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  ― 52 ―

Miss Pallavant.

An Episode.

Mrs. Campbell Praednote

WAYE HOUSE, WOODFORDSHIRE, June 28th.

I came down here a few days ago on a visit to my friends the Laudes. One always says “down here,” though, in reality, “here” is a Midland county to the north of London. Mr. Laude is both rector and squire of Waye, a combination described by Sydney Smith, I think, under the term of “squarson.” Mr. Laude is more of the squire than the parson. He pays a curate to perform his clerical duties, and devotes himself to the management of his farms, most of which he has upon his hands, to hunting and shooting, to pottering about the garden, and to other occupations befitting a country gentleman. He considers that he fulfils his priestly obligations by cottering a few favoured sick people, and preaching one sermon on Sunday. Mr. Laude frankly owns that


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it was not his vocation to become a clergyman. He likes farming much better than preaching. He enjoys his mild hunting in winter, and his much milder shooting—for Waye is in a shoemaking county where poachers abound—in September. He enjoys, too, his month in London during the season, when he and Mrs. Laude and their daughter Sissy go up to an hotel in Albemarle Street, and to the picture galleries and the Row and the more classical theatres—Mr. Laude draws the line at the Gaiety and Ascot and Sandown; he does not object to the Lyceum and Hurlingham. They always go to London in the middle of May. Mr. Laude likes to be back at Waye before the hay is ready for cutting and the strawberries are ripe. No one ever thought of finding fault with Mr. Laude for neglecting his duties. He pays his curate at a higher rate than most rectors, and Waye is only a small parish. Besides, everyone knows that Mr. Laude is very fairly off, and it is not to be supposed that a gentleman with an income of three thousand a-year will be contented to grind away among poor people. He is very popular with the neighbouring gentry, and he always has a cheery word for the farmers. He is a short, spare, wiry old gentleman of between sixty and seventy, with a clean-shaven face, a Roman nose, and snow-white hair, riding as


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light a weight as a boy, and taking his fences as pluckily as his son, Captain Tom. Mrs. Laude is large, stout, placid, comely, and well preserved. I never knew her utter a cross word, and yet I am quite aware that she rules her husband and her household. She walks about the lawn with a little spud, uprooting plantains as she goes, and she too is interested in the farms, but in a distant, superior sort of fashion, and takes great pride in her roses and her grape-house. She is on excellent terms with their nearest great neighbours, the Lord-lieutenant and his family, and lets us know it in a well-bred manner. She never says anything clever, and she finishes up most of her remarks with a little far laugh, designed, it would seem, to give them point. She frequently takes Mr. Laude to task for small social lapses.

The Laudes' only daughter, Sissy, is a fresh, frank specimen of the English country miss, who, I confess, does not inspire me with any particular enthusiasm. She is slim and fair, and has been enough in London to have studied the approved fashion of squaring out her elbows and buckling in her waist. Mrs. Laude has done her duty to Sissy. She presented her last year, though they were only their usual month in London, and then she took her abroad for three months. Sissy came home with a large bundle of photographs, a


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travelled air, and a store of tourist anecdotes, in which the inevitable Italian Count figured, and in which there were many jokes about papa's John Bull tendencies. The Laudes, however, rather prided themselves upon being persons of light and leading, above paltry prejudice, not in the least Philistine or insular. Of course they are Tories. No one in Woodfordshire—no county person, that is to say,—could possibly be a Liberal, “on account of that dreadful Bradlaugh and the shoemakers and dissenters, don't you know?” So they have very strong anti-Irish views, and Mr. Laude talks of Mr. Gladsone as if he were an arch-fiend set loose to work the ruin of country squires and of England.

Sissy does not go in for politics. She has two or three dear little families of geese and goslings, which she tends most carefully, and she has her dachshunds and fox terriers, and she has also the flowers to arrange for the dining table and the drawing-room; antimacassars to see to, and then she teaches in the Sunday school, and is great on lawn-tennis, and has all the summer garden parties to think of and sundry penny readings to organise. Sissy is a very busy young woman.

The Laudes have two sons. The youngest is on a cattle-ranch in America. I mention him first to get him out of the way. There is more to say about the eldest, Captain Tom Laude, who is in a


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cavalry regiment, and has been engaged for the last six months to the Honourable Henrietta Pallavant, daughter of General Lord Pallavant, who was commandant at Gibraltar or some place where Tom Laude's regiment was stationed.

Miss Pallavant is said to be a beauty, and has been very much admired. I have often heard of her, and was surprised that she should content herself with so comparatively insignificant a parti as Tom Laude; but she is over thirty, as Debrett testifies—rather older than Tom—and no doubt thinks it is time that she settled herself. The Laudes were at first very pleased at the engagement, especially when, through the Pallavant influence, Tom got a staff appointment; but now that the wedding is coming near, and the settlements are being prepared, I fancy they are less delighted. The marriage is fixed to take place a month hence, but the settlements are not signed yet, and from what I hear, there is little probability of the respective fathers coming to an agreement. Mrs. Laude looks a good deal worried over the business. She was alone when I arrived the other day, and I could not help telling her that I feared her London dissipations had been too much for her. They had just returned from the annual month's season.

“Oh, my dear, it isn't that,” she said.




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We were in the cosy hall, with its big Japanese screen shutting off the entrance door, its cane chairs, and couches carefully covered, so that dirty boots should do no injury, its litter of newspapers, old gloves, gardening implements, parish basket, and so forth, which gives it a homely, comfortable appearance. Waye House is quite a type of English middle-class comfort and respectability. It is one of those modern-old houses, square, with casements and mahogany furniture—a cross between a rectory and a hall, and which would be ugly if it were not so homelike and so unpretentious. The whole establishment is in keeping. There is one man-servant, and the coachman comes in to wait when there are visitors. The china is old Chelsea and Worcester, and there are two or three ancestral portraits of worthy-looking squires and dames, which don't go back further than the Third George; and they are always very particular about dressing for dinner, except when there is a school treat or a penny reading or an early service which the rector is obliged to attend.

Mrs. Laude began to pour out the tea, carefully creaming and sugaring the cup she handed me. “One lump or two, dear? It's this engagement of Tom's. How could one possibly enjoy London with one's boy's happiness at stake, and the lawyers bothering one all the time?”




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“I hope there's nothing wrong,” I said. “Settlements are always tiresome when it comes to the point.”

“It's Lord Pallavant who is tiresome,” replied Mrs. Laude. “He seems to think he is to get everything and give nothing. We are to provide for his daughter, and to be content with nothing more than the honour of the connection! Mr. Laude's back is up, and he won't give in. Lord Pallavant won't give in either, and really things are at a deadlock. It's fearfully hard on Tom, who is wildly in love, and is all for taking the law into his own hands and marrying without any settlements.”

“There's no fear of Miss Pallavant agreeing to that,”said Mr. Laude, who had come in while his wife was speaking. “How do you do, Mrs. Ellison. Very glad to see you again at Waye. Hope the last book was a success. Now, don't you go making us the text of a philosophical essay—British Philistinism in the county—that sort of thing, you know,” he added, parenthetically, as he dropped a lump of sugar into his tea. “You may do that if you like with Miss Pallavant. I should say that there's material for a dozen novels and a hundred essays on our social system in her.”

“I'm longing to see her” was my reply. “I am told she is so handsome.”




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“Oh yes, she is very handsome,” grudgingly assented Mr. Laude; “and she has a way with her that takes you whether you like it or not. She makes you think about her. But between ourselves, Mrs. Ellison, I suspect that Miss Pallavant is playing her own game and not Tom's.”

“Oh, Thomas!” said Mrs. Laude with her uneasy little laugh, “I don't think it's fair to say that; and she is staying in the house too.”

“Well, well!” said Mr. Laude, “You know that you think the same, wife, and you are dying to open your heart to Ruth Ellison, who is like one of the family, and as safe as a house. Take my word for it, Miss Pallavant will get a telegram in a day or two saying that she had better be at home till the settlements are arranged, and she will go. I don't know that I shall break my heart if this difficulty about the money upsets the marriage. I shall be sorry for Tom, of course, and for the wife who thought it a fine thing for her boy to marry Lord Pallavant's daughter; but it always went against the grain with me to think of my son having to say ‘Thank you’ for another man's leavings.”

I knew to what Mr. Laude alluded. Three or four years ago Miss Pallavant had been engaged to the Earl of Lackford, and had been jilted by him. The affair had taken place at Rome, and


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had made a good deal of talk. Lord Lackford had been blamed, but there were people who insinuated unkind things about Miss Pallavant. In general she was the object of contemptuous pity. The charitable declared that mischief had been made by the gentleman's mother, who wished him to marry another lady. Anyhow, the engagement had been suddenly broken off, and with very little explanation. Lord Lackford went abruptly away from Rome, leaving a letter behind him. Miss Pallavant was stricken with brain fever, and before she got well again Lord Lackford had married the lady of his mother's choice. I had almost forgotten the story. It came suddenly to my mind now, and I said, thoughtlessly, “Oh, I saw in the Morning Post a few days ago that Lady Lackford is lying dangerously ill in her house in Bruton Street.”

Mr. and Mrs. Laude exchanged glances. “She is in a galloping consumption,” said Mrs. Laude, gravely. “It has been known for some weeks that she could not live. But that could not make any difference to Miss Pallavant—after Lord Lackford's behaviour——”

She stopped suddenly. There was a sound of voices outside. Sissy Laude ran in, carrying a tennis-racquet. “We have come back,” she said. “Henrietta was tired, and Tom insisted on our


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leaving before anyone else. Engaged people are so tiresome. Oh, Mrs. Ellison, how do you do!” and there was a buzz of greeting and a fresh brew of tea, in the midst of which Miss Pallavant and Captain Tom entered.

She was certainly a striking-looking woman—tall, dark, slow in movement, and extremely graceful. She had soft, deep, violet eyes, jet black hair, a clear, pale complexion, and a fascinating, mysterious smile. She had a look of high fashion, and the air of expecting admiration as her due, though her supreme indifference to it was also remarkable. I have never cared much for the “professional beauty” type. Miss Pallavant distinctly belonged to it, but she was very much more than the conventional “beauty.” She was full of suggestiveness. Her face and manner indicated drama.

We were introduced to each other. She looked at me with more interest than I could have supposed myself capable of arousing, gave me a sweet smile, and said one or two pretty things about my books, and her pleasure at making my acquaintance. Then she subsided into a chair, and gently patted Sissy's dachshund. Captain Tom, a fine, soldier-like fellow, with a curled moustache, and, just now, a fiercely melancholy expression, hovered about her, waiting upon her, bringing her tea and strawberries, and receiving hardly a glance, and


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only a languid word of thanks in return. Presently she looked up at him. “Would you mind asking if there are any second-post letters for me?”

He obeyed. There were some. They had been given to Miss Pallavant's maid.

“Why weren't they put here?” he said, rather angrily.

“Henrietta always likes to have her letters taken to her room,” softly replied Mrs. Laude; and just then they were brought in.

Miss Pallavant read them through, all except one, which she laid on her lap. Tom was watching her with ill-concealed anxiety. I watched her too, and saw her give a little start as she tore open an outer envelope, and looked at an inner one, which she did not open. She vouchsafed no comment on the other letters.

“I think I'll go and take off my things,” she said, rising. “It must be nearly dressing-time.”

Tom opened the door, and said something to her in a low tone.

“Oh, no, nothing,” she answered, and moved away.

It still wanted an hour to dinner, and Mrs. Laude suggested a stroll. To my surprise Tom came out with us, and attached himself to me. He evidently did not imagine that Miss Pallavant would return. We had once been great friends,


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Tom and I; indeed, about five years ago, in the earlier time of my widowhood, Tom was in love with me, as young men have a knack of being with women considerably older than themselves. It was a phase, and Tom got through it, and was none the worse, but perhaps rather the better, and we had always been good comrades since. This was the first time I had seen him since his engagement to Miss Pallavant, and I saw from his manner that he wanted to talk to me confidentially. Mrs. Laude was soon at work digging up plantains on the lawn. Tom and I walked along a beautiful old-fashioned border set against a red brick wall, in which columbines, peonies, lavender, flaring gigantic poppies, and all the dear old flowers flourished.

“Well, what do you think of her?” was his first question.

“I think she is very beautiful,” I answered; “and I am sure she must be very charming, or you wouldn't care for her so much.”

Tom gave his moustache a wild twirl. “You are only talking platitudes,” he said. “Of course she is beautiful; of course I adore her. That wasn't what I meant. Do you think she cares for me? Do you think the marriage will come off?”

“Oh, Tom, how can I say? I have only been five minutes in her company. I am very sorry to


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hear that there has been any difficulty,” I added; “but that can be of very little real importance if you and she understand each other. The elders will squabble, but you are both old enough to take your own line.”

I felt as I spoke that I was offering weak consolation, and Tom seemed to feel it also. He uttered an impatient sort of groan.

“We don't understand each other,” he cried; “I don't understand her. Oh, what wouldn't I give to be able to read her own soul! You don't mind my opening out to you like this, Ruth? I feel as if I must talk it out with someone who is safe and sympathetic.”

“Tell me anything and everything you will, Tom,” I said. “You know, at all events, that you may count upon my sympathy.”

“You can make ‘copy’ of us afterwards, if you like,” he said, with a grim attempt at gaiety. “I don't mind who knows about the whole thing. When it's at an end, one way or the other, I don't care what becomes of me if she throws me over.”

“Tom,” I said, earnestly, “you would rather that she threw you over than that she married you without loving you, or loving someone else. If I were a man and loved a woman, I'd let her go rather than torture myself with doubts.”

“And I, loving her as I do, would hold her to


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me even against herself,” he exclaimed, passionately. “I'm waiting for my sentence, Mrs. Ellison. I know it's coming. I feel as if the rope was round my neck now.”

“But, Tom, if what you fear were likely to be true, Miss Pallavant would tell you. She could not be here now, staying here as your future wife. I am sure, my poor boy, that you are making yourself miserable without just cause.”

“Am I?” he said. “We shall see.”

He was silent for a few moments. “I won't let her go,” he cried. “She could not—and we are to be married in a month! It's not that she says anything, Mrs. Ellison,” he went on more quietly, “or that she cares about the money any more than I do. What does it matter to me about the settlements—whether, if I die, she takes all the money from the estate, and leaves Lionel without a penny of income? Lionel is nothing to me, and she is everything. It drives me wild—this sordid calculation, and these legal provisos about death, and children, and all the rest. She doesn't care either, but she won't stand out against her father. Sometimes I think—and the thought makes me mad—that she is waiting, hoping that there may come a deadlock. It isn't that she has said anything,” he repeated. “She is always the same—gentle, and indifferent, and cold. She is much more distant


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now than she was at the beginning. She says it is right, when things are still unsettled. She is very kind, but she won't let me come near her. Why, it is weeks since she has allowed me to kiss her. What am I saying? What must you think of me?” said the poor young man, with a bitter laugh.

We had paused opposite a bench, which was placed in the angle of the kitchen garden wall.

“Let us sit here for a minute, Tom,” I said, “and talk quietly. If Miss Pallavant really wishes to draw back, there must be some motive for it. What is her motive? You say it isn't money.”

“No; she is not mercenary. She doesn't care. There's another man in the question, Mrs. Ellison; that is the truth. I daren't speak of it to her; I can't ask her; but I know it—I feel it. I think of it every time she takes up the morning paper, and reads the list of births, marriages, and deaths. You know what I mean. It's horrible, isn't it?”

I could not help saying, “Yes, it is horrible.”

“Ah!” he went on, “you mustn't blame her. She told me about it when I asked her to marry me. She said she had never loved any other man, and that she never could. She said that there had been some terrible mistake, and that it could not be put right in this world without a wrong to an innocent person. To that she would never consent. Mrs. Ellison, she told me that she had only once


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in her life known what it was to be tempted of the devil, and that was when he tried to make her run away with him, after he was married.”

“Stop!” I said. “You ought not to tell me such a thing as that.”

“It doesn't matter,” he answered. “She said to me, when she heard you were coming here, that some things you had written made her long to open her whole heart to you. Mrs. Ellison, if she does talk to you, be nice to her, for my sake. Try and make her understand how much I love her.”

At that moment Sissy came running to us. “I suppose you don't know that the dressing-gong went some time ago?” she said.

“Go away, Sissy,” exclaimed Tom, impatiently, “There's plenty of time.”

“Oh, no, there isn't,” returned Sissy. “The old man's back is up, and he mustn't be kept waiting, Two messengers came over from Waybridge a little while ago. One brought a packet from old Johnson—(our lawyer,” added Sissy, turning to me in an explanatory manner)—“and the other was a telegram for Miss Pallavant.”

Tom started up. Sissy gave a little laugh—the laugh of unthinking, unsympathetic youth, which must have irritated Tom to the last degree.

“That fetches you at once, Tom; but there's no use in hurrying. Miss Pallavant hadn't begun to


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dress when I went up to her room just now with the telegrams. There were two of them. She was reading letters still.”

The atmosphere of Waye House that evening was decidedly electrical. Everyone was late, though the dressing-gong had been struck rather after its regular hour. Mrs. Laude seemed nervous and anxious. Mr. Laude reminded me of a ruffled turkey-cock; the collar of his shirt appeared to chafe his neck, he moved his head about so uneasily. Tom looked most unhappy. Sissy, in her white frock, and with her little “ways” and laughs, was the only person present who did not look as if something had happened.

“Another disagreeable communication from Lord Pallavant's lawyers,” whispered Mrs. Laude. “I really don't see how things can go on. The demands are perfectly exorbitant and unreasonable. In justice to Lionel it would be quite impossible for us to meet them even half-way. Tom is obliged to admit that.”

Tom gnawed his moustache and watched the door eagerly. Miss Pallavant did not make her appearance till some time after we were all assembled, and dinner had been announced. She came in with a peculiar gliding movement, in which there was much resolution but no haste.


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She was very pale. Her lips were set, though she smiled with mechanical sweetness; and there was an odd smouldering gleam in her eyes. Seeing her in evening dress, her beauty and fascination struck me far more than they had done in the afternoon. There was something magnetic about her, and I could not wonder at Tom's infatuation. I pitied him from my heart, however, for instinct told me that his doom was sealed.

Miss Pallavant went straight up to Mrs. Laude. “I am so very sorry to be late,” she said. “I had to send off an answer to the telegram, and the fact is that I was obliged to think a little while.”

Mrs. Laude gave a nervous stiff laugh. “I hope your people are quite well,” she said.

“Yes. It isn't that.” Miss Palavant hesitated, and looked round in a half-defiant, half-imploring way, as if she were trying to gather in strength. “My father telegraphs to me that I must go home to-morrow,” she said. “I am extremely sorry,” she added, turning to Mr. Laude, “but I am afraid that I must ask if you can send me to the station early in the morning.”

“The carriage is at your service, Miss Pallavant,” he replied.

“No, no,” cried Tom, coming forward; “Etta, you don't mean it?”

She let her eyes rest upon his face in a mournful,


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reflective manner for a moment or two before answering. “I have no choice,” she said simply. “My father thinks that under the circumstances I had better be at home.”

“We have had a communication—indirectly—from Lord Pallavant. We expected something of this kind,” said Mrs. Laude stiffly.

Miss Pallavant made a gesture with her hands, as if she would sweep the whole matter from her. “I don't know anything about business details. I don't want to know. I have always said that everything of that kind must be arranged without reference to me. I do what I am told; and when my father tells me that it is advisable I should be at my own home till—till things are arranged, I yield to his judgment without question. I am extremely sorry,” she repeated, as if conscious of self-contradiction. “I did not send off my answer without having considered it.”

“I have no doubt that Lord Pallavant considered the matter also, and that he is right from his point of view,” said Mr. Laude, rather grimly. “Tom, you can talk it over later. I think that now it is time we went in to dinner. The carriage is at your service, Miss Pallavant, for whatever train you wish. Come, Mrs. Ellison,” and he offered me his arm.

The meal was awkward and constrained. As if by common consent, allusion to Miss Pallavant's


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departure was dropped. Mrs. Laude talked in a perfunctory manner about my London life, about common friends, and about my literary undertakings. Miss Pallavant joined in sometimes with a show of interest. I fancied that her eyes sought mine every now and then, and that there was a sort of questioning appeal in their glance, as if she wanted me not to judge her harshly, and was wondering what I did think of her. She hardly spoke to Tom. He was trying to mask his misery by a spasmodic effort at gaiety. He started one or two heavy bucolic jokes with his father, laughing at them immoderately, and chaffed Sissy about her admirer, the Italian count.… Sissy, to a certain extent, acted the part of a buffer. It was a relief when we rose from the table. Tom remained to talk to his father, and we ladies went back to the drawing-room. The windows stood wide open. I seated myself in one of the window-seats, and presently Miss Pallavant joined me.

“I am sorry that I am going away to-morrow, Mrs. Ellison,” she said. “I have wanted to meet you for such a long time. I like your books. I am not going to gush about your knowledge of human nature, because you must get rather tired of that sort of talk; but they are ‘real’ books, I think, and I have always had an idea that you must be a real woman—above petty prejudices.”




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I thanked her for her good opinion, and said that I hoped she was not going to qualify it by saying what so many young ladies said to me—“I like your books, Mrs. Ellison, but why do you always write about dull philosophy and religion? Why don't you write novels?”

Miss Pallavant shrugged her shoulders contemptuously. “I am not a young lady,” she said; “I'm past thirty, and I like philosophical books far better than novels. The people who are most interested in novels are those who have nothing interesting in their own lives.”

“I understand,” I said. “Your life is so interesting that you don't need novels to amuse and excite you. I can well believe that.”

She looked me straight in the face. “It is quite true,” she said. She seemed to be thinking. “I've had a great deal of excitement in my life, and a good many experiences; and I've come to one conclusion, among several.”

“I should very much like to know what that is,” I said, really interested.

“Well, I'll tell you. Everyone wants to know what sort of investment pays the highest interest, in the shape of happiness, don't they?”

“Ah! Your opinion ought to be a valuable one—on that subject, Miss Pallavant.”

“I am not sure. I can't speak from personal


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knowledge except in the negative way. Some people think riches pay best; others, rank; others, fame. I suppose you'd say the last?”

“No, indeed, though I'm afraid my personal knowledge doesn't count for much either. I believe that the most celebrated men and women in the world, if you asked them their honest conviction, would say that fame is—husks.”

“Almost everything is—husks. I'm certain the only thing that pays steady interest is—friendship.

“Friendship!” I repeated.

“You thought I was going to say love. Does love pay? No; no; no! Do you know what love really is, Mrs. Ellison? It's an infinite capacity for being miserable. It's more than that; it's an infinite capacity for anomalies—for being dishonourable and quixotic at the same time; milk-soft and cruel; passionately revengeful and passionately forgiving——” She stopped abruptly. The door opened. Mr. Laude, more like a diminutive turkey-cock than ever, came in, followed by Tom. He went up to his wife and daughter, and Tom made for the window. Miss Pallavant smiled a curious smile as she made a little motion of her hand, waving him off for a moment as it were. “Our subject isn't a very appropriate one for discussion just now,” she said to me. “I wish I were going to see more of you,


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Mrs Ellison. It is too bad that we cross each other ‘like ships on the sea,’ in this way. I don't think I'm given to gushing; but I do want to talk to you. Will you let me come and see you in your room this evening?”

“With the greatest pleasure in the world,” I rejoined.

Miss Pallavant smiled now at her lover, thus giving him permission to approach.

“Etta,” he said, “I want you to come out into the garden. I have brought you a wrap.”

She took the wrap from him, a light woollen cloud, and held it thoughtfully for a moment or two. Then she said, “Yes, I will come,” and they went into the garden together.

We indoors had rather a dull evening. Mr. Laude went to his study, and Mrs. Laude, begging me to excuse her, and murmuring something about an important letter which had to be written and sent to Mr. Johnson, the lawyer, in the morning, followed him. It was evident that they had some private business. I guessed that it was connected with Tom's marriage, about which they wished to take counsel together. Sissy brought out her bundle of photographs, and we talked guide-book for a little while. At ten o'clock Mr. and Mrs. Laude came back, and the servants were called in for prayers. The lovers, if they may be called so,


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had not returned. When the candles were lighted and I had bidden Mr. Laude good-night, Tom entered by the hall door alone. He looked haggard, and a little wild, I thought, but he spoke composedly enough.

“Good-night, Mrs. Ellison; good-night, mother. We shall have rain to-morrow. You had better get your hay up, father—all that in the meadow down there. It's packed too close to the water. I've just been down by the river, and if the floods are out ever so little you'll lose a lot of it for ever.”

“You've been down by the river!” said his mother. “Was Etta with you?”

“No; Etta went in some time ago. She asked me to say good-night to you. She was tired, and she had packing to do.”

Mrs. Laude put her hand out with a quick gesture of sympathy. “Etta is going away to-morrow, then, Tom?”

“Yes, mother, by the eight train. That was another message I was to give. I'll see Roote about the carriage. You needn't mind.”

“Things are not wrong, are they, Tom?” I heard Mrs. Laude say anxiously, though I moved on up the stairs so that they might not be embarrassed by my presence.

“About as wrong as they can be, mother—for me,” Tom answered out loud.




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I did not wait longer, but went on to my room. Sissy followed me and saw that I was comfortable for the night, but I did not see Mrs. Laude again. I wondered whether Miss Pallavant would come as she had suggested. I almost hoped she would not. I had put on my dressing-gown, and was reading, as my habit is, before getting into bed, when there came a knock at the door, and she softly entered. She wore a long white robe, with a great deal of lace about it, and wide sleeves. The sleeve fell back from one round white arm as she held the candle up before her face. She looked picturesque and tragic. Her dark hair was unbound, and hung in a thick plait behind. I got up and pushed forward an arm-chair. She sat down, but for a minute or two she did not speak. Suddenly she threw back her head, and, fixing her great serious eyes upon me, said—

“You are very fond of Tom?”

“Yes,” I answered. “I have known him for a long time. We are great friends.”

“I know that. He wanted to marry you once and you refused. I wish you had not done so. In that case he would not have been so mad as to think of me for a wife. I am not going to marry him, Mrs. Ellison, and I have told him so to-night.”

“I guessed as much,” I answered drily. I was very angry with her.




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“I suppose so. He told me that he had been talking to you about me. He told me what he had said. They were things he had no right to say. Still I do not mind. I am going to tell you the truth. I shall not care who knows it, or if the whole world knows it … after six months. You can try your hand on a novel then, Mrs. Ellison, and take me for a heroine.”

I was disgusted with her flippancy. “Doesn't it strike you, Miss Pallavant,” I exclaimed, “that you have been playing a heartless and unwomanly part?”

“I don't know what you mean by ‘unwomanly,’ ” she returned, in a placid manner. “It is a word that is used in so many different senses; and I am not heartless. I wish to God that I were,” she added, passionately.

“You have acted cruelly to poor Tom,” I said.

“Ah! Tom!” She seemed to be thinking again, and roused herself as if with an effort. “I am not so cruel as you may think. He went into it with his eyes open. He said he preferred running the risk to losing me altogether. I told him when he asked me to marry him that there was only one man in the world whom I loved or could ever love.”

I was silent. There was nothing I could say. I waited for her to tell her own story. She went on after a minute.




  ― 78 ―

“I told Tom this. He knew his risk. I told him that I didn't love him, that I should probably make him a bad wife, that I was only marrying him because I was tired of my life, and of being pointed at as that Miss Pallavant whom Lord Lackford had jilted. Well, he didn't care. He wanted me in spite of all that. I didn't even give him a definite promise. It was conditional. I said that I would marry him, unless one thing happened before our wedding-day. I was reckless. I threw a challenge to Fate. That one thing has happened. You shall know what it is.”

She had been holding one hand closed. She opened it now. Within it was a crumpled piece of pink paper. She unfolded the paper.

“It is true that I got a telegram from my father, bidding me go home,” she said, quietly; “but that was not the only telegram I received, nor was it that which made me determine upon leaving this place early to-morrow. I got another telegram as well; I expected it. A letter came to me by second post, which told me that I might expect it. You may read.”

She smoothed out the paper, and handed it to me. The telegram was sent from a London office. It had no signature, and consisted only of these words:—

“Lady Lackford died at three o'clock to-day.”




  ― 79 ―

I could not repress a cry of horror. She was looking at me intently, leaning forward, her chin upon her hands.

“What if this had come a month after your marriage instead of a month before?” I asked, with grim emphasis.

“I don't know. I ran that risk. It might have been worse for Tom,” she said, in a low voice.

We were both silent. It was a curious position. I folded the telegraph paper, and laid it on the table by her side.

“You are horrified,” she said. “You think that I am a very wicked woman.”

“I am horrified that you can plan the future; calculate on this; act deliberately, while the woman for whom you were forsaken lies still unburied. In common decency——”

“Oh, I know all that you would say,” she interrupted. “You would have me go about with a lie on my lips, deceiving these good people, torturing poor Tom, for the sake of ‘common decency.’ I thought you were greater than that. You are nothing but the British Philistine after all, and I made a mistake in coming to you to-night.”

“Indeed, no,” I exclaimed.

“I felt that I must speak to someone,” she went on, passionately. “I felt that I couldn't bear it alone any longer. I have never had a woman


  ― 80 ―
friend in my life; perhaps that is the reason why I said friendship was the best moral investment one could make. I know what I would give for a friend now, from whom I might hope for a little sympathy.”

“My dear,” I said, deeply moved—the girl's self-abandonment touched me to the heart—“I wish that I could help you. I would sympathise with you, if I could—if I knew. I see that you are very unhappy. I am certain that you feel more for Tom, of whom I cannot help thinking, than you will let me believe. I could not wish you to be true to an engagement which you have found out to be a mistake. It is all the circumstances”—I hesitated. “It is what you have just shown me that is repellent to me. I am doing you injustice, perhaps. This terrible news has awakened you to the real state of your feelings? It has convinced you that you cannot marry a man whom you do not love?”

“It has convinced me that I must marry the man whom I do love, and, who is free,” she answered, solemnly. “I will marry Lord Lackford as soon as he pleases—as soon as decency permits.” She laughed in hysterical fashion. “Oh, I hardly know what I am saying,” she cried. “I am not myself.”

Her bosom heaved. She flung her hands suddenly across her face, and burst into sobs. Her


  ― 81 ―
whole frame was shaken with the violence of her emotion. I slipped down on the floor beside her, and tried to soothe her as best I could. Presently she grew calmer.

“I have loved him for so long,” she said, between her sobs. “I have suffered so much. Oh, you don't know what the strain of the past few months has been. I felt that only a miracle could save me—and the miracle has happened. You would pity me if you knew.”

“I do pity you, from my heart,” I whispered.

“You wouldn't think so badly of me,” she said, brokenly, “if you knew. I don't know whether I am glad or sorry that she is dead. Death isn't such a frightful thing. I have often wished that I might die; and she died in happy ignorance. I made him promise that she should never be told, and he was a man to keep a promise, except that one promise which he broke.” She said this with infinite pathos. “He didn't trust me enough to keep his promise and be true to me, when that would have saved us both; but I forgave him that.”

“You forgave him!” I repeated, in bewilderment; “and you could trust him after that?”

“A woman always forgives the man she loves—when he loves her. He always loved me. Appearances were against me. His mother made


  ― 82 ―
him believe things. I will try and tell you how it was. You know we were engaged in Rome. It's five years ago. I wasn't very young then—I was six-and-twenty—and I had led a fast sort of life, allowed to do what I pleased, and to flirt as I pleased. We had no mother, and you can imagine how things were in garrison towns. I was made so much of, and all the men were in love with me, and my father angry because I threw away the good opportunities, and would compromise myself with men I couldn't marry. I did it out of bravado, and because I hated the idea of marrying for a livelihood. We have no money, and it has always been dunned into us that we must marry. I wasn't a marrying girl. I liked my liberty too much, and I liked flirting. I did the maddest things. I thought I could hold my own, and that a look from me would keep a man at a distance. I didn't care for one of them, but I enjoyed the excitement. You can understand?”

“Yes,” I said, pressing her hand. The clasp seemed to embolden her to confidence. “There was a man on the staff—it was at Malta. He used to boast, I believe, that he could make me do anything. He had a sort of fascination for me. It is quite true that he made me do things I shudder now to think of—not actually wrong things, but dangerous. It was like walking along


  ― 83 ―
a precipice. He was a married man too. His wife was in England. One night I met him. I don't know why, unless it was in a fit of madness. He persuaded me to go with him to what he told me was a place of entertainment. … You can imagine the rest. I was fatally compromised. My reputation was at his mercy. This was the story which old Lady Lackford made use of against me. She showed her son proofs of what he believed to be my guilt. He gave me no chance of clearing myself. He went away, and the next thing I heard of him was that he had married as his mother had wished.” She stopped.

“But you met again? He learned the truth?”

“Yes; we met in Paris a year ago. He believed me. He told me that he had always loved me. He wanted to leave his wife and take me away. It was not the fear of the world that kept me back. I would have gone joyfully. I would have given him everything, and thought it no shame—yes, it is true. Think me a wicked woman if you choose! But I wasn't wicked enough to stab another woman who had done me no wilful wrong, and who was more innocent than I—who loved him too. I couldn't do that. But, oh, the struggle!—and the awful blank when it was all over! That was why I engaged myself to Tom. I wanted to place a real barrier between him and me—between my


  ― 84 ―
love and me. We never met again after that struggle, nor have I had a line from him of any kind till to-day. He told me when we parted that if he was ever free I should know it from himself, and that that should be a sign to me that he was mine for ever. The sign has been given. Thank God! it has not come too late.”

She rose as she spoke. Her agitation was so great that she was obliged to lean heavily against the mantel-piece to keep herself from tottering. She trembled in every limb. Presently she mastered herself, and came to me, holding out her hand. “Mrs. Ellison, will you try and make it easier for Tom? He knows the truth. I told him last night. I'm going by an early train. I have asked that the carriage might take me to the station before breakfast. I can't see Tom again, or any of them. They have every reason to think badly of me, and to hate me. I have written to Mrs. Laude. Mrs. Ellison, I'm going to leave you a legacy. I daresay we shall never meet again. I leave you the right to console Tom. Good-bye.”

She laughed a dreary laugh, and taking up her candle, went out without another word.

In the early morning I heard the carriage drive off, and when I went down to breakfast Miss Pallavant had gone.

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