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these poor unlucky ones, crawling away with sick white faces to gather in groups, and explain to each other, with stable jargon intermingled with oaths, how it ought not to have been, and never could have been, but for some unlooked-for and preposterous combination of events never before witnessed upon any mortal course. How little is ever seen of the losers in any of the great races run upon this earth! For years and
the name of Louis Napoleon is an empty sound, signifying nothing; when, lo, a few master-strokes of policy and finesse, a little juggling with those pieces of pasteboard out of which are built the shaky card-palaces men call empires, and creation rings with the same name; the outsider emerges from the ruck, and the purple jacket, spotted with golden bees, is foremost in the mighty race.
Talbot Bulstrode leaned with folded arms upon the stone balustrade, looking down at the busy life below him and thinking of these things. Pardon him for his indulgence in dreary platitudes and worn-out sentimentalities. He was a desolate, purposeless man; entered for no race him. self; scratched for the matrimonial stakes; embittered by disappointment; soured by doubt and suspicion. He had spent the dull winter months upon the Continent, having no mind to go down to Bulstrode to encounter his mother's sympathy and his cousin Constance Trevyllian's chatter. He was unjust enough to nourish a secret dislike to that young lady for the good service she had done him by revealing Aurora's flight.
Are we ever really grateful to the people who tell us of the iniquity of those we love? Are we ever really just to the kindly creatures who give us friendly warning of our danger? No, never !
No, never! We hate them; always involuntarily reverting to them as the first cause of our anguish; always repeating to ourselves that, had they been silent, that anguish need never have been ; always ready to burst forth in one wild rage with the mad cry, that “it is better to be much abused than but to know't a little.” When the friendly Ancient drops his poisoned hints into poor Othello's ear, it is not Mistress Desdemona, but Iago himself, whom the noble Moor first has a mind to strangle. If poor innocent Constance Trevyllian had been born the veriest cur in the county of Cornwall, she would have bad a better chance of winning Talbot's regard than she had now.
Why had he come into Yorkshire? I left that question unanswered just now, for I am ashamed to tell the reasons which actuated this unhappy man. He came, in a paroxysm of curiosity, to learn what kind of life Aurora led with her husband, John Mellish. He had suffered horrible distractions of mind upon this subject, one moment imagining her the most despicable of coquettes, ready to marry any man who had a fair estate and a good position to offer her, and by and by depicting her as some whiterobed Iphigenia, led a passive victim to the sacrificial shrine. So, when happening to meet this good-natured brother officer at the United Service Club, he had consented to run down to Captain Hunter's country place, for a brief respite from Parliamentary minutes and red-tape, the artful hy. pocrite had never owned to himself that he was burning to hear tidings of
his false and fickle love, and that it was some lingering fumes of the old intoxication that carried him down to Yorkshire. But now, now that he met her--met her, the heartless, abominable creature, radiant and happy -mere simulated happiness and feverish mock radiance, no doubt, but too well put on to be quite pleasing to him,-non he knew her. He knew her at last, the wicked enchantress, the soulless siren. He knew that she had never loved him; that she was of course powerless to love; good for nothing but to wreath her white arms and flash the dark splendour of her eyes for weak man's destruction; fit for nothing but to float in her beauty above the waves that concealed the bleached bones of her victims. Poor John Mellish! Talbot reproached himself for his hardness of heart in nourishing one spiteful feeling towards a man who was so deeply to be pitied.
When the race was done, Captain Bulstrode turned, and beheld the black-eyed sorceress in the midst of a group gathered about a grave patriarch with gray hair and the look of one accustomed to command.
This grave patriarch was John Pastern.
I write his name with respect, even as it was reverentially whispered there, till, travelling from lip to lip, every one present knew that a great man was amongst them. A very quiet, unassuming veteran, sitting with his womankind about him,-his wife and daughter, as I think,--self-possessed and grave, while men were busy with his name in the crowd below, and while tens of thousands were staked in trusting dependence on his acumen. What golden syllables might have fallen from those oracular lips, had the veteran been so pleased! What hundreds would have been freely bidden for a word, a look, a nod, a wink, a mere significant pursing-up of the lips from that great man! What is the fable of the young lady who discoursed pearls and diamonds to a truth such as this? Pearls and diamonds must be of large size which would be worth the secrets of those Richmond stables, the secrets which Mr. Pastern might tell if he chose. Perhaps it is the knowledge of this which gives him a calm, almost clerical, gravity of manner. People come to him, and fawn upon him, and tell him that such and such a horse from his stable bas won, or looks safe to win; and he nods pleasantly, thanking them for the kind information; while perhaps his thoughts are far away on Epsom Downs or Newmarket Flats, winning future Derbys and Two Thousands with colts that are as yet unfoaled.
John Mellish is on intimate terms with the great man, to whom he presents Aurora, and of whom he asks advice upon a matter that has been troubling him for some time. His trainer's health is failing him, and he wants assistance in the stables; a younger man, honest and clever. Does Mr. Pastern know such a one?
The veteran tells him, after due consideration, that he does know of a young man; honest, he believes, as times go, who was once employed in the Richmond stables, and who had written to him only a few days before, asking for his influence in getting him a situation. “But the lad's name has slipped my memory,” added Mr. Pastern ; "he was but a lad when he was with me; but, bless my soul, that's ten years ago! I'll look up his letter when I go home, and write to you about him. I know he's clever, and I believe he's honest; and I shall be only too happy," concluded the old gentleman gallantly, “ to do any thing to oblige Mrs. Mellish.”
CHAPTER XIV. LOVE TOOK UP THE GLASS OF TIME AND TURNED IT IN HIS GLOWING HANDS." TALBOT BULSTRODE yielded at last to John's repeated invitations, and consented to pass a couple of days at Mellish Park.
He despised and hated himself for the absurd concession. In what a pitiful farce had the tragedy ended! A visitor in the house of his rival. A calm spectator of Aurora's every-day, commonplace happiness. For the space of two days he had consented to occupy this most preposterous position. Two days only; then back to the Cornish miners, and the desolate bachelor's lodgings in Queen's Square, Westminster; back to bis tent in life's great Sahara. He could not for the very soul of him resist the temptation of beholding the inner life of that Yorkshire mansion. He wanted to know for certain—what was it to him, I wonder?- whether she was really happy, and had utterly forgotten him. They all returned to the Park together, Aurora, John, Archibald Floyd, Lucy, Talbot Bulstrode, and Captain Hunter. The last-named officer was a jovial gentleman, with a hook nose and auburn whiskers; a gentleman whose intellectual attainments were of no very oppressive order, but a hearty, pleasant guest in an honest country mansion, where there is cheer and welcome for all.
Talbot could but inwardly confess that Aurora became her new position. How every body loved ber! What an atmosphere of happiness she created about her wherever she went ! How joyously the dogs barked and leapt at sight of her, straining their chains in the desperate effort to approach her. How fearlessly the thorough-bred mares and foals ran to the paddock-gates to bid her welcome, bending down their velvet nostrils to nestle upon her shoulder, or respond to the touch of her caressing hand. Seeing all this, how could Talbot refrain from remembering that this same sunlight might have shone upon that dreary castle far away by the surging Western Sea ? She might have been his, this beautiful creature ; but at what price? At the price of honour; at the price of every principle of his mind, which had set up for himself a holy and perfect standard—a pure and spotless ideal for the wife of his choice. Forbid it, manhood! He might have weakly yielded; he might have been happy, with the blind happiness of a lotus-eater, but not the reasonable bliss of a Christian. Thank Heaven for the strength which had been given to him to escape from the silken net! Thank Heaven for the power which had been granted to him to fight the battle.
Standing by Aurora's side in one of the wide windows at Mellish
Park, looking far out over the belted lawn to the glades in which the deer lay basking drowsily in the April sunlight, he could not repress the thought uppermost in his mind.
"I am very glad—to see you so happy, Mrs. Mellish.”
She looked at him with frank, truthful eyes, in whose brightness there was not one latent shadow.
“ Yes,” she said, “I am very, very happy. My husband is very good to me. He loves—and trusts me.”
She could not resist that one little stab—the only vengeance she ever took upon him; but a stroke that pierced him to the heart.
“Aurora! Aurora! Aurora !” he cried.
That half-stifled cry revealed the secret of wounds that were not yet healed. Mrs. Mellish turned pale at the traitorous sound. This man must be cured. The happy wife, secure in her own stronghold of love and confidence, could not bear to see this poor fellow still adrift.
She by no means despaired of his cure, for experience had taught her, that although love's passionate fever takes several forms, there are very few of them incurable. Had she not passed safely through the ordeal herself, without one scar to bear witness of the old wounds?
She left Captain Bulstrode staring moodily out of the window, and went away to plan the saving of this poor shipwrecked soul.
She ran in the first place to tell Mr. John Mellish of her discovery, as it was her custom to carry to him every scrap of intelligence, great and small.
“My dearest old Jack,” she said it was another of her customs to address him by every species of exaggeratedly endearing appellation ; it may be that she did this for the quieting of her own conscience, being well aware that she tyrannised over him-“my darling boy, I have made a discovery."
About the filly ?"
John's blue eyes twinkled maliciously. He was evidently half-prepared for what was coming.
“What is it, Lolly ?”
“Why, I'm really afraid, my precious darling, that he hasn't quite got over
My taking you away from him!" roared John. “I thought as much. Poor devil-poor Talbot! I could see that he would have liked to fight me on the Stand at York. Upon my word, I pity him!" and in token of his compassion Mr. Mellish burst into that old joyous, boisterous, but musical laugh, which Talbot might almost have heard at the other end of the house.
This was a favourite delusion of John's. He firmly believed that he had won Aurora's affection in fair competition with Captain Bulstrode; pleasantly ignoring that the Captain had resigned all pretensions to Miss
Floyd's hand nine or ten months before his own offer had been accepted. The genial, sanguine creature had a habit of deceiving himself in this
He saw all things in the universe just as he wished to see them,- all men and women good and honest; life one long, pleasant voyage in a well-fitted ship, with only first-class passengers on board. He was one of those men who are likely to cut their throats or take prussic acid upon the day they first encounter the black visage of Care.
“ And what are we to do with this poor fellow, Lolly ?"'
“My dearest pet, what an obtuse old darling you are! No; marry him to Lucy Floyd, my first cousin once removed, and keep the Bulstrode estate in the family.”
“Marry him to Lucy!"
“Yes; why not? She has studied enough, and learnt history, and geography, and astronomy, and botany, and geology, and conchology, and entomology enough; and she has covered I don't know how many China jars with impossible birds and flowers; and she has illuminated missals, and read High-Church novels. So the next best thing she can do is to marry Talbot Bulstrode.”
John had his own reasons for agreeing with Aurora in this matter. He remembered that secret of poor Lucy's, which he had discovered more than a year before at Felden Woods : the secret which had been revealed to him by some mysterious sympathetic power belonging to hopeless love. So Mr. Mellish declared his hearty concurrence in Aurora's scheme, and the two amateur match-makers set to work to devise a complicated man. trap, in the which Talbot was to be entangled; never for a moment imagining that, while they were racking their brains in the endeavour to bring this piece of machinery to perfection, the intended victim was quietly strolling across the sunlit lawn towards the very fate they desired for him.
Yes, Talbot Bulstrode lounged with languid step to meet his Destiny, in a wood upon the borders of the Park; a part of the Park, indeed, inasmuch as it was within the boundary-fence of John's domain. The wood-anemones trembled in the spring breezes, deep in those shadowy arcades; pale primroses showed their mild faces amid their sheltering leaves; and in shady nooks, beneath low spreading boughs of elm and beech, oak and ash, the violets hid their purple beauty from the vulgar eye. A lovely spot, soothing by its harmonious influence; a very forest sanctuary, without whose dim arcades man cast his burden down, to enter in a child. Captain Bulstrode bad felt in no very pleasant humour as he walked across the lawn; but some softening influence stole upon him on the threshold of that sylvan shelter which made him feel a better man. He began to question himself as to how he was playing his part in the great drama of life.