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• Where shall I tell the man to drive, mum ?' the butler asked, with the cab-door in his hand.
Mrs. Branston felt herself blushing, and hesitated a little before she replied,
• The Union Bank, Chancery Lane. Tell him to go by the Strand and Temple-bar.'
'I can't think what's come to my mistress,' Miss Berners remarked as the cab drove off. Catch me driving in one of those nasty vulgar four - wheel cabs, if I had a couple of carriages and a couple of pairs of horses at my disposal! There's some style about a hansom; but I never could abide those creepy-crawley fourwheelers.'
• I admire your taste, Miss Berners; and a dashing young woman like you's a credit to a hansom,' replied Mr. Parker gallantly. * But there's no accounting for the vagaries of the female sex; and I fancy somehow Mrs. B. didn't want any of us to know where she was going; she coloured-up so when I asked her for the direction. You may depend there's something up, Jane Berners. She's going to see some poor relation perhaps—Mile-end or Kentish-town way —and was ashamed to give the address.'
'I don't believe she has any relations, except old Mother Pallinson and her son,' Miss Berners answered.
And thereupon the handmaiden withdrew to her own regions with a discontented air, as one who had been that day cheated out of her legitimate rights.
ONLY A WOMAN.
The cabman did not hurry his tall raw-boned steed, and the drive to Temple-bar seemed a very long one to Adela Branston, whose mind was disturbed by the consciousness that she was doing a foolish thing. Many times during the journey she was on the point of stopping the man and telling him to drive back to Cavendish-square ; but in spite of these moments of doubt and vacillation she suffered the vehicle to proceed, and only stopped the man when they were close to Temple-bar.
Here she told him where she wanted to go; upon which he plunged down an obscure side street, and stopped at one of the entrances to the Temple. Here Mrs. Branston alighted, and had to inquire her way to Mr. Saltram's chambers. She was so unaccustomed to be out alone, that this expedition seemed something almost awful to her when she found herself helpless and solitary in that strange locality. She had fancied that the cab would drive straight to Mr. Saltram's door.
The busy lawyers flitting across those grave courts and passages
turned to glance curiously at the pretty little widow. She had the air of a person not used to be on foot and unattended—a kind of aerial butterfly air, as of one who belonged to the useless and ornamental class of society; utterly different from the appearance of such humble female pedestrians as were wont to make the courts and alleys of the Temple a short-cut in their toilsome journeys to and fro. Happily a porter appeared, who was able to direct her to Mr. Saltram's chambers, and civilly offered to escort her there ; for which service she rewarded him with half-a-crown, instead of the sixpence which he expected as his maximum recompense ; she was so glad to have reached the shelter of the dark staircase in safety. The men whom she had met had frightened her by their bold admiring stares; and yet she was pleased to think that she was looking pretty.
The porter did not leave her until she had been admitted by Mr. Saltram's boy, and then retired, promising to be in the way to see her back to her carriage. How the poor little thing trembled when she found herself on the threshold of that unfamiliar door! What a horrible dingy lobby it was! and how she pitied John Saltram for having to live in such a place! He was at home and alone, the boy told her; would she please to send in her card ?
No, Mrs. Branston declined to send in her card. The boy could say that a lady wished to see Mr. Saltram.
The truth was she wanted to surprise this man; to see how her unlooked-for presence would affect him. She fancied herself beloved by him, poor soul! and that she would be able to read some evidence of his joy at seeing her in this unexpected manner.
The boy went in to his master and announced the advent of a lady, the first he had ever seen in those dismal premises.
John Saltram started up from his desk and came with a hurried step to the door, very pale and almost breathless.
· A lady!' he gasped, and then fell back a pace or two on seeing Adela, with a look which was very much like disappointment.
* You here, Mrs. Branston!' he exclaimed; ‘I-you are the last person in the world I should have expected to see.'
Perhaps he felt that there was a kind of rudeness in this speech, for he added hastily, and with a faint smile,
• Of course I am not the less honoured by your visit.'
He moved a chair forward, the least dilapidated of the three or four which formed his scanty stock, and placed it near the neglected fire, which he tried to revive a little by a judicious use of the poker.
You expected to see some one else, I think,' Adela said, quite unable to hide her wounded feelings.
She had seen the eagerness in his pale face when he came to the door, and the disappointed look with which he had recognised her.
Scarcely; but I expected to receive news of some one else.'
. Some one you are very anxious to hear about, I should imagine, from your manner just now,' said Adela, who could not forbear pressing the question a little.
Yes, Mrs. Branston, some one about whom I am anxious; a relation, in short.
She looked at him with a puzzled air. She had never heard him talk of his relations, had indeed supposed that he stood almost alone in the world; but there was no reason that it should be so, except his silence on the subject. She watched him for some moments in silence, as he stood leaning against the opposite angle of the chimney-piece waiting for her to speak. He was looking very ill, much changed since she had seen him last, haggard and worn, with the air of a man who had not slept properly for many nights. There was an absent far-away look in his eyes; and Adela Branston felt all at once that her presence was nothing to him ; that this desperate step which she had taken had no more effect upon him than the commonest event of every-day life; in a word, that he did not love her. A cold deathlike feeling came over her as she thought this. She had set her heart upon this man's love, and had indeed some justification for supposing that it was hers. It seemed to her that life was useless—worse than useless, odious and unendurable--without it.
But even while she was thinking this, with a cold blank misery in her heart, she had to invent some excuse for this unseemly visit.
'I have waited so anxiously for you to call,' she said at last, in a nervous hesitating way, and I began to fear that you must be ill, and I wished to consult you about the management of my affairs. My lawyers worry me so with questions which I don't know how to answer, and I have so few friends in the world whom I can trust except you; so at last I screwed up my courage to call upon you.'
I am deeply honoured by your confidence, Mrs. Branston,' John Saltram answered, looking at her gravely with those weary haggard eyes, with the air of a man who brings his thoughts back to common life from some far-away region, with an effort. advice or assistance can be of any use to you, they are completely at your service. What is this business about which your solicitor bothers you ?'
• I'll explain that to you directly,' Adela answered, taking some letters from her pocket-book. How good you are! I knew that you would help me; but tell me first why you have never been to Cavendish-square in all this long time. I fear I was right; you have been ill, have you not ?'
* Not exactly ill, but very much worried and overworked.'
A light dawned upon Adela Branston's troubled mind. She began to think that Mr. Saltram's strange absent manner, his apparent indifference to her presence, might arise from preoccupation,
• If my