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'Her heart, her life, her future,
And be therewith content.'
A. A. Proctor.
By the time Felix could obey Marilda's missive, and entered Cherry's sitting-room, she had come to such a state of mind, that not even his pale, fixed, mournful face was needed to make her lie back in her chair, gazing piteously up at him, murmuring, 'O Felix, what can it be? What has become of him?'
'Marilda has heard from him,' said Felix, kneeling down by her, and holding her hands.
'Heard! Oh, why did she not tell me ?'
'She feared to pain you. My poor Cherry, nothing has happened to him; but his debts have come to a crisis, and he is gone off to the Continent. That good fellow, Fernan, is gone after him, to see what can be done for him.'
'And he wrote to Marilda?' asked Cherry, greatly bewildered. 'Yes; from Ostend.'
'He wrote to her! Did you see the letter?'
'No, she had made away with it. She was so shy and short about it, that, Cherry, I suspect that distress had brought poor Edgar, as a last resource, to try whether she would accept him.'
'Oh!' cried Cherry, starting forward with conviction, 'that would account for it all!' And she told of all that had passed about Brynhild, now ten days ago-Edgar's despair, Marilda's ready assistance, and the manner of acknowledging it; and both agreed that there was strong presumption that he had taken her kindness as encouragement to venture on a proposal. This would fully account for her silence and ill humour; and the delusion, perfectly unsuspected by her, was the best possible auxiliary in guarding her secret, by preventing the brother and sister from pushing her hard with inquiries, and sufficiently explaining whatever was mysterious. Indeed, if Edgar had had the face to makę
the proposal, there was some grace in the shame that had caused CHAP.XXX. his disappearance; and luckily for Marilda, Cherry was far too modest and shame-famed to allude to her own suspicions. She only longed exceedingly for home, and yet could not bear to leave the readiest place for receiving intelligence.
Felix could not of course rest without doing his part towards inquiring, and went off to Edgar's lodgings, and also in quest of the National Minstrelsy people, whom Lance had assured him to be the most likely to give him information. He came back depressed and jaded, and went straight to his sister's room. She could see in a moment that he had found out nothing.
'Nothing! The National Minstrelsy shut up a month ago. Allen and his family had left their lodgings, and given no address. I tried the post-office, but they grinned at me, and said many gentlemen came inquiring. I went to two or three music-shops, and asked after him and after the Hungarians, but with no better success; no one knew anything about them. Then I found my way to his lodgings.'
'Ah! I wanted so much to have called there, but Marilda would not let me.'
'As well you did not. Did you know that he had his rooms in partnership?'
'Nor heard him speak of a man—an artist, named Malone?' 'Yes. I have heard of him. He has got two pictures in the British Institution. Poor Edgar wanted me to admire them, but I couldn't; they are Scripture subjects-Ruth and Rachel-made coarse and vulgar by being treated with vile reality-looking like Jewish women out of fruit-shops. He always said Tony Malone was the best fellow in the world, but he never told me he lived with him.'
'I was quite taken by surprise. The poor little miserable looking maid said Mr. Underwood had not been there for ten days; and when I said I was his brother and wanted to ask some questions, she fetched her mistress, who said he had paid up just before he went away, but that he had given no notice, so there was this ten days. Of course this was reasonable; besides, I wanted to bring home his things; so she took me up to his rooms
CHAP. XXX. while she went to make out his bill, and I thought entirely that I had come wrong, for I found myself in such a den as you can hardly conceive-light enough of course, but with the most wonderful medley of things imaginable, and in the midst a table with breakfast, and a brandy bottle; a great brawny sailor, half stripped, lying on the floor, a model for Samson, or Hercules, or somebody; and this man with a palette on his thumb, a tremendous red beard, and black elf locks sticking out all manner of ways. And that was the place he wanted to take Lance to!'
'He wouldn't have let it get bad if Lance had been with him. Besides, you old bachelor, don't you know that an artist must live in a mess and have models ?'
'Of course, I know that, Cherry. I did not expect things to be what your friend Renville makes them for his young ladies; but the odour of spirits, the whole air and aspect of the place, had something that gave me a sense of hopelessness and dissipation, when I found that those really were Edgar's quarters, and that he had concealed his sharing them with this Malone ever since he left Renville. The man behaved very well to me, I will say that for him, as soon as we had made each other out, and seemed very fond and rather proud of Tom, as he chose to call Edgar; but he is a prodigious talker, and a rough coarse kind of fellow, exactly what I couldn't have fancied Edgar putting up with.'
'I dare say it was out of good nature.'
'Half of it, no doubt; indeed, he gave me to understand as much. Edgar can't but be kind wherever he goes; even that wretched little slavey cried when I gave her a shilling for helping his things into a cab, and she found he was never coming back! I should think he had spoken the only kind words she had ever heard in her life.'
'But this man must have told you something! notion where he is gone?'
Had he no
'None at all! He knew thus much, that Edgar came into his room about ten o'clock in the morning-he couldn't tell what day, but we made it out it must have been on Thursday the 3rd-'
'The day after we went to Sydenham. Well!'
-Looking pale and scared, and saying, "I'm done for, old
fellow-I'm off!" That is all he is clear of, for he was just waked CHAP. XXX. and fast asleep again directly.'
'Well, Cherry, I'm afraid there had been a carouse the night before. Edgar had sold his picture, you see, and had cleared off old scores a few of them, at least. He was restless-Malone said in and out-all the day before; he could not make him out. I fancy he had sent his letter to Marilda, and was awaiting a reply, which she must have sent, or he have called for, early the next morning; and after holding off all day from the jollification in honour of the sale of his picture, and deputing Malone and his other friends to hold it without him, he joined them at the theatre towards ten o'clock, and went to a cider cellar with them afterwards, where I should gather that he was in a state of reckless merriment, but quite sober-yes, Malone eagerly assured me of that, as if that were a merit to be proud of in my father's son! Well, poor fellow !' added Felix, his bitter tone changing to sorrow, he seems only to have thrown himself down on his bed without undressing; but Malone, who made no secret of having been "screwed" himself, only knew of his looking in in the morning. He had driven up, it seems, in a cab, which he kept waiting-not ten minutes, the landlady says and he carried off his violin case and about as many clothes, I should imagine, as he could stuff into his portmanteau in the time-not by any means all; but one thing at least you will be glad to hear of, Cherry, the photograph of my father! Yes, I am quite certain of it; for when Malone was helping me to collect the other little matters out of his little hole of a bed-room, he said, when we came to the mantel-piece, "Yes, that's the only thing he has taken-the photo that stood there; a parson far gone in decline, the very moral of himself—your father, wasn't it ?""
'At least that is a comfort! Poor Edgar, I am sure he will soon write, even if Ferdinand misses him. You have brought his things ?'
'Only his clothes, his sketches, and a book or two. jewellery he used to have a good deal, I think.'
'Never so much as Fernan, but in better taste.'
'That was gone.
I thought it right to take an inventory of
CHAP. XXX. what I took away, and get it attested by the landlady and Malone; and I left it with them, in case the creditors should think I had taken anything of value.'
'The creditors, ah !'
'Yes. I have brought a carpet-bag stuffed choke full of bills, as heavy as I could carry, though of course many are the same over again. Time enough to look them over at home.' ' And paying?'
But, Felix, you cannot let his name be dishonoured!'
My dear Cherry, that is talk out of books. I have no right to give away what barely suffices for maintaining and educating the younger ones, for the luxury of satisfying these claims and clearing Edgar's name. It would be robbing the innocent for the sake of the guilty.'
'O Felix, how can you?'
'Guilty at least of extravagance and recklessness, Cherry, though in a generous way. He had paid up, as I told you, for the lodging -all for Malone as well as himself; and when the landlady brought up an exorbitant bill, charging my country innocence three months in advance, Malone fought her with such vehemence, that I never came in for such a battle royal, and was ready to cut and run, only to be quit of the pair of them; and after all she subsided, and was content and civil with only a fortnight in advance!'
'I think a great deal must have been the fault of those musical people. I know Edgar risked some of Mr. Underwood's money with them.'
'All, I believe, that he did not owe, or was not forced to pay immediately, and that was a regular smash; but I do not think he was liable for any of their debts. These looked to me more like
'Well, Felix, if you will not pay them, I will, as I can, and when I can.'
'Do not say I will not, Cherry, but ask yourself whether I ought either to incur a debt myself, to trench on the capital of the business, or take home the children from school. You know, for we have tried, that stinting more than we do already becomes privation; such as, though we elder ones might willingly endure it