Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Eleanor's victory - Part 28
BY THE AUTHOR OF “AURORA FLOYD,” “LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET,” &c.
CHAPTER LIII. MARGARET LENNARD’S DELINQUENCIES.
Mrs. Major Lennard was very kind to Eleanor, and if kindness and friendliness on the part of her employers could have made Mrs. Monckton comfortable, she might have been entirely so in her new position.
But comfort was a noun substantive whose very meaning must, I think, have been utterly incomprehensible to Major and Mrs. Lennard. They had married very young, had started in life all wrong, and had remained in a perpetual state of muddle, both mental and physical, ever since. They were like two children who had played at being grown-up people for twenty years or so; and who were as entirely childish in their play now as they had been at the very beginning. To live with them was to exist in an atmosphere of bewilderment and confusion; to have any dealings whatever with them was to plunge at once into a chaos of disorder, out of which the clearest intellect could scarcely emerge without having suffered complete disorganisation. The greatest misfortune of these two people was the likeness they bore to each other. Had Major Lennard been a man of vigorous intellect and strong will, or had he been merely possessed of the average allowance of common sense, he might have ruled his wife, and introduced some element of order into his existence. On the other hand, if Mrs. Lennard had been a sensible woman she would no doubt have henpecked her husband, and would have rescued the good-natured soldier from a hundred follies, by a well-timed frown, or a sharp matronly nudge, as the occasion might demand.
But they were both alike. They were two overgrown children of forty years of age; and they looked upon the world as a great play-room, whose inhabitants had no better occupation than to find amusement, and shirk the schoolmaster. They were generous and kind hearted to a degree that, in the opinion of their wiser acquaintance, bordered upon foolishness. They were imposed upon on every side, and had been imposed upon during twenty years, without acquiring any moral wealth in the way of wisdom, from their very costly experience. The Major had within the last twelve months left the army on half-pay, on the death of a maiden aunt, who had left him eight hundred a-year. Up to the date of receiving this welcome legacy, the soldier and his wife had been compelled to exist upon Major Lennard’s pay, eked out by the help of stray benefactions which he received from time to time from his rich relatives. The family to which the ponderous officer belonged was very numerous and aristocratic, owning as its chief a marquis, who was uncle to the major.
So the two big children had decided upon enjoying themselves very much for the rest of their days, and as a commencement of this new life of idleness and enjoyment, Major Lennard had brought his wife to Paris, whence they were to go to Baden-Baden, to meet some of the major’s aristocratic cousins.
“He might come in for the title himself, my dear,” Mrs. Lennard told Eleanor, “if seventeen of his first cousins, and first cousins once removed, would die. But, as I told poor papa, when he grumbled at my marrying so badly, you can’t expect seventeen cousins to go off all in a minute, just to oblige us by making Freddy a marquis.”
Perhaps nothing could have been happier for Eleanor than this life of confusion, this scrambling and unsettled existence, in which the mind was kept in a tumult by trifling cares and agitations; for in this perpetual disorganisation of her intellect, the lonely girl had no time to think of her own troubles, or of the isolated position which she had chosen for herself. It was only at night, when she went to bed, in a small apartment very high up in the Hotel du Palais, and about a quarter of an hour’s walk from the chamber of the Major and his wife, that she had time to think of Launcelot Darrell’s triumph and her husband’s unjust suspicions; and even then she could rarely brood very long upon her troubles, for she was generally exhausted alike in mind and body by the confusion and excitement of the day, and more likely to fall asleep and dream of her sorrows than to lie awake and think of them.
Those dreams were more troublesome to her than all the bewilderment of the day, for in them she was perpetually renewing the old struggle with Launcelot Darrell, perpetually upon the eve of victory, but never quite victorious.
The Major lingered in Paris much longer than he had intended, for the big children found the city of boulevards a most delightful play-ground, and frittered away a great deal of money upon expensive dinners at renowned restaurants, ices, opera tickets, new bonnets, Piver’s gloves, Lubin’s perfumes, and coach hire.
They stopped at the Hotel du Palais, still acting on the Major’s theory, that the most expensive hotels are the cheapest—in the end. They dined occasionally at the table d’hôte, with two or three hundred companions, and wasted a good deal of time in the great saloons, playing at bagatelle, peering into stereoscopes, turning over the daily papers, reading stray paragraphs here and there, or poring over a chapter of a romance in the feuilleton, until brought to a standstill by a disheartening abundance of difficult words.
After breakfast, the Major left his wife and her companion, either to loll in the reading-room, to stroll about the great stone quadrangle smoking cigars, and drinking occasional brandy and soda, or to read the English papers at Galignani’s, or to wait for the post, or to meet a British acquaintance at Hill’s café, or to stare at the raw young soldiers exercising in the court-yards of the Louvre, or the copper-faced Zouaves who had done such wonderful work in the Crimea; or perhaps to stumble across some hoary-headed veteran who had fought under Napoleon the First, to make friendly speeches to him in bad French, with every verb in a bewilderingly impossible tense, and to treat him to little glasses of pale Cognac.
Then Mrs. Lennard brought out her frame and her colour-box, and her velvets and brushes, and all the rest of her implements, and plunged at once into the delightful pursuit of painting upon velvet, an accomplishment which this lady had only newly acquired in six lessons for a guinea, during her last brief sojourn in London.
“The young person who taught me called herself Madame Ascanio de Brindisi—but oh, Miss Villars, if ever there was a cockney in this world, I think she was one—and she said in her advertisement, that anybody could earn five pounds a-week easily at this elegant and delightful occupation; but I’m sure I don’t know how I should ever earn five pounds a-week, Miss Villars, for I’ve been nearly a month at this one sofa cushion, and it has cost five-and-thirty shillings already, and isn’t finished yet, and the Major doesn’t like to see me work, and I’m obliged to do it while he’s out; just as if it was a crime to paint upon velvet. If you would mend those gloves, dear, that are split across the thumb—and really Piver’s gloves at four francs, five-and-twenty what’s its names? oughtn’t to do so, though the Major says it’s my own fault, because I will buy six-and-a-quarters—I should be so much obliged,” Mrs. Lennard added, entreatingly, as she seated herself at her work in one of the long windows. “I shall get on splendidly,” she exclaimed, “if the Emperor doesn’t go for a drive; but if he does, I must leave off my work and look at him—he’s such a dear!”
Eleanor was very willing to make herself what the advertisements call “generally useful” to the lady who had engaged her. She was a very high-spirited girl, we know, quick to resent any insult, sensitive and proud; but she had no false pride. She felt no shame in doing what she had undertaken to do; and if, for her own convenience, she had taken the situation of a kitchen-maid, she would have performed the duties of that situation to the best of her ability. So she mended Mrs. Lennard’s gloves, and darned that lady’s delicate lace collars, and tried to infuse something like order into her toilette, and removed the damp ends of cigars, which it was the major’s habit to leave about upon every available piece of furniture, and made herself altogether so useful that Mrs. Lennard declared that she would henceforward be unable to live without her.
“But I know how it will be, you nasty provoking thing!” the major’s wife exclaimed; “you’ll go on in this way, and you’ll make us fond of you, and just as we begin to doat upon you, you’ll go and get married and leave us, and then I shall have to get another old frump like Miss Palllster, who lived with me before you, and who never would do anything for me scarcely, but was always talking about belonging to a good family, and not being used to a life of dependence. I’m sure I used to wish she had belonged to a bad family. But I know it’ll be so, just as we’re most comfortable with you you’ll go and marry some horrid creature.”
Eleanor blushed crimson as she shook her head.
“I don’t think that’s very likely,” she said.
“Ah! you say that,” Mrs. Lennard answered, doubtfully, “but you can’t convince me quite so easily. I know you’ll go and marry; but you don’t know the troubles you may bring upon yourself if you marry young—as I did,” added the lady, dropping her brush upon her work, and breathing a profound sigh.
“Troubles, my dear Mrs. Lennard!” cried Eleanor. “Why it seems to me as if you never could have had any sorrow in your life.”
“‘Seems, Hamlet!’” exclaimed Mrs. Lennard, casting up her eyes tragically; “‘nay, it is; I know not seems,’ as the Queen says to Hamlet—or perhaps it’s Hamlet says so to the Queen, but that doesn’t matter. Oh, Miss Villars! my life might have been very happy perhaps, but for the blighting influence of my own crime; a crime that I can never atone for—nev-arr!”
Eleanor would have been quite alarmed by this speech, but for the tone of enjoyment with which Mrs. Lennard gave utterance to it. She had pushed aside her frame and huddled her brushes together upon the buhl table—there was nothing but buhl and ormolu, and velvet-pile and ebony, at the Hotel du Palais, and an honest mahogany chair, a scrap of Kidderminster carpet, or a dimity curtain, would have been a relief to the overstrained intellect—and she sat with her hands clasped upon the edge of the table, and her light blue eyes fixed in a tragic rapture.
“Crime, Mrs. Lennard!” Eleanor repeated, in that tone of horrified surprise which was less prompted by actual terror, than by the feeling that some exclamation of the kind was demanded of her.
“Yes, my dear, ker—rime! ker—rime is not too harsh a word for the conduct of a woman who jilts the man that loves her on the very eve of the day appointed for the wedding, after a most elaborate trousseau has been prepared at his expense, to say nothing of heaps of gorgeous presents, and diamonds as plentiful as dirt—and elopes with another man. Nothing could be more dreadful than that, could it, Miss Villars?”
Eleanor felt that she was called upon to say that nothing could be more dreadful, and said so accordingly.
“Oh, don’t despise me, then, or hate me, please, Miss Villars,” cried Mrs. Lennard; “I know you’ll feel inclined to do so; but don’t. I did it!—I did it, Miss Villars. But I’m not altogether such a wretch as I may seem to you. It was chiefly for my poor Pa’s sake; it was, indeed.”
Eleanor was quite at a loss to know how Mrs. Lennard’s bad conduct to her affianced husband could have benefited that lady’s father, and she said something to that effect.
“Why, you see, my dear, in order to explain that, I must go back to the very beginning, which was when I was at school.”
As Mrs. Lennard evidently derived very great enjoyment from this kind of conversation, Eleanor was much too good-natured to discourage it; so the painting upon velvet was abandoned, for that morning at least, and the Major’s wife gave a brief synopsis of her history for the benefit of Mrs. Monckton.
“You must know, my dear,” Mrs. Lennard began, “my poor Pa was a country gentleman; and he had once been very rich; or at least his family—and he belonged to a very old family, though not as aristocratic as the Major’s—had once been very rich; but somehow or other through the extravagance of one and another, poor Pa was dreadfully poor, and his estate, which was in Berkshire, was heavily—what’s its name?—mortgaged.”
Eleanor gave a slight start at the word “Berkshire,” which did not escape Mrs. Lennard.
“You know Berkshire?” she said.
“Yes, some part of it.”
“Well, my dear, as I said before, poor Papa’s estate was very heavily mortgaged, and he’d scarcely anything that he could call his own, except the rambling old country-house in which I was born; and beyond that he was awfully in debt, and in constant dread of his creditors sending him to prison, where he might have finished his days, for there wasn’t the least possibility of his ever paying his debts by anything short of a miracle. Now of course all this was very sad. However I was too young to know much about it, and Papa sent me to a fashionable school at Bath where his sisters had gone when they were young, and where he knew he could get credit for my education to be finished.”
Eleanor, hard at work at the split gloves, listened rather indifferently to this story, at first; but little by little she began to be interested in it, until at last she let her hands drop into her lap, and left off working, in order the better to attend to Mrs. Lennard’s discourse.
“Well, Miss Villars, it was at that school that I met the ruling star of my fate—that is to say, the Major, who was then dreadfully young, without even the least pretence of whiskers, and always sitting in a pastrycook’s-shop in the fashionable street eating strawberry ices. He had only just got his commission, and he was quartered at Bath with his regiment, and his sister Louisa was my schoolfellow at Miss Florathorne’s, and he called one morning to see her, and I happened that very morning to be practising in the drawing-room, the consequence of which was that we met, and from that hour our destinies were sealed.
“I won’t dwell upon our meetings, which Louisa managed for us, and which were generally dreadfully inconvenient, for Fred used to clamber up the garden wall by the toes of his boots—and he has told me since that the brickwork used to scratch off all the varnish, which of course made it dreadfully expensive—but what will not love endure?—and hook himself on as it were; and it was in that position, with nothing of him visible below his chin, that he made me a most solemn offer of his hand and heart. I was young and foolish, Miss Villars, and I accepted him, without one thought of my poor Papa, who was the most indulgent of parents, and who had always let me do everything I liked, and indeed owed upwards of fifty pounds, at a toy-shop in Windsor, for dolls and things that he’d bought me before I was grown up.
“Well, from that hour, Frederick and I were engaged, and he dropped a turquoise ring in among the bushes at the bottom of the garden the next morning, and Louisa and I had upwards of an hour’s work to find it. We were engaged! But we were not long allowed to bask in the sunshine of requited affection, for a fortnight after this Frederick’s regiment was ordered out to Malta, and I was wretched. I will pass over my wretchedness, which might not be interesting to you, Miss Villars, and I will only say that, night after night, my pillow was wet with tears, and that, but for Louisa’s sympathy, I should have broken my heart. Frederick and I corresponded regularly under cover of Louisa, and that was my only comfort.
“By-and-by, however, the time for my leaving school came—partly because I was seventeen years of age, and partly because Papa couldn’t settle Miss Florathorne’s bills—and I went home to the old rambling house in Berkshire. Here I found everything at sixes and sevens, and poor Papa in dreadfully low spirits. His creditors were all getting horribly impatient, he had all sorts of writs, and attachments, and judgments, and contempt of courts, and horrors of that kind, out against him; and if they could have put him into two prisons at once, I think they would have done it, for some of them wanted him in Whitecross Street, and others wanted him in the Queen’s Bench, and it was altogether dreadful.
“Well, Papa’s only friend of late years had been a very learned gentleman, belonging to a grand legal firm in the city, who had managed all his business matters for him. Now this gentleman had lately died, and his only son, who had succeeded to a very large fortune upon his father’s death, was staying with my poor Papa when I came home from school.
“I hope you won’t think me conceited, Miss Villars, but in order to make my story intelligible, I’m obliged to say that at that time I was considered a very pretty girl. I had been the belle of the school at Miss Florathorne’s, and when I went back to Berkshire and mixed in society, people made a tremendous fuss about me. Of course you know, my dear, troubles about money matters, and a wandering life, and French dinners, which are too much for a weak digestion, have made a very great difference in me, and I’m not a bit like what I was then. Well, the young lawyer who was staying with Papa—I shall not tell you his name, because I consider it very dishonourable to tell the name of a person you’ve jilted, even to a stranger—was very attentive. However, I took no notice of that—though he was very handsome and elegant-looking, and awfully clever—for my heart was true to Frederick, from whom I received the most heartrending letters under cover to Louisa, declaring that, what with the mosquitoes and what with the separation from me, and owing debts of honour to his brother officers, and not clearly seeing his way to pay them, he was often on the verge of committing suicide.
“I had not told Papa of my engagement, you must know, my dear, because I felt sure he’d grumble about my engaging myself to a penniless ensign; though Fred might have been a marquis, for at that time there were only eleven cousins between him and the title. So one day Papa took me out for a drive with him, while Mr. —— while the young lawyer was out shooting; and he told me that he was sure, from several things the young lawyer had let drop, that he was desperately in love with me, and that it would be his salvation—Pa’s—if I would marry him, for he was sure that in that case the young man, who was very generous and noble-minded, would pay his debts—Pa’s—and then he could go on the continent and end his days in peace.
“Well, my dear Miss Villars, the scene between us was actually heartrending. I told Pa that I loved another—I dared not say that I was actually engaged to poor dear Frederick—and Pa entreated me to sacrifice what he called a foolish schoolgirl’s fancy, and to give some encouragement to a noble-hearted young man, who would no doubt get him out of the most abominable trouble, and would make me an excellent husband.”
“And you consented?”
“Yes, my dear, after a great deal of persuasion, and after shedding actual oceans of tears, and in compliance with Papa’s entreaties, I began to give the young lawyer—I’m obliged to call him the young lawyer, because one is so apt to associate lawyers with gray hair, and grumpiness, and blue bags—a little encouragement, and in about a week’s time he made me an offer, and I accepted it, though my heart was still true to Frederick, and I was still corresponding with him under cover of Louisa.”
Eleanor looked very grave at this part of the story, and Mrs. Lennard interpreted her companion’s serious face as a mute reproach.
“Yes, I know it was very wrong,” she exclaimed; “but then, what in goodness’ name was I to do, driven to distraction upon one side by Pa, driven to distraction upon the other side by Fred, who vowed that he would blow out his brains if I didn’t write to him by every mail.
“Well, my dear, the young lawyer, whom I shall call in future my affianced husband, for short, behaved most nobly. In the first place he bought Pa’s estate, not that he wanted it, but because Pa wanted the money; and then he lent Pa enough money, over and above the price of the estate, to settle with all his creditors, and to buy an annuity, upon which he could live very comfortably abroad. Of course this was very generous of him, and he made quite light of it, declaring that my love would have repaid him for much greater sacrifices. You know he thought I loved him, and I really did try to love him, and to throw over poor Frederick, for Papa’s sake; but the more I tried to throw Frederick over, and the more distant and cold I made my letters, the more heartrending he became, reminding me of the vows I had uttered in the garden at Bath, and declaring that if I jilted him, his blood should be upon my head. So, what with one thing and another, my life was a burden.
“It took Papa some time to settle all his debts, even with the assistance of my affianced husband, but at last everything was arranged, and we started for a continental tour. My affianced husband accompanied us, and the marriage was arranged to take place at Lausanne. I need not say that I was very unhappy all this time; and I felt that I was a very wicked creature, for I was deceiving one of the best of men. Perhaps the worst of all was, that my affianced husband had such perfect confidence in me, that I scarcely think anything I could have said or done—short of what I did at the very last—could have shaken his faith. He talked sometimes of my youth, and my childishness, and my simplicity, until I used to feel a perfect Lucretia Borgia. Ah, Miss Villars, it was dreadful, and I often felt inclined to throw myself at his feet and tell him all about Frederick; but the thought of my poor Papa, and the recollection of the money for the estate, which could not be paid back again, sealed my lips, and I went on day after day deceiving the best of men. You see, I’d gone too far to recede, and oh, my dear, that is the awful penalty one always pays for one’s wickedness—if you begin by deceiving anyone, you’re obliged to go on, and on, and on, from one deception to another, until you feel the basest creature in the world.
“At least that’s how I felt when all the lovely dresses, and jewels, and things that my affianced husband had ordered arrived from Paris. If I could have walked upon gold, Miss Villars, I do think that foolish man—for he was quite foolish about me, though in a general way he was so very clever—would have thought the purest bullion only fit for paving stones under my feet. The silks and satins—satin wasn’t outré then, you know—would have stood alone if one had wanted them to do so; the lace—well, I won’t dwell upon that, because I daresay you think already that I shall never have done talking, and are getting dreadfully tired of this long story.”
“No, Mrs. Lennard,” Eleanor answered gravely, “I am very much interested in your story. You cannot tell how deeply it interests me.”
The Major’s wife was only too glad to receive permission to run on. She was one of those people who are never happier than when reciting their own memoirs, or relating remarkable passages in the history of their lives.
“The very eve of the wedding-day had arrived,” resumed Mrs. Lennard, in a very solemn, and, indeed, almost awful voice, “when the unlooked-for crisis of my destiny came upon me like a thunderbolt. Pa and my affianced husband had gone out together, and I was alone in one of the apartments which we occupied at Lausanne. It was about an hour before dinner, and I was dressed in one of the silks that had come from Paris, and I was tolerably resigned to my fate, and determined to do my best to make my affianced husband happy, and to prove my gratitude for his goodness to my father. Imagine my horror, then, when I was told that a lady wished to see me—an English lady—and before I could decide whether I was at home or not, in rushed Louisa Lennard, very dusty and tumbled, for she had only just arrived, and of course there was no railway to Lausanne from anywhere, at that time.
“Well, my dear Miss Villars, it seems that Frederick’s silence, which I had taken for resignation, was quite the reverse. Louisa had heard of my intended marriage, and had written about it to her brother, and her brother had gone nearly mad, and, being on the eve of obtaining leave of absence on account of his bad health—the climate had knocked him up,—contrived to get away from Malta immediately. He and his sister had managed to persuade their rich maiden aunt, who was very fond of Frederick, and who left him all her money the other day, to take them both to Switzerland, and there they were, with the rich maiden aunt, who was very much knocked up by the journey, and who had not the least shadow of a suspicion that she had been made a cat’s-paw.
“Well, Miss Villars, anybody,—even the hardest-hearted of creatures,—would have been touched by such devotion as this, and for the moment I forgot all about my affianced husband’s generosity, and I gave that enthusiastic Louisa, who really was the moving spirit of everything, a solemn promise that I would see Frederick that night, if only for ten minutes. Of course I didn’t tell her that the next day was appointed for my wedding, because I was too much afraid of her anger, as she was devotedly attached to her brother, and had heard my solemn vows in the garden at Bath; but the people at the hotel told her all about it, in their nasty gossiping way: the consequence of which was, that when I met Fred in the porch of the cathedral, while Papa and my affianced husband were taking their wine after dinner, his goings on were really awful.
“I can never describe that scene. When I look back at it, it seems like a dream—all hurry, and noise, and confusion. Frederick declared that he had come all the way from Malta to claim me as his bride, and called my affianced husband a baron all covered with jewels and gold, from the ballad of ‘Alonzo the Brave’ which he had been in the habit of reciting at school. And, poor dear fellow, now that I saw him again, my heart, which had always been true to him, seemed more true to him than ever; and what with Louisa, who was very strong-minded, going on at me, and calling me mercenary and faithless and deceitful, and what with Frederick going down upon his knees in that chilly porch, and getting up suddenly every time the person who showed the cathedral to strangers happened to look our way, I scarcely knew what I said or did, and Frederick extorted from me the promise that I would run away with him and Louisa that very night, and be married to him as soon as ever we could find any body that would marry us.
“I can never describe that dreadful night, Miss Villars; suffice it to say, that I ran away without a bit of luggage, and that Frederick, Louisa, and I, performed the most awful journey—almost all by diligence—and were nearly jolted to death between Lausanne and Paris, where Fred, by the help of some English friends, contrived to get the ceremony performed by a Protestant clergyman, at the house of the British Consul, but not without a great deal of difficulty and delay, during which I expected every day that my affianced husband would come tearing after me.
“He did nothing of the kind, however. I heard afterwards from Papa that he didn’t show the least disposition to pursue me, and he particularly requested that no attempt should be made to prevent my doing exactly as I pleased with regard to Fred. If he had pursued me, Miss Villars, I have no doubt I should have gone back and married him, for I am very weak, and it is my nature to do whatever people wish me to do. But all he did was to walk about very quietly, looking as pale as a ghost for a day or two, and braving out all the ridicule that attached to him because of his bride’s running away from him upon the eve of the wedding-day, and then he parted company with Papa, and went away to Egypt, and went up the Nile, and did all sorts of outlandish things.”
“And have you never seen him since?” Eleanor asked, anxiously.
“Yes, once,” answered Mrs. Lennard, “and that’s the most singular part of the story. About three years after my marriage I was in London, and Fred and I were very, very poor, for his aunt hadn’t then forgiven him for making a cat’s-paw of her at Lausanne, and he had no remittances from her, and nothing but his pay, and an occasional present from Louisa, who married a rich city man soon after our elopement. I had had one baby, a little girl, who was then a year and a half old, and who was christened after Fred’s rich aunt; and Fred’s regiment was ordered out to India, and I was getting ready to join him at Southampton, and I was very unhappy at having to take my darling out there, for people said the climate would kill her. I was in lodgings in the neighbourhood of Euston Square, and I was altogether very wretched, when one evening at dusk, as I was sitting by the fire, with my little girl in my lap, who should walk into the room but the very man I had jilted.
“I gave a scream when I saw him, but he begged me not to be frightened of him; and then I asked him if he had forgiven me. He said he had tried to forgive me. He was very grave and quiet; but though I think he tried to be gentle, there was a sort of suppressed sternness in his manner which made me feel afraid of him. He had not very long returned from the East, he said, and he was very lonely and wretched. He had heard from my father that I was going to India, and that I had a little girl, whom I was obliged to take abroad with me for want of the means of providing her with a comfortable home in England. He proposed to me to adopt this little girl, and to bring her up as his own daughter, with my husband’s consent.
“He promised to leave her very well off at his death, and to give her a fortune if he lived to see her married. He would be most likely, he said, to leave her all his money; but he made it a condition that neither I nor her father should have any further claim upon her. We were to give her up altogether, and were to be satisfied with hearing of her from time to time, through him.
“‘I am a lonely man, Mrs. Lennard,’ he said, ‘even my wealth is a burden to me. My life is purposeless and empty. I have no incentive to labour—nothing to love or to protect. Let me have your little girl; I shall be a better father to her than your husband can be.’
“At first I thought that I could never, never consent to such a thing; but little by little he won me over, in a grave, persuasive way, that convinced me in spite of myself, and I couldn’t afford to engage a nurse to go out to Calcutta with me, and I’d advertised for an ayah who wanted to return, and who would go with me for the consideration of her passage-money, but there had been no answers to my advertisements; so at last I consented to write to Fred to ask him if he would agree to our parting with the pet. Fred wrote me the shortest of letters by return of post; ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘the child would be an awful nuisance on shipboard, and it will be much better for her to stop in England.’ I sent his letter to the lawyer, and the next day he brought a nurse, a respectable elderly person, and fetched away my precious darling.
“You see, Miss Villars, neither Fred nor I had realised the idea that we were parting with her for ever; we only thought of the convenience of getting her a happy home in England for nothing, while we went to be broiled to death’s door out in India. But, ah, when years and years passed by, and the two babies who were born in India died, I began to grieve dreadfully about my lost pet; and if I hadn’t been what some people call frivolous, and if Fred and I hadn’t suited each other so exactly, and been somehow or other always happy together in all our troubles, I think I should have broken my heart. But I try to be resigned,” concluded Mrs. Lennard, with a profound sigh, “and I hear of my pet once in six months or so, though I never hear from her, and indeed I doubt if she knows she’s got such a thing as a Mama in the universe—and I have her portrait, poor darling, and she’s very like what I was twenty years ago.”
“I know she is,” Eleanor answered gravely.
“You know she is! You know her, then?”
“Yes, dear Mrs. Lennard. Very strange things happen in this world, and not the least strange is the circumstance which has brought you and me together. I know your daughter intimately. Her name is Laura, is it not?”
“Yes, Laura Mason Lennard, after Fred’s rich aunt, Laura Mason.”
“And your maiden name was Margaret Ravenshaw.”
“Good gracious me, yes!” cried Mrs. Lennard. “Why you seem to know everything about me.”
“I know this much,—the man you jilted was Gilbert Monckton, of Tolldale Priory.”
“Of course! Tolldale was poor Papa’s place till he sold it to Mr. Monckton. Oh, Miss Villars, if you know him, how you must despise me.”
“I only wonder that you could—”
Eleanor stopped abruptly: the termination of her speech would not have been very complimentary to the good-tempered Major. Mrs. Lennard understood that sudden pause.
“I know what you were going to say, Miss Villars. You were going to say you wondered how I could prefer Fred to Gilbert Monckton; and I’m not a bit offended. I know as well as you do that Mr. Monckton is very, very, very superior to Frederick in intellect, and dignity, and elegance, and all manner of things. But then, you see,” added Mrs. Lennard, with a pleading smile, “Fred suited me.”