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dale towards the close of the week, and was a sumptuous banquet, which gave the men an exalted idea of Mr. Lyne's liberality.
At Mapledean church next Sunday evening, Esther found herself wondering whether they would see Mr. Lyne again in their homeward walk. The world in which she lived was so narrow, her life so colourless altogether, that it was scarcely strange she should think with some little interest of so important a person as her husband's employer. His wealth, his power, his perfect face, with its half-veiled expression of pride--a languid listless look, that was perhaps rather a scornful indifference for everything in the world than an exalted estimate of himself,—all these attributes placed him so far away from the only people Esther Rainbow knew, and made him as remote and separate from her little world as if he had been a demigod. She did not like him though, she told herself, in spite of her husband's good opinion of him, and the remembrance of that look of his vexed and humiliated her somehow.
Yes, he was at the gate again when they left the church, standing in the same listless attitude, with folded arms upon the topmost bar, as if he had never moved since she saw him last, Esther thought. He greeted Joshua with great cordiality, and began to talk about the factory and his inspection of last week. Then, seeing Esther's admiring look at the garden, he asked presently whether Mr. and Mrs. Rainbow would not like to step in and take a little walk amongst the roses an invitation which Joshua felt to be a very great compliment, and accepted with becoming modesty.
Stephen Lyne opened the gate, and they went in among that wealth of flowers. The standard roses grew on either side of a broad grassy walk, where the turf was like velvet-pile ; and besides the standards, there were great masses of bush-roses, and tall iron rods on which other roses climbed skyward; and at the end of that broad green walk there was a large marble basin of water, with a dolphin spurting a cloud of spray from his marble jaws, and innumerable gold-fish darting to and fro among the broad leaves of the water-lilies.
To Esther it seemed like walking in Paradise, and the soft hazel eyes grew bright with wondering rapture as she looked about her. Mr. Lyne came round to her side, and watched her with a half smile upon his face, amused by that innocent wondering look, which was so like a child's.
It's a nice old-fashioned place,' he said in his careless way; . and they have kept it very well while I've been knocking about the world.'
0, it is lovely!' she murmured. “I did not know there was anything so beautiful in the world.'
* Poor child, how little you can have seen of the world !' Stephen Lyne said, in a voice so low that only Esther could hear it; and
again she saw that pitying look in his face which wounded her somehow.
Joshua was staring about him in a dignified business-like way, admiring the perfect order of everything, and pleased by his employer's courtesy, but not in any romantic raptures with roses or fountain. Mr. Lyne gathered a handful of roses—a great yellow rose with a faint rich perfume that was almost overpowering, a white moss-rosebud just bursting into flower, and a rose of a deep purplish red that was almost black—and gave the careless nosegay to Esther.
This glimpse of Paradise lasted about a quarter of an hour; and then Mr. Rainbow and his wife withdrew, refusing Mr. Lyne's invitation to go into the house and take some refreshment. They went very near the old Tudor mansion in their walk through the gardens; and Esther saw one room through a great bay-window—a room whose walls were lined with books, and where there was a litter of papers and drawing materials on one table, some wine and fruit on another, and a gigantic tawny mastiff lying asleep on a tiger-skin by the window; and she guessed that this was Mr. Lyne's favourite room.
What a miserable little place her own parlour seemed after that brief glimpse of splendour, and the square plot of garden, where a few scrubby rose-bushes grew amongst cabbages and onions, with here and there a tuft of hen-and-chicken daisies, and a poor little patch of degenerate heartsease! Esther was curiously fretful and discontented that evening; and poor Joshua, sorely perplexed by the change in her, was fain to think that she was ill. All night long she dreamed of walking amongst roses, with Stephen Lyne by her side, and that pitying look always upon his face. The next day she was herself again, much to Joshua's relief; grave and gentle, busying herself in the morning with her household work, and stitching at Joshua's shirts all the afternoon ; but O, how long the day was, when that bright-picture of the rose-garden at Mapledean seemed to darken all the rest of the world! She thought of Cockermouth-gardens, where her girlhood had been spent, and thought how much more Mr. Lyne would pity her if he could see the dinginess of her old home, and what a common creature she must seem in his eyes ! She seemed common enough to him as it was, no doubt ; and Joshua, with his big feet and clumsy gunpowder-blackened hands !
The day came to an end at last, and another day began—a sunless day, close and sultry, with occasional showers, and distant threatenings of a thunder-storm. It was nearly three o'clock in the afternoon, and Joshua had eaten his dinner and gone back to the factory ever so long, when Esther, sitting at her work by the parlour window, was startled by an unfamiliar knock at the door.
She ran quickly to open it, and gave a little cry of surprise on seeing her visitor. It was Mr. Lyne. There was a sharp shower rattling down, and he had been caught in it.
'I have been idling about the common all the morning with a book,' he said, “and the rain took me by surprise. But I happened to remember that Joshua lived hereabouts, and thought I would ask you for shelter.'
Esther ushered him into the little parlour, quite speechless with surprise, and very shy in his presence. Again she felt that sense of humiliation with which he seemed always to inspire her, thinking how the commonness of the room would strike him, and watching his dark eyes as they shot one swift glance round it.
But he did not suffer her to feel this long. He talked so pleasantly, that he won her thoughts away from herself, telling her a great deal of his adventures abroad and the lonely life he had led in strange wild places; frightening her a little with the relations of his perils and hair-breadth escapes by sea and land, and then beguiling her into smiles again by some anecdote with a dash of the comic.
* You will never go back there any more, will you, Mr. Lyne ?' she asked, with the prettiest air of anxiety.
His dark face flushed with a pleased look at this question. • Well, yes, I think I am very likely to go back.
I have so little to care for in England, you see, so little to interest me. What is there in Mirkdale for a man who knows nothing about commerce, or at Mapledean for a man who doesn't care for agriculture ? Abroad there is always adventure. I think I shall go to Africa, and push my way as far as I can.'
He smiled to himself, as it were, with a strangely subtle smile, as he saw Esther's anxious look.
Poor little soul,' he thought, “has it come to this already ?'
The rain lasted a long time; or perhaps there were several showers, with only brief intervals between them. At any rate, it did not seem to have left off raining very long when Stephen Lyne
He held out his hand at parting, and Esther gave him hers, blushing and wondering that he should stoop to shake hands with his foreman's wife.
He looked down smiling at the little hand, rather the worse for household work, but as small as a lady's, and in the next moment he was gone.
The little Dutch clock in the kitchen struck six as Esther shut the door. Six o'clock ! Mr. Lyne had been with her more than three hours, and yet the time had seemed nothing, even to her, for whom time was wont to be so long.
Joshua came home to his tea presently, and his wife told him who had taken shelter there, but not how long he had stayed. The foreman did not seem gratified by this news, but made no remark.
Stephen Lyne came again before that week was over. He had been idling away his morning on the common again, he said. He rather liked the common, though it was dull and flat enough ; but a
nice, lazy, quiet place for an idle fellow to lounge away his time. He came to the cottage for some water for his dog, the great tawny mastiff. There was water enough in the pools on the common, of course; but it was brackish, Mr. Lyne told Esther, and he did not care to let the brute drink it.
. You won't mind him, will you, Mrs. Rainbow ?' he asked, holding the animal by the collar. · He's as gentle as a lamb among friends, though he would do for a man if he saw me assaulted.'
She was a little frightened of the great creature at first, and looked very pretty with her colour coming and going, and her parted lips trembling ever so slightly. Perhaps she was more startled by this second visit of Mr. Lyne's than by the presence of the dog. She brought him a bowl of water, from which he lapped a little with no great appearance of thirst, and then, at a word from his master, stretched himself at full length. Mr. Lyne stayed nearly as long as upon the last occasion, though there was no rain to hinder his departure this time; and again the time seemed very short to Esther as she stitched at her husband's shirts, and listened to that pleasant talk about that vast world whereof she knew so little. She felt herself more than ever ignorant and common in his presence, but he seemed to have no sense of her commonness. If she had been the greatest lady in the land, he could not have been more deferential in his tone. O, if she could only have seen his half-tender, halfcontemptuous smile as he walked back to Mapledean, thinking, • Poor little soul, has it gone so far already ?'
• 0, by the way, Mrs. Rainbow,' he said, as he was going away, you needn't tell Joshua that I've been wasting your afternoon with my idle talk. I don't want him to know what a lazy fellow I am, and how glad of a little pleasant relief to my empty days. It would tell against me at the factory, you see.'
Esther did not see very clearly why Mr. Lyne need care what her husband thought about his manner of spending his days, but she obeyed him nevertheless, and was not sorry to obey him. She did not want to see that troubled look in Joshua's face again.
After this Mr. Lyne came often, very often; at first provided with some puerile excuse for each visit, but by and by without any excuse at all. There is no need to track the seducer's progress step by step. From that first Sunday evening, when he was startled into sudden enthusiasm by Esther's girlish beauty, he had set himself deliberately to accomplish this deadly work. What right had a clodhopper like Joshua Rainbow to such a wife as this ? He was not a common libertine, this Stephen Lyne, nor had his youth been stained by vulgar profligacy; but his fancy being once engaged, he thought no more of the price which others might have to pay for his sin or his folly than if these victims of his pleasure had been the lowest creatures of the insect world, crushed out of being by
his passing footstep. He had a refined taste, and was not easily fascinated. Many a pretty woman in those foreign capitals, where Stephen Lyne had drained the goblet of polite pleasure, had tried to win this golden prize in the matrimonial market; but Stephen had shown himself indifferent, and had wandered on fancy free. Never in his life had he seen a face that impressed him like this pale fair face of Esther's; never had his being thrilled with such passion as that which stirred it now, when he thought of Esther. She must be his, at any cost of sin and suffering. Upon that common clod her husband, Stephen Lyne wasted no thought. And for the girl herself, could he doubt his power to win her ? could he question the result of his wooing when the time came for him to speak ? He counted her won from the moment in which he saw her face shadowed by that anxious fearful look, when he talked of going back to the scene of his old dangers.
He meant to be cautious, however, and to risk nothing by precipitation; and to this end made many visits to the little cottage, and sat many hours in Esther's quiet parlour, without any change in his deferential manner, without uttering a word that could betray the state of his feelings, or alarm Joshua Rainbow's wife. But he knew that he was winning a stronger hold on that untried heart day by day. He could read a hundred signs and tokens of her love, so unconsciously expressed; and he never left her without a sense of triumph in the knowledge of his power.
*I have but to lift my finger, and she will come,' he said to himself.
And so the time went on. It was towards the close of August, sultry oppressive weather, and Stephen Lyne was seized with an impatient desire to make an end of his work, and carry off his prize. He had little doubt that it could be easily done. It was only a question of his own pleasure and convenience when the crisis should come.
He made out his plan in his own mind, and contrived a scheme for getting Joshua out of the way. There was some money to be collected at Durnside, a large town forty miles from Mirkdale, and Mr. Lyne told Crosby the manager to send Joshua Rainbow for it, instead of the ordinary collector. Mr. Crosby looked at his chief rather curiously when he received this order, and Stephen Lyne returned the curious look with a haughty stare.
Have you any reason for sending Rainbow?' the manager asked. It's out of our ordinary way, you know.'
• Of course I have a reason ; but I don't care to enter into a discussion of my reasons for any order I may choose to give. So you'll be so good as to see that my wishes are attended to, Mr. Crosby, without giving yourself any farther trouble about the matter.'
The manager bowed, and Joshua Rainbow was told in due time