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“ Plenty of money! I shonld think so. They say her pa gave her fifty thousand pounds down on her wedding-day; not that our master wants money, he's got enough and to spare.”
“Ah, to be sure," answered Mr. Conyers; “ that's always the way of it. The banker gave her fifty thousand, did he? If Miss Floyd had married a poor devil, now, I don't suppose her father would have given her fifty sixpences."
“Well, no; if she'd gone against his wishes, I don't suppose he would. He was here in the spring,-a nice, white-haired old gentleman; but fail
“Failing fast. And Mrs. Mellish will come into a quarter of a million at his death, I suppose. Good afternoon, ma'am. It's a queer world.” Mr. Conyers took up his stick, and limped away under the trees, repeating this ejaculation as he went. It was a habit with this gentleman to attribute the good fortune of other people to some eccentricity in the machinery of life, by which he, the only really deserving person in the world, had been deprived of his natural rights. He went through the wood into a meadow where some of the horses under his charge were at grass, and spent upwards of an hour lounging about the hedgerows, sitting on gates, smoking his pipe, and staring at the animals, which seemed about the hardest work he had to do in his capacity of trainer. “It isn't a very hard life, when all's said and done,” he thought, as he looked at a group of mares and foals who in their eccentric diversions were performing a species of Sir Roger de Coverley up and down the meadow. “It isn't hard life; for as long as a fellow swears hard and fast at the lads, and gets rid of plenty of oats, he's right enough. These country gentlemen always judge a man's merits by the quantity of corn they have to pay for. Feed their horses as fat as pigs, and never enter 'em except among such a set of screws as an active pig could beat; and they'll swear by you. They'd think more of having a horse win the Margate plate, or the Hampstead Heath sweepstakes, than if he ran a good fourth in the Derby. Bless their innocent hearts! I should think fellows with plenty of money and no brains must have been invented for the good of fellows with plenty of brains and no money; and that's how we contrive to keep our equilibrium in the universal see-saw."
Mr. James Conyers, puffing lazy clouds of transparent blue smoke from his lips, and pondering thus, looked as sentimental as if he had been ruminating upon the last three pages of the Bride of Abydos, or the death of Paul Dombey. He had that romantic style of beauty peculiar to dark-blue eyes and long black lashes; and he could not wonder what he should have for dinner without a dreamy pensiveness in the purple shadows of those deep-blue orbs. He had found the sentimentality of his beauty almost of greater use to him than the beauty itself. It was this sentimentality which always put him at an advantage with his employers. He looked like an exiled prince doing menial service in bitterness of spirit and a turned-down collar. He looked like Lara returned
to his own domains to train the horses of a usurper. He looked, in short, like any thing but what he was,--a selfish, good-for-nothing, lazy scoundrel, who was well up in the useful art of doing the minimum of work, and getting the maximum of wages.
He strolled slowly back to his rustic habitation, where he found the Softy waiting for him; the kettle boiling upon a handful of bright fire, and some tea-things laid out upon the little round table. Mr. Conyers looked rather contemptuously at the humble preparations.
“I've mashed the tea for 'ee," said the Softy; “I thought you'd like a coop.”
The trainer shrugged his shoulders.
“I can't say I'm particularly attached to the cat-lap,” he said, laughing; “ I've had rather too much of it when I've been in training, -halfand-half, warm tea, and cold-drawn castor-oil. I'll send you into Doncaster for some spirits to-morrow, my man; or to-night, perhaps,” he added reflectively, resting his elbow upon the table and his chin in the hollow of his hand.
He sat for some time in this thoughtful attitude, his retainer Steeve Hargraves watching him intently all the while, with that half-wondering, half-admiring stare with which a very ugly creature—a creature so ugly as to know it is ugly-looks at a very handsome one.
At the close of his reverie, Mr. Conyers took out a clumsy silver watch, and sat for a few minutes staring vacantly at the dial. Close upon six,”
;" he muttered at last. “What time do they dine at the house, Steeve ?"
“Seven o'clock," answered the Softy.
“Seven o'clock. Then you'd have time to run there with a message, or a letter, and catch 'em just as they're going in to dinner.”
The Softy stared aghast at his new master.
“But I daren't,” exclaimed' Stephen Hargraves; “I daren't go nigh the house, least of all to speak to her. I don't forget the day she horsewhipped me. I've never seen her since, and I don't want to see her. You think I am a coward, don't ’ee ?” he said, stopping suddenly, and looking at the trainer, whose handsome lips were curved into a contemptuous smile. “You think I'm a coward, don't ’ee, now ?” he repeated.
“Well, I don't think you are over valiant,” answered Mr. Conyers, "to be afraid of a woman, though she was the veriest devil that ever played fast and loose with a man.”
“Shall I tell you what it is I'm afraid of ?” said Steeve Hargraves, hissing the words through his closed teeth in that unpleasant whisper peculiar to him. “It isn't Mrs. Mellish. It's myself. It's this,”—he grasped something in the loose pocket of his trousers as he spoke,—“it's this. I'm afraid to trust myself a-nigh her, for fear I should spring upon her, and :ut her throat from ear to ear. I've seen her in my dreams sometimes,
with her beautiful white throat laid open, and streaming oceans of blood; but, for all that, she's always had the broken whip in her hand, and she's always laughed at me. I've had many a dream about her; but I've never seen her dead or quiet; and I've 'never seen her without the whip."
The contemptuous smile died away from the trainer's lips as Steeve Hargraves made this revelation of his sentiments, and gave place to a darkly thoughtful expression, which overshadowed the whole of his face.
“ I've no such wonderful love for Mrs. Mellish myself," he said; "but she might live to be as old as Methusalah for aught I care, if she'd”he muttered something between his teeth, and walked up the little staircase to his bedroom, whistling a popular tune as he went.
He came down again with a dirty-looking leather desk in his hand, which he flung carelessly on to the table. It was stuffed with crumpled, untidy-looking letters and papers, from among which he had considerable difficulty in selecting a tolerably clean sheet of note-paper.'
“You'll take a letter to Mrs. Mellish, my friend," he said to Stephen, stooping over the table and writing as he spoke; "and you'll please to deliver it safe into her own hands. The windows will all be open this sultry weather, and you can watch till you see her in the drawing-room; and when you do, contrive to beckon her out, and give her this."
He had folded the sheet of paper by this time, and had sealed it carefully in an adhesive envelope.
“ There's no need of any address," he said, as he handed the letter to Steeve Hargraves ; “ you know who it's for, and you won't give it to any body else. There, get along with you. She'll say nothing to you, man, when she sees who the letter comes from.”
The Softy looked darkly at his new employer; but Mr. James Conyers rather piqued himself upon a quality which he called determination, but which his traducers designated obstinacy, and he made up his mind that no one but Steeve Hargraves should carry the letter.
“Come,” he said, "no nonsense, Mr. Stephen. Remember this: if I choose to employ you, and if I choose to send you on any errand whatsoever, there's no one in that house will dare to question my right to do it. Get along with you.”
He pointed as he spoke, with the stem of his pipe, to the Gothic roof and ivied chimneys of the old house gleaming amongst a mass of foliage. “Get along with you, Mr. Stephen, and bring me an answer to that letter," he added, lighting his pipe and seating himself in his favourite attitude upon the window-sill,—an attitude which, like every thing about him, was a half-careless, balf-defiant protest of his superiority to his position. “You needn't wait for a written answer. Yes or no will be quite enough, you may tell Mrs. Mellish."
The Softy whispered something, half inaudibie, between his teeth ; but he took the letter, and pulling his shabby rabbit-skin cap over his
eyes, walked slowly off in the direction to which Mr. Conyers had pointed, with a half-contemptuous action, a few moments before.
“A queer fish,” muttered the trainer, lazily watching the awkward figure of his attendant; "a queer fish; but it's rather hard if I can't manage him. I've twisted his betters round my little finger before to-day."
Mr. Conyers forgot that there are some natures which, although inferior in every thing else, are strong by reason of their stubbornness, and not to be twisted out of their natural crookedness by any trick of management or skilfulness of handling.
The evening was sunless but sultry; there was a lowering darkness in the leaden sky, and an unnatural stillness in the atmosphere that prophesied the coming of a storm. The elements were taking breath for the struggle, and lying silently in wait against the wreaking of their fury. It would come by and by, the signal for the outburst, in a long, crackling peal of thunder that would shake the distant hills and flutter every leaf in the wood.
The trainer looked with an indifferent eye at the ominous aspect of the heavens. “I must go down to the stables, and send some of the boys to get the horses under shelter," he said ; “ there'll be a storm before long.” He took his stick and limped out of the cottage, still smoking; indeed, there were very few hours in the day, and not many during the night, in which Mr. Conyers was unprovided with his pipe or cigar.
Steeve Hargraves walked very slowly along the narrow pathway which led across the park to the flower-garden and lawn before the house. This north side of the park was wilder and less well kept than the rest; but the thick undergrowth swarmed with game, and the young hares flew backwards and forwards across the pathway, startled by the Softy's shambling tread, while every now and then the partridges rose in pairs from the tangled grass, and skimmed away under the low roof of foliage.
“If I was to meet Mr. Mellish's keeper here, he'd look at me black enough, I dare say," muttered the Softy, “though I ain't after the game. Lookin' at a pheasant's high treason in his mind, curse him.”
He put his hands low down in his pockets, as if scarcely able to resist the temptation to wring the neck of a splendid cock-pheasant that was strutting through the high grass, with a proud serenity of manner that implied a knowledge of the game-laws. The trees on the north side of the park formed a species of leafy wall which screened the lawn, so that, coming from this northern side, the Softy emerged at once from the shelter into the smooth grass bordering this lawn, which was separated from the park by an invisible fence.
As Steeve Hargraves, still sheltered from observation by the trees, approached this place, he saw that his errand was shortened, for Mrs. Mellish was leaning upon a low iron gate, with the dog Bow-wow, the dog that he had beaten, at her side.
He had left the narrow pathway and struck in amongst the underVOL. V.
growth, in order to make a shorter cut to the flower-garden, and as he came from under the shelter of the low branches which made a leafy cave about him, he left a long track of parted grass behind him, like the track of the footstep of a tiger or the trail of a slow, ponderous serpent creeping towards its prey.
Aurora looked up at the sound of the shambling footstep, and, for the second time since she had beaten him, she encountered the gaze of the Softy. She was very pale, almost as pale as her white dress, which was unenlivened by any scrap of colour, and which hung about her in loose folds that gave a statuesque grace to her figure. She was dressed with such evident carelessness that every fold of muslin seemed to tell how far away her thoughts had been when that hasty toilette was made. Her black brows contracted as she looked at the Softy.
“I thought Mr. Mellish had dismissed you,” she said, “and that you had been forbidden to come here."
“Yes, ma'am, Muster Mellish did turn me out of the house I'd lived in, man and boy, nigh upon forty year; but I've got a new place now, and my new master sent me to you with a letter."
Watching the effect of his words, the Softy saw a leaden change come over the pale face of his listener.
" What new master ?” she asked.
Steeve Hargraves lifted his hand and pointed across his shoulder. She watched the slow motion of that clumsy hand, and her eyes seemed to grow larger as she saw the direction to which it pointed.
“Your new master is the trainer, James Conyers, the man who lives at the north lodge ?” she said.
“I keep his place in order for him, ma'am, and run errands for him; and I've brought a letter.”
“A letter? Ah, yes, give it me."
The Softy handed her the envelope. She took it slowly, without removing her eyes from his face, but watching him with a fixed and earnest look that seemed as if it would have fathomed something beneath the dull red eyes which met hers. A look that betrayed some doubtful terror hidden in her own breast, and a vague desire to penetrate the secrets of his.
She did not look at the letter, but held it half-crushed in the hand hanging by her side.
“ You can go,” she said.
The black brows contracted again, and this time a bright gleam of fury kindled in the great black eyes.
“There is no answer,” she said, thrusting the letter into the bosom of her dress, and turning to leave the gate ; “ there is no answer, and there shall be none till I choose. Tell your master that.”