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MR. WARDLAW went down to his son and nursed him. He kept the newspapers from him, and, on his fever abating, had him conveyed by easy stages to the seaside, and then sent him abroad.
The young man obeyed in gloomy silence. He never asked after Robert Penfold, now; never mentioned his name. He seemed, somehow, thankful to be controlled mind and body.
But, before he had been abroad a month, he wrote for leave to return home and to throw himself into business. There was, for once, a nervous impatience in his letters, and his father, who pitied him deeply, and was more than ever inclined to reward and indulge him, yielded readily enough; and, on his arrival, signed the partnership deed, and, Polonius-like, gave him much good counsel; then retired to his country seat.
At first he used to run up every three days, and examine the day-book and ledger, and advise his junior; but these visits soon became fewer, and at last he did little more than correspond occasionally.
Arthur Wardlaw held the reins, and easily paid his Oxford debts out of the assets of the firm. Not being happy in his mind, he threw himself into commerce with feverish zeal, and very soon extended the operations of the house.
One of his first acts of authority was to send for Michael Penfold into his room. Now poor old Michael, ever since his son's misfortune, as he called it, had crept to his desk like a culprit, expecting every day to be discharged. When he received this summons he gave a sigh and went slowly to the young merchant.
Arthur Wardlaw looked up at his entrance, then looked down again, and said coldly, "Mr. Penfold, you have been a faithful servant to us many years; I raise your salary fifty pounds a year, and you will keep the ledger."
The old man was dumfounded at first, and then began to give vent to his surprise and gratitude; but Wardlaw cut him short, almost fiercely. "There, there, there," said he, without raising his eyes, "let me hear no more about it, and, above all, never speak to me of that cursed business. It was no fault of yours, nor mine neither. There--go--I want no thanks. Do you hear? leave me, Mr. Penfold, if you please."
The old man bowed low and retired, wondering much at his employer's goodness, and a little at his irritability.
Wardlaw junior's whole soul was given to business night and day, and he soon became known for a very ambitious and rising merchant. But, by and by, ambition had to encounter a rival in his heart. He fell in love; deeply in love; and with a worthy object.
The young lady was the daughter of a distinguished officer, whose merits were universally recognized, but not rewarded in proportion. Wardlaw's suit was favorably received by the father, and the daughter gradually yielded to an attachment the warmth, sincerity and singleness of which were manifest. And the pair would have been married but for the circumstance that her father (partly through Wardlaw's influence, by the by) had obtained a lucrative post abroad which it suited his means to accept, at all events for a time. He was a widower, and his daughter could not let him go alone.
This temporary separation, if it postponed a marriage, led naturally to a solemn engagement; and Arthur Wardlaw enjoyed the happiness of writing and receiving affectionate letters by every foreign post. Love, worthily bestowed, shed its balm upon his heart, and, under its soft but powerful charm, he grew tranquil and complacent, and his character and temper seemed to improve. Such virtue is there in a pure attachment.
Meanwhile the extent of his operations alarmed old Penfold; but he soon reasoned that worthy down with overpowering conclusions and superior smiles.
He had been three years the ruling spirit of Wardlaw & Son, when some curious events took place in another hemisphere; and in these events, which we are now to relate, Arthur Wardlaw was more nearly interested than may appear at first sight.
* * * * * * *
Robert Penfold, in due course, applied to Lieutenant-General Rolleston for a ticket of leave. That functionary thought the application premature, the crime being so grave. He complained that the system had become too lax, and for his part he seldom gave a ticket-of-leave until some suitable occupation was provided for the applicant. "Will anybody take you as a clerk? If so, I'll see about it."
Robert Penfold could find nobody to take him into a post of confidence all at once, and wrote the general an eloquent letter, begging hard to be allowed to labor with his hands.
Fortunately, General Rolleston's gardener had just turned him off; so he offered the post to his eloquent correspondent, remarking that he did not much mind employing a ticket-of-leave man himself, though he was resolved to protect his neighbors from their relapses.
The convict then came to General Rolleston, and begged leave to enter on his duties under the name of James Seaton. At that General Rolleston hem'd and haw'd, and took a note. But his final decision was as follows: "If you really mean to change your character, why, the name you have disgraced might hang round your neck. Well, I'll give you every chance. But," said this old warrior, suddenly compressing his resolute lips just a little, "if you go a yard off the straight path now, look for no mercy, Jemmy Seaton."
So the convict was re-christened at the tail of a threat, and let loose among the warrior's tulips.
His appearance was changed as effectually as his name. Even before he was Seatoned he had grown a silky mustache and beard of singular length and beauty; and, what with these and his workingman's clothes, and his cheeks and neck tanned by the sun, our readers would never have recognized in this hale, bearded laborer the pale prisoner that had trembled, raged, wept and submitted in the dock of the Central Criminal Court.
Our universities cure men of doing things by halves, be the things mental or muscular; so Seaton gardened much more zealously than his plebeian predecessor: up at five, and did not leave till eight.
But he was unpopular in the kitchen--because he was always out of it. Taciturn and bitter, he shunned his fellow-servants.
Yet working among the flowers did him good; these his pretty companions and nurslings had no vices.
One day, as he was rolling the grass upon the lawn, he heard a soft rustle at some distance, and, looking round, saw a young lady on the gravel path, whose calm but bright face, coming so suddenly, literally dazzled him. She had a clear cheek blooming with exercise, rich brown hair, smooth, glossy and abundant, and a very light hazel eye, of singular beauty and serenity. She glided along, tranquil as a goddess, smote him with beauty and perfume, and left him staring after her receding figure, which was, in its way, as captivating as her face.
She was walking up and down for exercise, briskly, but without effort. Once she passed within a few yards of him, and he touched his hat to her. She inclined her head gently, but her eyes did not rest an instant on her gardener; and so she passed and repassed, unconsciously sawing this solitary heart with soft but penetrating thrills.
At last she went indoors to luncheon, and the lawn seemed to miss the light music of her rustling dress, and the sunshine of her presence, and there was a painful void; but that passed, and a certain sense of happiness stole over James Seaton--an unreasonable joy, that often runs before folly and trouble.
The young lady was Helen Rolleston, just returned home from a visit. She walked in the garden every day, and Seaton watched her, and peeped at her, unseen, behind trees and bushes. He fed his eyes and his heart upon her, and, by degrees, she became the sun of his solitary existence. It was madness; but its first effect was not unwholesome. The daily study of this creature, who, though by no means the angel he took her for, was at all events a pure and virtuous woman, soothed his sore heart, and counteracted the demoralizing influence of his late companions. Every day he drank deeper of an insane but purifying and elevating passion.
He avoided the kitchen still more; and that, by the by, was unlucky; for there he could have learned something about Miss Helen Rolleston that would have warned him to keep at the other end of the garden whenever that charming face and form glided to and fro among the minor flowers.
A beautiful face fires our imagination, and we see higher virtue and intelligence in it than we can detect in its owner's head or heart when we descend to calm inspection. James Seaton gazed on Miss Rolleston day after day, at so respectful a distance that she became his goddess. If a day passed without his seeing her, he was dejected. When she was behind her time, he was restless, anxious, and his work distasteful; and then, when she came out at last, he thrilled all over, and the lawn, ay, the world itself, seemed to fill with sunshine. His adoration, timid by its own nature, was doubly so by reason of his fallen and hopeless condition. He cut nosegays for her; but gave them to her maid Wilson for her. He had not the courage to offer them to herself.
One evening, as he went home, a man addressed him familiarly, but in a low voice. Seaton looked at him attentively, and recognized him at last. It was a convict called Butt, who had come over in the ship with him. The man offered him a glass of ale; Seaton declined it. Butt, a very clever rogue, seemed hurt. So then Seaton assented reluctantly. Butt took him to a public house in a narrow street, and into a private room. Seaton started as soon as he entered, for there sat two repulsive ruffians, and, by a look that passed rapidly between them and Butt, he saw plainly that they were waiting for him. He felt nervous; the place was so uncouth and dark, the faces so villainous.
However, they invited him to sit down, roughly, but with an air of good fellowship; and very soon opened their business over their ale. We are all bound to assist our fellow-creatures, when it can be done without trouble; and what they asked of him was a simple act of courtesy, such as in their opinion no man worthy of the name could deny to his fellow. It was to give General Rolleston's watchdog a piece of prepared meat upon a certain evening. And, in return for this trifling civility, they were generous enough to offer him a full share of any light valuables they might find in the general's house.
Seaton trembled, and put his face in his hands a moment. "I cannot do it," said he.
"He has been too good to me."
A coarse laugh of derision greeted this argument; it seemed so irrelevant to these pure egotists. Seaton, however, persisted, and on that one of the men got up and stood before the door, and drew his knife gently.
Seaton glanced his eyes round in search of a weapon, and turned pale.
"Do you mean to split on us, mate?" said one of the ruffians in front of him.
"No, I don't. But I won't rob my benefactor. You shall kill me first." And with that he darted to the fireplace, and in a moment the poker was high in air, and the way he squared his shoulders and stood ready to hit to the on, or cut to the off, was a caution.
"Come, drop that," said Butt, grimly; "and put up your knife, Bob. Can't a pal be out of a job, and yet not split on them that is in it!"
"Why should I split?" said Robert Penfold. "Has the law been a friend to me? But I won't rob my benefactor--and his daughter."
"That is square enough," said Butt. "Why, pals, there are other cribs to be cracked besides that old bloke's. Finish the ale, mate, and part friends."
"If you will promise me to crack some other crib, and let that one alone."
A sullen assent was given, and Seaton drank their healths, and walked away. Butt followed him soon after, and affected to side with him, and intimated that he himself was capable of not robbing a man's house who had been good to him, or to a pal of his. Indeed this plausible person said so much, and his sullen comrades had said so little, that Seaton, rendered keen and anxious by love, invested his savings in a Colt's revolver and ammunition.
He did not stop there; after the hint about the watch-dog, he would not trust that faithful but too carnivorous animal; he brought his blankets into the little tool-house, and lay there every night in a sort of dog's sleep. This tool-house was erected in a little back garden, separated from the lawn only by some young trees in single file. Now Miss Rolleston's window looked out upon the lawn, so that Seaton's watchtower was not many yards from it; then, as the tool-house was only lighted from above, he bored a hole in the wooden structure, and through this he watched, and slept, and watched. He used to sit studying theology by a farthing rushlight till the lady's bedtime, and then he watched for her shadow. If it appeared for a few moments on the blind, he gave a sigh of content and went to sleep, but awaked every now and then to see that all was well.
After a few nights, his alarms naturally ceased, but his love increased, fed now from this new source, the sweet sense of being the secret protector of her he adored.
Meantime, Miss Rolleston's lady's maid, Wilson, fell in love with him after her fashion; she had taken a fancy to his face at once, and he had encouraged her a little, unintentionally; for he brought the nosegays to her, and listened complacently to her gossip, for the sake of the few words she let fall now and then about her young mistress. As he never exchanged two sentences at a time with any other servant, this flattered Sarah Wilson, and she soon began to meet and accost him oftener, and in cherrier-colored ribbons, than he could stand. So then he showed impatience, and then she, reading him by herself, suspected some vulgar rival.
Suspicion soon bred jealousy, jealousy vigilance, and vigilance detection.
Her first discovery was that, so long as she talked of Miss Helen Rolleston, she was always welcome; her second was, that Seaton slept in the tool-house.
She was not romantic enough to connect her two discoveries together. They lay apart in her mind, until circumstances we are about to relate supplied a connecting link.
One Thursday evening James Seaton's goddess sat alone with her papa, and--being a young lady of fair abilities, who had gone through her course of music and other studies, taught brainlessly, and who was now going through a course of monotonous pleasures, and had not accumulated any great store of mental resources--she was listless and languid, and would have yawned forty times in her papa's face, only she was too well-bred. She always turned her head away, when it came, and either suppressed it, or else hid it with a lovely white hand. At last, as she was a good girl, she blushed at her behavior, and roused herself up, and said she, "Papa, shall I play you the new quadrilles?"
Papa gave a start and a shake, and said, with well-feigned vehemence, "Ay, do, my dear," and so composed himself--to listen; and Helen sat down and played the quadrilles.
The composer had taken immortal melodies, some gay, some sad, and had robbed them of their distinctive character and hashed them till they were all one monotonous rattle. But General Rolleston was little the worse for all this. As Apollo saved Horace from hearing a poetaster's rhymes, so did Somnus, another beneficent little deity, rescue our warrior from his daughter's music.
She was neither angry nor surprised. A delicious smile illumined her face directly; she crept to him on tiptoe, and bestowed a kiss, light as a zephyr, on his gray head. And, in truth, the bending attitude of this supple figure, clad in snowy muslin, the virginal face and light hazel eyes beaming love and reverence, and the airy kiss, had something angelic.
She took her candle, and glided up to her bedroom. And, the moment she got there, and could gratify her somnolence without offense, need we say she became wide-awake? She sat down and wrote long letters to three other young ladies, gushing affection, asking questions of the kind nobody replies to, painting, with a young lady's colors, the male being to whom she was shortly to be married, wishing her dear friends a like demigod, if perchance earth contained two; and so to the last new bonnet and preacher.
She sat over her paper till one o'clock, and Seaton watched and adored her shadow.
When she had done writing, she opened her window and looked out upon the night. She lifted those wonderful hazel eyes toward the stars, and her watcher might well be pardoned if he saw in her a celestial being looking up from an earthly resting place toward her native sky.
At two o'clock she was in bed, but not asleep. She lay calmly gazing at the Southern Cross and other lovely stars shining with vivid but chaste fire in the purple vault of heaven.
While thus employed she heard a slight sound outside that made her turn her eyes toward a young tree near her window. Its top branches were waving a good deal, though there was not a breath stirring. This struck her as curious, very curious.
While she wondered, suddenly an arm and a hand came in sight, and after them the whole figure of a man, going up the tree.
Helen sat up now, glaring with terror, and was so paralyzed she did not utter a sound. About a foot below her window was a lead flat that roofed the bay-window below. It covered an area of several feet, and the man sprang on to it with perfect ease from the tree. Helen shrieked with terror. At that very instant there was a flash, a pistol-shot, and the man's arms went whirling, and he staggered and fell over the edge of the flat, and struck the grass below with a heavy thud. Shots and blows followed, and all the sounds of a bloody struggle rung in Helen's ears as she flung herself screaming from the bed and darted to the door. She ran and clung quivering to her sleepy maid, Wilson. The house was alarmed, lights flashed, footsteps pattered, there was universal commotion.
General Rolleston soon learned his daughter's story from Wilson, and aroused his male servants, one of whom was an old soldier. They searched the house first; but no entrance had been effected; so they went out on the lawn with blunderbuss and pistol.
They found a man lying on his back at the foot of the bay window.
They pounced on him, and, to their amazement, it was the gardener, James Seaton. Insensible.
General Rolleston was quite taken aback for a moment. Then he was sorry. But, after a little reflection, he said very sternly, "Carry the blackguard indoors; and run for an officer."
Seaton was taken into the hall and laid flat on the floor.
All the servants gathered about him, brimful of curiosity, and the female ones began to speak all together; but General Rolleston told them sharply to hold their tongues, and to retire behind the man. "Somebody sprinkle him with cold water," said he; "and be quiet, all of you, and keep out of sight, while I examine him." He stood before the insensible figure with his arms folded, amid a dead silence, broken only by the stifled sobs of Sarah Wilson, and of a sociable housemaid who cried with her for company.
And now Seaton began to writhe and show signs of returning sense.
Next he moaned piteously, and sighed. But General Rolleston could not pity him; he waited grimly for returning consciousness, to subject him to a merciless interrogatory.
He waited just one second too long. He had to answer a question instead of putting one.
The judgment is the last faculty a man recovers when emerging from insensibility; and Seaton, seeing the general standing before him, stretched out his hands, and said, in a faint, but earnest voice, before eleven witnesses, "Is she safe? Oh, is she safe?"
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