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WARD OR WIFE?

A Romance

'O shallow and mean heart of man! dost thou conceive so little of love as not to know that it sacrifices all-love itself-for the happiness of the thing it loves?' -Zanoni,

CHAPTER XVI. THE LAST STRAW.

MAN is seldom so miserable but that he may be more so. The cup of sorrow so many of us have to drain is mercifully but rarely filled to the brim. Not to many of us is added the last drop of gall, the supreme bitterness of the bitter draught; or how could we bear our lives?

Yet to some it happens that, writhing still under the agony of their grief, and confident that nothing in the dreary future can add to it one pang, another hour, another day brings with it that which intensifies their pain a thousandfold, and of their woe makes torture most exquisite.

Sir James Tregarvan has suffered much. To love his country and his profession, and, in penalty of his training, to become a wanderer on the face of the earth; to be brought up in luxury, and to depend on the day's labour for the day's bread; to cherish a pretty helpless orphan till she becomes part of his life, and to be compelled by the strong voice of duty to deny himself his heritage that he may separate her from him, and send her to find her happiness among strangers; to meet her again, to have her to himself a few short weeks, to love her with all the passion of a heart that has never loved before, and then, when first he understands of what price is the pearl he is losing, to give her in marriage to another. Is not this suffering?

When he confessed to himself his love for her, and resolved she should never know of such madness, he suffered; when, because his love was stronger than he, he left her on her sick-bed, and remained away to conquer himself, and perhaps to efface his words from her memory if so be she had heard them, he suffered; when he came back and seemed cold to deceive his darling, he suffered; and when he gave Dane his consent, when he persuaded Minnie he loved her but as a guardian should his ward, when she accepted the man he gave her to husband, when the thing was made known, and people shook him by the hand and congratulated him; when Minnie began to try to show her affianced allegiance and affection; when, finally, after many delays, they all left for England, and the

parting was over, and he alone till he should see them again at the wedding, O God, how he suffered!

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For many days he battled fiercely against his despair. He said to himself, I will bear up to the end; I will nerve myself for this last sharp trial. She will be happier if I am there to give her away on her bridal morning: and when she is separated from me for ever I shall be calmer, I shall struggle no longer with my vain mad hopes; I shall leave all that reminds me of her, and live down my misery as best I can. Who knows,' with a melancholy smile, 'perhaps they'll make me a pasha over there!' And so, when he had thus made up his mind, he accepted the offer which had been made him, through one of his old pupils, of an appointment in the Khedive's service.

It is in time of trouble that friendship best proves itself. Camille lovedce pauvre Djems' with no ordinary affection. There was no phase of his friend's nature which the bond between them did not render him keen to perceive and appreciate. It was not long, therefore, before he first suspected, and then understood to the full, the depth of his passion for the beautiful girl whom he had betrothed to Reginald Dane; and, understanding the might of that passion, he did not marvel at the greatness of the sacrifice. For he too, long ago, had loved, and, having discovered that his fiancée had accepted him under constraint, though fain to marry another whose only fault was his poverty, he had given her, with her freedom, the dowry which has reduced his income to its present modest limits. So, with a heart full of sympathy and compassion, he did what he could to comfort poor Jim in his hour of need. Moreover, he gave his unqualified approval to Jim's project, and vowed it would be the making of him, cheering him not a little thereby. Then, one fine morning, he came up to his friend's lonely chamber, and informed him, with a broad grin of delight, that he had realised his property, sold his various goods and chattels, and decided, if Jim would allow him to be of the party, to make a little voyage of pleasure up the Nile.

No representations, no arguments could shake his resolve: he swore stoutly that if the Captain would not have him, he would go alone, and haunt him like a corpulent little ghost. At last Jim gave way.

Shortly afterwards, when the Salle d'Armes, its good-will, connection, appurtenances, and so forth, had been satisfactorily disposed of to the identical Monsieur Bergeret, of Paris, who performed at a certain memorable assault,' the two comrades left, perhaps for ever, the bright old town that had known them so long.

For one hour, just before their departure, Jim was unaccountably missing; and if Camille could have looked through the locked door of an unoccupied room at the top of No. 15 (it once was Minnie's),

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he might have seen that which it is bad to see-the tearless throes of a strong man's grief; but when the hour was passed, Captain Tregarvan rejoined him, his face impassible as before, and in a few minutes they had steamed out of the harbour, and were on their way over the laughing waves to England.

There, being utterly hopeless, spending his days in making preparation for exile, his sleepless nights in steeling his heart for the ordeal that awaits it, Jim has lived through some ten days, and, perchance, has found a grain of comfort in the thought that his misery is at its full, that no possible event can add to his despair. And now-O mockery of Fate!-he is a baronet, and immensely wealthy.

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A few weeks ago, and this news would have made him happy for life; to-night he paces his room, with fever in his eyes, half demented under this new subtle agony. A few weeks ago, and he would never have been compelled to hide his love as though it were a crime, to deny himself even the friendship of one for whom he would have laid down his life rejoicing; a few weeks ago, and, instead of telling Dane,Go and prosper,' he would have fought with him, loyally and mercilessly, for every smile, for every look of that fair face, till one of them had won it; a few weeks ago—ah, me!and to-night?

He could bear his burden almost patiently this morning, for he had no thought that it could have been otherwise; but now, indeed, the venom had entered his wound, and spreads deadly and fast. He had not thought of this; it never even suggested itself to him in his wildest hopes to build upon this. He had always fancied himself so lost to his family, to his country, that the idea of his brother dying before him childless never once arose in his mind. O fool! not to have waited a little, granted himself a little respite, before he slew his soul. O fool! to have been so rash, when this little imperceptible delay, these few days more or less, meant love or despair, life or existence, the bright happy sun or the outer darkness. O fool! to be standing here to-night, with burning hands tearing his hair, when he might be where Dane is; when he might be listening to the sweet full tones of the one voice for him, looking for love in the depths of those loving eyes.

How can he bear it? True, he does not believe that Minnie loves him; he does not doubt her love for Regy; he does not even feel sure she ever would have loved him; but how can he bear to think that by his own act he has cut himself off from his chance, however slight, of happiness? that he has lost her when he might have won her?

Jim refuses to do any business the next day, and remains in his room till the evening. Then he comes down-stairs, his face strangely drawn and haggard, and goes through a long conversation

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with Camille and the lawyer, in which he informs them of his intentions, and, notwithstanding great opposition, manages to convince at least his more impressionable friend that they are for the best. Firstly, he finds himself unable, under present circumstances, to be present at the wedding, and will therefore run down at once to Holyoak Lodge to say Good-bye' before his departure for the East; secondly, he will enter the Egyptian service, as he had intended, and wishes to do it as soon as possible; thirdly, he desires the revenues of the Tregarvan estates to be applied in the purchase of land, as he himself does not intend to touch them, at least for some years.

Camille supplements this by casting in his lot with the speaker, whatever may be in store for them, but begs him to reconsider his determination.

Mr. De Murrer refuses to believe his ears, and doesn't.

CHAPTER XVII.

WHAT THE NIGHT-BREEZE HAD TO SAY.

Two days after. The mid-day express is speeding Sir James Tregarvan through the green hedgerows and stubbly fields on his way to Leamington. He has not written to the Colonel to announce his arrival; he wishes to take them unawares, to do his purpose quickly, to return by the night train. Farewells that are hard to say should be brief; words that are hard to speak are worst spoken at leisure. He must leave them no chance of reversing his decision. It would have well-nigh broken his heart to listen to the merry marriage-bells when still they could not chime for him, but he would have borne it; now, when the bride might, if she would, lay her little hand in his, and all the world applaud, it would be worse than death; the very thought is torture unendurable and maddening.

''Ave a look at this week's Judy, sir?' breaks in the stridulent voice of the other occupant of the carriage, who up to this time has been immersed in the Sporting Life and a big brass-bound pocketbook alternately-a stout red-faced man, principally remarkable from the magnificence of his apparel and the rank odour of his cigar. 'Seen it, eh ?' he resumes; runs Fun to a neck, don't it? No? Ah, some don't care for it, I know. By the way, you'll excuse a feller-traveller, but 'ave you got another of those smokes 'andy? The yellow-haired girl at the bar (clinker, ain't she?) gave me these, and they're 'orrid bad.'

Jim gives him a cigar to stop his mouth, if possible, and becomes interested in the landscape.

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Topping weed this,' moving over to opposite the donor; 'there's a great deal in choosin' one's baccy; and you ain't a fool

at that, I can see. by the smell of his

Lor' bless ye, I can tell a connyseur a mile off clothes.'

His vis-à-vis begins to beat an impatient tattoo with his foot, and continues looking intently out of window.

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In the military line, I fancy?' resumes the irrepressible onc, slowly taking off his dog-skin gloves, and passing in review half-adozen huge rings. Ah, you "lobsters"-he! he! no offence, I 'ope?-you "lobsters" 'ave got the breed and quality, make no error. By gad! I should like to see the army you couldn't give two stone to, and walk in, walk in, by George !'

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Well, what's your it, p'r'aps? Better You'll keep to the

Jim vouchsafes no answer but the restive tapping of his heel. 'Going to the Meeting, I s'pose,' after a pull at a gilt flask, 'eh ?' Rat-tat-tat rather more pronounced. fancy for the Cup? Don't care about touching not; no public form to go on, you see. Stewards' Stakes, if you take my advice. Come, I'll tell you what I'll do with you,' catching up the pocket-book, and preparing for action; I'll lay you forty pound to ten against Rattlesnake! Won't have it? I'll lay you two to one, bar one! put it down?' A sudden movement from Jim. one, bar three!'

There, eh? shall I 'Damn it, ten to

By a great effort Jim restrains a tremendous inclination to kick his speculative friend out of window, and merely points to the other side of the carriage, with a word or two of a sufficiently peremptory nature; whither, after a stare of astonishment, the red face retires, somewhat abashed, and grumbling indistinctly.

Half an hour more to ponder over what he shall say to Minnie, the train runs in to Leamington Station, and Sir James Tregarvan goes up the town to charter a trap for the remaining ten miles of his journey.

The day has turned out strangely hot for September, and so, partly oppressed by the heat, partly glad of an excuse to put off the visit he dreads so much, he orders lunch at the hotel, and tries to get cool in the coffee-room.

As the shadows grow longer, he leaves the town in a ramshackle old vehicle, the only one which the neighbouring races have not "requisitioned,' probably because it is so ramshackle. The road is picturesque, and would be pleasant but for the dust. Every now and then across the fields comes the sudden bang of some gun, and the eye catches the little white cloud of smoke rising in the still air; quaint villages meet them, rattle under their wheels, and vanish among the great trees; lordly gates stand open invitingly, and give them a glimpse of undulating park-lands and interminable avenues, sending a thrill through Jim as he approaches his destination, lest each should be in turn the entrance of Colonel Ferrers' property. Diminutive rustics stand on the bank as they pass, and cheer them

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