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'I will not have my affairs talked about in this foolish way, Ellen Carley,' Marian said resolutely.
And then they all three sat down to the dinner-table. The dishes were brought in by the woman who had admitted Gilbert. The dinner was excellent after a simple fashion, and very nicely served ; but for Mr. Fenton the barn-door fowl and home-cured ham might as well have been the grass which the philosopher believed the French people might learn to eat. He was conscious of nothing but the one fact that he was in Marian's society for perhaps the last time in his life. He wondered at himself not a little for the weakness which made it so sweet to him to be with her.
The moment came at last in which he must needs take his leave, having no possible excuse for remaining any longer.
Good-bye, Marian,' he said. “I suppose we are never likely to meet again.'
• One never knows what may happen; but I think it is far better we should not meet, for many reasons.'
• What am I to tell your grandfather when I see him ?
That I will come to him as soon as I can get my husband's permission to do so.'
I should not think there would be any difficulty about that, when he knows that this relationship is likely to bring you fortune.'
I daresay not.'
* And if you come to London to see Mr. Nowell, there will be some chance of our meeting again.'
What good can come of that ?'
*Not much to me, I daresay. It would be a desperate, melancholy kind of pleasure. Anything is better than the idea of losing sight of you for ever-of leaving this room to-day never to look upon your face again.
He wrote Jacob Nowell's address upon one of his own cards, and gave it to Marian; and then prepared to take his departure. He had an idea that the bailiff's daughter would conduct him to the gate, and that he would be able to make some inquiries about Mr. Holbrook on his way. It is possible that Marian guessed his intentions in this respect; for she offered to go with him to the gate herself; and he could not with any decency refuse to be so honoured.
They went through the hall together, where all was as still and lifeless as it had been when he arrived, and walked slowly side by side along the broad garden-path in utter silence. At the gate Gilbert stopped suddenly, and gave Marian his hand.
My darling,' he said, 'I forgive you with all my heart; and I will pray for your happiness.'
Will you try to forgive my husband also ?' she asked in her plaintive beseeching way.
"I do not know what I am capable of in that direction. I promise that, for your sake, I will not attempt to do him any injury.'
'God bless you for that promise! I have so dreaded the chance of a meeting between you two. It has often been the thought of that which has made me unhappy when that faithful girl, Nelly, has noticed my low spirits. You have removed a great weight from my mind.'
* And you will trust me better after that promise ?'
· Yes ; I will trust you as you deserve to be trusted, with all my heart.'
* And now, good-bye. It is a hard word for me to say; but I must not detain you here in the cold.'
He bent his head, and pressed his lips upon the slender little hand which held the key of the gate. In the next moment he was outside that tall iron barrier; and it seemed to him as if he were leaving Marian in a prison. The garden, with its poor pale scentless autumn flowers, had a dreary look under the dull gray sky. He thought of the big empty house, with its faded traces of vanished splendour, and of Marian's lonely life in it, with unspeakable pain. How different from the sunny home which he had dreamed of in the days gone by—the happy domestic life which he had fancied they two might lead!
“And she loves this man well enough to endure the dullest existence for his sake,' he said to himself, as he turned his back at last upon the tall iron gate, having lingered there for some minutes after Marian had reëntered the house. “She could forget all our plans for the future at his bidding.'
He thought of this with a jealous pang, and with all his old anger against his unknown rival. Moved by an impulse of love and pity for Marian, he had promised that this man should suffer no injury at his hands; and, having so pledged himself, he must needs keep his word. But there were certain savage feelings and primitive instincts in his breast not easily to be vanquished ; and he felt that now he had bound himself to keep the peace in relation to Mr. Holbrook, it would be well that those two should not meet.
“But I will have some explanation from Sir David Forster as to that lie he told me,' he said to himself; and I will question John Saltram about this man Holbrook.'
John Saltram-John Holbrook. An idea flashed into his brain that seemed to set it on fire. What if John Saltram and John Holbrook were one !—what if the bosom friend whom he had introduced to his betrothed had played the traitor, and stolen her from him ! In the next moment he put the supposition away from him, indignant with himself for being capable of thinking such a thing, even for an instant. Of all the men upon earth who could have done him this wrong, John Saltram was the last he could have believed guilty. Yet the thought recurred to him many times after this with a foolish tiresome persistence; and he found himself going over the circumstances of his friend's acquaintance with Marian, his hasty departure from Lidford, his return there later during Sir David Forster's illness. Let him consider these facts as closely as he might, there was no especial element of suspicion in them. There might have been a hundred reasons for that hurried journey to London—nay, the very fact itself argued against the supposition that Mr. Saltram had fallen in love with his friend's plighted wife.
And now, the purpose of his life being so far achieved, Gilbert Fenton rode back to Winchester next day, restored his horse to its proprietor, and went on to London by an evening train.
MISS CARLEY'S ADMIRERS. THERE were times in which Marian Holbrook's life would have been utterly lonely but for the companionship of Ellen Carley. This warm - hearted, outspoken country girl had taken a fancy to Mr. Holbrook's beautiful wife from the hour of her arrival at the Grange, one cheerless March evening, and had attached herself to Marian from that moment with unalterable affection and fidelity. The girl's own life at the Grange had been lonely enough, except during the brief summer months, when the roomy old house was now and then enlivened a little by the advent of a lodger,—some stray angler in search of a secluded trout-stream, or an invalid who wanted quiet and fresh air. But in none of these strangers had Ellen ever taken much interest. They had come and gone, and made very little impression upon her mind, though she had helped to make their sojourn pleasant, in her own brisk cheery way.
She was twenty-two years of age, very bright-looking, if not absolutely pretty, with dark expressive eyes, a rosy brunette complexion, and very white teeth. The nose belonged to the inferior order of pug or snub; the forehead was low and broad, with darkbrown hair rippling over it—hair which seemed always wanting to escape from its neat arrangement into a multitude of mutinous curls. She was altogether a young person whom the admirers of the soubrette style of beauty might have found very charming; and, secluded as her life at the Grange had been, she had already more than one admirer.
She used to relate her love-affairs to Marian Holbrook in the quiet summer evenings, as the two sat under an old cedar in the meadow nearest the house-a meadow which had been a lawn in the days when the Grange was in the occupation of great folks ; and was divided from a broad terrace-walk at the back of the house by a dry grass-grown moat, with steep sloping banks, upon which there was a wealth of primroses and violets in the early spring. Ellen Carley told Mrs. Holbrook of her admirers, and received sage advice from that experienced young matron, who by and by confessed to her humble companion the error of her own girlhood, and how she had jilted the most devoted and generous lover that ever a woman could boast of.
For some months—for the bright honeymoon period of her wedded life-Marian had been completely happy in that out-of-theworld region. It is not to be supposed that she had done so great a wrong to Gilbert Fenton except under the influence of a great love, or the dominion of a nature powerful enough to subjugate her own. Both these influences had been at work. Too late she had discovered that she had never really loved Gilbert Fenton; that the calm grateful liking which she had told herself must needs be the sole version of the grand passion whereof her nature was capable, had been only the tamest, most ordinary kind of friendship after all, and that in the depths of her soul there was a capacity for an utterly different attachment-a love which was founded on neither respect nor gratitude, but which sprang into life in a moment, fatal and allabsorbing from its birth.
Heaven knows she had struggled bravely against this luckless passion, had resisted long and steadily the assiduous pursuit, the passionate half-despairing pleading, of her lover, who would not be driven away, and who invented all kinds of expedients for seeing her, however difficult the business might be, or however resolutely she might endeavour to avoid him. It was only after her uncle's death, when her mind was weakened by excessive grief, that her strong determination to remain faithful to her absent betrothed had at last given way before the force of those tender passionate prayers, and she had consented to the hasty secret marriage which her lover proposed. Her consent once given, not a moment had been lost. The business had been hurried on with the utmost eagerness by the impetuous lover, who would give her as little opportunity as possible of changing her mind, and who had obtained complete mastery of her will from the moment in which she promised to be his wife.
She loved him with all the unselfish devotion of which her nature was capable ; and no thought of the years to come, or of what her future life might be with this man of whose character and circumstances she knew so very little, ever troubled her. Having sacrificed her fidelity to Gilbert Fenton, she held all other sacrifices light as air-never considered them at all, in fact. When did a generous romantic girl of nineteen ever stop to calculate the chances of the future, or fear to encounter poverty and trouble with the man she loved ? To Marian this man was henceforth all the world. It was not that he was handsomer, or better, or in any obvious way superior to Gilbert Fenton. It was only that he was just the one man able to win her heart. That mysterious attraction which reason can never reduce to rule, which knows no laws of precedent or experience, reigned here in full force. It is just possible that the desperate circumstances of the attachment, the passionate pursuit of the lover, not to be checked by any obstacle, may have had an influence upon the girl's mind. There was a romance in such love as this that had not existed in Mr. Fenton's straightforward wooing; and Marian was too young to be quite proof against the subtle charm of a secret, romantic, despairing passion.
For some time she was very happy; and the remote farmhouse, with its old-fashioned gardens and fair stretch of meadow-land beyond them, where all shade and beauty had not yet been sacrificed to the interests of agriculture, seemed to her in those halcyon days a kind of earthly paradise. She endured her husband's occasional absence from this rural home with perfect patience. These absences were rare and brief at first, but afterwards grew longer and more frequent. Nor did she ever sigh for any brighter or gayer life than this which they led together at the Grange. In him were the beginning and end of her hopes and dreams; and so long as he was pleased and contented, she was completely happy. It was only when a change came in him—very slight at first, but still obvious to the wife's tender watchful eyes—that her own happiness was clouded. That change told her that whatever he might be to her, she was no longer all the world to him. He loved her still, no doubt; but the bright holiday-time of his love was over, and his wife's presence had no longer the power to charm away every dreary thought. He was a man in whose disposition there was a lurking vein of melancholy-a kind of chronic discontent very common to men of whom it has been said that they might do great things in the world, and who have succeeded in doing nothing.
It is not to be supposed that Mr. Holbrook intended to keep his wife shut away from the world in a lonely farmhouse all her life. The place suited him very well for the present; the apartments at the Grange, and the services of Mr. Carley and his dependents, had been put at his disposal by the owner of the estate, together with all farm and garden produce. Existence here therefore cost him very little ; his chief expenses were in gifts to the bailiff and his underlings, which he bestowed with a liberal hand. His plans for the future were as yet altogether vague and unsettled. He had thoughts of emigration, of beginning life afresh in a new countryanything to escape from the perplexities that surrounded him here; and he had his reasons for keeping his wife secluded. Nor did his conscience disturb him much—he was a man who had his conscience in very good training—as to the unfairness of this proceeding. Marian was happy, he told himself; and when the time came for
The place away from thosed that Mr. Holm