- CHAPTER XIX. AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR.
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AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR.
ON the afternoon of the following day, as Lilian sat at her work—not in the Grand, dreary drawing-room, but in her own snug boudoir—Mr. Brookes Was announced. She went down to receive him, and found him in Basil's study, wonderingly contemplating the many devices for gratifying the taste and spending money which he saw scattered there in such boundless profusion. "So soon!" said Lilian, as she strecthed out her hand. "Oh! Mr. Brookes, how kind of you to answer my summons so quickly!"
"And in what can I serve you, dear lady? Do not hesitate to command me."
Lilian paused a moment, and then commenced her tale. She told her friend how, on the preceding evening, she had reduced her accounts to something like | | 207 order; how she had collected her bills, and courageously faced the difficulties by which she was surrounded; and how the comparatively small sum due to the poor widow pressed more heavily on her conscience than all the larger amounts claimed by fashionable milliners or florists. She told him how Mrs. Lee had come to her, walking a weary three miles on the mere strength of finding her returned, and at liberty to pay the money; how she had spoken of her son dying for want of better air and food; and how she had looked herself like an accusing spirit risen from the grave, whither labor and starvation had conducted her. "And so you see," continued Lilian, "I could not bear it; I saw in what a horrible position my carelessness and extravagance had placed me. I might be virtually a murderess even! I dare say there are others who are equally cruel to the poor women; but that does not lessen my guilt. It is too heavy to be borne. And so, when I felt myself the most shameful and degraded creature upon earth, I tried to think what I could do, and then it occurred to me to sell something. For some time, even after I had passed my word that she should have the money in three days, I could not imagine how I should redeem the pledge. It flashed across me quite suddenly that I had nothing of my very own that was worth selling. I felt I had no more right to sell the jewels | | 208 my husband bought for me without his approbation, than I had to dispose of the plate and furniture without his knowledge; so that, in repairing the consequences of one fault, I was in danger of committing another. I felt quite in despair, till it occurred to me that I had some ornaments that were mine while I was yet Lilian Grey. They are not worth much, I am afraid; and yet I have been told that this chain is of rare workmanship. My godmother gave it to me the day I was sixteen; and these bracelets were the gift I of another friend. I have a right to dispose of them, have I not? They belonged to me before I ever saw Mr. Hope."
"I think you have; indeed, under the circumstances, I am sure you have," replied Mr. Brookes. "But you were quite right in hesitating about the disposal of anything that became yours as the wife of Mr. Hope. This chain, if I know anything of ornaments, is worth some pounds. I think it will bring you more than the amount you need; so you may keep the bracelets in your jewel-box."
"No, no!" returned Lilian; "let them go with the chain. I can pay another little bill with the proceeds. Every settled account will be a weight off my mind, and a step towards the straight path. Besides, I wan t to dismiss my maid, and pay her her wages; she is impertinent, and I can do very well without her. I | | 209 was always used to wait upon myself till my marriage, and it will be a retrenchment in our expenses."
"Quite right. But, my dear Mrs. Hope, will your husband approve of this step? I know that a personal attendant is considered absolutely necessary among ladies of your rank."
"My husband will not object, I think; even if he do, I can replace Hobson at any time, if he should insist upon it; but I am sure he will not: he cares nothing about me now. He will detest me when he sees the account I drew up last night, and for which he is legally liable."
"I hope not," said Mr. Brookes, gravely; "but the day is wearing on; would you like me to dispose of these trinkets for you?"
"Oh, if you would be so very good! I scarcely liked to ask you to take so much trouble, and yet I do not know where to go, or how to sell them; and I have lived in London too long not to be aware of the endless impositions practised upon ignorant persons; and even if I knew I were being imposed upon, I might not have courage to speak, or prudence to prevent the fraud. If you will transact the business for me, I shall be so very thankful."
"I will go immediately. In an hour hence, I shall return without your pretty things, and with the money you need."| | 210
"Oh, thank you! you are so kind!"
But he was gone ere Lilian could conclude her speech; and greatly comforted, she sat down again to her sewing. In less than the stipulated time Mr. Brookes returned. He had been successful. The ornaments realized several pounds more than he had dared to expect; and Lilian, to her unspeakable relief, found herself in possession of the needful sum to liquidate her debt to poor Mrs. Lee.
Her eyes sparkled with somewhat of their old, sweet gaiety, as Mr. Brookes told out the sovereigns on her little work-table; and she exclaimed, "Oh, I need not wait for the stipulated three days. I will go this evening, and take her the money."
"Go where, Mrs. Hope? it is dark already."
"To——to where Mrs. Lee lives. I have her address. Look, that is it."
"Excuse me, you cannot go there; it is one of the worst streets in London. Your husband would, I am sure, be seriously displeased were he to hear of your visiting such a place, and at night, too. I will go for you; it is not far out of the road to the Waterloo station, and I shall be in time for the last Windsor train.
"How kind you are. But I should like to see this poor Mrs. Lee again. I want to give her some more | | 211 wine; and I thought of taking some eggs and arrowroot for her son."
"If you will allow me, I will joyfully become your almoner; then I shall see this sick youth, and perhaps his mother and I may be able to devise some plan for removing him into a purer atmosphere. Stay! I do not like the idea of taking my watch into such a locality; may I leave it with you? In two or three days I will see you again, and then I can bring you news of your pensioners, and resume my own property."
"But, Mr. Brookes, do you not incur personal risk by going yourself? I had no idea it was a dangerous neighborhood."
"Not at all. I shall button my coat tight, and slouch my hat over my eyes, and look as disreputable as possible. No one will molest me; still I had rather leave my valuables behind. The money for Mrs. Lee I will stow away quite safely, and the provisions you give me I will make up into a bundle. I shall run no risk of being taken for a genteel person."
And he departed, scarcely waiting for thanks, and leaving Lilian lighter of heart than she had been for many a day. And yet, in the desk on which her elbow rested, lay that miserable memorandum of debts and perplexities.
In the morning she took it out again, to subtract | | 212 from it the money paid to Mrs. Lee. Alas! those few pounds made very little difference in the sum total. She gazed with tearful eyes on those terrible rows of figures, and at last she laid down her head on the desk, and fairly cried.
Her tears were checked by a rap at the door, that sounded, oh! so like Basil's knock! She started to her feet, thrust the dreadful paper away, and hastily arranged her dishevelled hair at the glass. Steps were ascending the stairs; they, too, were not unlike Basil's. Oh! how her heart beat, and she had to cling to the mantelpiece for support, when the servant threw open the door and announced Mr. Hope.
She looked up: it was not her husband, but his father, Mr. Hope, senior. Mr. Hope had not seen Lilian for many months, and he was startled at the change which so short a time had wrought. She was thin and pale; her dark eyes were heavy; and there was a sorrowful expression about her mouth that struck him very forcibly. Her black dress, too, made a difference; and that morning she wore the plainest she possessed, without any adjuncts of lace or muslin by way of ornament.
"Mrs. Basil," said Mr. Hope, when he was fairly seated, "I am come to have a little conversation with you about your husband and his affairs."
Lilian colored, and thought of her own affairs. | | 213 She almost fancied he could see within the leaves of her blotting-book, where she had placed the record of her unthinking extravagance.
"Do you know where he is?" was Mr. Hope's first question.
"Yes; that is, I know he is in Norway. He was at Christiansand at first; but I suppose he is not there now."
"No, indeed; he is in Scotland, grouse-shooting."
Lilian turned scarlet, and then white. To be ignorant of her husband's locality seemed not only painful but humiliating; it told more plainly than words how completely their union had ceased save in the eyes of the law.
"Mrs. Basil," continued Mr. Hope, "there is some grand error among us. The marriage, to which I most reluctantly gave my consent, has not prospered. Basil has not found the happiness he foolishly expected; and you too, if I mistake not, are equally disappointed. With all this, however, I have nothing to do. I have no wish to interfere in my son's domestic concerns; but when his name becomes notorious at a gaming table, at Tattersall's and elsewhere, I find it is time to bestir myself. The allowance Basil receives from me is ample, but it is altogether insufficient to carry him clear through excesses such as he has lately run into. He must be in debt! Now, what do you | | 214 know about it? The name of Hope must not be dishonored while I live."
"I know nothing," replied Lilian sadly. "Basil and I have long since ceased to confer on our mutual interests, but I have reason to believe—that is, I am afraid he is very much involved." She paused a minute, then, gathering courage, resumed: "Mr. Hope, if Basil has done wrong I am principally to blame. He loved me dearly once, but I was pettish and wilful. I was determined not to yield to my husband. I had no more control over my temper than a petted child; I did not make his home happy. I cultivated intimacies he disliked. When he was angry, and a soft word would have turned away wrath, I gave him only bitterness and sarcastic retorts. And finally, when I knew, or rather guessed, the dangerous path he was treading, I had no patience to win him back by gentleness; I reproached him and defied him. Then came the death of our child, and the alienation was complete; do not be angry with Basil; it is I who deserve your reproaches."
"Not altogether," returned Mr. Hope, considerably softened towards Lilian by her self-condemnation and her evident contrition. He had never before had to deal with her alone: there was no one now to misconstrue her words and exasperate her feelings, and he was surprised to find her so gentle and sensible. "I | | 215 do not doubt you are very much to blame; but Basil was the stronger, and he ought to have kept you right. If he really is in debt to the tremendous amount that is whispered about, he must suffer for it. I hear of Jews, post-obit bonds, and all the abominable machinery whereby profligate young heirs ruin themselves, and come to an impoverished estate, and perhaps outlawry. No son of mine shall run this career with impunity. But I must see Basil, and learn from himself how matters really stand. You are sure, child, you cannot help me to the information I seek?"
"Quite sure; and if I could"—and Lilian stopped too confused to finish her speech.
"Well, go on; do not be afraid; I like candor," said Mr. Hope. "You were going to say if you could you would not."
"Not exactly, sir. But I was thinking that I should have no right to violate my husband's confidence, even in favor of his father."
"Right!" said Mr. Hope. "You have a better view of things than I expected, so I will not press you further; only, perhaps, you will not object to tell me how you manage your own expenditure. What does Basil place in your hands for housekeeping and personal expenses?"
Lilian told him unhesitatingly.
"Well! that ought to be enough, or nearly so. My | | 216 wife kept house with less than that in my father's lifetime, and we had several little ones around us. Do you find it, or rather do you make it sufficient?"
"I have not done so hitherto," said Lilian, in a troubled voice, and with such a blush of shame on her pale face.
"Then am I to conclude that you too are in debt?"
"Yes," said Lilian, her head sinking lower, and her eyes overflowing with tears.
"How much? Tell me the truth, and the whole truth."
Lilian rose, and placed in his hands that miserable paper. She thought he would never have done wiping and settling his spectacles; and she waited tremblingly for the burst of indignation she expected to fall upon her erring head. He read every item, and finally, the total.
"Who was this prepared for?" he asked, presently with an inquisitive, almost suspicious glance
"For myself," she replied, meekly. "I thought the first step towards reformation was to look my difficulties in the face."
"And you wish to reform; you wish to become a reasonable woman, and an exemplary wife?"
"God knows I wish it," replied Lilian, earnestly.
He looked at her wonderingly, and then said, "Well, I have known worse results than this long | | 217 array of figures proceed from a young wife's first season; but it must be set straight. I think you will be wiser another time. I am going to the Bank, and I will return to luncheon, and bring you the money you want. Next Monday I shall expect to see all your tradesmen's accounts duly receipted and filed, in order that you may begin your reformation without the shackles and impediments that so often drag one back into the wrong way. Good morning for the present; let luncheon be ready exactly at two."
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