; and I looked forward hopefully to the time when Captain Penwyn would return and claim his wife before all the world. Whether the old Squire did or did not forego his threat of an unjust will, it would be no bad thing for Muriel to be a captain’s or a major’s wife, I thought, even if her husband were landless, or fortuneless. Better than marrying trade or agriculture, I told myself. Very foolish, no doubt; but my dear old father, who taught me the classics, taught me a good many prejudices into the bargain, and though I had to get my living as a school-mistress, I always looked down upon trade. It pleased me to think that the girl, whose mind I had formed, had a gentleman for her husband, and a gentleman descended from one of the oldest families in Cornwall. And now, Mr. Clissold, that is the whole of my story. From the time I left Seacomb I never heard from Muriel Penwyn, though I had given her my London agent’s address when we parted, an address from which letters would always be forwarded to me.’

‘You heard of her husband’s death, I suppose?’

‘Not till nearly six months after it happened, when I saw an account of the poor fellow’s melancholy fate in an Italian newspaper, a paragraph copied from Galignani. You may imagine that my heart bled for Muriel, yet I dared not write to express my sympathy, fearing to betray a secret which she might prefer to keep hidden for ever from her parents. The foolish marriage was now no more than a dream, I thought; a shadow which had passed across the sunshine of her bright young life, leaving grief and pain in its track, but exercising no serious influence on her future. “She will get over her sorrow in a year or so, and marry some good-looking farmer, or Seacomb shopkeeper, after all,” I thought, bitterly disappointed at this sad ending to my pretty little romance. I wrote to a friend at Seacomb soon after to inquire about my old pupil, putting my questions with assumed carelessness. My friend replied that Miss Trevanard was still unmarried and with her parents—a dull life for the poor girl, she feared,—but she understood that Miss Trevanard was well. This was all I could hear.’

‘The breaking of a heart is a quiet transaction,’ said Maurice, ‘hardly noticeable to the outward world. Small-pox is a far more obvious calamity.’

Madame Balo sighed. She felt that she had some cause for remorse on the subject of Muriel Trevanard, that she had taken too little trouble about the young wife’s after fate—had been too much absorbed by her own musical studies, her Continental friends and her own interests generally.

‘What was the name of the church at Didmouth where the marriage took place?’ asked Maurice.

‘The parish church, St. John’s.’

‘And the date of the marriage?’

‘September 30th, 1847.’

This was all that Madame Balo could tell him and all that he wanted to know. It seemed to him that his course was tolerably clear. He had three distinct facts to prove. First the marriage, then the birth of the infant, and finally Justina’s identity with that infant.

His three witnesses would be—

1. Miss Barlow, to prove the marriage.

2. Old Mrs. Trevanard, who could testify to the birth of the child.

3. Matthew Elgood, in whose custody Justina had been from the day of her birth, and whose evidence, if held worthy of credence, must needs establish her identity with the child born at Borcel End.

On leaving Madame Balo, with whom he parted on excellent terms, Maurice went straight to his solicitors, Messrs. Willgross and Harding, of Old Square, good old family solicitors,—substantial, reliable, sagacious. Before the younger partner, his especial friend and counsellor, he laid his case.

Mr. Harding heard him with a thoughtful countenance, and was in no haste to commit himself to an opinion.

‘Rather difficult to dispossess such a man as this Mr. Churchill Penwyn, on the testimony of a strolling player,’ he said. ‘It’s a pity you haven’t witnesses with better standing in the world. It might look like a got-up case.’

‘There is the evidence of the parish register at Didmouth Church.’

‘To prove the marriage. Yes; but only an old blind woman to prove the birth of an heiress, and only this Elgood to show that the infant was entrusted to him. And on the strength of his evidence you want to claim an estate worth seven thousand a year for a young actress at the Albert Theatre. The story is very pretty, very romantic, but, upon my word, Mr. Clissold, between friends, if I were you, I would not take much trouble about it.’

‘I will take whatever trouble may be needful to prove Justina’s legitimacy,’ replied Maurice, with decision. ‘The estate is a secondary consideration.’

‘Of course, a mere bagatelle. Well, one of our clerks shall go down to Didmouth to make a copy of the entry in the register.’

‘I’ll go with him,’ said Maurice.


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