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hausted frame at once dulled and intensified. They seemed to stand round him, ■with their faces so new yet so familiar—that needlewoman with her emphatic mouth— Mildmay—Lady Western—last of all, this man, who was not Susan's lover—not Susan's destroyer—but a man to be trusted "with life—to death!" Vincent put up his hands to put away from him that wonderful circle of strangers who shut out everything else in the world—even his own life—from his eyes. What were they to him? he asked, with an unspeakable bitterness in his heart. Heaven help him! they were the real creatures for whom life and the world were made—he and his poor Susan the shadows to be absorbed into, and under them; and then, with a wild, bitter, hopeless rivalry, the mind of the poor Dissenting minister came round once more to the immediate contact in which he stood—to Fordham, in whose name his sister's life had been shipwrecked, and by whom, as he divined with cruel foresight, his own hopeless love and dreams were to be made an end of. Well! what better could they come to? but it was hard to think of him, with his patrician looks, his negligent grace, his conscious superiority, and to submit to accept assistance from him even in the sorest need. These thoughts were in his mind when Mr Fordham hastily re-entered the room. A thrill of excitement now was in the long, lightly-falling step, which already Vincent, with the keen ear of rivalry, almost as quick as that of love, could recognise as it approached. The stranger was disturbed out of his composure. He shut the door and came up to the young man, who rose to meet him, with a certain excited repugnance and attraction much like Vincent's own feelings.
"You are quite right," he said, hastily; "I find letters have been coming here for some months, addressed as if to me, which Mildmay
has had. The man of the house is absent, or I should never have heard of it. I don't know what injury he may have done you; but this is an insult I don't forgive. Stop! I have every reason to believe that he has gone," said Fordham, growing darkly red, " to a house of mine, fo confirm this slander upon me. To prove that I am innocent of all share in it—I don't mean to you— you believe me, I presume?" he said, with a haughty sudden pause, looking straight in Vincent's face—
t; I will go "here Mr Fordham
stopped again, and once more looked at Vincent with that indescribable mixture of curiosity, dislike, resentment, and interest, which the eyes of the young Nonconformist repaid him fully, — " with you — if you choose. At all events, I will go to-night—to Fordham, where the scoundrel is. I cannot permit it to be believed for an hour that it is I who have done this villany. The lady you mentioned, I presume, knows1?" — he added, sharply — "knows what has happened, and whom you suspect? This must be set right at once. If you choose, we can go together."
"Where is the place?" asked Vincent, without any answer to this proposition.
Fordham looked at him with a certain haughty offence: he had made the offer as though it were a very disagreeable expedient, but resented instantly the tacit neglect of it shown by his companion.
"In Northumberland — seven miles from the railway," he said, with a kind of gratification. "Once more, I say, you can go with me if you will, which may serve us both. I don't pretend to be disinterested. My object is to have my reputation clear of this, at all events. Your object, I presume, is to get to your journey's end as early as may be. Choose for yourself. Fordham is between Durham and Morpeth— seven miles from Lamington station. You will find difficulty in getting there by yourself, and still greater difficulty in getting admission; and I repeat, if you choose it, you can go with me—or I will accompany you, if that pleases you better. Either way, there is little time to consider. The train goes at eight or nine o'clock—I forget which. I have not dined. What shall you do?"
"Thank you," said Vincent It was perhaps a greater effort to him to overcome his involuntary repugnance than it was to the stranger beside him, who had all the superior ease of superior rank and age. The Nonconformist turned away his eyes from his new companion, and made a pretence of consulting his watch. "I will take advantage of your offer," he said, coldly, withdrawing a step with instinctive reserve. On these diplomatic terms their engagement was made. Vincent declined to share the dinner which the other offered him, as one duellist might offer hospitality to another. He drove away in his Hansom, with a restrained gravity of excitement, intent upon the hour's rest and the meal which were essential to make
him anything like a match for this unexpected travelling companion. Every morsel he attempted to swallow when in Carlingford under his mother's anxious eyes, choked the excited young man; but now he ate with a certain stern appetite, and even snatched an hour's sleep and changed his dress, under this novel stimulant. Poor Susan, for whom her mother sat hopelessly watching with many a thrill of agony at home! Poor lost one, far away in the depths of the strange country in the night and darkness! Whether despair and horror enveloped her, or delirious false happiness and delusion, again she stood secondary even in her brother's thoughts. He tried to imagine it was she who occupied his mind, and wrote a hurried note to his mother to that purport; but with guilt and selfdisgust, knew in his own mind how often another shadow stood between him and his lost sister—a shadow bitterly veiled from him, turning its sweetness and its smiles upon the man who was about to help him, against whom he gnashed his teeth in the anguish of his heart.
They were but these two in the railway-carriage; no other passenger broke the silent conflict of their companionship. They sat in opposite corners, as far apart as their space would permit, but on opposite sides of the carriage as well, so that one could not move without betraying his every movement to the other's keen observation. Each of them kept possession of a window, out of which he gazed into the visible blackness of the winter night. Two or three times in the course of the long darksome chilly journey, a"laconic remark was made by one or the other with a deadly steadiness, and gravity, and facing of each other as they spoke; but no further intercourse took place
between them. When they first met, Fordham had made an attempt to draw his fellow-traveller into repetition of that first passionate speech which had secured his own attention to Vincent; but the young Nonconformist perceived the attempt, and resented it with sullen offence and gloom. He took the stranger's indifference to Aw trouble, and undisguised and simple purpose of acquitting himself, as somehow an affront, though he could not have explained how it was so; and this notwithstanding his own consciousness of realising this silent conflict and rivalry with Fordham, even more deeply in his own person thari he did the special misery which had befallen his house. Through the sullen silent midnight the train dashed on, the faint light flickering in the unsteady carriage, the two speechless figures, with eyes averted, watchingeachotherthrough all the'ice-cold hours. It was morning when they got out, cramped and frozen, at the little station, round which miles and miles of darkness, a black unfathomable ocean, seemed to lie—and which shone there with its little red sparkle of light among its wild waste of moors like the one touch of human life in a desert. They had a dreary hour to wait in the little wooden room by the stifling fire, divided between the smothering atmosphere within and the thrilling cold without, before a conveyance could be procured for them, in which they set out shivering over the seven darkling miles between them and Fordham. Vincent stood apart in elaborate indifference and carelessness, when the squire was recognised and done homage to; and Fordham's eye, even while lighted up by the astonished delight of the welcome given him by the driver of the vehicle who first found him out, turned instinctively to the Mordecai in the corner who took no heed. No conversation between them diversified the black road along which they drove. Mr Fordham took refuge in the driver, whom he asked all those questions about the people of the neighbourhood which are so interesting to the inhabitants of a district and so wearisome to strangers. Vincent, who sat in the dogcart with his face turned the other way, suffered himself to be carried through the darkness by the powerful horse, which made his own seat a somewhat perilous one, with nothing so decided in his thoughts as a dumb sense of opposition and resistance. The general misery of his mind and body—the sense that all the firmament around him was black as the'sky—the restless wretchedness that oppressed his heart— all concentrated into conscious re
bellion and enmity. He seemed to himself at war, not only with Mr Fordham who was helping him, but with God and life.
Morning was breaking when they reached the house. The previous day, as it dawned chilly over the world, had revealed his mother's ashy face to Vincent as they came up from Lonsdale with sickening thrills of hope that Susan might still be found unharmed. Here was another horror of a new day rising, the third since Susan disappeared into that darkness which was now lifting in shuddering mists from the bleak country round. Was she here in her shame, the lost creature? As he began to ask himself that question, what cruel spirit was it that drew aside a veil of years, and showed to the unhappy brother that prettiest dancing .figure, all smiles and sunshine, sweet honour and hope? Poor lost child! what sweet eyes, lost in an unfathomable light of joy and confidence—what truthful looks, which feared no evil! Just as they came in sight of that hidden house, where perhaps the hidden, stolen creature lay in the darkness, the brightest picture flashed back upon Vincent's eyes with an indescribably subtle anguish of contrast; how he had come up to her once—the frank, fair Saxon girl—in the midst of a group of gypsies—how he found she had done a service to one of them, and the whole tribe did homage—how he had asked, "Were you not afraid, Susan?" and how the girl had looked up at him with undoubting eyes, and answered, "Afraid, Arthur ]—yes, of wild beasts if I saw them, not of men and women." Oh Heaven !— and here he was going to find her in shame and ruin, hidden away in this secret place! He sprang to the ground before the vehicle had stopped, jarring his frozen limbs. Ho could not bear to be second now, and follow to the dread discovery which should be his alone. He rushed through the shrubbery without asking any question, and began to knock violently at the door. What did it matter to him though its master was there, looking on with folded arms and unsympathetic face? Natural love rushed back upon the young man's heart. He settled with himself, as he stood waiting, how he would wrap her in his coat, and hurry her away without letting any cold eye fall upon the lost creature. Oh, hard and cruel fate! oh, wonderful heartbreaking indifference of Heaven! The Innocents are murdered, and God looks on like a man, and does not interfere. Such were the broken thoughts of misery—half thought, half recollection—that ran through Vincent's mind as he knocked at the echoing door.
"Eugh! you may knock, and better knock, and I'se undertake none comes at the ca'," said the driver, not without a little complacence. "I tell the Squire, as there han't been man nor woman here for ages; but he don't believe me. She's deaf as a post, is the housekeeper ; andherdaughter, she's more to do nor hear when folks is wanting in—and this hour in the morning! But canny, canny, man! he'll have the door staved in if we all stand by and the Squire don't interfere."
. Vincent paid no attention to the remonstrance — which, indeed, he only remembered afterwards, and did not hear at the moment. The house was closely shut in with trees, which made the gloom of morning darker here than in the open road, and increased the aspect of secrecy which had impressed the young man's excited imagination. While he went on knocking, Fordham alighted and went round to another entrance, where he too began to knock, calling at the same time to the unseen keepers of the place. After awhile some answering sounds became audible — first the feeble yelping of an asthmatic dog, then a commotion up-stairs, and at last a window was thrown up, and a female head enveloped in a shawl looked
out. "Eh, whae are ye? vagabond villains,—and this a gentleman's house," cried a cracked voice. "I'll let the Squire know—I'll rouse the man-servants. Tramps! what are you wanting here?" The driver of the dog-cart took up the response well pleased. He announced the arrival of the Squire, to the profound agitation of the house, which showed itself in a variety of scuffling sounds and the wildest exclamations of wonder. Vincent leaned his throbbing head against the door, and waited in a dull fever of impatience and excitement, as these noises gradually came nearer. When the door itself was reached and hasty hands began to unfasten its bolts, Susan's brother pressed alone upon the threshold, forgetful and indifferent that the master of the house stood behind, watching him with close and keen observation. He forgot whose house it was, and all about his companion. What were such circumstances to him, as he approached the conclusion of his search, and thought every moment to hear poor Susan's cry of shame and terror? He made one hasty stride into the hall when the door was open, and looked round him with burning eyes. The wonder with which the women inside looked at him, their outcry of disappointment and anger when they found him a stranger, coming first as he did, and throwing the Squire entirely into the shade, had no effect upon the young man, who was by this time half frantic. He went up to the elder woman and grasped her by the arm. "Where is she? show me the way!" he said, hoarsely, unable to utter an unnecessary word. He held the terrified woman fast, and thrust her before him, he could not tell where, into the unknown house, all dark and miserable in the wretchedness of the dawn. "Show me the way!" he cried, with his broken hoarse voice. A confused and inarticulate scene ensued, which Vincent remembered afterwards only like a dream; the woman's scream—the interference of Fordham, upon whom his fellow-traveller turned with sudden fury—the explanation to which he listened without understanding it, and which at first roused him to wild rage as a pretence and falsehood. But even Vincent at last, struggling into soberer consciousness as the day broadened ever chiller and more grey over the little group of strange faces round him, came to understand and make out that both Fordham and he had been deceived. Nobody had been there — letters addressed both to Fordham himself, and to Colonel Mildmay, had been for some days received; but these, it appeared,were only a snare laid to withdraw the pursuers from the right scent. Not to be convinced, in the sullen stupor of his excitement, Vincent followed Fordham into all the gloomy corners of the neglected house—seeing everything without knowing what he saw. But one thing was plain beyond the possibility of doubt, that Susan was not there.
"I am to blame for this fruitless journey," said Fordham, with a touch of sympathy more than he had yet exhibited; "perhaps personal feeling had too much share in it; now I trust you will have some breakfast before you set out again. So far as my assistance can be of any use to you"
"I thank you," said Vincent, coldly; " it is a business in which a stranger can have no interest. You have done all you cared to do," continued the young man, hastily gathering up the overcoat which he had thrown down on entering; "you have vindicated yourself—I will trouble you no further. If I encounter any one interested in Mr Fordham," he concluded, with difficulty and bitterness, but with a natural generosity which, even in his despair, he could not bely, "I will do him justice." He made an abrupt end, and turned away, not another word being possible to him. Fordham, not without a sentiment
of sympathy, followed him to the door, urging refreshment, rest, even his own society, upon his companion of the night. Vincent's face, more and more haggard—his exhausted excited air—the poignant wretchedness of his youth, on which the older man looked, not without reminiscences, awoke the sympathy and compassion of the looker-on, even in the midst of less kindly emotions. But Fordham's sympathy was intolerable to poor Vincent. He took his seat with a sullen weariness once more by the talkative driver, who gave him an unheeded history of all the Fordhams. As they drove along the bleak moorland road, an early church-bell tingled into the silence, and struck, with horrible iron echoes, upon the heart of the minister of Salem. Sunday morning! Life all disordered, incoherent, desperate—all its usages set at nought and duties left behind. Nothing could have added the final touch of conscious derangement and desperation like the sound of that bell; all his existence and its surroundings floated about him in feverish clouds, as it came to his mind that this wild morning, hyssterical with fatigue and excitement, was the Sunday—the day of his special labours — the central point of all his former life. Chaos gloomed around the poor minister, who, in his misery, was human enough to remember Beecher's smile and Phoebe Tozer's invitation, and to realise how all the " Chapel folks" would compare notes, and contrast their own pastor, to whom they had become accustomed, with the new voice from Homerton, which, half in pride and half in disgust, Vincent acknowledged to be more in their way. He fancied he could see them all collecting int i their mean pews, prepared to inaugurate the "coorse" for which Tozer had struggled, and the offence upon their faces when the minister's absence was known, and the sharp stimulus which that offence would give to their appreciation of the new