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Title: John Marchmont's Legacy, Volume III (of 3)
Author: Braddon, M. E. (Mary Elizabeth), 1835-1915
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "John Marchmont's Legacy, Volume III (of 3)" ***

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JOHN MARCHMONT'S LEGACY.


BY [M.E. Braddon] THE AUTHOR OF
"LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET,"
ETC. ETC. ETC.


IN THREE VOLUMES

VOL. III.


Published by Tinsley Brothers of London in 1863 (third edition).



CONTENTS.
  CHAPTER I. CAPTAIN ARUNDEL'S REVENGE.
  CHAPTER II. THE DESERTED CHAMBERS.
  CHAPTER III. TAKING IT QUIETLY.
  CHAPTER IV. MISS LAWFORD SPEAKS HER MIND.
  CHAPTER V. THE RETURN OF THE WANDERER.
  CHAPTER VI. A WIDOWER'S PROPOSAL.
  CHAPTER VII. HOW THE TIDINGS WERE RECEIVED IN LINCOLNSHIRE.
  CHAPTER VIII. MR. WESTON REFUSES TO BE TRAMPLED ON.
  CHAPTER IX. "GOING TO BE MARRIED!"
  CHAPTER X. THE TURNING OF THE TIDE.
  CHAPTER XI. BELINDA'S WEDDING DAY.
  CHAPTER XII. MARY'S STORY.
  CHAPTER XIII. "ALL WITHIN IS DARK AS NIGHT."
  CHAPTER XIV. "THERE IS CONFUSION WORSE THAN DEATH."
  CHAPTER THE LAST. "DEAR IS THE MEMORY OF OUR WEDDED LIVES."
  THE EPILOGUE.



JOHN MARCHMONT'S LEGACY.


VOLUME III.


CHAPTER I.

CAPTAIN ARUNDEL'S REVENGE.


Edward Arundel went back to his lonely home with a settled purpose in
his mind. He would leave Lincolnshire,--and immediately. He had no
motive for remaining. It may be, indeed, that he had a strong motive
for going away from the neighbourhood of Lawford Grange. There was a
lurking danger in the close vicinage of that pleasant, old-fashioned
country mansion, and the bright band of blue-eyed damsels who inhabited
there.

"I will turn my back upon Lincolnshire for ever," Edward Arundel said
to himself once more, upon his way homeward through the October
twilight; "but before I go, the whole country shall know what I think
of Paul Marchmont."

He clenched his fists and ground his teeth involuntarily as he thought
this.

It was quite dark when he let himself in at the old-fashioned
half-glass door that led into his humble sitting-room at Kemberling
Retreat. He looked round the little chamber, which had been furnished
forty years before by the proprietor of the cottage, and had served for
one tenant after another, until it seemed as if the spindle-legged
chairs and tables had grown attenuated and shadowy by much service. He
looked at the simple room, lighted by a bright fire and a pair of
wax-candles in antique silver candlesticks. The red firelight flickered
and trembled upon the painted roses on the walls, on the obsolete
engravings in clumsy frames of imitation-ebony and tarnished gilt. A
silver tea-service and a Sèvres china cup and saucer, which Mrs.
Arundel had sent to the cottage for her son's use, stood upon the small
oval table: and a brown setter, a favourite of the young man's, lay
upon the hearth-rug, with his chin upon his outstretched paws, blinking
at the blaze.

As Mr. Arundel lingered in the doorway, looking at these things, an
image rose before him, as vivid and distinct as any apparition of
Professor Pepper's manufacture; and he thought of what that commonplace
cottage-chamber might have been if his young wife had lived. He could
fancy her bending over the low silver teapot,--the sprawling inartistic
teapot, that stood upon quaint knobs like gouty feet, and had been long
ago banished from the Dangerfield breakfast-table as utterly rococo and
ridiculous. He conjured up the dear dead face, with faint blushes
flickering amidst its lily pallor, and soft hazel eyes looking up at
him through the misty steam of the tea-table, innocent and virginal as
the eyes of that mythic nymph who was wont to appear to the old Roman
king. How happy she would have been! How willing to give up fortune and
station, and to have lived for ever and ever in that queer old cottage,
ministering to him and loving him!

Presently the face changed. The hazel-brown hair was suddenly lit up
with a glitter of barbaric gold; the hazel eyes grew blue and bright;
and the cheeks blushed rosy red. The young man frowned at this new and
brighter vision; but he contemplated it gravely for some moments, and
then breathed a long sigh, which was somehow or other expressive of
relief.

"No," he said to himself, "I am _not_ false to my poor lost girl; I do
_not_ forget her. Her image is dearer to me than any living creature.
The mournful shadow of her face is more precious to me than the
brightest reality."

He sat down in one of the spindle-legged arm-chairs, and poured out a
cup of tea. He drank it slowly, brooding over the fire as he sipped the
innocuous beverage, and did not deign to notice the caresses of the
brown setter, who laid his cold wet nose in his master's hand, and
performed a species of spirit-rapping upon the carpet with his tail.

After tea the young man rang the bell, which was answered by Mr.
Morrison.

"Have I any clothes that I can hunt in, Morrison?" Mr. Arundel asked.

His factotum stared aghast at this question.

"You ain't a-goin' to 'unt, are you, Mr. Edward?" he inquired,
anxiously.

"Never mind that. I asked you a question about my clothes, and I want a
straightforward answer."

"But, Mr. Edward," remonstrated the old servant, "I don't mean no
offence; and the 'orses is very tidy animals in their way; but if
you're thinkin' of goin' across country,--and a pretty stiffish country
too, as I've heard, in the way of bulfinches and timber,--neither of
them 'orses has any more of a 'unter in him than I have."

"I know that as well as you do," Edward Arundel answered coolly; "but I
am going to the meet at Marchmont Towers to-morrow morning, and I want
you to look me out a decent suit of clothes--that's all. You can have
Desperado saddled ready for me a little after eleven o'clock."

Mr. Morrison looked even more astonished than before. He knew his
master's savage enmity towards Paul Marchmont; and yet that very master
now deliberately talked of joining in an assembly which was to gather
together for the special purpose of doing the same Paul Marchmont
honour. However, as he afterwards remarked to the two fellow-servants
with whom he sometimes condescended to be familiar, it wasn't his place
to interfere or to ask any questions, and he had held his tongue
accordingly.

Perhaps this respectful reticence was rather the result of prudence
than of inclination; for there was a dangerous light in Edward
Arundel's eyes upon this particular evening which Mr. Morrison never
had observed before.

The factotum said something about this later in the evening.

"I do really think," he remarked, "that, what with that young 'ooman's
death, and the solitood of this most dismal place, and the rainy
weather,--which those as says it always rains in Lincolnshire ain't far
out,--my poor young master is not the man he were."

He tapped his forehead ominously to give significance to his words, and
sighed heavily over his supper-beer.

 * * * * *

The sun shone upon Paul Marchmont on the morning of the 18th of
October. The autumn sunshine streamed into his bedchamber, and awoke
the new master of Marchmont Towers. He opened his eyes and looked about
him. He raised himself amongst the down pillows, and contemplated the
figures upon the tapestry in a drowsy reverie. He had been dreaming of
his poverty, and had been disputing a poor-rate summons with an
impertinent tax-collector in the dingy passage of the house in
Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square. Ah! that horrible house had so long
been the only scene of his life, that it had grown almost a part of his
mind, and haunted him perpetually in his sleep, like a nightmare of
brick and mortar, now that he was rich, and had done with it for ever.

Mr. Marchmont gave a faint shudder, and shook off the influence of the
bad dream. Then, propped up by the pillows, he amused himself by
admiring his new bedchamber.

It was a handsome room, certainly--the very room for an artist and a
sybarite. Mr. Marchmont had not chosen it without due consideration. It
was situated in an angle of the house; and though its chief windows
looked westward, being immediately above those of the western
drawing-room, there was another casement, a great oriel window, facing
the east, and admitting all the grandeur of the morning sun through
painted glass, on which the Marchmont escutcheon was represented in
gorgeous hues of sapphire and ruby, emerald and topaz, amethyst and
aqua-marine. Bright splashes of these colours flashed and sparkled on
the polished oaken floor, and mixed themselves with the Oriental
gaudiness of a Persian carpet, stretched beneath the low Arabian bed,
which was hung with ruby-coloured draperies that trailed upon the
ground. Paul Marchmont was fond of splendour, and meant to have as much
of it as money could buy. There was a voluptuous pleasure in all this
finery, which only a parvenu could feel; it was the sharpness of the
contrast between the magnificence of the present and the shabby
miseries of the past that gave a piquancy to the artist's enjoyment of
his new habitation.

All the furniture and draperies of the chamber had been made by Paul
Marchmont's direction; but its chief beauty was the tapestry that
covered the walls, which had been worked, two hundred and fifty years
before, by a patient chatelaine of the House of Marchmont. This
tapestry lined the room on every side. The low door had been cut in it;
so that a stranger going into that apartment at night, a little under
the influence of the Marchmont cellars, and unable to register the
topography of the chamber upon the tablet of his memory, might have
been sorely puzzled to find an exit the next morning. Most tapestried
chambers have a certain dismal grimness about them, which is more
pleasant to the sightseer than to the constant inhabitant; but in this
tapestry the colours were almost as bright and glowing to-day as when
the fingers that had handled the variegated worsteds were still warm
and flexible. The subjects, too, were of a more pleasant order than
usual. No mailed ruffians or drapery-clad barbarians menaced the
unoffending sleeper with uplifted clubs, or horrible bolts, in the very
act of being launched from ponderous crossbows; no wicked-looking
Saracens, with ferocious eyes and copper-coloured visages, brandished
murderous scimitars above their turbaned heads. No; here all was
pastoral gaiety and peaceful delight. Maidens, with flowing kirtles and
crisped yellow hair, danced before great wagons loaded with golden
wheat. Youths, in red and purple jerkins, frisked as they played the
pipe and tabor. The Flemish horses dragging the heavy wain were hung
with bells and garlands as for a rustic festival, and tossed their
untrimmed manes into the air, and frisked and gamboled with their
awkward legs, in ponderous imitation of the youths and maidens. Afar
off, in the distance, wonderful villages, very queer as to perspective,
but all a-bloom with gaudy flowers and quaint roofs of bright-red
tiles, stood boldly out against a bluer sky than the most enthusiastic
pre-Raphaelite of to-day would care to send to the Academy in Trafalgar
Square.

Paul Marchmont smiled at the youths and maidens, the laden wagons, the
revellers, and the impossible village. He was in a humour to be pleased
with everything to-day. He looked at his dressing-table, which stood
opposite to him, in the deep oriel window. His valet--he had a valet
now--had opened the great inlaid dressing-case, and the silver-gilt
fittings reflected the crimson hues of the velvet lining, as if the
gold had been flecked with blood. Glittering bottles of diamond-cut
glass, that presented a thousand facets to the morning light, stood
like crystal obelisks amid the litter of carved-ivory brushes and
Sèvres boxes of pomatum; and one rare hothouse flower, white and
fragile, peeped out of a slender crystal vase, against a background of
dark shining leaves.

"It's better than Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square," said Mr.
Marchmont, throwing himself back amongst the pillows until such time as
his valet should bring him a cup of strong tea to refresh and
invigorate his nerves withal. "I remember the paper in my room: drab
hexagons and yellow spots upon a brown ground. _So_ pretty! And then
the dressing-table: deal, gracefully designed; with a shallow drawer,
in which my razors used to rattle like castanets when I tried to pull
it open; a most delicious table, exquisitely painted in stripes,
olive-green upon stone colour, picked out with the favourite brown. Oh,
it was a most delightful life; but it's over, thank Providence; it's
over!"

Mr. Paul Marchmont thanked Providence as devoutly as if he had been the
most patient attendant upon the Divine pleasure, and had never for one
moment dreamed of intruding his own impious handiwork amid the
mysterious designs of Omnipotence.

The sun shone upon the new master of Marchmont Towers. This bright
October morning was not the very best for hunting purposes; for there
was a fresh breeze blowing from the north, and a blue unclouded sky.
But it was most delightful weather for the breakfast, and the
assembling on the lawn, and all the pleasant preliminaries of the day's
sport. Mr. Paul Marchmont, who was a thorough-bred Cockney, troubled
himself very little about the hunt as he basked in that morning light.
He only thought that the sun was shining upon him, and that he had come
at last--no matter by what crooked ways--to the realisation of his
great day-dream, and that he was to be happy and prosperous for the
rest of his life.

He drank his tea, and then got up and dressed himself. He wore the
conventional "pink," the whitest buckskins, the most approved boots and
tops; and he admired himself very much in the cheval glass when this
toilet was complete. He had put on the dress for the gratification of
his vanity, rather than from any serious intention of doing what he was
about as incapable of doing, as he was of becoming a modern Rubens or a
new Raphael. He would receive his friends in this costume, and ride to
cover, and follow the hounds, perhaps,--a little way. At any rate, it
was very delightful to him to play the country gentleman; and he had
never felt so much a country gentleman as at this moment, when he
contemplated himself from head to heel in his hunting costume.

At ten o'clock the guests began to assemble; the meet was not to take
place until twelve, so that there might be plenty of time for the
breakfast.

I don't think Paul Marchmont ever really knew what took place at that
long table, at which he sat for the first time in the place of host and
master. He was intoxicated from the first with the sense of triumph and
delight in his new position; and he drank a great deal, for he drank
unconsciously, emptying his glass every time it was filled, and never
knowing who filled it, or what was put into it. By this means he took a
very considerable quantity of various sparkling and effervescing wines;
sometimes hock, sometimes Moselle, very often champagne, to say nothing
of a steady undercurrent of unpronounceable German hocks and crusted
Burgundies. But he was not drunk after the common fashion of mortals;
he could not be upon this particular day. He was not stupid, or drowsy,
or unsteady upon his legs; he was only preternaturally excited, looking
at everything through a haze of dazzling light, as if all the gold of
his newly-acquired fortune had been melted into the atmosphere.

He knew that the breakfast was a great success; that the long table was
spread with every delicious comestible that the science of a first-rate
cook, to say nothing of Fortnum and Mason, could devise; that the
profusion of splendid silver, the costly china, the hothouse flowers,
and the sunshine, made a confused mass of restless glitter and glowing
colour that dazzled his eyes as he looked at it. He knew that everybody
courted and flattered him, and that he was almost stifled by the
overpowering sense of his own grandeur. Perhaps he felt this most when
a certain county magnate, a baronet, member of Parliament, and great
landowner, rose,--primed with champagne, and rather thicker of
utterance than a man should be who means to be in at the death,
by-and-by,--and took the opportunity of--hum--expressing, in a few
words,--haw--the very great pleasure which he--aw, yes--and he thought
he might venture to remark,--aw--everybody about him--ha--felt on this
most--arrah, arrah--interesting--er--occasion; and said a great deal
more, which took a very long time to say, but the gist of which was,
that all these country gentlemen were so enraptured by the new addition
to their circle, and so altogether delighted with Mr. Paul Marchmont,
that they really were at a loss to understand how it was they had ever
managed to endure existence without him.

And then there was a good deal of rather unnecessary but very
enthusiastic thumping of the table, whereat the costly glass shivered,
and the hothouse blossoms trembled, amidst the musical chinking of
silver forks; while the foxhunters declared in chorus that the new
owner of Marchmont Towers was a jolly good fellow, which--_i.e._, the
fact of his jollity--nobody could deny.

It was not a very fine demonstration, but it was a very hearty one.
Moreover, these noisy foxhunters were all men of some standing in the
county; and it is a proof of the artist's inherent snobbery that to him
the husky voices of these half-drunken men were more delicious than the
sweet soprano tones of an equal number of Pattis--penniless and obscure
Pattis, that is to say--sounding his praises. He was lifted at last out
of that poor artist-life, in which he had always been a groveller,--not
so much for lack of talent as by reason of the smallness of his own
soul,--into a new sphere, where everybody was rich and grand and
prosperous, and where the pleasant pathways were upon the necks of
prostrate slaves, in the shape of grooms and hirelings, respectful
servants, and reverential tradespeople.

Yes, Paul Marchmont was more drunken than any of his guests; but his
drunkenness was of a different kind to theirs. It was not the wine, but
his own grandeur that intoxicated and besotted him.

These foxhunters might get the better of their drunkenness in half an
hour or so; but his intoxication was likely to last for a very long
time, unless he should receive some sudden shock, powerful enough to
sober him.

Meanwhile the hounds were yelping and baying upon the lawn, and the
huntsmen and whippers-in were running backwards and forwards from the
lawn to the servants' hall, devouring snacks of beef and ham,--a pound
and a quarter or so at one sitting; or crunching the bones of a
frivolous young chicken,--there were not half a dozen mouthfuls on such
insignificant half-grown fowls; or excavating under the roof of a great
game-pie; or drinking a quart or so of strong ale, or half a tumbler of
raw brandy, _en passant_; and doing a great deal more in the same way,
merely to beguile the time until the gentlefolks should appear upon the
broad stone terrace.

It was half-past twelve o'clock, and Mr. Marchmont's guests were still
drinking and speechifying. They had been on the point of making a move
ever so many times; but it had happened every time that some gentleman,
who had been very quiet until that moment, suddenly got upon his legs,
and began to make swallowing and gasping noises, and to wipe his lips
with a napkin; whereby it was understood that he was going to propose
somebody's health. This had considerably lengthened the entertainment,
and it seemed rather likely that the ostensible business of the day
would be forgotten altogether. But at half-past twelve, the county
magnate, who had bidden Paul Marchmont a stately welcome to
Lincolnshire, remembered that there were twenty couple of impatient
hounds scratching up the turf in front of the long windows of the
banquet-chamber, while as many eager young tenant-farmers, stalwart
yeomen, well-to-do butchers, and a herd of tag-rag and bobtail, were
pining for the sport to begin;--at last, I say, Sir Lionel Boport
remembered this, and led the way to the terrace, leaving the renegades
to repose on the comfortable sofas lurking here and there in the
spacious rooms. Then the grim stone front of the house was suddenly
lighted up into splendour. The long terrace was one blaze of "pink,"
relieved here and there by patches of sober black and forester's green.
Amongst all these stalwart, florid-visaged country gentlemen, Paul
Marchmont, very elegant, very picturesque, but extremely
unsportsmanlike, the hero of the hour, walked slowly down the broad
stone steps amidst the vociferous cheering of the crowd, the snapping
and yelping of impatient hounds, and the distant braying of a horn.

It was the crowning moment of his life; the moment he had dreamed of
again and again in the wretched days of poverty and obscurity. The
scene was scarcely new to him,--he had acted it so often in his
imagination; he had heard the shouts and seen the respectful crowd.
There was a little difference in detail; that was all. There was no
disappointment, no shortcoming in the realisation; as there so often is
when our brightest dreams are fulfilled, and the one great good, the
all-desired, is granted to us. No; the prize was his, and it was worth
all that he had sacrificed to win it.

He looked up, and saw his mother and his sisters in the great window
over the porch. He could see the exultant pride in his mother's pale
face; and the one redeeming sentiment of his nature, his love for the
womankind who depended upon him, stirred faintly in his breast, amid
the tumult of gratified ambition and selfish joy.

This one drop of unselfish pleasure filled the cup to the brim. He took
off his hat and waved it high up above his head in answer to the
shouting of the crowd. He had stopped halfway down the flight of steps
to bow his acknowledgment of the cheering. He waved his hat, and the
huzzas grew still louder; and a band upon the other side of the lawn
played that familiar and triumphant march which is supposed to apply to
every living hero, from a Wellington just come home from Waterloo, to
the winner of a boat-race, or a patent-starch proprietor newly elected
by an admiring constituency.

There was nothing wanting. I think that in that supreme moment Paul
Marchmont quite forgot the tortuous and perilous ways by which he had
reached this all-glorious goal. I don't suppose the young princes
smothered in the Tower were ever more palpably present in Tyrant
Richard's memory than when the murderous usurper grovelled in
Bosworth's miry clay, and knew that the great game of life was lost. It
was only when Henry the Eighth took away the Great Seal that Wolsey was
able to see the foolishness of man's ambition. In that moment memory
and conscience, never very wakeful in the breast of Paul Marchmont,
were dead asleep, and only triumph and delight reigned in their stead.
No; there was nothing wanting. This glory and grandeur paid him a
thousandfold for his patience and self-abnegation during the past year.

He turned half round to look up at those eager watchers at the window.

Good God! It was his sister Lavinia's face he saw; no longer full of
triumph and pleasure, but ghastly pale, and staring at someone or
something horrible in the crowd. Paul Marchmont turned to look for this
horrible something the sight of which had power to change his sister's
face; and found himself confronted by a young man,--a young man whose
eyes flamed like coals of fire, whose cheeks were as white as a sheet
of paper, and whose firm lips were locked as tightly as if they had
been chiseled out of a block of granite.

This man was Edward Arundel,--the young widower, the handsome
soldier,--whom everybody remembered as the husband of poor lost Mary
Marchmont.

He had sprung out from amidst the crowd only one moment before, and had
dashed up the steps of the terrace before any one had time to think of
hindering him or interfering with him. It seemed to Paul Marchmont as
if his foe must have leaped out of the solid earth, so sudden and so
unlooked-for was his coming. He stood upon the step immediately below
the artist; but as the terrace-steps were shallow, and as he was taller
by half a foot than Paul, the faces of the two men were level, and they
confronted each other.

The soldier held a heavy hunting-whip in his hand--no foppish toy, with
a golden trinket for its head, but a stout handle of stag-horn, and a
formidable leathern thong. He held this whip in his strong right hand,
with the thong twisted round the handle; and throwing out his left arm,
nervous and muscular as the limb of a young gladiator, he seized Paul
Marchmont by the collar of that fashionably-cut scarlet coat which the
artist had so much admired in the cheval-glass that morning.

There was a shout of surprise and consternation from the gentlemen on
the terrace and the crowd upon the lawn, a shrill scream from the
women; and in the next moment Paul Marchmont was writhing under a
shower of blows from the hunting-whip in Edward Arundel's hand. The
artist was not physically brave, yet he was not such a cur as to submit
unresistingly to this hideous disgrace; but the attack was so sudden
and unexpected as to paralyse him--so rapid in its execution as to
leave him no time for resistance. Before he had recovered his presence
of mind; before he knew the meaning of Edward Arundel's appearance in
that place; even before he could fully realise the mere fact of his
being there,--the thing was done; he was disgraced for ever. He had
sunk in that one moment from the very height of his new grandeur to the
lowest depth of social degradation.

"Gentlemen!" Edward Arundel cried, in a loud voice, which was
distinctly heard by every member of the gaping crowd, "when the law of
the land suffers a scoundrel to prosper, honest men must take the law
into their own hands. I wished you to know my opinion of the new master
of Marchmont Towers; and I think I've expressed it pretty clearly. I
know him to be a most consummate villain; and I give you fair warning
that he is no fit associate for honourable men. Good morning."

Edward Arundel lifted his hat, bowed to the assembly, and then ran down
the steps. Paul Marchmont, livid, and foaming at the mouth, rushed
after him, brandishing his clenched fists, and gesticulating in
impotent rage; but the young man's horse was waiting for him at a few
paces from the terrace, in the care of a butcher's apprentice, and he
was in the saddle before the artist could overtake him.

"I shall not leave Kemberling for a week, Mr. Marchmont," he called
out; and then he walked his horse away, holding himself erect as a
dart, and staring defiance at the crowd.

I am sorry to have to testify to the fickle nature of the British
populace; but I am bound to own that a great many of the stalwart
yeomen who had eaten game-pies and drunk strong liquors at Paul
Marchmont's expense not half an hour before, were base enough to feel
an involuntary admiration for Edward Arundel, as he rode slowly away,
with his head up and his eyes flaming. There is seldom very much
genuine sympathy for a man who has been horsewhipped; and there is a
pretty universal inclination to believe that the man who inflicts
chastisement upon him must be right in the main. It is true that the
tenant-farmers, especially those whose leases were nearly run out, were
very loud in their indignation against Mr. Arundel, and one adventurous
spirit made a dash at the young man's bridle as he went by; but the
general feeling was in favour of the conqueror, and there was a lack of
heartiness even in the loudest expressions of sympathy.

The crowd made a lane for Paul Marchmont as he went back to the house,
white and helpless, and sick with shame.

Several of the gentlemen upon the terrace came forward to shake hands
with him, and to express their indignation, and to offer any friendly
service that he might require of them by-and-by,--such as standing by
to see him shot, if he should choose an old-fashioned mode of
retaliation; or bearing witness against Edward Arundel in a law-court,
if Mr. Marchmont preferred to take legal measures. But even these men
recoiled when they felt the cold dampness of the artist's hands, and
saw that _he had been frightened_. These sturdy, uproarious foxhunters,
who braved the peril of sudden death every time they took a day's
sport, entertained a sovereign contempt for a man who _could_ be
frightened of anybody or anything. They made no allowance for Paul
Marchmont's Cockney education; they were not in the dark secrets of his
life, and knew nothing of his guilty conscience; and it was _that_
which had made him more helpless than a child in the fierce grasp of
Edward Arundel.

So one by one, after this polite show of sympathy, the rich man's
guests fell away from him; and the yelping hounds and the cantering
horses left the lawn before Marchmont Towers; the sound of the brass
band and the voices of the people died away in the distance; and the
glory of the day was done.

Paul Marchmont crawled slowly back to that luxurious bedchamber which
he had left only a few hours before, and, throwing himself at full
length upon the bed, sobbed like a frightened child.

He was panic-stricken; not because of the horsewhipping, but because of
a sentence that Edward Arundel had whispered close to his ear in the
midst of the struggle.

"I know _everything_," the young man had said; "I know the secrets you
hide in the pavilion by the river!"



CHAPTER II.

THE DESERTED CHAMBERS.


Edward Arundel kept his word. He waited for a week and upwards, but
Paul Marchmont made no sign; and after having given him three days'
grace over and above the promised time, the young man abandoned
Kemberling Retreat, for ever, as he thought, and went away from
Lincolnshire.

He had waited; hoping that Paul Marchmont would try to retaliate, and
that some desperate struggle, physical or legal,--he scarcely cared
which,--would occur between them. He would have courted any hazard
which might have given him some chance of revenge. But nothing
happened. He sent out Mr. Morrison to beat up information about the
master of Marchmont Towers; and the factotum came back with the
intelligence that Mr. Marchmont was ill, and would see no
one--"leastways" excepting his mother and Mr. George Weston.

Edward Arundel shrugged his shoulders when he heard these tidings.

"What a contemptible cur the man is!" he thought. "There was a time
when I could have suspected him of any foul play against my lost girl.
I know him better now, and know that he is not even capable of a great
crime. He was only strong enough to stab his victim in the dark, with
lying paragraphs in newspapers, and dastardly hints and inuendoes."

It would have been only perhaps an act of ordinary politeness had
Edward Arundel paid a farewell visit to his friends at the Grange. But
he did not go near the hospitable old house. He contented himself with
writing a cordial letter to Major Lawford, thanking him for his
hospitality and kindness, and referring, vaguely enough, to the hope of
a future meeting.

He despatched this letter by Mr. Morrison, who was in very high spirits
at the prospect of leaving Kemberling, and who went about his work with
almost boyish activity in the exuberance of his delight. The valet
worked so briskly as to complete all necessary arrangements in a couple
of days; and on the 29th of October, late in the afternoon, all was
ready, and he had nothing to do but to superintend the departure of the
two horses from the Kemberling railway-station, under the guardianship
of the lad who had served as Edward's groom.

Throughout that last day Mr. Arundel wandered here and there about the
house and garden that so soon were to be deserted. He was dreadfully at
a loss what to do with himself, and, alas! it was not to-day only that
he felt the burden of his hopeless idleness. He felt it always; a
horrible load, not to be cast away from him. His life had been broken
off short, as it were, by the catastrophe which had left him a widower
before his honeymoon was well over. The story of his existence was
abruptly broken asunder; all the better part of his life was taken away
from him, and he did not know what to do with the blank and useless
remnant. The ravelled threads of a once-harmonious web, suddenly
wrenched in twain, presented a mass of inextricable confusion; and the
young man's brain grew dizzy when he tried to draw them out, or to
consider them separately.

His life was most miserable, most hopeless, by reason of its emptiness.
He had no duty to perform, no task to achieve. That nature must be
utterly selfish, entirely given over to sybarite rest and
self-indulgence, which does not feel a lack of something wanting
these,--a duty or a purpose. Better to be Sisyphus toiling up the
mountain-side, than Sisyphus with the stone taken away from him, and no
hope of ever reaching the top. I heard a man once--a bill-sticker, and
not by any means a sentimental or philosophical person--declare that he
had never known real prosperity until he had thirteen orphan
grandchildren to support; and surely there was a universal moral in
that bill-sticker's confession. He had been a drunkard before,
perhaps,--he didn't say anything about that,--and a reprobate, it may
be; but those thirteen small mouths clamoring for food made him sober
and earnest, brave and true. He had a duty to do, and was happy in its
performance. He was wanted in the world, and he was somebody. From
Napoleon III., holding the destinies of civilised Europe in his hands,
and debating whether he shall re-create Poland or build a new
boulevard, to Paterfamilias in a Government office, working for the
little ones at home,--and from Paterfamilias to the crossing-sweeper,
who craves his diurnal halfpenny from busy citizens, tramping to their
daily toil,--every man has his separate labour and his different
responsibility. For ever and for ever the busy wheel of life turns
round; but duty and ambition are the motive powers that keep it going.

Edward Arundel felt the barrenness of his life, now that he had taken
the only revenge which was possible for him upon the man who had
persecuted his wife. _That_ had been a rapturous but brief enjoyment.
It was over. He could do no more to the man; since there was no lower
depth of humiliation--in these later days, when pillories and
whipping-posts and stocks are exploded from our market-places--to which
a degraded creature could descend. No; there was no more to be done. It
was useless to stop in Lincolnshire. The sad suggestion of the little
slipper found by the water-side was but too true. Paul Marchmont had
not murdered his helpless cousin; he had only tortured her to death. He
was quite safe from the law of the land, which, being of a positive and
arbitrary nature, takes no cognisance of indefinable offences. This
most infamous man was safe; and was free to enjoy his ill-gotten
grandeur--if he could take much pleasure in it, after the scene upon
the stone terrace.

The only joy that had been left for Edward Arundel after his retirement
from the East India Company's service was this fierce delight of
vengeance. He had drained the intoxicating cup to the dregs, and had
been drunken at first in the sense of his triumph. But he was sober
now; and he paced up and down the neglected garden beneath a chill
October sky, crunching the fallen leaves under his feet, with his arms
folded and his head bent, thinking of the barren future. It was all
bare,--a blank stretch of desert land, with no city in the distance; no
purple domes or airy minarets on the horizon. It was in the very nature
of this young man to be a soldier; and he was nothing if not a soldier.
He could never remember having had any other aspiration than that eager
thirst for military glory. Before he knew the meaning of the word
"war," in his very infancy, the sound of a trumpet or the sight of a
waving banner, a glittering weapon, a sentinel's scarlet coat, had
moved him to a kind of rapture. The unvarnished schoolroom records of
Greek and Roman warfare had been as delightful to him as the finest
passages of a Macaulay or a Froude, a Thiers or Lamartine. He was a
soldier by the inspiration of Heaven, as all great soldiers are. He had
never known any other ambition, or dreamed any other dream. Other lads
had talked of the bar, and the senate, and _their_ glories. Bah! how
cold and tame they seemed! What was the glory of a parliamentary
triumph, in which words were the only weapons wielded by the
combatants, compared with a hand-to-hand struggle, ankle deep in the
bloody mire of a crowded trench, or a cavalry charge, before which a
phalanx of fierce Affghans fled like frightened sheep upon a moor!
Edward Arundel was a soldier, like the Duke of Wellington or Sir Colin
Campbell,--one writes the old romantic name involuntarily, because one
loves it best,--or Othello. The Moor's first lamentation when he
believes that Desdemona is false, and his life is broken, is that
sublime farewell to all the glories of the battle-field. It was almost
the same with Edward Arundel. The loss of his wife and of his captaincy
were blent and mingled in his mind and he could only bewail the one
great loss which left life most desolate.

He had never felt the full extent of his desolation until now; for
heretofore he had been buoyed up by the hope of vengeance upon Paul
Marchmont; and now that his solitary hope had been realised to the
fullest possible extent, there was nothing left,--nothing but to revoke
the sacrifice he had made, and to regain his place in the Indian army
at any cost.

He tried not to think of the possibility of this. It seemed to him
almost an infidelity towards his dead wife to dream of winning honours
and distinction, now that she, who would have been so proud of any
triumph won by him, was for ever lost.

So, under the grey October sky he paced up and down upon the
grass-grown pathways, amidst the weeds and briars, the brambles and
broken branches that crackled as he trod upon them; and late in the
afternoon, when the day, which had been sunless and cold, was melting
into dusky twilight, he opened the low wooden gateway and went out into
the road. An impulse which he could not resist took him towards the
river-bank and the wood behind Marchmont Towers. Once more, for the
last time in his life perhaps, he went down to that lonely shore. He
went to look at the bleak unlovely place which had been the scene of
his betrothal.

It was not that he had any thought of meeting Olivia Marchmont; he had
dismissed her from his mind ever since his last visit to the lonely
boat-house. Whatever the mystery of her life might be, her secret lay
at the bottom of a black depth which the impetuous soldier did not care
to fathom. He did not want to discover that hideous secret. Tarnished
honour, shame, falsehood, disgrace, lurked in the obscurity in which
John Marchmont's widow had chosen to enshroud her life. Let them rest.
It was not for him to drag away the curtain that sheltered his
kinswoman from the world.

He had no thought, therefore, of prying into any secrets that might be
hidden in the pavilion by the water. The fascination that lured him to
the spot was the memory of the past. He could not go to Mary's grave;
but he went, in as reverent a spirit as he would have gone thither, to
the scene of his betrothal, to pay his farewell visit to the spot which
had been for ever hallowed by the confession of her innocent love.

It was nearly dark when he got to the river-side. He went by a path
which quite avoided the grounds about Marchmont Towers,--a narrow
footpath, which served as a towing-path sometimes, when some black
barge crawled by on its way out to the open sea. To-night the river was
hidden by a mist,--a white fog,--that obscured land and water; and it
was only by the sound of the horses' hoofs that Edward Arundel had
warning to step aside, as a string of them went by, dragging a chain
that grated on the pebbles by the river-side.

"Why should they say my darling committed suicide?" thought Edward
Arundel, as he groped his way along the narrow pathway. "It was on such
an evening as this that she ran away from home. What more likely than
that she lost the track, and wandered into the river? Oh, my own poor
lost one, God grant it was so! God grant it was by His will, and not
your own desperate act, that you were lost to me!"

Sorrowful as the thought of his wife's death was to him, it soothed him
to believe that death might have been accidental. There was all the
difference betwixt sorrow and despair in the alternative.

Wandering ignorantly and helplessly through this autumnal fog, Edward
Arundel found himself at the boat-house before he was aware of its
vicinity.

There was a light gleaming from the broad north window of the
painting-room, and a slanting line of light streamed out of the
half-open door. In this lighted doorway Edward saw the figure of a
girl,--an unkempt, red-headed girl, with a flat freckled face; a girl
who wore a lavender-cotton pinafore and hob-nailed boots, with a good
deal of brass about the leathern fronts, and a redundancy of rusty
leathern boot-lace twisted round the ankles.

The young man remembered having seen this girl once in the village of
Kemberling. She had been in Mrs. Weston's service as a drudge, and was
supposed to have received her education in the Swampington union.

This young lady was supporting herself against the half-open door, with
her arms a-kimbo, and her hands planted upon her hips, in humble
imitation of the matrons whom she had been wont to see lounging at
their cottage-doors in the high street of Kemberling, when the labours
of the day were done.

Edward Arundel started at the sudden apparition of this damsel.

"Who are you, girl?" he asked; "and what brings you to this place?"

He trembled as he spoke. A sudden agitation had seized upon him, which
he had no power to account for. It seemed as if Providence had brought
him to this spot to-night, and had placed this ignorant country-girl in
his way, for some special purpose. Whatever the secrets of this place
might be, he was to know them, it appeared, since he had been led here,
not by the promptings of curiosity, but only by a reverent love for a
scene that was associated with his dead wife.

"Who are you, girl?" he asked again.

"Oi be Betsy Murrel, sir," the damsel answered; "some on 'em calls me
'Wuk-us Bet;' and I be coom here to cle-an oop a bit."

"To clean up what?"

"The paa-intin' room. There's a de-al o' moock aboot, and aw'm to
fettle oop, and make all toidy agen t' squire gets well."

"Are you all alone here?"

"All alo-an? Oh, yes, sir."

"Have you been here long?"

The girl looked at Mr. Arundel with a cunning leer, which was one of
her "wuk-us" acquirements.

"Aw've bin here off an' on ever since t' squire ke-ame," she said.
"There's a deal o' cleanin' down 'ere."

Edward Arundel looked at her sternly; but there was nothing to be
gathered from her stolid countenance after its agreeable leer had
melted away. The young man might have scrutinised the figure-head of
the black barge creeping slowly past upon the hidden river with quite
as much chance of getting any information out of its play of feature.

He walked past the girl into Paul Marchmont's painting-room. Miss Betsy
Murrel made no attempt to hinder him. She had spoken the truth as to
the cleaning of the place, for the room smelt of soapsuds, and a pail
and scrubbing-brush stood in the middle of the floor. The young man
looked at the door behind which he had heard the crying of the child.
It was ajar, and the stone-steps leading up to it were wet, bearing
testimony to Betsy Murrel's industry.

Edward Arundel took the flaming tallow-candle from the table in the
painting-room, and went up the steps into the pavilion. The girl
followed, but she did not try to restrain him, or to interfere with
him. She followed him with her mouth open, staring at him after the
manner of her kind, and she looked the very image of rustic stupidity.

With the flaring candle shaded by his left hand, Edward Arundel
examined the two chambers in the pavilion. There was very little to
reward his scrutiny. The two small rooms were bare and cheerless. The
repairs that had been executed had only gone so far as to make them
tolerably inhabitable, and secure from wind and weather. The furniture
was the same that Edward remembered having seen on his last visit to
the Towers; for Mary had been fond of sitting in one of the little
rooms, looking out at the slow river and the trembling rushes on the
shore. There was no trace of recent occupation in the empty rooms, no
ashes in the grates. The girl grinned maliciously as Mr. Arundel raised
the light above his head, and looked about him. He walked in and out of
the two rooms. He stared at the obsolete chairs, the rickety tables,
the dilapidated damask curtains, flapping every now and then in the
wind that rushed in through the crannies of the doors and windows. He
looked here and there, like a man bewildered; much to the amusement of
Miss Betsy Murrel, who, with her arms crossed, and her elbows in the
palms of her moist hands, followed him backwards and forwards between
the two small chambers.

"There was some one living here a week ago," he said; "some one who had
the care of a----"

He stopped suddenly. If he had guessed rightly at the dark secret, it
was better that it should remain for ever hidden. This girl was perhaps
more ignorant than himself. It was not for him to enlighten her.

"Do you know if anybody has lived here lately?" he asked.

Betsy Murrel shook her head.

"Nobody has lived here--not that _oi_ knows of," she replied; "not to
take their victuals, and such loike. Missus brings her work down
sometimes, and sits in one of these here rooms, while Muster Poll does
his pictur' paa-intin'; that's all _oi_ knows of."

Edward went back to the painting-room, and set down his candle. The
mystery of those empty chambers was no business of his. He began to
think that his cousin Olivia was mad, and that her outbursts of terror
and agitation had been only the raving of a mad woman, after all. There
had been a great deal in her manner during the last year that had
seemed like insanity. The presence of the child might have been purely
accidental; and his cousin's wild vehemence only a paroxysm of
insanity. He sighed as he left Miss Murrel to her scouring. The world
seemed out of joint; and he, whose energetic nature fitted him for the
straightening of crooked things, had no knowledge of the means by which
it might be set right.

"Good-bye, lonely place," he said; "good-bye to the spot where my young
wife first told me of her love."

He walked back to the cottage, where the bustle of packing and
preparation was all over, and where Mr. Morrison was entertaining a
select party of friends in the kitchen. Early the next morning Mr.
Arundel and his servant left Lincolnshire; the key of Kemberling
Retreat was given up to the landlord; and a wooden board, flapping
above the dilapidated trellis-work of the porch, gave notice that the
habitation was to be let.



CHAPTER III.

TAKING IT QUIETLY.


All the county, or at least all that part of the county within a
certain radius of Marchmont Towers, waited very anxiously for Mr. Paul
Marchmont to make some move. The horsewhipping business had given quite
a pleasant zest, a flavour of excitement, a dash of what it is the
fashion nowadays to call "sensation," to the wind-up of the hunting
breakfast. Poor Paul's thrashing had been more racy and appetising than
the finest olives that ever grew, and his late guests looked forward to
a great deal more excitement and "sensation" before the business was
done with. Of course Paul Marchmont would do something. He _must_ make
a stir; and the sooner he made it the better. Matters would have to be
explained. People expected to know the _cause_ of Edward Arundel's
enmity; and of course the new master of the Towers would see the
propriety of setting himself right in the eyes of his influential
acquaintance, his tenantry, and retainers; especially if he
contemplated standing for Swampington at the next general election.

This was what people said to each other. The scene at the
hunting-breakfast was a most fertile topic of conversation. It was
almost as good as a popular murder, and furnished scandalous paragraphs
_ad infinitum_ for the provincial papers, most of them beginning, "It
is understood--," or "It has been whispered in our hearing that--," or
"Rochefoucault has observed that--." Everybody expected that Paul
Marchmont would write to the papers, and that Edward Arundel would
answer him in the papers; and that a brisk and stirring warfare would
be carried on in printer's-ink--at least. But no line written by either
of the gentlemen appeared in any one of the county journals; and by
slow degrees it dawned upon people that there was no further amusement
to be got out of Paul's chastisement, and that the master of the Towers
meant to take the thing quietly, and to swallow the horrible outrage,
taking care to hide any wry faces he made during that operation.

Yes; Paul Marchmont let the matter drop. The report was circulated that
he was very ill, and had suffered from a touch of brain-fever, which
kept him a victim to incessant delirium until after Mr. Arundel had
left the county. This rumour was set afloat by Mr. Weston the surgeon;
and as he was the only person admitted to his brother-in-law's
apartment, it was impossible for any one to contradict his assertion.

The fox-hunting squires shrugged their shoulders; and I am sorry to say
that the epithets, "hound," "cur," "sneak," and "mongrel," were more
often applied to Mr. Marchmont than was consistent with Christian
feeling on the part of the gentlemen who uttered them. But a man who
can swallow a sound thrashing, administered upon his own door-step, has
to contend with the prejudices of society, and must take the
consequences of being in advance of his age.

So, while his new neighbours talked about him, Paul Marchmont lay in
his splendid chamber, with the frisking youths and maidens staring at
him all day long, and simpering at him with their unchanging faces,
until he grew sick at heart, and began to loathe all this new grandeur,
which had so delighted him a little time ago. He no longer laughed at
the recollection of shabby Charlotte Street. He dreamt one night that
he was back again in the old bedroom, with the painted deal furniture,
and the hideous paper on the walls, and that the Marchmont-Towers
magnificence had been only a feverish vision; and he was glad to be
back in that familiar place, and was sorry on awaking to find that
Marchmont Towers was a splendid reality.

There was only one faint red streak upon his shoulders, for the
thrashing had not been a brutal one. It was _disgrace_ Edward Arundel
had wanted to inflict, not physical pain, the commonplace punishment
with which a man corrects his refractory horse. The lash of the
hunting-whip had done very little damage to the artist's flesh; but it
had slashed away his manhood, as the sickle sweeps the flowers amidst
the corn.

He could never look up again. The thought of going out of this house
for the first time, and the horror of confronting the altered faces of
his neighbours, was as dreadful to him as the anticipation of that
awful exit from the Debtor's Door, which is the last step but one into
eternity, must be to the condemned criminal.

"I shall go abroad," he said to his mother, when he made his appearance
in the western drawing-room, a week after Edward's departure. "I shall
go on the Continent, mother; I have taken a dislike to this place,
since that savage attacked me the other day."

Mrs. Marchmont sighed.

"It will seem hard to lose you, Paul, now that you are rich. You were
so constant to us through all our poverty; and we might be so happy
together now."

The artist was walking up and down the room, with his hands in the
pockets of his braided velvet coat. He knew that in the conventional
costume of a well-bred gentleman he showed to a disadvantage amongst
other men; and he affected a picturesque and artistic style of dress,
whose brighter hues and looser outlines lighted up his pale face, and
gave a grace to his spare figure.

"You think it worth something, then, mother?" he said presently, half
kneeling, half lounging in a deep-cushioned easy chair near the table
at which his mother sat. "You think our money is worth something to us?
All these chairs and tables, this great rambling house, the servants
who wait upon us, and the carriages we ride in, are worth something,
are they not? they make us happier, I suppose. I know I always thought
such things made up the sum of happiness when I was poor. I have seen a
hearse going away from a rich man's door, carrying his cherished wife,
or his only son, perhaps; and I've thought, 'Ah, but he has forty
thousand a year!' You are happier here than you were in Charlotte
Street, eh, mother?"

Mrs. Marchmont was a Frenchwoman by birth, though she had lived so long
in London as to become Anglicised. She only retained a slight accent of
her native tongue, and a good deal more vivacity of look and gesture
than is common to Englishwomen. Her elder daughter was sitting on the
other side of the broad fireplace. She was only a quieter and older
likeness of Lavinia Weston.

"_Am_ I happier?" exclaimed Mrs. Marchmont. "Need you ask me the
question, Paul? But it is not so much for myself as for your sake that
I value all this grandeur."

She held out her long thin hand, which was covered with rings, some
old-fashioned and comparatively valueless, others lately purchased by
her devoted son, and very precious. The artist took the shrunken
fingers in his own, and raised them to his lips.

"I'm very glad that I've made you happy, mother," he said; "that's
something gained, at any rate."

He left the fireplace, and walked slowly up and down the room, stopping
now and then to look out at the wintry sky, or the flat expanse of turf
below it; but he was quite a different creature to that which he had
been before his encounter with Edward Arundel. The chairs and tables
palled upon him. The mossy velvet pile of the new carpets seemed to him
like the swampy ground of a morass. The dark-green draperies of Genoa
velvet deepened into black with the growing twilight, and seemed as if
they had been fashioned out of palls.

What was it worth, this fine house, with the broad flat before it?
Nothing, if he had lost the respect and consideration of his
neighbours. He wanted to be a great man as well as a rich one. He
wanted admiration and flattery, reverence and esteem; not from poor
people, whose esteem and admiration were scarcely worth having, but
from wealthy squires, his equals or his superiors by birth and fortune.
He ground his teeth at the thought of his disgrace. He had drunk of the
cup of triumph, and had tasted the very wine of life; and at the moment
when that cup was fullest, it had been snatched away from him by the
ruthless hand of his enemy.

Christmas came, and gave Paul Marchmont a good opportunity of playing
the country gentleman of the olden time. What was the cost of a couple
of bullocks, a few hogsheads of ale, and a waggon-load of coals, if by
such a sacrifice the master of the Towers could secure for himself the
admiration due to a public benefactor? Paul gave _carte blanche_ to the
old servants; and tents were erected on the lawn, and monstrous
bonfires blazed briskly in the frosty air; while the populace, who
would have accepted the bounties of a new Nero fresh from the burning
of a modern Rome, drank to the health of their benefactor, and warmed
themselves by the unlimited consumption of strong beer.

Mrs. Marchmont and her invalid daughter assisted Paul in his attempt to
regain the popularity he had lost upon the steps of the western
terrace. The two women distributed square miles of flannel and
blanketing amongst greedy claimants; they gave scarlet cloaks and
poke-bonnets to old women; they gave an insipid feast, upon temperance
principles, to the children of the National Schools. And they had their
reward; for people began to say that this Paul Marchmont was a very
noble fellow, after all, by Jove, sir and that fellow Arundel must have
been in the wrong, sir; and no doubt Marchmont had his own reasons for
not resenting the outrage, sir; and a great deal more to the like
effect.

After this roasting of the two bullocks the wind changed altogether.
Mr. Marchmont gave a great dinner-party upon New-Year's Day. He sent
out thirty invitations, and had only two refusals. So the long
dining-room was filled with all the notabilities of the district, and
Paul held his head up once more, and rejoiced in his own grandeur.
After all, one horsewhipping cannot annihilate a man with a fine estate
and eleven thousand a year, if he knows how to make a splash with his
money.

Olivia Marchmont shared in none of the festivals that were held. Her
father was very ill this winter; and she spent a good deal of her time
at Swampington Rectory, sitting in Hubert Arundel's room, and reading
to him. But her presence brought very little comfort to the sick man;
for there was something in his daughter's manner that filled him with
inexpressible terror; and he would lie for hours together watching her
blank face, and wondering at its horrible rigidity. What was it? What
was the dreadful secret which had transformed this woman? He tormented
himself perpetually with this question, but he could imagine no answer
to it. He did not know the power which a master-passion has upon these
strong-minded women, whose minds are strong because of their
narrowness, and who are the bonden slaves of one idea. He did not know
that in a breast which holds no pure affection the master-fiend Passion
rages like an all-devouring flame, perpetually consuming its victim. He
did not know that in these violent and concentrative natures the line
that separates reason from madness is so feeble a demarcation, that
very few can perceive the hour in which it is passed.

Olivia Marchmont had never been the most lively or delightful of
companions. The tenderness which is the common attribute of a woman's
nature had not been given to her. She ought to have been a great man.
Nature makes these mistakes now and then, and the victim expiates the
error. Hence comes such imperfect histories as that of English
Elizabeth and Swedish Christina. The fetters that had bound Olivia's
narrow life had eaten into her very soul, and cankered there. If she
could have been Edward Arundel's wife, she would have been the noblest
and truest wife that ever merged her identity into that of another, and
lived upon the refracted glory of her husband's triumphs. She would
have been a Rachel Russell, a Mrs. Hutchinson, a Lady Nithisdale, a
Madame de Lavalette. She would have been great by reason of her power
of self-abnegation; and there would have been a strange charm in the
aspect of this fierce nature attuned to harmonise with its master's
soul, all the barbaric discords melting into melody, all the harsh
combinations softening into perfect music; just as in Mr. Buckstone's
most poetic drama we are bewitched by the wild huntress sitting at the
feet of her lord, and admire her chiefly because we know that only that
one man upon all the earth could have had power to tame her. To any one
who had known Olivia's secret, there could have been no sadder
spectacle than this of her decay. The mind and body decayed together,
bound by a mysterious sympathy. All womanly roundness disappeared from
the spare figure, and Mrs. Marchmont's black dresses hung about her in
loose folds. Her long, dead, black hair was pushed away from her thin
face, and twisted into a heavy knot at the back of her head. Every
charm that she had ever possessed was gone. The oldest women generally
retain some traits of their lost beauty, some faint reflection of the
sun that has gone down, to light up the soft twilight of age, and even
glimmer through the gloom of death. But this woman's face retained no
token of the past. No empty hull, with shattered bulwarks crumbled by
the fury of fierce seas, cast on a desert shore to rot and perish
there, was ever more complete a wreck than she was. Upon her face and
figure, in every look and gesture, in the tone of every word she spoke,
there was an awful something, worse than the seal of death. Little by
little the miserable truth dawned upon Hubert Arundel. His daughter was
mad! He knew this; but he kept the dreadful knowledge hidden in his own
breast,--a hideous secret, whose weight oppressed him like an actual
burden. He kept the secret; for it would have seemed to him the most
cruel treason against his daughter to have confessed his discovery to
any living creature, unless it should be absolutely necessary to do so.
Meanwhile he set himself to watch Olivia, detaining her at the Rectory
for a week together, in order that he might see her in all moods, under
all phases.

He found that there were no violent or outrageous evidences of this
mental decay. The mind had given way under the perpetual pressure of
one set of thoughts. Hubert Arundel, in his ignorance of his daughter's
secrets, could not discover the cause of her decadence; but that cause
was very simple. If the body is a wonderful and complex machine which
must not be tampered with, surely that still more complex machine the
mind must need careful treatment. If such and such a course of diet is
fatal to the body's health, may not some thoughts be equally fatal to
the health of the brain? may not a monotonous recurrence of the same
ideas be above all injurious? If by reason of the peculiar nature of a
man's labour, he uses one limb or one muscle more than the rest,
strange bosses rise up to testify to that ill usage, the idle limbs
wither, and the harmonious perfection of Nature gives place to
deformity. So the brain, perpetually pressed upon, for ever strained to
its utmost tension by the wearisome succession of thoughts, becomes
crooked and one-sided, always leaning one way, continually tripping up
the wretched thinker.

John Marchmont's widow had only one set of ideas. On every subject but
that one which involved Edward Arundel and his fortunes her memory had
decayed. She asked her father the same questions--commonplace questions
relating to his own comfort, or to simple household matters, twenty
times a day, always forgetting that he had answered her. She had that
impatience as to the passage of time which is one of the most painful
signs of madness. She looked at her watch ten times an hour, and would
wander out into the cheerless garden, indifferent to the bitter
weather, in order to look at the clock in the church-steeple, under the
impression that her own watch, and her father's, and all the
time-keepers in the house, were slow.

She was sometimes restless, taking up one occupation after another, to
throw all aside with equal impatience, and sometimes immobile for hours
together. But as she was never violent, never in any way unreasonable,
Hubert Arundel had not the heart to call science to his aid, and to
betray her secret. The thought that his daughter's malady might be
cured never entered his mind as within the range of possibility. There
was nothing to cure; no delusions to be exorcised by medical treatment;
no violent vagaries to be held in check by drugs and nostrums. The
powerful intellect had decayed; its force and clearness were gone. No
drugs that ever grew upon this earth could restore that which was lost.

This was the conviction which kept the Rector silent. It would have
given him unutterable anguish to have told his daughter's secret to any
living being; but he would have endured that misery if she could have
been benefitted thereby. He most firmly believed that she could not,
and that her state was irremediable.

"My poor girl!" he thought to himself; "how proud I was of her ten
years ago! I can do nothing for her; nothing except to love and cherish
her, and hide her humiliation from the world."

But Hubert Arundel was not allowed to do even this much for the
daughter he loved; for when Olivia had been with him a little more than
a week, Paul Marchmont and his mother drove over to Swampington Rectory
one morning and carried her away with them. The Rector then saw for the
first time that his once strong-minded daughter was completely under
the dominion of these two people, and that they knew the nature of her
malady quite as well as he did. He resisted her return to the Towers;
but his resistance was useless. She submitted herself willingly to her
new friends, declaring that she was better in their house than anywhere
else. So she went back to her old suite of apartments, and her old
servant Barbara waited upon her; and she sat alone in dead John
Marchmont's study, listening to the January winds shrieking in the
quadrangle, the distant rooks calling to each other amongst the bare
branches of the poplars, the banging of the doors in the corridor, and
occasional gusts of laughter from the open door of the
dining-room,--while Paul Marchmont and his guests gave a jovial welcome
to the new year.

While the master of the Towers re-asserted his grandeur, and made
stupendous efforts to regain the ground he had lost, Edward Arundel
wandered far away in the depths of Brittany, travelling on foot, and
making himself familiar with the simple peasants, who were ignorant of
his troubles. He had sent Mr. Morrison down to Dangerfield with the
greater part of his luggage; but he had not the heart to go back
himself--yet awhile. He was afraid of his mother's sympathy, and he
went away into the lonely Breton villages, to try and cure himself of
his great grief, before he began life again as a soldier. It was
useless for him to strive against his vocation. Nature had made him a
soldier, and nothing else; and wherever there was a good cause to be
fought for, his place was on the battle-field.



CHAPTER IV.

MISS LAWFORD SPEAKS HER MIND.


Major Lawford and his blue-eyed daughters were not amongst those guests
who accepted Paul Marchmont's princely hospitalities. Belinda Lawford
had never heard the story of Edward's lost bride as he himself could
have told it; but she had heard an imperfect version of the sorrowful
history from Letitia, and that young lady had informed her friend of
Edward's animus against the new master of the Towers.

"The poor dear foolish boy will insist upon thinking that Mr. Marchmont
was at the bottom of it all," she had said in a confidential chat with
Belinda, "somehow or other; but whether he was, or whether he wasn't,
I'm sure I can't say. But if one attempts to take Mr. Marchmont's part
with Edward, he does get so violent and go on so, that one's obliged to
say all sorts of dreadful things about Mary's cousin for the sake of
peace. But really, when I saw him one day in Kemberling, with a black
velvet shooting-coat, and his beautiful smooth white hair and auburn
moustache, I thought him most interesting. And so would you, Belinda,
if you weren't so wrapped up in that doleful brother of mine."

Whereupon, of course, Miss Lawford had been compelled to declare that
she was not "wrapped up" in Edward, whatever state of feeling that
obscure phrase might signify; and to express, by the vehemence of her
denial, that, if anything, she rather detested Miss Arundel's brother.
By-the-by, did you ever know a young lady who could understand the
admiration aroused in the breast of other young ladies for that most
uninteresting object, a _brother_? Or a gentleman who could enter with
any warmth of sympathy into his friend's feelings respecting the auburn
tresses or the Grecian nose of "a sister"? Belinda Lawford, I say, knew
something of the story of Mary Arundel's death, and she implored her
father to reject all hospitalities offered by Paul Marchmont.

"You won't go to the Towers, papa dear?" she said, with her hands
clasped upon her father's arm, her cheeks kindling, and her eyes
filling with tears as she spoke to him; "you won't go and sit at Paul
Marchmont's table, and drink his wine, and shake hands with him? I know
that he had something to do with Mary Arundel's death. He had indeed,
papa. I don't mean anything that the world calls crime; I don't mean
any act of open violence. But he was cruel to her, papa; he was cruel
to her. He tortured her and tormented her until she--" The girl paused
for a moment, and her voice faltered a little. "Oh, how I wish that I
had known her, papa," she cried presently, "that I might have stood by
her, and comforted her, all through that sad time!"

The Major looked down at his daughter with a tender smile,--a smile
that was a little significant, perhaps, but full of love and
admiration.

"You would have stood by Arundel's poor little wife, my dear?" he said.
"You would stand by her _now_, if she were alive, and needed your
friendship?"

"I would indeed, papa," Miss Lawford answered resolutely.

"I believe it, my dear; I believe it with all my heart. You are a good
girl, my Linda; you are a noble girl. You are as good as a son to me,
my dear."

Major Lawford was silent for a few moments, holding his daughter in his
arms and pressing his lips upon her broad forehead.

"You are fit to be a soldier's daughter, my darling," he said, "or--or
a soldier's wife."

He kissed her once more, and then left her, sighing thoughtfully as he
went away.

This is how it was that neither Major Lawford nor any of his family
were present at those splendid entertainments which Paul Marchmont gave
to his new friends. Mr. Marchmont knew almost as well as the Lawfords
themselves why they did not come, and the absence of them at his
glittering board made his bread bitter to him and his wine tasteless.
He wanted these people as much as the others,--more than the others,
perhaps, for they had been Edward Arundel's friends; and he wanted them
to turn their backs upon the young man, and join in the general outcry
against his violence and brutality. The absence of Major Lawford at the
lighted banquet-table tormented this modern rich man as the presence of
Mordecai at the gate tormented Haman. It was not enough that all the
others should come if these stayed away, and by their absence tacitly
testified to their contempt for the master of the Towers.

He met Belinda sometimes on horseback with the old grey-headed groom
behind her, a fearless young amazon, breasting the January winds, with
her blue eyes sparkling, and her auburn hair blowing away from her
candid face: he met her, and looked out at her from the luxurious
barouche in which it was his pleasure to loll by his mother's side,
half-buried amongst soft furry rugs and sleek leopard-skins, making the
chilly atmosphere through which he rode odorous with the scent of
perfumed hair, and smiling over cruelly delicious criticisms in
newly-cut reviews. He looked out at this fearless girl whose friends so
obstinately stood by Edward Arundel; and the cold contempt upon Miss
Lawford's face cut him more keenly than the sharpest wind of that
bitter January.

Then he took counsel with his womankind; not telling them his thoughts,
fears, doubts, or wishes--it was not his habit to do that--but taking
_their_ ideas, and only telling them so much as it was necessary for
them to know in order that they might be useful to him. Paul
Marchmont's life was regulated by a few rules, so simple that a child
might have learned them; indeed I regret to say that some children are
very apt pupils in that school of philosophy to which the master of
Marchmont Towers belonged, and cause astonishment to their elders by
the precocity of their intelligence. Mr. Marchmont might have inscribed
upon a very small scrap of parchment the moral maxims by which he
regulated his dealings with mankind.

"Always conciliate," said this philosopher. "Never tell an unnecessary
lie. Be agreeable and generous to those who serve you. N.B. No good
carpenter would allow his tools to get rusty. Make yourself master of
the opinions of others, but hold your own tongue. Seek to obtain the
maximum of enjoyment with the minimum of risk."

Such golden saws as these did Mr. Marchmont make for his own especial
guidance; and he hoped to pass smoothly onwards upon the railway of
life, riding in a first-class carriage, on the greased wheels of a very
easy conscience. As for any unfortunate fellow-travellers pitched out
of the carriage-window in the course of the journey, or left lonely and
helpless at desolate stations on the way, Providence, and not Mr.
Marchmont, was responsible for _their_ welfare. Paul had a high
appreciation of Providence, and was fond of talking--very piously, as
some people said; very impiously, as others secretly thought--about the
inestimable Wisdom which governed all the affairs of this lower world.
Nowhere, according to the artist, had the hand of Providence been more
clearly visible than in this matter about Paul's poor little cousin
Mary. If Providence had intended John Marchmont's daughter to be a
happy bride, a happy wife, the prosperous mistress of that stately
habitation, why all that sad business of old Mr. Arundel's sudden
illness, Edward's hurried journey, the railway accident, and all the
complications that had thereupon arisen? Nothing would have been easier
than for Providence to have prevented all this; and then he, Paul,
would have been still in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, patiently
waiting for a friendly lift upon the high-road of life. Nobody could
say that he had ever been otherwise than patient. Nobody could say that
he had ever intruded himself upon his rich cousins at the Towers, or
had been heard to speculate upon his possible inheritance of the
estate; or that he had, in short, done any thing but that which the
best, truest, most conscientious and disinterested of mankind should
do.

In the course of that bleak, frosty January, Mr. Marchmont sent his
mother and his sister Lavinia to make a call at the Grange. The Grange
people had never called upon Mrs. Marchmont; but Paul did not allow any
flimsy ceremonial law to stand in his way when he had a purpose to
achieve. So the ladies went to the Grange, and were politely received;
for Miss Lawford and her mother were a great deal too innocent and
noble-minded to imagine that these pale-faced, delicate-looking women
could have had any part, either directly or indirectly, in that cruel
treatment which had driven Edward's young wife from her home. Mrs.
Marchmont and Mrs. Weston were kindly received, therefore; and in a
little conversation with Belinda about birds, and dahlias, and worsted
work, and the most innocent subjects imaginable, the wily Lavinia
contrived to lead up to Miss Letitia Arundel, and thence, by the
easiest conversational short-cut, to Edward and his lost wife. Mrs.
Weston was obliged to bring her cambric handkerchief out of her muff
when she talked about her cousin Mary; but she was a clever woman, and
she had taken to heart Paul's pet maxim about the folly of
_unnecessary_ lies; and she was so candid as to entirely disarm Miss
Lawford, who had a schoolgirlish notion that every kind of hypocrisy
and falsehood was outwardly visible in a servile and slavish manner.
She was not upon her guard against those practised adepts in the art of
deception, who have learnt to make that subtle admixture of truth and
falsehood which defies detection; like some fabrics in whose woof silk
and cotton are so cunningly blended that only a practised eye can
discover the inferior material.

So when Lavinia dried her eyes and put her handkerchief back in her
muff, and said, betwixt laughing and crying,--

"Now you know, my dear Miss Lawford, you mustn't think that I would for
a moment pretend to be sorry that my brother has come into this
fortune. Of course any such pretence as that would be ridiculous, and
quite useless into the bargain, as it isn't likely anybody would
believe me. Paul is a dear, kind creature, the best of brothers, the
most affectionate of sons, and deserves any good fortune that could
fall to his lot; but I am truly sorry for that poor little girl. I am
truly sorry, believe me, Miss Lawford; and I only regret that Mr.
Weston and I did not come to Kemberling sooner, so that I might have
been a friend to the poor little thing; for then, you know, I might
have prevented that foolish runaway match, out of which almost all the
poor child's troubles arose. Yes, Miss Lawford; I wish I had been able
to befriend that unhappy child, although by my so doing Paul would have
been kept out of the fortune he now enjoys--for some time, at any rate.
I say for some time, because I do not believe that Mary Marchmont would
have lived to be old, under the happiest circumstances. Her mother died
very young; and her father, and her father's father, were consumptive."

Then Mrs. Weston took occasion, incidentally of course, to allude to
her brother's goodness; but even then she was on her guard, and took
care not to say too much.

"The worst actors are those who over-act their parts." That was another
of Paul Marchmont's golden maxims.

"I don't know what my brother may be to the rest of the world," Lavinia
said; "but I know how good he is to those who belong to him. I should
be ashamed to tell you all he has done for Mr. Weston and me. He gave
me this cashmere shawl at the beginning of the winter, and a set of
sables fit for a duchess; though I told him they were not at all the
thing for a village surgeon's wife, who keeps only one servant, and
dusts her own best parlour."

And Mrs. Marchmont talked of her son; with no loud enthusiasm, but with
a tone of quiet conviction that was worth any money to Paul. To have an
innocent person, some one not in the secret, to play a small part in
the comedy of his life, was a desideratum with the artist. His mother
had always been this person, this unconscious performer, instinctively
falling into the action of the play, and shedding real tears, and
smiling actual smiles,--the most useful assistant to a great schemer.

But during the whole of the visit nothing was said as to Paul's conduct
towards his unhappy cousin; nothing was said either to praise or to
exculpate; and when Mrs. Marchmont and her daughter drove away, in one
of the new equipages which Paul had selected for his mother, they left
only a vague impression in Belinda's breast. She didn't quite know what
to think. These people were so frank and candid, they had spoken of
Paul with such real affection, that it was almost impossible to doubt
them. Paul Marchmont might be a bad man, but his mother and sister
loved him, and surely they were ignorant of his wickedness.

Mrs. Lawford troubled herself very little about this unexpected morning
call. She was an excellent, warm-hearted, domestic creature, and
thought a great deal more about the grand question as to whether she
should have new damask curtains for the drawing-room, or send the old
ones to be dyed; or whether she should withdraw her custom from the
Kemberling grocer, whose "best black" at four-and-sixpence was really
now so very inferior; or whether Belinda's summer silk dress could be
cut down into a frock for Isabella to wear in the winter
evenings,--than about the rights or wrongs of that story of the
horsewhipping which had been administered to Mr. Marchmont.

"I'm sure those Marchmont-Towers people seem very nice, my dear," the
lady said to Belinda; "and I really wish your papa would go and dine
there. You know I like him to dine out a good deal in the winter,
Linda; not that I want to save the housekeeping money,--only it is so
difficult to vary the side-dishes for a man who has been accustomed to
mess-dinners, and a French cook."

But Belinda stuck fast to her colours. She was a soldier's daughter, as
her father said, and she was almost as good as a son. The Major meant
this latter remark for very high praise; for the great grief of his
life had been the want of a boy's brave face at his fireside. She was
as good as a son; that is to say, she was braver and more outspoken
than most women; although she was feminine and gentle withal, and by no
means strong-minded. She would have fainted, perhaps, at the first
sight of blood upon a battle-field; but she would have bled to death
with the calm heroism of a martyr, rather than have been false to a
noble cause.

"I think papa is quite right not to go to Marchmont Towers, mamma," she
said; the artful minx omitted to state that it was by reason of her
entreaties her father had stayed away. "I think he is quite right. Mrs.
Marchmont and Mrs. Weston may be very nice, and of course it isn't
likely _they_ would be cruel to poor young Mrs. Arundel; but I _know_
that Mr. Marchmont must have been unkind to that poor girl, or Mr.
Arundel would never have done what he did."

It is in the nature of good and brave men to lay down their masculine
rights when they leave their hats in the hall, and to submit themselves
meekly to feminine government. It is only the whippersnapper, the
sneak, the coward out of doors who is a tyrant at home. See how meekly
the Conqueror of Italy went home to his charming Creole wife! See how
pleasantly the Liberator of Italy lolls in the carriage of his
golden-haired Empress, when the young trees in that fair wood beyond
the triumphal arch are green in the bright spring weather, and all the
hired vehicles in Paris are making towards the cascade! Major Lawford's
wife was too gentle, and too busy with her store-room and her domestic
cares, to tyrannise over her lord and master; but the Major was duly
henpecked by his blue-eyed daughters, and went here and there as they
dictated.

So he stayed away from Marchmont Towers to please Belinda; and only
said, "Haw," "Yes," "'Pon my honour, now!" "Bless my soul!" when his
friends told him of the magnificence of Paul's dinners.

But although the Major and his eldest daughter did not encounter Mr.
Marchmont in his own house, they met him sometimes on the neutral
ground of other people's dining-rooms, and upon one especial evening at
a pleasant little dinner-party given by the rector of the parish in
which the Grange was situated.

Paul made himself particularly agreeable upon this occasion; but in the
brief interval before dinner he was absorbed in a conversation with Mr.
Davenant, the rector, upon the subject of ecclesiastical
architecture,--he knew everything, and could talk about everything,
this dear Paul,--and made no attempt to approach Miss Lawford. He only
looked at her now and then, with a furtive, oblique glance out of his
almond-shaped, pale-grey eyes; a glance that was wisely hidden by the
light auburn lashes, for it had an unpleasant resemblance to the leer
of an evil-natured sprite. Mr. Marchmont contented himself with keeping
this furtive watch upon Belinda, while she talked gaily with the
Rector's two daughters in a pleasant corner near the piano. And as the
artist took Mrs. Davenant down to the dining-room, and sat next her at
dinner, he had no opportunity of fraternising with Belinda during that
meal; for the young lady was divided from him by the whole length of
the table and, moreover, very much occupied by the exclusive attentions
of two callow-looking officers from the nearest garrison-town, who were
afflicted with extreme youth, and were painfully conscious of their
degraded state, but tried notwithstanding to carry it off with a high
hand, and affected the opinions of used-up fifty.

Mr. Marchmont had none of his womankind with him at this dinner; for
his mother and invalid sister had neither of them felt strong enough to
come, and Mr. and Mrs. Weston had not been invited. The artist's
special object in coming to this dinner was the conquest of Miss
Belinda Lawford: she sided with Edward Arundel against him: she must be
made to believe Edward wrong, and himself right; or she might go about
spreading her opinions, and doing him mischief. Beyond that, he had
another idea about Belinda; and he looked to this dinner as likely to
afford him an opportunity of laying the foundation of a very diplomatic
scheme, in which Miss Lawford should unconsciously become his tool. He
was vexed at being placed apart from her at the dinner-table, but he
concealed his vexation; and he was aggravated by the Rector's
old-fashioned hospitality, which detained the gentlemen over their wine
for some time after the ladies left the dining-room. But the
opportunity that he wanted came nevertheless, and in a manner that he
had not anticipated.

The two callow defenders of their country had sneaked out of the
dining-room, and rejoined the ladies in the cosy countrified
drawing-rooms. They had stolen away, these two young men; for they were
oppressed by the weight of a fearful secret. _They couldn't drink
claret!_ No; they had tried to like it; they had smacked their lips and
winked their eyes--both at once, for even winking with _one_ eye is an
accomplishment scarcely compatible with extreme youth--over vintages
that had seemed to them like a happy admixture of red ink and
green-gooseberry juice. They had perjured their boyish souls with
hideous falsehoods as to their appreciation of pale tawny port, light
dry wines, '42-ports, '45-ports, Kopke Roriz, Thompson and Croft's, and
Sandemann's; when, in the secret recesses of their minds, they affected
sweet and "slab" compounds, sold by publicans, and facetiously called
"Our prime old port, at four-and-sixpence." They were very young, these
beardless soldiers. They liked strawberry ices, and were on the verge
of insolvency from a predilection for clammy bath-buns, jam-tarts, and
cherry-brandy. They liked gorgeous waistcoats; and varnished boots in a
state of virgin brilliancy; and little bouquets in their button-holes;
and a deluge of _millefleurs_ upon their flimsy handkerchiefs. They
were very young. The men they met at dinner-parties to-day had tipped
them at Eton or Woolwich only yesterday, as it seemed, and remembered
it and despised them. It was only a few months since they had been
snubbed for calling the Douro a mountain in Switzerland, and the
Himalayas a cluster of islands in the Pacific, at horrible
examinations, in which the cold perspiration had bedewed their pallid
young cheeks. They were delighted to get away from those elderly
creatures in the Rector's dining-room to the snug little back
drawing-room, where Belinda Lawford and the two Misses Davenant were
murmuring softly in the firelight, like young turtles in a sheltered
dove-cote; while the matrons in the larger apartment sipped their
coffee, and conversed in low awful voices about the iniquities of
housemaids, and the insubordination of gardeners and grooms.

Belinda and her two companions were very polite to the helpless young
wanderers from the dining-room; and they talked pleasantly enough of
all manner of things; until somehow or other the conversation came
round to the Marchmont-Towers scandal, and Edward's treatment of his
lost wife's kinsman.

One of the young men had been present at the hunting-breakfast on that
bright October morning, and he was not a little proud of his superior
acquaintance with the whole business.

"I was the-aw, Miss Lawford," he said. "I was on the tew-wace after
bweakfast,--and a vewy excellent bweakfast it was, I ass-haw you; the
still Moselle was weally admiwable, and Marchmont has some Medewa that
immeasuwably surpasses anything I can indooce my wine-merchant to send
me;--I was on the tew-wace, and I saw Awundel comin' up the steps,
awful pale, and gwasping his whip; and I was a witness of all the west
that occurred; and if I had been Marchmont I should have shot Awundel
befaw he left the pawk, if I'd had to swing for it, Miss Lawford; for I
should have felt, b'Jove, that my own sense of honaw demanded the
sacwifice. Howevaw, Marchmont seems a vewy good fella; so I suppose
it's all wight as far as he goes; but it was a bwutal business
altogethaw, and that fella Awundel must be a scoundwel."

Belinda could not bear this. She had borne a great deal already. She
had been obliged to sit by very often, and hear Edward Arundel's
conduct discussed by Thomas, Richard, and Henry, or anybody else who
chose to talk about it; and she had been patient, and had held her
peace, with her heart bumping indignantly in her breast, and passionate
crimson blushes burning her cheeks. But she could _not_ submit to hear
a beardless, pale-faced, and rather weak-eyed young ensign--who had
never done any greater service for his Queen and country than to cry
"SHUDDRUPH!" to a detachment of raw recruits in a barrack-yard, in the
early bleakness of a winter's morning--take upon himself to blame
Edward Arundel, the brave soldier, the noble Indian hero, the devoted
lover and husband, the valiant avenger of his dead wife's wrongs.

"I don't think you know anything of the real story, Mr. Palliser,"
Belinda said boldly to the half-fledged ensign. "If you did, I'm sure
you would admire Mr. Arundel's conduct instead of blaming it. Mr.
Marchmont fully deserved the disgrace which Edward--which Mr. Arundel
inflicted upon him."

The words were still upon her lips, when Paul Marchmont himself came
softly through the flickering firelight to the low chair upon which
Belinda sat. He came behind her, and laying his hand lightly upon the
scroll-work at the back of her chair, bent over her, and said, in a low
confidential voice,--

"You are a noble girl, Miss Lawford. I am sorry that you should think
ill of me: but I like you for having spoken so frankly. You are a most
noble girl. You are worthy to be your father's daughter."

This was said with a tone of suppressed emotion; but it was quite a
random shot. Paul didn't know anything about the Major, except that he
had a comfortable income, drove a neat dog-cart, and was often seen
riding on the flat Lincolnshire roads with his eldest daughter. For all
Paul knew to the contrary, Major Lawford might have been the veriest
bully and coward who ever made those about him miserable; but Mr.
Marchmont's tone as good as expressed that he was intimately acquainted
with the old soldier's career, and had long admired and loved him. It
was one of Paul's happy inspirations, this allusion to Belinda's
father; one of those bright touches of colour laid on with a skilful
recklessness, and giving sudden brightness to the whole picture; a
little spot of vermilion dabbed upon the canvas with the point of the
palette-knife, and lighting up all the landscape with sunshine.

"You know my father?" said Belinda, surprised.

"Who does not know him?" cried the artist. "Do you think, Miss Lawford,
that it is necessary to sit at a man's dinner-table before you know
what he is? I know your father to be a good man and a brave soldier, as
well as I know that the Duke of Wellington is a great general, though I
never dined at Apsley House. I respect your father, Miss Lawford; and I
have been very much distressed by his evident avoidance of me and
mine."

This was coming to the point at once. Mr. Marchmont's manner was
candour itself. Belinda looked at him with widely-opened, wondering
eyes. She was looking for the evidence of his wickedness in his face. I
think she half-expected that Mr. Marchmont would have corked eyebrows,
and a slouched hat, like a stage ruffian. She was so innocent, this
simple young Belinda, that she imagined wicked people must necessarily
look wicked.

Paul Marchmont saw the wavering of her mind in that half-puzzled
expression, and he went on boldly.

"I like your father, Miss Lawford," he said; "I like him, and I respect
him; and I want to know him. Other people may misunderstand me, if they
please. I can't help their opinions. The truth is generally strongest
in the end; and I can afford to wait. But I can_not_ afford to forfeit
the friendship of a man I esteem; I cannot afford to be misunderstood
by your father, Miss Lawford; and I have been very much pained--yes,
very much pained--by the manner in which the Major has repelled my
little attempts at friendliness."

Belinda's heart smote her. She knew that it was her influence that had
kept her father away from Marchmont Towers. This young lady was very
conscientious. She was a Christian, too; and a certain sentence
touching wrongful judgments rose up against her while Mr. Marchmont was
speaking. If she had wronged this man; if Edward Arundel has been
misled by his passionate grief for Mary; if she had been deluded by
Edward's error,--how very badly Mr. Marchmont had been treated between
them! She didn't say anything, but sat looking thoughtfully at the
fire; and Paul saw that she was more and more perplexed. This was just
what the artist wanted. To talk his antagonist into a state of
intellectual fog was almost always his manner of commencing an
argument.

Belinda was silent, and Paul seated himself in a chair close to hers.
The callow ensigns had gone into the lamp-lit front drawing-room, and
were busy turning over the leaves--and never turning them over at the
right moment--of a thundering duet which the Misses Davenant were
performing for the edification of their papa's visitors. Miss Lawford
and Mr. Marchmont were alone, therefore, in that cosy inner chamber,
and a very pretty picture they made: the rosy-cheeked girl and the
pale, sentimental-looking artist sitting side by side in the glow of
the low fire, with a background of crimson curtains and gleaming
picture-frames; winter flowers piled in grim Indian jars; the fitful
light flickering now and then upon one sharp angle of the high carved
mantelpiece, with all its litter of antique china; and the rest of the
room in sombre shadow. Paul had the field all to himself, and felt that
victory would be easy. He began to talk about Edward Arundel.

If he had said one word against the young soldier, I think this
impetuous girl, who had not yet learned to count the cost of what she
did, would have been passionately eloquent in defence of her friend's
brother--for no other reason than that he was the brother of her
friend, of course; what other reason should she have for defending Mr.
Arundel?

But Paul Marchmont did not give her any occasion for indignation. On
the contrary, he spoke in praise of the hot-headed young soldier who
had assaulted him, making all manner of excuses for the young man's
violence, and using that tone of calm superiority with which a man of
the world might naturally talk about a foolish boy.

"He has been very unreasonable, Miss Lawford," Paul said by-and-by; "he
has been very unreasonable, and has most grossly insulted me. But, in
spite of all, I believe him to be a very noble young fellow, and I
cannot find it in my heart to be really angry with him. What his
particular grievance against me may be, I really do not know."

The furtive glance from the long narrow grey eyes kept close watch upon
Belinda's face as Paul said this. Mr. Marchmont wanted to ascertain
exactly how much Belinda knew of that grievance of Edward's; but he
could see only perplexity in her face. She knew nothing definite,
therefore; she had only heard Edward talk vaguely of his wrongs. Paul
Marchmont was convinced of this; and he went on boldly now, for he felt
that the ground was all clear before him.

"This foolish young soldier chooses to be angry with me because of a
calamity which I was as powerless to avert, as to prevent that accident
upon the South-Western Railway by which Mr. Arundel so nearly lost his
life. I cannot tell you how sincerely I regret the misconception that
has arisen in his mind. Because I have profited by the death of John
Marchmont's daughter, this impetuous young husband imagines--what? I
cannot answer that question; nor can he himself, it seems, since he has
made no definite statement of his wrongs to any living being."

The artist looked more sharply than ever at Belinda's listening face.
There was no change in its expression; the same wondering look, the
same perplexity,--that was all.

"When I say that I regret the young man's folly, Miss Lawford," Paul
continued, "believe me, it is chiefly on his account rather than my
own. Any insult which he can inflict upon me can only rebound upon
himself, since everybody in Lincolnshire knows that I am in the right,
and he in the wrong."

Mr. Marchmont was going on very smoothly; but at this point Miss
Lawford, who had by no means deserted her colours, interrupted his easy
progress.

"It remains to be proved who is right and who wrong, Mr. Marchmont,"
she said. "Mr. Arundel is the brother of my friend. I cannot easily
believe him to have done wrong."

Paul looked at her with a smile--a smile that brought hot blushes to
her face; but she returned his look without flinching. The brave girl
looked full into the narrow grey eyes sheltered under pale auburn
lashes, and her steadfast gaze did not waver.

"Ah, Miss Lawford," said the artist, still smiling, "when a young man
is handsome, chivalrous, and generous-hearted, it is very difficult to
convince a woman that he can do wrong. Edward Arundel has done wrong.
His ultra-quixotism has made him blind to the folly of his own acts. I
can afford to forgive him. But I repeat that I regret his infatuation
about this poor lost girl far more upon his account than on my own; for
I know--at least I venture to think--that a way lies open to him of a
happier and a better life than he could ever have known with my poor
childish cousin Mary Marchmont. I have reason to know that he has
formed another attachment, and that it is only a chivalrous delusion
about that poor girl--whom he was never really in love with, and whom
he only married because of some romantic notion inspired by my cousin
John--that withholds him from that other and brighter prospect."

He was silent for a few moments, and then he said hastily,--

"Pardon me, Miss Lawford; I have been betrayed into saying much that I
had better have left unsaid, more especially to you. I----"

He hesitated a little, as if embarrassed; and then rose and looked into
the next room, where the duet had been followed by a solo.

One of the Rector's daughters came towards the inner drawing-room,
followed by a callow ensign.

"We want Belinda to sing," exclaimed Miss Davenant. "We want you to
sing, you tiresome Belinda, instead of hiding yourself in that dark
room all the evening."

Belinda came out of the darkness, with her cheeks flushed and her
eyelids drooping. Her heart was beating so fast as to make it quite
impossible to speak just yet, or to sing either. But she sat down
before the piano, and, with hands that trembled in spite of herself,
began to play one of her pet sonatas.

Unhappily, Beethoven requires precision of touch in the pianist who is
bold enough to seek to interpret him; and upon this occasion I am
compelled to admit that Miss Lawford's fingering was eccentric, not to
say ridiculous,--in common parlance, she made a mess of it; and just as
she was going to break down, friendly Clara Davenant cried out,--

"That won't do, Belinda! We want you to sing, not to play. You are
trying to cheat us. We would rather have one of Moore's melodies than
all Beethoven's sonatas."

So Miss Lawford, still blushing, with her eyelids still drooping,
played Sir John Stevenson's simple symphony, and in a fresh swelling
voice, that filled the room with melody, began:

  "Oh, the days are gone when beauty bright
    My heart's chain wove;
   When my dream of life, from morn till night,
    Was love, still love!"

And Paul Marchmont, sitting at the other end of the room turning over
Miss Davenant's scrap-book, looked up through his auburn lashes, and
smiled at the beaming face of the singer. He felt that he had improved
the occasion.

"I am not afraid of Miss Lawford now," he thought to himself.

This candid, fervent girl was only another piece in the schemer's game
of chess; and he saw a way of making her useful in the attainment of
that great end which, in the strange simplicity of cunning, he believed
to be the one purpose of _every_ man's life,--Self-Aggrandisement.

It never for a moment entered into his mind that Edward Arundel was any
more _real_ than he was himself. There can be no perfect comprehension
where there is no sympathy. Paul believed that Edward had tried to
become master of Mary Marchmont's heritage; and had failed; and was
angry because of his failure. He believed this passionate young man to
be a schemer like himself; only a little more impetuous and blundering
in his manner of going to work.



CHAPTER V.

THE RETURN OF THE WANDERER.


The March winds were blowing amongst the oaks in Dangerfield Park, when
Edward Arundel went back to the house which had never been his home
since his boyhood. He went back because he had grown weary of lonely
wanderings in that strange Breton country. He had grown weary of
himself and of his own thoughts. He was worn out by the eager desire
that devoured him by day and by night,--the passionate yearning to be
far away beyond that low Eastern horizon line; away amid the carnage
and riot of an Indian battle-field.

So he went back at last to his mother, who had written to him again and
again, imploring him to return to her, and to rest, and to be happy in
the familiar household where he was beloved. He left his luggage at the
little inn where the coach that had brought him from Exeter stopped,
and then he walked quietly homewards in the gloaming. The early spring
evening was bleak and chill. The blacksmith's fire roared at him as he
went by the smithy. All the lights in the queer latticed windows
twinkled and blinked at him, as if in friendly welcome to the wanderer.
He remembered them all: the quaint, misshapen, lopsided roofs; the
tumble-down chimneys; the low doorways, that had sunk down below the
level of the village street, until all the front parlours became
cellars, and strange pedestrians butted their heads against the
flower-pots in the bedroom windows; the withered iron frame and pitiful
oil-lamp hung out at the corner of the street, and making a faint spot
of feeble light upon the rugged pavement; mysterious little shops in
diamond-paned parlour windows, where Dutch dolls and stationery, stale
gingerbread and pickled cabbage, were mixed up with wooden pegtops,
squares of yellow soap, rickety paper kites, green apples, and string;
they were all familiar to him.

It had been a fine thing once to come into this village with Letitia,
and buy stale gingerbread and rickety kites of a snuffy old pensioner
of his mother's. The kites had always stuck in the upper branches of
the oaks, and the gingerbread had invariably choked him; but with the
memory of the kites and gingerbread came back all the freshness of his
youth, and he looked with a pensive tenderness at the homely little
shops, the merchandise flickering in the red firelight, that filled
each quaint interior with a genial glow of warmth and colour.

He passed unquestioned by a wicket at the side of the great gates. The
firelight was rosy in the windows of the lodge, and he heard a woman's
voice singing a monotonous song to a sleepy child. Everywhere in this
pleasant England there seemed to be the glow of cottage-fires, and
friendliness, and love, and home. The young man sighed as he remembered
that great stone mansion far away in dismal Lincolnshire, and thought
how happy he might have been in this bleak spring twilight, if he could
have sat by Mary Marchmont's side in the western drawing-room, watching
the firelight and the shadows trembling on her fair young face.

It never had been; and it never was to be. The happiness of a home; the
sweet sense of ownership; the delight of dispensing pleasure to others;
all the simple domestic joys which make life beautiful,--had never been
known to John Marchmont's daughter, since that early time in which she
shared her father's lodging in Oakley Street, and went out in the cold
December morning to buy rolls for Edward Arundel's breakfast. From the
bay-window of his mother's favourite sitting-room the same red light
that he had seen in every lattice in the village streamed out upon the
growing darkness of the lawn. There was a half-glass door leading into
a little lobby near this sitting-room. Edward Arundel opened it and
went in, very quietly. He expected to find his mother and his sister in
the room with the bay-window.

The door of this familiar apartment was ajar; he pushed it open, and
went in. It was a very pretty room, and all the womanly litter of open
books and music, needlework and drawing materials, made it homelike.
The firelight flickered upon everything--on the pictures and
picture-frames, the black oak paneling, the open piano, a cluster of
snowdrops in a tall glass on the table, the scattered worsteds by the
embroidery-frame, the sleepy dogs upon the hearth-rug. A young lady
stood in the bay-window with her back to the fire. Edward Arundel crept
softly up to her, and put his arm round her waist.

"Letty!"

It was not Letitia, but a young lady with very blue eyes, who blushed
scarlet, and turned upon the young man rather fiercely; and then
recognising him, dropped into the nearest chair and began to tremble
and grow pale.

"I am sorry I startled you, Miss Lawford," Edward said, gently; "I
really thought you were my sister. I did not even know that you were
here."

"No, of course not. I--you didn't startle me much, Mr. Arundel; only
you were not expected home. I thought you were far away in Brittany. I
had no idea that there was any chance of your returning. I thought you
meant to be away all the summer--Mrs. Arundel told me so."

Belinda Lawford said all this in that fresh girlish voice which was
familiar to Mr. Arundel; but she was still very pale, and she still
trembled a little, and there was something almost apologetic in the way
in which she assured Edward that she had believed he would be abroad
throughout the summer. It seemed almost as if she had said: "I did not
come here because I thought I should see you. I had no thought or hope
of meeting you."

But Edward Arundel was not a coxcomb, and he was very slow to
understand any such signs as these. He saw that he had startled the
young lady, and that she had turned pale and trembled as she recognised
him; and he looked at her with a half-wondering, half-pensive
expression in his face.

She blushed as he looked at her. She went to the table and began to
gather together the silks and worsteds, as if the arrangement of her
workbasket were a matter of vital importance, to be achieved at any
sacrifice of politeness. Then, suddenly remembering that she ought to
say something to Mr. Arundel, she gave evidence of the originality of
her intellect by the following remark:

"How surprised Mrs. Arundel and Letitia will be to see you!"

Even as she said this her eyes were still bent upon the skeins of
worsted in her hand.

"Yes; I think they will be surprised. I did not mean to come home until
the autumn. But I got so tired of wandering about a strange country
alone. Where are they--my mother and Letitia?"

"They have gone down the village, to the school. They will be back to
tea. Your brother is away; and we dine at three o'clock, and drink tea
at eight. It is so much pleasanter than dining late."

This was quite an effort of genius; and Miss Lawford went on sorting
the skeins of worsted in the firelight. Edward Arundel had been
standing all this time with his hat in his hand, almost as if he had
been a visitor making a late morning call upon Belinda; but he put his
hat down now, and seated himself near the table by which the young lady
stood, busy with the arrangement of her workbasket.

Her heart was beating very fast, and she was straining her arithmetical
powers to the uttermost, in the endeavour to make a very abstruse
calculation as to the time in which Mrs. Arundel and Letitia could walk
to the village schoolhouse and back to Dangerfield, and the delay that
might arise by reason of sundry interruptions from obsequious gaffers
and respectful goodies, eager for a word of friendly salutation from
their patroness.

The arrangement of the workbasket could not last for ever. It had
become the most pitiful pretence by the time Miss Lawford shut down the
wicker lid, and seated herself primly in a low chair by the fireplace.
She sat looking down at the fire, and twisting a slender gold chain in
and out between her smooth white fingers. She looked very pretty in
that fitful firelight, with her waving brown hair pushed off her
forehead, and her white eyelids hiding the tender blue eyes. She sat
twisting the chain in her fingers, and dared not lift her eyes to Mr.
Arundel's face; and if there had been a whole flock of geese in the
room, she could not have said "Bo!" to one of them.

And yet she was not a stupid girl. Her father could have indignantly
refuted any such slander as that against the azure-eyed Hebe who made
his home pleasant to him. To the Major's mind Belinda was all that man
could desire in the woman of his choice, whether as daughter or wife.
She was the bright genius of the old man's home, and he loved her with
that chivalrous devotion which is common to brave soldiers, who are the
simplest and gentlest of men when you chain them to their firesides,
and keep them away from the din of the camp and the confusion of the
transport-ship.

Belinda Lawford was clever; but only just clever enough to be charming.
I don't think she could have got through "Paradise Lost," or Gibbon's
"Decline and Fall," or a volume by Adam Smith or McCulloch, though you
had promised her a diamond necklace when she came conscientiously to
"Finis." But she could read Shakespeare for the hour together, and did
read him aloud to her father in a fresh, clear voice, that was like
music on the water. And she read Macaulay's "History of England," with
eyes that kindled with indignation against cowardly, obstinate James,
or melted with pity for poor weak foolish Monmouth, as the case might
be. She could play Mendelssohn and Beethoven,--plaintive sonatas;
tender songs, that had no need of words to expound the mystic meaning
of the music. She could sing old ballads and Irish melodies, that
thrilled the souls of those who heard her, and made hard men pitiful to
brazen Hibernian beggars in the London streets for the memory of that
pensive music. She could read the leaders in the "Times," with no false
quantities in the Latin quotations, and knew what she was reading
about; and had her favourites at St. Stephen's; and adored Lord
Palmerston, and was liberal to the core of her tender young heart. She
was as brave as a true Englishwoman should be, and would have gone to
the wars with her old father, and served him as his page; or would have
followed him into captivity, and tended him in prison, if she had lived
in the days when there was such work for a high-spirited girl to do.

But she sat opposite Mr. Edward Arundel, and twisted her chain round
her fingers, and listened for the footsteps of the returning mistress
of the house. She was like a bashful schoolgirl who has danced with an
officer at her first ball. And yet amidst her shy confusion, her fears
that she should seem agitated and embarrassed, her struggles to appear
at her ease, there was a sort of pleasure in being seated there by the
low fire with Edward Arundel opposite to her. There was a strange
pleasure, an almost painful pleasure, mingled with her feelings in
those quiet moments. She was acutely conscious of every sound that
broke the stillness--the sighing of the wind in the wide chimney; the
falling of the cinders on the hearth; the occasional snort of one of
the sleeping dogs; and the beating of her own restless heart. And
though she dared not lift her eyelids to the young soldier's face, that
handsome, earnest countenance, with the chestnut hair lit up with
gleams of gold, the firm lips shaded by a brown moustache, the pensive
smile, the broad white forehead, the dark-blue handkerchief tied
loosely under a white collar, the careless grey travelling-dress, even
the attitude of the hand and arm, the bent head drooping a little over
the fire,--were as present to her inner sight as if her eyes had kept
watch all this time, and had never wavered in their steady gaze.

There is a second-sight that is not recognised by grave professors of
magic--a second-sight which common people call Love.

But by-and-by Edward began to talk, and then Miss Lawford found
courage, and took heart to question him about his wanderings in
Brittany. She had only been a few weeks in Devonshire, she said. Her
thoughts went back to the dreary autumn in Lincolnshire as she spoke;
and she remembered the dull October day upon which her father had come
into the girl's morning-room at the Grange with Edward's farewell
letter in his hand. She remembered this, and all the talk that there
had been about the horsewhipping of Mr. Paul Marchmont upon his own
threshold. She remembered all the warm discussions, the speculations,
the ignorant conjectures, the praise, the blame; and how it had been
her business to sit by and listen and hold her peace, except upon that
one never-to-be-forgotten night at the Rectory, when Paul Marchmont had
hinted at something whose perfect meaning she had never dared to
imagine, but which had, somehow or other, mingled vaguely with all her
day-dreams ever since.

Was there any truth in that which Paul Marchmont had said to her? Was
it true that Edward Arundel had never really loved his young bride?

Letitia had said as much, not once, but twenty times.

"It's quite ridiculous to suppose that he could have ever been in love
with the poor, dear, sickly thing," Miss Arundel had exclaimed; "it was
only the absurd romance of the business that captivated him; for Edward
is really ridiculously romantic, and her father having been a
supernumer--(it's no use, I don't think anybody ever did know how many
syllables there are in that word)--and having lived in Oakley Street,
and having written a pitiful letter to Edward, about this motherless
daughter and all that sort of thing, just like one of those tiresome
old novels with a baby left at a cottage-door, and all the _s's_
looking like _f's_, and the last word of one page repeated at the top
of the next page, and printed upon thick yellow-looking ribbed paper,
you know. _That_ was why my brother married Miss Marchmont, you may
depend upon it, Linda; and all I hope is, that he'll be sensible enough
to marry again soon, and to have a Christianlike wedding, with
carriages, and a breakfast, and two clergymen; and _I_ should wear
white glacé silk, with tulle puffings, and a tulle bonnet (I suppose I
must wear a bonnet, being only a bridesmaid?), all showered over with
clematis, as if I'd stood under a clematis-bush when the wind was
blowing, you know, Linda."

With such discourse as this Miss Arundel had frequently entertained her
friend; and she had indulged in numerous inuendoes of an embarrassing
nature as to the propriety of old friends and schoolfellows being
united by the endearing tie of sister-in-lawhood, and other
observations to the like effect.

Belinda knew that if Edward ever came to love her,--whenever she did
venture to speculate upon such a chance, she never dared to come at all
near it, but thought of it as a thing that might come to pass in half a
century or so--if he should choose her for his second wife, she knew
that she would be gladly and tenderly welcomed at Dangerfield. Mrs.
Arundel had hinted as much as this. Belinda knew how anxiously that
loving mother hoped that her son might, by-and-by, form new ties, and
cease to lead a purposeless life, wasting his brightest years in
lamentations for his lost bride: she knew all this; and sitting
opposite to the young man in the firelight, there was a dull pain at
her heart; for there was something in the soldier's sombre face that
told her he had not yet ceased to lament that irrevocable past.

But Mrs. Arundel and Letitia came in presently, and gave utterance to
loud rejoicings; and preparations were made for the physical comfort of
the wanderer,--bells were rung, lighted wax-candles and a glittering
tea-service were brought in, a cloth was laid, and cold meats and other
comestibles spread forth, with that profusion which has made the west
country as proverbial as the north for its hospitality. I think Miss
Lawford would have sat opposite the traveller for a week without asking
any such commonplace question as to whether Mr. Arundel required
refreshment. She had read in her Hort's "Pantheon" that the gods
sometimes ate and drank like ordinary mortals; yet it had never entered
into her mind that Edward could be hungry. But she now had the
satisfaction of seeing Mr. Arundel eat a very good dinner; while she
herself poured out the tea, to oblige Letitia, who was in the middle of
the third volume of a new novel, and went on reading it as coolly as if
there had been no such person as that handsome young soldier in the
world.

"The books must go back to the club to-morrow morning, you know, mamma
dear, or I wouldn't read at tea-time," the young lady remarked
apologetically. "I want to know whether _he'll_ marry Theodora or that
nasty Miss St. Ledger. Linda thinks he'll marry Miss St. Ledger, and be
miserable, and Theodora will die. I believe Linda likes love-stories to
end unhappily. I don't. I hope if he _does_ marry Miss St. Ledger--and
he'll be a wicked wretch if he does, after the _things_ he has said to
Theodora--I hope, if he does, she'll die--catch cold at a _déjeuner_ at
Twickenham, or something of that kind, you know; and then he'll marry
Theodora afterwards, and all will end happily. Do you know, Linda, I
always fancy that you're like Theodora, and that Edward's like _him_."

After which speech Miss Arundel went back to her book, and Edward
helped himself to a slice of tongue rather awkwardly, and Belinda
Lawford, who had her hand upon the urn, suffered the teapot to overflow
amongst the cups and saucers.



CHAPTER VI.

A WIDOWER'S PROPOSAL.


For some time after his return Edward Arundel was very restless and
gloomy: roaming about the country by himself, under the influence of a
pretended passion for pedestrianism; reading hard for the first time in
his life, shutting himself in his dead father's library, and sitting
hour after hour in a great easy-chair, reading the histories of all the
wars that have ever ravaged this earth--from the days in which the
elephants of a Carthaginian ruler trampled upon the soldiery of Rome,
to the era of that Corsican barrister's wonderful son, who came out of
his simple island home to conquer the civilised half of a world.

Edward Arundel showed himself a very indifferent brother; for, do what
she would, Letitia could not induce him to join in any of her pursuits.
She caused a butt to be set up upon the lawn; but all she could say
about Belinda's "best gold" could not bring the young man out upon the
grass to watch the two girls shooting. He looked at them by stealth
sometimes through the window of the library, and sighed as he thought
of the blight upon his manhood, and of all the things that might have
been.

Might not these things even yet come to pass? Had he not done his duty
to the dead; and was he not free now to begin a fresh life? His mother
was perpetually hinting at some bright prospect that lay smiling before
him, if he chose to take the blossom-bestrewn path that led to that
fair country. His sister told him still more plainly of a prize that
was within his reach, if he were but brave enough to stretch out his
hand and claim the precious treasure for his own. But when he thought
of all this,--when he pondered whether it would not be wise to drop the
dense curtain of forgetfulness over that sad picture of the
past,--whether it would not be well to let the dead bury their dead,
and to accept that other blessing which the same Providence that had
blighted his first hope seemed to offer to him now,--the shadowy
phantom of John Marchmont arose out of the mystic realms of the dead,
and a ghostly voice cried to him, "I charged you with my daughter's
safe keeping; I trusted you with her innocent love; I gave you the
custody of her helplessness. What have you done to show yourself worthy
of my faith in you?"

These thoughts tormented the young widower perpetually, and deprived
him of all pleasure in the congenial society of his sister and Belinda
Lawford; or infused so sharp a flavour of remorse into his cup of
enjoyment, that pleasure was akin to pain.

So I don't know how it was that, in the dusky twilight of a bright day
in early May, nearly two months after his return to Dangerfield, Edward
Arundel, coming by chance upon Miss Lawford as she sat alone in the
deep bay-window where he had found her on his first coming, confessed
to her the terrible struggle of feeling that made the great trouble of
his life, and asked her if she was willing to accept a love which, in
its warmest fervour, was not quite unclouded by the shadows of the
sorrowful past.

"I love you dearly, Linda," he said; "I love, I esteem, I admire you;
and I know that it is in your power to give me the happiest future that
ever a man imagined in his youngest, brightest dreams. But if you do
accept my love, dear, you must take my memory with it. I cannot forget,
Linda. I have tried to forget. I have prayed that God, in His mercy,
might give me forgetfulness of that irrevocable past. But the prayer
has never been granted; the boon has never been bestowed. I think that
love for the living and remorse for the dead must for ever reign side
by side in my heart. It is no falsehood to you that makes me remember
her; it is no forgetfulness of her that makes me love you. I offer my
brighter and happier self to you, Belinda; I consecrate my sorrow and
my tears to her. I love you with all my heart, Belinda; but even for
the sake of your love I will not pretend that I can forget her. If John
Marchmont's daughter had died with her head upon my breast, and a
prayer on her lips, I might have regretted her as other men regret
their wives; and I might have learned by-and-by to look back upon my
grief with only a tender and natural regret, that would have left my
future life unclouded. But it can never be so. The poison of remorse is
blended with that sorrowful memory. If I had done otherwise,--if I had
been wiser and more thoughtful,--my darling need never have suffered;
my darling need never have sinned. It is the thought that her death may
have been a sinful one, that is most cruel to me, Belinda. I have seen
her pray, with her pale earnest face uplifted, and the light of faith
shining in her gentle eyes; I have seen the inspiration of God upon her
face; and I cannot bear to think that, in the darkness that came down
upon her young life, that holy light was quenched; I cannot bear to
think that Heaven was ever deaf to the pitiful cry of my innocent
lamb."

And here Mr. Arundel paused, and sat silently, looking out at the long
shadows of the trees upon the darkening lawn; and I fear that, for the
time being, he forgot that he had just made Miss Lawford an offer of
his hand, and so much of his heart as a widower may be supposed to have
at his disposal.

Ah me! we can only live and die _once_. There are some things, and
those the most beautiful of all things, that can never be renewed: the
bloom on a butterfly's wing; the morning dew upon a newly-blown rose;
our first view of the ocean; our first pantomime, when all the fairies
were fairies for ever, and when the imprudent consumption of the
contents of a pewter quart-measure in sight of the stage-box could not
disenchant us with that elfin creature, Harlequin the graceful,
faithful betrothed of Columbine the fair. The firstlings of life are
most precious. When the black wing of the angel of death swept over
agonised Egypt, and the children were smitten, offended Heaven, eager
for a sacrifice, took the firstborn. The young mothers would have other
children, perhaps; but between those others and the mother's love there
would be the pale shadow of that lost darling whose tiny hands _first_
drew undreamed-of melodies from the sleeping chords, _first_ evoked the
slumbering spirit of maternal love. Amongst the later lines--the most
passionate, the most sorrowful--that George Gordon Noel Byron wrote,
are some brief verses that breathed a lament for the lost freshness,
the never-to-be-recovered youth.

 "Oh, could I feel as I have felt; or be what I have been;
  Or weep as I could once have wept!"

cried the poet, when he complained of that "mortal coldness of the
soul," which is "like death itself." It is a pity certainly that so
great a man should die in the prime of life; but if Byron had survived
to old age after writing these lines, he would have been a living
anticlimax. When a man writes that sort of poetry he pledges himself to
die young.

Edward Arundel had grown to love Belinda Lawford unconsciously, and in
spite of himself; but the first love of his heart, the first fruit of
his youth, had perished. He could not feel quite the same devotion, the
same boyish chivalry, that he had felt for the innocent bride who had
wandered beside him in the sheltered meadows near Winchester. He might
begin a _new_ life, but he could not live the _old_ life over again. He
must wear his rue with a difference this time. But he loved Belinda
very dearly, nevertheless; and he told her so, and by-and-by won from
her a tearful avowal of affection.

Alas! she had no power to question the manner of his wooing. He loved
her--he had said as much; and all the good she had desired in this
universe became hers from the moment of Edward Arundel's utterance of
those words. He loved her; that was enough. That he should cherish a
remorseful sorrow for that lost wife, made him only the truer, nobler,
and dearer in Belinda's sight. She was not vain, or exacting, or
selfish. It was not in her nature to begrudge poor dead Mary the tender
thoughts of her husband. She was generous, impulsive, believing; and
she had no more inclination to doubt Edward's love for her, after he
had once avowed such a sentiment, than to disbelieve in the light of
heaven when she saw the sun shining. Unquestioning, and unutterably
happy, she received her lover's betrothal kiss, and went with him to
his mother, blushing and trembling, to receive that lady's blessing.

"Ah, if you knew how I have prayed for this, Linda!" Mrs. Arundel
exclaimed, as she folded the girl's slight figure in her arms.

"And I shall wear white glacé with pinked flounces, instead of tulle
puffings, you sly Linda," cried Letitia.

"And I'll give Ted the home-farm, and the white house to live in, if he
likes to try his hand at the new system of farming," said Reginald
Arundel, who had come home from the Continent, and had amused himself
for the last week by strolling about his estate and staring at his
timber, and almost wishing that there was a necessity for cutting down
all the oaks in the avenue, so that he might have something to occupy
him until the 12th of August.

Never was promised bride more welcome to a household than bright
Belinda Lawford; and as for the young lady herself, I must confess that
she was almost childishly happy, and that it was all that she could do
to prevent her light step from falling into a dance as she floated
hither and thither through the house at Dangerfield,--a fresh young
Hebe in crisp muslin robes; a gentle goddess, with smiles upon her face
and happiness in her heart.

"I loved you from the first, Edward," she whispered one day to her
lover. "I knew that you were good, and brave, and noble; and I loved
you because of that."

And a little for the golden glimmer in his clustering curls; and a
little for his handsome profile, his flashing eyes, and that
distinguished air peculiar to the defenders of their country; more
especially peculiar, perhaps, to those who ride on horseback when they
sally forth to defend her. Once a soldier for ever a soldier, I think.
You may rob the noble warrior of his uniform, if you will; but the _je
ne sais quoi_, the nameless air of the "long-sword, saddle, bridle,"
will hang round him still.

Mrs. Arundel and Letitia took matters quite out of the hands of the two
lovers. The elderly lady fixed the wedding-day, by agreement with Major
Lawford, and sketched out the route for the wedding-tour. The younger
lady chose the fabrics for the dresses of the bride and her attendants;
and all was done before Edward and Belinda well knew what their friends
were about. I think that Mrs. Arundel feared her son might change his
mind if matters were not brought swiftly to a climax, and that she
hurried on the irrevocable day in order that he might have no breathing
time until the vows had been spoken and Belinda Lawford was his wedded
wife. It had been arranged that Edward should escort Belinda back to
Lincolnshire, and that his mother and Letitia, who was to be chief
bridesmaid, should go with them. The marriage was to be solemnised at
Hillingsworth church, which was within a mile and a half of the Grange.

The 1st of July was the day appointed by agreement between Major and
Mrs. Lawford and Mrs. Arundel; and on the 18th of June Edward was to
accompany his mother, Letitia, and Belinda to London. They were to
break the journey by stopping in town for a few days, in order to make
a great many purchases necessary for Miss Lawford's wedding
paraphernalia, for which the Major had sent a bouncing cheque to his
favourite daughter.

And all this time the only person at all unsettled, the only person
whose mind was ill at ease, was Edward Arundel, the young widower who
was about to take to himself a second wife. His mother, who watched him
with a maternal comprehension of every change in his face, saw this,
and trembled for her son's happiness.

"And yet he cannot be otherwise than happy with Belinda Lawford," Mrs.
Arundel thought to herself.

But upon the eve of that journey to London Edward sat alone with his
mother in the drawing-room at Dangerfield, after the two younger ladies
had retired for the night. They slept in adjoining apartments, these
two young ladies; and I regret to say that a great deal of their
conversation was about Valenciennes lace, and flounces cut upon the
cross, moire antique, mull muslin, glacé silk, and the last "sweet
thing" in bonnets. It was only when loquacious Letitia was shut out
that Miss Lawford knelt alone in the still moonlight, and prayed that
she might be a good wife to the man who had chosen her. I don't think
she ever prayed that she might be faithful and true and pure; for it
never entered into her mind that any creature bearing the sacred name
of wife could be otherwise. She only prayed for the mysterious power to
preserve her husband's affection, and make his life happy.

Mrs. Arundel, sitting _tête-à-tête_ with her younger son in the
lamp-lit drawing-room, was startled by hearing the young man breathe a
deep sigh. She looked up from her work to see a sadder expression in
his face than perhaps ever clouded the countenance of an expectant
bridegroom.

"Edward!" she exclaimed.

"What, mother?"

"How heavily you sighed just now!"

"Did I?" said Mr. Arundel, abstractedly. Then, after a brief pause, he
said, in a different tone, "It is no use trying to hide these things
from you, mother. The truth is, I am not happy."

"Not happy, Edward!" cried Mrs. Arundel; "but surely you----?"

"I know what you are going to say, mother. Yes, mother, I love this
dear girl Linda with all my heart; I love her most sincerely; and I
could look forward to a life of unalloyed happiness with her, if--if
there was not some inexplicable dread, some vague and most miserable
feeling always coming between me and my hopes. I have tried to look
forward to the future, mother; I have tried to think of what my life
may be with Belinda; but I cannot, I cannot. I cannot look forward; all
is dark to me. I try to build up a bright palace, and an unknown hand
shatters it. I try to turn away from the memory of my old sorrows; but
the same hand plucks me back, and chains me to the past. If I could
retract what I have done; if I could, with any show of honour, draw
back, even now, and not go upon this journey to Lincolnshire; if I
_could_ break my faith to this poor girl who loves me, and whom I love,
as God knows, with all truth and earnestness, I would do so--I would do
so."

"Edward!"

"Yes, mother; I would do it. It is not in me to forget. My dead wife
haunts me by night and day. I hear her voice crying to me, 'False,
false, false; cruel and false; heartless and forgetful!' There is never
a night that I do not dream of that dark sluggish river down in
Lincolnshire. There is never a dream that I have--however purposeless,
however inconsistent in all its other details--in which I do not see
_her_ dead face looking up at me through the murky waters. Even when I
am talking to Linda, when words of love for her are on my lips, my mind
wanders away, back--always back--to the sunset by the boat-house, when
my little wife gave me her hand; to the trout-stream in the meadow,
where we sat side by side and talked about the future."

For a few minutes Mrs. Arundel was quite silent. She abandoned herself
for that brief interval to complete despair. It was all over. The
bridegroom would cry off; insulted Major Lawford would come post-haste
to Dangerfield, to annihilate this dismal widower, who did not know his
own mind. All the shimmering fabrics--the gauzes, and laces, and silks,
and velvets--that were in course of preparation in the upper chambers
would become so much useless finery, to be hidden in out-of-the-way
cupboards, and devoured by misanthropical moths,--insect iconoclasts,
who take a delight in destroying the decorations of the human temple.

Poor Mrs. Arundel took a mental photograph of all the complicated
horrors of the situation. An offended father; a gentle, loving girl
crushed like some broken lily; gossip, slander; misery of all kinds.
And then the lady plucked up courage and gave her recreant son a sound
lecture, to the effect that this conduct was atrociously wicked; and
that if this trusting young bride, this fair young second wife, were to
be taken away from him as the first had been, such a calamity would
only be a fitting judgment upon him for his folly.

But Edward told his mother, very quietly, that he had no intention of
being false to his newly-plighted troth.

"I love Belinda," he said; "and I will be true to her, mother. But I
cannot forget the past; it hangs about me like a bad dream."



CHAPTER VII.

HOW THE TIDINGS WERE RECEIVED IN LINCOLNSHIRE.


The young widower made no further lamentation, but did his duty to his
betrothed bride with a cheerful visage. Ah! what a pleasant journey it
was to Belinda, that progress through London on the way to
Lincolnshire! It was like that triumphant journey of last March, when
the Royal bridegroom led his Northern bride through a surging sea of
eager, smiling faces, to the musical jangling of a thousand bells. If
there were neither populace nor joy-bells on this occasion, I scarcely
think Miss Lawford knew that those elements of a triumphal progress
were missing. To her ears all the universe was musical with the sound
of mystic joy-bells; all the earth was glad with the brightness of
happy faces. The railway-carriage,--the commonplace vehicle,--frouzy
with the odour of wool and morocco, was a fairy chariot, more wonderful
than Queen Mab's; the white chalk-cutting in the hill was a shining
cleft in a mountain of silver; the wandering streams were melted
diamonds; the stations were enchanted castles. The pale sherry, carried
in a pocket-flask, and sipped out of a little silver tumbler--there is
apt to be a warm flatness about sherry taken out of pocket-flasks that
is scarcely agreeable to the connoisseur--was like nectar newly brewed
for the gods; even the anchovies in the sandwiches were like the
enchanted fish in the Arabian story. A magical philter had been infused
into the atmosphere: the flavour of first love was in every sight and
sound.

Was ever bridegroom more indulgent, more devoted, than Edward Arundel?
He sat at the counters of silk-mercers for the hour together, while
Mrs. Arundel and the two girls deliberated over crisp fabrics unfolded
for their inspection. He was always ready to be consulted, and gave his
opinion upon the conflicting merits of peach-colour and pink,
apple-green and maize, with unwearying attention. But sometimes, even
while Belinda was smiling at him, with the rippling silken stuff held
up in her white hands, and making a lustrous cascade upon the counter,
the mystic hand plucked him back, and his mind wandered away to that
childish bride who had chosen no splendid garments for her wedding, but
had gone with him to the altar as trustfully as a baby goes in its
mother's arms to the cradle. If he had been left alone with Belinda,
with tender, sympathetic Belinda,--who loved him well enough to
understand him, and was always ready to take her cue from his face, and
to be joyous or thoughtful according to his mood,--it might have been
better for him. But his mother and Letitia reigned paramount during
this ante-nuptial week, and Mr. Arundel was scarcely suffered to take
breath. He was hustled hither and thither in the hot summer noontide.
He was taken to choose a dressing-case for his bride; and he was made
to look at glittering objects until his eyes ached, and he could see
nothing but a bewildering dazzle of ormolu and silver-gilt. He was
taken to a great emporium in Bond Street to select perfumery, and made
to sniff at divers essences until his nostrils were unnaturally
distended, and his olfactory nerves afflicted with temporary paralysis.
There was jewellery of his mother and of Belinda's mother to be re-set;
and the hymeneal victim was compelled to sit for an hour or so,
blinking at fiery-crested serpents that were destined to coil up his
wife's arms, and emerald padlocks that were to lie upon her breast. And
then, when his soul was weary of glaring splendours and glittering
confusions, they took him round the Park, in a whirlpool of diaphanous
bonnets, and smiling faces, and brazen harness, and emblazoned
hammer-cloths, on the margin of a river whose waters were like molten
gold under the blazing sun. And then they gave him a seat in an
opera-box, and the crash of a monster orchestra, blended with the hum
of a thousand voices, to soothe his nerves withal.

But the more wearied this young man became with glitter, and dazzle,
and sunshine, and silk-mercer's ware, the more surely his mind wandered
back to the still meadows, and the limpid trout-stream, the sheltering
hills, the solemn shadows of the cathedral, the distant voices of the
rooks high up in the waving elms.

The bustle of preparation was over at last, and the bridal party went
down to Lincolnshire. Pleasant chambers had been prepared at the Grange
for Mr. Arundel and his mother and sister; and the bridegroom was
received with enthusiasm by Belinda's blue-eyed younger sisters, who
were enchanted to find that there was going to be a wedding and that
they were to have new frocks.

So Edward would have been a churl indeed had he seemed otherwise than
happy, had he been anything but devoted to the bright girl who loved
him.

Tidings of the coming wedding flew like wildfire through Lincolnshire.
Edward Arundel's romantic story had elevated him into a hero; all
manner of reports had been circulated about his devotion to his lost
young wife. He had sworn never to mingle in society again, people said.
He had sworn never to have a new suit of clothes, or to have his hair
cut, or to shave, or to eat a hot dinner. And Lincolnshire by no means
approved of the defection implied by his approaching union with
Belinda. He was only a commonplace widower, after all, it seemed; ready
to be consoled as soon as the ceremonious interval of decent grief was
over. People had expected something better of him. They had expected to
see him in a year or two with long grey hair, dressed in shabby
raiment, and, with his beard upon his breast, prowling about the
village of Kemberling, baited by little children. Lincolnshire was very
much disappointed by the turn that affairs had taken. Shakesperian
aphorisms were current among the gossips at comfortable tea-tables; and
people talked about funeral baked meats, and the propriety of building
churches if you have any ambitious desire that your memory should
outlast your life; and indulged in other bitter observations, familiar
to all admirers of the great dramatist.

But there were some people in Lincolnshire to whom the news of Edward
Arundel's intended marriage was more welcome than the early May-flowers
to rustic children eager for a festival. Paul Marchmont heard the
report, and rubbed his hands stealthily, and smiled to himself as he
sat reading in the sunny western drawing-room. The good seed that he
had sown that night at the Rectory had borne this welcome fruit. Edward
Arundel with a young wife would be very much less formidable than
Edward Arundel single and discontented, prowling about the
neighbourhood of Marchmont Towers, and perpetually threatening
vengeance upon Mary's cousin.

It was busy little Lavinia Weston who first brought her brother the
tidings. He took both her hands in his, and kissed them in his
enthusiasm.

"My best of sisters," he said, "you shall have a pair of diamond
earrings for this."

"For only bringing you the news, Paul?"

"For only bringing me the news. When a messenger carries the tidings of
a great victory to his king, the king makes him a knight upon the spot.
This marriage is a victory to me, Lavinia. From to-day I shall breathe
freely."

"But they are not married yet. Something may happen, perhaps, to
prevent----"

"What should happen?" asked Paul, rather sharply. "By-the-bye, it will
be as well to keep this from Mrs. John," he added, thoughtfully;
"though really now I fancy it matters very little what she hears."

He tapped his forehead lightly with his two slim fingers, and there was
a horrible significance in the action.

"She is not likely to hear anything," Mrs. Weston said; "she sees no
one but Barbara Simmons."

"Then I should be glad if you would give Simmons a hint to hold her
tongue. This news about the wedding would disturb her mistress."

"Yes, I'll tell her so. Barbara is a very excellent person. I can
always manage Barbara. But oh, Paul, I don't know what I'm to do with
that poor weak-witted husband of mine."

"How do you mean?"

"Oh, Paul, I have had such a scene with him to-day--such a scene! You
remember the way he went on that day down in the boat-house when Edward
Arundel came in upon us unexpectedly? Well, he's been going on as badly
as that to-day, Paul,--or worse, I really think."

Mr. Marchmont frowned, and flung aside his newspaper, with a gesture
expressive of considerable vexation.

"Now really, Lavinia, this is too bad," he said; "if your husband is a
fool, I am not going to be bored about his folly. You have managed him
for fifteen years: surely you can go on managing him now without
annoying _me_ about him? If Mr. George Weston doesn't know when he's
well off, he's an ungrateful cur, and you may tell him so, with my
compliments."

He picked up his newspaper again, and began to read. But Lavinia
Weston, looking anxiously at her brother's face, saw that his pale
auburn brows were contracted in a thoughtful frown, and that, if he
read at all, the words upon which his eyes rested could convey very
little meaning to his brain.

She was right; for presently he spoke to her, still looking at the page
before him, and with an attempt at carelessness.

"Do you think that fellow would go to Australia, Lavinia?"

"Alone?" asked his sister.

"Yes, alone of course," said Mr. Marchmont, putting down his paper, and
looking at Mrs. Weston rather dubiously. "I don't want you to go to the
Antipodes; but if--if the fellow refused to go without you, I'd make it
well worth your while to go out there, Lavinia. You shouldn't have any
reason to regret obliging me, my dear girl."

The dear girl looked rather sharply at her affectionate brother.

"It's like your selfishness, Paul, to propose such a thing," she said,
"after all I've done----!"

"I have not been illiberal to you, Lavinia."

"No; you've been generous enough to me, I know, in the matter of gifts;
but you're rich, Paul, and you can afford to give. I don't like the
idea that you're so willing to pack me out of the way now that I can be
no longer useful to you."

Mr. Marchmont shrugged his shoulders.

"For Heaven's sake, Lavinia, don't be sentimental. If there's one thing
I despise more than another, it is this kind of mawkish sentimentality.
You've been a very good sister to me; and I've been a very decent
brother to you. If you have served me, I have made it answer your
purpose to do so. I don't want you to go away. You may bring all your
goods and chattels to this house to-morrow, if you like, and live at
free quarters here for the rest of your existence. But if George Weston
is a pig-headed brute, who can't understand upon which side his bread
is buttered, he must be got out of the way somehow. I don't care what
it costs me; but he must be got out of the way. I'm not going to live
the life of a modern Damocles, with a blundering sword always dangling
over my head, in the person of Mr. George Weston. And if the man
objects to leave the country without you, why, I think your going with
him would be only a sisterly act towards me. I hate selfishness,
Lavinia, almost as much as I detest sentimentality."

Mrs. Weston was silent for some minutes, absorbed in reflection. Paul
got up, kicked aside a footstool, and walked up and down the room with
his hands in his pockets.

"Perhaps I might get George to leave England, if I promised to join him
as soon as he was comfortably settled in the colonies," Mrs. Weston
said, at last.

"Yes," cried Paul; "nothing could be more easy. I'll act very liberally
towards him, Lavinia; I'll treat him well; but he shall not stay in
England. No, Lavinia; after what you have told me to-day, I feel that
he must be got out of the country."

Mr. Marchmont went to the door and looked out, to see if by chance any
one had been listening to him. The coast was quite clear. The
stone-paved hall looked as desolate as some undiscovered chamber in an
Egyptian temple. The artist went back to Lavinia, and seated himself by
her side. For some time the brother and sister talked together
earnestly.

They settled everything for poor henpecked George Weston. He was to
sail for Sydney immediately. Nothing could be more easy than for
Lavinia to declare that her brother had accidentally heard of some
grand opening for a medical practitioner in the metropolis of the
Antipodes. The surgeon was to have a very handsome sum given him, and
Lavinia would _of course_ join him as soon as he was settled. Paul
Marchmont even looked through the "Shipping Gazette" in search of an
Australian vessel which should speedily convey his brother-in-law to a
distant shore.

Lavinia Weston went home armed with all necessary credentials. She was
to promise almost anything to her husband, provided that he gave his
consent to an early departure.



CHAPTER VIII.

MR. WESTON REFUSES TO BE TRAMPLED UPON.


Upon the 31st of June, the eve of Edward Arundel's wedding-day, Olivia
Marchmont sat in her own room,--the room that she had chiefly occupied
ever since her husband's death,--the study looking out into the
quadrangle. She sat alone in that dismal chamber, dimly lighted by a
pair of wax-candles, in tall tarnished silver candlesticks. There could
be no greater contrast than that between this desolate woman and the
master of the house. All about him was bright and fresh, and glittering
and splendid; around her there was only ruin and decay, thickening dust
and gathering cobwebs,--outward evidences of an inner wreck. John
Marchmont's widow was of no importance in that household. The servants
did not care to trouble themselves about her whims or wishes, nor to
put her rooms in order. They no longer curtseyed to her when they met
her, wandering--with a purposeless step and listless feet that dragged
along the ground--up and down the corridor, or out in the dreary
quadrangle. What was to be gained by any show of respect to her, whose
brain was too weak to hold the memory of their conduct for five minutes
together?

Barbara Simmons only was faithful to her mistress with an unvarying
fidelity. She made no boast of her devotion; she expected neither fee
nor reward for her self-abnegation. That rigid religion of discipline
which had not been strong enough to preserve Olivia's stormy soul from
danger and ruin was at least all-sufficient for this lower type of
woman. Barbara Simmons had been taught to do her duty, and she did it
without question or complaint. As she went through rain, snow, hail, or
sunshine twice every Sunday to Kemberling church,--as she sat upon a
cushionless seat in an uncomfortable angle of the servants' pew, with
the sharp edges of the woodwork cutting her thin shoulders, to listen
patiently to dull rambling sermons upon the hardest texts of St.
Paul,--so she attended upon her mistress, submitting to every caprice,
putting up with every hardship; because it was her duty so to do. The
only relief she allowed herself was an hour's gossip now and then in
the housekeeper's room; but she never alluded to her mistress's
infirmities, nor would it have been safe for any other servant to have
spoken lightly of Mrs. John Marchmont in stern Barbara's presence.

Upon this summer evening, when happy people were still lingering
amongst the wild flowers in shady lanes, or in the dusky pathways by
the quiet river, Olivia sat alone, staring at the candles.

Was there anything in her mind; or was she only a human automaton,
slowly decaying into dust? There was no speculation in those large
lustreless eyes, fixed upon the dim light of the candles. But, for all
that, the mind was not a blank. The pictures of the past, for ever
changing like the scenes in some magic panorama, revolved before her.
She had no memory of that which had happened a quarter of an hour ago;
but she could remember every word that Edward Arundel had said to her
in the Rectory-garden at Swampington,--every intonation of the voice in
which those words had been spoken.

There was a tea-service on the table: an attenuated little silver
teapot; a lopsided cream-jug, with thin worn edges and one dumpy little
foot missing; and an antique dragon china cup and saucer with the
gilding washed off. That meal, which is generally called social, has
but a dismal aspect when it is only prepared for one. The solitary
teacup, half filled with cold, stagnant tea, with a leaf or two
floating upon the top, like weeds on the surface of a tideless pond;
the teaspoon, thrown askew across a little pool of spilt milk in the
tea-tray,--looked as dreary as the ruins of a deserted city.

In the western drawing-room Paul was strolling backwards and forwards,
talking to his mother and sisters, and admiring his pictures. He had
spent a great deal of money upon art since taking possession of the
Towers, and the western drawing-room was quite a different place to
what it had been in John Marchmont's lifetime.

Etty's divinities smiled through hazy draperies, more transparent than
the summer vapours that float before the moon. Pearly-complexioned
nymphs, with faces archly peeping round the corner of soft rosy
shoulders, frolicked amidst the silver spray of classic fountains.
Turner's Grecian temples glimmered through sultry summer mists; while
glimpses of ocean sparkled here and there, and were as beautiful as if
the artist's brush had been dipped in melted opals. Stanfield's breezy
beaches made cool spots of freshness on the wall, and sturdy
sailor-boys, with their hands up to their mouths and their loose hair
blowing in the wind, shouted to their comrades upon the decks of
brown-sailed fishing-smacks. Panting deer upon dizzy crags, amid the
misty Highlands, testified to the hand of Landseer. Low down, in the
corners of the room, there lurked quaint cottage-scenes by Faed and
Nichol. Ward's patched and powdered beaux and beauties,--a Rochester,
in a light perriwig; a Nell Gwynne, showing her white teeth across a
basket of oranges; a group of _Incroyables_, with bunches of ribbons
hanging from their low topboots, and two sets of dangling seals at
their waists--made a blaze of colour upon the walls: and amongst all
these glories of to-day there were prim Madonnas and stiff-necked
angels by Raphael and Tintoretto; a brown-faced grinning boy by Murillo
(no collection ever was complete without that inevitable brown-faced
boy); an obese Venus, by the great Peter Paul; and a pale Charles the
First, with martyrdom foreshadowed in his pensive face, by Vandyke.

Paul Marchmont contemplated his treasures complacently, as he strolled
about the room, with his coffee-cup in his hand; while his mother
watched him admiringly from her comfortable cushioned nest at one end
of a luxurious sofa.

"Well, mother," Mr. Marchmont said presently, "let people say what they
may of me, they can never say that I have used my money badly. When I
am dead and gone, these pictures will remain to speak for me; posterity
will say, 'At any rate the fellow was a man of taste.' Now what, in
Heaven's name, could that miserable little Mary have done with eleven
thousand a year, if--if she had lived to enjoy it?"

 * * * * *

The minute-hand of the little clock in Mrs. John Marchmont's study was
creeping slowly towards the quarter before eleven, when Olivia was
aroused suddenly from that long reverie, in which the images of the
past had shone upon her across the dull stagnation of the present like
the domes and minarets in a Phantasm City gleaming athwart the barren
desert-sands.

She was aroused by a cautious tap upon the outside of her window. She
got up, opened the window, and looked out. The night was dark and
starless, and there was a faint whisper of wind among the trees.

"Don't be frightened," whispered a timid voice; "it's only me, George
Weston. I want to talk to you, Mrs. John. I've got something particular
to tell you--awful particular; but _they_ mustn't hear it; _they_
mustn't know I'm here. I came round this way on purpose. You can let me
in at the little door in the lobby, can't you, Mrs. John? I tell you, I
must tell you what I've got to tell you," cried Mr. Weston, indifferent
to tautology in his excitement. "Do let me in, there's a dear good
soul. The little door in the lobby, you know; it's locked, you know,
but I dessay the key's there."

"The door in the lobby?" repeated Olivia, in a dreamy voice.

"Yes, _you_ know. Do let me in now, that's a good creature. It's awful
particular, I tell you. It's about Edward Arundel."

Edward Arundel! The sound of that name seemed to act upon the woman's
shattered nerves like a stroke of electricity. The drooping head reared
itself erect. The eyes, so lustreless before, flashed fire from their
sombre depths. Comprehension, animation, energy returned; as suddenly
as if the wand of an enchanter had summoned the dead back to life.

"Edward Arundel!" she cried, in a clear voice, which was utterly unlike
the dull deadness of her usual tones.

"Hush," whispered Mr. Weston; "don't speak loud, for goodness gracious
sake. I dessay there's all manner of spies about. Let me in, and I'll
tell you everything."

"Yes, yes; I'll let you in. The door by the lobby--I understand; come,
come."

Olivia disappeared from the window. The lobby of which the surgeon had
spoken was close to her own apartment. She found the key in the lock of
the door. The place was dark; she opened the door almost noiselessly,
and Mr. Weston crept in on tiptoe. He followed Olivia into the study,
closed the door behind him, and drew a long breath.

"I've got in," he said; "and now I am in, wild horses shouldn't hold me
from speaking my mind, much less Paul Marchmont."

He turned the key in the door as he spoke, and even as he did so
glanced rather suspiciously towards the window. To his mind the very
atmosphere of that house was pervaded by the presence of his
brother-in-law.

"O Mrs. John!" exclaimed the surgeon, in piteous accents, "the way that
I've been trampled upon. _You've_ been trampled upon, Mrs. John, but
you don't seem to mind it; and perhaps it's better to bring oneself to
that, if one can; but I can't. I've tried to bring myself to it; I've
even taken to drinking, Mrs. John, much as it goes against me; and I've
tried to drown my feelings as a man in rum-and-water. But the more
spirits I consume, Mrs. John, the more of a man I feel."

Mr. Weston struck the top of his hat with his clenched fist, and stared
fiercely at Olivia, breathing very hard, and breathing rum-and-water
with a faint odour of lemon-peel.

"Edward Arundel!--what about Edward Arundel?" said Olivia, in a low
eager voice.

"I'm coming to that, Mrs. John, in due c'course," returned Mr. Weston,
with an air of dignity that was superior even to hiccough. "What I say,
Mrs. John," he added, in a confidential and argumentative tone, "is
this: _I won't be trampled upon!_" Here his voice sank to an awful
whisper. "Of course it's pleasant enough to have one's rent provided
for, and not to be kept awake by poor's-rates, Mrs. John; but, good
gracious me! I'd rather have the Queen's taxes and the poor-rates
following me up day and night, and a man in possession to provide for
at every meal--and you don't know how contemptuous a man in possession
can look at you if you offer him salt butter, or your table in a
general way don't meet his views--than the conscience I've had since
Paul Marchmont came into Lincolnshire. I feel, Mrs. John, as if I'd
committed oceans of murders. It's a miracle to me that my hair hasn't
turned white before this; and it would have done it, Mrs. J., if it
wasn't of that stubborn nature which is too wiry to give expression to
a man's sufferings. O Mrs. John, when I think how my pangs of
conscience have been made game of,--when I remember the insulting names
I have been called, because my heart didn't happen to be made of
adamant,--my blood boils; it boils, Mrs. John, to that degree, that I
feel the time has come for action. I have been put upon until the
spirit of manliness within me blazes up like a fiery furnace. I have
been trodden upon, Mrs. John; but I'm not the worm they took me for.
To-day they've put the finisher upon it." The surgeon paused to take
breath. His mild and rather sheep-like countenance was flushed; his
fluffy eyebrows twitched convulsively in his endeavours to give
expression to the violence of his feelings. "To-day they've put the
finisher upon it," he repeated. "I'm to go to Australia, am I? Ha! ha!
we'll see about that. There's a nice opening in the medical line, is
there? and dear Paul will provide the funds to start me! Ha! ha! two
can play at that game. It's all brotherly kindness, of course, and
friendly interest in my welfare--that's what it's _called_, Mrs. J.
Shall I tell you what it _is_? I'm to be got rid of, at any price, for
fear my conscience should get the better of me, and I should speak.
I've been made a tool of, and I've been trampled upon; but they've been
_obliged_ to trust me. I've got a conscience, and I don't suit their
views. If I hadn't got a conscience, I might stop here and have my rent
and taxes provided for, and riot in rum-and-water to the end of my
days. But I've a conscience that all the pineapple rum in Jamaica
wouldn't drown, and they're frightened of me."

Olivia listened to all this with an impatient frown upon her face. I
doubt if she knew the meaning of Mr. Weston's complaints. She had been
listening only for the one name that had power to transform her from a
breathing automaton into a living, thinking, reasoning woman. She
grasped the surgeon's wrist fiercely.

"You told me you came here to speak about Edward Arundel," she said.
"Have you been only trying to make a fool of me."

"No, Mrs. John; I have come to speak about him, and I come to you,
because I think you're not so bad as Paul Marchmont. I think that
you've been a tool, like myself; and they've led you on, step by step,
from bad to worse, pretty much as they have led me. You're Edward
Arundel's blood-relation, and it's your business to look to any wrong
that's done him, more than it is mine. But if you don't speak, Mrs.
John, I will. Edward Arundel is going to be married."

"Going to be married!" The words burst from Olivia's lips in a kind of
shriek, and she stood glaring hideously at the surgeon, with her lips
apart and her eyes dilated. Mr. Weston was fascinated by the horror of
that gaze, and stared at her in silence for some moments. "You are a
madman!" she exclaimed, after a pause; "you are a madman! Why do you
come here with your idiotic fancies? Surely my life is miserable enough
without this!"

"I ain't mad, Mrs. John, any more than"--Mr. Weston was going to say,
"than you are;" but it struck him that, under existing circumstances,
the comparison might be ill-advised--"I ain't any madder than other
people," he said, presently. "Edward Arundel is going to be married. I
have seen the young lady in Kemberling with her pa; and she's a very
sweet young woman to look at; and her name is Belinda Lawford; and the
wedding is to be at eleven o'clock to-morrow morning at Hillingsworth
church."

Olivia slowly lifted her hands to her head, and swept the loose hair
away from her brow. All the mists that had obscured her brain melted
slowly away, and showed her the past as it had really been in all its
naked horror. Yes; step by step the cruel hand had urged her on from
bad to worse; from bad to worse; until it had driven her _here_.

It was for _this_ that she had sold her soul to the powers of hell. It
was for _this_ that she had helped to torture that innocent girl whom a
dying father had given into her pitiless hand. For this! for this! To
find at last that all her iniquity had been wasted, and that Edward
Arundel had chosen another bride--fairer, perhaps, than the first. The
mad, unholy jealousy of her nature awoke from the obscurity of mental
decay, a fierce ungovernable spirit. But another spirit arose in the
next moment. CONSCIENCE, which so long had slumbered, awoke and cried
to her, in an awful voice, "Sinner, whose sin has been wasted, repent!
restore! It is not yet too late."

The stern precepts of her religion came back to her. She had rebelled
against those rigid laws, she had cast off those iron fetters, only to
fall into a worse bondage; only to submit to a stronger tyranny. She
had been a servant of the God of Sacrifice, and had rebelled when an
offering was demanded of her. She had cast off the yoke of her Master,
and had yielded herself up the slave of sin. And now, when she
discovered whither her chains had dragged her, she was seized with a
sudden panic, and wanted to go back to her old master.

She stood for some minutes with her open palms pressed upon her
forehead, and her chest heaving as if a stormy sea had raged in her
bosom.

"This marriage must not take place," she cried, at last.

"Of course it mustn't," answered Mr. Weston; "didn't I say so just now?
And if you don't speak to Paul and prevent it, I will. I'd rather you
spoke to him, though," added the surgeon thoughtfully, "because, you
see, it would come better from you, wouldn't it now?"

Olivia Marchmont did not answer. Her hands had dropped from her head,
and she was standing looking at the floor.

"There shall be no marriage," she muttered, with a wild laugh. "There's
another heart to be broken--that's all. Stand aside, man," she cried;
"stand aside, and let me go to _him_; let me go to him."

She pushed the terrified surgeon out of her pathway, and locked the
door, hurried along the passage and across the hall. She opened the
door of the western drawing-room, and went in.

Mr. Weston stood in the corridor looking after her. He waited for a few
minutes, listening for any sound that might come from the western
drawing-room. But the wide stone hall was between him and that
apartment; and however loudly the voices might have been uplifted, no
breath of them could have reached the surgeon's ear. He waited for
about five minutes, and then crept into the lobby and let himself out
into the quadrangle.

"At any rate, nobody can say that I'm a coward," he thought
complacently, as he went under a stone archway that led into the park.
"But what a whirlwind that woman is! O my gracious, what a perfect
whirlwind she is!"



CHAPTER IX.

"GOING TO BE MARRIED!"


Paul Marchmont was still strolling hither and thither about the room,
admiring his pictures, and smiling to himself at the recollection of
the easy manner in which he had obtained George Weston's consent to the
Australian arrangement. For in his sober moments the surgeon was ready
to submit to anything his wife and brother-in-law imposed upon him; it
was only under the influence of pineapple rum that his manhood asserted
itself. Paul was still contemplating his pictures when Olivia burst
into the room; but Mrs. Marchmont and her invalid daughter had retired
for the night, and the artist was alone,--alone with his own thoughts,
which were rather of a triumphal and agreeable character just now; for
Edward's marriage and Mr. Weston's departure were equally pleasant to
him.

He was startled a little by Olivia's abrupt entrance, for it was not
her habit to intrude upon him or any member of that household; on the
contrary, she had shown an obstinate determination to shut herself up
in her own room, and to avoid every living creature except her servant
Barbara Simmons.

Paul turned and confronted her very deliberately, and with the smile
that was almost habitual to him upon his thin pale lips. Her sudden
appearance had blanched his face a little; but beyond this he betrayed
no sign of agitation.

"My dear Mrs. Marchmont, you quite startle me. It is so very unusual to
see you here, and at this hour especially."

It did not seem as if she had heard his voice. She went sternly up to
him, with her thin listless arms hanging at her side, and her haggard
eyes fixed upon his face.

"Is this true?" she asked.

He started a little, in spite of himself; for he understood in a moment
what she meant. Some one, it scarcely mattered who, had told her of the
coming marriage.

"Is what true, my dear Mrs. John?" he said carelessly.

"Is this true that George Weston tells me?" she cried, laying her thin
hand upon his shoulder. Her wasted fingers closed involuntarily upon
the collar of his coat, her lips contracted into a ghastly smile, and a
sudden fire kindled in her eyes. A strange sensation awoke in the tips
of those tightening fingers, and thrilled through every vein of the
woman's body,--such a horrible thrill as vibrates along the nerves of a
monomaniac, when the sight of a dreadful terror in his victim's face
first arouses the murderous impulse in his breast.

Paul's face whitened as he felt the thin finger-points tightening upon
his neck. He was afraid of Olivia.

"My dear Mrs. John, what is it you want of me?" he said hastily. "Pray
do not be violent."

"I am not violent."

She dropped her hand from his breast. It was true, she was not violent.
Her voice was low; her hand fell loosely by her side. But Paul was
frightened of her, nevertheless; for he saw that if she was not
violent, she was something worse--she was dangerous.

"Did George Weston tell me the truth just now?" she said.

Paul bit his nether-lip savagely. George Weston had tricked him, then,
after all, and had communicated with this woman. But what of that? She
would scarcely be likely to trouble herself about this business of
Edward Arundel's marriage. She must be past any such folly as that. She
would not dare to interfere in the matter. She could not.

"Is it true?" she said; "_is_ it? Is it true that Edward Arundel is
going to be married to-morrow?"

She waited, looking with fixed, widely-opened eyes at Paul's face.

"My dear Mrs. John, you take me so completely by surprise, that I----"

"That you have not got a lying answer ready for me," said Olivia,
interrupting him. "You need not trouble yourself to invent one. I see
that George Weston told me the truth. There was reality in his words.
There is nothing but falsehood in yours."

Paul stood looking at her, but not listening to her. Let her abuse and
upbraid him to her heart's content; it gave him leisure to reflect, and
plan his course of action; and perhaps these bitter words might exhaust
the fire within her, and leave her malleable to his skilful hands once
more. He had time to think this, and to settle his own line of conduct
while Olivia was speaking to him. It was useless to deny the marriage.
She had heard of it from George Weston, and she might hear of it from
any one else whom she chose to interrogate. It was useless to try to
stifle this fact.

"Yes, Mrs. John," he said, "it is quite true. Your cousin, Mr. Arundel,
is going to marry Belinda Lawford; a very lucky thing for us, believe
me, as it will put an end to all questioning and watching and
suspicion, and place us beyond all danger."

Olivia looked at him, with her bosom heaving, her breath growing
shorter and louder with every word he spoke.

"You mean to let this be, then?" she said, when he had finished
speaking.

"To let what be?"

"This marriage. You will let it take place?"

"Most certainly. Why should I prevent it?"

"Why should you prevent it?" she cried fiercely; and then, in an
altered voice, in tones of anguish that were like a wail of despair,
she exclaimed, "O my God! my God! what a dupe I have been; what a
miserable tool in this man's hands! O my offended God! why didst Thou
so abandon me, when I turned away from Thee, and made Edward Arundel
the idol of my wicked heart?"

Paul sank into the nearest chair, with a faint sigh of relief.

"She will wear herself out," he thought, "and then I shall be able to
do what I like with her."

But Olivia turned to him again while he was thinking this.

"Do you imagine that _I_ will let this marriage take place?" she asked.

"I do not think that you will be so mad as to prevent it. That little
mystery which you and I have arranged between us is not exactly child's
play, Mrs. John. We can neither of us afford to betray the other. Let
Edward Arundel marry, and work for his wife, and be happy; nothing
could be better for us than his marriage. Indeed, we have every reason
to be thankful to Providence for the turn that affairs have taken," Mr.
Marchmont concluded, piously.

"Indeed!" said Olivia; "and Edward Arundel is to have another bride. He
is to be happy with another wife; and I am to hear of their happiness,
to see him some day, perhaps, sitting by her side and smiling at her,
as I have seen him smile at Mary Marchmont. He is to be happy, and I am
to know of his happiness. Another baby-faced girl is to glory in the
knowledge of his love; and I am to be quiet--I am to be quiet. Is it
for this that I have sold my soul to you, Paul Marchmont? Is it for
this I have shared your guilty secrets? Is it for this I have heard
_her_ feeble wailing sounding in my wretched feverish slumbers, as I
have heard it every night, since the day she left this house? Do you
remember what you said to me? Do you remember _how_ you tempted me? Do
you remember how you played upon my misery, and traded on the tortures
of my jealous heart? 'He has despised your love,' you said: 'will you
consent to see him happy with another woman?' That was your argument,
Paul Marchmont. You allied yourself with the devil that held possession
of my breast, and together you were too strong for me. I was set apart
to be damned, and you were the chosen instrument of my damnation. You
bought my soul, Paul Marchmont. You shall not cheat me of the price for
which I sold it. You shall hinder this marriage!"

"You are a madwoman, Mrs. John Marchmont, or you would not propose any
such thing."

"Go," she said, pointing to the door; "go to Edward Arundel, and do
something, no matter what, to prevent this marriage."

"I shall do nothing of the kind."

He had heard that a monomaniac was always to be subdued by indomitable
resolution, and he looked at Olivia, thinking to tame her by his
unfaltering glance. He might as well have tried to look the raging sea
into calmness.

"I am not a fool, Mrs. John Marchmont," he said, "and I shall do
nothing of the kind."

He had risen, and stood by the lamp-lit table, trifling rather
nervously with its elegant litter of delicately-bound books,
jewel-handled paper-knives, newly-cut periodicals, and pretty
fantastical toys collected by the women of the household.

The faces of the two were nearly upon a level as they stood opposite to
each other, with only the table between them.

"Then _I_ will prevent it!" Olivia cried, turning towards the door.

Paul Marchmont saw the resolution stamped upon her face. She would do
what she threatened. He ran to the door and had his hand upon the lock
before she could reach it.

"No, Mrs. John," he said, standing at the door, with his back turned to
Olivia, and his fingers busy with the bolts and key. In spite of
himself, this woman had made him a little nervous, and it was as much
as he could do to find the handle of the key. "No, no, my dear Mrs.
John; you shall not leave this house, nor this room, in your present
state of mind. If you choose to be violent and unmanageable, we will
give you the full benefit of your violence, and we will give you a
better sphere of action. A padded room will be more suitable to your
present temper, my dear madam. If you favour us with this sort of
conduct, we will find people more fitted to restrain you."

He said all this in a sneering tone that had a trifling tremulousness
in it, while he locked the door and assured himself that it was safely
secured. Then he turned, prepared to fight out the battle somehow or
other.

At the very moment of his turning there was a sudden crash, a shiver of
broken glass, and the cold night-wind blew into the room. One of the
long French windows was wide open, and Olivia Marchmont was gone.

He was out upon the terrace in the next moment; but even then he was
too late, for he could not see her right or left of him upon the long
stone platform. There were three separate flights of steps, three
different paths, widely diverging across the broad grassy flat before
Marchmont Towers. How could he tell which of these ways Olivia might
have chosen? There was the great porch, and there were all manner of
stone abutments along the grim façade of the house. She might have
concealed herself behind any one of them. The night was hopelessly
dark. A pair of ponderous bronze lamps, which Paul had placed before
the principal doorway, only made two spots of light in the gloom. He
ran along the terrace, looking into every nook and corner which might
have served as a hiding-place; but he did not find Olivia.

She had left the house with the avowed intention of doing something to
prevent the marriage. What would she do? What course would this
desperate woman take in her jealous rage? Would she go straight to
Edward Arundel and tell him----?

Yes, this was most likely; for how else could she hope to prevent the
marriage?

Paul stood quite still upon the terrace for a few minutes, thinking.
There was only one course for him. To try and find Olivia would be next
to hopeless. There were half-a-dozen outlets from the park. There were
ever so many different pathways through the woody labyrinth at the back
of the Towers. This woman might have taken any one of them. To waste
the night in searching for her would be worse than useless.

There was only one thing to be done. He must countercheck this
desperate creature's movements.

He went back to the drawing-room, shut the window, and then rang the
bell.

There were not many of the old servants who had waited upon John
Marchmont at the Towers now. The man who answered the bell was a person
whom Paul had brought down from London.

"Get the chesnut saddled for me, Peterson," said Mr. Marchmont. "My
poor cousin's widow has left the house, and I am going after her. She
has given me very great alarm to-night by her conduct. I tell you this
in confidence; but you can say as much to Mrs. Simmons, who knows more
about her mistress than I do. See that there's no time lost in saddling
the chesnut. I want to overtake this unhappy woman, if I can. Go and
give the order, and then bring me my hat."

The man went away to obey his master. Paul walked to the chimneypiece
and looked at the clock.

"They'll be gone to bed at the Grange," he thought to himself. "Will
she go there and knock them up, I wonder? Does she know that Edward's
there? I doubt that; and yet Weston may have told her. At any rate, I
can be there before her. It would take her a long time to get there on
foot. I think I did the right thing in saying what I said to Peterson.
I must have the report of her madness spread everywhere. I must face it
out. But how--but how? So long as she was quiet, I could manage
everything. But with her against me, and George Weston--oh, the cur,
the white-hearted villain, after all that I've done for him and
Lavinia! But what can a man expect when he's obliged to put his trust
in a fool?"

He went to the window, and stood there looking out until he saw the
groom coming along the gravel roadway below the terrace, leading a
horse by the bridle. Then he put on the hat that the servant had
brought him, ran down the steps, and got into the saddle.

"All right, Jeffreys," he said; "tell them not to expect me back till
to-morrow morning. Let Mrs. Simmons sit up for her mistress. Mrs. John
may return at any hour in the night."

He galloped away along the smooth carriage-drive. At the lodge he
stopped to inquire if any one had been through that way. No, the woman
said; she had opened the gates for no one. Paul had expected no other
answer. There was a footpath that led to a little wicket-gate opening
on the high-road; and of course Olivia had chosen that way, which was a
good deal shorter than the carriage-drive.



CHAPTER X.

THE TURNING OF THE TIDE.


It was past two o'clock in the morning of the day which had been
appointed for Edward Arundel's wedding, when Paul Marchmont drew rein
before the white gate that divided Major Lawford's garden from the
high-road. There was no lodge, no pretence of grandeur here. An
old-fashioned garden surrounded an old-fashioned red-brick house. There
was an apple-orchard upon one side of the low white gate, and a
flower-garden, with a lawn and fish-pond, upon the other. The
carriage-drive wound sharply round to a shallow flight of steps, and a
broad door with a narrow window upon each side of it.

Paul got off his horse at the gate, and went in, leading the animal by
the bridle. He was a Cockney, heart and soul, and had no sense of any
enjoyments that were not of a Cockney nature. So the horse he had
selected for himself was anything but a fiery creature. He liked plenty
of bone and very little blood in the steed he rode, and was contented
to go at a comfortable, jog-trot, seven-miles-an-hour pace, along the
wretched country roads.

There was a row of old-fashioned wooden posts, with iron chains
swinging between them, upon both sides of the doorway. Paul fastened
the horse's bridle to one of these, and went up the steps. He rang a
bell that went clanging and jangling through the house in the stillness
of the summer night. All the way along the road he had looked right and
left, expecting to pass Olivia; but he had seen no sign of her. This
was nothing, however; for there were byways by which she might come
from Marchmont Towers to Lawford Grange.

"I must be before her, at any rate," Paul thought to himself, as he
waited patiently for an answer to his summons.

The time seemed very long to him, of course; but at last he saw a light
glimmering through the mansion windows, and heard a shuffling foot in
the hall. Then the door was opened very cautiously, and a woman's
scared face peered out at Mr. Marchmont through the opening.

"What is it?" the woman asked, in a frightened voice.

"It is I, Mr. Marchmont, of Marchmont Towers. Your master knows me. Mr.
Arundel is here, is he not?"

"Yes, and Mrs. Arundel too; but they're all abed."

"Never mind that; I must see Major Lawford immediately."

"But they're all abed."

"Never mind that, my good woman; I tell you I must see him."

"But won't to-morrow mornin' do? It's near three o'clock, and
to-morrow's our eldest miss's weddin'-day; and they're all abed."

"I _must_ see your master. For mercy's sake, my good woman, do what I
tell you! Go and call up Major Lawford,--you can do it quietly,--and
tell him I must speak to him at once."

The woman, with the chain of the door still between her and Mr.
Marchmont, took a timid survey of Paul's face. She had heard of him
often enough, but had never seen him before, and she was rather
doubtful as to his identity. She knew that thieves and robbers resorted
to all sorts of tricks in the course of their evil vocation. Mightn't
this application for admittance in the dead of the night be only a part
of some burglarious plot against the spoons and forks, and that
hereditary silver urn with lions' heads holding rings in their mouths
for handles, the fame of which had no doubt circulated throughout all
Lincolnshire? Mr. Marchmont had neither a black mask nor a
dark-lantern, and to Martha Philpot's mind these were essential
attributes of the legitimate burglar; but he might be burglariously
disposed, nevertheless, and it would be well to be on the safe side.

"I'll go and tell 'em," the discreet Martha said civilly; "but perhaps
you won't mind my leaving the chain oop. It ain't like as if it was
winter," she added apologetically.

"You may shut the door, if you like," answered Paul; "only be quick and
wake your master. You can tell him that I want to see him upon a matter
of life and death."

Martha hurried away, and Paul stood upon the broad stone steps waiting
for her return. Every moment was precious to him, for he wanted to be
beforehand with Olivia. He had no thought except that she would come
straight to the Grange to see Edward Arundel; unless, indeed, she was
by any chance ignorant of his whereabouts.

Presently the light appeared again in the narrow windows, and this time
a man's foot sounded upon the stone-flagged hall. This time, too,
Martha let down the chain, and opened the door wide enough for Mr.
Marchmont to enter. She had no fear of burglarious marauders now that
the valiant Major was at her elbow.

"Mr. Marchmont," exclaimed the old soldier, opening a door leading into
a little study, "you will excuse me if I seem rather bewildered by your
visit. When an old fellow like me is called up in the middle of the
night, he can't be expected to have his wits about him just at first.
(Martha, bring us a light.) Sit down, Mr. Marchmont; there's a chair at
your elbow. And now may I ask the reason----?"

"The reason I have disturbed you in this abrupt manner. The occasion
that brings me here is a very painful one; but I believe that my coming
may save you and yours from much annoyance."

"Save us from annoyance! Really, my dear sir, you----"

"I mystify you for the moment, no doubt," Paul interposed blandly; "but
if you will have a little patience with me, Major Lawford, I think I
can make everything very clear,--only too painfully clear. You have
heard of my relative, Mrs. John Marchmont,--my cousin's widow?"

"I have," answered the Major, gravely.

The dark scandals that had been current about wretched Olivia Marchmont
came into his mind with the mention of her name, and the memory of
those miserable slanders overshadowed his frank face.

Paul waited while Martha brought in a smoky lamp, with the half-lighted
wick sputtering and struggling in its oily socket. Then he went on, in
a calm, dispassionate voice, which seemed the voice of a benevolent
Christian, sublimely remote from other people's sorrows, but tenderly
pitiful of suffering humanity, nevertheless.

"You have heard of my unhappy cousin. You have no doubt heard that she
is--mad?"

He dropped his voice into so low a whisper, that he only seemed to
shape this last word with his thin flexible lips.

"I have heard some rumour to that effect," the Major answered; "that is
to say, I have heard that Mrs. John Marchmont has lately become
eccentric in her habits."

"It has been my dismal task to watch the slow decay of a very powerful
intellect," continued Paul. "When I first came to Marchmont Towers,
about the time of my cousin Mary's unfortunate elopement with Mr.
Arundel, that mental decay had already set in. Already the compass of
Olivia Marchmont's mind had become reduced to a monotone, and the one
dominant thought was doing its ruinous work. It was my fate to find the
clue to that sad decay; it was my fate very speedily to discover the
nature of that all-absorbing thought which, little by little, had grown
into monomania."

Major Lawford stared at his visitor's face. He was a plain-spoken man,
and could scarcely see his way clearly through all this obscurity of
fine words.

"You mean to say you found out what had driven your cousin's widow
mad?" he said bluntly.

"You put the question very plainly, Major Lawford. Yes; I discovered
the secret of my unhappy relative's morbid state of mind. That secret
lies in the fact, that for the last ten years Olivia Marchmont has
cherished a hopeless affection for her cousin, Mr. Edward Arundel."

The Major almost bounded off his chair in horrified surprise.

"Good gracious!" he exclaimed; "you surprise me, Mr. Marchmont,
and--and--rather unpleasantly."

"I should never have revealed this secret to you or to any other living
creature, Major Lawford, had not circumstances compelled me to do so.
As far as Mr. Arundel is concerned, I can set your mind quite at ease.
He has chosen to insult me very grossly; but let that pass. I must do
him the justice to state that I believe him to have been from first to
last utterly ignorant of the state of his cousin's mind."

"I hope so, sir; egad, I hope so!" exclaimed the Major, rather
fiercely. "If I thought that this young man had trifled with the lady's
affection; if I thought----"

"You need think nothing to the detriment of Mr. Arundel," answered
Paul, with placid politeness, "except that he is hot-headed, obstinate,
and foolish. He is a young man of excellent principles, and has never
fathomed the secret of his cousin's conduct towards him. I am rather a
close observer,--something of a student of human nature,--and I have
watched this unhappy woman. She loves, and has loved, her cousin Edward
Arundel; and hers is one of those concentrative natures in which a
great passion is nearly akin to a monomania. It was this hopeless,
unreturned affection that embittered her character, and made her a
harsh stepmother to my poor cousin Mary. For a long time this wretched
woman has been very quiet; but her tranquillity has been only a
deceitful calm. To-night the storm broke. Olivia Marchmont heard of the
marriage that is to take place to-morrow; and, for the first time, a
state of melancholy mania developed into absolute violence. She came to
me, and attacked me upon the subject of this intended marriage. She
accused me of having plotted to give Edward Arundel another bride; and
then, after exhausting herself by a torrent of passionate invective
against me, against her cousin Edward, your daughter,--every one
concerned in to-morrow's event,--this wretched woman rushed out of the
house in a jealous fury, declaring that she would do something--no
matter what--to hinder the celebration of Edward Arundel's second
marriage."

"Good Heavens!" gasped the Major. "And you mean to say----"

"I mean to say, that there is no knowing what may be attempted by a
madwoman, driven mad by a jealousy in itself almost as terrible as
madness. Olivia Marchmont has sworn to hinder your daughter's marriage.
What has not been done by unhappy creatures in this woman's state of
mind? Every day we read of such things in the newspapers--deeds of
horror at which the blood grows cold in our veins; and we wonder that
Heaven can permit such misery. It is not any frivolous motive that
brings me here in the dead of the night, Major Lawford. I come to tell
you that a desperate woman has sworn to hinder to-morrow's marriage.
Heaven knows what she may do in her jealous frenzy! She _may_ attack
your daughter."

The father's face grew pale. His Linda, his darling, exposed to the
fury of a madwoman! He could conjure up the scene: the fair girl
clinging to her lover's breast, and desperate Olivia Marchmont swooping
down upon her like an angry tigress.

"For mercy's sake, tell me what I am to do, Mr. Marchmont!" cried the
Major. "God bless you, sir, for bringing me this warning! But what am I
to do? What do you advise? Shall we postpone the wedding?"

"On no account. All you have to do is to keep this wretched woman at
bay. Shut your doors upon her. Do not let her be admitted to this house
upon any pretence whatever. Get the wedding over an hour earlier than
has been intended, if it is possible for you to do so, and hurry the
bride and bridegroom away upon the first stage of their wedding-tour.
If you wish to escape all the wretchedness of a public scandal, avoid
seeing this woman."

"I will, I will," answered the bewildered Major. "It's a most awful
situation. My poor Belinda! Her wedding-day! And a mad woman to
attempt--Upon my word, Mr. Marchmont, I don't know how to thank you for
the trouble you have taken."

"Don't speak of that. This woman is my cousin's widow: any shame of
hers is disgrace to me. Avoid seeing her. If by any chance she does
contrive to force herself upon you, turn a deaf ear to all she may say.
She horrified me to-night by her mad assertions. Be prepared for
anything she may declare. She is possessed by all manner of delusions,
remember, and may make the most ridiculous assertions. There is no
limit to her hallucinations. She may offer to bring Edward Arundel's
dead wife from the grave, perhaps. But you will not, on any account,
allow her to obtain access to your daughter."

"No, no--on no account. My poor Belinda! I am very grateful to you, Mr.
Marchmont, for this warning. You'll stop here for the rest of the
night? Martha's beds are always aired. You'll accept the shelter of our
spare room until to-morrow morning?"

"You are very good, Major Lawford; but I must hurry away directly.
Remember that I am quite ignorant as to where my unhappy relative may
be wandering at this hour of the night. She may have returned to the
Towers. Her jealous fury may have exhausted itself; and in that case I
have exaggerated the danger. But, at any rate I thought it best to give
you this warning."

"Most decidedly, my dear sir; I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
But you'll take something--wine, tea, brandy-and-water--eh?"

Paul had put on his hat and made his way into the hall by this time.
There was no affectation in his eagerness to be away. He glanced
uneasily towards the door every now and then while the Major was
offering hospitable hindrance to his departure. He was very pale, with
a haggard, ashen pallor that betrayed his anxiety, in spite of his
bland calmness of manner.

"You are very kind. No; I will get away at once. I have done my duty
here; I must now try and do what I can for this wretched woman. Good
night. Remember; shut your doors upon her."

He unfastened the bridle of his horse, mounted, and rode away slowly,
so long as there was any chance of the horse's tread being heard at the
Grange. But when he was a quarter of a mile away from Major Lawford's
house, he urged the horse into a gallop. He had no spurs; but he used
his whip with a ruthless hand, and went off at a tearing pace along a
narrow lane, where the ruts were deep.

He rode for fifteen miles; and it was grey morning when he drew rein at
a dilapidated five-barred gate leading into the great, tenantless yard
of an uninhabited farmhouse. The place had been unlet for some years;
and the land was in the charge of a hind in Mr. Marchmont's service.
The hind lived in a cottage at the other extremity of the farm; and
Paul had erected new buildings, with engine-houses and complicated
machinery for pumping the water off the low-lying lands. Thus it was
that the old farmhouse and the old farmyard were suffered to fall into
decay. The empty sties, the ruined barns and outhouses, the rotting
straw, and pools of rank corruption, made this tenantless farmyard the
very abomination of desolation. Paul Marchmont opened the gate and went
in. He picked his way very cautiously through the mud and filth,
leading his horse by the bridle till he came to an outhouse, where he
secured the animal. Then he crossed the yard, lifted the rusty latch of
a narrow wooden door set in a plastered wall, and went into a dismal
stone court, where one lonely hen was moulting in miserable solitude.

Long rank grass grew in the interstices of the flags. The lonely hen
set up a roopy cackle, and fluttered into a corner at sight of Paul
Marchmont. There were some rabbit-hutches, tenantless; a dovecote,
empty; a dog-kennel, and a broken chain rusting slowly in a pool of
water, but no dog. The courtyard was at the back of the house, looked
down upon by a range of latticed windows, some with closed shutters,
others with shutters swinging in the wind, as if they had been fain to
beat themselves to death in very desolation of spirit.

Mr. Marchmont opened a door and went into the house. There were empty
cellars and pantries, dairies and sculleries, right and left of him.
The rats and mice scuttled away at sound of the intruder's footfall.
The spiders ran upon the damp-stained walls, and the disturbed cobwebs
floated slowly down from the cracked ceilings and tickled Mr.
Marchmont's face.

Farther on in the interior of the gloomy habitation Paul found a great
stone-paved kitchen, at the darkest end of which there was a rusty
grate, in which a minimum of flame struggled feebly with a maximum of
smoke. An open oven-door revealed a dreary black cavern; and the very
manner of the rusty door, and loose, half-broken handle, was an
advertisement of incapacity for any homely hospitable use. Pale, sickly
fungi had sprung up in clusters at the corners of the damp hearthstone.
Spiders and rats, damp and cobwebs, every sign by which Decay writes
its name upon the dwelling man has deserted, had set its separate mark
upon this ruined place.

Paul Marchmont looked round him with a contemptuous shudder. He called
"Mrs. Brown! Mrs. Brown!" two or three times, each time waiting for an
answer; but none came, and Mr. Marchmont passed on into another room.

Here at least there was some poor pretence of comfort. The room was in
the front of the house, and the low latticed window looked out upon a
neglected garden, where some tall foxgloves reared their gaudy heads
amongst the weeds. At the end of the garden there was a high brick
wall, with pear-trees trained against it, and dragon's-mouth and
wallflower waving in the morning-breeze.

There was a bed in this room, empty; an easy-chair near the window;
near that a little table, and a _set of Indian chessmen_. Upon the bed
there were some garments scattered, as if but lately flung there; and
on the floor, near the fireplace, there were the fragments of a child's
first toys--a tiny trumpet, bought at some village fair, a baby's
rattle, and a broken horse.

Paul Marchmont looked about him--a little puzzled at first; then with a
vague dread in his haggard face.

"Mrs. Brown!" he cried, in a loud voice, hurrying across the room
towards an inner door as he spoke.

The inner door was opened before Paul could reach it, and a woman
appeared; a tall, gaunt-looking woman, with a hard face and bare,
brawny arms.

"Where, in Heaven's name, have you been hiding yourself, woman?" Paul
cried impatiently. "And where's--your patient?"

"Gone, sir."

"Gone! Where?"

"With her stepmamma, Mrs. Marchmont--not half an hour ago. As it was
your wish I should stop behind to clear up, I've done so, sir; but I
did think it would have been better for me to have gone with----"

Paul clutched the woman by the arm, and dragged her towards him.

"Are you mad?" he cried, with an oath. "Are you mad, or drunk? Who gave
you leave to let that woman go? Who----?"

He couldn't finish the sentence. His throat grew dry, and he gasped for
breath; while all the blood in his body seemed to rush into his swollen
forehead.

"You sent Mrs. Marchmont to fetch my patient away, sir," exclaimed the
woman, looking frightened. "You did, didn't you? She said so!"

"She is a liar; and you are a fool or a cheat. She paid you, I dare
say! Can't you speak, woman? Has the person I left in your care, whom
you were paid, and paid well, to take care of,--have you let her go?
Answer me that."

"I have, sir," the woman faltered,--she was big and brawny, but there
was that in Paul Marchmont's face that frightened her
notwithstanding,--"seeing as it was your orders."

"That will do," cried Paul Marchmont, holding up his hand and looking
at the woman with a ghastly smile; "that will do. You have ruined me;
do you hear? You have undone a work that has cost me--O my God! why do
I waste my breath in talking to such a creature as this? All my plots,
my difficulties, my struggles and victories, my long sleepless nights,
my bad dreams,--has it all come to this? Ruin, unutterable ruin,
brought upon me by a madwoman!"

He sat down in the chair by the window, and leaned upon the table,
scattering the Indian chessmen with his elbow. He did not weep. That
relief--terrible relief though it be for a man's breast--was denied
him. He sat there with his face covered, moaning aloud. That helpless
moan was scarcely like the complaint of a man; it was rather like the
hopeless, dreary utterance of a brute's anguish; it sounded like the
miserable howling of a beaten cur.



CHAPTER XI.

BELINDA'S WEDDING-DAY.


The sun shone upon Belinda Lawford's wedding-day. The birds were
singing in the garden under her window as she opened her lattice and
looked out. The word lattice is not a poetical license in this case;
for Miss Lawford's chamber was a roomy, old-fashioned apartment at the
back of the house, with deep window-seats and diamond-paned casements.

The sun shone, and the roses bloomed in all their summer glory. "'Twas
in the time of roses," as gentle-minded Thomas Hood so sweetly sang;
surely the time of all others for a bridal morning. The girl looked out
into the sunshine with her loose hair falling about her shoulders, and
lingered a little looking at the familiar garden, with a half-pensive
smile.

"Oh, how often, how often," she said, "I have walked up and down by
those laburnums, Letty!" There were two pretty white-curtained
bedsteads in the old-fashioned room, and Miss Arundel had shared her
friend's apartment for the last week. "How often mamma and I have sat
under the dear old cedar, making our poor children's frocks! People say
monotonous lives are not happy: mine has been the same thing over and
over again; and yet how happy, how happy! And to think that we"--she
paused a moment, and the rosy colour in her cheeks deepened by just one
shade; it was so sweet to use that simple monosyllable "we" when Edward
Arundel was the other half of the pronoun,--"to think that we shall be
in Paris to-morrow!"

"Driving in the Bois," exclaimed Miss Arundel; "and dining at the
Maison Dorée, or the Café de Paris. Don't dine at Meurice's, Linda;
it's dreadfully slow dining at one's hotel. And you'll be a young
married woman, and can do anything, you know. If I were a young married
woman, I'd ask my husband to take me to the Mabille, just for half an
hour, with an old bonnet and a thick veil. I knew a girl whose
first-cousin married a cornet in the Guards, and they went to the
Mabille one night. Come, Belinda, if you mean to have your back-hair
done at all, you'd better sit down at once and let me commence
operations."

Miss Arundel had stipulated that, upon this particular morning, she was
to dress her friend's hair; and she turned up the frilled sleeves of
her white dressing-gown, and set to work in the orthodox manner,
spreading a network of shining tresses about Miss Lawford's shoulders,
prior to the weaving of elaborate plaits that were to make a crown for
the fair young bride. Letitia's tongue went as fast as her fingers; but
Belinda was very silent.

She was thinking of the bounteous Providence that had given her the man
she loved for her husband. She had been on her knees in the early
morning, long before Letitia's awakening, breathing out innocent
thanksgiving for the happiness that overflowed her fresh young heart. A
woman had need to be country-bred, and to have been reared in the
narrow circle of a happy home, to feel as Belinda Lawford felt. Such
love as hers is only given to bright and innocent spirits, untarnished
even by the knowledge of sin.

Downstairs Edward Arundel was making a wretched pretence of
breakfasting _tête-à-tête_ with his future father-in-law.

The Major had held his peace as to the unlooked-for visitant of the
past night. He had given particular orders that no stranger should be
admitted to the house, and that was all. But being of a naturally
frank, not to say loquacious disposition, the weight of this secret was
a very terrible burden to the honest half-pay soldier. He ate his dry
toast uneasily, looking at the door every now and then, in the
perpetual expectation of beholding that barrier burst open by mad
Olivia Marchmont.

The breakfast was not a very cheerful meal, therefore. I don't suppose
any ante-nuptial breakfast ever is very jovial. There was the state
banquet--_the_ wedding breakfast--to be eaten by-and-by; and Mrs.
Lawford, attended by all the females of the establishment, was engaged
in putting the last touches to the groups of fruit and confectionery,
the pyramids of flowers, and that crowning glory, the wedding-cake.

"Remember the Madeira and still Hock are to go round first, and then
the sparkling; and tell Gogram to be particular about the corks,
Martha," Mrs. Lawford said to her confidential maid, as she gave a
nervous last look at the table. "I was at a breakfast once where a
champagne-cork hit the bridegroom on the bridge of his nose at the very
moment he rose to return thanks; and being a nervous man, poor
fellow,--in point of fact, he was a curate, and the bride was the
rector's daughter, with two hundred a year of her own,--it quite
overcame him, and he didn't get over it all through the breakfast. And
now I must run and put on my bonnet."

There was nothing but putting on bonnets, and pinning lace-shawls, and
wild outcries for hair-pins, and interchanging of little feminine
services, upon the bedroom floor for the next half-hour.

Major Lawford walked up and down the hall, putting on his white gloves,
which were too large for him,--elderly men's white gloves always are
too large for them,--and watching the door of the citadel. Olivia must
pass over a father's body, the old soldier thought, before she should
annoy Belinda on her bridal morning.

By-and-by the carriages came round to the door. The girl bridesmaids
came crowding down the stairs, hustling each other's crisped garments,
and disputing a little in a sisterly fashion; then Letitia Arundel,
with nine rustling flounces of white silk ebbing and flowing and
surging about her, and with a pleased simper upon her face; and then
followed Mrs. Arundel, stately in silver-grey moire, and Mrs. Lawford,
in violet silk--until the hall was a show of bonnets and bouquets and
muslin.

And last of all, Belinda Lawford, robed in cloudlike garments of
spotless lace, with bridal flowers trembling round her hair, came
slowly down the broad old-fashioned staircase, to see her lover
loitering in the hall below.

He looked very grave; but he greeted his bride with a tender smile. He
loved her, but he could not forget. Even upon this, his wedding-day,
the haunting shadow of the past was with him: not to be shaken off.

He did not wait till Belinda reached the bottom of the staircase. There
was a sort of ceremonial law to be observed, and he was not to speak to
Miss Lawford upon this special morning until he met her in the vestry
at Hillingsworth church; so Letitia and Mrs. Arundel hustled the young
man into one of the carriages, while Major Lawford ran to receive his
daughter at the foot of the stairs.

The Arundel carriage drove off about five minutes before the vehicle
that was to convey Major Lawford, Belinda, and as many of the girl
bridesmaids as could be squeezed into it without detriment to lace and
muslin. The rest went with Mrs. Lawford in the third and last carriage.
Hillingsworth church was about three-quarters of a mile from the
Grange. It was a pretty irregular old place, lying in a little nook
under the shadow of a great yew-tree. Behind the square Norman tower
there was a row of poplars, black against the blue summer sky; and
between the low gate of the churchyard and the grey, moss-grown porch,
there was an avenue of good old elms. The rooks were calling to each
other in the topmost branches of the trees as Major Lawford's carriage
drew up at the churchyard gate.

Belinda was a great favourite amongst the poor of Hillingsworth parish,
and the place had put on a gala-day aspect in honour of her wedding.
Garlands of honeysuckle and wild clematis were twined about the stout
oaken gate-posts. The school-children were gathered in clusters in the
churchyard, with their pinafores full of fresh flowers from shadowy
lanes and from prim cottage-gardens,--bright homely blossoms, with the
morning dew still upon them.

The rector and his curate were standing in the porch waiting for the
coming of the bride; and there were groups of well-dressed people
dotted about here and there in the drowsy-sheltered pews near the
altar. There were humbler spectators clustered under the low ceiling of
the gallery--tradesmen's wives and daughters, radiant with new ribbons,
and whispering to one another in delighted anticipation of the show.

Everybody round about the Grange loved pretty, genial Belinda Lawford,
and there was universal rejoicing because of her happiness.

The wedding party came out of the vestry presently in appointed order:
the bride with her head drooping, and her face hidden by her veil; the
bridesmaids' garments making a fluttering noise as they came up the
aisle, like the sound of a field of corn faintly stirred by summer
breezes.

Then the grave voice of the rector began the service with the brief
preliminary exordium; and then, in a tone that grew more solemn with
the increasing solemnity of the words, he went on to that awful charge
which is addressed especially to the bridegroom and the bride:

"I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day
of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if
either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined
together in matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well
assured----"

The rector read no further; for a woman's voice from out the dusky
shadows at the further end of the church cried "Stop!"

There was a sudden silence; people stared at each other with scared
faces, and then turned in the direction whence the voice had come. The
bride lifted her head for the first time since leaving the vestry, and
looked round about her, ashy pale and trembling.

"O Edward, Edward!" she cried, "what is it?"

The rector waited, with his hand still upon the open book. He waited,
looking towards the other end of the chancel. He had no need to wait
long: a woman, with a black veil thrown back from a white, haggard
face, and with dusty garments dragging upon the church-floor, came
slowly up the aisle.

Her two hands were clasped upon her breast, and her breath came in
gasps, as if she had been running.

"Olivia!" cried Edward Arundel, "what, in Heaven's name--"

But Major Lawford stepped forward, and spoke to the rector.

"Pray let her be got out of the way," he said, in a low voice. "I was
warned of this. I was quite prepared for some such disturbance." He
sank his voice to a whisper. "_She is mad!_" he said, close in the
rector's ear.

The whisper was like whispering in general,--more distinctly audible
than the rest of the speech. Olivia Marchmont heard it.

"Mad until to-day," she cried; "but not mad to-day. O Edward Arundel! a
hideous wrong has been done by me and through me. Your wife--your
wife--"

"My wife! what of her? She--"

"She is alive!" gasped Olivia; "an hour's walk from here. I came on
foot. I was tired, and I have been long coming. I thought that I should
be in time to stop you before you got to the church; but I am very
weak. I ran the last part of the way--"

She dropped her hands upon the altar-rails, and seemed as if she would
have fallen. The rector put his arm about her to support her, and she
went on:

"I thought I should have spared her this," she said, pointing to
Belinda; "but I can't help it. _She_ must bear her misery as well as
others. It can't be worse for her than it has been for others. She must
bear--"

"My wife!" said Edward Arundel; "Mary, my poor sorrowful
darling--alive?"

Belinda turned away, and buried her face upon her mother's shoulder.
She could have borne anything better than this.

His heart--that supreme treasure, for which she had rendered up thanks
to her God--had never been hers after all. A word, a breath, and she
was forgotten; his thoughts went back to that other one. There was
unutterable joy, there was unspeakable tenderness in his tone, as he
spoke of Mary Marchmont, though _she_ stood by his side, in all her
foolish bridal finery, with her heart newly broken.

"O mother," she cried, "take me away! take me away, before I die!"

Olivia flung herself upon her knees by the altar-rails. Where the pure
young bride was to have knelt by her lover's side this wretched sinner
cast herself down, sunk far below all common thoughts in the black
depth of her despair.

"O my sin, my sin!" she cried, with clasped hands lifted up above her
head. "Will God ever forgive my sin? will God ever have pity upon me?
Can He pity, can He forgive, such guilt as mine? Even this work of
to-day is no atonement to be reckoned against my wickedness. I was
jealous of this other woman; I was jealous! Earthly passion was still
predominant in this miserable breast."

She rose suddenly, as if this outburst had never been, and laid her
hand upon Edward Arundel's arm.

"Come!" she said; "come!"

"To her--to Mary--my wife?"

They had taken Belinda away by this time; but Major Lawford stood
looking on. He tried to draw Edward aside; but Olivia's hand upon the
young man's arm held him like a vice.

"She is mad," whispered the Major. "Mr. Marchmont came to me last
night, and warned me of all this. He told me to be prepared for
anything; she has all sorts of delusions. Get her away, if you can,
while I go and explain matters to Belinda. Edward, if you have a spark
of manly feeling, get this woman away."

But Olivia held the bridegroom's arm with a tightening grasp.

"Come!" she said; "come! Are you turned to stone, Edward Arundel? Is
your love worth no more than this? I tell you, your wife, Mary
Marchmont, is alive. Let those who doubt me come and see for
themselves."

The eager spectators, standing up in the pews or crowding in the narrow
aisle, were only too ready to respond to this invitation.

Olivia led her cousin out into the churchyard; she led him to the gate
where the carriages were waiting. The crowd flocked after them; and the
people outside began to cheer as they came out. That cheer was the
signal for which the school-children had waited; and they set to work
scattering flowers upon the narrow pathway, before they looked up to
see who was coming to trample upon the rosebuds and jessamine, the
woodbine and seringa. But they drew back, scared and wondering, as
Olivia came along the pathway, sweeping those tender blossoms after her
with her trailing black garments, and leading the pale bridegroom by
his arm.

She led him to the door of the carriage beside which Major Lawford's
gray-haired groom was waiting, with a big white satin favour pinned
upon his breast, and a bunch of roses in his button hole. There were
favours in the horses' ears, and favours upon the breasts of the
Hillingsworth tradespeople who supplied bread and butcher's meat and
grocery to the family at the Grange. The bell-ringers up in the
church-tower saw the crowd flock out of the porch, and thought the
marriage ceremony was over. The jangling bells pealed out upon the hot
summer air as Edward stood by the churchyard-gate, with Olivia
Marchmont by his side.

"Lend me your carriage," he said to Major Lawford, "and come with me. I
must see the end of this. It may be all a delusion; but I must see the
end of it. If there is any truth in instinct, I believe that I shall
see my wife--alive."

He got into the carriage without further ceremony, and Olivia and Major
Lawford followed him.

"Where is my wife?" the young man asked, letting down the front window
as he spoke.

"At Kemberling, at Hester Jobson's."

"Drive to Kemberling," Edward said to the coachman,--"to Kemberling
High Street, as fast as you can go."

The man drove away from the churchyard-gate. The humbler spectators,
who were restrained by no niceties of social etiquette, hurried after
the vehicle, raising white clouds of dust upon the high road with their
eager feet. The higher classes lingered about the churchyard, talking
to each other and wondering.

Very few people stopped to think of Belinda Lawford. "Let the stricken
deer go weep." A stricken deer is a very uninteresting object when
there are hounds in full cry hard by, and another deer to be hunted.

"Since when has my wife been at Kemberling?" Edward Arundel asked
Olivia, as the carriage drove along the high road between the two
villages.

"Since daybreak this morning."

"Where was she before then?"

"At Stony-Stringford Farm."

"And before then?"

"In the pavilion over the boat-house at Marchmont."

"My God! And--"

The young man did not finish his sentence. He put his head out of the
window, looking towards Kemberling, and straining his eyes to catch the
earliest sight of the straggling village street.

"Faster!" he cried every now and then to the coachman; "faster!"

In little more than half an hour from the time at which it had left the
churchyard-gate, the carriage stopped before the little carpenter's
shop. Mr. Jobson's doorway was adorned by a painted representation of
two very doleful-looking mutes standing at a door; for Hester's husband
combined the more aristocratic avocation of undertaker with the homely
trade of carpenter and joiner.

Olivia Marchmont got out of the carriage before either of the two men
could alight to assist her. Power was the supreme attribute of this
woman's mind. Her purpose never faltered; from the moment she had left
Marchmont Towers until now, she had known neither rest of body nor
wavering of intention.

"Come," she said to Edward Arundel, looking back as she stood upon the
threshold of Mr. Jobson's door; "and you too," she added, turning to
Major Lawford,--"follow us, and _see_ whether I am MAD."

She passed through the shop, and into that prim, smart parlour in which
Edward Arundel had lamented his lost wife.

The latticed windows were wide open, and the warm summer sunshine
filled the room.

A girl, with loose tresses of hazel-brown hair falling about her face,
was sitting on the floor, looking down at a beautiful fair-haired
nursling of a twelvemonth old.

The girl was John Marchmont's daughter; the child was Edward Arundel's
son. It was _his_ childish cry that the young man had heard upon that
October night in the pavilion by the water.

"Mary Arundel," said Olivia, in a hard voice, "I give you back your
husband."

The young mother got up from the ground with a low cry, tottered
forward, and fell into her husband's arms.

"They told me you were dead! They made me believe that you were dead!"
she said, and then fainted on the young man's breast. Edward carried
her to a sofa and laid her down, white and senseless; and then knelt
down beside her, crying over her, and sobbing out inarticulate
thanksgiving to the God who had given his lost wife back to him.

"Poor sweet lamb!" murmured Hester Jobson; "she's as weak as a baby;
and she's gone through so much a'ready this morning."

It was some time before Edward Arundel raised his head from the pillow
upon which his wife's pale face lay, half hidden amid the tangled hair.
But when he did look up, he turned to Major Lawford and stretched out
his hand.

"Have pity upon me," he said. "I have been the dupe of a villain. Tell
your poor child how much I esteem her, how much I regret that--that--we
should have loved each other as we have. The instinct of my heart would
have kept me true to the past; but it was impossible to know your
daughter and not love her. The villain who has brought this sorrow upon
us shall pay dearly for his infamy. Go back to your daughter; tell her
everything. Tell her what you have seen here. I know her heart, and I
know that she will open her arms to this poor ill-used child."

The Major went away very downcast. Hester Jobson bustled about bringing
restoratives and pillows, stopping every now and then in an outburst of
affection by the slippery horsehair couch on which Mary lay.

Mrs. Jobson had prepared her best bedroom for her beloved visitor, and
Edward carried his young wife up to the clean, airy chamber. He went
back to the parlour to fetch the child. He carried the fair-haired
little one up-stairs in his own arms; but I regret to say that the
infant showed an inclination to whimper in his newly-found father's
embrace. It is only in the British Drama that newly discovered fathers
are greeted with an outburst of ready-made affection. Edward Arundel
went back to the sitting-room presently, and sat down, waiting till
Hester should bring him fresh tidings of his wife. Olivia Marchmont
stood by the window, with her eyes fixed upon Edward.

"Why don't you speak to me?" she said presently. "Can you find no words
that are vile enough to express your hatred of me? Is that why you are
silent?"

"No, Olivia," answered the young man, calmly. "I am silent, because I
have nothing to say to you. Why you have acted as you have acted,--why
you have chosen to be the tool of a black-hearted villain,--is an
unfathomable mystery to me. I thank God that your conscience was
aroused this day, and that you have at least hindered the misery of an
innocent girl. But why you have kept my wife hidden from me,--why you
have been the accomplice of Paul Marchmont's crime,--is more than I can
even attempt to guess."

"Not yet?" said Olivia, looking at him with a strange smile. "Even yet
I am a mystery to you?"

"You are, indeed, Olivia."

She turned away from him with a laugh.

"Then I had better remain so till the end," she said, looking out into
the garden. But after a moment's silence she turned her head once more
towards the young man. "I will speak," she said; "I _will_ speak,
Edward Arundel. I hope and believe that I have not long to live, and
that all my shame and misery, my obstinate wickedness, my guilty
passion, will come to an end, like a long feverish dream. O God, have
mercy on my waking, and make it brighter than this dreadful sleep! I
loved you, Edward Arundel. Ah! you start. Thank God at least for that.
I kept my secret well. You don't know what that word 'love' means, do
you? You think you love that childish girl yonder, perhaps; but I can
tell you that you don't know what love is. _I_ know what it is. I have
loved. For ten years,--for ten long, dreary, desolate, miserable years,
fifty-two weeks in every year, fifty-two Sundays, with long idle hours
between the two church services--I have loved you, Edward. Shall I tell
you what it is to love? It is to suffer, to hate, yes, to hate even the
object of your love, when that love is hopeless; to hate him for the
very attributes that have made you love him; to grudge the gifts and
graces that have made him dear. It is to hate every creature on whom
his eyes look with greater tenderness than they look on you; to watch
one face until its familiar lines become a perpetual torment to you,
and you cannot sleep because of its eternal presence staring at you in
all your dreams. It is to be like some wretched drunkard, who loathes
the fiery spirit that is destroying him, body and soul, and yet goes
on, madly drinking, till he dies. Love! How many people upon this great
earth know the real meaning of that hideous word! I have learnt it
until my soul loathes the lesson. They will tell you that I am mad,
Edward, and they will tell you something near the truth; but not quite
the truth. My madness has been my love. From long ago, when you were
little more than a boy--you remember, don't you, the long days at the
Rectory? _I_ remember every word you ever spoke to me, every sentiment
you ever expressed, every look of your changing face--you were the
first bright thing that came across my barren life; and I loved you. I
married John Marchmont--why, do you think?--because I wanted to make a
barrier between you and me. I wanted to make my love for you impossible
by making it a sin. So long as my husband lived, I shut your image out
of my mind as I would have shut out the Prince of Darkness, if he had
come to me in a palpable shape. But since then--oh, I hope I have been
mad since then; I hope that God may forgive my sins because I have been
mad!"

Her thoughts wandered away to that awful question which had been so
lately revived in her mind--Could she be forgiven? Was it within the
compass of heavenly mercy to forgive such a sin as hers?



CHAPTER XII.

MARY'S STORY.


One of the minor effects of any great shock, any revolution, natural or
political, social or domestic, is a singular unconsciousness, or an
exaggerated estimate, of the passage of time. Sometimes we fancy that
the common functions of the universe have come to a dead stop during
the tempest which has shaken our being to its remotest depths.
Sometimes, on the other hand, it seems to us that, because we have
endured an age of suffering, or half a lifetime of bewildered joy, the
terrestrial globe has spun round in time to the quickened throbbing of
our passionate hearts, and that all the clocks upon earth have been
standing still.

When the sun sank upon the summer's day that was to have been the day
of Belinda's bridal, Edward Arundel thought that it was still early in
the morning. He wondered at the rosy light all over the western sky,
and that great ball of molten gold dropping down below the horizon. He
was fain to look at his watch, in order to convince himself that the
low light was really the familiar sun, and not some unnatural
appearance in the heavens.

And yet, although he wondered at the closing of the day, with a strange
inconsistency his mind could scarcely grapple with the idea that only
last night he had sat by Belinda Lawford's side, her betrothed husband,
and had pondered, Heaven only knows with what sorrowful regret, upon
the unknown grave in which his dead wife lay.

"I only knew it this morning," he thought; "I only knew this morning
that my young wife still lives, and that I have a son."

He was sitting by the open window in Hester Jobson's best bedroom. He
was sitting in an old-fashioned easy-chair, placed between the head of
the bed and the open window,--a pure cottage window, with diamond panes
of thin greenish glass, and a broad painted ledge, with a great jug of
homely garden-flowers standing on it. The young man was sitting by the
side of the bed upon which his newly-found wife and son lay asleep; the
child's head nestled on his mother's breast, one flushed cheek peeping
out of a tangled confusion of hazel-brown and babyish flaxen hair.

The white dimity curtains overshadowed the loving sleepers. The pretty
fluffy knotted fringe--neat Hester's handiwork--made fantastical
tracery upon the sunlit counterpane. Mary slept with one arm folded
round her child, and with her face turned to her husband. She had
fallen asleep with her hand clasped in his, after a succession of
fainting-fits that had left her terribly prostrate.

Edward Arundel watched that tender picture with a smile of ineffable
affection.

"I can understand now why Roman Catholics worship the Virgin Mary," he
thought. "I can comprehend the inspiration that guided Raphael's hand
when he painted the Madonna de la Chaise. In all the world there is no
picture so beautiful. From all the universe he could have chosen no
subject more sublime. O my darling wife, given back to me out of the
grave, restored to me,--and not alone restored! My little son! my
baby-son! whose feeble voice I heard that dark October night. To think
that I was so wretched a dupe! to think that my dull ears could hear
that sound, and no instinct rise up in my heart to reveal the presence
of my child! I was so near them, not once, but several times,--so near,
and I never knew--I never guessed!"

He clenched his fists involuntarily at the remembrance of those
purposeless visits to the lonely boat-house. His young wife was
restored to him. But nothing could wipe away the long interval of agony
in which he and she had been the dupe of a villanous trickster and a
jealous woman. Nothing could give back the first year of that baby's
life,--that year which should have been one long holiday of love and
rejoicing. Upon what a dreary world those innocent eyes had opened,
when they should have looked only upon sunshine and flowers, and the
tender light of a loving father's smile!

"O my darling, my darling!" the young husband thought, as he looked at
his wife's wan face, upon which the evidence of all that past agony was
only too painfully visible,--"how bitterly we two have suffered! But
how much more terrible must have been your suffering than mine, my poor
gentle darling, my broken lily!"

In his rapture at finding the wife he had mourned as dead, the young
man had for a time almost forgotten the villanous plotter who had kept
her hidden from him. But now, as he sat quietly by the bed upon which
Mary and her baby lay, he had leisure to think of Paul Marchmont.

What was he to do with that man? What vengeance could he wreak upon the
head of that wretch who, for nearly two years, had condemned an
innocent girl to cruel suffering and shame? To shame; for Edward knew
now that one of the most bitter tortures which Paul Marchmont had
inflicted upon his cousin had been his pretended disbelief in her
marriage.

"What can I do to him?" the young man asked himself. "_What_ can I do
to him? There is no personal chastisement worse than that which he has
endured already at my hands. The scoundrel! the heartless villain! the
false, cold-blooded cur! What can I do to him? I can only repeat that
shameful degradation, and I _will_ repeat it. This time he shall howl
under the lash like some beaten hound. This time I will drag him
through the village-street, and let every idle gossip in Kemberling see
how a scoundrel writhes under an honest man's whip. I will--"

Edward Arundel's wife woke while he was thinking what chastisement he
should inflict upon her deadly foe; and the baby opened his round
innocent blue eyes in the next moment, and sat up, staring at his new
parent.

Mr. Arundel took the child in his arms, and held him very tenderly,
though perhaps rather awkwardly. The baby's round eyes opened wider at
sight of those golden absurdities dangling at his father's watch-chain,
and the little pudgy hands began to play with the big man's lockets and
seals.

"He comes to me, you see, Mary!" Edward said, with naïve wonder.

And then he turned the baby's face towards him, and tenderly
contemplated the bright surprised blue eyes, the tiny dimples, the soft
moulded chin. I don't know whether fatherly vanity prompted the fancy,
but Edward Arundel certainly did believe that he saw some faint
reflection of his own features in that pink and white baby-face; a
shadowy resemblance, like a tremulous image looking up out of a river.
But while Edward was half-thinking this, half-wondering whether there
could be any likeness to him in that infant countenance, Mary settled
the question with womanly decision.

"Isn't he like you, Edward?" she whispered. "It was only for his sake
that I bore my life all through that miserable time; and I don't think
I could have lived even for him, if he hadn't been so like you. I used
to look at his face sometimes for hours and hours together, crying over
him, and thinking of you. I don't think I ever cried except when he was
in my arms. Then something seemed to soften my heart, and the tears
came to my eyes. I was very, very, very ill, for a long time before my
baby was born; and I didn't know how the time went, or where I was. I
used to fancy sometimes I was back in Oakley Street, and that papa was
alive again, and that we were quite happy together, except for some
heavy hammer that was always beating, beating, beating upon both our
heads, and the dreadful sound of the river rushing down the street
under our windows. I heard Mr. Weston tell his wife that it was a
miracle I lived through that time."

Hester Jobson came in presently with a tea-tray, that made itself
heard, by a jingling of teaspoons and rattling of cups and saucers, all
the way up the narrow staircase.

The friendly carpenter's wife had produced her best china and her
silver teapot,--an heirloom inherited from a wealthy maiden aunt of her
husband's. She had been busy all the afternoon, preparing that elegant
little collation of cake and fruit which accompanied the tea-tray; and
she spread the lavender-scented table-cloth, and arranged the cups and
saucers, the plates and dishes, with mingled pride and delight.

But she had to endure a terrible disappointment by-and-by; for neither
of her guests was in a condition to do justice to her hospitality. Mary
got up and sat in the roomy easy-chair, propped up with pillows. Her
pensive eyes kept a loving watch upon the face of her husband, turned
towards her own, and slightly crimsoned by that rosy flush fading out
in the western sky. She sat up and sipped a cup of tea; and in that
lovely summer twilight, with the scent of the flowers blowing in
through the open window, and a stupid moth doing his best to beat out
his brains against one of the diamond panes in the lattice, the
tortured heart, for the first time since the ruthless close of that
brief honeymoon, felt the heavenly delight of repose.

"O Edward!" murmured the young wife, "how strange it seems to be
happy!"

He was at her feet, half-kneeling, half-sitting on a hassock of
Hester's handiwork, with both his wife's hands clasped in his, and his
head leaning upon the arm of her chair. Hester Jobson had carried off
the baby, and these two were quite alone, all in all to each other,
with a cruel gap of two years to be bridged over by sorrowful memories,
by tender words of consolation. They were alone, and they could talk
quite freely now, without fear of interruption; for although in purity
and beauty an infant is first cousin to the angels, and although I most
heartily concur in all that Mr. Bennett and Mr. Buchanan can say or
sing about the species, still it must be owned that a baby _is_ rather
a hindrance to conversation, and that a man's eloquence does not flow
quite so smoothly when he has to stop every now and then to rescue his
infant son from the imminent peril of strangulation, caused by a futile
attempt at swallowing one of his own fists.

Mary and Edward were alone; they were together once more, as they had
been by the trout-stream in the Winchester meadows. A curtain had
fallen upon all the wreck and ruin of the past, and they could hear the
soft, mysterious music that was to be the prelude of a new act in
life's drama.

"I shall try to forget all that time," Mary said presently; "I shall
try to forget it, Edward. I think the very memory of it would kill me,
if it was to come back perpetually in the midst of my joy, as it does
now, even now, when I am so happy--so happy that I dare not speak of my
happiness."

She stopped, and her face drooped upon her husband's clustering hair.

"You are crying, Mary!"

"Yes, dear. There is something painful in happiness when it comes after
such suffering."

The young man lifted his head, and looked in his wife's face. How
deathly pale it was, even in that shadowy twilight; how worn and
haggard and wasted since it had smiled at him in his brief honeymoon.
Yes, joy is painful when it comes after a long continuance of
suffering; it is painful because we have become sceptical by reason of
the endurance of such anguish. We have lost the power to believe in
happiness. It comes, the bright stranger; but we shrink appalled from
its beauty, lest, after all, it should be nothing but a phantom.

Heaven knows how anxiously Edward Arundel looked at his wife's altered
face. Her eyes shone upon him with the holy light of love. She smiled
at him with a tender, reassuring smile; but it seemed to him that there
was something almost supernal in the brightness of that white, wasted
face; something that reminded him of the countenance of a martyr who
has ceased to suffer the anguish of death in a foretaste of the joys of
Heaven.

"Mary," he said, presently, "tell me every cruelty that Paul Marchmont
or his tools inflicted upon you; tell me everything, and I will never
speak of our miserable separation again. I will only punish the cause
of it," he added, in an undertone. "Tell me, dear. It will be painful
for you to speak of it; but it will be only once. There are some things
I must know. Remember, darling, that you are in my arms now, and that
nothing but death can ever again part us."

The young man had his arms round his wife. He felt, rather than heard,
a low plaintive sigh as he spoke those last words.

"Nothing but death, Edward; nothing but death," Mary said, in a solemn
whisper. "Death would not come to me when I was very miserable. I used
to pray that I might die, and the baby too; for I could not have borne
to leave him behind. I thought that we might both be buried with you,
Edward. I have dreamt sometimes that I was lying by your side in a
tomb, and I have stretched out my dead hand to clasp yours. I used to
beg and entreat them to let me be buried with you when I died; for I
believed that you were dead, Edward. I believed it most firmly. I had
not even one lingering hope that you were alive. If I had felt such a
hope, no power upon earth would have kept me prisoner."

"The wretches!" muttered Edward between his set teeth; "the dastardly
wretches! the foul liars!"

"Don't, Edward; don't, darling. There is a pain in my heart when I hear
you speak like that. I know how wicked they have been; how cruel--how
cruel. I look back at all my suffering as if it were some one else who
suffered; for now that you are with me I cannot believe that miserable,
lonely, despairing creature was really me, the same creature whose head
now rests upon your shoulder, whose breath is mixed with yours. I look
back and see all my past misery, and I cannot forgive them, Edward; I
am very wicked, for I cannot forgive my cousin Paul and his
sister--yet. But I don't want you to speak of them; I only want you to
love me; I only want you to smile at me, and tell me again and again
and again that nothing can part us now--but death."

She paused for a few moments, exhausted by having spoken so long. Her
head lay upon her husband's shoulder, and she clung a little closer to
him, with a slight shiver.

"What is the matter, darling?"

"I feel as if it couldn't be real."

"What, dear?"

"The present--all this joy. Edward, is it real? Is it--is it? Or am I
only dreaming? Shall I wake presently and feel the cold air blowing in
at the window, and see the moonlight on the wainscot at Stony
Stringford? Is it all real?"

"It is, my precious one. As real as the mercy of God, who will give you
compensation for all you have suffered; as real as God's vengeance,
which will fall most heavily upon your persecutors. And now, darling,
tell me,--tell me all. I must know the story of these two miserable
years during which I have mourned for my lost love."

Mr. Arundel forgot to mention that during those two miserable years he
had engaged himself to become the husband of another woman. But
perhaps, even when he is best and truest, a man is always just a shade
behind a woman in the matter of constancy.

"When you left me in Hampshire, Edward, I was very, very miserable,"
Mary began, in a low voice; "but I knew that it was selfish and wicked
of me to think only of myself. I tried to think of your poor father,
who was ill and suffering; and I prayed for him, and hoped that he
would recover, and that you would come back to me very soon. The people
at the inn were very kind to me. I sat at the window from morning till
night upon the day after you left me, and upon the day after that; for
I was so foolish as to fancy, every time I heard the sound of horses'
hoofs or carriage-wheels upon the high-road, that you were coming back
to me, and that all my grief was over. I sat at the window and watched
the road till I knew the shape of every tree and housetop, every ragged
branch of the hawthorn-bushes in the hedge. At last--it was the third
day after you went away--I heard carriage-wheels, that slackened as
they came to the inn. A fly stopped at the door, and oh, Edward, I did
not wait to see who was in it,--I never imagined the possibility of its
bringing anybody but you. I ran down-stairs, with my heart beating so
that I could hardly breathe; and I scarcely felt the stairs under my
feet. But when I got to the door--O my love, my love!--I cannot bear to
think of it; I cannot endure the recollection of it--"

She stopped, gasping for breath, and clinging to her husband; and then,
with an effort, went on again:

"Yes; I will tell you, dear; I must tell you. My cousin Paul and my
stepmother were standing in the little hall at the foot of the stairs.
I think I fainted in my stepmother's arms; and when my consciousness
came back, I was in our sitting-room,--the pretty rustic room, Edward,
in which you and I had been so happy together.

"I must not stop to tell you everything. It would take me so long to
speak of all that happened in that miserable time. I knew that
something must be wrong, from my cousin Paul's manner; but neither he
nor my stepmother would tell me what it was. I asked them if you were
dead; but they said, 'No, you were not dead.' Still I could see that
something dreadful had happened. But by-and-by, by accident, I saw your
name in a newspaper that was lying on the table with Paul's hat and
gloves. I saw the description of an accident on the railway, by which I
knew you had travelled. My heart sank at once, and I think I guessed
all that had happened. I read your name amongst those of the people who
had been dangerously hurt. Paul shook his head when I asked him if
there was any hope.

"They brought me back here. I scarcely know how I came, how I endured
all that misery. I implored them to let me come to you, again and
again, on my knees at their feet. But neither of them would listen to
me. It was impossible, Paul said. He always seemed very, very kind to
me; always spoke softly; always told me that he pitied me, and was
sorry for me. But though my stepmother looked sternly at me, and spoke,
as she always used to speak, in a harsh, cold voice, I sometimes think
she might have given way at last and let me come to you, but for
him--but for my cousin Paul. He could look at me with a smile upon his
face when I was almost mad with my misery; and he never wavered; he
never hesitated.

"So they took me back to the Towers. I let them take me; for I scarcely
felt my sorrow any longer. I only felt tired; oh, so dreadfully tired;
and I wanted to lie down upon the ground in some quiet place, where no
one could come near me. I thought that I was dying. I believe I was
very ill when we got back to the Towers. My stepmother and Barbara
Simmons watched by my bedside, day after day, night after night.
Sometimes I knew them; sometimes I had all sorts of fancies. And
often--ah, how often, darling!--I thought that you were with me. My
cousin Paul came every day, and stood by my bedside. I can't tell you
how hateful it was to me to have him there. He used to come into the
room as silently as if he had been walking upon snow; but however
noiselessly he came, however fast asleep I was when he entered the
room, I always knew that he was there, standing by my bedside, smiling
at me. I always woke with a shuddering horror thrilling through my
veins, as if a rat had run across my face.

"By-and-by, when the delirium was quite gone, I felt ashamed of myself
for this. It seemed so wicked to feel this unreasonable antipathy to my
dear father's cousin; but he had brought me bad news of you, Edward,
and it was scarcely strange that I should hate him. One day he sat down
by my bedside, when I was getting better, and was strong enough to
talk. There was no one besides ourselves in the room, except my
stepmother, and she was standing at the window, with her head turned
away from us, looking out. My cousin Paul sat down by the bedside, and
began to talk to me in that gentle, compassionate way that used to
torture me and irritate me in spite of myself.

"He asked me what had happened to me after my leaving the Towers on the
day after the ball.

"I told him everything, Edward--about your coming to me in Oakley
Street; about our marriage. But, oh, my darling, my husband, he
wouldn't believe me; he wouldn't believe. Nothing that I could say
would make him believe me. Though I swore to him again and again--by my
dead father in heaven, as I hoped for the mercy of my God--that I had
spoken the truth, and the truth only, he wouldn't believe me; he
wouldn't believe. He shook his head, and said he scarcely wondered I
should try to deceive him; that it was a very sad story, a very
miserable and shameful story, and my attempted falsehood was little
more than natural.

"And then he spoke against you, Edward--against you. He talked of my
childish ignorance, my confiding love, and your villany. O Edward, he
said such shameful things; such shameful, horrible things! You had
plotted to become master of my fortune; to get me into your power,
because of my money; and you had not married me. You had _not_ married
me; he persisted in saying that.

"I was delirious again after this; almost mad, I think. All through the
delirium I kept telling my cousin Paul of our marriage. Though he was
very seldom in the room, I constantly thought that he was there, and
told him the same thing--the same thing--till my brain was on fire. I
don't know how long it lasted. I know that, once in the middle of the
night, I saw my stepmother lying upon the ground, sobbing aloud and
crying out about her wickedness; crying out that God would never
forgive her sin.

"I got better at last, and then I went downstairs; and I used to sit
sometimes in poor papa's study. The blind was always down, and none of
the servants, except Barbara Simmons, ever came into the room. My
cousin Paul did not live at the Towers; but he came there every day,
and often stayed there all day. He seemed the master of the house. My
stepmother obeyed him in everything, and consulted him about
everything.

"Sometimes Mrs. Weston came. She was like her brother. She always
smiled at me with a grave compassionate smile, just like his; and she
always seemed to pity me. But she wouldn't believe in my marriage. She
spoke cruelly about you, Edward; cruelly, but in soft words, that
seemed only spoken out of compassion for me. No one would believe in my
marriage.

"No stranger was allowed to see me. I was never suffered to go out.
They treated me as if I was some shameful creature, who must be hidden
away from the sight of the world.

"One day I entreated my cousin Paul to go to London and see Mrs.
Pimpernel. She would be able to tell him of our marriage. I had
forgotten the name of the clergyman who married us, and the church at
which we were married. And I could not tell Paul those; but I gave him
Mrs. Pimpernel's address. And I wrote to her, begging her to tell my
cousin, all about my marriage; and I gave him the note unsealed.

"He went to London about a week afterwards; and when he came back, he
brought me my note. He had been to Oakley Street, he said; but Mrs.
Pimpernel had left the neighbourhood, and no one knew where she was
gone."

"A lie! a villanous lie!" muttered Edward Arundel. "Oh, the scoundrel!
the infernal scoundrel!"

"No words would ever tell the misery of that time; the bitter anguish;
the unendurable suspense. When I asked them about you, they would tell
me nothing. Sometimes I thought that you had forgotten me; that you had
only married me out of pity for my loneliness; and that you were glad
to be freed from me. Oh, forgive me, Edward, for that wicked thought;
but I was so very miserable, so utterly desolate. At other times I
fancied that you were very ill, helpless, and unable to come to me. I
dared not think that you were dead. I put away that thought from me
with all my might; but it haunted me day and night. It was with me
always like a ghost. I tried to shut it away from my sight; but I knew
that it was there.

"The days were all alike,--long, dreary, and desolate; so I scarcely
know how the time went. My stepmother brought me religious books, and
told me to read them; but they were hard, difficult books, and I
couldn't find one word of comfort in them. They must have been written
to frighten very obstinate and wicked people, I think. The only book
that ever gave me any comfort, was that dear Book I used to read to
papa on a Sunday evening in Oakley Street. I read that, Edward, in
those miserable days; I read the story of the widow's only son who was
raised up from the dead because his mother was so wretched without him.
I read that sweet, tender story again and again, until I used to see
the funeral train, the pale, still face upon the bier, the white,
uplifted hand, and that sublime and lovely countenance, whose image
always comes to us when we are most miserable, the tremulous light upon
the golden hair, and in the distance the glimmering columns of white
temples, the palm-trees standing out against the purple Eastern sky. I
thought that He who raised up a miserable woman's son chiefly because
he was her only son, and she was desolate without him, would have more
pity upon me than the God in Olivia's books: and I prayed to Him,
Edward, night and day, imploring Him to bring you back to me.

"I don't know what day it was, except that it was autumn, and the dead
leaves were blowing about in the quadrangle, when my stepmother sent
for me one afternoon to my room, where I was sitting, not reading, not
even thinking--only sitting with my head upon my hands, staring
stupidly out at the drifting leaves and the gray, cold sky. My
stepmother was in papa's study; and I was to go to her there. I went,
and found her standing there, with a letter crumpled up in her clenched
hand, and a slip of newspaper lying on the table before her. She was as
white as death, and she was trembling violently from head to foot.

"'See,' she said, pointing to the paper; 'your lover is dead. But for
you he would have received the letter that told him of his father's
illness upon an earlier day; he would have gone to Devonshire by a
different train. It was by your doing that he travelled when he did. If
this is true, and he is dead, his blood be upon your head; his blood be
upon your head!'

"I think her cruel words were almost exactly those. I did not hope for
a minute that those horrible lines in the newspaper were false. I
thought they must be true, and I was mad, Edward--I was mad; for utter
despair came to me with the knowledge of your death. I went to my own
room, and put on my bonnet and shawl; and then I went out of the house,
down into that dreary wood, and along the narrow pathway by the
river-side. I wanted to drown myself; but the sight of the black water
filled me with a shuddering horror. I was frightened, Edward; and I
went on by the river, scarcely knowing where I was going, until it was
quite dark; and I was tired, and sat down upon the damp ground by the
brink of the river, all amongst the broad green flags and the wet
rushes. I sat there for hours, and I saw the stars shining feebly in a
dark sky. I think I was delirious, for sometimes I knew that I was
there by the water side, and then the next minute I thought that I was
in my bedroom at the Towers; sometimes I fancied that I was with you in
the meadows near Winchester, and the sun was shining, and you were
sitting by my side, and I could see your float dancing up and down in
the sunlit water. At last, after I had been there a very, very long
time, two people came with a lantern, a man and a woman; and I heard a
startled voice say, 'Here she is; here, lying on the ground!' And then
another voice, a woman's voice, very low and frightened, said, 'Alive!'
And then two people lifted me up; the man carried me in his arms, and
the woman took the lantern. I couldn't speak to them; but I knew that
they were my cousin Paul and his sister, Mrs. Weston. I remember being
carried some distance in Paul's arms; and then I think I must have
fainted away, for I can recollect nothing more until I woke up one day
and found myself lying in a bed in the pavilion over the boat-house,
with Mr. Weston watching by my bedside.

"I don't know how the time passed; I only know that it seemed endless.
I think my illness was rheumatic fever, caught by lying on the damp
ground nearly all that night when I ran away from the Towers. A long
time went by--there was frost and snow. I saw the river once out of the
window when I was lifted out of bed for an hour or two, and it was
frozen; and once at midnight I heard the Kemberling church-bells
ringing in the New Year. I was very ill, but I had no doctor; and all
that time I saw no one but my cousin Paul, and Lavinia Weston, and a
servant called Betsy, a rough country girl, who took care of me when my
cousins were away. They were kind to me, and took great care of me."

"You did not see Olivia, then, all this time?" Edward asked eagerly.

"No; I did not see my stepmother till some time after the New Year
began. She came in suddenly one evening, when Mrs. Weston was with me,
and at first she seemed frightened at seeing me. She spoke to me kindly
afterwards, but in a strange, terror-stricken voice; and she laid her
head down upon the counterpane of the bed, and sobbed aloud; and then
Paul took her away, and spoke to her cruelly, very cruelly--taunting
her with her love for you. I never understood till then why she hated
me: but I pitied her after that; yes, Edward, miserable as I was, I
pitied her, because you had never loved her. In all my wretchedness I
was happier than her; for you had loved me, Edward--you had loved me!"

Mary lifted her face to her husband's lips, and those dear lips were
pressed tenderly upon her pale forehead.

"O my love, my love!" the young man murmured; "my poor suffering angel!
Can God ever forgive these people for their cruelty to you? But, my
darling, why did you make no effort to escape?"

"I was too ill to move; I believed that I was dying."

"But afterwards, darling, when you were better, stronger,--did you make
no effort then to escape from your persecutors?"

Mary shook her head mournfully.

"Why should I try to escape from them?" she said. "What was there for
me beyond that place? It was as well for me to be there as anywhere
else. I thought you were dead, Edward; I thought you were dead, and
life held nothing more for me. I could do nothing but wait till He who
raised the widow's son should have pity upon me, and take me to the
heaven where I thought you and papa had gone before me. I didn't want
to go away from those dreary rooms over the boat-house. What did it
matter to me whether I was there or at Marchmont Towers? I thought you
were dead, and all the glories and grandeurs of the world were nothing
to me. Nobody ill-treated me; I was let alone. Mrs. Weston told me that
it was for my own sake they kept me hidden from everybody about the
Towers. I was a poor disgraced girl, she told me; and it was best for
me to stop quietly in the pavilion till people had got tired of talking
of me, and then my cousin Paul would take me away to the Continent,
where no one would know who I was. She told me that the honour of my
father's name, and of my family altogether, would be saved by this
means. I replied that I had brought no dishonour on my dear father's
name; but she only shook her head mournfully, and I was too weak to
dispute with her. What did it matter? I thought you were dead, and that
the world was finished for me. I sat day after day by the window; not
looking out, for there was a Venetian blind that my cousin Paul had
nailed down to the window-sill, and I could only see glimpses of the
water through the long, narrow openings between the laths. I used to
sit there listening to the moaning of the wind amongst the trees, or
the sounds of horses' feet upon the towing-path, or the rain dripping
into the river upon wet days. I think that even in my deepest misery
God was good to me, for my mind sank into a dull apathy, and I seemed
to lose even the capacity of suffering.

"One day,--one day in March, when the wind was howling, and the smoke
blew down the narrow chimney and filled the room,--Mrs. Weston brought
her husband, and he talked to me a little, and then talked to his wife
in whispers. He seemed terribly frightened, and he trembled all the
time, and kept saying, 'Poor thing; poor young woman!' but his wife was
cross to him, and wouldn't let him stop long in the room. After that,
Mr. Weston came very often, always with Lavinia, who seemed cleverer
than he was, even as a doctor; for she dictated to him, and ordered him
about in everything. Then, by-and-by, when the birds were singing, and
the warm sunshine came into the room, my baby was born, Edward; my baby
was born. I thought that God, who raised the widow's son, had heard my
prayer, and had raised you up from the dead; for the baby's eyes were
like yours, and I used to think sometimes that your soul was looking
out of them and comforting me.

"Do you remember that poor foolish German woman who believed that the
spirit of a dead king came to her in the shape of a blackbird? She was
not a good woman, I know, dear; but she must have loved the king very
truly, or she never could have believed anything so foolish. I don't
believe in people's love when they love 'wisely,' Edward: the truest
love is that which loves 'too well.'

"From the time of my baby's birth everything was changed. I was more
miserable, perhaps, because that dull, dead apathy cleared away, and my
memory came back, and I thought of you, dear, and cried over my little
angel's face as he slept. But I wasn't alone any longer. The world
seemed narrowed into the little circle round my darling's cradle. I
don't think he is like other babies, Edward. I think he has known of my
sorrow from the very first, and has tried in his mute way to comfort
me. The God who worked so many miracles, all separate tokens of His
love and tenderness and pity for the sorrows of mankind, could easily
make my baby different from other children, for a wretched mother's
consolation.

"In the autumn after my darling's birth, Paul and his sister came for
me one night, and took me away from the pavilion by the water to a
deserted farmhouse, where there was a woman to wait upon me and take
care of me. She was not unkind to me, but she was rather neglectful of
me. I did not mind that, for I wanted nothing except to be alone with
my precious boy--your son, Edward; your son. The woman let me walk in
the garden sometimes. It was a neglected garden, but there were bright
flowers growing wild, and when the spring came again my pet used to lie
on the grass and play with the buttercups and daisies that I threw into
his lap; and I think we were both of us happier and better than we had
been in those two close rooms over the boat-house.

"I have told you all now, Edward, all except what happened this
morning, when my stepmother and Hester Jobson came into my room in the
early daybreak, and told me that I had been deceived, and that you were
alive. My stepmother threw herself upon her knees at my feet, and asked
me to forgive her, for she was a miserable sinner, she said, who had
been abandoned by God; and I forgave her, Edward, and kissed her; and
you must forgive her too, dear, for I know that she has been very, very
wretched. And she took the baby in her arms, and kissed him,--oh, so
passionately!--and cried over him. And then they brought me here in Mr.
Jobson's cart, for Mr. Jobson was with them, and Hester held me in her
arms all the time. And then, darling, then after a long time you came
to me."

Edward put his arms round his wife, and kissed her once more. "We will
never speak of this again, darling," he said. "I know all now; I
understand it all. I will never again distress you by speaking of your
cruel wrongs."

"And you will forgive Olivia, dear?"

"Yes, my pet, I will forgive--Olivia."

He said no more, for there was a footstep on the stair, and a glimmer
of light shone through the crevices of the door. Hester Jobson came
into the room with a pair of lighted wax-candles, in white
crockery-ware candlesticks. But Hester was not alone; close behind her
came a lady in a rustling silk gown, a tall matronly lady, who cried
out,--

"Where is she, Edward? Where is she? Let me see this poor ill-used
child."

It was Mrs. Arundel, who had come to Kemberling to see her newly-found
daughter-in-law.

"Oh, my dear mother," cried the young man, "how good of you to come!
Now, Mary, you need never again know what it is to want a protector, a
tender womanly protector, who will shelter you from every harm."

Mary got up and went to Mrs. Arundel, who opened her arms to receive
her son's young wife. But before she folded Mary to her friendly
breast, she took the girl's two hands in hers, and looked earnestly at
her pale, wasted face.

She gave a long sigh as she contemplated those wan features, the
shining light in the eyes, that looked unnaturally large by reason of
the girl's hollow cheeks.

"Oh, my dear," cried Mrs. Arundel, "my poor long-suffering child, how
cruelly they have treated you!"

Edward looked at his mother, frightened by the earnestness of her
manner; but she smiled at him with a bright, reassuring look.

"I shall take you home to Dangerfield with me, my poor love," she said
to Mary; "and I shall nurse you, and make you as plump as a partridge,
my poor wasted pet. And I'll be a mother to you, my motherless child.
Oh, to think that there should be any wretch vile enough to--But I
won't agitate you, my dear. I'll take you away from this bleak horrid
county by the first train to-morrow morning, and you shall sleep
to-morrow night in the blue bedroom at Dangerfield, with the roses and
myrtles waving against your window; and Edward shall go with us, and
you shan't come back here till you are well and strong; and you'll try
and love me, won't you, dear? And, oh, Edward, I've seen the boy! and
he's a _superb_ creature, the very _image_ of what you were at a
twelvemonth old; and he came to me, and smiled at me, almost as if he
knew I was his grandmother; and he has got FIVE teeth, but I'm _sorry_
to tell you he's cutting them crossways, the top first instead of the
bottom, Hester says."

"And Belinda, mother dear?" Edward said presently, in a grave
undertone.

"Belinda is an angel," Mrs. Arundel answered, quite as gravely. "She
has been in her own room all day, and no one has seen her but her
mother; but she came down to the hall as I was leaving the house this
evening, and said to me, 'Dear Mrs. Arundel, tell him that he must not
think I am so selfish as to be sorry for what has happened. Tell him
that I am very glad to think his young wife has been saved.' She put
her hand up to my lips to stop my speaking, and then went back again to
her room; and if that isn't acting like an angel, I don't know what
is."



CHAPTER XIII.

"ALL WITHIN IS DARK AS NIGHT."


Paul Marchmont did not leave Stony-Stringford Farmhouse till dusk upon
that bright summer's day; and the friendly twilight is slow to come in
the early days of July, however a man may loathe the sunshine. Paul
Marchmont stopped at the deserted farmhouse, wandering in and out of
the empty rooms, strolling listlessly about the neglected garden, or
coming to a dead stop sometimes, and standing stock-still for ten
minutes at a time, staring at the wall before him, and counting the
slimy traces of the snails upon the branches of a plum-tree, or the
flies in a spider's web. Paul Marchmont was afraid to leave that lonely
farmhouse. He was afraid as yet. He scarcely knew what he feared, for a
kind of stupor had succeeded the violent emotions of the past few
hours; and the time slipped by him, and his brain grew bewildered when
he tried to realise his position.

It was very difficult for him to do this. The calamity that had come
upon him was a calamity that he had never anticipated. He was a clever
man, and he had put his trust in his own cleverness. He had never
expected to be _found out_.

Until this hour everything had been in his favour. His dupes and
victims had played into his hands. Mary's grief, which had rendered her
a passive creature, utterly indifferent to her own fate,--her peculiar
education, which had taught her everything except knowledge of the
world in which she was to live,--had enabled Paul Marchmont to carry
out a scheme so infamous and daring that it was beyond the suspicion of
honest men, almost too base for the comprehension of ordinary villains.

He had never expected to be found out. All his plans had been
deliberately and carefully prepared. Immediately after Edward's
marriage and safe departure for the Continent, Paul had intended to
convey Mary and the child, with the grim attendant whom he had engaged
for them, far away, to one of the remotest villages in Wales.

Alone he would have done this; travelling by night, and trusting no
one; for the hired attendant knew nothing of Mary's real position. She
had been told that the girl was a poor relation of Paul's, and that her
story was a very sorrowful one. If the poor creature had strange
fancies and delusions, it was no more than might be expected; for she
had suffered enough to turn a stronger brain than her own. Everything
had been arranged, and so cleverly arranged, that Mary and the child
would disappear after dusk one summer's evening, and not even Lavinia
Weston would be told whither they had gone.

Paul had never expected to be found out. But he had least of all
expected betrayal from the quarter whence it had come. He had made
Olivia his tool; but he had acted cautiously even with her. He had
confided nothing to her; and although she had suspected some foul play
in the matter of Mary's disappearance, she had been certain of nothing.
She had uttered no falsehood when she swore to Edward Arundel that she
did not know where his wife was. But for her accidental discovery of
the secret of the pavilion, she would never have known of Mary's
existence after that October afternoon on which the girl left Marchmont
Towers.

But here Paul had been betrayed by the carelessness of the hired girl
who acted as Mary Arundel's gaoler and attendant. It was Olivia's habit
to wander often in that dreary wood by the water during the winter in
which Mary was kept prisoner in the pavilion over the boat-house.
Lavinia Weston and Paul Marchmont spent each of them a great deal of
their time in the pavilion; but they could not be always on guard
there. There was the world to be hoodwinked; and the surgeon's wife had
to perform all her duties as a matron before the face of Kemberling,
and had to give some plausible account of her frequent visits to the
boat-house. Paul liked the place for his painting, Mrs. Weston informed
her friends; and he was _so_ enthusiastic in his love of art, that it
was really a pleasure to participate in his enthusiasm; so she liked to
sit with him, and talk to him or read to him while he painted. This
explanation was quite enough for Kemberling; and Mrs. Weston went to
the pavilion at Marchmont Towers three or four times a week without
causing any scandal thereby.

But however well you may manage things yourself, it is not always easy
to secure the careful co-operation of the people you employ. Betsy
Murrel was a stupid, narrow-minded young person, who was very safe so
far as regarded the possibility of any sympathy with, or compassion
for, Mary Arundel arising in her stolid nature; but the stupid
stolidity which made her safe in one way rendered her dangerous in
another. One day, while Mrs. Weston was with the hapless young
prisoner, Miss Murrel went out upon the water-side to converse with a
good-looking young bargeman, who was a connexion of her family, and
perhaps an admirer of the young lady herself; and the door of the
painting-room being left wide open, Olivia Marchmont wandered
listlessly into the pavilion--there was a dismal fascination for her in
that spot, on which she had heard Edward Arundel declare his love for
John Marchmont's daughter--and heard Mary's voice in the chamber at the
top of the stone steps.

This was how Olivia had surprised Paul's secret; and from that hour it
had been the artist's business to rule this woman by the only weapon
which he possessed against her,--her own secret, her own weak folly,
her mad love of Edward Arundel and jealous hatred of the woman whom he
had loved. This weapon was a very powerful one, and Paul used it
unsparingly.

When the woman who, for seven-and-twenty years of her life, had lived
without sin; who from the hour in which she had been old enough to know
right from wrong, until Edward Arundel's second return from India, had
sternly done her duty,--when this woman, who little by little had
slipped away from her high standing-point and sunk down into a morass
of sin; when this woman remonstrated with Mr. Marchmont, he turned upon
her and lashed her with the scourge of her own folly.

"You come and upbraid me," he said, "and you call me villain and
arch-traitor, and say that you cannot abide this, your sin; and that
your guilt, in keeping our secret, cries to you in the dead hours of
the night; and you call upon me to undo what I have done, and to
restore Mary Marchmont to her rights. Do you remember what her highest
right is? Do you remember that which I must restore to her when I give
her back this house and the income that goes along with it? If I
restore Marchmont Towers, I must restore to her _Edward Arundel's
love!_ You have forgotten that, perhaps. If she ever re-enters this
house, she will come back to it leaning on his arm. You will see them
together--you will hear of their happiness; and do you think that _he_
will ever forgive you for your part of the conspiracy? Yes, it is a
conspiracy, if you like; if you are not afraid to call it by a hard
name, why should I fear to do so? Will he ever forgive you, do you
think, when he knows that his young wife has been the victim of a
senseless, vicious love? Yes, Olivia Marchmont; any love is vicious
which is given unsought, and is so strong a passion, so blind and
unreasoning a folly, that honour, mercy, truth, and Christianity are
trampled down before it. How will you endure Edward Arundel's contempt
for you? How will you tolerate his love for Mary, multiplied twentyfold
by all this romantic business of separation and persecution?

"You talk to me of my sin. Who was it who first sinned? Who was it who
drove Mary Marchmont from this house,--not once only, but twice, by her
cruelty? Who was it who persecuted her and tortured her day by day and
hour by hour, not openly, not with an uplifted hand or blows that could
be warded off, but by cruel hints and inuendoes, by unwomanly sneers
and hellish taunts? Look into your heart, Olivia Marchmont; and when
you make atonement for your sin, I will make restitution for mine. In
the meantime, if this business is painful to you, the way lies open
before you: go and take Edward Arundel to the pavilion yonder, and give
him back his wife; give the lie to all your past life, and restore
these devoted young lovers to each other's arms."

This weapon never failed in its effect. Olivia Marchmont might loathe
herself, and her sin, and her life, which was made hideous to her
because of her sin; but she _could_ not bring herself to restore Mary
to her lover-husband; she could not tolerate the idea of their
happiness. Every night she grovelled on her knees, and swore to her
offended God that she would do this thing, she would render this
sacrifice of atonement; but every morning, when her weary eyes opened
on the hateful sunlight, she cried, "Not to-day--not to-day."

Again and again, during Edward Arundel's residence at Kemberling
Retreat, she had set out from Marchmont Towers with the intention of
revealing to him the place where his young wife was hidden; but, again
and again, she had turned back and left her work undone. She _could_
not--she could not. In the dead of the night, under pouring rain, with
the bleak winds of winter blowing in her face, she had set out upon
that unfinished journey, only to stop midway, and cry out, "No, no,
no--not to-night; I cannot endure it yet!"

It was only when another and a fiercer jealousy was awakened in this
woman's breast, that she arose all at once, strong, resolute, and
undaunted, to do the work she had so miserably deferred. As one poison
is said to neutralise the evil power of another, so Olivia Marchmont's
jealousy of Belinda seemed to blot out and extinguish her hatred of
Mary. Better anything than that Edward Arundel should have a new, and
perhaps a fairer, bride. The jealous woman had always looked upon Mary
Marchmont as a despicable rival. Better that Edward should be tied to
this girl, than that he should rejoice in the smiles of a lovelier
woman, worthier of his affection. _This_ was the feeling paramount in
Olivia's breast, although she was herself half unconscious how entirely
this was the motive power which had given her new strength and
resolution. She tried to think that it was the awakening of her
conscience that had made her strong enough to do this one good work;
but in the semi-darkness of her own mind there was still a feeble
glimmer of the light of truth, and it was this that had prompted her to
cry out on her knees before the altar in Hillingsworth church, and
declare the sinfulness of her nature.

 * * * * *

Paul Marchmont stopped several times before the ragged, untrimmed
fruit-trees in his purposeless wanderings in the neglected garden at
Stony Stringford, before the vaporous confusion cleared away from his
brain, and he was able to understand what had happened to him.

His first reasonable action was to take out his watch; but even then he
stood for some moments staring at the dial before he remembered why he
had taken the watch from his pocket, or what it was that he wanted to
know. By Mr. Marchmont's chronometer it was ten minutes past seven
o'clock; but the watch had been unwound upon the previous night, and
had run down. Paul put it back in his waistcoat-pocket, and then walked
slowly along the weedy pathway to that low latticed window in which he
had often seen Mary Arundel standing with her child in her arms. He
went to this window and looked in, with his face against the glass. The
room was neat and orderly now; for the woman whom Mr. Marchmont had
hired had gone about her work as usual, and was in the act of filling a
little brown earthenware teapot from a kettle on the hob when Paul
stared in at her.

She looked up as Mr. Marchmont's figure came between her and the light,
and nearly dropped the little brown teapot in her terror of her
offended employer.

But Paul pulled open the window, and spoke to her very quietly. "Stop
where you are," he said; "I want to speak to you. I'll come in."

He went into the house by a door, that had once been the front and
principal entrance, which opened into a low wainscoted hall. From this
room he went into the parlour, which had been Mary Arundel's apartment,
and in which the hired nurse was now preparing her breakfast. "I
thought I might as well get a cup of tea, sir, whiles I waited for your
orders," the woman murmured, apologetically; "for bein' knocked up so
early this morning, you see, sir, has made my head _that_ bad, I could
scarcely bear myself; and----"

Paul lifted his hand to stop the woman's talk, as he had done before.
He had no consciousness of what she was saying, but the sound of her
voice pained him. His eyebrows contracted with a spasmodic action, as
if something had hurt his head.

There was a Dutch clock in the corner of the room, with a long pendulum
swinging against the wall. By this clock it was half-past eight.

"Is your clock right?" Paul asked.

"Yes, sir. Leastways, it may be five minutes too slow, but not more."

Mr. Marchmont took out his watch, wound it up, and regulated it by the
Dutch clock.

"Now," he said, "perhaps you can tell me clearly what happened. I want
no excuses, remember; I only want to know what occurred, and what was
said--word for word, remember."

He sat down but got up again directly, and walked to the window; then
he paced up and down the room two or three times, and then went back to
the fireplace and sat down again. He was like a man who, in the racking
torture of some physical pain, finds a miserable relief in his own
restlessness.

"Come," he said; "I am waiting."

"Yes, sir; which, begging your parding, if you wouldn't mind sitting
still like, while I'm a-telling of you, which it do remind me of the
wild beastes in the Zoological, sir, to that degree, that the boil, to
which I am subjeck, sir, and have been from a child, might prevent me
bein' as truthful as I should wish. Mrs. Marchmont, sir, she come
before it was light, _in_ a cart, sir, which it was a shaycart, and
made comfortable with cushions and straw, and suchlike, or I should not
have let the young lady go away in it; and she bring with her a
respectable, homely-looking young person, which she call Hester Jobling
or Gobson, or somethink of that sound like, which my memory is
treechrous, and I don't wish to tell a story on no account; and Mrs.
Marchmont she go straight up to my young lady, and she shakes her by
the shoulder; and then the young woman called Hester, she wakes up my
young lady quite gentle like, and kisses her and cries over her; and a
man as drove the cart, which looked a small tradesman well-to-do,
brings his trap round to the front-door,--you may see the trax of the
wheels upon the gravel now, sir, if you disbelieve me. And Mrs.
Marchmont and the young woman called Hester, between 'em they gets my
young lady up, and dresses her, and dresses the child; and does it all
so quick, and overrides me to such a degree, that I hadn't no power to
prevent 'em; but I say to Mrs. Marchmont, I say: 'Is it Mr. Marchmont's
orders as his cousin should be took away this morning?' and she stare
at me hard, and say, 'Yes;' and she have allus an abrumpt way, but was
abrumpter than ordinary this morning. And, oh sir, bein' a poor lone
woman, what was I to do?"

"Have you nothing more to tell me?"

"Nothing, sir; leastways, except as they lifted my young lady into the
cart, and the man got in after 'em, and drove away as fast as his horse
would go; and they had been gone two minutes when I began to feel all
in a tremble like, for fear as I might have done wrong in lettin' of
'em go."

"You have done wrong," Paul answered, sternly; "but no matter. If these
officious friends of my poor weak-witted cousin choose to take her
away, so much the better for me, who have been burdened with her long
enough. Since your charge has gone, your services are no longer wanted.
I shan't act illiberally to you, though I am very much annoyed by your
folly and stupidity. Is there anything due to you?"

Mrs. Brown hesitated for a moment, and then replied, in a very
insinuating tone,--

"Not _wages_, sir; there ain't no _wages_ doo to me,--which you paid me
a quarter in advance last Saturday was a week, and took a receipt, sir,
for the amount. But I have done my dooty, sir, and had but little sleep
and rest, which my 'ealth ain't what it was when I answered your
advertisement, requirin' a respectable motherly person, to take charge
of a invalid lady, not objectin' to the country--which I freely tell
you, sir, if I'd known that the country was a rheumatic old place like
this, with rats enough to scare away a regyment of soldiers, I would
not have undertook the situation; so any present as you might think
sootable, considerin' all things, and----"

"That will do," said Paul Marchmont, taking a handful of loose money
from his waistcoat pocket; "I suppose a ten-pound note would satisfy
you?"

"Indeed it would, sir, and very liberal of you too----"

"Very well. I've got a five-pound note here, and five sovereigns. The
best thing you can do is to get back to London at once; there's a train
leaves Milsome Station at eleven o'clock--Milsome's not more than a
mile and a half from here. You can get your things together; there's a
boy about the place who will carry them for you, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir; there's a boy by the name of William."

"He can go with you, then; and if you look sharp, you can catch the
eleven-o'clock train."

"Yes, sir; and thank you kindly, sir."

"I don't want any thanks. See that you don't miss the train; that's all
you have to take care of."

Mr. Marchmont went out into the garden again. He had done something, at
any rate; he had arranged for getting this woman out of the way.

If--if by any remote chance there might be yet a possibility of keeping
the secret of Mary's existence, here was one witness already got rid
of.

But was there any chance? Mr. Marchmont sat down on a rickety old
garden-seat, and tried to think--tried to take a deliberate survey of
his position.

No; there was no hope for him. Look which way he could, there was not
one ray of light. With George Weston and Olivia, Betsy Murrel the
servant-girl, and Hester Jobson to bear witness against him, what could
he hope?

The surgeon would be able to declare that the child was Mary's son, her
legitimate son, sole heir to that estate of which Paul had taken
possession.

There was no hope. There was no possibility that Olivia should waver in
her purpose; for had she not brought with her two witnesses--Hester
Jobson and her husband?

From that moment the case was taken out of her hands. The honest
carpenter and his wife would see that Mary had her rights.

"It will be a glorious speculation for them," thought Paul Marchmont,
who naturally measured other people's characters by a standard derived
from an accurate knowledge of his own.

Yes, his ruin was complete. Destruction had come upon him, swift and
sudden as the caprice of a madwoman--or--the thunderbolt of an offended
Providence. What should he do? Run away, sneak away by back-lanes and
narrow footpaths to the nearest railway-station, hide himself in a
third-class carriage going Londonwards, and from London get away to
Liverpool, to creep on board some emigrant vessel bound for New York?

He could not even do this, for he was without the means of getting so
much as the railway-ticket that should carry him on the first stage of
his flight. After having given ten pounds to Mrs. Brown, he had only a
few shillings in his waistcoat-pocket. He had only one article of any
great value about him, and that was his watch, which had cost fifty
pounds. But the Marchmont arms were emblazoned on the outside of the
case; and Paul's name in full, and the address of Marchmont Towers,
were ostentatiously engraved inside, so that any attempt to dispose of
the watch must inevitably lead to the identification of the owner.

Paul Marchmont had made no provision for this evil day. Supreme in the
consciousness of his own talents, he had never imagined discovery and
destruction. His plans had been so well arranged. On the very day after
Edward's second marriage, Mary and her child would have been conveyed
away to the remotest district in Wales; and the artist would have
laughed at the idea of danger. The shallowest schemer might have been
able to manage this poor broken-hearted girl, whose many sorrows had
brought her to look upon life as a thing which was never meant to be
joyful, and which was only to be endured patiently, like some slow
disease that would be surely cured in the grave. It had been so easy to
deal with this ignorant and gentle victim that Paul had grown bold and
confident, and had ignored the possibility of such ruin as had now come
down upon him.

What was he to do? What was the nature of his crime, and what penalty
had he incurred? He tried to answer these questions; but as his offence
was of no common kind, he knew of no common law which could apply to
it. Was it a felony, this appropriation of another person's property,
this concealment of another person's existence; or was it only a
conspiracy, amenable to no criminal law; and would he be called upon
merely to make restitution of that which he had spent and wasted? What
did it matter? Either way, there was nothing for him but
ruin--irretrievable ruin.

There are some men who can survive discovery and defeat, and begin a
new life in a new world, and succeed in a new career. But Paul
Marchmont was not one of these. He could not stick a hunting-knife and
a brace of revolvers in his leathern belt, sling a game-bag across his
shoulders, take up his breech-loading rifle, and go out into the
backwoods of an uncivilised country, to turn sheep-breeder, and hold
his own against a race of agricultural savages. He was a Cockney, and
for him there was only one world--a world in which men wore varnished
boots and enamelled shirt-studs with portraits of La Montespan or La
Dubarry, and lived in chambers in the Albany, and treated each other to
little dinners at Greenwich and Richmond, or cut a grand figure at a
country-house, and collected a gallery of art and a museum of _bric à
brac_. This was the world upon the outer edge of which Paul Marchmont
had lived so long, looking in at the brilliant inhabitants with hungry,
yearning eyes through all the days of his poverty and obscurity. This
was the world into which he had pushed himself at last by means of a
crime.

He was forty years of age; and in all his life he had never had but one
ambition,--and that was to be master of Marchmont Towers. The remote
chance of that inheritance had hung before him ever since his boyhood,
a glittering prize, far away in the distance, but so brilliant as to
blind him to the brightness of all nearer chances. Why should he slave
at his easel, and toil to become a great painter? When would art earn
him eleven thousand a year? The greatest painter of Mr. Marchmont's
time lived in a miserable lodging at Chelsea. It was before the days of
the "Railway Station" and the "Derby Day;" or perhaps Paul might have
made an effort to become that which Heaven never meant him to be--a
great painter. No; art was only a means of living with this man. He
painted, and sold his pictures to his few patrons, who beat him down
unmercifully, giving him a small profit upon his canvas and colours,
for the encouragement of native art; but he only painted to live.

He was waiting. From the time when he could scarcely speak plain,
Marchmont Towers had been a familiar word in his ears and on his lips.
He knew the number of lives that stood between his father and the
estate, and had learned to say, naïvely enough then,--

"O pa, don't you wish that Uncle Philip and Uncle Marmaduke and Cousin
John would die soon?"

He was two-and-twenty years of age when his father died; and he felt a
faint thrill of satisfaction, even in the midst of his sorrow, at the
thought that there was one life the less between him and the end of his
hopes. But other lives had sprung up in the interim. There was young
Arthur, and little Mary; and Marchmont Towers was like a caravanserai
in the desert, which seems to be farther and farther away as the weary
traveller strives to reach it.

Still Paul hoped, and watched, and waited. He had all the instincts of
a sybarite, and he fancied, therefore, that he was destined to be a
rich man. He watched, and waited, and hoped, and cheered his mother and
sister when they were downcast with the hope of better days. When the
chance came, he seized upon it, and plotted, and succeeded, and
revelled in his brief success.

But now ruin had come to him, what was he to do? He tried to make some
plan for his own conduct; but he could not. His brain reeled with the
effort which he made to realise his own position.

He walked up and down one of the pathways in the garden until a quarter
to ten o'clock; then he went into the house, and waited till Mrs. Brown
had departed from Stony-Stringford Farm, attended by the boy, who
carried two bundles, a bandbox, and a carpet-bag.

"Come back here when you have taken those things to the station," Paul
said; "I shall want you."

He watched the dilapidated five-barred gate swing to after the
departure of Mrs. Brown and her attendant, and then went to look at his
horse. The patient animal had been standing in a shed all this time,
and had had neither food nor water. Paul searched amongst the empty
barns and outhouses, and found a few handfuls of fodder. He took this
to the animal, and then went back again to the garden,--to that quiet
garden, where the bees were buzzing about in the sunshine with a
drowsy, booming sound, and where a great tabby-cat was sleeping
stretched flat upon its side, on one of the flower-beds.

Paul Marchmont waited here very impatiently till the boy came back.

"I must see Lavinia," he thought. "I dare not leave this place till I
have seen Lavinia. I don't know what may be happening at Hillingsworth
or Kemberling. These things are taken up sometimes by the populace.
They may make a party against me; they may--"

He stood still, gnawing the edges of his nails, and staring down at the
gravel-walk.

He was thinking of things that he had read in the newspapers,--cases in
which some cruel mother who had illused her child, or some suspected
assassin who, in all human probability, had poisoned his wife, had been
well-nigh torn piecemeal by an infuriated mob, and had been glad to
cling for protection to the officers of justice, or to beg leave to
stay in prison after acquittal, for safe shelter from honest men and
women's indignation.

He remembered one special case in which the populace, unable to get at
a man's person, tore down his house, and vented their fury upon
unsentient bricks and mortar.

Mr. Marchmont took out a little memorandum book, and scrawled a few
lines in pencil:

"I am here, at Stony-Stringford Farmhouse," he wrote. "For God's sake,
come to me, Lavinia, and at once; you can drive here yourself. I want
to know what has happened at Kemberling and at Hillingsworth. Find out
everything for me, and come.    P. M."

It was nearly twelve o'clock when the boy returned. Paul gave him this
letter, and told the lad to get on his own horse, and ride to
Kemberling as fast as he could go. He was to leave the horse at
Kemberling, in Mr. Weston's stable, and was to come back to
Stony-Stringford with Mrs. Weston. This order Paul particularly
impressed upon the boy, lest he should stop in Kemberling, and reveal
the secret of Paul's hiding-place.

Mr. Paul Marchmont was afraid. A terrible sickening dread had taken
possession of him, and what little manliness there had ever been in his
nature seemed to have deserted him to-day.

Oh, the long dreary hours of that miserable day! the hideous sunshine,
that scorched Mr. Marchmont's bare head, as he loitered about the
garden!--he had left his hat in the house; but he did not even know
that he was bareheaded. Oh, the misery of that long day of suspense and
anguish! The sick consciousness of utter defeat, the thought of the
things that he might have done, the purse that he might have made with
the money that he had lavished on pictures, and decorations, and
improvements, and the profligate extravagance of splendid
entertainments. This is what he thought of, and these were the thoughts
that tortured him. But in all that miserable day he never felt one pang
of remorse for the agonies that he had inflicted upon his innocent
victim; on the contrary, he hated her because of this discovery, and
gnashed his teeth as he thought how she and her young husband would
enjoy all the grandeur of Marchmont Towers,--all that noble revenue
which he had hoped to hold till his dying day.

It was growing dusk when Mr. Marchmont heard the sound of wheels in the
dusty lane outside the garden-wall. He went through the house, and into
the farmyard, in time to receive his sister Lavinia at the gate. It was
the wheels of her pony-carriage he had heard. She drove a pair of
ponies, which Paul had given her. He was angry with himself as he
remembered that this was another piece of extravagance,--another sum of
money recklessly squandered, when it might have gone towards the making
of a rich provision for this evil day.

Mrs. Weston was very pale; and her brother could see by her face that
she brought him no good news. She left her ponies to the care of the
boy, and went into the garden with her brother.

"Well, Lavinia?"

"Well, Paul, it is a dreadful business," Mrs. Weston said, in a low
voice.

"It's all George's doing! It's all the work of that infernal
scoundrel!" cried Paul, passionately. "But he shall pay bitterly
for----"

"Don't let us talk of him, Paul; no good can come of that. What are you
going to do?"

"I don't know. I sent for you because I wanted your help and advice.
What's the good of your coming if you bring me no help?"

"Don't be cruel, Paul. Heaven knows, I'll do my best. But I can't see
what's to be done--except for you to get away, Paul. Everything's
known. Olivia stopped the marriage publicly in Hillingsworth Church;
and all the Hillingsworth people followed Edward Arundel's carriage to
Kemberling. The report spread like wildfire; and, oh Paul, the
Kemberling people have taken it up, and our windows have been broken,
and there's been a crowd all day upon the terrace before the Towers,
and they've tried to get into the house, declaring that they know
you're hiding somewhere. Paul, Paul, what are we to do? The people
hooted after me as I drove away from the High Street, and the boys
threw stones at the ponies. Almost all the servants have left the
Towers. The constables have been up there trying to get the crowd off
the terrace. But what are we to do, Paul? what are we to do?"

"Kill ourselves," answered the artist savagely. "What else should we
do? What have we to live for? You have a little money, I suppose; I
have none. Do you think I can go back to the old life? Do you think I
can go back, and live in that shabby house in Charlotte Street, and
paint the same rocks and boulders, the same long stretch of sea, the
same low lurid streaks of light,--all the old subjects over again,--for
the same starvation prices? Do you think I can ever tolerate shabby
clothes again, or miserable make-shift dinners,--hashed mutton, with
ill-cut hunks of lukewarm meat floating about in greasy slop called
gravy, and washed down with flat porter fetched half an hour too soon
from a public-house,--do you think I can go back to _that_? No; I have
tasted the wine of life: I have lived; and I'll never go back to the
living death called poverty. Do you think I can stand in that passage
in Charlotte Street again, Lavinia, to be bullied by an illiterate
tax-gatherer, or insulted by an infuriated baker? No, Lavinia; I have
made my venture, and I have failed."

"But what will you do, Paul?"

"I don't know," he answered, moodily.

This was a lie. He knew well enough what he meant to do: he would kill
himself.

That resolution inspired him with a desperate kind of courage. He would
escape from the mob; he would get away somewhere or other quietly and
there kill himself. He didn't know how, as yet; but he would deliberate
upon that point at his leisure, and choose the death that was supposed
to be least painful.

"Where are my mother and Clarissa?" he asked presently.

"They are at our house; they came to me directly they heard the rumour
of what had happened. I don't know how they heard it; but every one
heard of it, simultaneously, as it seemed. My mother is in a dreadful
state. I dared not tell her that I had known it all along."

"Oh, of course not," answered Paul, with a sneer; "let me bear the
burden of my guilt alone. What did my mother say?"

"She kept saying again and again, 'I can't believe it. I can't believe
that he could do anything cruel; he has been such a good son.'"

"I was not cruel," Paul cried vehemently; "the girl had every comfort.
I never grudged money for her comfort. She was a miserable, apathetic
creature, to whom fortune was almost a burden rather than an advantage.
If I separated her from her husband--bah!--was that such a cruelty? She
was no worse off than if Edward Arundel had been killed in that railway
accident; and it might have been so."

He didn't waste much time by reasoning on this point. He thought of his
mother and sisters. From first to last he had been a good son and a
good brother.

"What money have you, Lavinia?"

"A good deal; you have been very generous to me, Paul; and you shall
have it all back again, if you want it. I have got upwards of two
thousand pounds altogether; for I have been very careful of the money
you have given me."

"You have been wise. Now listen to me, Lavinia. I _have_ been a good
son, and I have borne my burdens uncomplainingly. It is your turn now
to bear yours. I must get back to Marchmont Towers, if I can, and
gather together whatever personal property I have there. It isn't
much--only a few trinkets, and suchlike. You must send me some one you
can trust to fetch those to-night; for I shall not stay an hour in the
place. I may not even be admitted into it; for Edward Arundel may have
already taken possession in his wife's name. Then you will have to
decide where you are to go. You can't stay in this part of the country.
Weston must be liable to some penalty or other for his share in the
business, unless he's bought over as a witness to testify to the
identity of Mary's child. I haven't time to think of all this. I want
you to promise me that you will take care of your mother and your
invalid sister."

"I will, Paul; I will indeed. But tell me what you are going to do
yourself, and where you are going?"

"I don't know," Paul Marchmont answered, in the same tone as before;
"but whatever I do, I want you to give me your solemn promise that you
will be good to my mother and sister."

"I will, Paul; I promise you to do as you have done."

"You had better leave Kemberling by the first train to-morrow morning;
take my mother and Clarissa with you; take everything that is worth
taking, and leave Weston behind you to bear the brunt of this business.
You can get a lodging in the old neighbourhood, and no one will molest
you when you once get away from this place. But remember one thing,
Lavinia: if Mary Arundel's child should die, and Mary herself should
die childless, Clarissa will inherit Marchmont Towers. Don't forget
that. There's a chance yet for you: it's far away, and unlikely enough;
but it _is_ a chance."

"But you are more likely to outlive Mary and her child than Clarissa
is," Mrs. Weston answered, with a feeble attempt at hopefulness; "try
and think of that, Paul, and let the hope cheer you."

"Hope!" cried Mr. Marchmont, with a discordant laugh. "Yes; I'm forty
years old, and for five-and-thirty of those years I've hoped and waited
for Marchmont Towers. I can't hope any longer, or wait any longer. I
give it up; I've fought hard, but I'm beaten."

It was nearly dark by this time, the shadowy darkness of a midsummer's
evening; and there were stars shining faintly out of the sky.

"You can drive me back to the Towers," Paul Marchmont said. "I don't
want to lose any time in getting there; I may be locked out by Mr.
Edward Arundel if I don't take care."

Mrs. Weston and her brother went back to the farmyard. It was sixteen
miles from Kemberling to Stony Stringford; and the ponies were
steaming, for Lavinia had come at a good rate. But it was no time for
the consideration of horseflesh. Paul took a rug from the empty seat,
and wrapped himself in it. He would not be likely to be recognised in
the darkness, sitting back in the low seat, and made bulky by the
ponderous covering in which he had enveloped himself. Mrs. Weston took
the whip from the boy, gathered up the reins, and drove off. Paul had
left no orders about the custody of the old farmhouse. The boy went
home to his master, at the other end of the farm; and the night-winds
wandered wherever they listed through the deserted habitation.



CHAPTER XIV.

THERE IS CONFUSION WORSE THAN DEATH.


The brother and sister exchanged very few words during the drive
between Stony Stringford and Marchmont Towers. It was arranged between
them that Mrs. Weston should drive by a back-way leading to a lane that
skirted the edge of the river, and that Paul should get out at a gate
opening into the wood, and by that means make his way, unobserved, to
the house which had so lately been to all intents and purposes his own.

He dared not attempt to enter the Towers by any other way; for the
indignant populace might still be lurking about the front of the house,
eager to inflict summary vengeance upon the persecutor of a helpless
girl.

It was between nine and ten o'clock when Mr. Marchmont got out at the
little gate. All here was very still; and Paul heard the croaking of
the frogs upon the margin of a little pool in the wood, and the sound
of horses' hoofs a mile away upon the loose gravel by the water-side.

"Good night, Lavinia," he said. "Send for the things as soon as you go
back; and be sure you send a safe person for them."

"O yes, dear; but hadn't you better take any thing of value yourself?"
Mrs. Weston asked anxiously. "You say you have no money. Perhaps it
would be best for you to send me the jewellery, though, and I can send
you what money you want by my messenger."

"I shan't want any money--at least I have enough for what I want. What
have you done with your savings?"

"They are in a London bank. But I have plenty of ready money in the
house. You must want money, Paul?"

"I tell you, no; I have as much as I want."

"But tell me your plans, Paul; I must know your plans before I leave
Lincolnshire myself. Are _you_ going away?"

"Yes."

"Immediately?"

"Immediately."

"Shall you go to London?"

"Perhaps. I don't know yet."

"But when shall we see you again, Paul? or how shall we hear of you?"

"I'll write to you."

"Where?"

"At the Post-office in Rathbone Place. Don't bother me with a lot of
questions to-night Lavinia; I'm not in the humour to answer them."

Paul Marchmont turned away from his sister impatiently, and opened the
gate; but before she had driven off, he went back to her.

"Shake hands, Lavinia," he said; "shake hands, my dear; it may be a
long time before you and I meet again."

He bent down and kissed his sister.

"Drive home as fast as you can, and send the messenger directly. He had
better come to the door of the lobby, near Olivia's room. Where is
Olivia, by-the-bye? Is she still with the stepdaughter she loves so
dearly?"

"No; she went to Swampington early in the afternoon. A fly was ordered
from the Black Bull, and she went away in it."

"So much the better," answered Mr. Marchmont. "Good night, Lavinia.
Don't let my mother think ill of me. I tried to do the best I could to
make her happy. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, dear Paul; God bless you!"

The blessing was invoked with as much sincerity as if Lavinia Weston
had been a good woman, and her brother a good man. Perhaps neither of
those two was able to realise the extent of the crime which they had
assisted each other to commit.

Mrs. Weston drove away; and Paul went up to the back of the Towers, and
under an archway leading into the quadrangle. All about the house was
as quiet as if the Sleeping Beauty and her court had been its only
occupants.

The inhabitants of Kemberling and the neighbourhood were an orderly
people, who burnt few candles between May and September; and however
much they might have desired to avenge Mary Arundel's wrongs by tearing
Paul Marchmont to pieces, their patience had been exhausted by
nightfall, and they had been glad to return to their respective abodes,
to discuss Paul's iniquities comfortably over the nine-o'clock beer.

Paul stood still in the quadrangle for a few moments, and listened. He
could hear no human breath or whisper; he only heard the sound of the
corn-crake in the fields to the right of the Towers, and the distant
rumbling of wagon-wheels on the high-road. There was a glimmer of light
in one of the windows belonging to the servants' offices,--only one dim
glimmer, where there had usually been a row of brilliantly-lighted
casements. Lavinia was right, then; almost all the servants had left
the Towers. Paul tried to open the half-glass door leading into the
lobby; but it was locked. He rang a bell; and after about three
minutes' delay, a buxom country-girl appeared in the lobby carrying a
candle. She was some kitchenmaid or dairymaid or scullerymaid, whom
Paul could not remember to have ever seen until now. She opened the
door, and admitted him, dropping a curtsey as he passed her. There was
some relief even in this. Mr. Marchmont had scarcely expected to get
into the house at all; still less to be received with common civility
by any of the servants, who had so lately obeyed him and fawned upon
him.

"Where are all the rest of the servants?" he asked.

"They're all gone, sir; except him as you brought down from
London,--Mr. Peterson,--and me and mother. Mother's in the laundry,
sir; and I'm scullerymaid."

"Why did the other servants leave the place?"

"Mostly because they was afraid of the mob upon the terrace, I think,
sir; for there's been people all the afternoon throwin' stones, and
breakin' the windows; and I don't think as there's a whole pane of
glass in the front of the house, sir; and Mr. Gormby, sir, he come
about four o'clock, and he got the people to go away, sir, by tellin'
'em as it wern't your property, sir, but the young lady's, Miss Mary
Marchmont,--leastways, Mrs. Airendale,--as they was destroyin' of; but
most of the servants had gone before that, sir, except Mr. Peterson;
and Mr. Gormby gave orders as me and mother was to lock all the doors,
and let no one in upon no account whatever; and he's coming to-morrow
mornin' to take possession, he says; and please, sir, you can't come
in; for his special orders to me and mother was, no one, and you in
particklar."

"Nonsense, girl!" exclaimed Mr. Marchmont, decisively; "who is Mr.
Gormby, that he should give orders as to who comes in or stops out? I'm
only coming in for half an hour, to pack my portmanteau. Where's
Peterson?"

"In the dinin'-room, sir; but please, sir, you mustn't----"

The girl made a feeble effort to intercept Mr. Marchmont, in accordance
with the steward's special orders; which were, that Paul should, upon
no pretence whatever, be suffered to enter the house. But the artist
snatched the candlestick from her hand, and went towards the
dining-room, leaving her to stare after him in amazement.

Paul found his valet Peterson, taking what he called a snack, in the
dining-room. A cloth was spread upon the corner of the table; and there
was a fore-quarter of cold roast-lamb, a bottle of French brandy, and a
decanter half-full of Madeira before the valet.

He started as his master entered the room, and looked up, not very
respectfully, but with no unfriendly glance.

"Give me half a tumbler of that brandy, Peterson," said Mr. Marchmont.

The man obeyed; and Paul drained the fiery spirit as if it had been so
much water. It was four-and-twenty hours since meat or drink had
crossed his dry white lips.

"Why didn't you go away with the rest?" he asked, as he set down the
empty glass.

"It's only rats, sir, that run away from a falling house. I stopped,
thinkin' you'd be goin' away somewhere, and that you'd want me."

The solid and unvarnished truth of the matter was, that Peterson had
taken it for granted that his master had made an excellent purse
against this evil day, and would be ready to start for the Continent or
America, there to lead a pleasant life upon the proceeds of his
iniquity. The valet never imagined his master guilty of such besotted
folly as to be _un_prepared for this catastrophe.

"I thought you might still want me, sir," he said; "and wherever you're
going, I'm quite ready to go too. You've been a good master to me, sir;
and I don't want to leave a good master because things go against him."

Paul Marchmont shook his head, and held out the empty tumbler for his
servant to pour more brandy into it.

"I am going away," he said; "but I want no servant where I'm going; but
I'm grateful to you for your offer, Peterson. Will you come upstairs
with me? I want to pack a few things."

"They're all packed, sir. I knew you'd be leaving, and I've packed
everything."

"My dressing-case?"

"Yes, sir. You've got the key of that."

"Yes; I know, I know."

Paul Marchmont was silent for a few minutes, thinking. Everything that
he had in the way of personal property of any value was in the
dressing-case of which he had spoken. There was five or six hundred
pounds' worth of jewellery in Mr. Marchmont's dressing-case; for the
first instinct of the _nouveau riche_ exhibits itself in diamond
shirt-studs, cameo rings, malachite death's-heads with emerald eyes;
grotesque and pleasing charms in the form of coffins, coal-scuttles,
and hobnailed boots; fantastical lockets of ruby and enamel; wonderful
bands of massive yellow gold, studded with diamonds, wherein to insert
the two ends of flimsy lace cravats. Mr. Marchmont reflected upon the
amount of his possessions, and their security in the jewel-drawer of
his dressing-case. The dressing-case was furnished with a Chubb's lock,
the key of which he carried in his waistcoat-pocket. Yes, it was all
safe.

"Look here, Peterson," said Paul Marchmont; "I think I shall sleep at
Mrs. Weston's to-night. I should like you to take my dressing-case down
there at once."

"And how about the other luggage, sir,--the portmanteaus and
hat-boxes?"

"Never mind those. I want you to put the dressing-case safe in my
sister's hands. I can send here for the rest to-morrow morning. You
needn't wait for me now. I'll follow you in half an hour."

"Yes, sir. You want the dressing-case carried to Mrs. Weston's house,
and I'm to wait for you there?"

"Yes; you can wait for me."

"But is there nothing else I can do, sir?"

"Nothing whatever. I've only got to collect a few papers, and then I
shall follow you."

"Yes, sir."

The discreet Peterson bowed, and retired to fetch the dressing-case. He
put his own construction upon Mr. Marchmont's evident desire to get rid
of him, and to be left alone at the Towers. Paul had, of course, made a
purse, and had doubtless put his money away in some very artful
hiding-place, whence he now wanted to take it at his leisure. He had
stuffed one of his pillows with bank-notes, perhaps; or had hidden a
cash-box behind the tapestry in his bedchamber; or had buried a bag of
gold in the flower-garden below the terrace. Mr. Peterson went upstairs
to Paul's dressing-room, put his hand through the strap of the
dressing-case, which was very heavy, went downstairs again, met his
master in the hall, and went out at the lobby-door.

Paul locked the door upon his valet, and then went back into the lonely
house, where the ticking of the clocks in the tenantless rooms sounded
unnaturally loud in the stillness. All the windows had been broken; and
though the shutters were shut, the cold night-air blew in at many a
crack and cranny, and well-nigh extinguished Mr. Marchmont's candle as
he went from room to room looking about him.

He went into the western drawing-room, and lighted some of the lamps in
the principal chandelier. The shutters were shut, for the windows here,
as well as elsewhere, had been broken; fragments of shivered glass,
great jagged stones, and handfuls of gravel, lay about upon the rich
carpet,--the velvet-pile which he had chosen with such artistic taste,
such careful deliberation. He lit the lamps and walked about the room,
looking for the last time at his treasures. Yes, _his_ treasures. It
was he who had transformed this chamber from a prim, old-fashioned
sitting-room--with quaint japanned cabinets, shabby chintz-cushioned
cane-chairs, cracked Indian vases, and a faded carpet--into a saloon
that would have been no discredit to Buckingham Palace or Alton Towers.

It was he who had made the place what it was. He had squandered the
savings of Mary's minority upon pictures that the richest collector in
England might have been proud to own; upon porcelain that would have
been worthy of a place in the Vienna Museum or the Bernal Collection.
He had done this, and these things were to pass into the possession of
the man he hated,--the fiery young soldier who had horsewhipped him
before the face of wondering Lincolnshire. He walked about the room,
thinking of his life since he had come into possession of this place,
and of what it had been before that time, and what it must be again,
unless he summoned up a desperate courage--and killed himself.

His heart beat fast and loud, and he felt an icy chill creeping slowly
through his every vein as he thought of this. How was he to kill
himself? He had no poison in his possession,--no deadly drug that would
reduce the agony of death to the space of a lightning-flash. There were
pistols, rare gems of choicest workmanship, in one of the buhl-cabinets
in that very room; there were both fowling-piece and ammunition in Mr.
Marchmont's dressing-room: but the artist was not expert with the use
of firearms, and he might fail in the attempt to blow out his brains,
and only maim or disfigure himself hideously. There was the river,--the
black, sluggish river: but then, drowning is a slow death, and Heaven
only knows how long the agony may seem to the wretch who endures it!
Alas! the ghastly truth of the matter is that Mr. Marchmont was afraid
of death. Look at the King of Terrors how he would, he could not
discover any pleasing aspect under which he could meet the grim monarch
without flinching.

He looked at life; but if life was less terrible than death, it was not
less dreary. He looked forward with a shudder to see--what?
Humiliation, disgrace, perhaps punishment,--life-long transportation,
it may be; for this base conspiracy might be a criminal offence,
amenable to criminal law. Or, escaping all this, what was there for
him? What was there for this man even then? For forty years he had been
steeped to the lips in poverty, and had endured his life. He looked
back now, and wondered how it was that he had been patient; he wondered
why he had not made an end of himself and his obscure troubles twenty
years before this night. But after looking back a little longer, he saw
the star which had illumined the darkness of that miserable and sordid
existence, and he understood the reason of his endurance. He had hoped.
Day after day he had got up to go through the same troubles, to endure
the same humiliations: but every day, when his life had been hardest to
him, he had said, "To-morrow I may be master of Marchmont Towers." But
he could never hope this any more; he could not go back to watch and
wait again, beguiled by the faint hope that Mary Arundel's son might
die, and to hear by-and-by that other children were born to her to
widen the great gulf betwixt him and fortune.

He looked back, and he saw that he had lived from day to day, from year
to year, lured on by this one hope. He looked forward, and he saw that
he could not live without it.

There had never been but this one road to good fortune open to him. He
was a clever man, but his was not the cleverness which can transmute
itself into solid cash. He could only paint indifferent pictures; and
he had existed long enough by picture-painting to realise the utter
hopelessness of success in that career.

He had borne his life while he was in it, but he could not bear to go
back to it. He had been out of it, and had tasted another phase of
existence; and he could see it all now plainly, as if he had been a
spectator sitting in the boxes and watching a dreary play performed
upon a stage before him. The performers in the remotest provincial
theatre believe in the play they are acting. The omnipotence of passion
creates dewy groves and moonlit atmospheres, ducal robes and beautiful
women. But the metropolitan spectator, in whose mind the memory of
better things is still fresh, sees that the moonlit trees are poor
distemper daubs, pushed on by dirty carpenters, and the moon a green
bottle borrowed from a druggist's shop, the ducal robes threadbare
cotton velvet and tarnished tinsel, and the heroine of the drama old
and ugly.

So Paul looked at the life he had endured, and wondered as he saw how
horrible it was.

He could see the shabby lodging, the faded furniture, the miserable
handful of fire struggling with the smoke in a shallow grate, that had
been half-blocked up with bricks by some former tenant as badly off as
himself. He could look back at that dismal room, with the ugly paper on
the walls, the scanty curtains flapping in the wind which they
pretended to shut out; the figure of his mother sitting near the
fireplace, with that pale, anxious face, which was a perpetual
complaint against hardship and discomfort. He could see his sister
standing at the window in the dusky twilight, patching up some worn-out
garment, and straining her eyes for the sake of economising in the
matter of half an inch of candle. And the street below the window,--the
shabby-genteel street, with a dingy shop breaking out here and there,
and children playing on the doorsteps, and a muffin-bell jingling
through the evening fog, and a melancholy Italian grinding "Home, sweet
Home!" in the patch of lighted road opposite the pawnbroker's. He saw
it all; and it was all alike--sordid, miserable, hopeless.

Paul Marchmont had never sunk so low as his cousin John. He had never
descended so far in the social scale as to carry a banner at Drury
Lane, or to live in one room in Oakley Street, Lambeth. But there had
been times when to pay the rent of three rooms had been next kin to an
impossibility to the artist, and when the honorarium of a shilling a
night would have been very acceptable to him. He had drained the cup of
poverty to the dregs; and now the cup was filled again, and the bitter
draught was pushed once more into his unwilling hand.

He must drink that, or another potion,--a sleeping-draught, which is
commonly called Death. He must die! But how? His coward heart sank as
the awful alternative pressed closer upon him. He must
die!--to-night,--at once,--in that house; so that when they came in the
morning to eject him, they would have little trouble; they would only
have to carry out a corpse.

He walked up and down the room, biting his finger-nails to the quick,
but coming to no resolution, until he was interrupted by the ringing of
the bell at the lobby-door. It was the messenger from his sister, no
doubt. Paul drew his watch from his waistcoat-pocket, unfastened his
chain, took a set of gold-studs from the breast of his shirt, and a
signet-ring from his finger; then he sat down at a writing-table, and
packed the watch and chain, the studs and signet-ring, and a bunch of
keys, in a large envelope. He sealed this packet, and addressed it to
his sister; then he took a candle, and went to the lobby. Mrs. Weston
had sent a young man who was an assistant and pupil of her husband's--a
good-tempered young fellow, who willingly served her in her hour of
trouble. Paul gave this messenger the key of his dressing-case and
packet.

"You will be sure and put that in my sister's hands," he said.

"O yes, sir. Mrs. Weston gave me this letter for you, sir. Am I to wait
for an answer?"

"No; there will be no answer. Good night."

"Good night, sir."

The young man went away; and Paul Marchmont heard him whistle a popular
melody as he walked along the cloistered way and out of the quadrangle
by a low archway commonly used by the tradespeople who came to the
Towers.

The artist stood and listened to the young man's departing footsteps.
Then, with a horrible thrill of anguish, he remembered that he had seen
his last of humankind--he had heard his last of human voices: for he
was to kill himself that night. He stood in the dark lobby, looking out
into the quadrangle. He was quite alone in the house; for the girl who
had let him in was in the laundry with her mother. He could see the
figures of the two women moving about in a great gaslit chamber upon
the other side of the quadrangle--a building which had no communication
with the rest of the house. He was to die that night; and he had not
yet even determined how he was to die.

He mechanically opened Mrs. Weston's letter: it was only a few lines,
telling him that Peterson had arrived with the portmanteau and
dressing-case, and that there would be a comfortable room prepared for
him. "I am so glad you have changed your mind, and are coming to me,
Paul," Mrs. Weston concluded. "Your manner, when we parted to-night,
almost alarmed me."

Paul groaned aloud as he crushed the letter in his hand. Then he went
back to the western drawing-room. He heard strange noises in the empty
rooms as he passed by their open doors, weird creaking sounds and
melancholy moanings in the wide chimneys. It seemed as if all the
ghosts of Marchmont Towers were astir to-night, moved by an awful
prescience of some coming horror.

Paul Marchmont was an atheist; but atheism, although a very pleasant
theme for a critical and argumentative discussion after a
lobster-supper and unlimited champagne, is but a poor staff to lean
upon when the worn-out traveller approaches the mysterious portals of
the unknown land.

The artist had boasted of his belief in annihilation; and had declared
himself perfectly satisfied with a materialistic or pantheistic
arrangement of the universe, and very indifferent as to whether he
cropped up in future years as a summer-cabbage, or a new Raphael; so
long as the ten stone or so of matter of which he was composed was made
use of somehow or other, and did its duty in the great scheme of a
scientific universe. But, oh! how that empty, soulless creed slipped
away from him now, when he stood alone in this tenantless house,
shuddering at strange spirit-noises, and horrified by a host of mystic
fears--gigantic, shapeless terrors--that crowded in his empty, godless
mind, and filled it with their hideous presence!

He had refused to believe in a personal God. He had laughed at the idea
that there was any Deity to whom the individual can appeal, in his hour
of grief or trouble, with the hope of any separate mercy, any special
grace. He had rejected the Christian's simple creed, and now--now that
he had floated away from the shores of life, and felt himself borne
upon an irresistible current to that mysterious other side, what did he
_not_ believe in?

Every superstition that has ever disturbed the soul of ignorant man
lent some one awful feature to the crowd of hideous images uprising in
this man's mind:--awful Chaldean gods and Carthaginian goddesses,
thirsting for the hot blood of human sacrifices, greedy for hecatombs
of children flung shrieking into fiery furnaces, or torn limb from limb
by savage beasts; Babylonian abominations; Egyptian Isis and Osiris;
classical divinities, with flaming swords and pale impassible faces,
rigid as the Destiny whose type they were; ghastly Germanic demons and
witches.--All the dread avengers that man, in the knowledge of his own
wickedness, has ever shadowed for himself out of the darkness of his
ignorant mind, swelled that ghastly crowd, until the artist's brain
reeled, and he was fain to sit with his head in his hands, trying, by a
great effort of the will, to exorcise these loathsome phantoms.

"I must be going mad," he muttered to himself. "I am going mad."

But still the great question was unanswered--How was he to kill
himself?

"I must settle that," he thought. "I dare not think of anything that
may come afterwards. Besides, what _should_ come? I _know_ that there
is nothing. Haven't I heard it demonstrated by cleverer men than I am?
Haven't I looked at it in every light, and weighed it in every
scale--always with the same result? Yes; I know that there is nothing
_after_ the one short pang, any more than there is pain in the nerve of
a tooth when the tooth is gone. The nerve was the soul of the tooth, I
suppose; but wrench away the body, and the soul is dead. Why should I
be afraid? One short pain--it will seem long, I dare say--and then I
shall lie still for ever and ever, and melt slowly back into the
elements out of which I was created. Yes; I shall lie still--and be
_nothing_."

Paul Marchmont sat thinking of this for a long time. Was it such a
great advantage, after all, this annihilation, the sovereign good of
the atheist's barren creed? It seemed to-night to this man as if it
would be better to be anything--to suffer any anguish, any penalty for
his sins, than to be blotted out for ever and ever from any conscious
part in the grand harmony of the universe. If he could have believed in
that Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, and that after cycles of
years of suffering he might rise at last, purified from his sins,
worthy to dwell among the angels, how differently would death have
appeared to him! He might have gone away to hide himself in some
foreign city, to perform patient daily sacrifices, humble acts of
self-abnegation, every one of which should be a new figure, however
small a one, to be set against the great sum of his sin.

But he could not believe. There is a vulgar proverb which says, "You
cannot have your loaf and eat it;" or if proverbs would only be
grammatical, it might be better worded, "You cannot eat your loaf, and
have it to eat on some future occasion." Neither can you indulge in
rationalistic discussions or epigrammatic pleasantry about the Great
Creator who made you, and then turn and cry aloud to Him in the
dreadful hour of your despair: "O my God, whom I have insulted and
offended, help the miserable wretch who for twenty years has
obstinately shut his heart against Thee!" It may be that God would
forgive and hear even at that last supreme moment, as He heard the
penitent thief upon the cross; but the penitent thief had been a
sinner, not an unbeliever, and he _could_ pray. The hard heart of the
atheist freezes in his breast when he would repent and put away his
iniquities. When he would fain turn to his offended Maker, the words
that he tries to speak die away upon his lips; for the habit of
blasphemy is too strong upon him; he can _blague_ upon all the mighty
mysteries of heaven and hell, but he _cannot_ pray.

Paul Marchmont could not fashion a prayer. Horrible witticisms arose up
between him and the words he would have spoken--ghastly _bon mots_,
that had seemed so brilliant at a lamp-lit dinner-table, spoken to a
joyous accompaniment of champagne-corks and laughter. Ah, me! the world
was behind this man now, with all its pleasures; and he looked back
upon it, and thought that, even when it seemed gayest and brightest, it
was only like a great roaring fair, with flaring lights, and noisy
showmen clamoring for ever to a struggling crowd.

How should he die? Should he go upstairs and cut his throat?

He stood before one of his pictures--a pet picture; a girl's face by
Millais, looking through the moonlight, fantastically beautiful. He
stood before this picture, and he felt one small separate pang amid all
his misery as he remembered that Edward and Mary Arundel were now
possessors of this particular gem.

"They sha'n't have it," he muttered to himself; "they sha'n't have
_this_, at any rate."

He took a penknife from his pocket, and hacked and ripped the canvas
savagely, till it hung in ribbons from the deep gilded frame.

Then he smiled to himself, for the first time since he had entered that
house, and his eyes flashed with a sudden light.

"I have lived like Sardanapalus for the last year," he cried aloud;
"and I will die like Sardanapalus!"

There was a fragile piece of furniture near him,--an _étagère_ of
marqueterie work, loaded with costly _bric à brac_, Oriental porcelain,
Sèvres and Dresden, old Chelsea and crown Derby cups and saucers, and
quaint teapots, crawling vermin in Pallissy ware, Indian monstrosities,
and all manner of expensive absurdities, heaped together in artistic
confusion. Paul Marchmont struck the slim leg of the _étagère_ with his
foot, and laughed aloud as the fragile toys fell into a ruined heap
upon the carpet. He stamped upon the broken china; and the frail cups
and saucers crackled like eggshells under his savage feet.

"I will die like Sardanapalus!" he cried; "the King Arbaces shall never
rest in the palace I have beautified.

                    'Now order here
  Fagots, pine-nuts, and wither'd leaves, and such
  Things as catch fire with one sole spark;
  Bring cedar, too, and precious drugs, and spices,
  And mighty planks, to nourish a tall pile;
  Bring frankincense and myrrh, too; for it is
  For a great sacrifice I build the pyre.'

I don't think much of your blank verse, George Gordon Noel Byron. Your
lines end on lame syllables; your ten-syllable blank verse lacks the
fiery ring of your rhymes. I wonder whether Marchmont Towers is
insured? Yes, I remember paying a premium last Christmas. They may have
a sharp tussle with the insurance companies though. Yes, I will die
like Sardanapalus--no, not like him, for I have no Myrrha to mount the
pile and cling about me to the last. Pshaw! a modern Myrrha would leave
Sardanapalus to perish alone, and be off to make herself safe with the
new king."

Paul snatched up the candle, and went out into the hall. He laughed
discordantly, and spoke in loud ringing tones. His manner had that
feverish excitement which the French call exaltation. He ran up the
broad stairs leading to the long corridor, out of which his own rooms,
and his mother's and sister's rooms, opened.

Ah, how pretty they were! How elegant he had made them in his reckless
disregard of expense, his artistic delight in the task of
beautification! There were no shutters here, and the summer breeze blew
in through the broken windows, and stirred the gauzy muslin curtains,
the gay chintz draperies, the cloudlike festoons of silk and lace. Paul
Marchmont went from room to room with the flaring candle in his hand;
and wherever there were curtains or draperies about the windows, the
beds, the dressing-tables, the low lounging-chairs, and cosy little
sofas, he set alight to them. He did this with wonderful rapidity,
leaving flames behind him as he traversed the long corridor, and coming
back thus to the stairs. He went downstairs again, and returned to the
western drawing-room. Then he blew out his candle, turned out the gas,
and waited.

"How soon will it come?" he thought.

The shutters were shut, and the room was quite dark.

"Shall I ever have courage to stop till it comes?"

Paul Marchmont groped his way to the door, double-locked it, and then
took the key from the lock.

He went to one of the windows, clambered upon a chair, opened the top
shutter, and flung the key out through the broken window. He heard it
strike jingling upon the stone terrace and then bound away, Heaven
knows where.

"I shan't be able to go out by the door, at any rate," he thought.

It was quite dark in the room, but the reflection of the spreading
flames was growing crimson in the sky outside. Mr. Marchmont went away
from the window, feeling his way amongst the chairs and tables. He
could see the red light through the crevices of the shutters, and a
lurid patch of sky through that one window, the upper half of which he
had left open. He sat down, somewhere near the centre of the room, and
waited.

"The smoke will kill me," he thought. "I shall know nothing of the
fire."

He sat quite still. He had trembled violently while he had gone from
room to room doing his horrible work; but his nerves seemed steadier
now. Steadier! why, he was transformed to stone! His heart seemed to
have stopped beating; and he only knew by a sick anguish, a dull aching
pain, that it was still in his breast.

He sat waiting and thinking. In that time all the long story of the
past was acted before him, and he saw what a wretch he had been. I do
not know whether this was penitence; but looking at that enacted story,
Paul Marchmont thought that his own part in the play was a mistake, and
that it was a foolish thing to be a villain.

 * * * * *

When a great flock of frightened people, with a fire-engine out of
order, and drawn by whooping men and boys, came hurrying up to the
Towers, they found a blazing edifice, which looked like an enchanted
castle--great stone-framed windows vomiting flame; tall chimneys
toppling down upon a fiery roof; molten lead, like water turned to
fire, streaming in flaming cataracts upon the terrace; and all the sky
lit up by that vast pile of blazing ruin. Only salamanders, or poor Mr.
Braidwood's own chosen band, could have approached Marchmont Towers
that night. The Kemberling firemen and the Swampington firemen, who
came by-and-by, were neither salamanders nor Braidwoods. They stood
aloof and squirted water at the flames, and recoiled aghast by-and-by
when the roof came down like an avalanche of blazing timber, leaving
only a gaunt gigantic skeleton of red-hot stone where Marchmont Towers
once had been.

When it was safe to venture in amongst the ruins--and this was not for
many hours after the fire had burnt itself out--people looked for Paul
Marchmont; but amidst all that vast chaos of smouldering ashes, there
was nothing found that could be identified as the remains of a human
being. No one knew where the artist had been at the time of the fire,
or indeed whether he had been in the house at all; and the popular
opinion was, that Paul had set fire to the mansion, and had fled away
before the flames began to spread.

But Lavinia Weston knew better than this. She knew now why her brother
had sent her every scrap of valuable property belonging to him. She
understood now why he had come back to her to bid her good-night for
the second time, and press his cold lips to hers.



CHAPTER THE LAST.

"DEAR IS THE MEMORY OF OUR WEDDED LIVES."


Mary and Edward Arundel saw the awful light in the sky, and heard the
voices of the people shouting in the street below, and calling to one
another that Marchmont Towers was on fire.

The young mistress of the burning pile had very little concern for her
property. She only kept saying, again and again, "O Edward! I hope
there is no one in the house. God grant there may be no one in the
house!"

And when the flames were highest, and it seemed by the light in the sky
as if all Lincolnshire had been blazing, Edward Arundel's wife flung
herself upon her knees, and prayed aloud for any unhappy creature that
might be in peril.

Oh, if we could dare to think that this innocent girl's prayer was
heard before the throne of an Awful Judge, pleading for the soul of a
wicked man!

Early the next morning Mrs. Arundel came from Lawford Grange with her
confidential maid, and carried off her daughter-in-law and the baby, on
the first stage of the journey into Devonshire. Before she left
Kemberling, Mary was told that no dead body had been found amongst the
ruins of the Towers; and this assertion deluded her into the belief
that no unhappy creature had perished. So she went to Dangerfield
happier than she had ever been since the sunny days of her honeymoon,
to wait there for the coming of Edward Arundel, who was to stay behind
to see Richard Paulette and Mr. Gormby, and to secure the testimony of
Mr. Weston and Betsy Murrel with a view to the identification of Mary's
little son, who had been neither registered nor christened.

I have no need to dwell upon this process of identification,
registration, and christening, through which Master Edward Arundel had
to pass in the course of the next month. I had rather skip this
dry-as-dust business, and go on to that happy time which Edward and his
young wife spent together under the oaks at Dangerfield--that bright
second honeymoon season, while they were as yet houseless; for a pretty
villa-like mansion was being built on the Marchmont property, far away
from the dank wood and the dismal river, in a pretty pastoral little
nook, which was a fair oasis amidst the general dreariness of
Lincolnshire.

I need scarcely say that the grand feature of this happy time was THE
BABY. It will be of course easily understood that this child stood
alone amongst babies. There never had been another such infant; it was
more than probable there would never again be such a one. In every
attribute of babyhood he was a twelvemonth in advance of the rest of
his race. Prospective greatness was stamped upon his brow. He would be
a Clive or a Wellington, unless indeed he should have a fancy for the
Bar and the Woolsack, in which case he would be a little more erudite
than Lyndhurst, a trifle more eloquent than Brougham. All this was
palpable to the meanest capacity in the very manner in which this child
crowed in his nurse's arms, or choked himself with farinaceous food, or
smiled recognition at his young father, or performed the simplest act
common to infancy.

I think Mr. Sant would have been pleased to paint one of those summer
scenes at Dangerfield--the proud soldier-father; the pale young wife;
the handsome, matronly grandmother; and, as the mystic centre of that
magic circle, the toddling flaxen-haired baby, held up by his father's
hands, and taking caricature strides in imitation of papa's big steps.

To my mind, it is a great pity that children are not children for
ever--that the pretty baby-boy by Sant, all rosy and flaxen and
blue-eyed, should ever grow into a great angular pre-Raphaelite
hobadahoy, horribly big and out of drawing. But neither Edward nor Mary
nor, above all, Mrs. Arundel were of this opinion. They were as eager
for the child to grow up and enter for the great races of this life, as
some speculative turf magnate who has given a fancy price for a
yearling, and is pining to see the animal a far-famed three-year-old,
and winner of the double event.

Before the child had cut a double-tooth Mrs. Arundel senior had decided
in favour of Eton as opposed to Harrow, and was balancing the
conflicting advantages of classical Oxford and mathematical Cambridge;
while Edward could not see the baby-boy rolling on the grass, with blue
ribbons and sashes fluttering in the breeze, without thinking of his
son's future appearance in the uniform of his own regiment, gorgeous in
the splendid crush of a levee at St. James's.

How many airy castles were erected in that happy time, with the baby
for the foundation-stone of all of them! _The_ BABY! Why, that definite
article alone expresses an infinity of foolish love and admiration.
Nobody says _the_ father, the husband, the mother; it is "my" father,
my husband, as the case may be. But every baby, from St. Giles's to
Belgravia, from Tyburnia to St. Luke's, is "the" baby. The infant's
reign is short, but his royalty is supreme, and no one presumes to
question his despotic rule.

Edward Arundel almost worshipped the little child whose feeble cry he
had heard in the October twilight, and had _not_ recognised. He was
never tired of reproaching himself for this omission. That baby-voice
_ought_ to have awakened a strange thrill in the young father's breast.

That time at Dangerfield was the happiest period of Mary's life. All
her sorrows had melted away. They did not tell her of Paul Marchmont's
suspected fate; they only told her that her enemy had disappeared, and
that no one knew whither he had gone. Mary asked once, and once only,
about her stepmother; and she was told that Olivia was at Swampington
Rectory, living with her father, and that people said she was mad.
George Weston had emigrated to Australia, with his wife, and his wife's
mother and sister. There had been no prosecution for conspiracy; the
disappearance of the principal criminal had rendered that unnecessary.

This was all that Mary ever heard of her persecutors. She did not wish
to hear of them; she had forgiven them long ago. I think that in the
inner depths of her innocent heart she had forgiven them from the
moment she had fallen on her husband's breast in Hester's parlour at
Kemberling, and had felt his strong arms clasped about her, sheltering
her from all harm for evermore.

She was very happy; and her nature, always gentle, seemed sublimated by
the sufferings she had endured, and already akin to that of the angels.
Alas, this was Edward Arundel's chief sorrow! This young wife, so
precious to him in her fading loveliness, was slipping away from him,
even in the hour when they were happiest together--was separated from
him even when they were most united. She was separated from him by that
unconquerable sadness in his heart, which was prophetic of a great
sorrow to come.

Sometimes, when Mary saw her husband looking at her with a mournful
tenderness, an almost despairing love in his eyes, she would throw
herself into his arms, and say to him:

"You must remember how happy I have been, Edward. O my darling! promise
me always to remember how happy I have been."

When the first chill breezes of autumn blew among the Dangerfield oaks,
Edward Arundel took his wife southwards, with his mother and the
inevitable baby in her train. They went to Nice, and they were very
quiet, very happy, in the pretty southern town, with snow-clad
mountains behind them, and the purple Mediterranean before.

The villa was building all this time in Lincolnshire. Edward's agent
sent him plans and sketches for Mrs. Arundel's approval; and every
evening there was some fresh talk about the arrangement of the rooms,
and the laying-out of gardens. Mary was always pleased to see the plans
and drawings, and to discuss the progress of the work with her husband.
She would talk of the billiard-room, and the cosy little smoking-room,
and the nurseries for the baby, which were to have a southern aspect,
and every advantage calculated to assist the development of that rare
and marvellous blossom; and she would plan the comfortable apartments
that were to be specially kept for dear grandmamma, who would of course
spend a great deal of her time at the Sycamores--the new place was to
be called the Sycamores. But Edward could never get his wife to talk of
a certain boudoir opening into a tiny conservatory, which he himself
had added on to the original architect's plan. He could never get Mary
to speak of this particular chamber; and once, when he asked her some
question about the colour of the draperies, she said to him, very
gently,--

"I would rather you would not think of that room, darling."

"Why, my pet?"

"Because it will make you sorry afterwards."

"Mary, my darling----"

"O Edward! you know,--you must know, dearest,--that I shall never see
that place?"

But her husband took her in his arms, and declared that this was only a
morbid fancy, and that she was getting better and stronger every day,
and would live to see her grandchildren playing under the maples that
sheltered the northern side of the new villa. Edward told his wife
this, and he believed in the truth of what he said. He could not
believe that he was to lose this young wife, restored to him after so
many trials. Mary did not contradict him just then; but that night,
when he was sitting in her room reading by the light of a shaded lamp
after she had gone to bed,--Mary went to bed very early, by order of
the doctors, and indeed lived altogether according to medical
_régime_,--she called her husband to her.

"I want to speak to you, dear," she said; "there is something that I
must say to you."

The young man knelt down by his wife's bed.

"What is it, darling?" he asked.

"You know what we said to-day, Edward?"

"What, darling? We say so many things every day--we are so happy
together, and have so much to talk about."

"But you remember, Edward,--you remember what I said about never seeing
the Sycamores? Ah! don't stop me, dear love," Mary said reproachfully,
for Edward put his lips to hers to stay the current of mournful
words,--"don't stop me, dear, for I must speak to you. I want you to
know that _it must be_, Edward darling. I want you to remember how
happy I have been, and how willing I am to part with you, dear, since
it is God's will that we should be parted. And there is something else
that I want to say, Edward. Grandmamma told me something--all about
Belinda. I want you to promise me that Belinda shall be happy
by-and-by; for she has suffered so much, poor girl! And you will love
her, and she will love the baby. But you won't love her quite the same
way that you loved me, will you, dear? because you never knew her when
she was a little child, and very poor. She has never been an orphan,
and quite lonely, as I have been. You have never been _all the world_
to her."

 * * * * *

The Sycamores was finished by the following midsummer, but no one took
possession of the newly-built house; no brisk upholsterer's men came,
with three-foot rules and pencils and memorandum-books, to take
measurements of windows and floors; no wagons of splendid furniture
made havoc of the gravel-drive before the principal entrance. The only
person who came to the new house was a snuff-taking crone from
Stanfield, who brought a turn-up bedstead, a Dutch clock, and a few
minor articles of furniture, and encamped in a corner of the best
bedroom.

Edward Arundel, senior, was away in India, fighting under Napier and
Outram; and Edward Arundel, junior, was at Dangerfield, under the
charge of his grandmother.

Perhaps the most beautiful monument in one of the English cemeteries at
Nice is that tall white marble cross and kneeling figure, before which
strangers pause to read an inscription to the memory of Mary, the
beloved wife of Edward Dangerfield Arundel.



THE EPILOGUE.


Four years after the completion of that pretty stuccoed villa, which
seemed destined never to be inhabited, Belinda Lawford walked alone up
and down the sheltered shrubbery-walk in the Grange garden in the
fading September daylight.

Miss Lawford was taller and more womanly-looking than she had been on
the day of her interrupted wedding. The vivid bloom had left her
cheeks; but I think she was all the prettier because of that delicate
pallor, which gave a pensive cast to her countenance. She was very
grave and gentle and good; but she had never forgotten the shock of
that broken bridal ceremonial in Hillingsworth Church.

The Major had taken his eldest daughter abroad almost immediately after
that July day; and Belinda and her father had travelled together very
peacefully, exploring quiet Belgian cities, looking at celebrated
altar-pieces in dusky cathedrals, and wandering round battle-fields,
which the intermingled blood of rival nations had once made one crimson
swamp. They had been nearly a twelvemonth absent, and then Belinda
returned to assist at the marriage of a younger sister, and to hear
that Edward Arundel's wife had died of a lingering pulmonary complaint
at Nice.

She was told this: and she was told how Olivia Marchmont still lived
with her father at Swampington, and how day by day she went the same
round from cottage to cottage, visiting the sick; teaching little
children, or sometimes rough-bearded men, to read and write and cipher;
reading to old decrepid pensioners; listening to long histories of
sickness and trial, and exhibiting an unwearying patience that was akin
to sublimity. Passion had burnt itself out in this woman's breast, and
there was nothing in her mind now but remorse, and the desire to
perform a long penance, by reason of which she might in the end be
forgiven.

But Mrs. Marchmont never visited anyone alone. Wherever she went,
Barbara Simmons accompanied her, constant as her shadow. The
Swampington people said this was because the Rector's daughter was not
quite right in her mind; and there were times when she forgot where she
was, and would have wandered away in a purposeless manner, Heaven knows
where, had she not been accompanied by her faithful servant. Clever as
the Swampington people and the Kemberling people might be in finding
out the business of their neighbours, they never knew that Olivia
Marchmont had been consentient to the hiding-away of her stepdaughter.
They looked upon her, indeed, with considerable respect, as a heroine
by whose exertions Paul Marchmont's villany had been discovered. In the
hurry and confusion of the scene at Hillingsworth Church, nobody had
taken heed of Olivia's incoherent self-accusations: Hubert Arundel was
therefore spared the misery of knowing the extent of his daughter's
sin.

Belinda Lawford came home in order to be present at her sister's
wedding; and the old life began again for her, with all the old duties
that had once been so pleasant. She went about them very cheerfully
now. She worked for her poor pensioners, and took the chief burden of
the housekeeping off her mother's hands. But though she jingled her
keys with a cheery music as she went about the house, and though she
often sang to herself over her work, the old happy smile rarely lit up
her face. She went about her duties rather like some widowed matron who
had lived her life, than a girl before whom the future lies, mysterious
and unknown.

It has been said that happiness comes to the sleeper--the meaning of
which proverb I take to be, that Joy generally comes to us when we
least look for her lovely face. And it was on this September afternoon,
when Belinda loitered in the garden after her round of small duties was
finished, and she was free to think or dream at her leisure, that
happiness came to her,--unexpected, unhoped-for, supreme; for, turning
at one end of the sheltered alley, she saw Edward Arundel standing at
the other end, with his hat in his hand, and the summer wind blowing
amongst his hair.

Miss Lawford stopped quite still. The old-fashioned garden reeled
before her eyes, and the hard-gravelled path seemed to become a quaking
bog. She could not move; she stood still, and waited while Edward came
towards her.

"Letitia has told me about you, Linda," he said; "she has told me how
true and noble you have been; and she sent me here to look for a wife,
to make new sunshine in my empty home,--a young mother to smile upon my
motherless boy."

Edward and Belinda walked up and down the sheltered alley for a long
time, talking a great deal of the sad past, a little of the
fair-seeming future. It was growing dusk before they went in at the
old-fashioned half-glass door leading into the drawing-room, where Mrs.
Lawford and her younger daughters were sitting, and where Lydia, who
was next to Belinda, and had been three years married to the Curate of
Hillingsworth, was nursing her second baby.

"Has she said 'yes'?" this young matron cried directly; for she had
been told of Edward's errand to the Grange. "But of course she has.
What else should she say, after refusing all manner of people, and
giving herself the airs of an old-maid? Yes, um pressus Pops, um Aunty
Lindy's going to be marriedy-pariedy," concluded the Curate's wife,
addressing her three-months-old baby in that peculiar patois which is
supposed to be intelligible to infants by reason of being
unintelligible to everybody else.

"I suppose you are not aware that my future brother-in-law is a major?"
said Belinda's third sister, who had been struggling with a variation
by Thalberg, all octaves and accidentals, and who twisted herself round
upon her music-stool to address her sister. "I suppose you are not
aware that you have been talking to Major Arundel, who has done all
manner of splendid things in the Punjaub? Papa told us all about it
five minutes ago."

It was as much as Belinda could do to support the clamorous
felicitations of her sisters, especially the unmarried damsels, who
were eager to exhibit themselves in the capacity of bridesmaids; but
by-and-by, after dinner, the Curate's wife drew her sisters away from
that shadowy window in which Edward Arundel and Belinda were sitting,
and the lovers were left to themselves.

That evening was very peaceful, very happy, and there were many other
evenings like it before Edward and Belinda completed that ceremonial
which they had left unfinished more than five years before.

The Sycamores was very prettily furnished, under Belinda's
superintendence; and as Reginald Arundel had lately married, Edward's
mother came to live with her younger son, and brought with her the
idolised grandchild, who was now a tall, yellow-haired boy of six years
old.

There was only one room in the Sycamores which was never tenanted by
any one of that little household except Edward himself, who kept the
key of the little chamber in his writing-desk, and only allowed the
servants to go in at stated intervals to keep everything bright and
orderly in the apartment.

The shut-up chamber was the boudoir which Edward Arundel had planned
for his first wife. He had ordered it to be furnished with the very
furniture which he had intended for Mary. The rosebuds and butterflies
on the walls, the guipure curtains lined with pale blush-rose silk, the
few chosen books in the little cabinet near the fireplace, the Dresden
breakfast-service, the statuettes and pictures, were things he had
fixed upon long ago in his own mind as the decorations for his wife's
apartment. He went into the room now and then, and looked at his first
wife's picture--a crayon sketch taken in London before Mary and her
husband started for the South of France. He looked a little wistfully
at this picture, even when he was happiest in the new ties that bound
him to life, and all that is brightest in life.

Major Arundel took his eldest son into this room one day, when young
Edward was eight or nine years old, and showed the boy his mother's
portrait.

"When you are a man, this place will be yours, Edward," the father
said. "_You_ can give your wife this room, although I have never given
it to mine. You will tell her that it was built for your mother, and
that it was built for her by a husband who, even when most grateful to
God for every new blessing he enjoyed, never ceased to be sorry for the
loss of his first love."

And so I leave my soldier-hero, to repose upon laurels that have been
hardly won, and secure in that modified happiness which is chastened by
the memory of sorrow. I leave him with bright children crowding round
his knees, a loving wife smiling at him across those fair childish
heads. I leave him happy and good and useful, filling his place in the
world, and bringing up his children to be wise and virtuous men and
women in the days that are to come. I leave him, above all, with the
serene lamp of faith for ever burning in his soul, lighting the image
of that other world in which there is neither marrying nor giving in
marriage, and where his dead wife will smile upon him from amidst the
vast throng of angel faces--a child for ever and ever before the throne
of God!


THE END.





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