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servant in her ascent; but, almost before he was aware of the fact, the proprietress herself of the mansion stood before him.
For extricating herself when placed unexpectedly in an awkward position, or for quickly inventing a plausible story when suddenly called upon, without a moment for reflection, to account for an unaccountable fact, commend me to a woman.
When taken unawares, men (though otherwise the falsest of their sex) generally find themselves at a loss on such occasions. Thus, when Captain Travers, instead of the maid, was met on the landing by the ringleted lady herself, gorgeous in her Sunday attire, he was so taken aback (to use the lady's own phraseology) that he was quite at a loss for an appropriate speech where with to accost her.
"She would soon find out what it all meant,” Mrs. Landlady had exclaimed in confidence to her maid-servant, after the mysterious incidents -the locked doors, the rustle of female garments (heard plainly outside by the frequent application of their ears to the keyhole), and, finally, the tread of the “ 'andsome captain” as he had cautiously ascended the stairs a few moments previously—which had so excited their curiosity, had been fully discussed. “ There's more than meets the eye in this,” said ringlets, "and I shall have to tell the captain that no fly-by-nights takes up their quarters here,” as, armed with an important sense of her own position as British female and householder, she had rushed off to answer the first tinkle of the bell herself.
"Hum Kah!" commenced the unfortunate victim to circumstances. But there he stopped, and whatever explanation he was about to give was quashed in its birth by the very significant look which was being directed at him. " What the devil brought this old woman up!" thought he.
“ You rang, sir, I believe,” said she, in a severe tone, darting a penetrating glance at the door.
"Hang me!” said Captain Travers to himself, after the lapse of a moment, “if I know how to manage it at all.”
“Here, I say, Mrs. Riggles, by Jove ! I want some breakfast—eh?”
“ Breakfast for yourself, sir ?" was the prompt rejoinder, as his tormentor still stood before him, curiosity depicted in every feature.
“Well no, not exactly. The fact is,
Here he broke down entirely, and, instead of attempting to enlist her sympathies, as he had intended, on behalf of his fair guest, he simply informed her that a friend of his, finding it too late to return home that night, had accepted the offer of his rooms for the time, and that his friend, before leaving, would require some breakfast.
“Very well, sir,” replied she, casting another scrutinising glance at the half-closed door, as if by so doing her eagle eyes could penetrate the boards and discover the intruder. “ Shall I bring it in, sir ?”.
“ Here is another poser !" thought Captain Travers, who was again unprepared with a suitable reply. He fondly imagined, by the skilful manner in which he had contrived to avoid all allusion to the sex of his visitor, that he had completely settled that part of the business.
His looks betrayed his embarrassment." He began to think that his landlady entertained suspicions ; so, to prevent any unpleasant remarks, which she might be disposed to make, reaching Gabrielle in her retreat, he closed the door.
A bright thought, however, struck him as he did so. Quickly taking out his pocket-book, a crisp piece of paper was adroitly conveyed into the woman's hand, and, the instant after, he was delighted to find himself contemplating the rotundity of her receding figure as she retreated down-stairs.
The sun shone brightly in at the windows, throwing its beams across the chamber and over the shrinking form, decked out in the dress of the previous evening, causing the diamonds to flash brilliantly as they met
As Captain Travers re-entered the room the sight struck him painfully, and an uncomfortable but indefinable feeling shot through his breast.
Where was that night's adventure to end? And he winced at the thought of the probable consequences of the step which, by his advice, Gabrielle had taken.
“What must the people think of my presence here?” said she, nervously, covering her pale tear-stained face with her hands.
“And who cares for the opinion of such people?" rejoined her companion, hastily drawing down the blinds as he spoke to keep out the glare of the sun. “Let them think what they like.” And advancing towards her he knelt on the stool at her feet, and said, mournfully,“ I did for the best, believe me. Whatever happens hereafter believe that I, last night, tried to act for the best.” And taking up the poor damp feet, and clasping them in his hands, he kissed them repeatedly.
“Your breakfast, sir, if you please,” was heard from without; and, startled by the sound, he rose suddenly to his feet, when the voice again repeated, “ Your breakfast's outside.”
Captain Travers assured Gabrielle as he re-entered, tray in hand, that there was no longer anything to fear from his landlady. Ringlets had evidently compromised matters, and had placed a substantial repast outside for the delectation of the “’andsome captain" and the unknown visitor, who had been locked up so mysteriously in his chambers.
The hours spent in perambulating outside the house had not been passed without much meditation on the part of Captain Travers. Cigar after cigar had been smoked, as he pondered over the turn which affairs had taken.
“Why the devil don't I run off with her at once ?” he had muttered, as he turned to seek the abode of his friend Gore, there to obliterate the traces of a night passed without sleep and in the consumption of many cigars. “What can it end in but that? The fates are decidedly against any other termination to the affair, or she would not have been denied admittance when I still had the courage to urge her to return. She never can go there again, that's clear.”
Seated in the fastidious Mr. Raymond Gore's apartment, after recruiting himself with an excellent breakfast, his thoughts wandered far off into sunny climes, where, with Gabrielle by his side, ever ready to soothe a weary moment, to tend him in sickness, or caress him in health, he should lead a passingly bappy and contented life. No need of the enchanted stem of the famed lotus-eaters to cause oblivion of the past; the present and Gabrielle were all he thought of. Still it must only be brought about by her own free will.
When Gabrielle had finished the slender repast which she had been
prevailed upon to take, she informed Captain Travers that she intended seeking a home with some of her mother's relations.
If that attempt failed, she would try and obtain a situation as governess—anything rather than go back to her hated home.
These were vain schemes, as Captain Travers well knew. Gabrielle a governess! that would never do ; and as for the other, even were it to meet with success, a considerable time must elapse before it could be carried out.
Numerous were the plans which were discussed as they sat in council that morning, but all appeared equally unsatisfactory, until at length Gabrielle mentioned to Captain Travers that she had some distant rela-, tives living (or had been at the time of her marriage) near a small watering-place on the south coast. It was proposed, therefore, that she should at once set out for that place.
The first thing to be done, however, was to obtain for her a suitable change of attire ; and it was finally arranged that a note should be at once despatched to Mrs. Watson's maid, requesting her to bring such things as she required to a place which would be specified in the note.
Captain Travers then left her, for the purpose of procuring a messenger, who would convey the note and return with Mills and the boxes.
During the morning's debate he had agreed to abstain from visiting Gabrielle, unless she should herself express a wish to see him. In fact, it was he who had proposed this, trusting that when left entirely to herself, in a dull country place, with nothing to divert her thoughts from the past, it would not be long before an excuse would be found for summoning him to her side ; an event which any appearance of importunity on his part, at the present moment, might considerably retard. Besides, this line of conduct served as a kind of salve to his conscience, as well as to his feelings of chivalry.
Like many a worldly-minded sinner before him, he attempted to delude himself with the idea that the sin he wished to commit had been forced upon him by circumstances; as if that were any excuse for yielding to temptation.
There are instances of individuals, of weak principles and ungovernable passions, being so persecuted by these unlucky circumstances (as they term them), that they seem only to have been called into existence (like our poor Gabrielle) for the purpose of serving as a warning to others, yet who, in the absence of temptation, might perhaps have passed for saints.
Gabrielle had not waited long before a cab drew up to the door, and, to her great relief, her maid appeared with the things for which she had sent.
The note had been delivered with all secresy ; and, after having met the messenger at the place appointed, Mills was conducted to the house where her unfortunate mistress was anxiously expecting her.
Gabrielle had never been addicted to the pernicious habit of making a confidante of her maid, consequently, until the present moment, the latter had known little or nothing of her domestic troubles.
She was now loud in her lamentations and offers of service, and with great volubility entertained her mistress with an account of the confusion which had reigned in the household on the discovery of her absence.
Subsequently Gabrielle learnt that, after she had left the house, and
the passion of her husband had somewhat subsided, his pride, or vanity (roused by the dread of the awe-inspiring Grundy), had taken the alarm, and (without even acquainting his sisters of the fracas) he had rushed out himself in search of his wife. It was during this interval, doubtless, that the wanderer must have knocked vainly for admittance, for Mills described master's agonies (as she termed them) when he returned, after his fruitless errand through the neighbouring streets, to have been heartrending to witness.
Gabrielle explained as well as she could to the tattling woman how, on her having been compelled to leave the house so suddenly, a friend, whom she had met unexpectedly, had offered her the shelter of a room for the night.
She felt the colour suffuse her cheek as she said this, and whilst accepting her proffered services in substituting a more suitable dress for the one she wore, hardly knew what countenance to keep before her maid, who was continually casting glances of surprise, mingled with curiosity, at the different objects in the room.
The cab was still waiting to convey the latter back to the family residence, and the hasty toilet being completed, she was about to leave her mistress, when Gabrielle stated her intention of communicating with Mr. or the Miss Watsons on the morrow. She flushed to the forehead, however, as she expressed a desire that neither her present abode, nor the interview which had just taken place, should be mentioned to any one until after she had herself written to the family.
“Oh, you can trust to me, ma'am," replied the pert Abigail, as, with a sniff expressive of unsatisfied curiosity, she prepared to descend the stairs, casting as she did so a last rapid glance over the room, as if to impress its contents on the tablet of her memory.
" I'd give a good deal to be at the bottom of all this,” soliloquised she, as she stood on the landing, and gave another look about her.
On changing her dress, Gabrielle had expressed her desire that all her evening garments, jewels, &c., should be conveyed back to her husband's house.
As the maid gained the hall with her parcels, the bland face of Mrs. Riggles was seen peeping forth from her own private domain, situate near the hall door.
She likewise was bursting with curiosity, and the arrival of the cab, which she had seen through the wire blinds of her sanctum, bringing a woman laden with packages, and who, by means of that " open Sesame,” the latch-key, had rapidly made her entrance and ascended to the captain's rooms, was more than human (or landlady) nature could support.
“Oh! why didn't you ring for my servant, ma'am ?" she said, in an insinuating manner. “ You look, I declare, quite fushed with the exertion. Permit me.” And, suiting the action to the word, she hastily took one of the boxes from the hands of the bewildered Mills, and the door of the private apartment standing temptingly open, she invited her to enter its sacred precincts.
As the cunning spider craftily allures the idle fly into its web, so did the anxious landlady entice the innocent Mills; not but what Mills was quite as much on the qui vive for a dish of gossip as her newly-made acquaintance.
“Just the tiniest drop in the world,” whispered Mrs. Riggles, in answer to the maid's objections that the cab must not be kept waiting"just the tiniest.” And, the door being closed upon them, sundry glasses, disposed on a gaudily-painted chiffonier ready for use, were selected, from which both ladies were shortly sipping something which looked amazingly like cherry brandy.
Between the lackadaisical, over-dressed maid and the inquisitive but mystified landlady—both burning to discover a secret of which each imagines the other to possess the key-confidence was rapidly established, and in a few minutes each had imparted to the other all the information they possessed of the matter. And Mills, as she drove back, complacently leaning, with an air of satisfaction on her sallow countenance, against the dirty lining of the cab, nodded her head at the importance with which the recent discovery respecting her mistress's plan of refuge would invest her when seated at tea in the housekeeper's room, in company of that worthy functionary and the red-faced old butler.
“ So missus had run away, and Well, it was curious, now she called it to mind, how much they used to be together at that dreary old Fernside. Well, I never !" And, in detailing to her companions that evening all that she had heard, the fact that the owner of the apartments in which her mistress had taken refuge had been absent was altogether ignored. “Missus could never show her face at home again ; in fact, she was going off to the Continent on that very same evening."
The conscientious maid freely told Mr. Watson all (and more than) she knew. Acting on the intelligence thus obtained, he took a cab early the next day to the house in Norris-street, and, gaining admittance into her sanctum, was closeted for some time with the gossiping landlady, from whom (nothing loth to enlarge upon the topic) he soon extracted all the information he required, and, after carefully jotting it down in his pocket-book, drove straight to the Old Jewry to consult his lawyer on the subject.
His wife had quitted London the previous day, for, before Captain Travers had departed in search of the messenger who was to convey the missive to Mills, it had been arranged that he should return directly Gabrielle had changed her attire, accompany her as far as the railway station, and put her into a train which would set her down within an easy distance of Rippleton (the small watering-place in question), where, on her arrival, it was proposed that, before communicating with her reJatives, she should first go to the house of an old servant of the family. Accordingly, as soon as the departure of Mills and her packages left the coast clear, Captain Travers had escorted Gabrielle to the station; but, as he clasped her hand on parting, her face wore so mournful an aspect, that he felt half inclined to jump into the carriage and accompany her to her journey's end. Prudence, however, prevailed, and he quickly checked the impulse.
The train moved slowly off, and, until the long line of carriages had passed quite out of sight, his tall figure was seen standing on the platform, wistfully following it with his eyes.
Disdaining the services of sundry cabmen who assailed him, as, lost in thought, he finally quitted the station, he walked rapidly in the direction of his club.