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thing which might help her to revenge herself.
Miss Coppock felt that she had been treated with the most selfish unkindness; but that was nothing compared to the baulking of her carefully laid plans, of her resolution that Patty should not marry till she had got firmer hold of her, and still more her fixed determination that, come what might, Patty should not marry Mr. Dowries.
"I knew she was selfish, but then it seemed natural her head should turn a bit, but I didn't think she was sly—I couldn't have thought it of her. If it had been anything but small-pox; I could think she made me ill on purpose to get me out of the way. Why is she to have everything and me nothing?"
She sank down in one of the luxurious chairs panting with exhaustion. Poor, worn creature! contrasting her lot with Patty's, it seemed a hard one; and yet at the outset Patience Coppock had started along the road of life with fairer prospects than any that seemed likely to open to Patty Westropp. Patience had been very handsome, though she had lacked the natural grace, the charm that doubled Patty's loveliness; but Patience had not been born to hard work, she had been a farmer's daughter with servants of her own, a horse at her disposal, and bonnets and gowns at will. At seventeen these fair prospects had been overcast: her father sank all his savings in a mine on the estate of his landlord; the mine went to ruin, proprietor and tenant along with it, and at seventeen Patience found herself alone in the world, without anything that she could call her own except her wearing apparel and a trifle of pocket-money. At this rime of her life she was honest and independent, and she felt crushed with shame at learning the amount of her father's debts. His sudden death brought the knowledge without any warning.
"I will pay them off," the girl said to herself, with the daring hardihood of ignorance; she had not yet learned how hard an oyster the world proves to the unknown and the friendless.
Her first experience was brief and bitter, and, like many another first experience, it dyed the years that followed with one ineffaceable hue. .
A rich lady in the neighborhood, the wife of the owner of a large estate called
Hatchhurst, wanted some one rather better than a nursemaid to teach her children to read; they were babies still in the nursery. Spite of her resolve to clear her father's name, the girl's pride rose: she would not accept the offered post unless she had a room allotted to herself; she refused to associate with the nurses. The lady demurred, and finally yielded, in her heart thinking all the better of Miss Clayton for her request, a request which possibly produced the girl's ruin.
Patience went to Hatchhurst, and for a few weeks all went well with her; her little charges were fairly tractable, and she did not see much of them; their mother wished them to have some hours of play in the nursery.
"This will give you plenty of spare time, Miss Clayton," the condescending lady added ; "time which you may devote to y6urown improvement."
When Patience was alone again, she looked at her handsome face in the glass, and told herself she needed no improvement.
Her employers went away on a round of country visits; they were to return in three weeks to meet the heir of the property, the eldest son by a former marriage; he would be independent of his father when he came of age, his mother's large property coming direct to him.
He was just twenty, and was supposed to be spending the long vacation in Italy and Switzerland with a Cambridge tutor.
Two days after his parents had set out on there visiting tour he returned home alone. There were no old servants at Hatchurst. Its new mistress was an imperious dame, very jealous of anything that recalled her predecessor. Her first act had been the dismissal of the household, most of which had known the young squire as a child. He did not care for his little brothers; he found no well-remembered face to welcome him, but he soon discovered that his step-mother had provided him with pleasant pastime in the nursery governess.
He met Patience in the garden at first by chance, then, after a day or so, by appointment. At home Patience had been allowed to associate freely with the young men who came to see her father. Her mother had died years ago. She had been unused to restraint, and when the young master of Hatchhurst asked permission to come and hear her sing in her little rrhoolroom she admitted him gladly. Then came for Patience two short weeks of glowing happiness—happiness in which no dream of the future seemed too unreal, too bright, for fulfilment. She loved for the first time, and she was beloved. The love was not equal. Patience had a heart, and she loved with all the strength of womanhood. In return, she got that sort of boyish worship which goes by the name of calf-love, and which is as easily extinguished as any other newly-kindled fire. The young lovers were very happy and very innocent—neither of them looked forward—neither of them guessed that they were suspected and watched.
It had oozed out through Mrs. Robins, the abigail, before she went away with her mistress, that Miss Clayton had insisted on having a separate sitting-room and a separate table from the nurses. Thenceforth her doom was sealed; she was an upstart, sure to go wrong. Mrs. Caxton, the head nurse, and her two handmaids, only waited their mistress's return to report Miss Clayton's " disgraceful goings on with the young master."
One evening the lovers were seated as usual in the schoolroom, the young squire's arm was round Patience's slender waist, and she had hidden her blushing face on his shoulder while he repeated over and over again that, if she would only keep true to him, he would marry her as soon as he was of age.
"Only a year, my darling, no one can part us then; I—"
Patience never heard the end; the door was flung open, and she saw a confused crowd of angry and malicious faces.
She had an uncertain remembrance of being taken to her bedroom by Mrs. Caxton, and of seeing her clothes and possessions packed; but she did not completely recover her senses till she found herself driving leisurely along the road in the grand carriage which had just brought home the mistress of Hatchhurst. Then Miss Clayton realized that she had been turned out of the house in disgrace.
"I am lost, ruined! oh, what will become of me 2" But as she drove on this panic of shame lessened; resentment came instead; she had been cruelly, unjustly treated.
"I have done nothing wrong, nothing to justify this; I gave my love in return
for his; there is no harm in that. Ah, I have only got to trust Maurice; he will take care of me."
But meantime she would not be carried away tamely, and she put her head out of the window and asked the coachman where he was taking her.
He named a town a few miles off, but he spoke so familiarly that Patience shrank back into the carriage in a fresh paroxysm of shame.
The coachman set her down at a quiet little inn; he went into the entrance-way with her and gave the landlady a note, and then he drove away.
"You'll have a letter to-morrow, Miss," he said, before he went.
The letter came; it was written as to a stranger. It commented severely on the deceitful and disgraceful conduct of Miss Clayton, who had, the writer said, utterly destroyed her own reputation ; but it was added, that regard for a friendless orphan induced Mrs. Downes to try and save Miss Clayton from going further astray: enclosed was a note of introduction to a reformatory for young women in the town to which Patience had been taken; enclosed also was the amount due to her for salary.
Patience tore the letter into fragments. She waited on in hopes of seeing her lover, but time passed and no letter came.
She left the inn, and got herself a cheap lodging in another part of the town. A milliner's apprentice lodged in the same house, and through this girl Patience found employment. At the milliner's she worked at she heard her own story spoken of— she had taken the precaution to change her name—she heard, too, that her lover had gone abroad again. One day the mistress of Hatchhurst came to her employer's, and before Patience had time to escape she was seen and recognized.
The lady was too valuable a customer to offend, and Patience was again dismissed without a character.
She was discouraged, almost brokenhearted, but still faith in her lover's constancy and her own independence supported her.
She went to London, and after some struggles which brought her face to face with want, she again got employment at a milliner's.
"I have learned the trade," she said, "and it is more amusing than teaching; and besides, one can get work without a character at this time of year."
But there were among Patience's fellow-workers girls who had lost their reputation in a less innocent way than she had, and she found herself led into society full of danger to a young, handsome girl.
One day she was summoned to attend one of the principals of the establishment in which she worked; she was to carry a dress which had to be fitted.
Just before they reached the house a gentleman and lady on horseback passed: the lady was young and beautiful, and seemed to be listening attentively to the gentleman riding beside her. Patience looked at the speaker's face and recognized it at once. It was her lover; and his eyes had never looked into hers as lovingly as they now strove to look into those of his companion.
The girl's spirit, chilled almost to death for an instant, rose to defend him. "He thinks I have forgotten him," she said, "and men must amuse themselves."
The couple dismounted at the doorsteps of the very mansion they were bound to, and as she and her employer waited while they passed in, Patience's heart winced at the tender care her lover showed towards his fair companion.
She was left in the hall while a servant ushered her employer upstairs and took the box she had carried.
It seemed to Patience that this was the crisis of all her long-cherished hopes; if she missed this chance of a recognition, she and her lover might never meet again. She had written several letters to him at Hatchhurst, but she felt sure they had not reached his hands; if she let him drift away from her into this great wilderness of London, she gave him up of her own free-will. She sat still, calm outwardly, but so inwardly agitated that her heartbeats almost choked her. • Some one was coming down the great staircase into the inner hall in which she sat, but there were tall footmen close by ; she could not speak to Maurice before them, and a hot flush spread over her forehead; she could not be seen by him, sitting there like a servant.
In a moment she had glided into the outer-hall, a carriage was waiting, and the house-door stood open; she passed out.
When Patience found herself alone that night in her miserable little lodging, she
had that kind of tempest in her soul which seldom subsides without causing shipwreck in such a one as the poor vain milliner's girl.
She had had one moment of exquisite joy when she found herself in the street beside her lover, and then darkness had set in; at first Maurice tried to avoid her, and when he could not do this, he told her he thought she was ill-judged in seeking to renew acquaintance with him. He spoke kindly and gently; he told her he bitterly regretted his own folly, and also the hasty and unfeeling treatment she had experienced from Mrs. Downes. Patience listened first in stupefied surprise; then in a sort of sullen despair; then, when she thought he was leaving her, desperation forced her into one last effort to regain his love.
"O Maurice," she cried out passionately, "if you don't love me, I shall die! Why did you make me love you?"
Maurice grew white with vexation: Patience's words could almost have been heard on the opposite pavement, and he saw people coming towards them.
He pulled out a card-case and held out his card to her.
"If I can be of any assistance to you," he said in a hurried, vexed tone, "you can write to that address; but I must refuse to see you again."
Patience found herself standing alone with the card in her hand.
"Here, young woman," said one of the tall footmen, from the top of the steps; "your mistress is asking what's become of you."
"Write to him! ask him for assistance!" The unhappy girl felt as if no depth of misery could wring such a meanness from her. All this went through her brain as she stood alone in her miserable little room.
In the midst of her frenzy of passion and despair, came a tap at the door. One of her companions had come to visit her; she had brought tickets for the theatre. She was the worst among Patience's fellow-workers, and the girl had always refused to go about with her; but to-night she welcomed any escape from herself. She went, and let her companion take her where she pleased.
Then came those months in Patience's life of which she had ever since been trying to hide the traces—a brief epoch of sin and luxury. When this came to an end, she found herself placed in the business at Guildford as Miss Coppock, from London.
She had never been taught thrift, and the chequered life she had led since her father's death had not been likely to foster any regularity of mind or thought. And thus her life had grown into one continual stream of embarrassment and subterfuge, backed by the gloomy, haunting mists of the past. Patience felt no power now to live down evil repute. Her independence had left her when she yielded up her innocence. The aim of her life was to hide away that which she had been, and to keep up the fiction of her new name. When she thought of Maurice, it was with bitter anger; his desertion had thrown her into the frenzy which had led to her ruin. And yet, when at last she saw him again—her Maurice— changed into a calm, self-possessed man of middle age, Patience's heart grew strangely soft, and she felt as if she could lay down her life to serve him.
For, face to face with Maurice Downes, her shame seemed overwhelming; and by that extraordinary process of reasoning, or morbidity, which only exists in unselfish women, Patience shifted the blame of her fall wholly to herself. It seemed to her that her lover had not been as actually faithless as she had—he was still unmarried. He did not recognize her, but his presence crushed her with shame, and she longed to escape from the avenging memories it roused to torture her.
And now, in this letter of Patty's, had come the climax of her misery. The man she still loved, with a strong undying love, had joined his life to Patty's —to a girl who, as Patience knew too well, had no love for him; who merely looked on him as something annexed to herself, a something necessary to the part she meant to play in the world, but a something for which Mr. Downes, personally, was not more desirable than any other landholder of equal position.
The poor wretched sinner crouched lower and lower on the sofa, and again the heartbroken -cry sounded—
"O God! is she to have everything— everything?"
Meantime life in the old studio at St John Street was not gliding on as smoothly as life is always supposed to glide at the end of three-volume novels, when a loving hero and heroine are made one.
Doctors, and those who are freely admitted into domestic life, tell us that the first year of marriage is usually^ the most troubled. This may depend on the amount of intimacy which has previously existed between the newly-married pair, and also on the power possessed by the wife, not only of conforming herself to her husband's wishes, but of so projecting herself into his character, that she knows, as if by instinct, how best to please him.
In some women, love will do this; in others, where love is quieter, less intense, it may be the result of extreme unselfishness.
It was especially sad for such a nature as Nuna's that her marriage had been so hurried.
Paul was not a man to be read by ordinary rules; and, spite of her love, Nuna's timidity and want of observation came in the way of the thorough confidence which a less shrinking woman would have attained to.
When Paul went off into long hours of reverie, Nuna tried at first to rouse him, and then, getting short, indifferent answers, she grew to fancy she had vexed him. Sometimes she took courage and asked him what she had done, and then he answered playfully, and sunshine came again. With him, sitting near him, even through long hours of silence, she was happy, happy as a loving woman can be; but in his frequent absences she tormented herself. He went away to work, she knew that; but she was jealous of work, of anything that took him away.
Did Paul love her? Was she enough for his happiness?
"Ah, if I were, he would be content to stay at home with me instead of going off alone with that hateful Mr. Pritchard."
And at this time of his life, if Paul had been questioned, he would have said that it was only from habit that he spent so much time away from home—habit, and a certain undefined dread that haunts some men lest they should yield up liberty of action. He might, at the expense of some trouble, have done this work, the copy of a picture Pntchard had brought from Italy, at home; it was by his wish that they lived at the studio in St. John Street. Mr. Beaufort had said that it would be better for Nuna to have a small house near at hand, and thus be altogether freed from studio life and society; but when Paul told Nuna this would involve separation except at meal-times, she was eager to live entirely in the quaint old house.
"I don't want a drawing-room or any conventional arrangement," she had said; "I only want to be always with you and to see you paint."
It was winter-time again. Nuna had stayed indoors all day shivering instead of bracing her nerves and her limbs by taking a walk. She was shy of going out alone. Paul often took her out "between the lights," but to-day, directly after dinner, he had disappeared, and had not said where he was going.
Nuna wrote occasionally to her father, but she never mentioned Elizabeth's name ■in her letters, so it was no wonder that Mr. Beaufort's answers grew short and cold, and only came at long intervals.
"If one could begin everything all over again," thought Nuna—"I wish I had not been cross and stiff about the marriage. Now I suppose Elizabeth will never forgive me, and I can't begin all at once to be different. With Paul too, if we had just one little quarrel—only one—and never any more after, it would be much better than all these private miseries of mine; we should get everything clear and straight for ever."
Doubtful, Nuna; if strife gets let into Eden, there is no saying that he will ever entirely quit it.
Paul came in presently. Coming in out of the brightly lit hall the room looked cheerless and darker than it really was.
"Sitting in darkness, eh ?—and, darling, scarcely any fire — you careless monkey!"
Paul spoke good-humoredly. and returned her kisses as he spoke; but he felt that this was not quite the reception he ought to have had on a cold winter's night after a hard day's work. He made no complaint, but instead of petting Nuna as much as she expected him to pet her,
he stirred the fire vigorously, lit the gas, and then turned to go into his dressingroom to get his slippers.
But Nuna was awake now and thoroughly penitent.
"Oh, stay, please, don't go yourself, darling—oh, anybody but me would have got them ready."
But Paul put her back in her chair with a strong hand, and fetched the slippers himself.
When he came back Nuna was crying.
"Ah, Paul," she sobbed, "what a horrid, uncomfortable wife I am; how sorry you must be you ever married me!" And then she hid her face on his shoulder.
"I don't know that you ought to be blamed," said Paul. "You might have thought I should go out again to Pritchard's as usual, but I shan't be doing that for some time to come. In fact, I believe you'll have such a benefit of me, pet, that you'll wish Stephen back again—he's going to Spain."
Nuna threw her arms round her husband and kissed him till he was fairly startled at her vehemence.
"Oh, I am so glad," she murmured; "oh, so glad he's going."'
"Poor Stephen! Why, Nuna, I'd no idea you were such a little hater."
"I shouldn't hate him if he were anybody else's friend ;" she felt ashamed of her words.
"Then you only hate him because he loves me, eh, Nuna; is that it?"
"No, no ; I am not so wicked. I suppose I can't bear you to love anybody but me."
Paul kept silence, he was thinking ; but as Nuna nestled closer to him she felt his chest heave as if the thoughts were raising some amount of tumult.
"Turn your face to the fire," he said, presently.
"No, the light does not reach your eyes; kneel down, facing me—so ;" he looked searchingly into her deep, loving eyes. "Do you know what I am looking for, darling?"
"No;" her voice trembled with a vague fear.
"I was looking to see if I could find any jealousy in your eyes, Nuna. I always say you are unlike other women; you have no petty, carping fancies; but you musn't let jealousy get into a corner