us all out, and under such a stigma; and she—she could hardly be expected to look complacently at the interlopers who had her place, and the title she had a right to.
She put us through her hard catechism about my dear father's state, and said at last that she should like to see Lord Torwood.
Taken by surprise, we looked and signed towards him whom that name had always meant. He smiled a little and said, "Little Alured! But, remember, I am bound to concede nothing till judicial minds are convinced. The parties concerned cannot judge. Can you venture to have Baby down, Ursula?"
No, I did not venture. I thought it might have been averted; but I was only obliged to take her up to the nurseries. On the way up she asked which way my father's room lay. I answered, "Oh! across there;" I did not know if she might not make a dash at it.
I think she must have heard at Shinglebay how delicate poor little Alured was, and thence gathered hopes of the succession for her boy, for she asked her sharp questions about his health all the way up, and knew that he had had fits. I could not put her down as one generally can inquisitive people. I suppose it was because she was more sensible of the difference in our real positions than I have as yet felt.
Baby was asleep; and I think she was touched by the actual sight of him. She said he was very like her boy; and though I supposed that a mere assertion at the time, it was quite true. Alured and Trevor Lea have always been remarkably alike. However, she cross-examined Nurse about his health even more minutely, and then took her leave; but she came again every day, walking after the first, as long as my dear father lived.
And she must have talked, for there came a kind of feeling over everyone, as well as ourselves, that something was hanging over us, of which the issue would be known when my father's illness took some turn.
Mr. Decies came every day to inquire, but I could not bear a strange eye, and Hester might have been looking on. I was steeling myself against him. Was I right?—oh! was I right? I have wondered and grieved! For I knew well enough what he had been thinking of for months before; only I did not want it to come to a point. How was I to leave little Alured to Jaquetta? or disturb my father by breaking up his home? I liked him on the whole, and had come the length of thinking that if I ever married at all, it would be— But that's all nonsense; and mine could not have been what other people's love was, or I should not have shrunk from the sight and look of him. If it had been only poverty that was coming, it would have been a different thing; but to be nameless impostors!
Mrs. Deerhurst had gone out on a round of visits, when Emily came to us, taking her younger daughter. They were not a very letter-writing family. It is odd how some people's pen is a real outlet of expression; while others seem to lack the nerve that might convey their thoughts to it, even when they live in more sympathy than Emily could well have had with her mother.
At least, so I understand, what afterwards we wondered at, that Emily never mentioned Hester; only saying, when, after some days she did write, that Lord Trevorsham was ill.
So Fulk had the one comfort of being with her when he was out of the sick room. I used to see them from the window walking up and down the terrace in the blue east wind haze of those March days, never that I could see speaking. I don't think my brother would have felt it honourable to tie one additional link between himself and her. He had not a doubt as to how her mother would act, but to be in her dear little affectionate presence was a better help than we could give him, even though nothing passed between them.
Jaquetta used to wonder at them, and then try to go on the same as usual; and would wander about the garden and park with her dogs, and bring us in little anecdotes, and do all the laughing over them herself. Poor child! she felt as if she were in a bad dream, and these were efforts to shake it off, and wake herself.
After all, nothing was ever so bad as those ten days! But, my brother always said he was thankful for the respite and time for thought which they gave him.
THE PEERAGE CASE.
The end came suddenly at last, when we were thinking my dear father more tranquil. He passed away in sleep late one evening, just ten days after Hester's arrival. She had gone back to her lodgings, and we did not send to tell her till the morning; but by nine o'clock she was in the house.
We had crept down to breakfast, Jaquetta and I, feeling very dreary in the half-light, and as if desolation had suddenly come on us; and when we heard her fly drive up to the door, Jaquetta cried out almost angrily, "Torwood, how could you!" and we would have run away, but he said, "Stay, dear girls; it is better to have it over."
As she came in he rang the bell as if for family prayers, and she had only asked one or two questions, which he answered shortly, when all the servants came in, some crying sadly. Fulk read a very few prayers—as much as he had voice for, and then, as all stood up, he had to clear his voice, but he spoke firmly enough.
"It is right that you all should know that a grave doubt has arisen as to my position here. Lord Trevorsham had every reason to believe his first wife had perished by the hands of the Red Indians long before he married my mother. What he did was done in entire ignorance—no breath of blame must light on him. This lady alleges that she can produce proofs that she is his daughter, and that her mother only died in February, '36. If these proofs be considered satisfactory by a committee of the House of Lords, then she and Alured Torwood Trevor will be shown to be his only legitimate children. I shall place the matter in the right hands as soon as possible—that is" (for she was glaring at him), "as soon as the funeral is over. Until that decision is made I request that no one will call me by the title of him who is gone; but I shall remain here to take care of my little brother, whose guardian my father wished me to be; and for the present, at least, I shall make no change in the establishment."
I think everyone held their breath: there was a great stillness over all—a sort of hush of awe—and then some of the maids began sobbing, and the butler tried to say something, but he quite broke down; and just then a troubled voice cried out—
"Torwood, Torwood, what is this?"
And there we saw Bertram in the midst of us, with the haggard look of a man who had travelled all night, and a dismayed air that I can never forget.
He had been quartered at Belfast, and we had written to him the day after my father's illness, to summon him home, but there were no telegraphs nor railways; and there had been some hindrance about his leave, so that it had taken all that length of time to bring him. Fulk had left all to be told on his arrival. He had come by the mail-coach, and walked up from the Trevorsham Arms, where he had been told of our father's death; and so had let himself in noiselessly, and was standing in the dining-room door, hearing all that Fulk said!
Poor fellow! Jaquetta flung herself on him, hiding her face against him, while the servants went, and before any one else could speak, Hester stood forth, and said, to our amazement—
"Captain Trevor! You know me. You can and must bear me witness, and do me justice—"
"You! I have seen you before—but—where? I beg your pardon," he said, bewildered.
"You remember Sault St. Pierre farm?" she said.
"Sault St. Pierre! What? You are Mrs. Lea! Good heavens! Where is your mother?"
"My mother is dead, sir. You were the first person who made known to her that her husband, my father, was not dead, but had taken—or pretended to take—an English woman for his wife."
"Wait!" thundered Fulk, "whatever my father did