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Full text of "The cabinet secret"

ill! 



I 






Mil. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 



15 V 



LEIGH SPENCERr. 



IN THREE VOLUMES. 
VOL. L 



LONDON: 

HURST AND BLACKETT, PUBLISHERS, 

SUCCESSORS TO HENRY COLBURN, 

13, GREAT MAELBOEOUGH STEEET. 

1867. 

The right of Tiauslation is reserved. 



LONDON : 

PRINTED »Y MACDONALD AND TUUWELL, BL1':NHEIM HOUSE, 

BLENHEIM STREET, OXFORD STREET. 



^A3 



INTRODUCTORY. 

\:^ IV/TEEESTOWN is one of those dear old 
^ iTX English towns which, after remaining 
for centuries in exactly the same state, and of 
exactly the same proportions as those in 
which it was originally built, has sud- 
denly become popular, or populative, or both, 
and being considerably enlarged to meet the 
demands of its increasing inhabitants, has 
consequently grown to pretty well treble its 
original size within the last few years. 
One result of which is that its component 
parts correspond as consistently the one to 
the other, as would a Clapham Villa, removed 
from its own legitimate sphere by the side of 
that very tame space of ground, called by 
courtesy its ^^ Common," and tacked on to the 
most massive portion of Warwick Castle ! 
In High Street, for example, the gable- 
VOL. I. B 



2 THE CABINET SECRET. 

fronted houses jut out across the straitened 
thoroughfare. The upper halves, projecting a 
long way beyond the lower story, and leaning 
forward towards their opposite neighbours, 
leave but scant space for the free air and 
sunshine of Heaven to look down upon the 
pavement below, while they must be having, 
one fancies, an earnest gossip together on some 
deeply interesting and decidedly private topic, 
so closely do they approach their faces the 
one to the other. Here and there are little 
balconies with twisted balustrades, or an over- 
hanging old-fashioned wooden canopy, which 
throws a peculiar light, or rather shade, on 
every article displayed in the antique window 
of the shop below, while to all are long case- 
ments with wide mullions and small diamond 
panes. Very picturesque to the eyes gazing 
from without, though maybe somewhat dark 
and sombre for the dwellers within and their 
every-day occupations — but — their every-day 
occupations ? 

Do they — can they — the inhabitants of 
those quaint, massive, old-world-houses have 
precisely the same wants, cares, desires, and 



THE CABINET SECRET. 3 

daily occupations as have the good folks liv- 
ing in Newman's Buildings or Fletcher's Row? 
— both a succession of exact, prim, square, 
upright, old maidish-looking houses ; every- 
one with exactly the same number of sash 
windows, of exactly the same size, possessing 
each exactly so many panes fitted precisely 
into the same places, and at the same distances 
from each other, with bran-new doors in 
the centre of each house, with terrific-looking 
lion-headed knockers ; all appearing to be 
made — as doubtless they were — by line and 
rule, so as to economize the greatest possible 
amount of bricks and mortar into the smallest 
imaginable space ; and as though no single 
thing but absolute and total destruction could 
by any means shake them one quarter of an 
inch out of their highly proper and precise 
angles, or incline any one of them a hair's- 
breadth from their very pert-looking, painful 
perpendicular. 

I had been contrasting the small heart of 
the town with its big suburbs in my mind 
somewhat in this fashion ; and being of rather 
an imaginative turn, had mused myself into the 

b2 



4 THE CABINET SECRET. 

absolute conviction that there must necessarily 
be a great deal more of romance and interest 
in the life histories, far more attraction about 
the characters of the people who saw, or 
rather did not see, the sun rise through those 
narrow-paned windows in High Street, than 
could be the case with their fellow-mortals, 
who opened their eyes every day, in the square 
chambers of Newman's Buildings, on the day- 
light shining through the common sash windows 
stuck into their straight faces, when I arrived 
at the old friend's house I was about to visit ; 
and the necessity of finding out how to open 
the catch lock of the little wicket in the 
shrubbery, brought my day-dream to an abrupt 
conclusion. 

My thoughts came back to the present mo- 
ment and the objects around somewhat un- 
willingly. They had strayed far away, and 
been most happily intent on building up a little 
romance, the heroes and heroines of which had 
their abode in a certain ultra-projecting and 
particularly unperpendicular house, my peculiar 
pet in my favourite street. 

My old friend and I talked awhile on the 



THE CABINET SECRET. 5 

topics of the day, and then I told him — he 
being of the very few to whom one does tell 
such things — of the fancy which had occupied 
my thoughts upon the road. He laughed and 
shook his head. 

" Ah ! Yes, at the old-young trick again. 
I can well believe such a foolish fancy, and 
many more passing through that imaginative 
brain of yours. Many a time have they set 
mine wandering and speculating when my 
hair had more brown and less white than now. 
I remember perfectly one instance when I 
used to visit at two or three houses as a little 
boy with my mother, in which, while she was 
talking to the grave, and to me very tiresome 
inhabitants, I would take many a mental in- 
ventory of the matter-of-fact chairs, tables, and 
stools in those cold bare rooms, where not a 
single trifling item which was not absolutely 
necessary for use seemed admitted, what was 
there being of the plainest, least attractive 
kind. I used to connect the furniture with 
its owners, and speculate on the sort of exis- 
tence they must lead — the possible interests 
and excitements that could have birth in those 



b THE CABINET SECRET. 

cold, prim, ugly rooms ; and it was with a 
shudder of self-gratulation that I got out of 
them, and felt thankful I did not live there." 

He paused a second. I gave him a sym- 
pathizing glance, little expecting the next 
words, and he resumed — 

^^ But, Fred, I have grown wiser since 
then — years have taught me, as they will you, 
that life has much interest, much usefulness, 
nay, much true enjoyment, and some romance, 
too, in those dwellings, the despised of my 
childhood. Yes ! human nature and human 
history is pretty much the same, whether its 
story be played out in the most antiquated 
l)uilding of old, whose foundations were laid 
centuries ago — or in the modern villa erected 
but yesterday." 

Again my friend paused, and looked at me. 
I suppose my expression was somewhat scepti- 
cal, for he continued with a smile — 

'' To convince you of it, come to me to- 
morrow evening early, and I will read you a 
true tale concerning some people who once 
dwelt in this very town. It was a story that 
happened when I was younger than I am now, 



THE CABINET SECRET. 7 

and when Newman's Buildings, the oldest part 
of our new town, were but just built. The 
particulars interested me, and I wrote them 
down, combining the different incidents into a 
sort of tale ; and I will hunt up my MSS. 
to-morrow, if you have any mind to hear it." 
I had a very great mind, and accordingly on 
the next evening I again found myself in my 
old friend's study, where, established each of us 
in a most comfortable easy -chair, he read, and I 
listened to, the following narrative : — 



CHAPTER I. 

TT was one of the sultriest of August's most 
J- sultry evenings. Every brick and tile in the 
High Street of Merestown seemed still reflect- 
ing back, and glowing with, the intense heat 
which the broiling sun had bestowed on them 
all day, when Hester and Sarah Lockstone left 
the sofas on which they had been lounging 
through the whole of it, by the open window 
of a back room in its principal and central 
house, and came down to the ordinary family 
sitting-room fronting the street. 

The casement was partly opened, but only 
sufficiently so, apparently, to admit a large 
proportion of heat and dust, without in any 
measure cooling the oppressive atmosphere of 
the large and, at this hour, gloomy-looking 
chamber. The heavy table had been cleared 
for tea, but no tea was there — only a coating 



THE CABINET SECRET. \) 

of dust from the road, but little thinner than 
that which covered the sideboard and chairs. 
Everything looked particularly bare and un- 
comfortable, and so the sisters seemed to think. 
Hester, uttering an expression of disgust, 
turned away, and seated herself in the farther 
corner of the room ; while Sarah, advancing to 
the window, threw it as widely open as the old- 
fashioned divisions would permit. 

"What can you be doing that for?" ex- 
claimed the elder sister in an aggrieved tone ; 
" have we not dust enough already in the 
room, that you are letting in a little more ?" 

" Nonsense ! My opening the window will 
help to drive out what is here already. Don't 
you see the wind is changed ? Besides, that 
precious old- water-cart has been down, and 
pretended to water the street at last. Ugh ! 
what an atmosphere ! Where is old Eachel 
and the tea, I wonder ? That woman gets 
more intolerable every day. I would not have 
left that passably cool room, I am sure, if I 
had not believed everything was ready here ; 
there is no need to be baked sooner than is 
absolutely necessary. How absurd it is of 



10 THE CABINET SECRET. 

my father, too, keeping us stewing on in this 
house." 

^^ Yes, there I agree with you," returned 
Hester, laying her feet up on the next chair 
as she spoke ; ^^ but it is all my mother's fault 
— if she would make more stir in the matter 
we might get away. It will kill me if we have 
to live on here much longer — but now ; pray 
do move out of the way, Sarah, and let me 
feel a little fresh air, if there is any." 

Sarah shrugged her shoulders and smiled 
scornfully, as, without the least altering her 
position in compliance with the peevishly 
uttered request closing her sister's sentence, 
she answered the commencement of it. 

*^Yes, that is a fine speech for you to make, 
truly — you, who give yourself so much trouble 
in every way, and exert yourself so exceed- 
ingly, and who, above all, show so much 
spirit in resisting and opposing my father's 
whims. Pah ! you and my mother are just 
alike, and about equally useful as regards that 
matter ; though, to be sure," she added, as 
her lip curled with an expression of many 
mingled emotions, among which sarcasm and 



THE CABINET SECRET. 11 

anger had chief places, though shame and 
sorrow were there too, though in some- 
what distorted guise — ^^ to be sure he would 
attend very much, doubtless to either her 
wishes or yours on this or any other point, 
express them as strongly as you might !" 

There was a pause ; Hester had closed her 
eyes, and was leaning back in her chair with 
an air of patient suffering, that might have 
been interesting, was, possibly, to those who, 
unlike her sister, did not know that there 
was no shadow of reason existing why Hester 
Lockstone should not be as active and cheer- 
ful as any other damsel of four-and-twenty, 
possessed of a particularly well-formed body 
and healthy constitution. 

Sarah continued leaning against the win- 
dow-frame, her head resting on her hands, 
her lips still parted with their pecular smile, 
and her busy eyes roving up and down the 
street, taking in all — a very little all it was, 
especially at that hour of the day — that was 
going on there, while her thoughts were hard 
at work upon matters very foreign to those 
which met her eye. Presently, however, her 



12 THE CABINET SECRET. 

countenance changed ; she leaned a little for- 
ward, and then, as her smile became wholly- 
satirical, said — 

'* Plere comes Frank Marsden, Hester, so I 
suppose you will open your eyes, and manage 
to command so much exertion as to sit up- 
right and look just half alive at least — not 
but that from his look I am not sure but you 
would suit his present mood best as you are ; 
he walks as statelily as if he were going to a 
military funeral, and his face is solemn 
enough to befit such an occasion. Upon my 
word, I don't envy you your conversation to- 
night, Hester. You will be an interesting 
couple to whisper soft sayings to each other, 
truly r 

She laughed somewhat bitterly as she con- 
cluded, and the next instant the door opened 
and the young man she had spoken of entered 
the room. He was rather handsome, though 
perhaps the chief charm of his face was its pe- 
culiarly honest, sincere expression. His years 
might number some four or five-and-twenty. 
As he came in he glanced uneasily first at 
Hester, then at Sarah. Something was 



THE CABINET SECRET. 13 

evidently disturbing his generally equable 
and happy temperament. However, he shook 
hands in his usual fashion, observed on the 
extreme heat of the day, looking again at the 
elder sister as he did so ; then, sitting down 
by her side, he remained quite silent, appear- 
ing lost in a reverie of not the pleasantest 
nature in the world. 

Hester glanced at him once or twice with 
a half-displeased, half-injured air; while Sarah 
watched first one and then the other with an 
amused expression and the old disagreeable 
smile — for disagreeable it certainly was, as 
much so as a very handsome girl's smile can 
be. 

Suddenly Frank roused himself as some 
noise in the house, hinting at KacheFs possible 
approach with the long-delayed tea, startled 
him ; and, turning to Hester, he said, so 
hastily that it absolutely made her forget her 
inert self so far as to start up — 

'* Hester, is this really true — has your 
father pressed on his claim so closely that 
the Lees are to be turned out of their beauti- 
ful old home, without any choice being left 



14 THE CABINET SECRET. 

them of retrieving their prospects through 
that fine lad's exertions ?" 

The person addressed looked up with some 
surprise, but with quite recovered composure. 
Sarah's face flushed crimson for a moment, 
then resumed the old smile and expression, 
with perhaps a shade more of scorn added to 
it. 

" Wait ! — Vm sure I think papa has waited 
quite sufficiently long already. Why, do you 
not know he has resolved to keep us all 
stewed up here till w^e can move at once to 
Lee Manor ? Surely you cannot have much 
consideration for me to talk so quietly of 
waiting. If they have lost, and papa 
gained the property, I can see no reason 
for our not taking possession — I am sure 
/ want change of scene enough," and, as 
if exhausted by so unusually long and ener- 
getic a speech, Hester sighed heavily, and 
once more leant back in her seat. 

Frank had looked impatient, almost angry, 
while she was speaking, and now, getting 
up, with an irritated air, said, as he walked 
up and down the room : 



THE CABINET SECRET. 15 

*' I hope — I think you do not know the 
circumstances of the case, Hester. No. You 
could not speak so if you did — or I may have 
been misinformed myself, but, I am afraid, 
my authority was too good. I heard a little 
about the matter when I was here before, but 
then 1 treated it very lightly, thinking either 
it was altogether a mistake, or that it would 
end very differently from what it now pro- 
mises to do." 

Frank paused a moment ; then, receiving 
no response from either girl, went on : 

" Your father, as Mr. Lee's man of busi- 
ness, had a large mortgage on the estate 
himself, it seems, and has gradually been 
buying up most of the others ; and now, just 
latelv, if mv information is correct, he has 
taken advantage of their present extreme 
distress and Edward Lee's absence, to 
enforce his claims, and obtain possession of 
the whole property, buying up the other 
mortgages for a mere trifle ; and this while 
there is great doubt if some of the debts with 
which the estate is encumbered can be 
proved to exist at all, much less their payment 



16 THE CABINET SECRET. 

be legally enforced under the circumstances. 
Besides which, this is done just as the son, 
a youth of great promise, has nobly 
launched himself on the world, with the 
avowed purpose of straining, every nerve to 
retrieve the affairs of his family. And he will 
do it, too, if anyone can ; his abilities are 
first-rate, and his energy untiring, with 
principles of the highest order ; give him but 
reasonable time — a few years even — which 
mercy, nay, justice itself demands in this 
case, I should say." 

Frank had begun slowly, but he proceeded 
rapidly, and wdth great excitement, as he 
brought his harangue to an end, while his 
face flushed, and his eyes sparkled, in the 
earnestness of the feelings the thoughts to 
which he gave utterance had aroused within 
him. Hester looked up in his face with a 
quiet astonishment at his energy, and seemed 
perfectly unable to answer. Sarah, ho\vever, 
turned round with a freezing air, and said, in 
a cold, dry voice — 

*' Upon my word, Mr. Marsden, you are 
very obliging to point out so kindly the right 



THE CABINET SECRET. 17 

course for my father to pursue in regard to 
his own affairs. Of course, as you have lived 
so many more years in the world than him- 
self, you are more capable of judging what is 
the fittest course in this matter ; but allow 
me to say that I, for one, do not carry my 
benevolence to quite so Utopian a height as 
you appear to do. I should not at all feel 
incHned to follow your plan of risking all the 
profits of a life-long industry on the very 
doubtful chance of a young man's being 
ultimately successful in life, and — a still 
more problematical possibility — of his pos- 
sessing enough generosity, or principle, as 
you say, finally to restore one's own pro- 
perty, but so many years after it was due, 
that it might perhaps arrive time enough to 
add dignity to one's funeral honours — not in 
any way to further one's enjoyments in 
life. 

Frank bit his lip, and glanced at the 
speaker almost contemptuously, but he made 
no answer, and as the instant after Kachael 
appeared at the door, tea-tray in hand, no 
more passed at that time upon the subject. 

VOL. I. C 



18 



CHAPTER II. 

ON that very same sultry August evening, 
another scene in the drama of human 
life was being enacted in another part of 
Merestown. 

This scene was laid in a newly-built little 
house, one of the row of Newman's Buildings, 
in fact. It was redolent of paint and putty, 
and the strong evening sun, which glared 
fully and fiercely in at its west-fronted, nar- 
row sash windows, aided not a little to extract 
the scent of both those charming accompani- 
ments to freshly erected dwelling-places. The 
little narrow slip of ground in fi'ont, called by 
courtesy a garden, was bare of all things ap- 
proaching to liowers, and the patchy turf 
was brown with exposure to heat and dust ; 
the green railings glared painfully in rivalry 
with the bright red brick of the house, and 



THE CABINET SECRET. 19 

any one looking on the whole would have 
scarcely felt surprised that its sole inmate 
should at that moment be suffering from one 
of the acutest of headaches. 

She was a fair, delicate girl, looking barely 
fifteen, though really almost three years older. 
And there she stood, within the tiny parlour 
of that oven-like house, in the middle of the 
room, pressing her hand upon her burning, 
throbbing brow, but only for a moment. She 
could afford no longer time to rest, though 
miserably weary and fearfully hot, for her 
long day's dreary work was not yet over — 
those two boxes of books had still to be put 
in the neat little shelves prepared for them. 
They were now — partly unpacked — strewn 
about in confusion, some on the floor, some 
still within their cases, and they must be 
stowed away immediately ; there was no space 
for the admission of untidiness or disorder in 
these confined precincts. Besides, few in 
comparison as were those precious volumes, 
they were books still, their own, and would 
perhaps help to lend some slight appearance 
of home to the strange, chilling aspect of this 

c2 



20 THE CABINET SECRET. 

little square room ; so thej must be neatly- 
ranged in order, and the boxes carried away, 
and then all would be ready for them. 

Ready ! She glanced round the bare, un- 
comfortable looking room as the thought 
passed through her mind. Yes, ready — as 
fit as such a room, with what narrow means 
were now in her power, could ever be made 
for those whom she was now instantly expect- 
ing. 

A sharp pang shot through her heart. 
Alas ! alas ! what a place for them to come to 
— being what they were, leaving what they 
did — and the vision of a lovely home scene 
rose vividly before her, just as she had her- 
self seen it a thousand times over in happy 
bygone years — such as her fancy, all unbid- 
den, instantly suggested to her, she might 
have seen it now. 

A long low house, the middle part higher, 
and bearing witness in its general aspect to a 
remoter date of architecture than the two 
sides, which plainly spoke of the Elizabethan 
taste and era. A heavy, old-fashioned arched 
doorway, the door of solid oak, richly carved. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 21 

standing partly open and displaying to view 
a grand and lofty hall, ornamented richly 
in every part not only with noble statues, the 
production of the choicest Italian art, but 
with the picturesque if more homely evidences 
of English prowess in wood and field and 
stream, nay, on the very battle-ground itself ; 
for on one side were suspended not only two 
or three grim old helmets, but a line of 
swords, varying in shape and form from the 
awkward weapon of some seven centuries be- 
fore to the lighter but still ponderous broad- 
sword of the seventeenth century. They were 
a gallant race the owners of that old mansion, 
and had never failed to send a soldier forth 
from their roof-tree to fight for king and 
country whenever either had been in 
peril. 

But it was not of swords or battle-fields 
or warriors that this young maiden dreamt 
just now— nay, not even of that glorious hall 
itself, dear as its every part, its every orna- 
ment, was to her heart ; but of a more domestic 
genial picture. 

Those three French windows, somewhat to 



22 THE CABINET SECRET. 

the left of the great hall, are wide open, too, 
and through them you can see in the distance 
a massive sideboard, with a weight of quaint 
old family plate resting upon it, and nearer the 
polished dining-table, with its glittering sur- 
face reflecting back on all sides the rich 
fruits, cool wines, and lovely flowers with 
which it is abundantly laden ; but nearer 
still are the objects on which the eye naturally 
rests — animate objects, with human faces that 
just now are bearing testimony to the enjoy- 
ment of much quiet human pleasure. 

Quite close to the far-off window is drawn 
up a capacious easy-chair, and in it sits a 
white-haired gentleman. Lay somewhat more 
than ordinary stress on that last word, and 
there you have his portrait ; for gentleman, 
old, somewhat infirm, perhaps a little weak 
and uncertain in his spirit now, but still 
gentleman is what the present owner of this 
fair domain looks in an unmistakable and in- 
tense degree ; and he looks but what he is. 
Standing opposite, a little way removed, so 
that she may not intercept his view, but still 
near enough to catch and answer his every 



THE CABINET SECRET. 23 

look and gesture with sympathising word and 
smile, is a fair comely dame of middle age, so 
fair and comely in her ripe autumn of matron - 
hood, that had you been the deciding Paris 
of a second contest for superior beauty, you 
might have been tempted to award the covet- 
ed apple to her rather than to the slender girl 
who, just outside the window, is now bending 
her young, blushing, laughing face down to- 
wards her father, as she points out to him the 
merry gambles of the two other individuals 
who complete the grouping of that happy 
family picture. 

These two are farther off, upon the smooth 
lawn which bounds the broad gravel sweep 
just in front of the house. A noble, beau- 
tiful boy, just on the verge of manhood, 
gambolling, with the exuberant glee of his free 
young spirits, with an enormous Newfound- 
land dog, who now lies quietly down, in all the 
secure dignity of his size and strength, watch- 
ing his playfellow's cautious advance as he 
hopes to spring on him at unawares, now 
just slipping from beneath his young master's 
hand as it all but secures and seizes him, and 



24 THE CABINET SECRET. 

starting off across the lawn, over into the 
park, through and round about the trees, 
then back again, and close up now to the 
maiden, now to the youth, at a speed which 
forbids all thought of pursuit. 

And the frame-work of this picture is as 
fair and pleasing as anything else about it. 
Immediately in front the sweeping car- 
riage drive, then the velvet lawn shading 
down in the distance into the park itself, with 
all its magnificent wealth of noble old trees, 
clothed in all the richness of their summer 
foliage ; at the side, some fine old cedars and 
evergreens, with one huge lime tree spreading 
its full sweeping boughs down — down from 
the summit in ever widening circles, till they 
rest upon the turf below, hiding the green 
carpet from every eye, and all else besides, 
except in one place, where a passing glance 
can be caught of a glittering flower-bed of red 
geraniums, and other bright things, giving 
some slight promise of the floral treasures 
one step beyond that spreading tree would 
disclose to you ; and all this lighted up by the 
glorious splendour of a summer evening, when 



THE CABINET SECRET. 25 

the bright sun, in the passing sadness of his 
lingering farewell, casts such long cool shadows 
over trees, grass, and flowers, that you forget, 
in their enjoyment, the oppressive ardour of 
his noontide heat, and are tempted yet to 
wish his longer abiding with you. 

Such is the bright vision which rises up 
all too visibly in the truth and earnestness 
of its colouring before that busy worker at 
No. 5, Newman's Buildings! 

No. 5, Newman's Buildings ! Ah, what 
a contrast ! That very address of the 
new dwelling-place conveys its utter dis- 
similarity with the former one. This square 
room, with its four equally sized walls, its 
one formal window just in the middle of one, 
the vulgar little grate in another, the door in 
the third ! Ah ! not all her many ingenious 
efforts, not even the two little bookshelves 
dividing the fourth wall between them, though 
now nicely fitted with her precious treasures, 
the few old friends she could justly bring 
hither, can change the character of that room, 
or make it look much other than what it is — 
the ugly little parlour and sole sitting-room 



26 THE CABINET SECRET. 

of a house in a second-rate suburban row. 

So at least thinks poor Mabel Lee, as with 
weary body, and still more weary mind, she 
takes another look at the result of her day's 
work, when she returns from dragging the 
book-boxes out of sight along the narrow 
little passage, as near the top of the kitchen 
stairs as her unaided strength can convey 
them. 

Poor Mabel Lee ! You are yourself at 
this moment almost as great a contrast to 
that other self of some months back, looking 
so joyously in at the dining-room windows of 
Lee Manor as is this common nutshell of a 
place to the stately home of your fore- 
fathers ! 

Yet you do yourself injustice, Mabel, and 
your careful handiwork, too. Other eyes than 
yours, especially those less accustomed than 
your own to every elegance and beauty 
with which art and nature can adorn a dwell- 
ing, would discern many tokens in this square 
room, bare and ugly as it seems to you, that 
it is not utterly deserted by the spirit of taste 
and beauty, that a hand has worked therein 



THE CABINET SECRET. 27 

not altogether identical with such hands as 
might be supposed ordinarily familiar with 
such spheres of labour as this ; in short, that 
the parlour of No. 5 did somehow differ in- 
teriorly from Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4, alike as 
they might appear on a first glance. 

That old worked ottoman with twisted legs 
has evidently displayed its comfortable length 
to other loungers than those of the present 
century, and yet was never contaminated by 
the unhealthy atmosphere of Wardour Street. 
This little table is of a finer and more delicate 
make than any you could meet with in any other 
house in this row, or in most others. That 
China jar speaks of other acquaintanceship 
than that of ordinary flaunting porcelain. 
The old picture opposite the window tells its 
own tale of a generation passed away ; and 
most simple yet most striking evidence of 
all, that bright bouquet of precious flowers 
in its richly cut glass speaks of a presiding 
spirit of greater taste, refinement, and ele- 
gance than one would suppose ordinarily falls 
to the lot of such an abode as No. 5, New- 
man's Buildings. 



28 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Cherished Penates of a happier time, a 
nobler home, surely ye or your ghosts are 
still hovering round the hearth of this exiled 
household ! 

But poor Mabel saw them not — felt them 
not, and, weary and disheartened, she gave 
her final glance round that ungenial room. 
Very desponding was the sigh she gave as 
she advanced towards the one window to try 
if, broiling as was the outer air, it might not 
somewhat improve the atmosphere within. 

She threw the sash wide open, but the 
glare and heat became yet more acutely 
sensible ; and, despairingly, she leant forward 
to see if not one summer breeze of evening, 
however faint, would steal over from the far- 
off country lanes to bless these dreary city 
homes. 

No ! not one ! They were all too busy 
flirting with the red poppies and yellow cisti 
in the bright corn-fields, or bestowing their 
fond caresses on the woods and streams, to 
have one stray breath to give to such unat- 
tractive bare resorts as these. 

Thus, atleast, it seemed to Mabel, who tho ught 



THE CABINET SECRET. 29 

that she and summer joys had said farewell 
for ever ! 

She drew her head in once more, and then 
gathered the light muslin curtains close about 
the window. Perhaps they would give the de- 
sired shade without adding greatly to the gloom 
which, to her tired fancy, seemed already to 
pervade the room, in spite of the unsoftened 
glare thrown fully into it. 

All the preparations within her power at 
last completed, Mabel sat down upon the old 
ottoman to rest ; but she soon found to do so 
was impossible. If she allowed physical fatigue 
to overcome her, all mental strength would van- 
ish. She must give way at last, and that would 
never do — a tear-stained face was not the one 
with which she must strive to meet her parents 
on the threshold of their new home. 

So she got up once more, and occupied 
herself with wandering from room to room 
throughout the house — not an over-long journey 
— putting additional touches of some sort to 
the arrangements of each, little as they seemed 
needed, and continuing her sad monotonous 
pilgrimage till the sound of approaching 



30 THE CABI^^ET SECRET. 

wheels struck on her strained senses. She 
knew it. 

They were coming ! 



31 



CHAPTER III. 

TTEAVILY on came the one-horse fly of 
-^-^ Merestown, and very dilapidated and 
shabby it looked as it drew up before the 
narrow wicket-gate of No. 5, Newman's Build- 
ings. How widely different was the graceful 
prancing curve with which their beautiful bays 
had been wont to land their carriage at the 
portal of Lee Manor ! 

But Mabel resolutely forbore to dwell on 
this just then, though the passing compari- 
son would glance through her mind. She 
hastened forward, tying her garden-hat close 
down over her brows, so as partially to shade 
her pale, tired face, greeted her mother with 
a smile which was very sweet, though like the sad 
gleam of dying day, and then held her arm to 
help her feeble father in alighting from this 
novel vehicle. 



32 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Mr. Lee had become very weak in mind of 
late, almost childish indeed, though his fond 
wife and loving daughter were fain to try and 
bide the fact as far as they could, both from 
themselves and from each other. 

" Where have you been, Mabel ?" he asked 
querulously, as he descended from the fly, and 
stood leaning heavily on her young arm at the 
gate : " why do you stay away from me all 
day, so ? I wanted you." 

** I have been busy, you know, dearest 
father, getting ready for you ; come and see 
all I have done. 

And she looked persuasively up in his 
face. 

He made one step in advance, then paused, 
and turning, said fretfully, 

" Where is my cabinet ? You always 
want to take me away from that now, and you 
know I must have it." Muttering to himself, 
*' Keep it safe — yes, quite safe — I must." 

" There it is, papa. Deborah is helping the 
man to bring it in — see. Will you not come ?" 
she added pleadingly, for she had suddenly 
become painfully conscious of the many curious 



THE CABINET SECRET. 33 

pairs of eyes peering out on them from every 
window, door, and garden that could command 
a view of the new neighbours; and the sensitive 
nature of the poor girl who had hitherto 
breathed no other social atmosphere than 
that of the high-bred refinement of seclud- 
ed aristocratic county life, and rarely of 
that, shrunk in its young experience from 
this first ordeal in association with a lower 
sphere. 

^^ Dear papa, please come, mamma is wait- 
ing for us," she again urged, as the old man 
still obstinately stood by the gate, holding 
her fast while he watched the conveyance 
into the house of the treasured object of his 
care. 

This was a very old and exceedingly curious 
cabinet, of very peculiar and elaborate foreign 
workmanship. Its size was rather less than 
that of an ordinary chefFonier, but it consisted 
of an innumerable number of little drawers 
and crevices, which, when they were opened, 
gave it the air of a well peopled dovecote ; 
when shut, the compartments were so artfully 
hidden, that the very handles themselves ap- 

yoL. I. D 



34 THE CABINET SECRET. 

peared only a necessary part of the carved 
design on its exterior. 

This cabinet had always stood in the draw- 
ing-room at Lee Manor, and as a rale was 
never used by the master of the house, though 
the ladies occasionally put some of their work 
or other trifles within its hiding-places. It 
had been a matter of great surprise to both of 
them, therefore, when Mr. Lee, just about the 
time that his mind had given unmistakeable 
symptoms of impending feebleness of intellect, 
to say the least, had simultaneously mani- 
fested an all-absorbing interest in his cabinet, 
and an unceasing watchfulness over it. In- 
deed, so irritable and anxious' did he shew 
himself whenever it was long out of his sight, 
that they had at last resolved to redeem this 
alone from among all those not absolutely 
necessary articles which had been handed over 
with the house to its new owner. It was at 
a cost entailing some privations on them that 
this was done ; but a greater sacrifice would 
have been cheerfully made by either loving 
woman to gratify even a lighter whim of the 
afflicted old man. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 35 

So the cabinet had been redeemed and 
placed in the llj with Mr. and Mrs. Lee, very 
fortunately, as it turned out, for it was 
soon evident no earthly power could have 
induced the former to leave the old Manor 
House without the exercise of personal com- 
pulsion, so long as that old cabinet remained 
within its walls. 

By this time it was resting just at the 
threshold of the narrow passage in the new 
little house, and Mr. Lee, seeing it there, 
consented to advance thither himself ; but 
no entreaty or persuasion of his daughter's 
could get him farther thant- he door till 
he saw his treasure safely stowed aAvay with- 
in. 

So Mabel, resigning her place by his side 
to her mother, went in herself, and, with De- 
borah's aid, stowed the cabinet away in an 
empty space she had left for it between the 
bookshelves, and then Mr. Lee and his wife 
came with their fair daughter into the new 
home. 

Mrs. Lee sat quietly down in a corner of 
the room, shading her face with her hand. 

I) 2 



36 THE CABINET SECRET. 

She felt instinctively all that had passed — 
was passing in her child's mind, and she 
would not look up till she had so far mastered 
the agitation within, which she could not 
quite subdue, as to present at least a calm 
and placid, if not a contented and happy face, 
to that anxious watcher. 

The old man, only partially conscious of 
the change, so far as those about him could 
judge, and not at all so of its causes, was for 
the first few moments entirely absorbed in 
examining the object of his great solicitude. 
He walked round it, felt over its surface with 
his hands, opened first one drawer, then ano- 
ther, and finally, patting it complacently, 
sat down in his easy chair, which Mabel had 
pushed near, murmuring in satisfied ac- 
cents, 

'' All safe— all safe !" 

Mabel drew a stool near, and sat down at 
his knee, softly caressing the withered hand 
resting on it, which presently began to play 
with her hair, as if in acknowledgment, 
smoothing it fondly, or sometimes twisting 
his fingers in the silky tresses escaped from 



THE CABINET SECRET. o7 

their imprisonment during her day's work, 
and now falling loosely about her shoulders. 
There was silence for awhile, but, by-and-by, 
the old man grew weary of the quietness, and 
began to look restlessly round. 

" Mabel," he said, querulously, " what 
have you brought me here for ? I don't like 
it, my child. This room is small — very 
small — and it is, oh ! so hot !" 

" It is a hot day, dear papa ; but the sun 
is nearly gone. Now I will open the cur- 
tains, then it will be cooler — and see, here are 
some of your own favourite flowers.'' 

And, hastily drawing the curtains wide, 
she brought him the vase of flowers, to turn 
his attention, if possible, to them. 

" Yes, they are very nice, my darling — 
like my little Mabel herself ; but Fergusson 
should put some outside too — I must tell 
him. Where is Dawson ? — ah ! I forgot," 
and with a look of mingled recollection and 
helplessness, inexpressibly painful to behold, 
he put his hand to his head, and sank back 
again into the chair from which he had risen. 
Mabel looked despairingly at her mother, who 



38 THE CABINET SECRET. 

had caught that beseeching, agonized look, 
and now stood by her husband's side. 

"■ My darling," she whispered, soothingly 
folding her arm round her daughter, ^' it is 
what we must expect. Do not fear, my 
love ; he has borne it wonderfully considering. 
Remember what Dr. Armsdaile said — ' There, 
he is better now.^ " 

Even as she spoke, the old man looked up 
once more, with the same vacuous expression 
of incapacity for reasoning, and smiled con- 
tentedly as a tardy breeze did at length find 
its way in at the window, and played for an 
instant with his thin grey hair, after bringing 
him the sweet odour of the bouquet it had 
kissed in its progress. How Mabel blessed 
that breeze ! 

" Mabel, they are very sweet — I like 
them," he murmured, as he looked round to 
where she stood with clasped hands, and an 
inaudible thanksgiving on her lips — '^ very 
sweet ; and it is safe — quite safe," he added, 
glancing once again towards the cabinet — 
— " that's right— that's well." 

'^ Yes, papa, we are all safe and well," 



THE CABINET SECRET. 39 

Mabel answered, making a violent effort to 
master her emotion, and speak in her usual 
clear and cheerful tones, which ordinarily had 
so good an effect on him ; *' and Deborah is 
here too, you know, and mamma, and Dr.. 
Armsdaile will be coming soon." 

" Dr. Armsdaile ! — ah ! yes ; that is well 
— that is right," and a placid smile stole over 
the worn face — " he is a good man. Dr. 
Armsdaile." 

The words had hardly passed his lips when 
a doctor's carriage stopped at the gate, and 
the gentleman they had been speaking of 
entered the room. He gave one quick 
glance at his old friend and patient, and ano- 
ther at his wife ; then his eyes met the wistful 
ones which were watching his own face so 
eagerly, and he smiled. After that smile Mabel 
scarcely needed the " All is well — better 
than I expected," which he whispered as she 
greeted him hurriedly in passing from the room. 
How thankful she was ! and not the least 
subject for gratitude at that moment was the 
doctor's own arrival, which released her for a 
short time from close attendance on her 



40 THE CABINET SECRET. 

father ; for sorely did she need some respite 
from forced cheerfulness and constrained 
composure, after that day of overtaxed 
strength, both of mind and body. 

She sought her own tiny bed-chamber at 
the top of the house, and there leaning from 
the little window in the roof, which com- 
manded something approaching to a country 
prospect, she bowed her head upon her hands, 
and gave way to the torrent of pent-up emo- 
tion within. 

Not long, however, was she left to indulge 
the luxury of abandonment. Scarcely ten 
minutes, hardly one, it appeared to her, had 
passed away, when she heard a well-known 
voice calling on her in low but plaintive 
accents. 

" Miss Mabel, ]\Iiss Mabel, darling, can 
you come a mhuite ?" 

^^Yes, Deborah, directly.'' 

And Mabel hastily bathed her head and 
face in cold water, smoothed her disordered 
hair, and betook herself to the kitchen, a very 
small cavern-like place it looked to the un- 
accustomed eyes now surveying it in its 



THE CABINET SECRET. 41 

underground dimness ; but, after all, it was 
cooler than the parlour, and something like 
an evening sky glow had penetrated into it 
from the open door of the scullery, which 
abutted on the little slip of a back-garden. 

" Well, Deborah, how are you getting on?'' 
Mabel asked with a smile she struggled hard, 
and with partial success, to make cheering. 

Deborah glanced at the darling of her 
heart, her own special charge as she had been 
from the first month of her fair young life, and 
tried to return that smile with interest, but 
it would not do. She felt the corners of 
her mouth twitching, and her eyes growing 
moister as she looked at the pale face, once 
so bright and joyous ; so she turned hastily 
to the fire, and while vigorously poking it, 
answered, 

^* Bravely, my pet — bravely! Only, you see, 
I was not quite sure how the things went up 
for tea, and I thought you'd show me, sweet. 
It wouldn't do for him to notice any difference 
— this night, above all." 

Mabel sighed, and thanked her fond old 
nurse for her thoughtful care. 



42 THE CABINET SECRET. 

^^ You are quite right, my good Deborah, it 
would not. My father would notice it di- 
rectly, even though Dr. Arrasdaile is here ; 
but you have the things very nearly the same 
as usual, if not (juite," she added, making 
some trifling alteration in the arrangement of 
the tea-tray as she spoke. 

" Well, Miss, I thought I knew pretty 
near ; I wanted to put them all myself last 
night, to be right certain ; but Mr. Ashton — 
he didn't like to let me — he must do it as 
usual he said the very last night, and he 
looked so sad and pitiful. Miss, as he said it, 
and showed me how he put everything, 
master's cup, especially, I couldn't gainsay 
him nohow." 

^^ Poor Ashton !" murmured Mabel, brush- 
ing the tears again starting from her own 
eyes, ^^ did he go before you left, Deborah ? 
— and Stevens, is she gone ?" 

" They are all gone by this, you may be 
sure, my darling, every mother's child of them. 
Do you think they'd stay to see another 
master than a Lee in the old Manor ? No — 
not they — not one of them, I'm certain, but 



THE CABINET SECRET. 43 

they would stay to see the very last of master 
and the mistress." 

'' Oh ! Deborah !" was Mabel's half-fright- 
ened, half-expostulatory ejaculation. 

" I couldn't help it, pet, they would — they 
must; they all said ; but they'd be very good, 
and so they were, Miss, not a tear fell from 
any one of them, till master was safe into the 
fly, and had passed through them all." 

" You do not mean they all assembled to 
see you leave ? — Deborah, how could you let 
them ?" 

'' I couldn't help it, dear, indeed, and you 
see it did no harm. They all drew up in the 
hall, as they used to do when we had a 
wedding or a christening party coming home, 
and master and mistress walked down the 
whole line of them. But don't look so feared, 
my pet, you see it did no harm. It pleased 
him, I think, for he nodded and smiled quite 
happy all the way down, when he noticed 
them at all, but that wasn't often, he was so 
unaccountable taken up with that cabinet 
thing, and having it took out before him." 

*' Did he ask for it when you started, then?" 



44 THE CABINET SECRET. 

** Before ! bless yon, darlin^^, the moment 
he saw the fly, and knew he was going — 
' Corning to you /' as poor mistress told him — 
he took hold of that cabinet, and never rested 
till Thomas and John came and carried it out 
before him. He wouldn't stir out of the room 
till that old thing had gone first." 

*' How lucky we decided on keeping it ; 
but what a strange fancy it is — poor papa!'' 
said Mabel, musingly ; and then she slowly 
wended her way back to the sitting-room, that 
she might be ready to make the tea, now her 
father's favourite meal, when Deborah should 
bring it. 

Deborah, their one great treasure now, 
" Old Nurse !" '' Mrs. Dawson !" '' Na-nah !" 
by all of which fond aliases she was wont to 
be called in the happy days of that household 
of which she had been for years a respected 
member. But very old she really was not, 
happily for the Lees in their present circum- 
stances, as she was the one amongst their 
many old servants who vowed she would 
never leave them, come wdiat might, and who 
was, besides, best fitted to fulfil the many and 



THE CABINET SECRET. 45 

various duties which must now all fall to the 
lot of their one domestic. 

She was quite a young woman when she 
became Miss Mabel's nurse, and had quickly 
transferred to her charge all the fond love 
of her heart which had not been buried in 
the grave of her husband and only child ; 
but as Mabel and her brother grew up, their 
nurse seemed, to their young experiences, 
quite an aged personage, and she was perfectly 
content to be so considered, as, in virtue of 
that antiquity, she possessed the authority and 
influence which might have been lost had they 
realized the fact that she was not much past 
middle age. 

So Deborah had grown into a privileged 
person, a humble friend, one of the old and 
faithful family retainers, such as are now fast 
becoming extinct, it is to be feared, in these 
our later days; and great was the comfort and 
solace her cheerful presence and active bodily 
service brought to the Lees in the first sad 
days of their adversity. 



46 



CHAPTER IV. 

" T^ATHER, does a man generally strive 
-^ very eagerly for that wliich he does 
not care for when gained ? " asked Sarah 
Lockstone, breaking the stillness which had 
reigned for the last hour among the family 
party, so suddenly that each of them was 
startled from his or her respective occupations, 
all of which were of a passive character. 

Her mother, half roused from a tranquil 
dose, gazed sleepily round ; Hester languidly 
turned her half-closed eyes reproachfully on 
the speaker, awakening from her usual lazy 
muse ; and Mr. Lockstone himself gave a 
visible start in his great leathern chair, as he 
raised his head from the drooping position in 
which he had sunk, while apparently intent 
on speculations respecting the fireless grate, 
so fixedly had his sharp sunken eyes been 
regarding it. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 47 

" No, certainly not," he answered at last, 
looking somewhat uneasily at his younger 
daughter. 

^^ Nor do they risk a life's labour, fortune, 
health, on a venture which, if attained, they 
would leave untouched?" she continued asking, 
as if simply seeking information ; while her 
father's restless eyes betrayed his mistrust of 
the singleness of her intent in these queries. 
" And what would you call a man who, after 
staking all these, and perhaps more too, 
should win the prize, but shrink from taking 
possession of it?" and she raised her large 
dark eyes to her father's face. 

" A fool, girl !" he answered, impatiently ; 
'^ a fool, of course !" 

'' And so should I ; and a coward also," 
she returned composedly, in slow and distinct 
tones ; ^^ but I should hardly have judged, 
from your actions, that you agreed with me, 
father." 

Again she fixed her expressive but cold eyes 
upon his face inquiringly. 

He gave no audible reply, only moving un- 



48 THE CABINET SECRET. 

easily in his chair. He well knew what was 
coming. 

" You have periled, if I mistake not, much 
of all these things — perhaps something also of 
that which weak men, it seems, value higher, 
as they christen it honesty — for the winning of 
Lee Manor. It is yours. Why, then, are we 
not there ?" 

Mr. Lockstone started from his chair with 
a muttered curse, and began striding hurriedly 
up and down the room ; while his wife and 
elder daughter, both thoroughly aroused, now 
looked on with timid, frightened faces ; Sarah 
alone remaining perfectly calm, and watching 
his movements quietly, as if patiently waiting 
for the time when restored composure should 
enable him to give the answer she was evi- 
dently awaiting. 

And it did come at last ; though none who 
had never witnessed before similar scenes 
between this singular daughter and her father, 
would have credited that the angry turmoil 
she had so coolly roused within his dark, 
reserved breast would have merely such a 
result. After a fierce struggle between his 



THE CABINET SECRET. 49 

own nature and habitual line of conduct, with 
the force of the habit now long acquired of 
yielding, however unwillingly, to a will as de- 
termined and unscrupulous as his own, but 
cool and self-governed, which his never had 
been, he answered at length, 

" You cannot understand these things, 
Sarah ;" then added slowly, as if in forced 
obedience to the strict questioning of her 
unswerving eyes, "there are many reasons 
which prevent my going at present ; but at 
Christmas, if not before, we will be there," 
and he hastily strode out of the room, greatly 
to the relief of his wife, who, well as she was 
used to them, (?ould never listen unmoved to 
the fierce oaths with which he was wont to 
garnish his discourse when annoyed, and 
which, though unfit to record, had plentifully 
bestrewn this reply to his daughter. They 
seemed a sort of safety-valve for the angry 
spirit within, which found a sort of secondary 
satisfaction in venting its thwarted temper 
by unseemly language that must shock the 
hearers. 

The gentle Mrs. Lockstone it did shock ; 

VOL. T. E 



50 THE CABINET SECRET. 

the passive Hester attended little to the 
meaning of the words, but disliked the grat- 
ing tone in which such ugly expletives are 
sure to be uttered. Sarah alone sat unmoved, 
alike regardless of her fatiier's anger, her 
mother's shrinking terror, Hester's offended 
love of quiet, and the fearful words them- 
selves. 

Indeed, she scarcely heard them. They 
had become matters of course with her — a 
natural consequence of any discussion with 
her father, and were passed over unheeded ; 
the se7ise of his answer was all she attended 
to, and that did not seem to please her. She 
knitted her dark brows, and twined her long 
white fingers nervously together ; and pre- 
sently, without vouchsafing a word to her 
remaining companions, she, too, rose and left 
the room. 

The thouglits passing silently through her 
brain were these : *' Cannot understand them 
I can, and better than you yourself, faint 
hearted man^ as you plume yourself on being 
riio ! I have not patience with such weak 
dallying ; sonic preliminaries may be neces 



THE CABINET SECRET. 51 

sary — must be — but till Christmas — four 
months — I ivill know what these reasons are, 
and see if there be any sense in them." 

And so she followed her father to his busi- 
ness-room — his office, where she alone had 
ever dared to penetrate ; ruthlessly extracted 
such explanations as she required from the un- 
willing betrayer of his own counsels; and then 
returned to her mother and sister, to whom 
at length she deigned to impart some of her 
own knowledge, and the conclusions she de- 
duced from it. 

" Hester, you must be contented to startle 
High Street with your active winter move- 
ments once again, and defer till next spring 
the wanderings with Frank Marsden in Lee 
Manor alleys. We shall not be there till 
Christmas — after, perhaps. " 

" Then it is very hard, and I think you all 
treat me very unkindly to let my father keep 
me here in this way," rejoined the elder sister, 
so much roused as absolutely to sit upright in 
her chair. 

Mrs. Lockstone, who saw Sarah expected 

E 2 



LIBRARY 

UNIVERSITY OF ILUNOUv 



52 THE CABINET SECRET. 

her to speak also, merely observed very 
meekly, 

^' I like the country — at least I used to 
like it when I was a girl — but if we must 
stay here still, I suppose we must." 

The strange smile passed over her younger 
daughter's handsome face as she listened to 
these words, and her glance of mingled con- 
tempt and pity for the weakness of their 
natures, travelled from one to the other as 
she answered, 

*^ There are reasons in this case why we 
should remain, but as to submitting to a must, 
merely because I was told it existed and no 
more, or, worse still, merely because my 
father chose to use the word, I would scorn 
such weakness. And, Hester, if you feel so 
much the most ill-used among us, I advise 
you to use your own free will, and tell him 
you ivill go to Lee Manor this very Aveek. 
Why not ? None but ourselves can fight our 
own battles best ! Go and tell him you are 
determined not to stay here." 

Hester knew it was vain to cope with her 
sister wlien once she brought forward such an 



THE CABINET SECRET. 53 

argument as this advice. She gave one re- 
proachful glance in answer, and then, sinking 
back into her usual position of luxurious 
ease, took up a book Frank Marsden had 
given her the night before, and tried to seem 
what she was not — reading, and interested in 
it. 

Meek Mrs. Lockstone attempted no con- 
versation w^hen her daughters appeared dis- 
posed to let it cease, and silence again reigned 
among them. Nor was it broken till, as the 
sisters were undressing in their own room at 
night, Sarah carelessly remarked, 

** By-the-bye, Hester, w^hat ails your swain 
this time ? He is quite a changed creature 
from the light-hearted, devoted Frank Mars- 
den of a year ago. I could almost believe 
he had learned to reason since I saw him 
last, but for his still treating you as an 
invalid," and she laughed a low, satirical 
laugh. 

Hester fired up, as her sister knew she 
would. This was attacking her at once on 
two tender points, the last especially. 

^' I am sure I don't know what you mean, 



54 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Sarah," she answered, quite rapidly ; ^^ you 
never think of all I go through, I know, but 
you might leave me to suffer in peace ; and 
as for Mr. Marsden, whatever he is, or is not, 
does not matter to you. I like his being 
quieter all the better, and I wish you would 
not be so extra-disagreeable to-night, when 
I'm not equal to it." 

Sarah laughed again ; she was delighted at 
having roused her sister so unusually, and 
was really amused by part of her speech. 

^^Extra-disagreeable, am I, Hester? — very 
Avell ; I'll try to be so oftener, if I can, if it 
makes you something less of a log. I sup- 
pose you know my father gives Frank an 
interview to-morrow, private and confiden- 
tial ?" and she looked sharply and suddenly 
at her sister, to see if she did indeed know 
it. 

No ; it was evidently news to Hester — sur- 
prising news, too, and Sarah rejoiced ; but it 
only affected her for a little while. Her 
nature was not deep enough, as Sarah's was, 
to feel certain that the interview portended 
something unusual; nor, perhaps, if it had 



THE CABINET SECRET. 55 

been, was her heart's affection so earnest, even 
as regarded Frank Marsden himself, that she 
could have been moved much beyond her placid 
absorption in self for any length of time. So 
Sarah watched her for a few minutes, then 
shrugged her shoulders, and without vouch- 
safing farther speech, lay down upon her 
pillow and disposed herself to sleep. 

Mr. Lockstone had married late in life, 
a fair, gentle, and young woman. Her 
pretty face had charmed him as much as he 
would allow himself to be charmed by any 
such unprofitable trifle in a matrimonial 
bargain ; but her dower and her years were 
both such as he sought in the partner of his 
fortune, and so he married her, sufficiently 
content that a fair face, over and above, 
accompanied these. 

Mrs. Lockstone was a pleasing girl when 
she married — perhaps she had a true, loving 
woman's heart within her well-proportioned 
form when Stephen Lockstone took her to 
his home ; perhaps she had the formation 
of a reasoning, active-souled, duty-fulfilling 
wife and mother hid amid the chaos of a 



5Q THE CABINET SECRET. 

gentle girl's yet unmoulded character ; per- 
haps she had her happy dream as a girl-bride 
of the loving but firm and clever husband 
who was to develop all that was good — sub- 
due all that was evil in her young, untried 
nature ; perhaps 

Ah ! well — what matters it now what her 
dream was ? — it visited her five-and-twenty 
years ago, and Hester Elton is timid, submis- 
sive Mrs. Lockstone now, afraid of her 
husband, afraid of her daughters, and 
most afraid of the times when thoughts and 
scenes of long ago come back to her, and she 
trembles at half-formed, stifled longings, and 
half-comprehended, restless repinings, and 
worse dreads of the future. 

And the daughters — those two handsome 
girls ! Alas ! bitter tears has she shed over 
both many years ago ; she never weeps now, 
except when a few weak drops fall helplessly 
from her eyes when frightened at her hus- 
band's oaths or Sarah's determined will. 

She had but one boy, and he died ; and her 
husband had set his heart upon a boy, and 
often had he upbraided her with bringing him 



THE CABINET SECRET. 57 

strong girls, and only one sickly lad, whom 
she let die. Often has he told her he married 
her for nothing but that she might give him 
a son, an heir to the wealth and position he 
sees his way to winning, and is resolved to 
have ; often has he said he wishes he had 
never married her — that those tiresome girls 
had never seen the light 1 So often, that 
though he does not do it now so much, the 
trembling woman feels as if all natural affec- 
tion were dead and crushed within her. 

For Hester her father has a sort of in- 
different admiration ; she has the style of 
feminine beauty and passive submission of 
character he admires, and she came before his 
disappointment was confirmed. She was the 
first-born child of that strange household. 

For Sarah — it would be difiicult to ex- 
pound the strange mingling of feelings with 
which she was regarded. He hated her be- 
cause she was a woman. He had almost for- 
given his wife for his disappointment. Destiny 
had thwarted them. But Sarah ! He could 
never forgive her, for she might have been a 
boy, and she was only a girl ! 



58 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Yet he admired her. He could not fail to 
do so ; her qualities, those he could see and 
understand, were so congenial to what he 
most admired in a man ; but then she was 
not a man ! What business had she with 
them ? To aggravate him all the more, be- 
cause she might have been a son, a son so 
after his own heart, and yet was nothing but 
a daughter ! — a woman ! A daughter whom, 
moreover, he even learned to fear in time. 
She had many of his own qualities, much 
more strongly developed ; others which he 
admired while hardly comprehending them, 
and withal a will more inflexible than his. 

He knew not himself whether he most 
hated, admired, or felt in awe of that hand- 
some, determined woman ! Oh ! if she had 
but been a boy ! 

And so the years wore on, even till now, 
W'ith the Lockstone familv. 



59 



CHAPTER V. 

^' lliTELL, young sir, and what is your 
* ^ business with me ?" Mr. Lockstone 
asked, in the blandest voice he could assume, 
when Frank Marsden entered his room next 
morning. He tried to look jocose and sus- 
picious too, but do what he would, those rest- 
less eyes of his betrayed uneasiness. 

^' I will try and not detain you long, sir,'' 
Frank Marsden answered, very gravely, and 
then he hesitated. What he wished farther 
to say was difficult to word, but he caught 
the expression in the elder man's face, and, 
after a moment's thought, proceeded at once. 
*^ It is better to speak openly, sir, I believe, 
and I will do so. The position I hold in 
regard to your family authorises me, I think, 
to say what might otherwise seem presump- 
tuous and offensive in a younger man, and 
once your clerk." 



60 THE CABINET SECRET. 

He paused, and after Mr. Lockstone bad 
made some movement of assent to what he 
had said, though rather ungraciously, and 
without speaking, he went on hurriedly — 

" Eeports of a very unpleasant nature are 
rife in this neighbourhood, sir, in regard to 
the concern you have had in the Lees' mis- 
fortunes. I know that in our profession we 
must often be unjustly aspersed for only doing 
what that profession requires; still in this case, 
there seems to be more than this in question, 
and I should be very glad if you, sir, will 
enable me to contradict these most disagree- 
able stories." 

'* Certainly, my dear young friend," re- 
turned Mr. Lockstone, blandly, though a 
scowl darkened on his features ; '^ certainly, 
you have my full authority for stating that all 
the concern I have had with the Lees' re- 
verses is strictly business-like — wholly so — 
very unfortunate ; but it can't be mended 
now. You are but young, Frank," he added, 
with an effort after greater cordiality, ** or 
you would not attach so much importance to 
such trilling slanders as these." 



THE CABINET SECRET. 61 

Frank's brow darkened. He hesitat- 
ed for an instant, and then spoke boldly 
out — 

** Pardon me, sir, I would not outstep the 
limits of my rights or your forbearance here, 
but it is absolutely necessary that I should be 
cognisant of the exact position of the affairs 
regarding Lee Manor, to be able to refute the 
statements I allude to with any good result. 
My merely stating it as received from you, 
would carry no weight, especially connected 
as I am with your family." 

Mr. Lockstone paused, ere replying, to 
weigh all the results likely to attend on the line 
of conduct he might choose in this somewhat 
difficult dilemma. Where he wished his son-in- 
law expectant during that brief pause, we will 
not inquire. In a short time his mind was 
made up, and constraining his troubled face 
into a smile, he said, 

^' I understand. Here are a few papers 
connected with the matter. Look them over, 
and you will see it all in a moment. By the 
way, you know the proverb, ^ An ill wind.' 
I hope to make such a provision for Hester 



G2 THE CABINET SECRET. 

now as will enable you to become a Benedict 
as soon as you will." 

Frank made no answer. Perhaps he did 
not hear. Mr. Lockstone augured differently, 
from the flush which his keen eye detected 
deepening on the young man's cheek as he 
bent over the documents handed to him ; and 
this by no means tended to lessen the anxiety 
rising within him. It might be a lover's 
blush at anticipated happiness, certainly. But 
it might not. If anything else caused it, the 
lawyer intuitively felt it must be something un- 
satisfactory to him. 

Frank turned over the papers long. The 
flush deepened, and once or twice his eyes 
were raised to j\Ir. Lockstone, and flashed 
mingled scorn and indi2:nation on that irentle- 
man, sufliciently expressive to have made the 
youth's sentiments known to him at once, had 
he seen the glance. But he did not. Though 
watching Frank, warily as a cat a too-lively 
mouse, when he seemed absorbed in his study, 
he hastily withdrew the gaze on his slightest 
movement, and appeared, in his turn, entirely 
taken up with the letters before him. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 63 

Presently Marsden rose and withdrew into 
the old-fashioned window, still holding some 
papers in his hand. But they were already 
read, at least enough of them to make him 
sick at heart ; and he now held them only as 
an excuse for silence, while he pondered on 
his own course. For half an hour there was 
a deep silence ; then the young man turned 
once more into the room, advanced directly 
opposite Mr. Lockstone, laid down the papers, 
and with a white face, but firm tone, thus ad- 
dressed him: 

" Mr. Lockstone, are you utterly resolved 
to act in the manner pointed out by these 
memoranda? Is there nothing that will in- 
fluence you to a — a — " he was going to say 
^'juster," but substituted "milder course? A 
family so identified with the neighbourhood, 
held in such honour in the county.'^ 

" In days past, young man, days past. 
They haven't gone with the times latterly, 
and Mr. Lee's marriage didn't suit some of 
his haughty neighbours. They've been isolat- 
ed in a manner for years, since the old man 
has been breaking too. No, no, we shall 



64 THE CABINET SECRET. 

compass that with a good face, you'll see. 
I did not leave it out of my reckoning, I as- 
sure you." 

Frank's face burned with indignation. He 
could scarcely command himself, as he an- 
swered sternly, 

'* I did not mean that. I was not thinking 
of it in your sense — " he paused somewhat 
abruptly. 

He was still a very young man, and had 
stood much in awe of the astute lawyer 
when a boy clerk in his office ; besides, he 
could not forget he was the father of his boy- 
hood's companion and idol, his first love ! 

Mr. Lockstone saw his advantage, and in- 
stantly availed himself of it. 

'^ I don't know what sense you may mean, 
Frank Marsden ; but having oflPered you 
every information you desired, more than you 
had any right to expect, I think you may 
wait to give your counsel to one three times 
your age till you are asked for it." 

" I did not intend giving you any counsel, 
Mr. Lockstone," Frank answered, his high 
spirit rising \vitliin him; '^ I see with sorrow it 



THE CABINET SECRET. 65 

would be thrown away if I did. Indeed, I 
need say no more — we think very differently 
on this business, and we each know that we 
do." 

As he spoke, he fixed his clear eyes straight 
on the lawyer's face ; the latter moved uneasily 
in his chair, and answered sullenly, 

** Well, then, the sooner we quit the subject 
the better, I should say." 

" Yes, but I have one thing more to say 
before it is dropped for ever between us, if 
you please, sir. Hester " 

"Ay," said Mr. Lockstone brightening, 
and thinking within himself, ^ Yes, yes, all 
the same all the world over. Money, money, 
can indeed wash out a multitude of sins, 
even this young one's foolish, romantic notions, 
which I was rather afraid were a little stub- 
born.' *^ Well," he added aloud, *' I bear no 
malice, Frank ! What I said at first I am 
willing to stand to — Hester's marriage portion 
shall be ready at once, and a better one than 
you expect, too — even now." 

Again Frank coloured deeply, and answered 
hastily, 

VOL. I. F 



QQ THE CABINET SECRET. 

" Mr. Lockstone, when your daughter was 
promised me you were comparatively a poor 
man — more equal with myself ; were you 
then satisfied with the prospects before her as 
my wife ?" 

^' Certainly, or I should not have held to 
the engagement all these years — perfectly — " 

*' I have not gone back in my profession, 
sir, as I believe you are aware. Of course, I 
cannot compete with you, but I have already 
a yearly competence of my own winning, 
which promises rapidly to increase.'' 

^' Well ?" said ]\Ir. Lockstone inquiringly, 
and somewhat wondering where the discourse 
was tending. 

" I can now offer Hester a home and yearly 
income, which, though small, it is true, is yet 
enough for comfort, and more than many 
people begin life with. Were she portionless 
would you give her to me now ?" 

Mr. Lockstone hesitated a moment, then 
answered, 

^^ Yes, but " 

Frank hastily interrupted him. 

** Then, sir, will you give her to me por- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 67 

tionless now ? I do not wish to express my 
feelings on the point farther — but, you under- 
stand, sir, I must have Hester as poor as she 
was a year ago — or — not at all.'^ 

The last words came with some effort, and 
Frank stood almost trembling after he had 
uttered them. Mr. Lockstone was so utterly 
surprised and taken aback he could not for 
some time collect his wits sufficiently to an- 
swer, At length he said, almost angrily, 

'^ What folly is this, young man ? You 
expect me to rob my daughter of what be- 
longs to her, and all for your own silly 
scruples and romantic nonsense! You your- 
self would be the first to blame me for it when 
years have sobered you a little." 

"No, sir, I should not. I know what I 
am asking, and I know myself well enough, I 
hope, to be certain that without this money I 
should be content and happy — with it, miser- 
able and self-reproaching. But I do not 
desire to enter on this part of the subject with 
you again, sir ; only will you let Hester de- 
cide for herself? She has never yet known 
the luxury which now apparently awaits her. 

f2 



68 THE CABINET SECRET. 

If she is content to forego it for my sake, and 
become my wife on a moderate income, will 
you, sir, confirm her decision — that is all I 
ask of you. " He spoke eagerly — confidently, 
and his eyes brightened as he waited impa- 
tiently for the reply. 

It came at last, unwillingly as it seemed, 
and very sullenly, but it was not negative. 

" Do as you will. If Hester is as great a 
fool as yourself, take her and welcome. I 
wash my hands of the whole concern, only 
beware, young man,'' he added more quickly, 
as if forcing himself at last to arouse some 
sort of angry spirit within, " if she refuses 
you on these terms, do not in after-life reflect 
on me as having promised you my daughter 
in early years, and then drawn back when I 
became a rich man. She is there, and her 
fortune too, now. But once rejected, you 
shall have neither of them with my free will, 
depend on it." 

" Thank you, sir, I should not ask it ; 
but," he added after a slight hesitation, "with 
your permission I will speak to Hester this 
evening " 



THE CABINET SECRET. 69 

lie seemed about to add something more, 
but changed his mind ; and on Mr. Lockstone 
sullenly answering, '^As you please," bid 
him good morning, and took leave. 

Mr. Lockstone left alone was a different 
man from Mr. Lockstone confronting his ex- 
pupil and son-in-law aspirant. He had be- 
trayed by no word or look to Frank the real 
uneasiness, and something more — something 
nearly akin to shame which this interview 
had caused him; but once free from that 
honest, straightforward youth's observation, 
he gave way at once, and, leaning his hands 
on the table and his head on them, uttered 
an ejaculation somewhat akin to a groan. 

But Stephen Lockstone was not the man 
to yield long to any such weakness, even if 
betrayed into it for a moment by such a suc- 
cession of disagreeable truths as he had of 
late been unwillingly forced to open his eyes 
to ; so he soon raised his head again, shook 
himself, muttered an oath or two, and then 
said half aloud, 

" Confound me for a weak fool ; that boy 
has contaminated me, I believe, with his 



70 THE CABINET SECRET. 

young idiot fancies ! If Sarah had been here 
what would she have said ? I am glad she 
was not. How she would have scorned us I — 
me most, for not speaking out. She would 
have done so fearlessly, before the Avhole 
world. Ah ! if she were but a man I — what 
she would have been 1" 

And then he paused, and after searching 
among his papers once more, looked up again 
impatiently, and rose from his chair, mutter- 
ing— 

^^ Pshaw ! — I don't know what's come over 
me, but nothing seems to go right with me 
now. I have what I have been toiling for all 
my life, and now, when it's within my grasp, 
I dare not take it at once — my own daughter 
ridicules my weakness ; and then this boy 

comes — d The world seems changed !" 

And hastily seizing his hat, Mr. Lockstone 
hurried out to make a distant business visit, 
and so divert his mind, as far as he could, 
from dwelling on what was highly unpleising 
to him. 



71 



CHAPTER YI. 

T^HE evening sun was gilding his brilliant 
-^ chariot of mountain-like clouds with gold, 
and throwing sundry soft lingering lines of 
shaded light upon the cooling earth and wav- 
ing trees, when Frank Marsden brought his 
betrothed bride into a pretty winding path- 
way, shaded by alders and hazels, some four 
miles out of Merestown. 

The one-horse fly, opened for the occasion 
with considerable difficulty, and some danger 
to its internal economy, besides no slight dis- 
play of skill on Frank's part, had brought the 
female portion of the Lockstone family hither 
after tea, with the young man as their 
escort. Arrived at this point, he had not 
had much difficulty in persuading Hester to 
walk into the pretty Spinney with him, while 
the others proceeded farther on, to visit one 



72 THE CABINET SECRET. 

of the lions of the neighbourhood — a very 
tame lion it was, much thought of at 
Merestown, but with which we have nothing 
to do. 

Leaning on Frank^s arm, certainly all the 
more lively for the drive, and refreshed by 
the cool evening breeze, Hester Lockstone, 
though still somewhat languid, assuredly 
looked very pretty, if not so surpassingly 
lovely as she appeared to her lover, and the 
young man may be forgiven if he felt his 
heart palpitate strangely, and his cheek pale 
as the time drew near when the fate he had 
so long believed decided was once more to 
be placed in the balance. Which scale 
would kick the beam in the hands of his fair 
companion ? 

Had anyone asked Frank if he doubted her 
decision, her simple-mindedness, her unselfish 
love for himself, he would have been 
extremely angry, and indignantly denied it — 
nay, he might even perhaps have knocked 
the curious questioner down, if a man, for he 
was young, and hot-tempered where his love 
was concerned. Why was it, then, that he 



THE CABINET SECRET. 73 

felt such a chill at his heart, such a 
strange, choking sensation in the throat, 
when he felt the time had come ? Why, 
too, had he dallied over their walk so 
long, till he knew he must speak at once, 
or lose his opportunity, if there was no 
shadow of fear but that the maiden would 
return as she came, leaning on his arm, 
reposing on him as her natural protector ? 
Why, if he doubted not, did he so lingeringly 
hold her hand in his own, and press the arm 
within his to his side, as if it were indeed the 
last time such privileged companionship and 
freedom would be his ? 

They came at last to an old gnarled beech, 
whose roots, twining out of and about the 
ground in many fantastic shapes, afforded 
rude but pleasant seats for tired pedestrians. 
Here Frank paused, and after once looking 
wistfully in Hester's eyes, which responded to 
his eager gaze with their usual quiescent 
glance of unmoved placid tranquillity, led 
her gently to one of the most convenient of 
the seats Nature offered them, and threw 
himself down close by her side. 



74 THE CABINET SECRET. 

It was very pleasant sitting there in the 
cool shadow of the beech leaves, as they 
softly rustled ov'erhead in answer to the 
gentle caresses of the southern wind ; to see 
the bright network of mingled light and 
shade lazily dancing at their feet ; to listen 
to the softly-cooed notes of the ringdoves as 
they whispered their last fond good nights to 
each other ; to smell the fir cones and wild 
thyme which made the air fragrant. Very 
pleasant, Hester thought it, reclining on 
her easy seat, with her natural and 
encouraged taste for the dolce far niente. 
It exactly suited her, this dreamy repose, 
where sight, sound, and scent, all came to 
offer their gratification to the senses without 
giving them the trouble of seeking them — 
hardly of receiving them. Very pleasant, 
Frank thought it also, and none the less that 
Hester's position enabled him to see to the 
greatest advantage her fair smooth face and 
perfect features — to gaze his fill on the form 
he loved so entirely — the case that contained, 
as he fondly believed, the priceless jewel of a 



THE CABINET SECRET. 75 

true woman's heart, wherein he was himself 
enshrined, its first and only idol. 

But, pleasant or not, the spell must be 
broken.- Time was fleeting fast, and there 
was the question of his life's happiness, as he 
believed, to be decided within the next ten 
minutes. 

^' tiester," he at last began in a voice that 
wavered and trembled sensibly, although the 
person addressed seemed unaware of it, ^'Hes- 
ter, I ha,ve something serious to say to you — 
something that concerns my happiness very 
nearly, that is, wholly, in fact. Do you 
remember the day you promised to be my 
very own, Hester ?" 

He paused, and she raised her blue eyes 
wonderingly, as was her wont when some- 
thing out of the common was said to her. 
They seemed to Frank unusually large and 
lovely at that moment. He seized her hand 
passionately, and went on — 

" That is seven years ago, Hester — seven 
long years ; but it is- nine, ay, more since I 
loved you, Hester. Truly, as long as was 



76 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Jacobus first probation, so long has mine been. 
You know well how your beauty took my 
boy's fancy captive almost as soon as I 
entered your father's house. You know how 
the fancy ripened — how I learnt to love your- 
self, till my one dearest hope on earth was to 
call you wife — you know as well as I do that 
your father sanctioned our love, and I had 
only to wait till I could offer you a home 
worthy of my treasure, to claim you for my- 
self for ever." 

He stopped, again looking eagerly in her 
face. A faint gratified smile played on her 
lips, and her cheek was, perhaps, one shade 
or so deepened in colour — no more ; the eyes 
wore the same look as ever, giving no evi- 
dence of depths within, which had been surely 
stirred had they existed. He was half dis- 
appointed, though he would not allow it even 
to himself, and went on more calmly : 

^^ That time has come, Hester. I have 
wherewith to build myself a house and take 
my chosen household mate ; but I am not 
rich — I could only offer you such quiet com- 
fort as has been hitherto your lot — as was 



THE CABINET SECRET. 77 

yours when first I asked you for my wife. I 
cannot compete with such an establishment as 
your father will soon surround himself with ; 
I can only offer you a moderate competence, 
joined to the tried love of the heart that has 
been yours for years. Choose, then, between 
the two." 

Hester had listened with quiet placidity to 
the commencement of this speech, but the end 
appeared to trouble her. At any rate, it had 
the effect of rousing her dormant faculties, 
and it was with some amount of energy that 
she replied, 

'^ But, Frank, if my father has grown so 
much richer, he can make me richer too, and 
of course he will. He doesn't want to go 
from his word with you, does he ?" she added 
almost quickly. 

Frank was enchanted. He believed she was 
thinking of Ms interests — ready to fight for 
his right — and was charmed accordingly. 

" No, my own love, no. Do not fear such 
a thing. He is perfectly willing and eager 
indeed to do all he ever undertook, and more, 
but " 



78 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Frank, Frank, why hesitate thus to trust 
this peerless idol — this second self — with your 
inmost and noblest thoughts? It is not because 
you must blame her father by implication, if 
not openly ! You know that before this she 
has annoyed you a very little — as far as you 
would allow aught she did to annoy you — by 
joining passively in her sister's open abuse of 
some of that father's proceedings. Why, 
then, hesitate ? Yet you do hesitate, and 
Hester at last utters, almost impatiently, the 
word, 

"Well?'^ 

*^ Hester, it is difficult for me to tell you 
all — some of my feelings as regards this ac- 
cession of wealth to your father you already 
know — therefore perhaps you will understand 
— yes, 1 am sure you will — ^why it would be 
utterly repugnant to my feelings to accept 
any increased dowry with you, dearest, which 
came from such a source. Hester, I could 
not do it." 

He had added the last words involuntarily, 
in a sort of resolute despair, as the young 
girl's expression had at length altered sud- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 79 

denly from its continuous look of languid 
quiescence to one of surprised, impatient in- 
quiry. 

" Why not ? I don't understand. Do you 
know these Lees, then ?" 

"No, 1 have never seen one of them, poor 
people, to my knowledge." 

** Then, why should you care about it? 
What concern is it of yours ?" 

*^ The concern every " — he was going to 
say '^ every honest man has in condemn- 
ing injustice;" but he checked himself, and 
altered his sentence altogether — " In one 
way, I cannot help its being my concern, 
Hester — I am sorry to say — connected as I 
am with your father — but 1 do not wish to 
enter into its details with you, dear. Be 
satisfied to know only that your father and I 
are totally at variance on this matter, and 
that I have utterly refused to accept now, 
or at any future time, any moneys whatever 
coming to you from that source." 

" Do you mean that you will not let me 
have my own fortune ?" 

" I mean, Hester, that if a larger fortune 



80 THE CABINET SECRET. 

is of greater worth in your eyes than my love, 
and the inferior home I only can offer you — 
the dream of my life is over — the " 

*^ Do you really mean you will not take my 
money ?" 

And Hester absolutely rose from her silvan 
couch, and leant on her elbow to look at 
him. 

" Yes ; at least, that I will not take more 
than what your father could have given you 
years ago. In short, Hester — doubtless it 
is a strange choice to lay before you, dear — 
but / have no choice except to do so — if you 
will not take me — comparatively poor as we 
both are — I — I must give you up — rather 
than act contrary to my conscience." 

The die was cast now, and Frank Marsden 
who had been hesitating, timid, unlike himself, 
became once more the firm, strong, honest- 
hearted youth, waiting anxiously enough, but 
yet proudly, the decision of the person he loved 
best in the world. 

** I think you are very unaccountable, 
Frank," was the lady's reply after a slight 
pause, while her pretty arched lip began to 



THE CABINET SECRET. 81 

pout, '^andvery — very — unkind too. Just as 
I am going to be comfortable, and have all the 
luxuries I want, you come and ask me to give 
them up, and all for a whim !" 

'^ Not for a whim, dear Hester — God forbid ! 
I would surround you with every luxury and 
comfort the world can offer, as you must 
know, my love ; but here it is a case of con- 
science, Hester — luxury or self-approval — it 
is not comfort even, Hester, not you — ^not our 
mutual love — only luxury, the less or more of 
that bright metal which, after all, precious as 
it is, cannot give happiness, dear." 

"• I don't know what you may think of it ; 
but 1 think it is not to be despised at all, I 
can tell you. I can't think what you mean. I 
don't understand. I thought it would all be 
so smooth now." 

^' My own Hester, you would not understand 
the business details even if I could tell them 
you, which it is much better I should not, for 
all our sakes; but will you not rest on my word 
— my assurance that there is no middle path 
for me, dearest — I know I should do wrong if 
I took the money your father offers me. I 

VOL. I. G 



82 THE CABINET SECRET. 

must refuse it — yes, if I lose you with it, 
Hester. But must I lose you ? Is wealth — 
are all its luxuries so very precious that they 
must separate those who have loved for years? 
Hester, it is for you to decide — I will not 
urge you further by word or look. Your 
father will give you to me comparatively 
dowerless, as I have asked for you, if you are 
willing. Hester — choose. Will you be the 
rich man's daughter, or the poor man's much- 
loved wife ?" 

Once more his voice trembled as he uttered 
the last words ; but he quickly recovered 
himself,, rose from the ground, and stood 
before her, proudly and steadily waiting her 
reply. 

*' I am not fit to be poor, and you know 
that very well. It is very cruel and unkind 

of you to force me to — to " 

Hester stopped in her pettishly-uttered 
rejoinder. Even she could not fail to see 
how unfounded was the charge she was 
bringing against her noble-minded lover. 
He flushed crimson as she spoke, and when 



THE CABINET SECRET. 83 

she paused, said, in a low, constrained, but 
very gentle voice : 

"I do not force you, Hester — nay, I do 
not even wish to influence you. I have only 
put before you two courses, one of which 
must be followed. Let your own heart and 
feelings decide for your own happiness. It is 
all I ask." 

^^ If you choose to give me up because I 
have a fortune, I cannot help it. It is not 
my doing. I cannot be poor — I am not fit 
for it," — and Hester pouted her pretty lips 
again, and for once in her life looked flushed 
and excited. 

There was even a touch of her sister's 
manner in her way of uttering the first 
sentence, though she immediately relapsed to 
her more usual languid tones, joined now to 
a dash of irritable peevishness. 

Frank once more crimsoned as she spoke, 
then paled to a deeper white than her dress. 
He stood silent for an instant, then, in a 
voice whose depth would have betrayed to 
some the acuteness of the stifled emotion 

q2 



84 THE CABINET SECRET. 

within, but which Hester noticed only for its 
unusual hoarseness, he asked, slowly — 

" This, then, is your final choice ? — you 
will not be ray wife without that money I 
cannot, with a clear conscience, take ? 
Hester, is it so ?" 

Something, either in his voice or look, or 
some thought within herself — she knew not 
what — abashed her as the last words struck 
upon her ear. She, too, coloured, but it was 
only with increased peevishness that she 
replied : 

" It isn't my doing — what do you put it 
upon me for ? It is not fair. I did not 
want to go back from my word, but I cannot 
be poor. It is you who are so tiresome and 
silly in teazing me about your own non- 
sense." 

** Farewell, then, Hester. God bless you, 
and may you be as happy in your own path 
as it would have been my heart's desire to 
have made you, had you gone with" me in 
mine." 

Solemnly he spoke, and his face seemed to 
have grown so stern in those last few minutes, 



THE CABINET SECRET. 85 

it almost frightened her. He took her hand, 
pressed it to his lips once, then wringing it 
with a pressure that absolutely hurt her, he 
dropped, almost threw it from him, and in a 
moment would have been out of sight, so 
rapid were his strides, but that a sudden 
thought impelled her to recall him. 

Frank heard his name repeated in the 
well-known tones to which his foolish boy- 
heart had leapt for so many years ; it again 
bounded within him as he responded to the 
call, and stood, in three hasty strides, once 
more by her side. 

" You have left me here without ever 
thinking how I was to get home. You might 
have taken me back to the fly before you 
went away, I should think.'' 

Hester Lockstone, you have done Frank 
Marsden greater service during the minute it 
took you to utter these words than you have 
ever done him before, or ever would do him, 
probably even in a long lifetime. True, they 
pierce into his sore heart like a two-edged 
broken knife, but, nevertheless, they are like 
the stroke of a skilful surgeon, which saves 



86 THE CABINET SECRET. 

from prolonged torture by acute present 
pain. 

He smiled. Very bitter was his smile, but 
he bowed also, and very courteous was the 
bow — more so, Hester thought, than any she 
had ever seen him give. He patiently 
attended on her slow progress to the road, 
passively waited till the return of the fly, 
then handed all the ladies in ; formally J 
answered Sarah's sarcastic question regarding 
his own movements, when she saw he was not 
going with them, by stating his intention of 
walking back by the fields, bade them all a 
very polite good evening, and sauntered 
leisurely on, while the fly was still in sight. 
Once lost to view, and a startled deer would 
scarcely more than rival the speed with which 
the young man commenced his return home- 
wards. 

Poor Frank ! It was a bitter lesson he 
had had — a very sudden and grievous loss he 
had sustained. Not only had he learnt his 
idol was very clay, but worse ; he had not 
only lost his first love — his affianced bride — 
but he had lost her from his heart, his me- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 87 

mory ; the creation he imagined was his own, 
was not — had never been. 

What a tide of mingled feelings, all more or 
less painful, goad the poor lad on, trying to 
lose in violent physical exertion that sense of 
mental torture which seems so overwhelming. 
He is not thankful for the dispelling of his 
blindness now — feels he would rather have 
gone stumbling on in the pleasant ways of 
such darkness. But cheer up, Frank ! You will 
recognise the blessing of sight some day if 
you can fight manfully with your present 
misery now, and perhaps rejoice in the pain- 
ful operation that made it so sure and safe, 
bitter as the trial now seems. 

He cannot rest in Merestown when he gets 
there ; and so, within an hour or two of that 
farewell scene in Linwood Spinney, Frank 
Marsden is galloping ofi" to the nearest cross- 
road to meet the London coach, which will 
carry him back to daily work and the heat of 
business, and, as he hopes, forgetfulness. 

And Hester ! Does she repent as she 
realizes the fact, now made known by her 
father to the rest of the family, that Frank 



88 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Marsden is lost to her for ever ? — that she is 
once more a disengaged young lady ? No. 
At first she missed him in his bodily presence 
and in his letters and presents, and she was 
more peevish and complaining in consequence. 
But new interests arose. Lovers were not 
wanting — had not been before to pretty- 
faced Hester Lockstone — were still less likely 
to be so to Miss Lockstone of the Manor, 
as she complacently reflected ; and, after all, 
Frank was not half so pleasant as when he 
was a boy. He had such odd notions, too, 
and had startled her so while he was down 
this last time. She dared to say they should 
not have suited at all well together, though 
she had so liked him once ; and Mr. Geld- 
finder was almost as good-looking, and a great 
deal more considerate of all her feelings ! 
So argued the i\Ierestown beauty — and so was 
finally severed the link Love was supposed 
to have forged between Hester Lockstone and 
Frank Marsden ! 



89 



CHAPTER YII. 

^FHE little square house in Newman's Build- 
-■- ings was not so strange to its inhabitants 
now. Three months, ay, more than three 
had passed away, and though Mrs. Lee and 
Mabel still felt it would always be impossible 
to call it home, yet they had begun to be 
familiar with its general aspect — accustomed 
to the size and height of the rooms, and to 
feel, in a limited sense, though this was almost 
unknown to themselves, that it was there in 
very truth their Penates did now abide. 

One dull December day Mabel sat alone 
by the solitary window of their sitting-room, 
gazing abstractedly forth on the mono- 
tonous, wearisome scene without, namely, a 
dusty road ; alive at certain hours of the 
day, it is true, either with butchers' carts 
and bakers' boys, or with half-gentlemanly, 



90 THE CABINET SECRET. 

half- doubtful individuals returning from their 
day's business in town, but still very dull 
upon the whole, and excellently adapted for 
promoting that much dreaded, almost incur- 
able disease yclept the blues — now looking 
half fondly at the flower-glass before her, not 
empty even now, midwinter as it is, for there 
blooms as fresh and sweet a nosegay as 
December can produce, which, if not so 
costly as one gathered in the conservatories 
of Lee Manor might have been, was yet very 
precious in Mabel's eyes — more precious, per- 
chance, even than one from them w^ould have 
been, since this gave constant pleasant proof 
of the staunch adherence, at least, of one friend 
to the Lees, even in their present low estate. 
They came from the old Eectory garden, 
just without the Manor House lodge-gates, 
and never a w^eek passed without one at least, 
generally two, such reminders from the good 
old couple who dw^lt therein — the rector, 
who had seen more than fifty winters hang 
their icy pendants from the trees and roofs of 
their parish, and his grey-haired wife, who 
had dwelt with him among the people for 



THE CABINET SECRET. 91 

about as long. Both too infirm now for 
much distant visiting, especially in winter, or 
be sure those flowers would have been much 
oftener brought than sent. 

Mabel was thinking this, and sighing over 
the fact of her father's enforced separation 
from his old associate, vainly wishing, as 
human beings will do, the impossibilities, 
which, if compassed, would in the very act 
annihilate the motives originating the wish, 
when she saw their one other true friend, Dr. 
Armsdaile, walking briskly up the path. 

He had been there once before that day, 
but only to see his old friend and patient 
started with his wife for an airing in his 
brougham, the good doctor' himself stating 
it as a necsssity that both his horse and him- 
self must have exercise, which this arrange- 
ment would give both without inconvenience 
to either, thus doing away all Mrs. Lee's and 
Mabel's scruples on the score of using what 
he must need himself. 

He had been a short round on foot since 
seeing them safely off, and now returned for 
the purpose of a private and confidential chat 



92 THE CABINET SECRET. 

with Mabel, whom he found, as he expected 
and intended, alone. 

'' Well, little lady," he exclaimed, his 
name for her ever since she could toddle 
round a room alone, " so here you are in 
solitary grandeur, eh ? ^ Monarch of all you 
survey ' in any case, child, whether that be 
great or small ; so cheer up, little lady, I must 
not have you grow one whit paler or thinner, 
there's not a bit to spare of you, and I can't 
and won't change my comparative ! Least lady 
does not suit my ^ most musical ear ' at all, 
though, sooth to say, it would assuredly be 
* most melancholy ' !" 

Mabel looked up, gratefully smiling at the 
beginning of this address, and finally laughed 
outright at its conclusion. The doctor's serio- 
comic expression, both of face and tone, joined 
to his absurdly mixed quotations, was irresisti- 
ble. 

** I don't think I am thin, doctor, and you 
know I was never famous for very rosy cheeks. 
Edward got all my share in that way, I be- 
lieve. Look at the picture he had done for 
mamma, in town. It ought to have come 



THE CABINET SECRET. 93 

long ago, but we only had it yesterday." 

And she opened a little case on the table, 
and displayed the bright happy features of a 
healthy, hopeful lad just verging into man- 
hood. 

Tears rose to the sister's eyes as she gazed 
on it, and even Dr. Armsdaile blew his nose 
somewhat louder than ordinary, after studying 
the familiar features for a few minutes. Heir, 
a worthy heir, too, of the long and noble 
race of Lee, yet an exile from his country, 
self-banished from his home, in the vain hope 
of redeeming the patrimony of which he was 
already robbed ! 

^^ Confound that entail business !" muttered 
the doctor under his breath. 

And then to conceal the emotion roused 
within ; he spoke once more abruptly, and 
almost roughly, to his gentle companion. 

" Yes ! yes, very well done. Very like him, 
too ; but I did not come here to waste time 
over that, Mistress Mabel, but to have a 
little rational talk with you. How are you 
getting on ?" 

Mabel knew the doctor well, so she shut 



94 THE CABINET SECRET. 

up the case, with one lingering look and sigh, 
dried her eyes, and sitting down on the sofa 
by her old friend's side, prepared to answer 
the catechism she foresaw impending, as she 
knew he liked to be answered. 

*^ Better, much better than we dared hope. 
He appears quite used to this place now, and 
if anything is going on in the road, it seems 
even to amuse him." 

^* I told you so, my frightened fawn. Not 
fidgety or restless at all ?" 

" Oh ! yes, sometimes — but very seldom, 
considering ; and he is quite used to one room 
and Dorothy now." 

^' Ah ! no complaints ?" 

ii Yery few. The old restlessness, when the 
time came for his usual drive or ride, is nearly 
gone off. The only times at all bad are 
dressing and undressing. He is very fidgety 
then, and seems to miss Richard terribly." 

" Ever ask for him by name ?" 

'' Not often ; but he has done so. He can- 
not bear mamma or I should do anything 
for him, and yet to have Dorothy in makes it 



THE CABINET SECRET. 95 

" Of course. Don't attempt that. Let him 
do all he can for himself — as much as possi- 
ble. Ah ! it's a cruel thing at his time of 
life. Teach your boys to be their own valets 
in time of need, if they are to be as rich as 
Croesus !'' 

Til is was not exactly intended for Mabel's 
future guidance in respect to her possible 
sons, but an aphorism enunciated for the 
public benefit of all and sundry to whom it 
might chance to apply. 

^' He does almost everything for him- 
self now, and I think, when he does not think 
about its being strange, the effort amuses and 
occupies him." 

'^ Right, like my little lady's wisdom ! Ah ! 
we shall do very well — better than I expected 
even. We have come triumphantly out of 
the worst slough, and now we shall go on 
capitally — capitally, no doubt !" 

But the energetic tone in which the poor 
doctor reiterated that word was somewhat 
belied by the deep sigh heralding its utter- 
ance. The picture of that blank future, so 
triumphantly anticipated in words, was too 



96 THE CABINET SECRET. 

much for him, as it spread out before his fancy, 
poverty-stricken, saddened by separation, de- 
privation ! 

Mabel's eyes grew moist again, too, in 
spite of her, as she said sadly, 

" There is only one thing I very much 

dread now, Mr. , that — that man's visits. 

They " 

'^ Man's visits! — what man? That — 
you don't mean to say that d d scoun- 
drel, begging your pardon, Mabel ? I can't 
help it — you don't mean that he dares 
intrude himself on your father now? — that 
very devil in man's guise, Stephen Lock- 
stone !" 

" Indeed he does ; and my father is always 
so upset by his visits that I dread them more 
than anything. It was bad enough when we 
were at home when he came, but here it is a 
thousand times worse. They seem to rouse 
up all the old feelings and associations in my 
father's mind, besides being so evidently 
frightening to him in themselves." 

"Frightening! He doesn't dare threaten 
more mischief, does he ? Indeed, there is 



J 



THE CABINET SECRET. 97 

none that he can do, that I know of. He has 
taken good care to do his worst." 

" Oh, no, no ! He makes his visits on 
some plea of business, though I don't know 
what it can be, and he is very civil always." 

" Damn him !" muttered the doctor under 
his breath, but very heartily, and then con- 
tinued aloud, " Why don't you refuse him ad- 
mittance, Mabel ? — he can have no right 
here." 

^' I did think of it, but mamma and I both 
feared doing more mischief. You see, he still 
holds the place of my father's man of business, 
and it seems hardly possible to deny his en- 
trance. If anything farther wrong arose, it 
might be said that was the reason." 

" Man of business ! — pshaw ! it is perfectly 
ridiculous. The man who holds the estate man 
of business to the one who has lost it ! Absurd 
anomaly on the face of it! However, I am afraid 
you are right— better not quarrel with the 
brute in your peculiar circumstances. Whew ! 
I only wish I was a lawyer." 

And Dr. Armsdaile, much discomposed, 
began pacing up and down the little square 

VOL. I. H 



98 THE CABINET SECRET. 

room, very much like a lion freshly caged at 
the Zoological Gardens. Presently Mabel 
said, 

*^ He used to see my father alone at the 
Manor, but I have been afraid to leave them 
together, and always stay in the room. He 
has never asked me to go, though I think he 
often wishes me away. I fancy my presence 
keeps my father quieter." 

'' Quite right again, my dear. Don't on 
any account let him have my poor friend all 
to himself. But this annoyance must be 
stopped, Mabel — indeed it must ; and, besides, 
there are other things should be seen into and 
settled. I wonder what the fellow wants 
now ? — there's something about this business 
I never could understand. Ah !" and the 
doctor stopped, or, at any rate, did not con- 
tinue his musings aloud. He did not care to 
speak of the weakness of the father before the 
loving, venerating daugliter, especially now 
that that father w^as so afflicted. Perhaps, after 
all, it had been natural physical infirmity, un- 
developed as yet to its full extent, which had 
originated the extreme weakness of character 



r 



THE CABINET SECRET. 99 

displayed in some acts of poor old Mr. Lee's 
life. It might be so. At any rate, he could 
not speak to Mabel as he would have done 
had she not been the daughter of his patient. 
He looked at her instead, and presently his 
thoughts reverted to the old strain, and he 
again repeated, 

" It must be stopped !" 

Mabel did not answer, but her wistful eyes 
told how eagerly she desired that it might, 
and how gladly she would use any means 
pointed out for the purpose. The doctor still 
looked at her, but did not speak till he had 
taken another turn or two through the room ; 
then he came back, and sat down by her 
again, asking, as he did so : 

'' Does your brother know the worst ?" 

Mabel coloured. 

^^ No — not yet. Oh ! doctor, it would be 
so hard just as — so full of hope and eager- 
ness — he is thinking he is sure to succeed 
— to be told it is all in vain. It would be 
too cruel !" 

" It would not be cruel, but the kindest 
thing, as his sensible little sister would allow, 

H 2 



100 THE CABINET SECRET. 

if she could judge of it dispassionately. 
Mabel, he must be told. It is right — abso- 
lutely necessary, indeed. Besides, do you 
believe my experience, little lady? — The blow 
will be sharp enough, I don't deny, but it 
will fall less heavily now, in the first excite- 
ment and novelty of his new life and exer- 
tions, than when they have become a weary 
life work, and this false hope of redeeming 
the old Manor the one bright vision which 
alone gilds and lightens them. Mabel, you 
must write at once." 

Again Mabel's colour came and went, and 
she faltered — 

" But, besides my brother, my uncle, 
mamma " 

*' I know — I know all about it ; but never 
mind that — mamma won't, when she finds 
how much good conquering that — well, that 
little bit of feminine feeling will do, as I feel 
convinced it will. Have no more secrets 
from your uncle, Mabel. I don't know him 
myself, but from all I have heard — yes, I 
mean it — and being your mother's own 
brother, he cannot fail to be worth trusting, 



THE CABINET SECRET. 101 

in spite of any old prejudices and delusions 
he may see fit to cling to. Has he not 
received your brother with open arms ?" 

*^ Of course," and Mabel's little figure 
dilated with something of family as well as 
sisterly pride as she spoke the word, and 
looked very expressively, too, as if she would 
have added, *^ Who could help doing so ? A 
Lee, and such a Lee, to seek a trading uncle 
out in America ! Was it not an honour to be 
so sought, even if the Lee did chance to come 
well-nigh penniless to seek his fortune with 
that uncle's help." 

Dr. Armsdaile laughed as he watched his 
gentle favourite, albeit in no merry mood. 

*^ Ah ! Mistress Mabel Lee, you would 
make a good fellow-picture now to that one 
in the old gallery yonder of your kinswoman 
and namesake, some time maid of honour to 
poor Henrietta Maria, and afterwards the 
haughty reprover of her fugitive son's mis- 
timed gallantry. I wish Uncle Charlton 
could see you now, Mabel. He could not 
quarrel with you, I think, for being so true 
a Lee, looking as you do now, though I 



102 THE CABINET SECRET. 

believe he made Edward doubly welcome 
because he was so like your mother." 

Dr. Armsdaile said the last words slowly. 
He meant them to have due effect on his 
listener, and so they had. The soft flush 
mounted again into the fair cheek, and the 
head bowed down a little, as she said, after a 
little struggle with herself : 

" I will write, if you think I ought." 
"I do think so, Mabel, and that 
without delay. You are left here with no 
natural guardian. Your poor father's state 
renders him unfit to be troubled with 
business details, and yet we cannot safely 
refuse to let this man see him, unless some- 
thing can be definitely settled by those who 
can properly represent your father. That 
were reason enough, but there are others 
which imperatively demand your letting your 
brother know, without delay, the extreme 
step taken by this man. Indeed, he should 
have been written to at once," and Dr. Arms- 
daile once more began his march up and 
down the room, with a vexed mind and a 
troubled brow. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 103 

Mabel did not speak. She had undertaken 
a most distasteful task, and was meditating 
how best to perform it. To tell the darling 
brother of the hopelessness of his most 
cherished schemes ! — prove that the unknown 
uncle's prognostics of ruin following sooner 
or later on such weak yieldings and helpless 
submissions as her father's had been only 
too true ! — it was a bitter task. She knew 
nothing of her uncle beyond his annoyance at 
his sister's marriage without the necessary 
business forms he would have considered the 
first essentials in such a step, and the scarcely- 
veiled contempt he had expressed as to some 
of her father's later proceedings in regard to 
his embarrassments ; and she reverenced — 
adored that father. No marvel she shrank 
from the work before her. 

And so each continued the train of their 
reflections, till roused to the consciousness of the 
present, and the necessity of shaking off all 
outward signs, at least, of gloom and sorrow, 
by the return of the old lord of Lee Manor 
and his wife. 



104 



CHAPTER VIII. 

BERNARD LEE had been an only child, 
and his mother dying when he was a 
mere infant, he had been left entirely to the 
guardianship of a proud and somwhat passion- 
ate father, with no gentle, refined feminine 
influence to counterbalance any mischievous 
bias given to his character by such ungenial 
wardenship. 

His father was wedded to old customs, old 
times, old exclusiveness, but there was much 
sterling worth of character and honesty, if 
not warmth of heart, beneath the formal cold 
exterior which distinguished his ordinary 
demeanour. The one master-passion of his 
existence, however, was the pride of family 
descent. In the proud consciousness of the 
antiquity of the Lee race, their pure patrician 
blood, the centuries wherein the Manor had 



THE CABINET SECRET. 105 

uninterruptedly descended from father to son 
in their family, he lived, moved, breathed. 
An unsuitable alliance — a tarnish of any sort 
on the name of Lee — would have been worse 
than death ! 

Bernard's disposition scarcely fitted him 
for a congenial son to such a father. True, 
he passionately loved his home, and had in- 
herited to a certain extent the family pride in 
it and their name, which was as the very 
breath of existence to his father ; but he was 
of a lighter, more jovial temper, quite sub- 
scribed to Solomon's maxim, that ^' much 
study, " or much thought even, is ^^a weariness 
to the flesh," and could often find great pas- 
time, nay, real enjoyment, in company and 
occupation by no means suited to his father's 
taste, and which that father considered it 
almost a degradation to share in. So, in 
process of years, it happened that, after Ber- 
nard's residence from home to finish his edu- 
cation, and his consequent mixing with much 
and various society, a circumstance neither 
new nor uncommon came to pass — a certain 
distance and estrangement grew up between 



106 THE CABINET SECRET. 

these two, the cold, proud, yet fond father — 
the young joy-loving, yet affectionate son. 
The one lived all alone and stately in his old 
Manor House, thinking harder thoughts daily 
of his absent son — the other wandered here 
and there, enjoying the many pleasures life 
offered him, sometimes thinking little of his 
father, it must be confessed, or of the old name 
and home, but always fondly and kindly when 
he did remember them, and now and again 
with a half sigh, an earnest wish he could 
get on better wdth that father. He would 
have done it if he could, he thought, but 
Nature had denied him the perception of the 
way; and, alas! there was no loving, honoured 
wife and mother to guide the boy's conduct, 
or soothe the chafed spirit of the father. 

So years passed on, and matters between 
Bernard and his father did not mend. He 
had wished his son to marry a daughter 
of one of the neighbouring county families, 
as highborn as themselves, and titled to boot, 
but the stately and not very young lady was 
not to the youth's taste, and the match never 
took place. Then Bernard was as open- 



THE CABINET SECRET; 107 

handed as he was open-hearted, and spent 
more money than his father, alheit no niggard, 
thought at all necessary for the maintenance 
of even his son. A remittance was refused ; 
the young man's spirit was roused — he applied 
to his father no more, but in an evil hour 
took to raising money, as many of his friends 
were wont to do, but as he had never done 
before. 

So things progressed, and the heir of all 
the Lee honours was no longer a young man, 
and still unmarried, to his father's chagrin, 
when chance threw him in somewhat close 
companionship with a young and very pretty 
woman. Agnes Charlton was an orphan, and 
residing with well-born though distant rela- 
tives ; but her father had been a London 
merchant, and not a very rich one — her 
brother was at that moment an American 
trader, as Mr. Lee, senior, would have called 
him. Was this a fitting match ? — a girl so 
connected the suitable mate for Bernard 
Lee? 

His father, now an old man, was hor- 
ror-stricken at the notion, and absolutely and 



108 THE CABINET SECRET. 

unconditionjilly refused his consent, saying 
some hard things, too, of the unknown, un- 
seen innamorata of his son, which stung that 
personage to the quick. He felt his father 
Avas unjust, unkind, exacting more than human 
nature could endure. What if Agnes' father 
had been a merchant — he was a respectable 
man, ay, and a well-born one too, very nearly 
equal to the Lees in good descent, if it came 
to that, though his family had fallen in the 
world ! So he brooded over the matter in pas- 
sionate anger and disappointment for a while, 
and then — rebelled ! His father vowed he 
would never see his face again, or suffer him 
to cross the threshold of the Manor House in 
his lifetime ! 

The son repented and sorrowed ; the 
young wife, who had not been told the state 
of the case before her marriage, pined and 
wept, and bitterly reproached herself, inno- 
cent though she was; and Bernard began 
to fear for her safety, and for the life of 
another little being who was expected in the 
future, to bless their little household with the 
purity of its young spirit. He humbled 



THE CABINET SECRET. 109 

himself to his father as he had never done 
before — explained, entreated, urged. For 
awhile no answer was vouchsafed. At last 
one came; the boon he asked should be 
accorded, but on certain conditions — and 
what conditions ? — that he joined instantly 
with his father in cutting off the entail. He 
would have indignantly and at once refused, 
but for his wife's earnest entreaties. 

" What did it matter ? They could not 
hope for happiness while under such a ban 
as a father's curse ; only let that be removed 
ere the birth of their own child. What 
matter, once free from that, how poor they 
were ? — She did not care ; she would not 
care, so long as Bernard was with her, and 
free from that dreadful malediction." 

So he yielded, though his heart sunk 
within him as he looked at her earnest, lovely 
face — thought of the beautiful home he had 
hoped to give her, and of the probability that 
it was exactly to avoid such a disgrace as the 
old Manor's ever descending to any child of 
hers, which had induced his father to relent on 
such terms as those to which he had acceded. 



110 THE CABINET SECRET. 

The yoiinf^ couple were .then on the 
Continent, Bernard's means at this time 
making a cheap residence very desirable, if 
not necessary, and he had to hasten to Eng- 
land with what speed he could, to comply 
with his father's wishes before it might, 
perhaps, be too late. Stephen Lockstone 
was then, as now, the agent and man of 
business for the Lee Manor estate. How 
much he had to do with the singular resolu- 
tion of the elder Mr. Lee — if he had any- 
thing to do with it — rested between him and 
his conscience. Bernard never suspected that 
he had, on the contrary, habitually applied 
to him for advice, and even assistance, in all 
his own difficulties. The entail w^as cut off, 
the son forgiven, though with but a bad 
grace, and he had the satisfaction of reflect- 
ing that his own act had enabled his father 
to rob his own children — nay, himself, of 
their rightful inheritance, should such be that 
father's pleasure. 

A succession of painful events, however, 
hurried fast on each other after this, and had 
Mr. Lee formed any such resolve, it subse- 



THE CABINET SECRET. Ill 

quently appeared lie had either not the incli- 
nation or the leisure to carry it, out. 

Bernard was hurried off again by the news 
of the premature confinement and dangerous 
illness of his young wife, whose infant had 
died ; and when she recovered, he was himself 
seized with brain fever, the result of all the 
mental excitement and agitation he had of 
late undergone, and for awhile his life was 
despaired of. Natural affection in the old 
father's mind now, for the first time, super- 
seded every other feeling. He hastened to 
his son with a speed the effects of which 
shortened his own life, made acquaintance 
with his obnoxious but fair daughter-in-law, 
and discovered, all too late, that she was not 
unworthy to be the mistress of Lee Manor 
— the mother of a future generation of 
Lees. 

The old man returned home softened, 
altered, troubled in mind, and before Bernard 
and his family, travelling homewards also, 
but more slowly, had touched the soil of their 
native land, he lay at the point of death. 
An express brought his son to his side ere he 



112 THE CyVBINET SECRET. 

breathed his last, but hardly in time to hear 
more from his, father than his dying blessing 
on him and his ; and Bernard had scarcely 
time to realise his loss and gain — for Lee 
Manor was his, no will in favour of the dis- 
tant cousin having been made — before he was 
again prostrated with a worse attack than 
before of his old complaint. 

He recovered at last, but very slowly, and 
Dr. Armsdaile's private opinion, though he 
never uttered it to either wife or daughter, 
was that Mr. Lee was never the same man 
after that last attack, either physically or 
mentally ; and, indeed, even his fond wife 
could not diguise from herself that his memory 
had failed sadly, and that occasionally he was 
weak as a child in some matters, for many 
weary months, though she did fondly flatter 
herself that these symptoms gradually wore 
off. Mr. Stephen Lockstone, meanwhile, was 
in his element ; undisputedly he reigned over 
the whole estate, arranged all Mr. Lee's 
affairs, and negotiated with the harpy credi- 
tors, whom, in an evil hour, years ago, Ber- 
nard had dealt with for ready money and 



THE CABINET SECRET. 113 

present ease, at a heavy cost for the future. 
All this Stephen Lockstone did. With what 
result time had now made only too evi- 
dent ! 

Owing to the painful circumstances under 
which Lee Manor welcomed its new owner 
and his wife, none of the neighbouring gentry 
made immediate calls on them ; and subse- 
quently rumour gave out such strange versions 
of the truth (whence emanating no one could 
discover — Stephen Lockstone might know), 
both as regarded Mrs. Lee's maiden connex- 
ions, the marriage, the family disunion, and 
the cutting off the entail, that people were 
shy of making many advances to intimacy 
with them. This roused the passionate, almost 
unreasoning resentment of Mr. Lee, who 
haughtily drew back from any thing but the most 
distant and formal exchange of civilities, when, 
in process of time, a few calls were made ; and 
this, together with his own increasing weak- 
ness of intellect, had reduced their inter- 
course with the county families generally to 
something so slight, that the young Lees hardly 
knew one of them by name. 

VOL. I. I 



114 THE CABINET SECRET. 

However, for several years things within 
the Manor House appeared to go on most 
quietly and pleasantly ; Mr. Lee^s health im- 
proved, and although his former buoyant 
spirits were replaced by an almost indolent 
quietness, yet he seemed thoroughly to enjoy 
all the home-pursuits and amusements of a 
country gentleman, pursued in a quiet, lazy 
way, and he, his wife, and children were com- 
pletely happy. 

But there was a dark cloud looming over- 
head, though to their happy minds, the wife 
and children unsuspicious and ignorant, the 
husband and father supine and trusting, it 
was entirely invisible ; yet day by day, and 
month, by month it grew and darkened, fast 
and fearfully. 

At last the time arrived when, in Stephen 
Lockstone's opinion, the shadow of that dis- 
mally black thunder chariot should be partially 
displayed before the terrified gaze of the Lord 
of the Manor House ; and Bernard Lee learnt 
that his estate, the home of his forefathers, 
the birthplace of himself, his son — the place 
had grown dearer and more precious every 



THE CABINET SECRET. 115 

year of his later life, till he had come to re- 
gard it almost as sacredly as had his father — 
was heavily mortgaged, hopelessly entangled ; 
that Edward's birthright was indeed alienated 
now, and not by his grandfather's quickly re- 
pented deed, but by his own father's negligent 
supineness. 

Bitter was the knowledge to the shaken 
mind of the already aged Bernard Lee. He 
was stung to the quick, and struggled for a 
while manfully but uselessly — hopelessly. The 
new-born energy and wonderful acuteness 
which, with extreme effort, he brought to bear 
on his personal inquiry into the state of his 
affairs, were begot by efforts too great to be 
persevered in for a long continuance, and at 
terrible risk to his enfeebled intellect. The 
accounts were very complicated — Mr. Lock- 
stone himself seemed hopeless, desponding ; 
and when, in utter despair, the poor father 
hinted at renewing the entail, the lawyer most 
reluctantly, as it appeared, rather mysteriously, 
and yet all too plainly, conveyed to the un- 
happy man that this was a step impossible to 
be taken — the creditors would interfere, and 

l2 



116 THE CABINET SECRET. 

successfully, he feared. It was too late ! 

This was the last drop in the unfortunate 
father's brimming cup of sorrow and self-re- 
proach. His mind nearly gave way under that 
shock, and a discovery suddenly made com- 
pleted the mischief. Though not absolutely 
imbecile, he became so nearly so, that Mr. 
Lockstone was alarmed lest higher authority 
should step in and take the matter up. For 
awhile all further proceedings were arrested, 
and in time Mr. Lee became better ; really 
less capable than before of entering into busi- 
ness, it is true, but safer from the charge of 
incapacity, since there was no one sufficiently 
interested to bring it against him ; as, so long 
as he was not top ostensibly incompetent, 
there was little danger of the fond hearts 
round him interfering in business, in any way 
that could prove him worse than he really 
was. 

It was necessary, however, that the facts of 
the charges on the estate should become known 
to those other innocent dwellers in the old 
Manor House. Gradually, therefore, the truth, 
or something like the truth, was unfolded. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 117 

Carefully, judiciously was it done, Stephen 
Lockstone ! and for awhile no distrust, no dis- 
like or dread of you, arose in those simple 
hearts. All went on instead as you could 
have most desired, but least expected, in one 
instance at least; for Edward, instead of return- 
ing to Oxford, where he had just kept one 
term, resolved, nobly and promptly, to seek 
out his trading uncle in America, and try to be 
as fortunate in winning money as report said the 
latter had been. The women tried to retrench as 
much as in their small knowledge of the reality 
of poverty they believed possible ; and so some 
few more months went by, and then the stroke 
came which brought about the changes de- 
tailed in a former chapter, and Stephen Lock- 
stone was nolongerso implicitly reposed in, even 
by the two helpless, innocent women left be- 
hind by the young son and brother, under his 
care, to guard their helpless broken father. 

Not many days after Mr. Armsdaile's visit, 
one of Mr. Lockstone's, those so much dreaded 
by Mabel, occurred. She was sitting at her 
father's feet, chatting and laughing with him, 
almost as she would have done to a child, 



118 THE CABINET SECRET. 

when the click of their little front gate made 
her look up, and she saw the one person on 
earth whom she had well-nigh learnt to hate, 
gentle as was her nature, coming up the path. 

Her first impulse was to bid Deborah deny 
them to him, but she checked it. To what 
end, since it would but defer the evil day. 
If denied now, he would come back within the 
week, as experience had taught her. No; 
let him come now, and it would be over. Her 
father was tolerable to-day — better fitted to 
see him, and her mother was out. Gone mar- 
keting! It was lucky for the lady of Lee 
Manor, as well as for her reduced household, 
that early acquaintance with the straits of 
a limited income prevented this being such 
an utter impossibility to Iter as it would have 
been to most others fallen from her position in 
the world. 

Stephen Lockstone's was not, had never 
been a firm manly tread, such a one as seems 
to bear witness to the hearty honest purpose 
of him who uses it, and his resolve to fulfil 
that purpose to the best of his ability. No, 
it was a doubtful, hesitating step, ever advanc- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 119 

ing certainly, but edgeways as it seemed, to 
whatever object he had in view. Quite de- 
termined to reach it, but ready to make 
such detours or windings as might hold out 
any prospect of advantage ; and to-day the 
gait seemed less assured, the tread less erect, 
and the sidelong glances from his downcast 
eyes more oblique than ever. 

Mabel thought so, as she watched his ap- 
proach, and was conscious of a creeping shud- 
der pervading her whole frame, such as she 
might have felt at the sight of a noxious ser- 
pent, as she turned to prepare her father for 
his entrance. 

^' Papa, dear, here is Mr. Lockstone coming 
in. I suppose he wishes to have a little busi- 
ness talk with you to-day.^' 

The old man's face, which had been placid, 
almost happy, in its expression, underwent a 
singular change. A worn, harassed, frightened 
look spread over the features, very painful to 
see, but such as the fond daughter had been 
only too familiar with in past days. He looked 
up helplessly at her, and muttered something 
unintelligible; while Deborah, with *^most vine- 



120 THE CABINET SECRET. 

gar aspect," ushered the lawyer into their 
presence. He was the first to speak, though 
with some hesitation and embarrassment. 

Good morning, my dear sir ; I hope I see 
you better to-day. Good morning. Miss Mabel. 
Ah — a fine day — ahem !" 

Mr. Lee still glanced askance at his visitor, 
and up at Mabel, as if asking and relying on 
her assistance, without giving any reply to the 
lawyer ; and she answered him with a cold 
dignity of manner, under which, armour proof, 
as he was, with selfish fraud and insensibility, 
he could not forbear wincing a little. 

" Good morning, Mr. Lockstone. My father, 
as you see, continues very much the same. 
If you have anything on which you wish to 
speak to him, may I beg you will do it at once, 
and make the interview as short as possible. 
Dr. Armsdaile forbids all harassment or ex- 
citement." 

" Yes, yes, I know. Miss Mabel — I'll be as 
careful as possible, but you see it is necessary 
I should see him sometimes. I trouble him as 
little as — I can. 

The last words were almost inaudible. Mabel 



THE CABINET SECRET. 121 

had fixed her clear blue eyes upon the speaker, 
and, in spite of himself, they met his own and 
seemed to look into his very soul. He changed 
colour, and became at last deadly pale. He 
had never met such a look in his life before. 
Sarah's were not pleasant to encounter some- 
times ; but that — he quailed before it. 

Mabel saw her advantage, but unhappily 
she was too young and inexperienced to follow 
it up. Her tender heart melted at the evidently 
genuine confusion of the man. She hoped, in 
her innocence, that he might be repentant, and 
she motioned him to be seated ; an advantage 
he was by no means slow to avail himself of. 

'^ I shan't detain Mr. Lee long, Miss Mabel ; 
it's nothing very important I came for, only a 
paper or two to show him, that he may see 
they are right and attest them." 

Mabel already dimly conscious of her wrong 
move, bowed her head impatiently, and re- 
sumed her own seat close to her father. The 
lawyer pulled some papers from his pocket and 
kept looking first at one then another as if 
waiting for something, but Mabel did not go, 
and presently poor old Mr. Lee, partly himself 



122 THE CABIiNET SECRET. 

again from the very extremity of the agitation 
which dislike to his visitor and any allusion to 
business were now almost certain to bring on, 
said impatiently, 

*' What am I to do, Lockstone ? Let me 
do it, I want to get it over. I'm going out 
directly, Mabel, shan't I ?" 

" Yes, dear father," she whispered, pressing 
his hand, and looking once more towards the 
lawyer, tried again if that glance was indeed 
a spell. No. At least no very potent one 
now. She had lost the chance of making it 
so, for Mr. Lockstone would not meet it, and 
though not absolutely comfortable, even when 
only feeling the scrutiny of those fearless 
truth-speaking eyes, he was not going to alter 
his course for them, or yield a second time to 
any such momentary weakness as had attacked 
him before. 

" You will just sign these papers, my dear 
sir ; I think they are the last, if my memory 
serves me right," and he busied himself with 
the pen and ink before him. 

Mr. Lee took up the pen with a trembling 
hand. The lawyer ran over the papers, which 



THE CABINET SECRET. 123 

were not very important documents, though 
sounding terrible to Mabel's ears, understanding 
as they did not one word of the repeated tau- 
tology of which, as it seemed to her, they were 
composed, and her father began signing them 
with a little irritability of manner, it is true, 
but very passively. 

The last was before him when Mr. Lock- 
stone, suddenly looking up to Mabel with some- 
thing of the same cadaverous look on his face 
as had raised her compassion before, said in a 
broken voice, 

'^ Miss Mabel — I — I am very much ashamed, 
but might I ask for a glass of water. I am 
very faint." 

Poor Mabel ! She knew Deborah was out ! 
She must herself bring that glass of water to 
this arch enemy. She, on whose slightest 
gesture so many eager servants of the house 
had once attended, this man among the num- 
ber. It was hard. For the meanest beggar she 
would have done it, ay, and more than gladly, 
with alacrity, but for this man — for a second 
pride and compassion struggled within — the 
last conquered, and she rose and left the room. 



124 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Mr. Lockstone revived in a most wonderful 
manner as she disappeared in search of the 
water. Had he heard Deborah go out, a 
minute or so before ? 

His proceedings woukl seem to infer as 
much, for no sooner had the door closed than 
he sat up briskly in his chair, laid his hand on 
Mr. Lee's arm, and putting his lips close to 
the terrified old man's ear, hissed out, in a tone 
of semi-command and threat, 

" Is that old deed found yet, sir ? It must 
be, you know, and the sooner the better. Will 
you tell me where it is, or not?^' 

Stephen Lockstone had small sympathy with 
others, small knowledge, therefore, how to deal 
with an infirm old man like Mr. Lee, or he 
would not have attacked him thus. The only 
answer to his query was a helpless cry, al- 
most like that of an infant, and the poor soul 
shook and trembled like one in an ague, with 
his efforts to gasp forth ^* No — no," while his 
whole face was deformed by terror. 

Once more Stephen Lockstone bent forward, 
once more his face approached that of his old 
master, when Mabel opened the door, and the 



THE CABINET SECRET. 125 

lawyer, with a guilty start, sunk again in his 
chair, and covered his face with his hands. 

Mabel was not naturally suspicious ; the 
freshness of youth was about her still, despite 
all that had passed, but as her quick eye de- 
tected her father's state, the thought Hashed 
on her that she had been purposely deluded 
into leaving the room. She flew to her father's 
side and fondly put her arms about him. He 
clung to her desperately and fearfully, in a way 
it was pitiable to behold in a man who should 
have been yet strong and hearty, protecting 
instead of protected by that slight young girl. 

" What have you dared to do to my father, 
sir?" demanded Mabel, in a voice so stern and 
commanding it startled herself. 

'^ I ?" cried Mr. Lockstone, who had been 
languidly sipping the water, his hand still 
over his eyes, and now prepared for his 
role. '^ I done ? God bless my soul !" looking 
up. " What is the matter, my dear sir ? 
Shall I call assistance, Miss Mabel ?" 

" No, Mr. Lockstone, but one thing, if you 
will do, and at once, I shall be obliged to you," 
and Mabel, her eyes flashing, glanced too 



126 THE CABINET SECRET. 

significantly towards the door for even Mr. 
Lockstone to be able wilfully to misunderstand 
her desire. 

He did not at that instant feel equal to re- 
sistance even, and slowly rising, muttered 
further embarrassed assurances of his having 
done and said nothing ; and with a farewell, 
to which neither father nor daughter re- 
sponded, took himself off at last. 



127 



CHAPTER IX. 

CHRISTMAS was come. Christmas! that 
time of hospitality and happiness, of 
family reunion and Christian thanksgiving, 
of jovial merry-makings with equals and 
liberal charities to inferiors — that time when, 
of all others, if at all, a man would think 
seriously of fulfilling his part on earth as a 
Christian, small as that part might be, in 
promoting '* peace on earth, and good-will 
amongst his fellows !" 

Sarah Lockstone, it is to be hoped, did 
hers, so far as her own family, at least, were 
concerned, when she vigorously kept her 
father up to the mark, and untiringly fought 
against the wavering moods which often en- 
dangered the keeping of that much-talked-of 
promise — the spending Christmas at Lee 
Manor. 

It was hard work, no doubt, and the scenes 



128 THE CABINET SECRET. 

ensuing from her valiant prowess were 
certainly more stormy than peaceful while 
enacting ; but she gained her end at last, and 
then, one may trust, peace was ensured in the 
family for good — on that point at least. But 
they were not to move till Christmas Eve ; all 
her efforts failed to accomplish a speedier 
transit. Before Christmas Eve it was not to 
be, and as the time approached her father's 
face, consenting though he was, grew more 
and more anxious and gloomy. 

The night before they were to leave High 
Street, Hester and Sarah wei'e together in 
their room; the one already in bed, but watch- 
ing her sister with wide open though languid 
eyes, the other sitting in front of the fire, and 
looking into it fixedly, her raven hair set free, 
and hanging about her shoulders in very 
picturesque disorder. 

A striking picture Sarah would have made 
at this moment, truly ; her handsome features 
in repose, the cynical expression on them less 
visible than in general, and her attitude such 
as gave her figure just that unbending ease 
which it sometimes lacked. She would have 



THE CABINET SECRET. 129 

been a splendid model at that instant for a 
Juno brooding in her privacy how best to 
counteract her Jove in some actions thwarting 
her own imperial will. 

*' Are you going to sit there all night, 
Sarah ?" asked her sister at last. 

*^ Not quite. At least, I have not resolved 
that I will yet, unless you are particularly 
anxious that I should. Keep a vigil through 
our last twelve hours of darkness in this old 
house ? Ha ! ha !" and she laughed a low 
peculiar laugh. 

'^ How can you be so silly, Sarah ? Of 
course I only want you to go to bed, and not 
keep me awake so. Oh ! I am so tired V 

Ah ! that's a novelty, isn't it, Hester ? I 
should have thought Messrs. Geldfinder and 
Felmer's small doses of incense had not been 
so wearying as all that ! A powerful narcotic 
some folks might have found them !" 

" There you are again ! I can't bear you, 
Sarah, when you're in those moods. I wish 
you'd get some one for yourself, and then per- 
haps you wouldn't tease me so — that I do !" 

" A very kind sisterly wish ! Thank you ! 

VOL. I. K 



130 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Now couldn't you spare one of your two or 
three, I may say, if not more, to me, don't you 
think ? Turn one of them over to-morrow ! 
Don't you think he'd be willing ?" and Sarah 
turned her flashing, mocking eyes to her 
sister's face. 

" I don't know — I don't care. How tire- 
some you are !" and Hester coloured a little 
— a very little. 

'^ Ah !" and again she laughed her low 
mischievous laugh. She knew if Hester was 
touchy on one especial point, or proud of one 
possession, it was concerning the lovers she 
had and her sister had not. '* However," 
she proceeded, *^I don't want to make any such 
bargain with you to-night, Hester, so you 
needn't be afraid. One thing I was going to 
say. What if we shouldn't stay at Lee Manor 
after all ?" 

" What ?" cried Hester, and she absolutely 
raised herself in bed, so great was her excite- 
ment, and looked wild and terrified at her 
sister. Sarah watched her composedly, and 
with much apparent satisfaction, for some 
time, but when the interrogative was repeated, 



THE CABINET SECRET. 131 

with the addition, " Whatever can you mean?" 
she condescended to answer. 

" Not very much ; but if the very prospect 
of going there makes our brave father look as 
he has done this last week, why, I don't think 
he'll stay there very long, that's all !" 

'' But, Sarah. Oh ! dear. Surely you'll 
do something ? If he doesn't stay, surely we 
can ? Oh ! dear I It would be worse than 
not going at all !" 

^^ For once in your life you are right, 
Hester. It would be much worse, but not in 
the sense you mean." She paused, and leaned 
thoughtfully on her hand, then went on, more 
to herself than her sister. ^' To get acquainted 
with the neighbourhood — just gain one's point, 
and then shrink back again. Oh ! no, it will 
not do at all." 

*^No, of course it won't. What put such a 
dreadful notion into your head, Sarah, I can- 
not think." 

*^Have you not seen how your father's 
altered, nor how sour he begins to look now 
the evil day is come ?" 

" Oh ! I don't know, he never looks very 

k2 



132 THE CABINET SECRET. 

pleasant, does he? Is that all? I was afraid 
you knew something." 

"So I do, Hester, a good many things. 
Oh ! you need not get frightened again, 
nothing you will think very dreadful. It 
won't affect Mr. Geldfinder, or Mr. Felmer, or 
young Turner, or the Hitchcocks. Not even 
you — not even you, in a very great degree. 
But I do know when a man is too great a 
coward to reap the harvest he has taken such 
care to sow, and is willing, almost ready, to 
shrink from laying even one little finger on it 
himself." 

" Sarah, you are very tiresome. You 
frighten me to death, and then say it is all 
nothing. I wish you wouldn't !" the ordinary 
peevish burden of her song. 

" I never said it was nothing. Only nothing 
that need trouble you very much, if you play 
your cards well, Hester. And now I'm going 
to bed, and don't mean to talk any more." 

Hester murmured a dissatisfied answer, but 
she knew from experience how useless it was 
to seek to get more from her sister after such 
a fiat had gone forth, and both the girls — 



THE CABINET SECRET. 133 

heiresses of Lee Manor now — were soon asleep. 

Christmas ! Christmas Eve ! Bright, clear, 
and frosty dawned the morning of that day. 
Not only was it Christmas, but the real, old- 
fashioned English Christmas — snow upon the 
ground two feet deep or more in untrodden 
places, where traffic and labour failed to come ; 
the beaten roads hard and ringing ; the air 
crisp and pleasant, though sharp and a little 
biting, it may be ; the sun bright and cheer- 
ing after the day was old enough for him to 
have strength to dissipate the morning mist ; 
in short, it was a bright, fine, joyous Christ- 
mas-time, so far as genial weather could make 
it so. 

The High Street of Merestown was by no 
means deserted when Mr. Lockstone's carriage 
drew up for the first time before his door. 
There were many happy faces to be seen 
there — boys and girls home for their holidays, 
all brimming over with the joy of freedom 
and home once more ; quiet mothers, equally 
happy, but less demonstrative ; a few proud 
fathers, inveigled away from business or study 
by the young generation " for a walk or 



154: THE CABINET SECRET. 

shopping, just this once, because it was 
Christmas-time ;'' young men and maidens 
holiday-making, too, and perhaps making 
something else, one or two of them, just a 
little, if one might judge from appearances, 
•which strongly indicated that a certain little 
god had been at some mischief with bow and 
arrow. 

Some, if not all of these passers-by, turned 
more than once to look back at the handsome 
carriage, as it stood there with its prancing 
steeds. The Lockstone daughters were both 
looking at it, too, from the shadow of their 
old-fashioned window. Hester, with quite a 
brightened face stirred from her ordinary lan- 
guid indifference by gratified pride. It was 
delightful to know they should not leave the 
shabby old home so stylishly, unwatched. If 
the Fates were but propitious, even Mr. Geld- 
finder himself might pass to or from his 
luncheon at the moment, and young Turner's 
head was alreadv visible over a distant blind, 
taking a critical, interested survey of the 
whole concern. It was very gratifying — ^just 
what it should be, and she was well satisfied 



THE CABINET SECRET. 135 

accordingly. Sarah's sharp black eyes were 
watching, too, but with a far different air. 
Gratified she certainly was, to a certain ex- 
tent ; but only from conscious power. It was 
her will that had thus arranged the manner 
of their flitting ; her influence, the time. 
Except for that, she would perchance have 
been indifferent about the matter. A scornful 
amusement was now the dominant expression 
on her handsome face, as she curled her red 
lip contemptuously. 

Stephen Lockstone, meanwhile, was pacing 
his own room with hurried steps, conscious 
that the hour had come for him to begin a new 
life, to come forth in another character, and 
feeling incompetent to meet that hour as he 
was conscious he ought, as Sarah would re- 
quire him. He twisted his damp hands ner- 
vously together, glanced fearfully at the little 
common clock hanging in one corner of his den, 
and then stopped to listen if the carriage was 
really come ; he had heard it stop, knew it 
must be his own, and yet pertinaciously clung 
to the impossible chance that it was not there. 
In vain. The time is come, and if he can- 



136 THE CABINET SECRET. 

not meet it as he should, there is one deter- 
mined he shall meet it as he may. 

The door opens suddenly, and Mr. Lock- 
stone, in his startled fright, trembles before 
his own footman, after narrowly escaping fall- 
ing into his arms. 

The man was well-trained ; but if the 
muscles of his mouth were adamant, his eyes 
danced with amusement as he said, 

^^If you please, sir, Miss Lockstone desired 
me to let you know they are w^aiting.'^ 

What ! in his own old place of business, 
that old secret chamber which had witnessed 
so many self-colloquies, and could tell so much 
if it could but speak — even here, was he not 
still the lawyer Lockstone yet in here ? Mr. 
Stephen Lockstone, your act's consequences 
will follow you everywhere — ay, even to the 
grave ! No place is sacred from their intru- 
sion ; and in this very place, where the first 
thought of what might be, what is now, came 
to your scheming brain, so here begins that 
other life which looked so fair and full of 
promise then ! 

The grand old trees of the Manor Park 



THE CABINET SECRET. 137 

looked noble and magnificent in their shining 
winter garments of bright hoar frost, with here 
and there a glittering icicle depending from 
their branches, that the sun's rays had been 
too feeble to melt in the cold atmosphere, as 
the Lockstones skirted round the ample boun- 
dary of their new domain. But no one noticed 
them. Mr. Lockstone was not looking at 
anything apparently, his head rested on his 
breast, so as completely to conceal his face, 
and he never moved. Perhaps he was asleep. 
His wife seemed half afraid of her position by 
his side, and wholly occupied in keeping the 
very hem of her garments from touching or 
disturbing either him or Sarah. Hester 
leaned back luxuriously^ with half-closed eyes, 
and was enjoying the ease of her position and 
the rapid motion with exceeding zest. Sarah, 
as usual, watched them all, alive to the pe- 
culiarities of each, and herself well amused 
with them, as she journeyed. True, she now 
and then looked from the window, but only to 
note what progress they had made. What 
were trees to her, when she had human beings 
— her fellow-creatures — to study and to laugh 
at? 



138 THE CABINET SECRET. 

The carnage rolled rapidly on ; one sweep 
more, and they stood before the iron gates 
which should admit them to their much- 
coveted paradise. They were not open, and a 
flush rose to Sarah's brow as she perceived it. 

" Father, why are not the gates open as 
they ought to be ? Is this fitting welcome to 
a place for its master ?" and she looked fixedly 
at her father as she spoke. 

Hestartedathervoice, and glanced hurriedly 
round, then gathered his senses about him, 
and as he too became aware of the negligence, 
grew into Stephen Lockstone again, and, 
angry and disturbed, looked from the carriage 
window. 

There was a little lodge at the gates, small, 
but very picturesque, which had made the 
chief feature in many an old sketch of Mabe.rs, 
with its ivy-covered chimneys and curling 
smoke. No smoke, however, was there now ; 
the pretty windows were shuttered and 
desolate — the whole place silent and deserted 
as the grave. 

**This is some mistake. How is this?'' 
said Mr. Lockstone hurriedly, as his eye 



THE CABINET SECRET. 139 

noted these facts, and the locked gates, which 
forbade farther progress into his new property. 

The servant, meantime, had descended, and 
was shaking the gates, and calling for their 
absent guardian in no measured tones. The 
keen air, which had chilled him on his seat by 
the coachman, was by no means a pleasant 
atmosphere to be kept waiting in longer than 
could be possibly avoided. 

Mr. Lockstone's pallor returned upon him 
as he gazed blankly at the silent lodge. The 
old couple who had dwelt there as long as he 
could remember even, he had believed, hoped 
would remain still. He had held out induce- 
ments for them to do so, had eagerly striven 
to play the condescending landlord and patron 
to them. He could not afford to lose one old 
retainer from the Lee property. The servants 
had left to a man. The tenants were many 
of them about to follow their example, all who 
could. They were a faithful race, and had 
most of them lived with the Lees, from father 
to son, for many generations, and the world 
was a little younger, too, in those days. 
Mutations on so grand a scale were not fre- 



140 THE CABINET SECRET. 

quent in the county, and neither servants 
nor tenants regarded a change of masters and 
fealty as a matter trifling and easy as a change 
of clothes. 

They were no worshippers of new lights 
for the sake of the warmth they might bestow. 
Besides, Stephen Lockstone, the rising sun of 
Lee Manor, was not liked by those who loved 
*' the family." He was feared and despised 
much ; loved, not at all. Hardly a cottage 
dweller would remain under the new land- 
lord. Despise them, oh ! ye more enlightened 
philosophers ! They were blind, yea, blind as 
moles or bats to their own interests. 

Stephen Lockstone gazed, but no sign of 
life, of living creature, was there about that 
quiet, desolate little lodge. The servant had 
suspended his shakes and shouts in despair. 
Not a sound broke the oppressive silence of 
those few moments, during wdiich they all 
looked forth in despair on the fast-locked gates, 
the deserted cottage. The very horses stood 
motionless ; not a jingle of their bright har- 
ness, not a deep-drawn breath was heard 
in that dull, heavy stillness. The raw, 



THE CABINET SECRET. 141 

piercing cold of the day, the dreary, misty air 
in which, as the afternoon drew on, they were 
enveloped, seemed for the moment so to have 
benumbed their faculties that they scarcely 
knew how to act. 

Where were the old couple ? How were 
they to enter their own park ? 

Suddenly, as they were all looking from 
one window, there appeared at the other a 
face, worn, wrinkled, lined by age and suffer- 
ing, but full of resolution and fire still, lighted 
by eyes dark, piercing, and flashing as Sarah's 
own, full now of anger, mixed with a strange 
contempt, as they looked first at one, then at 
another inmate of the carriage. 

The face belonged to a tall old woman, 
wrapped in a red cloak, which she had drawn 
tigMy round her. Ordinarily she stooped so 
much from the weight of those many years 
which had perfectly silvered her once raven 
locks, that you had no idea what a Meg 
Merrilies she was in stature. But she looked 
Meg her very self now, as she met Stephen 
Lockstone's startled glance, and a smile of 
defiant scorn curled her lip. 



142 THE CABINET SECRET. 

He was willing to cling to a belief that all 
was right, that some mistake had made the 
lodge desolate so unexpectedly, and kept 
them there. He would not see lier expression, 
but changing his own look and tone to almost 
cringing ones, began, 

" Oh ! dame, here you are," when she burst 
forth fiercely, impetuously, 

" Yes, I am here, Stephen Lockstone, and 
I wish I were in my grave instead, before I 
see what I see this day — the servant in his 
master's place. D'ye think any blessing will 
light on ye here, man ? / tell you no. As 
the woman says in the Bible, for bad woman 
though she was, it were^a true word she spoke, 
that the man had no peace Avho took his 
king's place ; so will there be no peace for 
you here. If he slew his master, you kave 
done worse ; better our master had died out- 
right, than been driven to the state he has, 
and from here ; and you, how dare ye come 
here ? — don't ye fear the very walls will fall 
about your ears, you that have fattened and 
prospered on the wages of father and sou ? 
Ye to turn them out, to rob them of their 



THE CABINET SECRET. 143 

rights,, who was born to live and die here, to 
send the beautiful boy, as should come to the 
Manor, like every Lee before him, for more 
years than man can count, over the sea, and 
steal away his own ! Aren't ye afraid, Stephen 
Lockstone ?" 

She paused a moment — not for breath ; old 
— feeble, as she generally was — energy and ex- 
citement had supplied that, as it had given her 
the strength and power to regain for awhile 
the height and uprightness of her youth ; but 
she paused as though to emphasize the heinous- 
ness and enormity of that man's crime whom 
she was thus apostrophising. Mr. Lockstone 
appeared powerless to interrupt her. None 
but Sarah would have dared; and she — she 
chose to see the play played out without in- 
terfering. 

The aged woman, her furrowed face one 
glow of excitement, her dark eyes flashing 
sparks of fire, one withered hand held up 
aloft in an attitude of warning, looked the 
very personification of a Sibyl of the ancient 
times, as she went on with heightened voice 
and threatening gesture : 



144 THE CABINET SECRET. 

*^ Do ye think to come here and live as 
those did before ye, who had a right to the 
place ? Will ye and yer upstart brood within 
there live honoured and respected, think ye, 
and die in a good old age, wept and regretted? 
I tell you no I Ye have robbed the weak and 
the feeble, the young and the woman, and a 
curse will foller ye so long as ye hold yer ill- 
gotten gain ! Did ye think 1 was going to 
wait on yer pleasure and eat yer bread ? Not 
I ! Sooner would I and my old man, grey- 
headed and feeble as we are, beg our bread 
from door to door through the snow of this 
winter ! Go and seize on yer fine new home. 
May ye never know an hour's peace within it! 
May yer heart ache worse, ay, a thousand 
times worse, than theirs ever have ye turned 
out ! Go, and an old woman's bitterest 
heart's curse go with ye, Stephen Lockstone !" 

She violently flung the heavy gate-key into 
the carriage as she spoke, and was gone. It 
alighted in Hester's lap, who gave a startling 
scream, and this was the Lockstones' Avelcome 
to the Manor. 



145 



CHAPTER X. 

l/TEANWHILE how had things been pro- 
ill grassing at No. 5 Newman's Buildings ? 
Very well, on the whole ; the infirm old man, 
who should have been its stay and support, 
was no more like what a man of his years 
should have been, it is true, no less a wreck 
of his former manhood, still he had been 
shielded by Mabel's vigilence from any more 
interviews with Mr. Lockstone, and he was 
placid and quiescent, if nothing more. Mabel 
and her mother, the two most troubled, the 
only active hearts in the little household, had 
been very anxious regarding that communica- 
tion to Edward, which, after many troubled 
cogitations on the matter, they had at last 
resolved on sending according to good Dr. 
Armsdaile's advice ; and when at last it had 
gone forth on its bitter embassy, they waited 
very fearfully, and in much disquietude, for 

VOL. I. L 



146 THE CABINET SECRET. 

the result, in anxious pain and foreboding as 
to its effect on the well-loved son and brother, 
but beyond this they were happier. Almost 
content in the new home, enjoying a species 
of repose and assurance, in this end of all the 
painful uncertainties and changes in which 
they had previously lived, which was very wel- 
come, and when at last an answer came from 
Edward, more satisfactory than either had 
dared to hope for, there seemed something of 
happiness in life again ; that letter appeared 
for the moment as the herald of a time of 
jubilee, a year of release. 

Dr. Armsdaile had been quite right about 
Edward. His answer surprised, almost disap- 
pointed, while it delighted his mother and 
sister. True, there was much indignation, great 
wrath against Stephen Lockstone, and some 
lamentation ; but there was also a great deal 
about his own new life, his hopes for the 
future, his interest in all the novelty sur- 
rounding him. The one object of his life, 
over which he had so brooded the last year of 
liis home-life, in which alone he had seemed to 
live, might be his cheif aim still ; but it was 



THE CABINET SECRET. 147 

not SO to the exclusion of every other, as it 
had been. There was great comfort in this, 
as regarded Edward himself, and so his mother 
said and felt ; but Mabel was a little, a very 
little dissatisfied. She need not have been so 
very fearful of applying to him then — they 
might have had this consolation before. Lee 
Manor was not so all-absorbing to Edward as 
it had been ; and Mabel sighed, travelled up 
to her own little chamber, looked towards that 
point of the compass where her early home 
was lying quiescent under its usurpation, 
thought over all her brother said, felt a little 
angry with him, wept a few hot tears, scolded 
herself for being selfish and unreasonable, and 
so came down again better pleased, and re- 
solved to think it all right. At any rate, 
there was great comfort in knowing an effectual 
stop would now be put to Mr. Lockstone's 
pitiless persecutions of her father. 

And there was no real reason for condemn- 
ing Edward as a traitor to his boyhood's 
creed ; even the feeling of sorrow, the linger- 
in g: sentiment which Mabel could not banish 
with the others, would have departed could 

l2 



148 THE CABINET SECRET. 

she have seen and perfectly comprehended 
her brother's state of mind. The young man's 
love for his home, the birthright of himself 
and his forefathers, was just as vivid as ever — 
it was still the darling object of his life to 
redeem the beloved Manor, and make it their 
very own once again ; and in the buoyancy 
of his young spirit, he clung to this hope yet, 
even after the sad tidings of its being finally 
given up to Stephen Lockstone had reached 
him. His travels, his new occupation, above 
all his association for the first time with many 
fresh and different minds, had matured his 
character and ripened his experience in these 
few months, as years passed in the old life at 
home would have failed to do. The passion- 
ate, unreasoning longing for personal oppo- 
sition to Stephen Lockstone's machinations, 
the despairing boyish rebellion and resistance 
to the inevitable, was calmed into the man's 
cool forethought and calculating planning. 
He was as resolved as ever that if a man 
could accomplish it, Lee Manor should be their 
o^vn again ; but he knew that time, patience, 
and steady work were the only sure weapons 



THE CABINET SECRET. 149 

to fight tlie battle with — he had become re- 
conciled to their adoption, and willing in the 
interim to make the best use of his own time 
and opportunities in winning knowledge, and 
even sharing enjoyment among scenes and 
objects not all so immediately connected with 
this chief aim of his young life, though chief 
aim it still remained. Well was it for Edward 
and all others that this was so, that his youth- 
ful wisdom, joined to his uncle's lessons, had 
shown him the reasonableness of such a 
course ; and that the change and variety of his 
life had given him strength of spirit to adopt 
and persevere in it. 



250 



CHAPTER XL 

CHRISTMAS and the New Year had come 
and gone, passed by on the restless wings 
of that old compatriot of our mortal world, 
Time ; and the Lockstone's moved and lived, 
thought and speculated, in the old halls and 
pleasant chambers of the Manor. Living in 
it was no longer a novelty ; yet still the in- 
habitants scarcely looked at home there — that 
is, the master and mistress. The latter, de- 
pressed, listless, seemed more subdued, less 
able to take her own place in the household 
than ever — the strange large rooms, the new 
luxury of her life, had no charm for her. What 
little of a woman's happiness she had known 
since her girlhood had been lived through 
in the forsaken old house in the High Street 
— there her babies, her own then, had lain 
upon her bosom, clung to her knees. Here 
all was cold, desolate, telling only of the 



THE CABINET SECRET. 151 

hopeless dull present ; and there was nothing 
even for her to do — she missed the homely 
housewifely cares belonging to the country 
attorney's wife ; out of character — degrading, 
Sarah said, to the lady of Lee Manor. 

For the lawyer, he was as moody, restless, 
and miserable as he well could be ; so deep and 
absorbing were his fits of gloom and distrac- 
tion, he even forgot sometimes to snub his un- 
happy wife ; and Sarah herself, when she did 
attack him, which was not often just now, 
sometimes failed to rouse him. At last, partly 
through her proposal, partly, as it appeared, 
because living always in the Manor House 
was no longer endurable, Stephen Lockstone 
betook himself regularly to his own old den 
in Merestown. Daily he resorted thither ; 
sometimes he would remain away a whole 
week ; never were more than half a dozen of 
his waking hours passed in his grand new 
home, and in those he was so uneasy, so rest- 
less and excited, that it seemed doubtful, as 
Sarah had partly foreseen, whether he would 
long come there at all. 

In Hester the removal had effected little 



152 THE CABINET SECRET. 

alteration, beyond, perchance, a little increase 
of indolence, if that were possible, and decided 
additions to her natural affectation. Mr. Geld- 
finder, being the most clever of all her devoted 
squires in ministering to her foibles and weak- 
nesses, was becoming, perhaps, the most 
favoured among the suitors who found Lee 
Manor to the full as accessible as the High 
Street, and there seemed some probability 
that the wooing would end before long in 
marriage. Had the gentry of the neighbour- 
hood come forward at once, as had been the 
secret conviction and eager hope of the family, 
it is possible that higher views might have 
been entertained for and by the co-heiress ; 
but they had hitherto kept provokingly, de- 
terminedly aloof, and even Mr. Lockstone 
encouraged the present aspirant. If he did 
feel an interest himself in anything about Lee 
Manor and his family now, it was apparently 
that his daughter should marry at once. 

As to Sarah, she was Sarah Lockstone, 
neither more nor less, whether in Merestown, 
High Street, or in Lee Manor ; and yet, of all 
the family, she alone seemed to fit into the 



THE CABINET SECRET. 153 

new home and the new life, to become 
naturalized, or rather to appear a part of the 
place from the first. For awhile she let 
things alone, and watched the progress of 
affairs in her usual cold, amused, critical way; 
but at last she resumed her old habit, and 
commenced indirectly guiding her father's 
uncertain course. 

^* Do you ever happen to see your bailiff, 
sir ?" she asked, one day ; " or is he such a 
paragon among his fellows that he interprets 
your wishes unspoken, and carries them out 
regardless of his own interests ?" 

Mr. Lockstone started from one of his 
gloomy reveries, and changed colour like a 
guilty man, as he met his resolved daughter's 
unswerving eye fixed on him. 

" Yes, of course — why not ? What can you 
know about it, Sarah ?" 

** Oh ! nothing, of course, only I was look- 
ing round the home farm yesterday, and I 
saw quite enough to make me remember the 
master's eye was the only one to find out the 
stag, and I chanced to hear that Tuffnell has 
had no orders from you since Christmas Eve." 



154 THE CABINET SECRET. 

*^ I — I have been busy, and it is all new 
work to us yet/' returned Mr. Lockstone, 
helplessly. He was so changed, he seemed to 
succumb without a word, confess himself to 
blame without one attempt at justification." 

*' Indeed !" and Sarah's lofty eyebrows 
arched in high contempt — '^ it appeared to 
come quite naturally to you formerly when 
the Lees' old bailiff came regularly to Meres- 
town for direction. Has the land undergone 
any curious geological change since your open 
occupation of it, or have the principles of 
agriculture altered ? I was not aware of 
it." 

He winced beneath the calm irony of her 
words. His head drooped, and he seemed to 
have absolutely lost the power to answer her 
at all. She looked down on him calmly, 
curiously, scarcely with contempt, and yet it 
was more with that feeling than any pity that 
she proceeded to relieve him from his pitiful 
perplexity, by suggesting a remedy to the 
uneasiness and falterings of his mind. 

^^ Why should your living here make so 
much difference in your arrangements ?" she 



THE CABINET SECRET. 155 

asked. ^' You choose to go to the office as 
sedulously as if your bread depended on it 
still — why not let TufFnell meet you there, as 
usual ?" ' 

Mr. Lockstone looked eagerly up — a ray of 
comfort seemed about to visit his wretchedly 
unhinged mind ; but before he could answer 
in words a shadow crossed his face, and his 
daughter saw the thought that brought it, 
and again relieved his embarrassment. 

" No ; there would be nothing strange in 
it, as you persist in your own daily visits to 
Merestown — why should not the bailiff give 
in his accounts on market days at the old 
office, as he used to do ? You are so little at 
home '' — she laid a stress on the word ; 
" strangers may well fancy importunate 
business carries you over there — the winding 
up of your legal affairs, perhaps — before their 
transfer " 

" I tell you, Sarah, I am not.'' 

" Nay, why expend so much needless 
breath ? Don't / know as well as you that 
you never intend giving up those precious old 
haunts to anyone else ? No. It would be 



156 THE CABINET SECRET. 

contamination, wouldn't it ? — for one party, 
at least," she added, with a cruel, searching 
look, and the curled lip more mocking than 
ever. 

Mr. Lockstone winced. Sarah had greatly- 
relieved his mind, and he had been almost 
grateful to her a minute ago. Now he felt 
he had never so nearly hated her. Her eyes 
were on him still, and presently she gave a 
short, scarcely pleasant laugh ; then she 
spoke in her ordinary tone, but her words 
sounded more like a command than a 
question. 

" You will follow this plan ?" 

** Yes," he replied, sullenly — " it will suit 
me best, I think." 

" Ah ! I wonder the shadow of the old 
place did not suggest it to you. Whatever 
you allow yourself to become here, surely in 
his own den Lawyer Lockstone might find 
something of the man still !" 

Her father winced again, and fidgeted 
towards the door. 

" It is time I was going, Sarah — I cannot 
stop now." 



THE CABINET SECRET. 157 

Sarah looked at the timepiece. 

'^ Indeed ! — a quarter to nine yet. Ah ! I 
understand ; you are going round by the 
Home Farm to bid TufFnell go to you to-day, 
and will be picked up there. An excellent 
plan. I congratulate you on originating an 
idea again." 

Mr. Lockstone glanced up at her from 
beneath his bushy eyebrows, but she was 
looking intently at the ornaments on her 
watch-guard, which she was rearranging. 
Her whole attention appeared absorbed in this 
occupation. The expression on her face quite 
baffled him. Had she known he had never 
even remembered it was market-day — had 
only sought to escape her, and so mocked at 
him as usual, or were her words for once the 
genuine expression of her thoughts ? It 
might be possible, and he drew a long, 
relieved breath in that hope, as he answered, 

" Yes — no need to delay till next week." 

" Not the least, and you need not trouble 
about your orders to the coachman. I am 
going in with you this morning, and will let 
him know myself." 



158 THE CABINET SECRET. 

** You !" faltered Mr. Lockstone, in dis- 
mayed astonishment. 

" Yes — why not ? Is it so very wonderful 
that I should share your close aifection for 
the old house ?" 

^^ But what will you do all day ? — there's 
nothing. You'll find it very dull, Sarah." 

" Never mind, thank you — I have my 
business to attend to also ; you need not 
concern yourself so paternally on my 
account." 

Her scornful smile had more of bitterness 
than usual as she spoke, significantly 
adding — 

" I am resolved to go." 

Then it was no use to say any more — no 
use to try and defer the jaunt to the Home 
Farm, to hope for a reprieve in that matter of 
Tufi'nell ; and so the master of Lee Manor 
thought very ruefully as he slowly left the 
room with lingering steps and troubled 
brow. He must go. He must follow the 
course his clever, unyielding, terrible daiigh- 
ter had suggested. She would follow him in 
the carriage ; she would know whether he had 



THE CABINET SECRET. 159 

followed the plan chalked out for him. Yes, 
there was no help for it, and he went. 

Sarah watched him from the room, and, 
by-and-by, out of the side-door leading away 
through the shrubbery to the Home Farm — 
watched him with the usual scoffing smile at 
first ; then, as he slowly disappeared behind 
the shrubs in the last visible turn of the 
winding path, she walked away from the 
window to the fire, and stood leaning with 
her elbow on the old carved mantelpiece, a 
slight frown contracting her broad white 
forehead, and a look of intense thought on 
her face ; finally, as she at last quitted her 
resting-place, and passed out of the room to 
prepare for her drive, she murmured, half 
aloud, 

" There is something more behind — some- 
thing I do not know — I feel certain of it. 
Never mind ; I will know yet, and see if 
there is really the least foundation for this 
childish weakness." 

And then Sarah walked upstairs with her 
usual haughty mien, rang for her maid, and 
as the stable clock clanged nine, stood ready 



160 THE CABINET SECRET. 

equipped in the hall, at the same instant that 
the carriage drove rapidly to the door — the 
open carriage which took Mr. Lockstone 
daily into Merestown now. Her maid stood 
ready with the wraps, and the butler hurried 
forward in astonishment to open the door. 
She got in, allowed the obsequious servants 
to wrap her warmly up, and then, as foot- 
man and butler still stood waiting, said 
sharply, 

" That will do — shut the door, if you 
please, and bid Drayson drive to the Home 
Farm." 

She was obeyed, but the men stood watch- 
ing her for a moment, in spite of the cold, as 
the carriage drove off, before retiring into the 
warm hall. 

" She'd make a rare queen now, wouldn't 
she ?" half-asked, half-affirmed the younger 
man, admiration and awe on his face. 

A damson, the well-trained butler, just 
fresh from the service of Lady Harpstone, 
and double his understrapper's age, shrugged 
his shoulders. 

«« Um — umph ! — she's nearly the hand- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 161 

somest woman I ever saw, James, and I've 
seen a rare lot in my time ; but I'd sooner 
have her for my queen than my daughter any 
day/' and he turned into the house. 

Not without reason had Mr. Lockstone 
shrank from visiting the Home Farm. True, 
the residents there, Tuffiiell and his family, 
were his own creatures, in a manner installed 
there by him, not very long before the Lees 
had gone away — people honest and straight- 
forward in their way. Mr. Lockstone 
thought honesty in a bailiff very desirable, 
but he preferred it in one not of the neigh- 
bourhood — in one who neither knew nor cared 
much about the real family of the Manor. 
The Home Farm, however, was frequently 
visited by others — those who came to see 
the bailiff on business, especially on market 
days — and as the master walked up to' the 
gate, he saw his worst forebodings realized. 
He had dreaded to meet some of those 
tenants who looked on him as a usurper ; and 
there, standing side by side with Tuffnell, he 
saw Reuben Hernshaw, the one man of all 
others whom he most disliked, tenant of tho 

VOL. I. M 



162 THE CABINET SECRET. 

best farm on the Manor estate, with a favour- 
able lease, seven years of which had yet to 
run, but already, as he knew, eager to cancel 
that lease, even at a loss ; anything rather 
than stay — unless compelled to do so — under 
the new dynasty. His light cart, with his 
eldest boy as driver, stood now near the gig, 
waiting for Mr. Tuffnell. The man advanced 
down the walk, and Tuffnell exclaimed — 

" Here comes the master himself, Mr. Hern- 
shaw, you had better speak to him on your 
little matter." 

Mr. Hernshaw drew himself up stiffly. " No, 
thank you, Mr. Tuffnell, I've said my say to 
you, you'll do the best you can for me, and 
now I'm in haste to get to market ;" and he 
hurried on, returning Mr. Lockstone's la- 
bouredly bland " good morning, Hernshaw," 
by the slightest of bows, and jumping into his 
cart, which, as his boy shook the reins, disap- 
peared rapidly along the drive. 

Tuffnell looked on at this scene with a half 
puzzled, half amused air, and after receiving 
Mr. Lockstone's directions as to meeting him 
at his office, said, " Hernshaw's been about his 



THE CABINET SECRET. 163 

lease again, sir. He'd better have spoken to 
you at once." 

" What is it ? why can^t he rest now he's 
had his answer," was the impatient rejoinder. 

'^ So I told him ; but now he wants leave to 
underlet on certain conditions, sir ;" and TuiF- 
nell shrugged his shoulders. Mr. Lockstone 
muttered one of his favorite expletives. 

^^ And that he shan't have; the man's a fool !" 

" Some folks do like to quarrel with their 
own bread and butter," the bailiff replied re- 
flectively ; he was by no means sure his master 
did not, in another fashion from Hernshaw. 
Altogether, shrewd Northerner as he was, the 
general aspect of affairs as to Lee Manor 
estate, was a riddle to him just at present, and 
he was by no means clear which way his own 
feelings tended. People had a right to fortunes 
honestly come by. Ups and downs had ever 
been in life, and ever would be. It was a 
pity one man couldn't get rich without an- 
other's being made poor, certainly ; but 
some always lost money, some always won it. 
Things must be taken as they were and made 
the best of. He was sorry for the Lees, the 

M 2 



164 THE CABINET SECRET. 

women folk especially ; but if that simple old 
man had chosen to fool away all he had, why, 
surely the man who'd got it, and done his best 
for him all along, too, was the right person to 
succeed him — some one must. Better he than 
a stranger. 'Twas heard to quarrel with a 
man for doing his best, because that best had 
won him fortune." So argued Mr. Tuffnell. 
His sympathies went certainly with the strong 
men, not with the weak. He had ever had 
a sovereign contempt for poor broken Mr. 
Lee, ,' and now, since Mr. Lockstone had come 
to rt^e Manor, he too seemed to be falling away 
from his strength of mind, and purpose. Was 
there some baneful influence in the house that 
worked such effect on its inmates ? 



165 



CHAPTER XII. 

1I|E. HERNSHAW'S haste to get to market 
■^*-*- appeared to have deserted him as he 
neared the Town. He fidgeted, took his 
watch in and out of his pocket, checked young 
Reuben's skilful, rapid driving more than once, 
dragged a big covered basket from under the 
seat, half raised the lid, pushed it back again, 
and altogether so demeaned himself as to oc- 
casion considerable surprise to his son. 

*' What's the matter, father ?" asked that 
young gentleman at last, in the steady, straight- 
forward fashion inherited from his usually 
self-possessed, sensible parent. Mr. Hernshaw 
started as though detected in some unlawful act, 
and his bronze cheek flushed a little. He looked 
first at his son, then at the sky, then at his 
horse, then down on the rough horsecloth over 
their knees in embarrassed silence, finally 



166 THE CABINET SECRET. 

meeting his boy's eye, he laughed, laughed his 
own frank hearty laugh, and recovering him- 
self at one jump as it were, said, 

** Well, Ben, I suppose I'm just a bit nervous 
this morning at my errand, that's just about 
the long and short of it, I take it ; and wouldn't 
* mother' scold me rarely for being such a ninny 
— but taking them a present, the likes of us. 
Besides, I can't bear going nigh that place, it 
just cuts my heart in two. I went once, and to 
see it, and think of them, it was near making a 
woman of me, Ben, and that's the truth. I'd 
as lief feel a big serpent crawling over me 
as meet Steve Lockstone, but I'm not sure 
that isn't better, one way, than going such a 
journey as this," and the honest farmer paused 
and heaved a huge sigh. 

Reuben looked up at his father and smiled. 
His bright blue eyes were very pleasant to 
look into in their frank innocence, but he was 
rather too young to understand or enter into 
all the complication of feelings which had 
given rise to this speech. One part only he 
fully appreciated, as appeared from his reply. 
'^ Steve Lockstone always looks as if he 



THE CABINET SECRET, 167 

deserved a good licking, and expected it, 
father ; and shouldn't I like to be the one to 
give it him !'' 

Hernshaw laughed, and as they had now 
entered the suburbs of the town, and taken a 
turning leading quite away from the market- 
place, he began pulling out his basket again, 
and trying, as it seemed, to brace himself up 
to a certain point of courage for some dreaded 
encounter. 

Not anything very formidable, people 
might think, who saw him five minutes after 
trudging up the narrow walk of No. 5, New- 
man's Buildings, the heavy basket on his arm, 
with a firm, heavy tread, though an unusually 
crimson face. 

Deborah opened the door. Her face, which 
had something akin to the crab-apple in its 
first expression, cleared as she saw who it 
was. 

" You, Mr. Hernshaw, no ! Come in ; we 
can't afford to turn well-known faces from 
the door now-a-days. Master is a-bed yet, of 
course, and the mistress is with him this morn- 
ing, as it happens, but Miss Mabel — oh ! you'll 



168 THE CABINET SECRET. 

not go and never see her !'' as Mr. Hernshaw, 
growing redder and redder every minute was 
backing towards the door, after awkwardly 
thrusting his basket almost on Deborah's 
toes. 

"I am going to market, Mrs. Deborah, 
you see — only the missus, she thought per- 
haps you didn't get quite such fat chickens or 
sweet butter in Merestown as we grow — " the 
honest farmer was confounding his butter with 
some idea of his wheat samples in his confu- 
sion ; " so I made so bold — she sent — " not a 
word more could he utter, for there, looking 
at him through the half-opened parlour-door, 
was Mabel's sweet face, a little flushed, too, 
and a soft dew gathering in her violet eyes. 

The good-hearted farmer snatched his hat 
from his head and dropped it. He would 
have turned and fled precipitately, but that 
Deborah, taking advantge of an ill-directed 
lurch to save his hat, had summarily shut the 
door. 

Mabel came forward with outstretched 
hands. 

'' No, Mr. Hernshaw, Deborah is right ; 



THE CABINET SECRET. 169 

you must not go without letting me thank 
you heartily for your kindness ;" and, seeing 
he had not yet recovered from his confusion, 
she continued, smiling, '^ the market must 
wait a little longer for you still, while I hear 
how Mrs. Hernshaw and all your family are. 
It was so very good and thoughtful of her to 
think of sending us some of her capital butter, 
you must tell her how very kind we think it, 
and that we thank her very much, and you 
for bringing it. It is so pleasant to see a 
face from the old place !" she added, with a 
quiver in her voice she could not quite sub- 
due, though she tried bravely. 

The worthy farmer's honest face beamed 
with pleasure as she spoke, and though he 
had hardly ventured to give the warm squeeze 
he longed to bestow on the little white hand 
lying in his rough palm, he had held it there 
all the time, and now bowed over it, as he re- 
leased it, with as much native grace and 
gallantry as one of the knights of Lee 
Manor himself might have shown centuries 
ago. 

There was a good deal of the best spirit of 



170 THE CABINET SECRET. 

the old feudal times, with none of the mischief 
of it, belonging to the feelings with which 
some of the tenants still regarded the Lee 
family, and Hernshaw stood foremost amongst 
these. When Mabel, as a lovely toddling 
child, had delighted to make voyages of dis- 
covery amid the treasures of Meadowlands 
Farm, she had been petted and delighted in 
as a little one, but at the same time, baby 
as she was, had been respected and held 
somewhat in awe as their liege lady, '^A 
Lee." And now, in her fallen estate, she 
was still a Lee to him, worthy of all honour 
and reverence for her birth as for her misfor- 
tunes. 

" Tm right glad you're not offended. Miss 
Mabel, though I might have known you 
wouldn't be, though it does seem out of the 
way, somehow — but there," he abruptly broke 
off, " ril tell my missus, and she and I — we 
shall be so proud and pleased — she'll take 
more heed to her churn now than ever ; and 
she's brave, thank you. Miss Mabel, and all on 
us, only " 

But again the frank, good-hearted fellow 



THE CABINET SECRET. 171 

broke off in embarrassment, and hurriedly 
anxiously asked for the Squire. 

*^ Much the same, thank you, Mr. Hern- 
shaw — better, indeed, lately, than we could 
have hoped. I will not ask you to wait and 
see him, though," she added, sorrowfully, 
"for I am afraid it would make him sad, not 
glad, as it does me, to see you, and know you 
don't quite forget us. His memory is not so 
good as it was, you know, and he is happier 
forgetting all about liome. You won't mind?" 
she said, a little anxiously. 

"Mind! Bless ye. Miss Mabel, no — I 
never thought to see you, let alone him — I 
wouldn't for the world. God bless him, 
though, and you too, and the lady, and the 
young lord — oh ! Miss Mabel, will he never 
come to his rights ?" 

And poor Hernshaw forgot all his resolu- 
tions not to touch on the subject foremost in 
his thoughts, and broke forth in a torrent of 
abuse against Stephen Lockstone and his 
actions. His honest indignation was expressed 
in no measured terms, and it was grateful to 
poor Mabel to listen to it, though she blamed 



172 THE CABINET SECRET. 

herself all the time for feeling so uncharitably 
pleased. Do what she might, Mabel could 
not divest herself of the conviction that their 
once trusted and respected agent was a rogue. 
The idea had been slow in coming, often dis- 
lodged, often argued away, but had returned 
agg-in and again, and now, at last, was so se- 
curely fixed, that there was small chance of 
its banishment henceforth, and all that tended 
to prove there was no injustice in harbouring 
it was becoming unconsciously welcome to the 
poor child. 

Feebly she tried to check Herushaw's out- 
burst. 

'' Oh ! Mr. Hernshaw. Perhaps it is wrong 
to blame Mr. Lockstone. Everything was 
legally done, it is said, and if — if we have 
lost everything, we must learn to bear it.'' 

MabeFs cheeks were flushed, and tears 
stood in her eyes as she spoke. The sight 
recalled her honest but helpless champion to 
himself, to a remembrance of the cautions of 
his wife against alluding to the great griev- 
ance. 

^* Maybe they've learnt to put up with it a 



THE CABINET SECRET. 173 

bit better, Eeuben," the good woman had 
said ; " and it's no good bringing it all back 
fresh again, so if you do see any of V.m, don't 
say a word — they'll know how we feel without, 
and 'tisn't as if we could do any good — we 
can't. God knows the rights, and in His 
good time we may too — but don't bring it 
up to 'em again. 

"And that's just what Iv'e gone and done in 
my blunder-headed fashion," thought the poor 
man with exceeding contrition. " 'Twas all see- 
ing that toad, Steve Lockstone, at Tuffnell's. 
I'd heard he didn't go nigh the Home Farm 
now, or I wouldn't have gone, I'm very sure." 

And full of these thoughts, and many like 
them, he stammered still more in the words 
of apology he was trying to get out to Mabel. 
She saw his confusion, and partly guessing its 
cause, interposed with farther messages of 
thanks to Mrs. Hernshaw, and shaking 
hands once more, retreated under cover of 
Deborah's reappearance with the basket emp- 
tied of its contents. 

As she let him out, Deborah asked with a 
peculiar intonation, 



174 THE CABINET SECRET. 

" Are you going to stop at Meadowlands* 
now, Mr. Hernshaw?" 

He started. Had Deborah been reading 
his inmost thoughts at that instant, she could 
hardly have asked a more pertinent question. 
The farmer stared at her, before answering 
with vigorous emphasis, 

^' Not one moment longer than I can help, 
Mrs. Deborah, you may be sure of that — nor 
so long if there's any way of preventing it with 
their lawyering devilry, '^ with which not very 
logical addition he bid Deborah good-bye, and 
hurried down the path and into his cart, feel- 
ing very sore all the time in the consciousness 
that he ivas a tenant of Steve Lockstone's. 
Yes, that man was his landlord, it was only 
too true. A fact nothing could alter at the 
moment. That ever it should be so, and the 
honest farmer writhed at the thought as in 
corporal pain. Oh ! to get rid of that lease at 
any cost — yes, any, he'd — and then his eye 
fell on Reuben, and his face changed and fell. 
Ah ! yes, at any cost if he and his wife had 
been alone — but there were six children ! 



175 



CHAPTER XIII. 

"MR. LOCKSTONE'S open carriage swept 
■^■^ up to the gate leading into Tuffnell's 
little garden as that individual was still 
pondering this one problem of his present life, 
and while his master had yet the angry look 
upon his face called up by the repetition of 
the Hernshaw business. Sarah scanned both 
men fixedly, returned the bailiff's low bow 
with a slight haughty inclination of her hand- 
some head, and then bestowed her whole at- 
tention to her father as he hastened into the 
carriage, the old uncertain expression re- 
turning on his face. 

" Well, sir, you and your bailiff might have 
sat for an exact representation of the cur and 
the Newfoundland exemplified in the human 
race," she observed, as they bowled rapidly 



176 THE CABINET SECRET. 

away over the hard, smooth road. " May I 
ask what had gone wrong?'' 

Not if her father could have prevented it, 
certainly ! But he could not, any more than 
he could refrain from answering her. Her 
mastery over him was too complete, and 
she was soon in full possession of all that had 
transpired. 

'• I wish I'd not gone near," ended Mr. Lock- 
stone querulously ; '^ it was all your doing, 
Sarah, and I could have sent just as well." 

Sarah took the trouble to sit quite upright 
in the carriage for half a minute after this 
speech, during which she looked at him with 
that cold, pitiless stare of contempt he knew 
so well and dreaded so thoroughly. He 
shrank back farther into his own corner, and, 
her gaze accomplished, she too fell back again, 
quickly observing, 

*^ Let the man go — what does it matter ? 
Scores of willing tenants would jump at Mea- 
dowlands." 

"No, no, Sarah, I can't," Mr. Lockstone ex- 
claimed vehemently, and utterly regardless for 
the moment of his daughter's scorn. " He 



THE CABINET SECRET. 177 

is a first rate farmer, and his family have 
been on the land from generation to genera- 
tion." 

*^ Ah ! I have always understood that was 
the case with the Lees themselves, yet you 
did not think it so impossible for them to be 
replaced." 

" How can you talk like that, girl ?" 
and Mr. Lockstone showed some of his old 
spirit, and used one or two of his favourite 
oaths. *^It's no good talking folly; Tve set my 
heart on keeping this fellow. He shall stay." 

Sarah paused a minute before replying. 

** Well, if that's your resolve, to be carried 
out with or without reason, let it be ; but 
understand 1 consider you are mistaken." 

^* There are few enough of the old people 
left now, and — and don't you see how it would 
look if they all went; it's very few I can keep, 
but Hernshaw's one. He can't afford the 
money I'd make it cost him to get his whim, 
and I'll keep him, I tell you, willingly or not." 

" Your whim versus his, in short, and you 
win the day. I don't see it as you do; indeed, 
I think the better plan would be the whole- 

TOL. I. N 



178 THE CABINET SECRET. 

sale clearing of the estate, as I have told you 
before; still, I don't know that it is a matter of 
vital importance either way, only let me coun- 
sel you — keep your temper in such affairs. 
Be as firm as you like, if you have any power 
of firmness left, but don't show your feelings 
on it — not even to Tuffnell. And, I have 
intended saying it long, so it may as well 
follow that. Leave off swearing at me — at any 
of us, when the servants are by. It has not 
the ring of the true metal, and they know it. 
Remember," and uttering the last word with 
exceeding significance, Sarah relapsed into 
silence to the great relief of her father. He 
had dreaded a much greater amount of opposi- 
tion — a determination in the opposite direc- 
tion equally superior to his own, and then 
— why, he must have yielded; at any rate he 
would have yielded as in other things, and he 
cared very much about this. To keep Hernshaw, 
in spite of the man's dislike of him and love 
of the Lees, gratified his vindictive spirit ; be- 
sides that he believed his own view the better 
one, and wished to act upon it. 

Sarah was a wonderful womaUj no doubt. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 179 

Her judgment and penetration were singular. 
In most things she was right — but in this, no. 
Perhaps she felt she was not so sure of her 
ground here, and that was why she didn't in- 
sist on it. Greatly comforted, Mr. Lock- 
stone began to recover himself as they neared 
Merestown, to look about in the old sharp way, 
to be the astute, self-possessed lawyer again, 
instead of the uncertain, frightened-looking 
Squire of Lee Manor. 

They were already close upon the suburbs 
when a sudden involuntary movement of her 
father's — astartand shiver that shook the whole 
carriage — roused Sarah from a reverie i^to 
which she had fallen, and caused her to look 
quickly, first at him — and she saw he had 
turned lividly pale and was staring fixedly as 
at an apparition — then at the road, on which his 
eyes were bent. Standing there, transfixed, 
too, apparently, but with intense astonishment 
as it seemed, stood a shabby, wretched, dirty- 
looking man. A suit of threadbare, rusty 
black, with ill-fastened rents here and there, 
gave him a more deplorable air than had his 
body been clothed in commoner stuff; a bat- 

n2 



180 THE CABINET SECRET. 

tered black hat, very greasy and very ill-fit- 
ting, was perched on his head ; while a red- 
nosed, spotted, bloated face below, very un- 
pleasant to look upon, led to the conclusion 
that it was not through misfortune alone he 
had been reduced to such apparent poverty 
and so repulsive a figure. 

His small, cunning, watery eyes were stare- 
ing at Mr. Lockstone with all their power, his 
mouth had fallen open, and but for the disgust 
excited by his appearance, it would have 
been intensely ludicrous at the moment. 
Sarah had but that instant to look at him, to 
take in all the details of dress and feature, for 
the carriage was going very rapidly, and the 
two men had been confronted for a bare half- 
minute only. 

'' Who is he ?" she demanded of her father 
as they rolled quickly out of sight. She re- 
ceived no answer. Mr. Lockstone sat with 
the same fixed stare of dismay, the same livid 
complexion that had first excited her atten- 
tion. He appeared utterly unconscious of 
all outward things — unable to recover his scat- 
tered senses. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 181 

'^ Who is that man ?" was imperiously re- 
peated by his daughter, and she shook his arm 
impatiently ; they were close upon the High 
Street now. 

The bewildered man looked up with a scared, 
puzzled expression, and for the third time Sarah 
demanded, 

'♦ Who is that man ?'' 

" I — I thought he was dead," murmured 
Mr. Lockstone helplessly. 

" I did not ask you for your thoughts, I 
asked for a fact. Who is that man ?" i 

" I — I haven't seen him for so many years, 
Sarah — and to see him now — " and he paused 
and trembled. 

" Well, sir, as we are close to your office 
now, perhaps you'll defer that interesting so- 
liloquy and answer me — once more who is 
he?" 

*^ Only — only an old clerk of mine,'^ re- 
turned her father submissively, and nearly 
restored now to his lost composure. 

Sarah watched him closely as he answered, 
nor, though vouchsafing no reply, did she 
remove her eyes from his face till he had got 



182 THE CABINET SECRET. 

out of the carriage and entered his office. She, 
too, descended, but more slowly. Her father 
had seemed glad to escape, and hurried off as 
soon as the carriage stopped. 

She gave an order or two to the servants, 
spoke to Rachel, who had been left in charge 
of the High Street premises since the family 
flitting, and then passed slowly on into the old 
sitting room. There it was, just the same 
as ever, the long, common-looking table with 
its covering of dust, the hard chairs and com- 
fortless sofa, the wide fireplace, the deep 
sombre-looking oak window-seats, the narrow- 
paned windows themselves. How familiar it 
all was, and yet how different from the Manor 
House. Sarah sat down in her old favourite 
seat, declined Rachel's offers of fire and re- 
freshment, and showed so plainly her im- 
patience of that person's company, that Rachel, 
albeit somewhat tired of her solitary reign in 
the grim old house and very anxious for 
news from the Manor, quickly took herself 
off in no very amiable frame of mind towards 
Sarah. 

As a rule she liked her the best of the two 



THE CABINET SECRET. 183 

girls she had watched grow up to woman- 
hood, but there were times when she regarded 
her with something of the wonder — and, but 
for a naturally braver spirit, it might have 
been the fear, too — that Mr. Lockstone 
entertained for her, and she knew that 
Sarah's mood now was such that, for her OAvn 
peace, she had best restrain her curiosity and 
leave her alone. 

Alone Sarah sat for many a long hour, feeling 
nothing of the sharp cold, wrapped in her warm 
comfortable furs, noting little and realizing 
nothing of what was going on without in the 
familiar street. Deep in her own thoughts she 
sat perfectly still and motionless, but for a 
mechanical movement of her hands now and 
then as she passed them over each other ; her 
eyes even were quiet and fixed, but her brain 
was very, very busy. 

So she remained till the old clocks in Meres- 
town began chiming out the hour — two o'clock. 
She had been there four hours then ! One of 
the old scornful smiles flitted over her face for a 
moment as she thought this — scorn of herself ; 
then she rose, threw away her abstraction, 



184 THE CABINET SECRET. 

and became once more the watchful, attentive 
actor in the present. First she gave a rapid, 
searching glance up and down the street, then 
took a survey of herself in the small old- 
fashioned oval mirror that hung over the 
chimney piece, finally opened the door and 
passed noiselessly down the passage, and be- 
yond, into old Eachel's precincts. She found 
that personage in no very amiable frame of 
mind, and quite able to show it even to Miss 
Sarah. 

But Sarah had expected and was prepared 
for this, so she began by saying she felt very 
hungry, could Kachel find her some bread and 
butter, and then, while eating it, volunteered 
scraps of news as to Lee l\Ianor and her mother 
and sister, till old Eachel condescended to ask 
questionsagain,andatlast, completely mollified, 
entered heart and soul into a gossip of the 
sort she most delighted in. This had lasted 
an hour when Sarah began a few questions on 
her own account, as to how Rachel got on in 
the old house, how many visitors she had, and 
so on, till she worked her way round to what 
she really wished to ascertain, namely, who had 



THE CABINET SECRET. 185 

been with her father on this day, as she 
expected Kachel was perfectly able to answer, 
though the people had gone to the office door. 

"Well, not many ; one or two of the old lot 
that alius come, and Mr Tuffnell, he came a 
good bit ago and was only just gone when you 
come down, I see him as I was upstairs tidy- 
ing your room a bit.^' 

"Ah ! that's right, Rachel," Sarah answered, 
after a hardly perceptible pause wherein she 
had digested the first news. " I was just 
going to ask if I could go up there ; I left a 
few things behind, and I want to look at them. 
Do you know, Rachel, I think I shall come in 
here sometimes with my father. It will be an 
amusement, you know, something to do." 

Rachel looked curiously, furtively up in her 
young mistress's face. She, too, had often 
thought what a man — a lawyer — Sarah Lock- 
stone would have made, now she only said, 

" Very well. Your room'll be ready for 

you." 

Sarah went upstairs. Presently she called 
Rachel, who had gone up too, into her own 
room. 



186 THE CABINET SECRET. 

^^ I am going out for a stroll, Rachel, to 
look at some of the places we used to go to 
when we were children ; but I don't care for 
people^s knowing me, you see, it wouldn't do. 
Am I plain enough dressed, do you think ?" 

Eachel thought she was, though she knew 
well enough in her heart that her opinion in 
this matter would not weigh much with the 
beautiful, imperious woman who demanded 
it. Very handsome she looked now, though 
all her beautiful rich furs and her costly 
bonnet and mantle had been discarded. 
A dark skirt, a large plain cloak which com- 
pletely enveloped her, and a close fitting black 
bonnet now formed her sole adornments ; but 
there was a light and spirit in her eyes, bright- 
ened by the colour in her cheek, which was 
sometimes lacking to her stately beauty. 

*^ When you see my father, Eachel, tell 
him I have gone out, and shall not be ready 
to go home till half-past five ; and now give 
me the latch key, and in an hour put up the 
lock so that I can slip in quietly. Good- 
bye," and with an unusually gracious smile 
Sarah took the proffered key and went down. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 187 

Rachelhastenedafterhertoopenthedoor. Sarah 
passed out, and as she did so dropped a thick 
veil over her face. No one who met her could 
recognise her in the least. None would dream 
the swiftly-moving dark figure, so plainly, not 
to say commonly, dressed, could be one of the 
Miss Lockstones of Lee Manor. 

But as she neared the office door Sarah 
stopped, and presently stooped down to disentan- 
gle her dress, caught apparently in the railings. 
From the time it took to free, it must have 
become curiously embarrassed. She passed 
on at the same moment that the office door 
closed on a man slinking into it. The winter's 
afternoon was very heavy, and here in Meres- 
town it was already nearly dark, but Sarah 
felt almost certain she had recognized that 
shabby dress and slouching gait when 
she first descried its approach down the ill- 
lighted street. Now she was quite so ; and 
glancing up to the windows above was also 
satisfied that Rachel had seen the new comer 
too. She smiled to herself more scornfully than 
usual, then went rapidly on. 



188 



/ 



CHAPTER XIV. 

MABEL turned into the little sitting-room 
of No. 5, Newman's Buildings after 
her farewell to honest Reuben Hernshaw. 
Why did it look so small, so mean, so bare, so 
altogether worse than it had done when she left 
it barely ten minutes ago? Was it the tears in 
her eyes, now that she was alone fast welling over 
and down her soft young cheek ? or was it the 
memory of that other room, those rooms which 
the good farmer's visit and words had brought 
so vividly before her ? Mabel herself scarcely 
knew, she was only conscious of a weight of 
grief and regret, and an intensity of sorrow at 
their changed estate such as she had hardly 
felt before, even at the first — a mourning so 
deep for the sad fate of those she so dearly 
loved that her heart felt breaking; and sinking 
down in a corner of the little square room 
she gave way to the passion of tears which 



THE CABINET SECRET. 189 

nature sent for her relief. Had Deborah been 
a whit less occupied with the thoughts her own 
talk with the farmer had set busily to work, 
she would surely have heard some of the sobs 
which were shaking poor Mabel's frame. As 
it was, she passed the parlour door lost to all 
outward things, and was soon downstairs oc- 
cupied with her work again. Possibly it was 
better so. 

By and by Mabel's grief exhausted itself, and 
as she roused herself up and began smoothing 
her hair and trying to remove all traces of her 
emotion, she began also to feel a little ashamed 
of her indulgence in it. She thought she had 
grown so brave, so submissive, and resigned. 
Was the simple visit of one of the old tenants 
to overthrow it all ? And then her thoughts 
flew away to Meadowlands, to. the old days 
when she and Edward were children, and when 
one of their greatest treats was a visit to that 
pretty, ever busy farm. 

How well she remembered the couple of 
miles of bridle road through which they went 
to it, Dorothy and Susan walking, she and 



190 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Edward riding their dear old Shetland, Tawney, 
by turns. 

How beautiful the Park glade w^as which led 
out on the common, and how they used to enjoy 
a scamper across that corner of it which they had 
to traverse before entering the green lane whither 
the way next led them. She could smell the 
golden furze, and see the tall waving bracken 
and pretty purple heath now, and the lane 
with its steep picturesque banks and roof of 
hazel arches quite meeting overhead in most 
places, and the little gurgling brook, so bright 
and sparkling, with one narrow plank by way 
of a bridge. How often Dorothy had stood 
on it and scolded while she or Edward would 
keep Tawney pawing in the water ; they liked 
to see the glittering drops showering round so 
much, and felt quite sure neither Dorothy nor 
Susan would walk into the water after them. 

How naughty and how happy they were ! — 
and then the fields at the end of the lane, 
which were reached some five minutes after 
passing the stream — those delightful fields, 
with always something fresh in them — now 
the pretty herd of red and white and dappled 



THE CABINET SECRET. 191 

COWS ; now some young colts, which occasioned 
Dorothy to insist on holding Tawney's bridle, 
and frightened Susan into leaving off that 
ceaseless chatter of hers ; now some calves of 
different ages and sizes, each so charming 
they changed their minds half a dozen times 
at least before the field was crossed, as to 
whether the '^ two year old," with its budding 
horns, or the little meek-looking, just-weaned 
Alderney was their favourite ; then a flock of 
sheep would dot the meadow over with their 
white snowy fleeces ; and sometimes there 
were some lambs, some dear little long-tailed 
lambs ; and then, as they neared the farm, 
there would be stray cocks and hens, and 
ducks and geese, and yellow little lumps of 
goslings, and the turkey-cock, with his fierce 
strut and gobble-gobble. 

Oh ! how happy she and Edward had been 
then ! — how happy ! And then she went on 
thinking of their welcome at the farm itself. 
How Reuben Hernshaw in person, if at home, 
would lift them from Tawney's back and lead 
them into the best parlour, redolent of lavender 
and dried rose-leaves, and shout to his comely 



192 THE CABINET SECRET. 

young wife that missey and the ^^ young lord " 
were come, and she would bustle in with her 
rosy cheeks and kindly smile and insist on 
taking Mabel's hat off, while she ate as much 
cake and strawberries and cream as Dorothy 
could be prevailed on to allow ; and then on 
went the hat again, and away they flew 
after Mr. Hernshaw into the farm-yard, the 
stables, the cow-house, the very pig-sties — 
each and all had charms for the children ; and, 
crowning delight of all, they watched the 
cows milked, and the little calves let in to 
their lowing mothers ; the sole drawback to 
which intense excitement was the knowledge 
that tea, tea in the best parlour, and Mrs. 
Hernshaw in her best cap, filling their plates 
with such bread and butter, and such biscuits, 
would follow immediately upon it. Finally 
Dorothy would say they must go, go at once, 
and there would only be time, during the 
half hour, at least, that her last words to 
Mrs. Hernshaw took to say, for just one 
scamper up and down and round the old- 
fashioned grass paths and espalier-lined walks 
of the garden, and then the day, the delight- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 193 

ful day was over — only, just as they were 
really starting, Mrs. Hernshaw would rush 
wildly out, and stuff into Mabel's bands a 
huge nosegay of Sweet Williams, and gilly 
flowers, and " old man's love/' so sweet and 
so magnificently gaudy — far superior to any 
old Jelly, their own head-gardener, ever 
gathered for her. So Mabel used to 
think. 

Ah ! those days ; and the added joys when 
young Eeuben was born, and there was 
" baby " to look at in the cradle, and now 
and then to hold in her lap, as she sat on the 
floor, Dorothy or Mrs. Hernshaw being always 
close by. Those visits were the gala days of 
their quiet, secluded childhood. Meadow- 
lands was their child's paradise, possessing far 
superior charms, in their young eyes, to those 
of the stately Manor House, beautiful as that 
and its grounds really were, precious, only too 
precious, as they had since become. But there 
was little live stock about the Manor House 
itself ; and with the home farm they had 
never been familiar. Dorothy considerd it 
dangerously near, and, besides, did not admire 

VOL. I. 



1 94 THE CABINET SECRET. 

its occupant, who even then was of Mr. Lock- 
stone's choosing. 

From the sweet memories of childhood and 
early youth, Mabel went on to think of the 
later days, of the gradual change for the worse 
in her father, of Stephen Lockstone's altered 
manner, of many little incidents unheeded at 
the time, but now returning on her with 
strange vividness and new meaning. Was 
there some secret about that man's possession 
of their home ? Had it been indeed honestly 
earned by him — really, if weakly lost by her 
father ; or was he the knave she had begun 
to think him, and yet they powerless to prove 
it and to right themselves ? 

Mabel pondered this problem long and pain- 
fully, and she was still completely absorbed 
in its study, and utterly lost to all present 
outward things, when a hand was laid on her 
shoulder, and she gave a violent, half- frightened 
start, as she looked up to find Dr. Armsdaile's 
kind face looking down on her. 

" What, I really frightened you, my dear ? 
I am sorry for that, but I began to fancy 
the bad fairy's old spell revived again, and 



THE CABINET SECRET. 195 

that it had taken effect on you. Dorothy 
and I made noise enough together as I came 
in, and yet here you were, statue-like and 
motionless. What is it ?" he added, more 
anxiously, as he saw the traces of her late 
weeping-fit, and watched the troubled changes 
through which the sweet face passed to regain 
its wonted calm. 

*' Nothing — at least nothing new. Only I 
was very foolish. Mr. Hernshaw has been 
here, bringing us delicacies from dear old 
Meadowlands, and — and I began to think 
about it — and all — and I was very naughty, 
doctor ; scold me, it will do me good," and 
she looked up with a gentle smile. 

*^ Well, you were very naughty, and ex- 
tremely foolish ; but as you know your fault, 
and ask for their deserts, why, I'll let you off 
this time — only beware of the next !" and he 
shook his finger at her threateningly, and then 
went on. " Your father not down yet, Doro- 
thy tells me — fancies his cold worse, a sure 
sign it is better, my dear, so don't look 
anxious. A cold doesn't really affect him, 
and helps to occupy his thoughts. I shall be 

2 



196 THE CABINET SECRET. 

rather sorry Avhen even he must acknowledge 
it well. I'm going up to see him presently, 
and while I am there you'll get ready to 
come with me as far as the Rectory. Mrs. 
Ravenshaw is laid up with a cold, too — really 
ill, and I promised you should have an hour's 
chat with her. I'm going on to Castle Neville, 
and will pick you up as I come back. There, 
don't look scared, you'll be home in plenty of 
time for tea, and I'll make it all right up- 
stairs." 

So ran on the good but imperative doctor, 
and Mabel was really smiling before he had 
done. He had divined her thoughts so accu- 
rately, answered them so completely, unspoken 
though they were, and put aside her objec- 
tions so entirely, yet so quietly, she could not 
but be amused. To leaving her father even 
for a few hours she would, however, have de- 
murred in spite of all this, had not the news 
of her kind old friend's illness weighed greatly 
in the opposite scale. She thought a little, 
and then, as the doctor was going upstairs, 
came out too, saying anxiously, 

"You think I may go?" 



THE CABINET SECRET. 197 

"To be sure ! You conceited little puss, do 
you think they can't live five hours, ay, or a 
hundred, without you?" and patting her on 
the shoulder as when she was a child, he 
turned into Mr. Lee's room, and Mabel pro- 
ceeded on her way to dress for her drive. 

When she was ready she went to say good- 
bye to her father, who was sitting wrapped up 
in his easy chair by the fire, Dr. Armsdaile 
close to him, her mother opposite. He looked 
up as she came in, and taking her hand fondly, 
said, 

" Going to see Mrs. Kavenshaw, Mabel ? 
Yes, that's right ; and get them to send^ her 
something nice, Mabel, won't you ? Speak to 
Mrs. Ashton about it. She's ill, you know. 
What is it ? Yes, a cold — a nasty cold like 
mine. Poor thing ! — poor thing !" and he 
fondled his daughter's hand all the time he 
spoke. 

She only answered by a kiss, somehow her 
heart was too full that morning to venture on 
answering a speech which showed how en- 
tirely her father failed to realize their changed 
estate. 



198 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Dr. Armsdaile watched her as thej drove 
along through the keen, bracing air, and in- 
wardly resolved his feeble old patient must 
and should learn to bear Mabel's absence, not 
only once in a way, but for some hours each 
day, if he could so manage. 

" I thought something was to be done as 
to our excellent friend Mr. Lockstone ?" he 
observed by-and-by, as they were nearing 
the Rectory. 

''Yes, Edward said so, but you see he 
answered our letter directly, and there was no 
time for the other to be sent by that ship, I 
believe. No doubt we shall hear about it be- 
fore very long, in a little more than another 
month, I should think.'' 

" Ah ! that's right," and as he spoke the 
carriage stopped at the Rectory door. 

It was growing dusk when Mabel once 
more entered No. 5, Newman's Buildings. The 
doctor had been detained longer than he 
anticipated, and could not come in again him- 
self. She said good-bye as he handed her out, 
and as she passed hurriedly in at the gate her 
dress brushed against that of another person 



THE CABINET SECRET. 199 

who was at the same instant passing into 
the next house. She glanced up a little sur- 
prised, for No. 4 was empty, and had been so, 
rather to her relief, ever since they themselves 
had inhabited the row. The house looked 
grimy and desolate enough, so did the little 
slip of ground with heaps of rubbish and of 
bricks, even yet left about ; still, even that 
was preferable, poor Mable thought, to having 
neighbours — neighbours such as Newman's 
Buildings were likely to afford them. 

She now turned to see if the woman was 
going to look at the house ; she might be, pre- 
paratory to becoming that dreaded neighbour 
herself; but no, there was no sign of her, though 
surely she did pass through the gate. Once 
more Mabel looked round, then, concluding 
herself mistaken, and that she had really 
passed on, hastened up to the door, which 
Dorothy was already holding open for her. 
As Mabel came close she saw the faithful 
servant was disturbed, and before she could 
speak Dorothy burst forth, 

^* Oh ! Miss Mabel, I am glad you've come, 
ril not do it again when you're out ; if there's 



200 THE CABINET SECRET. 

a peck of dust under it — rubbishing thing," 
she added sotto voce, as a little relief to the 
outraged feelings her kind heart forbade her 
in this instance to display otherwise. 

" Oh ! Dorothy, what is it ?" cried poor 
Mabel, breathlessly. 

" Not much, miss. Nothing at all to most 
folks. There, darling, don't look like that, 
it'll be all right now you've come. I've not 
had the chance of doing the room out — little 
closet of a place as it is — not as should be, 
you see, since we came, so to-day, as he chose 
to stay up to dinner, and madam wouldn't 
leave him, why, I set to work, after you went, 
and cleaned it thoroughly, that's all." 

" But," said Mabel, still mystified and 
hesitating, with her hand on the door, " I 
don't see " 

" Why, the cabinet, dear. It's quite true 
I did move it — pushed it out of the place alto- 
gether, for the matter of that — but I thought 
I'd put it back just in the exact spot, ay, to a 
hair's breadth, I could swear I did, after the 
pains I took," and tears of vexation stood in 
poor Dorothy's eyes. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 201 

" And papa found out it had '^ 

" Went up to it directly, dear, and will 
have it some one's been at it. To think of 
such a fuss being made over it, even if it is 
an inch or so out of place/' concluded Dorothy, 
in her despair. 

^' Never mind, Dorothy, I'll see if I can't 
make it all right," and Mabel went in at last. 

Poor old Mr. Lee was standing — a most 
unusual thing for him — close by his jealously- 
guarded treasure, leaning on it, fumbling about 
it, and ever and again muttering almost in- 
coherent lamentations, piteous assurances that 
" someone had touched it — someone had in- 
deed ;" and even the sight of his daughter, 
as she came eagerly towards him, failed to 
divert his attention at once. She had to pass 
her arm round his, and kiss his pale cheek 
again and again before he would turn to her. 
At last he did, but it was only to repeat the 
same cry even more piteously than before, 

" Mabel, someone's touched it — they have 
indeed !" 

*' Yes, papa, dear. Dorothy's been dust- 
ing it, you know — see, it's quite clean now,'^ 



202 THE CABINET SECRET. 

and Mabel laid her little white hand on the 
cabinet, and then held up her fingers for her 
father's inspection. 

The old man looked at them curiously. 
The idea was a new one, but simple enough 
for him to grasp, though neither his wife nor 
Dorothy had ventured to suggest it. Fearing 
to complicate matters, they had confined them- 
selves to assurances that no one had been in 
the room. After the grave inspection of 
Mabel's pretty fingers, he again looked sus- 
piciously at the cabinet, passing his own hand 
all over the top again and again, muttering, 
" Dusting — dusting." 

Then he turned once more to his child, 
and looking anxiously in her face, demanded, 

" Are you sure, Mabel ? — quite sure ?" 

" Yes, dear papa, quite certain — look how 
nice and clean it is, and everything else ; 
besides, she has cleaned it all so nicely," and 
Mabel glanced round the room, hoping to 
turn his attention elsewhere. 

But in vain. His look followed hers, it is 
true, but he was evidently not thinking of 
what he saw, and soon his eyes were again 



THE CABINET SECRET. 203 

riveted on the cabinet, and he once more 
began painfully, laboriously, to pass his hand 
over every part of it, peering round every 
now and then as he did so, with a cautious, 
alarmed look, as if fearful of his proceedings 
being observed. 

Mabel watched him with a troubled mind. 
It was so new to see such an expression on 
that placid, vacant face, and she began to 
regret her having been prevailed on to leave 
him, and to fear she might fail to quiet him 
as soon as she had hoped. Her quick eye 
had detected that the cabinet was really some 
inch or so out of its usual place, and taking 
advantage of one of those furtive glances of 
her father's, she gently pushed it into position. 
The movement escaped him, and had a most 
happy result, for when he once more paused 
to observe his treasure, his face cleared. He 
saw it was all right now, and began to forget 
he had discovered it otherwise on first coming 
down. 

" You are quite sure, Mabel ? — quite sure ?" 
he once again repeated ; and on her answer- 
ing assurance sank quietly down in his chair, 



204 THE CABINET SECRET. 

very tired and languid, but rousing once to 
whisper, as he pointed to this day's fruitful 
source of trouble, ^* We must take care, 
Mabel — you know, great care — no one must 
get at it — he must not," glancing timidly 
round ; and then he listened to her talk on 
other matters, as she gradually drew away 
his thoughts to Mrs. Eavenshaw, the messages 
she had sent, how bad was her cold, and so 
forth, till he had quite forgotten the cabinet's 
displacement and all his trouble over it. 

Then Dorothy came in with the tea and 
lamp, and Mabel went herself to the window 
to draw the curtains. As she was about to 
pull the second, she started with an uncom- 
fortable feeling of being watched, and looked 
hastily out into the dusk ; but the little 
garden was deserted, and the line of wall on 
either side apparently unbroken in its blank- 
ness. 



205 



CHAPTER XV. 

IIEEESTOWN was as yet innocent of gas — 
■^^ indeed, that brilliant friend of shop- 
keepers and troublesome enemy of burglars 
was hardly established in London, and country 
towns were still debating, very hotly some- 
times, the chances of the new and wonderful 
light turning out a failure or success, not 
dreaming of attempting its adoption So the 
streets of Merestown, those that were lighted 
at all, were still illuminated by the old- 
fashioned oil and wick, whose feeble rays served 
rather to make darkness more visible beyond 
the little circle of their own immediate neigh- 
bourhood, than to really light the town. 

Through its dim streets sped Sarah Lock- 
stone, taking a very devious way to her de- 
sired goal ; for she wished to avoid being 
watched, should she by chance be recognised, 
and had besides a strong inclination to pass 



206 THE CABINET SECRET. 

certain Louses — houses whose inhabitants she 
knew. Possibly, probably she should see 
nothing but the bare walls, and, it might be, 
a lighted window or two ; but there was a 
chance she might see more — if not, no matter ; 
but she had begun to have a curious wonder 
within her inmost soul, whether other house- 
holds in the privacy of home resembled theirs 
in any way. Should she find as much food 
for her satire in the heads of other families 
as in her own ? What was jovial Mr. Turner 
like, for example, the father of one of 
Hester's many suitors ? — was he the serene, 
rather loud, but good-natured social being in 
his own dining-room as in other people's ? — 
or did he swear at his rosy little wife and try 
to tyrannize over his children ? 

So wondering, Sarah turned into the very 
street where their house stood, and as she did 
so, ran straight against Mr. Geldfinder, who 
was walking as fast as herself in the opposite 
direction. Both paused. Sarah to see if she 
was recognised, Mr. Geldfinder to see who had 
interrupted his progress. One glance was 
apparently sufficient — it was only some com- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 207 

moil person, and with an impatient " Can't 
you make use of your eyes, woman ?" he passed 
on. 

Sarah looked after him amused. Ah ! he 
could be very different then from the suave, 
obedient attendant on Hester's lightest word 
— she had thought so before ; well, it was 
Hester's concern, not hers, certainly. Mr. 
Geldfinder interested her in no way ; and 
though it was satisfactory to know how truly 
she had judged him, she had felt too little 
doubt on the matter to be conscious of much 
excitement at the certainty. He was soon out 
of her thoughts, and she standing by the 
Turners' house, or, rather, under the shadow 
of the old-fashioned porch above the door. 

Ah! the blind was not drawn yet, and every- 
body was there except the master of the family. 
Even young Turner, with the Benjamin of 
the family on his knee, a little thing of some 
three years old, now stuffing its mouth with 
the sweets ^'Broser WiUie" had brought home. 
*^ Umph ! Hester's made her usual mistake," 
was Sarah's secret comment as she noticed 
this, and shrugged her shoulders scornfully. 



208 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Mrs. Turner ? Yes, there, half-asleep, of 
course, in the arm-chair, in spite of a vigorous 
dispute going on between the two younger 
girls close at her elbow. Poor Mrs. Turner ! 
she was certainly idle, there was no doubt 
about it, and gave herself very little trouble 
in her efforts to conquer the embonpoint over 
whose approach she occasionally lamented. 
The eldest daughter was knitting busily be- 
tween her favourite elder brother and two lads 
home from the day-school, who on their knees 
on the rug were trying to catch what little 
light the fire gave on the to-morrow's lessons 
they were conning. 

It was a pretty domestic picture of an 
English home of the middle class, speaking to 
the best feelings of our nature, but it stirred 
no tender depths in Sarah's heart, or, if it did, 
it was unknown to herself ; she took it all in 
with a keen, rapid glance, even to the dis- 
tracted, not quite happy expression on young 
Turner's face, and then she gave the old smile, 
with threefold intensity of bitterness, but 
there was no soft light in her eye, rather a 
glitter of scorn as she muttered half-aloud, 



THE CABINET SECRET. 209 

'' Ah ! you're beginning to feel the game's 
lost. Well, she could sleep in your easy chair 
as well as your mother, no doubt ; so perhaps 
you are right to grieve." 

As she spoke the door of the parlour opened 
— opened so noisily she heard it where she 
stood — and Mr. Turner appeared on the 
threshold — no further, he had not time. His 
very turning of the handle had been recog- 
nized, and the small baby thing had scrambled 
off the young man's knee and was clasping 
his father's as the door opened, the little girls 
were clinging to his arms, the boys had flung 
aside their books, his wife received him with a 
welcoming smile and a happy light in her 
eye, the eldest son hastened to push his 
father's chair to the fire, and the daughter laid 
down the sock she was knitting him to stir 
that fire into the bright blaze she knew he 
loved. Sarah could not hear the cordial 
words he had for all his family, but she saw 
their greeting, and the genial smile on his 
face, and as she turned away at the same 
moment that " Willie " drew the blind down 

VOL. I. p 



210 THE CABINET SECRET. 

she felt all doubts at rest for ever. There 
was truth in that home at least ! 

What should she find in the other ? That 
was now her one absorbing thought as she 
sped faster and faster along ; she had lingered 
on her way for more minutes than she had 
intended, and began to fear she might be too 
late for her next inspection ; but no, it would 
be lighter in the outskirts, day lingered longer 
there ; and on she hurried, very curious now, 
and something excited. She had never yet 
seen those on whom she now hoped to look — 
never, not even as a child, if her memory did 
not play her false, and it was not given to do 
that, she thought, with exultation. Hester had 
once seen them, she believed, long ago, on one 
of their rare visits to the town, but she never. 
They had very rarely driven in like the other 
county families, and latterly had never come 
at all. What were they like ? 

The old man was a fool, of course. The 
wife vulgar, she supposed, not so ladylike as 
her own mother even. The girl haughty, 
stately, and proud. She had heard of her 
as a true Lee, and at the selfsame instant 



THE CABINET SECRET. 211 

Sarah brushed against a slight girlish form 
just then alighting from a quiet-looking 
brougham. 

It startled her for once, she had been so 
lost in her own thoughts she was not even 
conscious that she had already reached her 
destination ; but she was mistress of the 
position in an instant, and had turned into 
the deserted plot of ground in front of No. 4, 
Newman's Buildings before Mabel had opened 
their own little gate, and was watching her 
intently from behind a friendly rubbish-heap 
before she had turned to see what could have 
become of her. 

So that was Miss Lee, was it ? She heard 
Dr. Armsdaile's farewell shout, and thus her 
first suspicion became certainty. Miss Lee, 
her predecessor in those long galleries and 
stately halls of Lee Manor. By the way, it 
must be called Lee Manor no more. She 
made a mental note to that effect, and de- 
termined to speak to her father on it as they 
drove home. AVhat a slight, graceful girl! 
Pretty, people would call her, she supposed — 
a gentle beauty like Hester's in character ; 

p2 



212 THE CABINET SECRET. 

only and there handsome Sarah Lockstone 

made a deep pause, and looked with greater 
intentness on the pure, fair face advancing up 
the walk. 

Ah ! no she was not simply the mindless 
pink and white likeness of Hester. Her 
beauty, if as delicate, was of a higher order, 
there was intellect in that face, and — and — 
well, birth, perhaps. Of course it was the 
haughtiness for which she had looked, only 
not exactly in that form, and Sarah strained 
her eyes after the retreating figure, and finally 
left her hiding-place and followed it till she 
stood with only the slight partition wall be- 
tween them, very close to the open door — so 
close that she heard the strange greeting of 
Dorothy to her young mistress, and lost for 
the moment every other feeling in that of 
intense curiosity. She held her breath to 
listen, but very needlessly ; the cold evening 
air was very still, Dorothy's voice by no means 
even so low as usual in her excitement, and 
every word came clear and distinct to her ear, 
except one or two of Mabel's as she advanced 
further into the passage. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 213 

Dorothy had left the door open during the 
colloquy, and did not shut it till Mabel opened 
that of the parlour. No sooner had she done 
so than Sarah rapidly shifted her position so 
as to command a full view of the one window. 
Luck befriended her here. As in the former 
case, the window was uncurtained, the fire- 
light brighter, and she could see quite plainly 
that part of the room where the cabinet stood. 

How fixedly did she gaze, and with what 
absorbing interest watch every movement of 
father and daughter. Her own face would 
have been a study, and a strange one, while 
she did so, so many changes passed over its 
usually immovable calmness of expression. 
She lost no gesture, however slight, of those 
within, no variation in their countenances, 
and not even to look at Mrs. Lee, where she 
sat, helpless, troubled, and anxious near the 
fire, did she remove her eyes from father and 
daughter till the last had subsided for some 
minutes into his chair, and the vacant look 
once more taken possession of his face. Oh ! 
that she could hear as well as see, but that 
was impossible, so she strained her eyes to 



214 THE CABINET SECRET. 

their utmost tension in her anxiety not to let 
one movement, one look escape. When she 
felt the scene was over, she gave one sigh of 
relief, and then for the first time took note of 
gentle Mrs. Lee. She recognised the unmis- 
takable though very quiet gentlewoman at 
once, and then immediately her earnest gaze 
returned to Mabel, and was not removed again 
till the change on Mabel's face, as she was draw- 
ing the curtains, showed that she was conscious 
of the curious inspection. Then Sarah dipped 
for an instant below the w^all, the next, with 
one glance which showed that Mabel was gone, 
and the window completely draped, she was 
on her way back into the town, more visibly 
excited than she had ever been in her life. 

She was herself perfectly conscious of this, 
and also, which was worse, of the real stir 
within, the unusual thoughts and feelings 
surging up and oversetting that equable calm 
to which she owed so much of the power over 
others which she so greatly valued. She was 
angry with her unusual weakness, and strove 
hard to regain her composure, walking faster 
than ever as she did so ; partly because con- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 215 

scious she was late, partly that tierce bodily 
exertion might quiet the excitement astir with- 
in her mind. 

By the time she had reached the entrance 
to High Street she had succeeded, and it was 
the ordinary cold, calm Sarah Lockstone, only 
with a brighter glitter than usual, it m.ight 
be, in her handsome eyes, that glided softly 
into their old home, dropped the lock behind 
her, and hastening upstairs found Eachel 
standing ready at her door, candle in hand. 

*' Thank you, Rachel. I am afraid I am 
late, but really it is more amusing than I 
expected, I find, and no one knew me — Mr. 
Geldfinder even ran quite against me at the 
corner of Craven Street, and had no idea who 
it was. Has my father been waiting long ?" 

"Not at all, Miss Sarah. At least, he's 
not asked for you — indeed, he's never come 
out of the office yet, as I've heard. Someone 
came in just as you went, and I don't think 
he's been gone very long. I know he didn't 
go out with the clerk." 

" Oh ! well, that's all right. Just help 
me on with this cloak, Rachel, will you? 



2 1 6 THE CABINET SECRET. 

There now, I am quite ready — it's not worth 
while going down till the carriage comes, I 
think. We'll stay up here. Who was the 
person, do you know, Kachel?" she added, 
suddenly turning her eyes full on Rachel's. 

But that elderly domestic was by no means 
embarrassed by their gaze, nor did her own 
fall beneath it. She was used to ''Miss Sarah," 
and though she admired her, -was no whit 
afraid of her on such occasions as these ; and 
perhaps this was why Sarah treated her with 
rather more consideration than she ever did 
anybody else. Eachel would not tempt her 
into an outburst of wrath by interfering with 
her reserved moods ; but in a talk she knew 
her own value, and that of her information, 
and could hold her own. 

'' I'm not sure that I do. Miss Sarah — it 
was very dusk, as you saw yourself, and I 
hadn't a very good chance to look at him, but 
I've a fancy I knew his cut, though if it 
is him, I've never set eyes on him for 
years." 

Rachel paused, there was a strange falter- 
ing in her voice at the last words. It was 



THE CABINET SECRET. 217 

odd, the sip^lit of him, though it had startled 
her at the moment, had not so vividly recalled 
what her own words had now done — this 
man's connection with the one bright spot in 
her memory, the one brief happiness of a very 
lonely, somewhat hard life. 

Sarah was surprised, but she partly guessed 
at the truth, and made no comment, only say- 
ing, 

*^ You knew him yourself, then, Eachel ?" 

*' If it's the same one as I fancy, I did, 
Miss Sarah ; and I wish I never had, nor 
no one else here either; though, maybe, 
'tvvouldn't ha' made much odds," she concluded, 
in a lower tone. 

^^ Who is he, then?" 

Now Sarah repeated the old question, not 
that she had absolutely disbelieved her father, 
but she was not sorry his statement should be 
confirmed, and it was a good introduction to 
a quest of further particulars, such as she 
hoped Eachel would be able to add to the 
bald fact she alone knew ; but the old ser- 
vant's present answer was nearly word for 
word what her master's had been. 



218 THE CABINET SECRET. 

^' An old clerk of Mr. Lockstone's, miss — 
nothing more.'' 

" A very reputable one, too, Eachel, I 
should say," she replied, with a half-smile ; 
"judging by appearances, that is." 

" He was once,'' Eachel answered, almost 
fiercely, " and looked as well as your father 
himself, for that matter." 

The mocking light shone very visibly in 
Sarah's eyes, but she put a strong constraint 
upon herself, and forbore to give full force to 
the feeling in the tone wherein she said, 

"An old love, eh, Eachel?" 

The woman looked quickly up. It was no 
good, there had been just a shade, ever so 
slight, but still a shade of mockery in the 
tone, and Eachel, ever quick to detect such 
things, was in a mood to be doubly so just 
now, and to resent them, too. 

" And what if he were ?" she demanded, 
angrily. 

" Nay, Eachel, now don't quarrel with me. 
Why shouldn't I ask ? Upon my word 1 
didn't mean to afTront you." She spoke quite 
truly there, and Eachel felt she did, but was 



THE CABINET SECRET. 219 

only half-appeased notwithstanding. Sarah 
saw it was so, and condescended to add, " You 
know I'm so used to Hester and all her lovers, 
1 suppose I can't think of any one else's with- 
out it's amusing me, as they do ; but I really 
should like to hear about you and yours, 
Eachel, I should, indeed. There, sit down 
and tell me," she spoke half-kindly, half-im- 
periously, and the woman who had known her 
from babyhood, and loved her in a fashion, 
obeyed so far as sitting down went, but she 
did not speak, only sat with her hands on her 
knees, holding the old-fashioned brass candle- 
stick between them, and seeming perfectly 
indifferent, perhaps unconscious of the flame 
that flickered up in her face and threw its 
chief light there — her eyes were fixed moodily 
on the opposite wall. 

Sarah watched her in silence for a minute, 
glad her own face was in shadow, then she 
said, 

''Well, Rachel?" and the tone made the 
woman start, as she had intended. It was 
that of command, such as she had been used 
to hear from those lips for many years now. 



220 THE CABINET SECRET. 

The habit of obedience in a general way had 
grown strong, and she yielded to it now in- 
stinctively, as Sarah had hoped and expected. 

'^ Well, miss, he did pretend to care for me, 
and I was fool enough to believe him then." 

" Is it long ago ?" 

^'Long! I should just think it was. Be- 
fore — yes, just before you were born ; he'd 
been here above a year then, but up to that 
time " 

*' What ?" asked Sarah, gently for her, 
seeing the woman's face contract, as with a 
spasm of pain, as she paused. 

" Ah ! if it hadn't been for that," said 
Kachel, and the pain came into her voice and 
made it shrill as she spoke, *^it wouldn't have 
been so bad ! but for the thought of Joel — 
poor Joel I I shouldn't mind so much now," 
and Rach^, hard, wrinkled, brown-faced 
Rachel, absolutely dashed away a tear from 
her still line but generally harsh eyes. 

"Who was Joel, then?" again asked Sarah, 
who found she must help the story on. 

" The only relation I ever had — to know, 
I mean, of course — in all the world ; he was 



THE CABINET SECRET. 221 

a far-away cousin of my mother's, and a big 
lad when I was only a bit of a child, and he'd 
come and see me at the workhouse many a 
time, and bring me things, as I know now he 
must have denied himself half his food to get. 
I'd only him to care for then, and I did care for 
him — as to that, I allers did care for him, 
only he got to care for me as I couldn't — 
perhaps I might if I'd gone on trying as he 
asked me to, and as I promised ; but I loved 
him dearly, like a father or an elder brother. 
Oh ! if Anthony had never come between us!" 

It was curious, but all the time Eachel was 
speaking she did so more as if going over her 
story in an outspoken soliloquy than as if 
telling it to an interested listener. Probably 
from an unconscious but deep feeling that 
there was no real sympathy with her in the 
present auditor's breast, in spite of the sen- 
tences which filled up her own pauses. 

** He was jealous ?" half asked half sug- 
gested Sarah. 

*' N — n — no, I don't think it was that. I 
was very young then, younger than you are 
now even. Miss Sarah," and Rachel looked at 



222 THE CABINET SECRET. 

the handsome face beside her with a dim 
consciousness that its possessor would never 
have been guilty, however young, of the soft- 
hearted folly and vanity that had clouded her 
own youth. Turning away again, she went 
on, ^' And people said I was pretty — there — I 
know I was — my glass told me that — though 
I'm ugly enough now — and Anthony Hicks 
seemed to me a sort of a gentleman, and a 
dashing one, too, so I must needs be fool 
enough to set to watching him in, in the morn- 
ing, and out at night. Poor Joel ! he'd have 
given his right hand if I'd ever looked out for 
him like that " 

^^Yes, Rachel." 

" Well, by-and-by Anthony finds out what 
a fool I am, and he begins noticing me, and 
I'm as proud as a peacock, and begin thinking 
I shall be a lady — a lawyer's wife, and as 
good as my mistress. Hicks said he didn't 
mean to keep clerk all his life ; and then 
Joel, he soon saw how it was, and he pretty 
near broke his heart, poor fellow ! Well, it's 
odd how such things go, I fancied I loved 
Anthony Ilicks in two months dearer than 



THE CABINET SECRET. 223 

ever I'd done poor Joel in all those years." 

" And what did he do ?" 

" Went away for a bit, and then came back 
to try his chance again, he said — let each 
have a fair run for it ; just as if it wasn't 
all over already. Then Anthony tried being 
friends with him, and Joel found he'd wild 
ways, and told me, and I — I said I liked him 
the better for them ; but that wasn't true, 
only it vexed me so, and Joel telling of him ; 
and, oh, dear ! oh, dear ! he believed me, and 
took to wild ways himself. They were quite 
different in him though — seemed so to me at 
least, and a deal worse than with Anthony ; 
and last of all the two got quarrelling when 
they were both in liquor, and tried to fight, 
but Joel's foot slipped, so they said, and he 
got an ugly knock on his head, and — and he 
died." 

''What, at once?" asked Sarah, really a 
little shocked. 

'' No, they took him to the infirmary, and 
he lived a week; but I thought I should 
never have been happy again. That sobered 
me, and it was well it did, or I don't know 



224 THE CABINET SECRET. 

bow I should have borne the rest — and witli- 
out Joel to comfort me.'* 

'^ What ?" 

" Why, Tony went off — your father sent 
him, he told me ; and he was aw\ay, oh ! such 
a weary long time, and when he came back 
he was grander than ever.'' 

*^ And not so fond of you, Eachel ?" 

Sarah guarded her tone very carefully this 
time. 

'^ Well, yes, but he said he was going off 
again, should go off on the sudden and very 
quiet, and wanted me to go with him, and be 
married afterwards, and I told him I wouldn't, 
and he did go one morning, and I never knew 
a word, and have never seen him since till to- 
day. I didn't think he meant it," she con- 
cluded, under her breath. 

No, or Eachel would have gone with him, 
in spite of all, so wildly did she then love that 
worthless scapegrace, Anthony Hicks. His 
going had made her the prematurely old and 
wrinkled woman she now was, the hard, cross- 
grained fellow-servant all the younger maids 
had held in abhorrence as well as awe. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 225 

There was a long pause. Sarah did not 
break it this time, till the rumbling of wheels 
in the distance warned her the carriage was 
coming, then she said softly, 

^^ I wonder what could have made him go 
away." 

** I don't know ; he said something of 
getting what would make our fortune if he 
did ; but I don't fancy there was much truth 
in it. Sometimes I've thought he'd got into 
so many scrapes Merestown had grown too 
hot for him, as Joel always said it would." 

*^ Did he stay with my father to the last ?" 

'' Oh ! yes, up to the very night before he 
was missing — very late he was that night, I 
remember, and master, too — they were shut 
up together in the office long after his time 
was up." 

*' Did my father know he was going ?" 

'^ Law, no. Miss Sarah, he was as much 
surprised as any of us ; though it's not his 
way to say much, he did say a good deal 
that morning, and was terribly put out for a 
clerk, he was so busy at the Manor just 
then." 

VOL. I. Q 



226 THE CABINET SECRET. 

'^ How ?" and Sarah's voice sounded just 
the same, thougli the words had interested 
her beyond any that had gone before. 

" Why, it was just about the time the fuss 
was about the young gentleman's marriage, 
the Mr. Lee as is now, I mean, and the old 
gentleman ill, and all that." 

^^ Oh ! and you don't know at all where 
this man went ?" 

Rachel shook her head. With the telling 
of the story of her youth, much of her emo- 
tion had passed away, and she was now almost 
the same Rachel as ever. 

" And he never came back once all these 
years till to-day ?" 

*' No — I never saw him, at least, if he did, 
or heard of him — there's your father." 

^^ Yes ; and abominably late he is. Well, 
Rachel, good-bye. Remember, I shall look 
in on you sometimes, and I shall quite want 
to know when you see this man again," and 
Sarah went downstairs and entered the car- 
riage, without a word to Mr. Lockstone, 
though a keen glance had shown her he was 
more pallid than ever, and that his hands 



THE CABINET SECRET. 227 

shook nervously as he drew on his gloves. 

Eachel gave one look after the carriage as 
it dashed away through the dimness, mutter- 
ing as she returned and closed the door, 

" What is she after now, I wonder — some- 
thing.'' 



q2 



228 



CHAPTER XVI. 

'^ A ND to-night I had hoped our Mabel 
-^ might take her place among her equals 
— perhaps been the belle of the room," thought 
Mrs. Lee, very sadly, as she sat as much in 
the shade as the persistent squareness of the 
sitting-room at No. 5, Newman's Buildings 
allowed, watching her daughter humouring 
the querulousness of the old man's convales- 
cence. 

It ^vas between eight and nine, the tea had 
long been removed, the lamp stood alone in 
its glory in the middle of the table, and as 
the time stole on Mrs. Lee's thoughts had 
flown away to a very different scene, which 
was now probably commencing not so very 
far away from that poor little room. Even 
balls began earlier some forty years ago, and 
it was the county ball of which poor Mrs. 
Lee was now thinking. Yes, this was the 



THE CABINET SECRET. 229 

night — the night of the county ball — looked 
forward to so long by many a fair young 
matron and eager pleasure-loving girl ; looked 
back to so often with regret as having passed ; 
the one exciting bit of ^gaiety which alone 
really broke the tedium of that winter's so- 
journ in the country — so very wearisome and 
dull to those petticoat wearers who could not, 
or did not, venture to emulate their mascu- 
line relatives' exploits in the hunting-field 
and coursing-ground. 

The county ball was a grand affair at Meres- 
town, too — a very grand affliir. Nobody ever 
failed to go without a very valid excuse 
indeed, and anybody Avho could not go re- 
gretted the circumstance very sincerely. The 
county families always mustered strongly. 
Married sons and married daughters were 
certain to choose the time of the county ball 
for visits to the paternal roof, if so. doing was 
in any w^ay feasible. Then visitors were asked 
with the one object of enlivening the ball, 
so that altogether it was no wonder that 
so much was thought, talked, and written 
about it ! 



230 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Poor Mrs. Lee ! Hers was by no means 
an ambitious soul — very happily for herself, 
or how would her sufferings during the past 
few years have been quadrupled. She had 
lived contentedly at the Manor all the years 
of her married life in a seclusion which would 
have been unendurable to most women. The 
neglect, which to other ladies in her position 
would have been gall and wormwood, was un- 
felt, scarcely even noticed, except when it 
irritated her husband. 

While he remained tolei'ably healthy in 
body and mind, while her darling children 
were children still, Mrs. Lee was happy, en- 
tirely happy. She had known straitened cir- 
cumstances, almost privation, and to her the 
beauty and luxury of such a home as the 
Manor was enjoyment, happiness enough. She 
had mixed very little in society, and that 
little, thoijgh she had met her husband there, 
had rather given her a distaste to it ; and, 
perhaps, in her inmost soul, unrecognised 
even by herself, there was a feeling of re- 
joicing and escape at her present enforced 
immunity from it. Her visits to her hus- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 231 

band's cottages, her almsgiving of kind Avords 
and deeds, as well as of money, food, and 
clothes to the sick and suffering, well occu- 
pied what little leisure was left her from the 
calls of her happy home life, and afforded her 
all she required of interest and excitement 
from without. Mind, heart, and soul of the 
lady of Lee Manor were each and all filled — 
well filled. 

And so it went on, till ^' the little ones " 
ceased to be such, and as they budded into noble 
youth and lovely maidenhood, Mrs. Lee re- 
cognised the want she had failed to see before. 
Yes, it was not well that they should lead 
the isolated life which had hitherto made her 
hjippiness, and she began to look around and 
note the doings and ways of the neighbours 
who ought to have been her friends and as- 
sociates. 

The result was a discovery that society was 
not confined to that peculiar sort, the English 
abroad — and that society forty years back, 
remember — with which she alone was conver- 
sant, and her mother's heart grew yet more 
anxious than her husband's had ever been, 



232 THE CABINET SECRET. 

even in the clays when most impatient and 
irate at the neighbourhood's neglect of his 
wife, that they should visit at last, that some 
opening should offer for Edward and Mabel's 
introduction to those with whom they had a 
right to mix. Nor was she without hope of 
this, for, as before noticed, some slight ad- 
vances had of late been made, and it was now 
her chief care and object that these should be 
met in such a manner as to encourage others. 

No want of welcome, no resentment of 
former slights, on hei' part, at least, should 
check tliis weakly plant of friendliness in the 
bud ; it had been long, very long in shooting 
at all — no frost of coldness must nip it now. 
So the few straggling callers at Lee Manor 
were unexpectedly pleased with its lady, 
though they found its lord barely courteous and 
somewhat distrait in manner, and they left it 
declaring " Mrs. Lee must be a lady, wherever 
that queer man had picked her up ; she was 
so gentle, so charmingly refined, only a 
little naive, but that made her all the more 
piquante.'^ 

Just a little longer and it was very pos- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 233 

sible Mrs. Lee and her handsome children 
might have become the fashion down in their 
county, but that "little longer" was not 
allowed — had Stephen Lockstone suspected 
there might be danger in it ? — the season 
called the neighbouHiood to London before 
any real friendliness had been established be- 
tween even one county family and that of the 
Manor, and before they returned, the Lees had 
dropped altogether out of their circle, were 
lost to it completely ; and now it was only, 
'^ Dear, dear, have you heard about the Lees ? 
— such an old family, too — how shocking ! — 
what terrible imprudence !" 

*' It serves that stupid bear of a man right 
— how horribly he behaved, dear, didn't he ? 
But I am sorry for his wife, and those child- 
ren, too, what has become of them, I wonder?" 

'' Ah ! gone abroad — well, it's the best 
thing, I suppose, when those sort of things 
happen. I'm really grieved ; but to be sure 
I've heard he picked her up abroad, so it's 
the sort of life she's been used to." 

No one cared to ascertain the real facts, no 
one, had they known them, would have 



234 THE CABINET SECRET. 

dreamed of seeking the gentle lady out, how- 
ever charming or piquante, at No. 5, New- 
wan's Buildings ! 

Mrs. Lee knew this very well, and she did 
not expect that they should. Nevertheless 
the knowledge did not make her regret any the 
less bitter, nor the utter destruction of all her 
newborn hopes easier or pleasanter to bear ; 
and this night of all others she felt these 
most acutely, for at this same county ball 
Mabel was to have ^' come out," and the do- 
ting mother had expected great things from 
the event. Mabel, once seen in her own 
proper sphere, must be recognized at once as 
a true Lee ; Avas she not the living representa- 
tive of the beauty of 1660, whose portrait by 
Sir Peter Lely was the chief ornament of the 
picture gallery, only Mabel's face possessed 
sweetness as its distinguishing characteristic 
in lieu of the coquetry which was that of the 
elder Lee ! Once seen she must be admired, 
loved, was the secret conviction of the mother's 
heart. Therefore she would be sought, and 
so all come right in the end. Alas ! that was 
all over now, the vision vanished. By this 



THE CABINET SECRET. 235 

time Lady Olivia Frazer had probably for- 
gotten completely all about that little talk 
upon the point, which, slight as it had been, 
had sufficed to paint a very pretty, very 
gratifying picture on Mrs. Lee's mind. 

Her beautiful Mabel, sole daughter of the 
Lees, chaperoned to this same county ball by 
Lady Olivia herself. Lady Olivia, eldest 
daughter to the Earl of Avonsdale, of Neville 
Castle, and hardly ten years Mabel's senior, 
though already the mother of five little 
Frazers. Ah ! she had forgotten all about it, 
no doubt, but poor Mrs. Lee had not, she 
only wished she had, as she sat there in the 
little square parlour of No. 5, Newman's 
Buildings, her thoughts, her mind, in spite of 
herself, not with her feeble husband and 
patient child, but away in the large room of 
Merestown's chief Lm, where the stewards 
were already busy, where Mabel ought to have 
been, might have been now dancing her first 
dance in public, perhaps; and the sad mother, 
now first fully realising the privileges and 
advantages of station and birth, and valuing 
them unduly, of course, now they were lost, 



236 THE CABINET SECRET. 

as it is our nature to do, wiped a few scaldinp^ 
tears warily from her soft, loving eyes, at 
tlie same moment that IVIr. Lee querulously 
exclaimed, 

*' It is time for my soup, Mabel, I'm quite 
sure it is, and I want it directly, '^ and his 
voice was raised to a painfully shrill pitch in 
his impatience. 

Mabel glanced furtively at the timepiece, 
the only one they had brought with them, and 
not a very ornamental one, but their own, or 
rather Mabel's, since it had been specially 
given to her years back for the school- 
room. 

It still wanted a full quarter to nine. 
Deborah was punctuality itself, and her father 
had been fidgeting for this soup for half an 
hour past already. A weary look rose for a 
moment to the young girl's face, and quickly 
as it was banished, and replaced by a sweet, 
loving smile, Mrs. Lee saw it, and with a sharp, 
bitter pang. 

^* Shall I go and see about it, papa ?" 

" You ? No, of coui'se not, my darling — 
ring the bell. Why can't the servants attend 



THE CABINET SECRET. 237 

to their work ? They've been very irregular 
lately, very, and I've not heard the stable 
clock strike for months, I'm sure. They keep 
it slow, the knaves, I'm sure they do." 

Poor lord of Lee Manor ! He was that still 
in fancy more often than Avas pleasant or good 
for his two gentle companions. This wrung 
their heart more than all, not only as prov- 
ing how completely his mind had failed, 
but because the full consciousness of all his 
calamities, which generally succeeded such 
outbursts as these, was so inexpressibly 
painful. 

** You did not care for your tea to-night, 
papa, and you are hungry," faltered Mabel, 
afraid to leave the subject altogether, yet 
dreading any comment that suggested itself to 
her. 

*^Tea! — tea!" said the old man, in a puzzled 
tone. '* Ah ! no," he went on, more briskly, 
" the rolls weren't fresh, Mabel, and the butter 
— it was very nasty, Mabel, I didn't like it," 
he concluded, piteously, looking in his child's 
face for sympathy. Alas ! such petty trifles 
were of more import to him now as a rule 



238 THE CABINET SECRET. 

than the one great crushing grief of which 
they were the natural consequences. 

" It wasn't very nice, papa, dear. We 
must try and get some better/' 

'^Yes, tell them I won't have it, Mabel. 
They take advantage of my being ill, shut up 
here; but I'll go to the home farm myself 
to-morrow morning, Mabel. Remember, my 
dear, to-morrow morning. You'll remind me, 
eh, Mabel ?" 

" Yes," poor Mabel answered, with down- 
cast eyes, when she found silence impossible. 

^' They oughtn't to do it. I can't think 
what Stephen Lockstone '^ 

Ah ! that name recalled it all, and the old 
man came to an abrupt pause as lie uttered it, 
while its sound sent a creeping shiver through 
Mabel's whole frame. 

She could not attempt an answer this time, 
only fixed her soft eyes with mute pity on her 
father's face. She was surprised to see it 
unwontedly excited, working with passion, 
and in great alarm she hastened to him and 
put her arm caressingly over his shoulder, as 
he broke out incoherently. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 239 

'' It's cruel, Mabel, it's very cruel ; but he 
shan't — be shan't — he can't, you know — and 
he knows, too, it's no good — it's a trick, a 
deception. I found it out, Mabel, I did — I've 
got it safe — safe, you know," sinking his 
voice to a mysterious whisper, " and, Mabel — 
Mabel, you shall bring them to me, dear, and 
we'll show it to somebody else — an honest 
one, dear, and he shan't — he shan't, I say. 
He can't, Mabel, can he ?" 

" No, father, dear," Mabel hastened to 
answer in her most soothing tones, for she 
was greatly alarmed at the violent agitatio^i 
her father had put himself into, and though 
entii-ely at a loss to conceive at what he was 
aiming, of what speaking, unless of Mr. Lock- 
stone's general proceedings, she caught eagerly 
at the first chance of calming him. Her touch 
and words had the desired effect, and, ex- 
hausted by his emotion, the old man once 
more subsided, murmuring indistinctly, 

*' To-morrow — yes, we'll do it to-morrow 
morning." 

Was it only the home farm and the butter 
he was thinking of, after all? Some such 



240 THE CABINET SECRET. 

question flitted across Mabel's mind as she 
watched the lined face resume its placid 
vacancy of expression, and the eyelids droop 
wearily over the now quiet eyes — so fierce a 
moment ago. It did not much matter, she 
thought ; whatever it was, it had had the good 
effect of averting the usual painful conclusion 
to such fits of oblivion to their changed estate 
as had occurred just now, while the whole 
scene had lessened the dreaded quarter of an 
hour so considerably, Deborah would probably 
arrive with the soup before her father again 
reused himself to ask for it, and to tax her 
just now almost exhausted powers of amus- 
ing him and diverting his childish impatience 
for the one thing happening to occupy his 
thoughts. 

Yes, nine o'clock came, and Deborah with 
it, and the poor feeble old man did not sit up 
in his chair or open his eyes till Mabel her- 
self called his attention to the excellent basin 
of soup now smoking before hiui. After eat- 
ing it he was helped upstairs, and went to 
bed, and Mabel was left to a welcome hour of 
solitude and repose, while her mother was 



THE CABINET SECRET. 241 

attending on her husband as far as he would 
permit her assistance. 

Sometimes Mrs. Lee came down again, 
sometimes not. To-night she returned to the 
room in less than the usual time, her step 
unusually brisk, her face eager. 

" Mabel," she said, as she came up to her 
child, and laid a caressing hand fondly on the 
rich tresses of hair coiled about the shapely 
head, *' Mabel, darling, do you think that 
— that there was anything in what he said ?" 
and she looked anxiously, yearningly in 
Mabel's face. 

Poor Mrs. Lee ! It was no thought for 
yourself, no regret on your own account, that 
had woke in your heart that painfully intense 
desire to glean hope, meaning, from your hus- 
band's random words. 

Mabel had been reading — reading one of 
the then not long published " Waverley 
Novels," one she had not read before. Dr. 
Armsdaile had brought it her only that morn- 
ing, and she was already lost in its absorbing 
interest, forgetful alike of the evening's petty 
but wearing, constantly-recurring trials, and 

VOL. I. R 



242 THE CABINET SECRET. 

of her own exceeding weariness of mind, when 
her mother's address startled her. She looked 
up puzzled, but with a brighter look on her 
face than it had worn since dinner, and on 
this Mrs. Lee feasted her eyes thankfully. 
Mabel was not thinking of the county ball, 
evidently not longing to be there, but griev- 
ing afresh over all that prevented it. Per- 
haps she did not even remember this was the 
night. Mrs. Lee was inclined to think not 
as she watched her child trying to recall what 
her mother alluded to — and Mrs. Lee was 
right. 

^' I — Fm afraid, mamma, I don't quite 
know what you mean," Mabel answered, at 
last. Those mind-wanderings of the broken 
man were such painful topics to the wilfully 
blind wife and daughter that she feared to 
mistake her mother's meaning, and wound her 
unwittingly. 

"What he said about having something 
safe, Mabel, and showing it to an honest one. 
Do you think there is something — something 
we don't know that is of consequence? Surely 
there was a meaning in it," and her eyes 
sought Mabel's wistfully. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 243 

The latter thought for a moment before 
answering, then she said, 

*' No, I'm afraid not, mamma — not the 
meaning you were hoping for, at least. It 
struck me as something unusual while he 
spoke, but I don't think it had any meaning 
— imj particular meaning, that is." 

Mrs. Lee's countenance fell a little, but she 
exclaimed, 

'' It struck you, too, Mabel, did it ? I 
daresay I am very silly, and that there was 
no special meaning in it, as you say ; but still, 
Mabel, do you know I cannot help feeling 
there was, and I feel so still." After a 
minute's pause she added fervently, " Oh ! my 
darling, if it would please God to restore your 
father to what he was — if he could but tell 
us !" and she paced up and down the room in 
a manner very unlike her ordinary peculiarly 
calm and equable demeanour. 

Mabel watched her in surprise, and some 
anxiety. It was a most unusual thing for her 
gentle mother to be thus moved. Presently 
she stopped, and sitting down by Mabel's side 
said, in a low voice, 

r2 



244 THE CABINET SECRET. 

*' Mabel, sometimes I fear, I almost fear 
we were not wise or right in shrinking 
from — from appealing to — Perhaps we ought 
to have given some one authority to act for 
us. Dr. Armsdaile thought so, you know," 
and her voice faltered, the wifely shielding 
and sheltering care was beginning to be sorely 
opposed by the mother's anxieties and loving 
cares. 

^^ Well, dear mamma, if it is so it is not too 
late. We have done it at last — at least 
Edward has — and you need not reproach 
yourself about it. Indeed — indeed, mamma," 
she added, anxiously, " I am afraid it will 
prove all useless. I don't think there is any 
chance " 

She brought her sentence to an abrupt end. 
She had intended to say boldly " of our re- 
covering our home," but she found there ivas 
a great chance of her breaking down should 
she attempt it, so left the blank her mother 
could fill up but too well. 

*^ True, dear, it is done at last. I had for- 
gotten at the moment, and was only thinking 
of our past forbearance. How soon can we 



THE CABINET SECRET. 245 

hear again, Mabel? They will send by the 
next mail, will they not ?" 

" Oh ! yes, my uncle would be sure to be 
back then, Edward said ; and I think a letter 
may come every day now, mamma/' 

Mrs. Lee said no more, but she thought a 
great deal as she sat by her child's side, one 
hand on hers. She regretted past weakness 
on her own part, as she was inclined, hardly, 
to term her tenderness for her husband ; won- 
dered anxiously as to the possibility of those 
words of his having any hidden meaning or not; 
thought once more of the ball, of Mabel, of 
her not being there ; and finally, as she at 
last went upstairs again, marvelled, " Were 
those people there ? — those now in her own 
old home ? — had they gained admittance to 
the county ball ?" 



24G 



CHAPTER XVII. 

ADMITTANCE to the Merestown county 
ball was not a natural consequence of 
ability and willingness to pay for your tickets. 
No. The tickets could only be obtained 
through the stewards, and it was a perfectly 
optional matter whether or not those gentle- 
men chose to accord them ; while admittance 
to the assembly was all the more eagerly 
desired by any whose birth or position was 
such as to render it doubtful whether these 
grants would be unhesitatingly accorded. 

An anxious desire to be among the happy 
privileged, to give her own fair face the chance 
of bearing off the palm of beauty from the 
county belles, had arisen in Hester Lockstone's 
mind from the first instant that entrance into 
such a paradise seemed possible to her — a 
desire by no means lessened by the know- 
ledge that her wedding-day was almost fixed, 



THE CABINET SECRET. 247 

the settlements already drawn, and Mr. Geld- 
finder by no means ambitious of accompanying 
her, or of her going alone, into all the dazzling 
allurements and untried novelties of the county 
ball society. He yielded his own wishes to 
hers — of course, he always did ; but, never- 
theless, had clearly intimated that he thought 
it would be just as well, much more pleasant, 
if she gave up all idea of going. 

'' Isn't it stupid of him, Sarah ?" Hester 
indolently asked, as she poised some delicate 
muslins in her hands, the better to estimate 
their respective merits. 

*' On the contrary, I am quite delighted to 
find he can venture even to possess, much 
more to express, an opinion of his own, 
though only on one point — before marriage," 
was Sarah's sarcastic and carefully emphasised 
reply. 

Hester's large eyes were lazily raised, as 
usual, to her sister's face. 

'^ I don't know what you mean, Sarah — I 
never do ; but I can't see why Harman can't 
have the same opinion with me," she pouted. 

*^How reasonable you are, Hester ! Once 



248 THE CABINET SECRET. 

dissentient — for a million times consenting. 
My dear, if this affects you so strongly," 
and she looked at the supine figure reclining 
near her in an easy chair with scornful 
ridicule, ^^ how will you endure the inevitable 
reverse of the pretty picture of all-enduring 
subservience now presented by your devoted 
swain ? " 

'^ I don't want any pictures — I only want 
Harman to like to go to the ball," Hester 
answered petulantly, and so foolishly that 
Sarah looked at her this time in genuine sur- 
prise. Did she really not see the gist of her 
remarks, or would she not take the trouble to 
discover it ? 

"It is only on your account he objects to 
go," she said, after a moment's pause of con- 
sideration. 

" My account ! I do wish, Sarah, you 
would not talk such nonsense — it's no use 
telling me that, you know. If he'd any desire 
to please me in it, he'd be delighted to go. 
I'm sure poor Willie Turner would." 

" Why not elect him cavalier e ser rente for 
the evening, then ? No doubt he would fly 



THE CABINET SECRET. 249 

at your behest, and these last few weeks of 
cold looks and rebuffs would be as short in 
remembrance as Jacob's service for Rachel/' 

*^ I'm sure I'm quite willing he should go," 
returned Hester, in an injured tone; ^^it was 
you yourself, remember, who said I couldn't 
have both." 

'^Nay, Hester, if you attempt to quote me, 
do so correctly, let me beg. I simply inquired 
whether you thought it possible to marry 
both." 

'* Well, it's all the same — you were very 
teasing, as you always are. I believe you 
wanted one of them yourself," ventured Hes- 
ter, roused to something of recrimination by 
the cool, provoking tone of her sister. 

" Ah !" was the answer of the latter, no 
whit moved ; " and which would you assign 
me, most considerate sister, supposing such 
to be the case ? Which would suit me best, 
eh?" 

Hester would have replied, had she known 
how, and had she dared, that any assignment 
on her part would be rendered worse than 
useless by the resistance of the young men to 



250 THE CABINET SECRET. 

any such transfer of their fealty. Something 
of the sort passed through her mind, and gave 
a momentary light to her eyes, as was oc- 
casionally the case when baited beyond en- 
durance. Sarah saw it and was gratified. 
She gloried in rousing the indolent spirit of 
her sister, no matter by what means. Though 
but a transient and very feeble kindling, 
every fresh success proved some latent fire 
did exist ; and this simple conviction was 
a satisfaction, however hopeless was the pros- 
pect of its ever being excited to any purpose. 
She watched her now with mingled curiosity 
and speculation, but no words came, and the 
eyes resumed their ordinary insipid gentle- 
ness, the figure its indolent repose. 

*^ So it is as much trouble to answer as 
it is to understand," she said at last ; ^^ for 
once I will repeat my assertion — it is on 
your account Mr. Geldfinder objects to your 
presence at the ball.'' 

This time Hester let her muslins fall and 
looked up, in what Willie Turner would pro- 
bably have thought " pretty bewilderment," 
at her puzzle-speaking sister. To Sarah it 



THE CABINET SECRET. 251 

appeared simple stupidity, and she impatiently 
exclaimed, 

" On my word, Hester, you tempt me oc- 
casionally to believe you a born idiot. Why 
is your own heart so set on this thing ?" 

*^ The ball ! Law, Sarah, what a question ! 
Doesn't everybody like to go who can ? — 
and — and it isn't pleasant to be left out of 
what other people enjoy, of course, and — and 
all that." 

" And Miss Lockstone does not anticipate 
that her beauty will be the least admired in 
such an assembly, and she is not sorry 
a chance for competition in that respect 
should offer with the first people in the 
county, and — and would not be inconsolable 
to find a twelfth or thirteenth — which is it, 
by the way ? — admirer among the very grand 
gentlemen frequenting it ; and — and all that," 
sneered Sarah ; adding, after a moment's 
pause, " and it is precisely for those reasons 
Mr. Geldfinder would prefer your not going, 
Hester. He knows you are quite pretty 
enough to charm even a Neville ; while I sus- 
pect he does not know with equal certainty 



252 THE CABINET SECRET. 

how firm his hold on your heart might prove 
should such a catastrophe befall." 

Hester simpered a little, nay, even coloured 
at this ; she felt greatly llattered at such a 
speech from Sarah, and as she drawled forth 
*^ What nonsense," it was quite evident to 
that singularly clear-sighted girl that notions 
akin to those she had hinted at must have 
arisen in her sister's mind before, though pro- 
bably only in a misty sort of fashion, which 
she by no means disliked some clear elucida- 
tion of from herself. 

She gave a quick, piercing glance at the 
momentarily excited face, and then laughed 
her old low, scornful laugh. 

" So you had thought of so lamentable a 
contingency as not impossible ? Could you 
not have been honest for once and allowed 
it?" She paused again for a few seconds, 
still contemplating her sister, and then asked 
in a different tone, her eyes intently fixed on 
Hester's, ** Granted that you had one of these 
gentry at your feet, would you dismiss this 
man as you did Frank Marsden? Tell the 
truth this time, Hester, if you please," she 
added, determinedly. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 253 

Hester betook herself to her ordinary refuge 
■when close pressed, and covered her face 
with her handkerchief. 

'^ You are very unkind, Sarah. I wish you 
wouldn't talk so. / didn't dismiss poor Frank, 
as you call it. I wish you wouldn't talk like 
that — but you've no feeling — you never have 
about these things." 

" What things ? The depth of feeling 
which prompts peopfe to change their lovers 
once a month or so ? Well, I'm afraid I do 
not sympathise with such a proceeding, as 
perhaps I ought. And now suppose you 
answer my question. Would you turn Mr. 
Geldfinder over if you found his substitute in 
some great gun at the Merestown ball ?" 

" How you do tease, Sarah ! How should 
I know ? — of course not. How could I, unless 
he liked ?" 

"Ah! — well, Hester, it is because he does 
not like, that he ventures to hint a distaste to 
your pleasure in this instance. He wouldn't 
in the least mind your going as Mrs. Geld- 
finder ; but till that happy change in your 
condition is safely effected, he would prefer 
not running more risks of losing his prize 






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THE CABINET SECRET. 255 

" Not sure of going ! — Sarah, what do you 
mean ?" 

'' I don't generally take the trouble to say 
anything I do not think," retorted her sister, 
calmly ; " and I repeat, to what end decide 
on the dress for a ball to which it is very un- 
certain if you will be able to go/' 

^' I mean to go, Sarah — I have told Harman 
so," gasped Hester. 

" Without tickets ?" returned Sarah, calmly. 
" I doubt if even your dazzling beauty would 
overcome that slight obstacle. It wouldn't 
be pleasant to be turned away from the door." 

" But we have tickets, of course." 

" I beg your pardon, I am sorry to contra- 
dict you, but we have not. They are not 
sent unless applied for. We have not applied, 
and what is more, I strongly doubt your 
father's having the slightest intention of asking 
for any." 

" Oh ! Sarah," and there was real trouble 
in Hester's tones ; "but you will make him, 
won't you? Oh ! you will !" 

Sarah laughed. 

" What will you do if I say no? Bribe 



256 THE CABINET SECRET. 

me with the reversionary interest in Messrs. 
Turner and Geldfinder, for which you believed 
me so anxious just now ; or go and boldly 
demand the tickets from your father yourself, 
as your light, the elder born ?" and the lip 
curled scornfully. 

** Oh ! Sarah, dear Sarah, you know I 
can't. You will get them, won't you ? You 
can't be so cruel !" and Hester positively 
turned pale with dismay. 

" I could be, as you very well know, Hester, 
and most probably should if I did not think 
it perfectly right I should get the tickets 
myself. I can put you out of your misery so 
far. I do intend the tickets to be applied 
for, but, remember, they may be refused." 

This was almost a worse evil than the 
other, but before Hester could recover from 
her consternation at its possibility to make 
any observation on it, her sister had left the 
room. She was in no mood for any more of 
those helpless, peevish platitudes just then ; 
besides, it had occurred to her that it really 
was time to see about the tickets. Her fatlier 
had remained at home that day, a most un- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 257 

usual thing, and she determined the matter 
should be decided without another moment's 
unnecessary delay. After a few minutes' re- 
flection as to Stephen Lockstone's probable 
whereabouts, she concluded he would be found 
in the breakfast-room. Thither she accord- 
ingly repaired, and found him sitting with his 
head upon his arm, and that on the table be- 
fore him. The morning paper, in which he 
had attempted to appear absorbed, had fallen 
unheeded at his feet ; he was lost in a reverie 
which his knitted brows and compressed lips 
sufficiently betokened was of no pleasanter 
character than usual. He started violently 
as Sarah approached, making a futile, helpless 
effort to regain the newspaper. 

^^ Spare yourself the exertion, sir, I beg," 
was her sarcastic observation as she noted the 
spasmodic movement, *'it is quite needless. 
I am alone, and I, as you are well aware, 
can see through any blinds of your manu- 
facture." 

Stephen Lockstone groaned, or rather he 
would have done so had he dared. Sarah's 
presence reduced the sound he uttered to 

VOL. I. s 



258 THE CABINET SECRET. 

something like a grunt. He would fain have 
spoken, but for the positive impossibility of 
finding words. 

^' The news was not sufficiently exciting to 
rivet your attention this morning, and so you 
fell asleep over the attempt to get interested, 
no doubt," proceeded his daughter, scoffingly. 
"And truly I scarcely wonder. It is the 
fitting, legitimate result for a country squire, 
when he chances to spend the intermediate 
hours between a heavy breakfast and equally 
weighty luncheon by his fireside, instead of 
bestirring himself among his acres. By the 
way, did you ever carry a gun, sir ?" 

"What folly," was the angry excla- 
mation responding to this query, Avhich Sarah 
put as innocently as though really seeking 
information. 

Her rejoinder, too, was meekness itself, 
though aggravating to a degree to one who 
knew her as well as did her father. 

" Oh ! pray pardon me — above all, please 
spare me such naughty words. Of course I 
didn't mean to suggest your taking a gun in 
the snow, only if you don't shoot, yourself, 



THE CABINET SECRET. 259 

mightn't your friends like to try the Manor 
preserves ?" 

*^ He — he doesn't know how to shoot," 
blurted forth Stephen Lockstone, and then 
all but wished himself shot for the inad- 
vertence. 

Sarah's worst look, that cool, cruel, ques- 
tioning, irresistible gaze, was upon him in an 
instant. What a mistake he had made ! He 
had been a fool indeed. No after correction, 
no self-contradiction or mystifying, would avail 
here. He kncAv that but too well, and pre- 
served a sullen silence, hardly knowing 
whether he felt relieved or more disturbed 
when Sarah's expression changed, and she 
simply observed, with intense contempt of 
tone, 

" Cannot shoot ! No, I should not think 
he could." 

Of whom was she thinking? Had she 
guessed ? What did she know ? — or rather 
what did she not know ? But he had hardly 
time to ask himself these questions, and feel 
how completely his daughter was an enigma 
to him, however plainly he and his best-laid 

s 2 



260 THE CABINET SECRET. 

plans were read by her, when she went on in 
a totally changed tone, 

'^/was thinking of very different people 
when I spoke of jour friends. If you choose 
to forget what friends the master of the Manor 
House has a right to claim, I do not ; and I 
fancy the young Nevilles, for example, would 
not object to carry a gun over our well-stocked 
acres." 

^^ The — the Nevilles ?" murmured Stephen 
Lockstone, and for once he spoke without an 
oath, and with one genuine and single feeling 
— surprise. 

^* The Nevilles — yes — I beg your pardon — 
I fancied my pronunciation even unusually 
distinct, or — stay, they are made of superior 
clay to that of others, perhaps ? Ah ! I see it 
is so, and you are in the secret. Well, I con- 
fess I was not, and from what little I have 
heard and seen of them, I judged they were 
very much like other people. They don't 
shoot, then?" 

" Sarah ! what is it you mean? for the life 
of me I can't tell,'^ and once again, in very 
desperation, he spoke the simple truth. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 261 

" Indeed ! Considering your ordinary pow- 
ers of comprehension, sir, which occasionally 
outrun my powers of expression, that is sur- 
prising ; but to reward such rare humility, I 
will speak very plainly. It is high time you 
invited the young Nevilles, and some of your 
other neighbours, to try the Manor covers. 
You have taken very excellent care they 
should be kept forbidden ground to all but 
the keepers for as many years as I can re- 
member. Now it is time the key should be 
turned. The privilege will be welcomed all 
the more eagerly, depend on it, for the past 
abstinence. Suppose you write a note or two 
to-day. We have not much time left, re- 
member — I will drive in with you after 
luncheon, and we can leave one for the 
Nevilles, with your application for the ball 
tickets — or you have them, perhaps ?" 

And then Stephen Lockstone, who, care- 
ful to observe Sarah's prohibition of oaths be- 
fore the servants, indemnified himself whole- 
sale when alone with his family for such trying 
abstinence, spit forth a torrent of unseemly 
words, but nevertheless he felt there was much 



262 THE CABINET SECRET. 

weight in those of his tormentor. Why had 
he kept the Manor covers so carefully for all 
these years? — why thrown cold water on all 
poor Mr Lee's feeble proposals regarding 
shooting parties ? Battues were not in those 
days. Why suavely but determinedly set 
aside Mrs. Lee's sweet but firm arguments re- 
garding the same matter ? Why — but with 
the very idea now put before him to be acted 
on by his daughter. Did she not know after 
all, or did she suspect — and yet urge him on. 
Oil ! if he could but feel as bold, now that his 
object was accomplished, with but that one 
terror to be dreaded, as he had felt before — that 
Sarah had been a boy — that — but Sarah's voice, 
cold and cutting as the brightest steel, broke 
on his self-communings, regrets, and wishes. 

" If you have quite ended a blasphemous 
tirade more befitting that respectable acquaint- 
ance of yours, Tony Hicks, than the lord of Lee 
Manor, sir, perhaps you will kindly inform me 
at what hour you propose ordering the car- 
riage ; if I am not mistaken, this is one of the 
days the stewards are supposed to attend at 
the ' Eoebuck ' to receive applications for 



THE CABINET SECRET. 263 

tickets, therefore it will suit remarkably well." 

Stephen Lockstone winced, and grew more 
pallid than ever as his daughter spoke. Yes, 
she had touched him to the quick then, as she 
had fully intended ; and a short, bright Hash of 
triumph darted from her eyes, composed the 
next instant to a quiet but very determined 
gaze upon her quailing father. A question 
rose to his lips, and had almost escaped them, 
but it was checked in time, and he sullenly 
muttered, 

*' Do you suppose you will get tickets this 
year ?" 

" Yes. At any rate, if we do not, neither 
shall we next. Take your position at once, 
sir — if you have one grain of courage to occupy 
it, at least." 

And Stephen Lockstone rang the bell and 
ordered the carriage, and by-and-by he and his 
resolute younger daughter dashed up to the 
porch of the "Roebuck." Very busy that little 
inn thought itself on that day — very busy, 
and very grand, for two or three of the 
stewards really were there, though it was by 
no means a matter of course that they should 



264 THE CABINET SECRET. 

be, as Mr. Wellcome, the portly master of the 
place, and whilom head butler at Castle 
Neville, as often as not transacted all the real 
business connected with the ball himself. He 
glanced out of the door now as the handsome 
carriage and prancing horses drew up *at it. 
Not always did he condescend to greet even 
his best customers himself, and now, after a 
passing scrutiny of the vehicle, he turned on 
his heel with an expression on his jovial face 
which its occupants might scarcely have re- 
lished — one of them, that is; Sarah would have 
been indifferent, or, more probably, would 
have taken measures to change it very quickly. 

" Are you to act a lacquey's part, and dance 
attendance yourself on an old servant ?" she 
asked, her tone low and contemptuous, as 
she saw her father preparing to descend. He 
desisted mechanically, and she said aloud, 

" You had better send for Mr. Wellcome, 
perhaps he can tell us if any one is here." 

So the footman Avent, and the innkeeper, 
after keeping them waiting some five minutes, 
slowly descended the doorsteps, his hat on, 
and his manner particularly indifferent. 



THE CABINET SECRET. 265 

" What can I do for you, Mr. Lockstone ?" 
he inquired, staying his farther progress, while 
still beneath the shelter of his portico. 

Before that hesitating gentleman had time 
to answer, however, Sarah came to the rescue, 
her brilliant eyes fixed on the abashed inn- 
keeper's face, her haughty gesture motioning 
him nearer. 

" We wish to know what gentlemen are in 
the steward's room to-day, Mr. Wellcome. Be 
good enough to ascertain, if you please — par- 
ticularly if either of the Mr. Nevilles is there." 

In spite of himself Mr. Wellcome now stood 
at the carriage door, bowing low, too, yes, 
absolutely bowing to the beautiful face before 
him, though owned by Stephen Lockstone's 
daughter. *^ Dashed if he could help it," as 
he afterwards explained apologetically to his 
wife ; " there she sat, as much at ease as a 
born lady, and with such eyes — lor ! Why, 
Lady Olivia, no, nor that friend of hers, the 
beauty from London we all thought so much 
of at Castle Neville the year of the wedding, 
you know, even she couldn't hold a candle to 
her. She is handsome, and no mistake !" 



266 THE CABINET SECRET. 

So Mr. Wellcome, half mechanically, half 
unwillingly, wholly bewildered for the moment, 
found himself doing her haughty behest, while 
the familiar smile of intense contempt stole 
over Sarah's features as she recognized that 
precise effect she had calculated on producing. 

Two stewards of the ball were louncrin^r in 
the comfortable little room appropriated to 
them at the " Roebuck," the great hotel, as it 
was considered to be at Merestown, though 
half a dozen such, and more, could easily be 
swallowed up by that magnificent piece of 
modern luxury at Charing Cross. 

One was middle-aged, the other young, 
with a fresh, good-tempered face, clustering 
chestnut curls, and frank blue eyes, very plea- 
sant to look upon. What little they had to 
do had been done, and now they were idling 
away the time as best they might, and very 
hard work tliey found it on that dull after- 
noon in a stagnant country town. The elder 
one sat in an easy chair, poising a paper-knife 
very dexterously on one finger ; the young 
man now leant against the window-frame and 
looked out on the sloppy street, with its half- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 267 

melted patches of snow, all black begrimed, 
and little impromptu rivulets running here 
and there in the warmer parts ; now walked 
over to the fire, poking it for the hundredth 
time, or turned over once more the miscel- 
laneous assortment of cards and papers dexter- 
ously fitted into the frame of the chimney- 
glass by Mr. Wellcome's practised fingers. 

"What a terrible nuisance it is stopping 
here in this way, Neville ; but Lady Eaymond 
particularly wished to see your sister to-day, 
so she has taken the carriage over, and I am 
a prisoner till her return ; but for that I'm 
not sure I should have come in at all," ob- 
served Sir Charles Eaymond, during an inter- 
val of obstinacy on the part of the paper- 
knife, when it insisted on falling three 
times running. " It's all a great farce, you 
know, and Wellcome can do it all just as well 
as we can." 

"And better," half-yawned, half-laughed 
young Neville. " However, I'm only too 
grateful for any chance that brings you here 
to-day. I am doing very hard filial duty in 
the matter, you know, taking my father's 



268 THE CABINET SECRET. 

place. Hilloa ! here comes Wellcome, some- 
thing up, eh ? Whj, what's happened ? He 
looks as if he had been guilty of an emotion. 
Is such a thing possible for our staid ex- 
butler? What is the missive. Sir Charles?" 

^* Read it, it concerns you as much as 

Oh ! you have another. Well, that is capital. 
He's not willing one chance should escape." 

^'Eh? I don't understand. This thing 
is simply a card of admission to shoot for Fred 
and me, apparently ; and to the Manor, too, 
by Jove ! I'm not sorry, they're glorious 
preserves, and we have often longed to try 
our hands there, but they were kept as sacred 
as a Turk's seraglio. It's a favour, I can tell 
you, sir." 

^' Umph !" returned the baronet, somewhat 
doubtingly. " If so, it is one not extended 
to me. This," and he held the paper towards 
him, " is simply a formal note of application 
to us for ball tickets. Fancy that fellow 
Lockstone, the attorney — we shall have the 
apothecary applying next, I suppose. Just 
write word there are none, Wellcome. You 
know how to manage it. That is what your 



THE CABINET SECRET. 269 

father would wish, eh, Neville ? Who hrought 
the note ?" 

*^ The footman gave it me, sir," hesitated 
Wellcome ; ** but the carriage is at the door 
now, and the lady in it." 

" What !'' cried young Neville, bounding 
to the window. " A lady who can electrify 
you, Wellcome, as I gather she has, must be 
worth seeing." 

Of that the Hon. Harry Neville had a very 
good though short-lived chance of judging, 
for Sarah's haughty face was turned full to- 
wards the hotel as he looked out ; but her 
veil was dropped a moment after, not, how- 
ever, till he had seen enough to induce a pro- 
longed " whew — w — w !" and a rapid inter- 
ception of Wellcome as he was leaving the 
room. 

*' Stop a bit. I say, Raymond, she's a 
regular beauty. It would be a sin to miss 
having her at the ball, and you know they 
are living at the Manor now. Of course you 
must draw the line somewhere. Ha ! yes, I 
knew that was what you were going to say ; 
but he's a landed gentleman now, you know. 



270 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Oh ! let them have the tickets. Hang it all, 
if you could just see her you'd think she was 
worth swallowing one, or even two attorneys 
for." 

So Sarah Lockstone returned with the ball 
tickets in her muff, and as she flung them into 
Hester's lap, said, 

" There, Hester. Have three more dresses 
made up and discarded, and give your humble 
adorer his ticket with your own fair hands, 
then you can judge if Madame Carson's 
patience or his is the most inexhaustible." 



271 



CHAPTER XVIII. 

" To Messrs. Sharpe, Kewter, and Watchemklose, 
Solicitors, London, England. 

GENTLEMEN,— 
" May I beg the favour of your 
immediate attention to the business I am 
about to entrust to you ? 

^' My father, Mr. Lee, formerly of Lee 
Manor, near Merestown, has been for some 
time past incapable, through a long and try- 
ing illness, of conducting his affairs, and we 
have reason to fear there has been some very 
culpable neglect of his interest, to say no 
worse, on the part of his late agent, Mr. 
Stephen Lockstone, of Merestown. 

" I am the only son, and in my absence 
there is no one in England to watch Mr. 
Lockstone's proceedings, or guard against any 



272 THE CABINET SECRET. 

future injury he may have it in his power 
to do. 

^' My desire is that you should undertake 
this business, demand an account of his past 
conduct from Mr. Lockstone, and see if there 
be no means of restoring my family to Lee 
Manor, whence, as I have just learned, this 
man has turned them out by foreclosing mort- 
gages on the property he had bought up, my 
grandfather having unhappily cut off the en- 
tail before my birth. 

" I have advertised my mother and sister 
to put you, or any agent you may send down, 
in possession of all the papers they have, to 
give you a full statement of the particulars of 
the facts, and I leave the matter entirely in 
your hands to act as you may see fit, with full 
confidence that you will do the best and ut- 
most possible under the circumstances. 

" My uncle, Mr. Charlton, the only other 
near male relative of my family, joins in my 
request, and renders himself responsible with 
myself for the consequences. 

" He recommended my applying to you, 
and writes you by tliis post, confirming all I 



THE CABINET SECRET. 273 

have said, and authorising you to draw on 
him for any money requisite to conduct this 
business. 

" I am, gentlemen, 

^' Your obedient servant, 

*' Edward Lee." 

Mr. Watchemklose sat alone in his little, 
dark, smoke-begrimed London den as he read 
this letter. He did so rapidly, with a half- 
smile on his lip. Poor young Edward was 
scarcely a business man yet, and he had 
written in great agitation, insisting on doing 
so himself, though Mr. Charlton^s was the 
really necessary missive. The lawyer tossed 
the letter from him for the present on a heap of 
many others, while he proceeded to further 
lessen the huge packet of unopened corres- 
pondence yet lying before him. 

In due time he arrived at Mr. Charlton's 
communication, and over that he paused a 
second longer than over any other, then put 
it down by the side of the heap, and went 
forward to the business of breaking seals once 
more. 

,VOL T. T 



274 THE CABINET SECRET. 

At last the letters were all read, orders 
given to various clerks, answers to many letters 
dotted down in a sort of private short-hand, 
and turned over to be copied by subordinates. 
Then Mr. Watchemklose took up the American 
despatches once more, and pondered a little 
further on their purport ; next, he rose up 
and proceeded with them to another little den, 
dirtier and dismaller than his own, if that 
might be, where Mr. Sharp was busy hanging 
up his hat and taking off his coat, having only 
just come in from some far-off business jaunt. 

'' Bead those," said the first gentleman, 
and the second did so, in the middle of which 
proceeding he rang a little handbell, and 
presently the third partner joined the con- 
clave. When he had read the letters, which 
he did in*no time at all to speak of, he looked 
briskly up, and said in a rapid voice, cutting 
his words short off, as if he had by no means 
time to accord them their full complement of 
sound, 

" That man's the greatest rascal among us 
— long been expecting he'd give us some 
work — come at last — send some one down." 



THE CABINET SECRET. 275 

**Just what I thought; and there's the 
man," returned Mr. Watchemklose, pointing 
to the figure of a young man who just then 
hurried past the window on some errand from 
the office. 

^' Yes — he's a clever chap, but a little too 
soft, eh ?" returned the senior partner. 

'^ Not a bit, not a whit, sir," snapped little 
Mr. Kewter ; " the very identical individual, 
and the sooner he's off the better, Watchem- 
klose." 

*' Yes, I was thinking so ; if anything is to 
be done, which I doubt, we should not lose an 
hour." 

*' Certainly not. You'd better set it going- 
offhand, eh, Sharpe, and let the young gen- 
tleman, or, rather, the old one across the 
water hear in no time that we accept his 
trust." 

So in about four minutes and three-quarters 
these three busy men of business and astute 
lawyers had arranged the entire course of 
action to be followed in a matter which had 
cost the parties more immediately concerned 
in it many a weary hour's reflection and days 

T 2 



276 THE CABINET SECRET. 

of cogitation ere they could resolve on the 
very first initiative step to be taken. The 
die was cast at last, however, and the thief set 
to catch the thief. 

Before that evening all necessary instruc- 
tions had been given. What little information 
could be obtained in London regarding Lee 
Manor was collected and stowed away in the 
brains of Mr. Watchemklose's chosen agent, 
and within a week he himself was on his way 
to Merest own; with full powers to do all he 
mightfind practicable to circumvent,if it wereyet 
possible, the plans of Mr. Stephen Lockstone. 

A short letter to Dr. Arrasdaile, from the 
lawyer who had been referred to him by Mr. 
Charlton as the intimate friend of the family, 
apprized him of what was to be expected, and 
so delighted that energetic gentleman, that he 
instantly flew off to Newman's Buildings, 
quite regardless of the expectant patients 
on his round for that morning, dashing into 
the little parlour of No. 5 so hastily, that he 
nearly knocked down gentle Mrs. Lee, who 
was coming out, and sent Mabel into one of 
the old laughing fits that had used so often to 



THE CABINET SECRET. 277 

gladden her mother's heart by their sweet, 
joyous ring through the old rooms at Lee 
Manor. The familiar but long unheard tones 
brought a smile to her lips now, though the 
tears sprung to her eyes at the same instant, 
and they were very glistening as she raised 
them to the doctor's face to reply to his rather 
incoherent apologies. 

" Ha ! little lady, you dare laugh at me ! 
Beware ! I'll seal up my budget of good 
news, and only let it out to your mother there, 
if that's the fashion you treat a hurried, busy 
man like myself," was his semi-indignant 
greeting to Mabel, the apology made and ac- 
cepted. 

" Good news ! — from Edward ?" queried the 
mother, eagerly. 

" Not exactly, my dear madam," returned 
the Doctor, drily ; '^ American mails do not 
arrive every day just yet ; and I fancy you 
had just received your own despatch when I 
was here four days ago." 

^^ But it was so short -and hurried," pleaded 
Mabel. 

"Nevertheless, I'm afraid the Govern- 



278 THE CABINET SECRET. 

ment has not been induced to send out a 
second special post on that account/' returned 
the gentleman, who was evidently in a very 
mischievous mood. *^ Very remiss of them, 
no doubt, but still true/' 

" You are as teasing as ever. Dr. Arms- 
daile," said Mabel, smiling ; " and I don't 
believe you've any good news at all." 

*' And you are as scheming, Miss Mabel ; 
but you shouldn't get it out of me that way, 
though you did your new dolls sometimes, you 
little puss ; but that I really can't stay three 
minutes — ought not to be here now. Why, 
that famous London firm, those lawyers who 
have brought such a heap of iniquity to light, 
you know, is the one your brother is accus- 
tomed to communicate with, it appears, 
madam ; they are written to by this last mail, 
and their agent is to be here before the end 
of the week. A very well chosen one, too, or 
I am mistaken," added the Doctor, with a 
mischievous twinkle in his eye. 

]\Iabel noticed this-, but her mother did not. 
Tlie idea of the London lawyer, of the great 
step being really taken, made her nervous, 



THE CABINET SECRET. 279 

and a thousand doubts and fears about her 
husband crowded into her mind. Before she 
could express one, however, the good Doctor 
had divined her trouble, and laying his hand 
kindly on her shoulder, said, 

*' No fear, my dear lady, no fear. That 
time is past. I mean,'' he added hastily, 
lest he might hurt their over-sensitive feelings 
regarding the cherished invalid, ^^ I mean, 
now this man has done his worst, it will be 
rather a relief, than not, to have another to 
depend on and refer to. A protection, if no 
good result should follow. Depend on it he 
will feel it so." 

*^ Do you really think so ?" faltered Mrs. 
Lee, anxiously. 

" I am sure of it, my dear madam, after, 
perhaps, just the first shock of having a stranger 
about; for you know this young man must 
necessarily be here a good deal. He must 
pick up as much as he can to be of any real use. 
Have the entree, in fact. You understand ?" 

Yes, the flush on Mrs. Lee's face, and the 
annoyance in her eyes, proved that she did 



280 THE CABINET SECRET. 

only too well, without the " Must this be ?" 
which she uttered in a low, sad tone. 

*^ Yes, of course, and a very good must, too. 
If he's the man I rather take him to be, you'll 
find it a very pleasant intrusion and variety. 
I believe I know him slightly. His family I 
knew well, and a very nice, honourable, high- 
principled race they were. Anyhow, I shall 
be here to take care no wolf is admitted to 
our fold ; and now I must run away. There's 
poor old Northcote will be as savage as a wolf, 
that I'm not there before this, though I can do 
him little real good. His fit of gout will have 
its way, and a terribly sharp way that is for 
him, I'm afraid ;" and so saying, the good 
doctor hurried away, just popping in his head 
once more to explain, ^' He may be here di- 
rectly now — those London fellows don't let the 
grass grow under their feet, I can tell you — 
to-day, even." 

But it was not to-day that he arrived, no, 
nor on the morrow, but on the third day, when, 
having ridden his own horse down, the young 
man towards mid-day entered Merestown once 
again, and as he reached the first row of 



THE CABINET SECRET. 281 

houses a merry peal of bells greeted his ears. 
How madly they rang, and well they might. 
Mr. Geldfinder had secured his prize at last, 
and it was with no niggard hand he paid the 
bell-ringers for celebrating the event. 

*' Married ! and to that man! Oh! Hester!" 
so murmured the horseman as he rode for- 
ward into this old familiar town on his new 
mission to strangers, and was greeted — wel- 
comed, should he call it — by the marriage-bells 
in honour of his first love\s wedding to 
another. Poor Frank ! one little twinge 
pulled at his heart as the old memories flooded 
in on it. One, and but a slight one. Let us 
hope it was the last on that subject felt by 
^ank Marsden. 



282 



CHAPTER XIX. 

fpHE feeble sunlight of a February afternoon 
-*- was struggling to make its way among 
the bare branches of the trees, still wet with 
a morning's heavy rain, and sending watery 
glances though the large dining-room window 
of Castle Neville. Furtively kissing now and 
then the gilt of a picture-frame, then, subsiding 
immediately, it vanished behind a cloud, as if 
ashamed of its performance, and left the lon^, 
handsome chamber, with its deep velvet paper, 
in what seemed almost darkness. This room 
and two or three more formed a modern wing, 
which had been tacked on to the castle as 
late as the same century. Indeed, though a 
fine pile of building seen from a distance 
among the noble trees of the park, so many 
had been the additions of various generations 
of Nevilles to the originally small but strongly- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 283 

built tower of Avonsdale, that a nearer ap- 
proach rather destroyed the effect, as it looked 
more like a heterogeneous mass of specimens 
of the architecture of all ai^es, than an old 
feudal fortress built before the time of the last 
Crusade. 

However, if modern additions had destroyed 
the picturesqueness of the edifice, they had 
greatly enhanced its inward comfort ; and no- 
where could you meet with a pleasanter abode, 
take it all in all, than that favourite seat of 
the Earl of Avonsdale. 

Nor was the least amount of comfort to be 
found in this dining-room, though it did 
not appear to afford any particular amount 
of it to the party now lingering there 
after luncheon. Ennui had taken posses- 
sion of each of them, for the time, at least. 
The last remnants of that meal were still on 
the table, but the governess and two younger 
daughters of the house had withdrawn, leaving 
behind the only other one unmarried. Lady 
Charlotte, some three years Lady Olivia 
Frazer's junior, and two young men, the 
second and third sous, besides the Earl and 



284 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Countess. The latter was leaning back in a 
very comfortable leather chair, to which she 
had removed directly Mademoiselle had left 
the room with her charges. The Earl was still 
in his place, intently studying, for the forty- 
first time, perhaps, the hunting card of his 
own pack, which he already knew by heart. 
Lady Charlotte alternately twisted the brace- 
lets on her arms, and pulled the silky ears of 
a little King Charles which had found its way 
into her lap. The younger son was whistling 
a soft accompaniment to an air he was drum- 
ming gently on the table-cloth, while the 
Hon. Henry — the same who had attended at 
the " Eoebuck " in his father's place — stood 
by the window looking disconsolately ou{, 
sometimes giving a melancholy-sounding yawn, 
sometimes suppressing it, always feeling ex- 
ceedingly bored at the thought that shooting 
was over for that season. Presently he ex- 
claimed, with a sudden vivacity that startled 
his mother, 

" By the way, ma'am, I wish you'd call at 
the Manor, on those new people there." 

" On whom, Harry ?" asked the Countess, 



THE CABINET SECRET. 285 

half raising herself in the chair, and scarcely 
believing she had heard right. 

** On the people at the old Lee Manor, you 
know — don't you remember them at the ball ? 
A tall, dark girl — you observed to me how 
handsome she was, and — high authority, you 
know," he added with a smile — ^' pronounced 
her the belle of the evening." 

a Very likely, my dear Harry ; but because 
so great a connoisseur in female beauty as 
your cousin Walter, Duke of Grantham, should 
elect a milkmaid as the Venus of the moment, 
I don't consider myself bound to call on her." 

" But, my dear mother, Miss Lockstone is 
not a milkmaid, nor in the least that style of 
thing — and you met her at the county ball, 
you know." 

" Yes ; and how she ever came there is a 
mystery to me. Oh ! yes, I know, you per- 
suaded Sir Charles Raymond into giving them 
tickets ; but that they should ever have 
thought of asking or presuming to go at all ! 
I wonder whom we shall see there next. My 
sister is quite right in saying these sort of 



286 THE CABINET SECRET. 

things are getting to be far too great a mix- 
ture." 

*^ Well, really, mother, I do think we might 
visit the owners of Lee Manor quite as much 
as the Raymonds themselves even." 

"Yes — the Lees, perhaps. I made no ob- 
jection to them — indeed, I should have been 
extremely glad of their acquaintance, for the 
sake of a little more society down here, if they 
had not been so very peculiar, this genera- 
tion, poor things; but it is quite different 
with these people. My lord," she added, ap- 
pealing to her husband, who looked up, with 
attention still half-absorbed by the card, 
'* what would you think of my leaving your 
card at Lee Manor?" 

" Well, my dear, if it is necessary, pray 
do — Bertrand has some, I believe. Eh ? — 
what is it ?" as he was fully roused by the 
general laugh, in which Harry, albeit still 
])ent on gaining his point, could not forbear 
joining. 

*' Why, here is Henry proposing I should 
call on some low people who are living at that 



THE CABINET SECRET. 287 

place where poor Mr. Lee was, you know — 
quite preposterous, isn't it ?" 

" What, the Merestown attorney, you 
mean ? Lucky dog ! I suppose it's all 
square. Poor Lee was a desperate fellow in 
his youth ; but how such complete ducks and 
drakes could be made of that fine property in 
one generation, I can't quite make out." 

" How Mr. Lockstone contrived to buy up 
all the marketable aquatics, I suppose you 
mean, sir, and so get the old place into his 
clutches," suggested the Honourable Fred, 
suspending his operations on the table-cloth 
for a minute. 

" Well, yes, that is part of what I mean, 
perhaps, Master Fred, but not all — in these 
days wise stewards who contrive to succeed 
imprudent landlords, are not such rarce aves 
as all that. What is astonishing is, that it's 
all been done during this poor fellow's occu- 
pation, and yet he was not so young when the 
old man died. My dear, you must remember 
about it ?" pursued the old earl, warming to 
the subject as memories of his youthful days, 
in many of whose exploits the poor imbecile of 



288 THE CABINET SECRET. 

No. 5, Newman's Buildings, then the young 
heir of Lee Manor, and not many years Lord 
Neville's senior, had been a sharer, most pro- 
bably the suggester. 

'^ I don't know," responded the Countess, 
more coldly ; ** till Olivia dragged me to see 
these people — not very long ago, I think it 
was — all I ever knew, all I had ever heard of 
the Lees, were some old stories of yours, not 
telling very reputably, I fancied, for this Mr. 
Lee." 

" Or for your humble servant either, eh, 
Sophia ?" and with a good-humoured smile the 
earl discarded his hunting-card, and went to 
his wife, taking up that very popular position 
on the hearth-rug — in front both of the fire 
and his lady, which, however comforting to 
the gentleman concerned, is by no means a 
picturesque or gratifying one to the beholders. 
" Ah ! well, he was a sad dog, poor Ned Lee, 
and I suppose that's one reason why we 
respectable fathers of families cut his acquaint- 
ance when he came back to live in his own 
hall, married to no one knew whom." 

^^But about the Lockstones, mother?" per- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 289 

sisted Harry Neville, who, by no means abun- 
dantly interested in his father's reminiscences, 
was particularly so in the question of the call. 

** Why, what on earth can you want your 
mother to call on an attorney's wife for ?" ex- 
claimed Lord Avonsdale, now quite roused to 
all the enormity of the proposal in debate. 

^' Yes, was there ever anything so utterly 
absurd ?" echoed the Countess, quite satisfied 
now that her lord had fairly entered on the 
discussion. 

" I am not wishing anyone to call on the 
attorney — I simply suggest the expediency of 
leaving a card on the owner of Lee Manor. 
I take it the attorneyship will be dropped with 
all convenient speed ; and if I ^m not misin- 
formed, I think you, my lord, were the au- 
thority, the rent-roll of Lee Manor is, for a 
commoner, no small inheritance." 

" Inheritance ! not much of that here, Mas- 
ter Harry ! But what can it concern you ?" 

" Oh ! nothing very special, only you know- 
Fred and I got shooting cards — and it was 
the very best day weVe had this season." 

** And the season is now over," observed the 

VOL. I. U 



290 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Earl, drily, as he still looked to his son for an 
explanation. 

" Is Harry thinking of the bright eyes of 
the pheasants, or of those of this miraculous 
beauty, I wonder ?" asked Lady Charlotte with 
great apparent carelessness, but a mischievous 
twinkle in her own bright eyes, which showed 
she had been an attentive though hitherto 
silent listener to the conversation. 

" Nonsense, Charlie !" was her brother's 
rather hotly-uttered rejoinder, but a faint 
flush spread over his face, notwithstanding. 
Harry Neville's was a frank, open nature, 
and hitherto unspoiled by his association with 
the great world, though he numbered already 
some six or seven-and-twenty summers. Ge- 
nial and trusting was he, and gifted by nature 
with many of those distinctive features of 
that charity which many an earnest but 
harder character finds so very difficult of at- 
tainment. 

^^ Ah ! Hotspur Harry, you are evidently 
epris to desperation, by one or other," re- 
turned his sister, gravely, shaking her glossy 
curls — the new fashion in those days, and the 



THE CABINET SECRET. 291 

Honourable Fred lauglied aloud as he sug- 
gested, 

^' Of course he is — by those of the un- 
feathered biped, too, I feel positive ; and it 
was that which made him speak of inheritance 
so inapplicably just now. He has a misty 
notion, to be sure, it may fall to his share ; 
charged with the maintenence, tender care, 
and cherishing, &c., &c., of bright eyes, of 
course, but that, nevertheless, it might prove 
no despicable portion for an earl's second son 
— even so burdened." 

" Eeally, Henry ! I do hope you are not 
so thoroughly ridiculous," cried the Countess, 
gravely, sitting upright in her chair as she 
spoke, the better to take the critical survey 
she now bestowed upon him. 

There was no doubt, Harry did blush now, 
and his mother saw it, though he turned ra- 
pidly to the window, and exclaimed half an- 
grily, 

** Upon my word, ma'am, I don't see why 
you should listen to all these absurd sugges- 
tions. And I cannot myself understand why 
there must be some mysterious motive at work 

u 2 



292 THE CABINET SECRET. 

for me to propose your doing what half the 
county have probably done already, or will 
do, before six months are over." 

*' Gently, Sir Harry," said his father, who 
had been silently watching the young man 
during the last few sentences. " If half the 
county had done it, that might make a 
difference ; but the will do so, is quite a 
different matter, and I shrewdly suspect, what- 
ever example Castle Neville sets regarding 
this will be followed." 

'^ Of course," chimed in Lady Avonsdale ; 
^' and that makes it more incumbent on 
us not to do anything of the sort. The way 
in which people push themselves forward now 
is becoming quite unbearable. I am sure 
when I was a girl these parveyius knew their 
place and kept it. Indeed, I don't believe 
there were any then. It is quite a new set." 

'^ Not exactly, my dear," returned her lord, 
smiling, " Tm not quite sure about your sis- 
ter's husband ever having had a grandfather, 
remember — and we have an acquaintance or 
two ourselves in London whose pedigrees don't 
quite date from the Conquest, I fancy. Still, 



THE CABIXET SECRET. 293 

this Lee Manor business is a different thing. 
The man starts up under one's very nose, from 
a pettifogging attorney into the occupier 
of one of the best estates in the county. I 
don^t say, we may not call some time or other; 
but I don't see any immediate hurry merely 
because the man has a handsome daughter." 

^' Can't you have another flirtation with her 
by calling yourself in acknowledgment of 
your day's shooting, Hal," asked Lady Char- 
lotte consolingly. 

*^ Yes — no doubt — and I should be told Mr. 
Lockstone was out, and see just as much of 
her as we did on the shooting-day." 

" Why, you said what a first-rate spread 
was given you for lunch, and that you both 
chose to go in for it purposely." 

*^ And might just as well — better perhaps 
— have let it alone ; we saw no soul but an 
old butler, almost as stiff as our own, and he 
only appeared twice, leaving all attendance to 
his subordinates ; and I assure you, my lady 
mother, whatever you may think, the ladies 
have no idea of pushing themselves, or even 
being seen too often by ordinary eyes, for I 



294 THE CABINET SECRET. 

ventured some sort of remark as to the family 
not4unching with the shooting-party, and old 
Wellcome himself in past days could scarcely 
have equalled the grandeur of the reply I re- 
ceived — given, too, with that half respectful, 
half surprised look I've seen on his face, when 
speaking to some one of my brother's rather 
questionable cronies." 

** What did he say ?" asked the Countess, a 
little interested in spite of herself, and not the 
least affected by the allusion to Lord Neville's 
set. The time for that had passed. When 
first the heir of Avonsdale had affected peculiar 
tastes, pursued scientific researches, and brought 
some of the " queer creatures " he chose to as- 
sociate with down to his paternal mansion, it 
had been a great trouble to his lady mother, 
who would greatly have preferred his sowing 
wild oats of a more legitimate, if possibly less 
innoxious sort, during that period of life which 
it appears young men of fortune and position 
make the sowing season of some moral or 
mental crop of the sort. 

Lord Neville took to a very harmless species 
of agriculture, and after a time even his 



THE CABINET SECRET. 295 

mother recovered the shock of its peculiarity, 
contenting herself with the hope that his de- 
sire for the occupation would pass away as 
years advanced, and that when the period for 
taking a future Countess arrived he might 
settle all the more advantageously for not 
having followed the more beaten road to that 
consummation. So Lady Avonsdale let Harry's 
little irate fling pass, and only asked what the 
man said. 

*^ Why, that the ladies did sometimes lunch 
wdth personal friends of the family wdien 
shooting there — not with the general parties 
ever ! And the air and the emphasis with 
which the speech was made !" 

^' Yes," added Fred^ *^ it was more than all 
I could do to keep my countenance. If the 
lawyer's pretty daughters had been princesses 
of the best blood royal their dignity could not 
have been more carefully shielded. Why, 
Charlie, even you have deigned to lunch oh 
occasions with greater plebeians than an Earl's 
second and third sons. 

^' I don't think it was a bad line for them 
to take, though," observed his mother, raus- 



296 THE CABINET SECRET. 

ingly. ^' Intensely absurd in their position, 
of course, but still about the best thing they 
could do. By-the-way, Harry, I can't think 
what you see in that dark, flashing girl ; she 
looks like a modern ' Lady Macbeth ' to my 
fancy. Now the other creature was a fair, 
pretty, even refined-looking person — for her, 
I mean — only, if I remember right, she had 
always a dreadful man hovering about her — a 
fearfully vulgar specimen of that sort of 
people." 

" Yes, in this case the ladies are more pre- 
sentable than the men, for a wonder," re- 
marked the Honourable Fred. ^* Come, Char, 
and have a game at billiards before riding," 
and Lady Charlotte consenting, brother and 
sister left the room together, and Harry was 
lingeringly following, when Lady Avonsdale 
detained him by asking, 

'* Why can't you flirt with that one, if you 
must with either, Harry ?" 

'* I'm not very likely to have the oppor- 
tunity, my dear mother, as you are so deter- 
mined not to call ; but I could scarcely pay 
my devoirs to much advantage in that quarter 



THE CABINET SECRET. 297 

if you did. . Miss Lockstone married that 
same attractive gentleman you seem to have 
honoured with so much notice last week." 

*' Really ! What a horrible idea !" and the 
Countess resumed her lounging position, the 
better to contemplate it, apparently. 

" He receives a very large dowry with his 
bride, because the estate is destined, it is said, 
for the younger daughter's portion, as T under- 
stand," said the young man, with great ap- 
parent carelessness, and then he too went off 
to the billiard-room, leaving the Earl and 
Countess to a conjugal tete-a-tete. 

" Not so bad a Parthian shot of policy 
that," remarked the former, laughing, as the 
door closed, " especially for Harry. I am not 
sure but he might make a diplomatist yet, eh, 
Lady Avonsdale ?" 

** I'm afraid not ; and as to this, I am still 
more afraid he is really very much in earnest. 
What is to be done ?" and the poor lady 
looked up at her lord in dismay. 

" Nothing — not as to him, at least. As to 
calling on these people, should you dislike it 
very much, Sophia ?" 



298 THE CABINET SECRET. 

" Why, you could not think oj. such a match 
for Harry ?" and the Countess literally started 
up from her chair. 

^* That is as it may be. Young men don't 
marry the first pretty girl they fall in love with; 
but no good results can follow determined 
opposition with such a character as Harry's, 
depend on it ; and, to say the truth, if this 
man has honestly earned Lee Manor, it is no 
despicable property for any man, peer or not. 
I never heard anything against the father as 
a lawyer, though he's not much liked, I be- 
lieve, and his father was a very respectable 
person. The girl had a grandfather, such as 
he was, and really Harry might do w-orse. 
He has five brothers, remember." 

Lady Avonsdale did remember it, that large 
dowers had been given already to three 
daughters, and that three to be portioned 
in some way still remained ; but Harry was 
the second of her six boys. 

** If Neville should not marry — he is be- 
tween thirty and forty now," she hesitated. 

*^ So much the better, Sophy ; he'll marry 
all in good time. No need for. all the Avous- 



THE CABINET SECRET. 299 

dales to follow our example, my dear, and see 
their heir born before they are five-and-twenty. 
It would be no joke for every generation of 
our family to have a dozen sons and daughters," 
and the Earl put his arm round his comely 
wife's waist and smiled with very genial con- 
tent at his fate — the twelve sturdy pulls at 
his rent-roll notwithstanding. 

^' Well, but, Henry, this lawyer. Fancy 
such a connection with a man living close to 
us ; if he had come here, or belonged to some 
other place, it might do, but really," and she 
shook her head doubtingly. 

** My dear, Merestown isn't all the world, 
though some of the good people round seem 
inclined to consider it so. Harry's wife would 
become the Honourable Mrs. Neville, and it 
would cease to matter who she was when 
once they were at the Manor ; for I daresay 
if such a thing ever did happen, one could 
arrange matters with the old lawyer. But, 
after all, it is very premature to calculate 
arrangements on a chance that may never 
happen. Only I do think, if what Harry says 
is true — and I will inquire into that to-day — 



300 THE CABINET SECRET. 

there would be no harm in calling. We can 
see our way better then; and if you do it now, 
and it does not answer, why we shall soon be 
going to town, you know, and it is easy to let 
the thing drop when we return." 

<* Very well," was Lady Avonsdale's reply. 

She did not altogether agree with her lord, 
except on the one point — of the ease of drop- 
ping the acquaintance. That she not only could, 
but quietly resolved she would do with all 
convenient speed, unless very strong reasons 
should present themselves against such a step. 
She would much rather not have sought any 
knowledge of such people at all ; but since 
husband and son both advocated the course, 
she would do it with the best grace she might, 
and once done, take her own line afterwards. 

Harry's information turned out to be per- 
fectly accurate. Indeed, he had been at some 
pains to obtain it ; so the Avonsdale carriage 
passed through the gates of the Manor once 
more, and the Countess went in state to pay 
her visit to the attorney's transplanted wife. 
She went alone, however. Lady Charlotte 
need not go, and Lady Charlotte should not — 



THE CABINET SECRET. 301 

on that her lady mother was perfectly de- 
termined. But Lady Avonsdale was not 
admitted. The same important gentleman 
who had so amused her sons, presented him- 
self, after a short parley between the respective 
footmen, and advancing to the carriage door, 
informed her ladyship, with deferential polite- 
ness, that he was '^ extremely sorry, as would 
be his mistress, but Mrs. Lockstone was un- 
fortunately too indisposed to see visitors to- 
day. He regretted it greatly — but so it was," 
and he received the cards as though it was 
something of a condescension for him to take 
them, bowed low, and closed the door almost 
before the carriage was in motion. 

Lady Avonsdale was a little nettled. She 
only half-believed in the indisposition, and 
began to think herself disappointed and balked. 
She had had a slight curiosity to reconnoitre 
the manners and customs of ^^ such people " 
in their own home, and now she fancied she 
had been very anxious to see them, and felt 
herself proportionably aggrieved. 

What would her feelings have been could 
she have seen the handsome face of Sarah 



302 THE CABINET SECRET. 

Lockstone herself watching the carriage as it 
drove off, her very bitterest smile upon her 
rich, well-formed lips, and ^m expression of 
mingled satisfaction and contempt in her dark 
eyes. 

She followed the progress of the coroneted 
Yehicle till it was lost among the trees in the 
sweep of the Park, and then turned her head 
back again into the room, the drawing-room 
where, by a singular chance, she was sitting 
with her mother when the Countess drove up. 
She had witnessed the approach as well as the 
departure, quite hidden herself in the deep 
embrasure of the window. 

*' I hope you are grateful to me, mama, 
for saving you the novelty of entertaining a 
countess," she observed, half-interrogatively, 
after looking at her mother for a moment in 
silence. 

Poor ^Irs. Lockstone sat bolt upright in 
one of the many easy chairs surrounding her, 
mechanically busy over a bit of knitting she 
held in her hands. Her thoughts were not on 
that, however, though to which painful me- 
mory they were now specially wandering, she 



THE CABINET SECRET. 303 

would herself have been puzzled to tell, pro- 
bably. 

Starting as Sarah spoke, she looked up at 
first blankly, then with some uneasiness said, 

" Yes, Sarah. I did not wish to see her 
ladyship, I am sure ; only — do you think — I 
wonder what your father would have wished 
us to do." 

** I really can't say. If his wishes are 
as inconsistent as his conduct of late, I 
should imagine he would hardly know him- 
self." 

" Oh ! Sarah, I hope he won't be vexed 
with me," and the poor helpless woman said 
the words so piteously, with such genuine 
dread, that her daughter could find no pleasure 
in keeping her on the rack. 

" lieally, mama, I don't suppose he cares 
very much either way ; and, at any rate, the 
responsibility rests with me,'^ 

Very coldly the words were spoken, but they 
were received with abundant gratitude, for 
if Mrs. Lockstone had any real feeling left 
alive within her, it was the dread of her hus- 
band's displeasure. 



304 THE CABINET SECRET. 

There was no mixture of contradictory sen- 
timents, no mingling of motives to dissect and 
analyze, no flimsy veil of hypocrisy or affec- 
tation worth drawing aside, and affording 
amusement and interest in the process, and 
Sarah almost sighed as she thought of this, 
and of all Mrs. Geldfinder would have said and 
felt on a similar occasion. 



END OF THE FIRST VOLUME. 



LONDON : PRINTED BY MACDONALD AND TUGWELL, BLENHKDI HOUSE. 



UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS-URBANA 



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