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Title: John Marchmont's Legacy, Volumes I-III
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, Volumes I-III" ***

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JOHN MARCHMONT'S LEGACY.


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


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


THIS STORY

Is Dedicated

TO

MY MOTHER



CONTENTS.
 VOLUME I
  CHAPTER I. THE MAN WITH THE BANNER.
  CHAPTER II. LITTLE MARY.
  CHAPTER III. ABOUT THE LINCOLNSHIRE PROPERTY.
  CHAPTER IV. GOING AWAY.
  CHAPTER V. MARCHMONT TOWERS.
  CHAPTER VI. THE YOUNG SOLDIER'S RETURN.
  CHAPTER VII. OLIVIA.
  CHAPTER VIII. "MY LIFE IS COLD, AND DARK, AND DREARY."
  CHAPTER IX. "WHEN SHALL I CEASE TO BE ALL ALONE?"
  CHAPTER X. MARY'S STEPMOTHER.
  CHAPTER XI. THE DAY OF DESOLATION.
  CHAPTER XII. PAUL.
  CHAPTER XIII. OLIVIA'S DESPAIR.
  CHAPTER XIV. DRIVEN AWAY.

 * * * * *

 VOLUME II.
  CHAPTER I. MARY'S LETTER.
  CHAPTER II. A NEW PROTECTOR.
  CHAPTER III. PAUL'S SISTER.
  CHAPTER IV. A STOLEN HONEYMOON.
  CHAPTER V. SOUNDING THE DEPTHS.
  CHAPTER VI. RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.
  CHAPTER VII. FACE TO FACE.
  CHAPTER VIII. THE PAINTING-ROOM BY THE RIVER.
  CHAPTER IX. IN THE DARK.
  CHAPTER X. THE PARAGRAPH IN THE NEWSPAPER.
  CHAPTER XI. EDWARD ARUNDEL'S DESPAIR.
  CHAPTER XII. EDWARD'S VISITORS.
  CHAPTER XIII. ONE MORE SACRIFICE.
  CHAPTER XIV. THE CHILD'S VOICE IN THE PAVILION BY THE WATER.

 * * * * *

 VOLUME III
  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 I.


CHAPTER I.

THE MAN WITH THE BANNER.


The history of Edward Arundel, second son of Christopher Arundel
Dangerfield Arundel, of Dangerfield Park, Devonshire, began on a
certain dark winter's night upon which the lad, still a schoolboy, went
with his cousin, Martin Mostyn, to witness a blank-verse tragedy at one
of the London theatres.

There are few men who, looking back at the long story of their lives,
cannot point to one page in the record of the past at which the actual
history of life began. The page may come in the very middle of the
book, perhaps; perhaps almost at the end. But let it come where it
will, it is, after all, only the actual commencement. At an appointed
hour in man's existence, the overture which has been going on ever
since he was born is brought to a sudden close by the sharp vibration
of the prompter's signal-bell; the curtain rises, and the drama of life
begins. Very insignificant sometimes are the first scenes of the
play,--common-place, trite, wearisome; but watch them closely, and
interwoven with every word, dimly recognisable in every action, may be
seen the awful hand of Destiny. The story has begun: already we, the
spectators, can make vague guesses at the plot, and predicate the
solemn climax; it is only the actors who are ignorant of the meaning of
their several parts, and who are stupidly reckless of the obvious
catastrophe.

The story of young Arundel's life began when he was a light-hearted,
heedless lad of seventeen, newly escaped for a brief interval from the
care of his pastors and masters.

The lad had come to London on a Christmas visit to his father's sister,
a worldly-minded widow, with a great many sons and daughters, and an
income only large enough to enable her to keep up the appearances of
wealth essential to the family pride of one of the Arundels of
Dangerfield.

Laura Arundel had married a Colonel Mostyn, of the East India Company's
service, and had returned from India after a wandering life of some
years, leaving her dead husband behind her, and bringing away with her
five daughters and three sons, most of whom had been born under canvas.

Mrs. Mostyn bore her troubles bravely, and contrived to do more with
her pension, and an additional income of four hundred a year from a
small fortune of her own, than the most consummate womanly management
can often achieve. Her house in Montague Square was elegantly
furnished, her daughters were exquisitely dressed, her sons sensibly
educated, her dinners well cooked. She was not an agreeable woman; she
was perhaps, if any thing, too sensible,--so very sensible as to be
obviously intolerant of anything like folly in others. She was a good
mother; but by no means an indulgent one. She expected her sons to
succeed in life, and her daughters to marry rich men; and would have
had little patience with any disappointment in either of these
reasonable expectations. She was attached to her brother Christopher
Arundel, and she was very well pleased to spend the autumn months at
Dangerfield, where the hunting-breakfasts gave her daughters an
excellent platform for the exhibition of charming demi-toilettes and
social and domestic graces, perhaps more dangerous to the susceptible
hearts of rich young squires than the fascinations of a _valse à deux
temps_ or an Italian scena.

But the same Mrs. Mostyn, who never forgot to keep up her
correspondence with the owner of Dangerfield Park, utterly ignored the
existence of another brother, a certain Hubert Arundel, who had,
perhaps, much more need of her sisterly friendship than the wealthy
Devonshire squire. Heaven knows, the world seemed a lonely place to
this younger son, who had been educated for the Church, and was fain to
content himself with a scanty living in one of the dullest and dampest
towns in fenny Lincolnshire. His sister might have very easily made
life much more pleasant to the Rector of Swampington and his only
daughter; but Hubert Arundel was a great deal too proud to remind her
of this. If Mrs. Mostyn chose to forget him,--the brother and sister
had been loving friends and dear companions long ago, under the beeches
at Dangerfield,--she was welcome to do so. She was better off than he
was; and it is to be remarked, that if A's income is three hundred a
year, and B's a thousand, the chances are as seven to three that B will
forget any old intimacy that may have existed between himself and A.
Hubert Arundel had been wild at college, and had put his autograph
across so many oblong slips of blue paper, acknowledging value received
that had been only half received, that by the time the claims of all
the holders of these portentous morsels of stamped paper had been
satisfied, the younger son's fortune had melted away, leaving its
sometime possessor the happy owner of a pair of pointers, a couple of
guns by crack makers, a good many foils, single-sticks, boxing-gloves,
wire masks, basket helmets, leathern leg-guards, and other
paraphernalia, a complete set of the old _Sporting Magazine_, from 1792
to the current year, bound in scarlet morocco, several boxes of very
bad cigars, a Scotch terrier, and a pipe of undrinkable port.

Of all these possessions, only the undrinkable port now remained to
show that Hubert Arundel had once had a decent younger son's fortune,
and had succeeded most admirably in making ducks and drakes of it. The
poor about Swampington believed in the sweet red wine, which had been
specially concocted for Israelitish dealers in jewelry, cigars,
pictures, wines, and specie. The Rector's pensioners smacked their lips
over the mysterious liquid and confidently affirmed that it did them
more good than all the doctor's stuff the parish apothecary could send
them. Poor Hubert Arundel was well content to find that at least this
scanty crop of corn had grown up from the wild oats he had sown at
Cambridge. The wine pleased the poor creatures who drank it, and was
scarcely likely to do them any harm; and there was a reasonable
prospect that the last bottle would by-and-by pass out of the rectory
cellars, and with it the last token of that bitterly regretted past.

I have no doubt that Hubert Arundel felt the sting of his only sister's
neglect, as only a poor and proud man can feel such an insult; but he
never let any confession of this sentiment escape his lips; and when
Mrs. Mostyn, being seized with a fancy for doing this forgotten brother
a service, wrote him a letter of insolent advice, winding up with an
offer to procure his only child a situation as nursery governess, the
Rector of Swampington only crushed the missive in his strong hand, and
flung it into his study-fire, with a muttered exclamation that sounded
terribly like an oath.

"A _nursery_ governess!" he repeated, savagely; "yes; an underpaid
drudge, to teach children their A B C, and mend their frocks and make
their pinafores. I should like Mrs. Mostyn to talk to my little Livy
for half an hour. I think my girl would have put the lady down so
completely by the end of that time, that we should never hear any more
about nursery governesses."

He laughed bitterly as he repeated the obnoxious phrase; but his laugh
changed to a sigh.

Was it strange that the father should sigh as he remembered how he had
seen the awful hand of Death fall suddenly upon younger and stronger
men than himself? What if he were to die, and leave his only child
unmarried? What would become of her, with her dangerous gifts, with her
fatal dowry of beauty and intellect and pride?

"But she would never do any thing wrong," the father thought. "Her
religious principles are strong enough to keep her right under any
circumstances, in spite of any temptation. Her sense of duty is more
powerful than any other sentiment. She would never be false to that;
she would never be false to that."

In return for the hospitality of Dangerfield Park, Mrs. Mostyn was in
the habit of opening her doors to either Christopher Arundel or his
sons, whenever any one of the three came to London. Of course she
infinitely preferred seeing Arthur Arundel, the eldest son and heir,
seated at her well-spread table, and flirting with one of his pretty
cousins, than to be bored with his rackety younger brother, a noisy lad
of seventeen, with no better prospects than a commission in her
Majesty's service, and a hundred and fifty pounds a year to eke out his
pay; but she was, notwithstanding, graciously pleased to invite Edward
to spend his Christmas holidays in her comfortable household; and it
was thus it came to pass that on the 29th of December, in the year
1838, the story of Edward Arundel's life began in a stage-box at Drury
Lane Theatre.

The box had been sent to Mrs. Mostyn by the fashionable editor of a
fashionable newspaper; but that lady and her daughters being previously
engaged, had permitted the two boys to avail themselves of the
editorial privilege.

The tragedy was the dull production of a distinguished literary
amateur, and even the great actor who played the principal character
could not make the performance particularly enlivening. He certainly
failed in impressing Mr. Edward Arundel, who flung himself back in his
chair and yawned dolefully during the earlier part of the
entertainment.

"It ain't particularly jolly, is it, Martin?" he said naïvely, "Let's
go out and have some oysters, and come in again just before the
pantomime begins."

"Mamma made me promise that we wouldn't leave the theatre till we left
for good, Ned," his cousin answered; "and then we're to go straight
home in a cab."

Edward Arundel sighed.

"I wish we hadn't come till half-price, old fellow," he said drearily.
"If I'd known it was to be a tragedy, I wouldn't have come away from
the Square in such a hurry. I wonder why people write tragedies, when
nobody likes them."

He turned his back to the stage, and folded his arms upon the velvet
cushion of the box preparatory to indulging himself in a deliberate
inspection of the audience. Perhaps no brighter face looked upward that
night towards the glare and glitter of the great chandelier than that
of the fair-haired lad in the stage-box. His candid blue eyes beamed
with a more radiant sparkle than any of the myriad lights in the
theatre; a nimbus of golden hair shone about his broad white forehead;
glowing health, careless happiness, truth, good-nature, honesty, boyish
vivacity, and the courage of a young lion,--all were expressed in the
fearless smile, the frank yet half-defiant gaze. Above all, this lad of
seventeen looked especially what he was,--a thorough gentleman. Martin
Mostyn was prim and effeminate, precociously tired of life,
precociously indifferent to everything but his own advantage; but the
Devonshire boy's talk was still fragrant with the fresh perfume of
youth and innocence, still gay with the joyous recklessness of early
boyhood. He was as impatient for the noisy pantomime overture, and the
bright troops of fairies in petticoats of spangled muslin, as the most
inveterate cockney cooling his snub-nose against the iron railing of
the gallery. He was as ready to fall in love with the painted beauty of
the ill-paid ballet-girls, as the veriest child in the wide circle of
humanity about him. Fresh, untainted, unsuspicious, he looked out at
the world, ready to believe in everything and everybody.

"How you do fidget, Edward!" whispered Martin Mostyn peevishly; "why
don't you look at the stage? It's capital fun."

"Fun!"

"Yes; I don't mean the tragedy you know, but the supernumeraries. Did
you ever see such an awkward set of fellows in all your life? There's a
man there with weak legs and a heavy banner, that I've been watching
all the evening. He's more fun than all the rest of it put together."

Mr. Mostyn, being of course much too polite to point out the man in
question, indicated him with a twitch of his light eyebrows; and Edward
Arundel, following that indication, singled out the banner-holder from
a group of soldiers in medieval dress, who had been standing wearily
enough upon one side of the stage during a long, strictly private and
confidential dialogue between the princely hero of the tragedy and one
of his accommodating satellites. The lad uttered a cry of surprise as
he looked at the weak-legged banner-holder.

Mr. Mostyn turned upon his cousin with some vexation.

"I can't help it, Martin," exclaimed young Arundel; "I can't be
mistaken--yes--poor fellow, to think that he should come to this!--you
haven't forgotten him, Martin, surely?"

"Forgotten what--forgotten whom? My dear Edward, what _do_ you mean?"

"John Marchmont, the poor fellow who used to teach us mathematics at
Vernon's; the fellow the governor sacked because----"

"Well, what of him?"

"The poor chap with the banner!" exclaimed the boy, in a breathless
whisper; "don't you see, Martin? didn't you recognise him? It's
Marchmont, poor old Marchmont, that we used to chaff, and that the
governor sacked because he had a constitutional cough, and wasn't
strong enough for his work."

"Oh, yes, I remember him well enough," Mr. Mostyn answered,
indifferently. "Nobody could stand his cough, you know; and he was a
vulgar fellow, into the bargain."

"He wasn't a vulgar fellow," said Edward indignantly;--"there, there's
the curtain down again;--he belonged to a good family in Lincolnshire,
and was heir-presumptive to a stunning fortune. I've heard him say so
twenty times."

Martin Mostyn did not attempt to repress an involuntary sneer, which
curled his lips as his cousin spoke.

"Oh, I dare say you've heard _him_ say so, my dear boy," he murmured
superciliously.

"Ah, and it was true," cried Edward; "he wasn't a fellow to tell lies;
perhaps he'd have suited Mr. Vernon better if he had been. He had bad
health, and was weak, and all that sort of thing; but he wasn't a snob.
He showed me a signet-ring once that he used to wear on his
watch-chain----"

"A _silver_ watch-chain," simpered Mr. Mostyn, "just like a
carpenter's."

"Don't be such a supercilious cad, Martin. He was very kind to me, poor
Marchmont; and I know I was always a nuisance to him, poor old fellow;
for you know I never could get on with Euclid. I'm sorry to see him
here. Think, Martin, what an occupation for him! I don't suppose he
gets more than nine or ten shillings a week for it."

"A shilling a night is, I believe, the ordinary remuneration of a
stage-soldier. They pay as much for the real thing as for the sham, you
see; the defenders of our country risk their lives for about the same
consideration. Where are you going, Ned?"

Edward Arundel had left his place, and was trying to undo the door of
the box.

"To see if I can get at this poor fellow."

"You persist in declaring, then, that the man with the weak legs is our
old mathematical drudge? Well, I shouldn't wonder. The fellow was
coughing all through the five acts, and that's uncommonly like
Marchmont. You're surely not going to renew your acquaintance with
him?"

But young Arundel had just succeeded in opening the door, and he left
the box without waiting to answer his cousin's question. He made his
way very rapidly out of the theatre, and fought manfully through the
crowds who were waiting about the pit and gallery doors, until he found
himself at the stage-entrance. He had often looked with reverent wonder
at the dark portal; but he had never before essayed to cross the sacred
threshold. But the guardian of the gate to this theatrical paradise,
inhabited by fairies at a guinea a week, and baronial retainers at a
shilling a night, is ordinarily a very inflexible individual, not to be
corrupted by any mortal persuasion, and scarcely corruptible by the
more potent influence of gold or silver. Poor Edward's half-a-crown had
no effect whatever upon the stern door-keeper, who thanked him for his
donation, but told him that it was against his orders to let anybody go
up-stairs.

"But I want to see some one so particularly," the boy said eagerly.
"Don't you think you could manage it for me, you know? He's an old
friend of mine,--one of the supernu--what's-its-names?" added Edward,
stumbling over the word. "He carried a banner in the tragedy, you know;
and he's got such an awful cough, poor chap."

"Ze man who garried ze panner vith a gough," said the door-keeper
reflectively. He was an elderly German, and had kept guard at that
classic doorway for half-a-century or so; "Parking Cheremiah."

"Barking Jeremiah!"

"Yes, sir. They gall him Parking pecause he's berbetually goughin' his
poor veag head off; and they gall him Cheremiah pecause he's alvays
belangholy."

"Oh, do let me see him," cried Mr. Edward Arundel. "I know you can
manage it; so do, that's a good fellow. I tell you he's a friend of
mine, and quite a gentleman too. Bless you, there isn't a move in
mathematics he isn't up to; and he'll come into a fortune some of these
days--"

"Yaase," interrupted the door-keeper, sarcastically, "Zey bake von of
him pegause off dad."

"And can I see him?"

"I phill dry and vind him vor you. Here, you Chim," said the
door-keeper, addressing a dirty youth, who had just nailed an official
announcement of the next morning's rehearsal upon the back of a
stony-hearted swing-door, which was apt to jam the fingers of the
uninitiated,--"vot is ze name off yat zuber vith ze pad gough, ze man
zay gall Parking."

"Oh, that's Morti-more."

"To you know if he's on in ze virsd zene?"

"Yes. He's one of the demons; but the scene's just over. Do you want
him?"

"You gan dake ub zis young chendleman's gard do him, and dell him to
slib town here if he has kod a vaid," said the door-keeper.

Mr. Arundel handed his card to the dirty boy.

"He'll come to me fast enough, poor fellow," he muttered. "I usen't to
chaff him as the others did, and I'm glad I didn't, now."

Edward Arundel could not easily forget that one brief scrutiny in which
he had recognised the wasted face of the schoolmaster's hack, who had
taught him mathematics only two years before. Could there be anything
more piteous than that degrading spectacle? The feeble frame, scarcely
able to sustain that paltry one-sided banner of calico and tinsel; the
two rude daubs of coarse vermilion upon the hollow cheeks; the black
smudges that were meant for eyebrows; the wretched scrap of horsehair
glued upon the pinched chin in dismal mockery of a beard; and through
all this the pathetic pleading of large hazel eyes, bright with the
unnatural lustre of disease, and saying perpetually, more plainly than
words can speak, "Do not look at me; do not despise me; do not even
pity me. It won't last long."

That fresh-hearted schoolboy was still thinking of this, when a wasted
hand was laid lightly and tremulously on his arm, and looking up he saw
a man in a hideous mask and a tight-fitting suit of scarlet and gold
standing by his side.

"I'll take off my mask in a minute, Arundel," said a faint voice, that
sounded hollow and muffled within a cavern of pasteboard and
wickerwork. "It was very good of you to come round; very, very good!"

"I was so sorry to see you here, Marchmont; I knew you in a moment, in
spite of the disguise."

The supernumerary had struggled out of his huge head-gear by this time,
and laid the fabric of papier-mâché and tinsel carefully aside upon a
shelf. He had washed his face before putting on the mask, for he was
not called upon to appear before a British public in martial semblance
any more upon that evening. The pale wasted face was interesting and
gentlemanly, not by any means handsome, but almost womanly in its
softness of expression. It was the face of a man who had not yet seen
his thirtieth birthday; who might never live to see it, Edward Arundel
thought mournfully.

"Why do you do this, Marchmont?" the boy asked bluntly.

"Because there was nothing else left for me to do," the stage-demon
answered with a sad smile. "I can't get a situation in a school, for my
health won't suffer me to take one; or it won't suffer any employer to
take me, for fear of my falling ill upon his hands, which comes to the
same thing; so I do a little copying for the law-stationers, and this
helps out that, and I get on as well as I can. I wouldn't so much mind
if it wasn't for--"

He stopped suddenly, interrupted by a paroxysm of coughing.

"If it wasn't for whom, old fellow?"

"My poor little girl; my poor little motherless Mary."

Edward Arundel looked grave, and perhaps a little ashamed of himself.
He had forgotten until this moment that his old tutor had been left a
widower at four-and-twenty, with a little daughter to support out of
his scanty stipend.

"Don't be down-hearted, old fellow," the lad whispered, tenderly;
"perhaps I shall be able to help you, you know. And the little girl can
go down to Dangerfield; I know my mother would take care of her, and
will keep her there till you get strong and well. And then you might
start a fencing-room, or a shooting-gallery, or something of that sort,
at the West End; and I'd come to you, and bring lots of fellows to you,
and you'd get on capitally, you know."

Poor John Marchmont, the asthmatic supernumerary, looked perhaps the
very last person in the world whom it could be possible to associate
with a pair of foils, or a pistol and a target; but he smiled faintly
at his old pupil's enthusiastic talk.

"You were always a good fellow, Arundel," he said, gravely. "I don't
suppose I shall ever ask you to do me a service; but if, by-and-by,
this cough makes me knock under, and my little Polly should be
left--I--I think you'd get your mother to be kind to her,--wouldn't
you, Arundel?"

A picture rose before the supernumerary's weary eyes as he said this;
the picture of a pleasant lady whose description he had often heard
from the lips of a loving son, a rambling old mansion, wide-spreading
lawns, and long arcades of oak and beeches leading away to the blue
distance. If this Mrs. Arundel, who was so tender and compassionate and
gentle to every red-cheeked cottage-girl who crossed her
pathway,--Edward had told him this very often,--would take compassion
also upon this little one! If she would only condescend to see the
child, the poor pale neglected flower, the fragile lily, the frail
exotic blossom, that was so cruelly out of place upon the bleak
pathways of life!

"If that's all that troubles you," young Arundel cried eagerly, "you
may make your mind easy, and come and have some oysters. We'll take
care of the child. I'll adopt her, and my mother shall educate her, and
she shall marry a duke. Run away, now, old fellow, and change your
clothes, and come and have oysters, and stout out of the pewter."

Mr. Marchmont shook his head.

"My time's just up," he said; "I'm on in the next scene. It was very
kind of you to come round, Arundel; but this isn't exactly the best
place for you. Go back to your friends, my dear boy, and don't think
any more of me. I'll write to you some day about little Mary."

"You'll do nothing of the kind," exclaimed the boy. "You'll give me
your address instanter, and I'll come to see you the first thing
to-morrow morning, and you'll introduce me to little Mary; and if she
and I are not the best friends in the world, I shall never again boast
of my successes with lovely woman. What's the number, old fellow?"

Mr. Arundel had pulled out a smart morocco pocket-book and a gold
pencil-case.

"Twenty-seven, Oakley Street, Lambeth. But I'd rather you wouldn't
come, Arundel; your friends wouldn't like it."

"My friends may go hang themselves. I shall do as I like, and I'll be
with you to breakfast, sharp ten."

The supernumerary had no time to remonstrate. The progress of the
music, faintly audible from the lobby in which this conversation had
taken place, told him that his scene was nearly on.

"I can't stop another moment. Go back to your friends, Arundel. Good
night. God bless you!"

"Stay; one word. The Lincolnshire property--"

"Will never come to me, my boy," the demon answered sadly, through his
mask; for he had been busy re-investing himself in that demoniac guise.
"I tried to sell my reversion, but the Jews almost laughed in my face
when they heard me cough. Good night."

He was gone, and the swing-door slammed in Edward Arundel's face. The
boy hurried back to his cousin, who was cross and dissatisfied at his
absence. Martin Mostyn had discovered that the ballet-girls were all
either old or ugly, the music badly chosen, the pantomime stupid, the
scenery a failure. He asked a few supercilious questions about his old
tutor, but scarcely listened to Edward's answers; and was intensely
aggravated with his companion's pertinacity in sitting out the comic
business--in which poor John Marchmont appeared and re-appeared; now as
a well-dressed passenger carrying a parcel, which he deliberately
sacrificed to the felonious propensities of the clown; now as a
policeman, now as a barber, now as a chemist, now as a ghost; but
always buffeted, or cajoled, or bonneted, or imposed upon; always
piteous, miserable, and long-suffering; with arms that ached from
carrying a banner through five acts of blank-verse weariness, with a
head that had throbbed under the weight of a ponderous edifice of
pasteboard and wicker, with eyes that were sore with the evil influence
of blue-fire and gunpowder smoke, with a throat that had been poisoned
by sulphurous vapours, with bones that were stiff with the playful
pummelling of clown and pantaloon; and all for--a shilling a night!



CHAPTER II.

LITTLE MARY.


Poor John Marchmont had given his address unwillingly enough to his old
pupil. The lodging in Oakley Street was a wretched back-room upon the
second-floor of a house whose lower regions were devoted to that
species of establishment commonly called a "ladies' wardrobe." The poor
gentleman, the teacher of mathematics, the law-writer, the Drury-Lane
supernumerary, had shrunk from any exposure of his poverty; but his
pupil's imperious good-nature had overridden every objection, and John
Marchmont awoke upon the morning after the meeting at Drury-Lane to the
rather embarrassing recollection that he was to expect a visitor to
breakfast with him.

How was he to entertain this dashing, high-spirited young schoolboy,
whose lot was cast in the pleasant pathways of life, and who was no
doubt accustomed to see at his matutinal meal such luxuries as John
Marchmont had only beheld in the fairy-like realms of comestible beauty
exhibited to hungry foot-passengers behind the plate-glass windows of
Italian warehouses?

"He has hams stewed in Madeira, and Perigord pies, I dare say, at his
Aunt Mostyn's," John thought, despairingly. "What can I give him to
eat?"

But John Marchmont, after the manner of the poor, was apt to
over-estimate the extravagance of the rich. If he could have seen the
Mostyn breakfast then preparing in the lower regions of Montague
Square, he might have been considerably relieved; for he would have
only beheld mild infusions of tea and coffee--in silver vessels,
certainly--four French rolls hidden under a glistening damask napkin,
six triangular fragments of dry toast, cut from a stale half-quartern,
four new-laid eggs, and about half a pound of bacon cut into rashers of
transcendental delicacy. Widow ladies who have daughters to marry do
not plunge very deep into the books of Messrs. Fortnum and Mason.

"He used to like hot rolls when I was at Vernon's," John thought,
rather more hopefully; "I wonder whether he likes hot rolls still?"

Pondering thus, Mr. Marchmont dressed himself,--very neatly, very
carefully; for he was one of those men whom even poverty cannot rob of
man's proudest attribute, his individuality. He made no noisy protest
against the humiliations to which he was compelled to submit; he
uttered no boisterous assertions of his own merit; he urged no
clamorous demand to be treated as a gentleman in his day of misfortune;
but in his own mild, undemonstrative way he did assert himself, quite
as effectually as if he had raved all day upon the hardship of his lot,
and drunk himself mad and blind under the pressure of his calamities.
He never abandoned the habits which had been peculiar to him from his
childhood. He was as neat and orderly in his second-floor-back as he
had been seven or eight years before in his simple apartments at
Cambridge. He did not recognise that association which most men
perceive between poverty and shirt-sleeves, or poverty and beer. He was
content to wear threadbare cloth, but adhered most obstinately to a
prejudice in favour of clean linen. He never acquired those lounging
vagabond habits peculiar to some men in the day of trouble. Even
amongst the supernumeraries of Drury Lane, he contrived to preserve his
self-respect; if they nicknamed him Barking Jeremiah, they took care
only to pronounce that playful sobriquet when the gentleman-super was
safely out of hearing. He was so polite in the midst of his reserve,
that the person who could wilfully have offended him must have been
more unkindly than any of her Majesty's servants. It is true, that the
great tragedian, on more than one occasion, apostrophised the
weak-kneed banner-holder as "BEAST" when the super's cough had
peculiarly disturbed his composure; but the same great man gave poor
John Marchmont a letter to a distinguished physician, compassionately
desiring the relief of the same pulmonary affection. If John Marchmont
had not been prompted by his own instincts to struggle against the evil
influences of poverty, he would have done battle sturdily for the sake
of one who was ten times dearer to him than himself.

If he _could_ have become a swindler or a reprobate,--it would have
been about as easy for him to become either as to have burst at once,
and without an hour's practice, into a full-blown Léotard or
Olmar,--his daughter's influence would have held him back as securely
as if the slender arms twined tenderly about him had been chains of
adamant forged by an enchanter's power.

How could he be false to his little one, this helpless child, who had
been confided to him in the darkest hour of his existence; the hour in
which his wife had yielded to the many forces arrayed against her in
life's battle, and had left him alone in the world to fight for his
little girl?

"If I were to die, I think Arundel's mother would be kind to her," John
Marchmont thought, as he finished his careful toilet. "Heaven knows, I
have no right to ask or expect such a thing; but Polly will be rich
by-and-by, perhaps, and will be able to repay them."

A little hand knocked lightly at the door of his room while he was
thinking this, and a childish voice said,

"May I come in, papa?"

The little girl slept with one of the landlady's children, in a room
above her father's. John opened the door, and let her in. The pale
wintry sunshine, creeping in at the curtainless window near which Mr.
Marchmont sat, shone full upon the child's face as she came towards
him. It was a small, pale face, with singularly delicate features, a
tiny straight nose, a pensive mouth, and large thoughtful hazel eyes.
The child's hair fell loosely upon her shoulders; not in those
corkscrew curls so much affected by mothers in the humbler walks of
life, nor yet in those crisp undulations lately adopted in Belgravian
nurseries; but in soft silken masses, only curling at the extreme end
of each tress. Miss Marchmont--she was always called Miss Marchmont in
that Oakley Street household--wore her brown-stuff frock and scanty
diaper pinafore as neatly as her father wore his threadbare coat and
darned linen. She was very pretty, very lady-like, very interesting;
but it was impossible to look at her without a vague feeling of pain,
that was difficult to understand. You knew, by-and-by, why you were
sorry for this little girl. She had never been a child. That divine
period of perfect innocence,--innocence of all sorrow and trouble,
falsehood and wrong,--that bright holiday-time of the soul, had never
been hers. The ruthless hand of poverty had snatched away from her the
gift which God had given her in her cradle; and at eight years old she
was a woman,--a woman invested with all that is most beautiful amongst
womanly attributes--love, tenderness, compassion, carefulness for
others, unselfish devotion, uncomplaining patience, heroic endurance.
She was a woman by reason of all these virtues; but she was no longer a
child. At three years old she had bidden farewell for ever to the
ignorant selfishness, the animal enjoyment of childhood, and had
learned what it was to be sorry for poor papa and mamma; and from that
first time of awakening to the sense of pity and love, she had never
ceased to be the comforter of the helpless young husband who was so
soon to be left wifeless.

John had been compelled to leave his child, in order to get a living
for her and for himself in the hard service of Mr. Laurence Vernon, the
principal of the highly select and expensive academy at which Edward
Arundel and Martin Mostyn had been educated. But he had left her in
good hands; and when the bitter day of his dismissal came, he was
scarcely as sorry as he ought to have been for the calamity which
brought him back to his little Mary. It is impossible for any words of
mine to tell how much he loved the child; but take into consideration
his hopeless poverty, his sensitive and reserved nature, his utter
loneliness, the bereavement that had cast a shadow upon his youth, and
you will perhaps understand an affection that was almost morbid in its
intensity, and which was reciprocated most fully by its object. The
little girl loved her father _too much_. When he was with her, she was
content to sit by his side, watching him as he wrote; proud to help
him, if even by so much as wiping his pens or handing him his
blotting-paper; happy to wait upon him, to go out marketing for him, to
prepare his scanty meals, to make his tea, and arrange and re-arrange
every object in the slenderly furnished second-floor back-room. They
talked sometimes of the Lincolnshire fortune,--the fortune which
_might_ come to Mr. Marchmont, if three people, whose lives when Mary's
father had last heard of them, were each worth three times his own
feeble existence, would be so obliging as to clear the way for the
heir-at-law, by taking an early departure to the churchyard. A more
practical man than John Marchmont would have kept a sharp eye upon
these three lives, and by some means or other contrived to find out
whether number one was consumptive, or number two dropsical, or number
three apoplectic; but John was utterly incapable of any such
Machiavellian proceeding. I think he sometimes beguiled his weary walks
between Oakley Street and Drury Lane by the dreaming of such childish
day-dreams as I should be almost ashamed to set down upon this sober
page. The three lives might all happen to be riding in the same express
upon the occasion of a terrible collision; but the poor fellow's gentle
nature shrank appalled before the vision he had invoked. He could not
sacrifice a whole train-full of victims, even for little Mary. He
contented himself with borrowing a "Times" newspaper now and then, and
looking at the top of the second column, with the faint hope that he
should see his own name in large capitals, coupled with the
announcement that by applying somewhere he might hear of something to
his advantage. He contented himself with this, and with talking about
the future to little Mary in the dim firelight. They spent long hours
in the shadowy room, only lighted by the faint flicker of a pitiful
handful of coals; for the commonest dip-candles are
sevenpence-halfpenny a pound, and were dearer, I dare say, in the year
'38. Heaven knows what splendid castles in the air these two
simple-hearted creatures built for each other's pleasure by that
comfortless hearth. I believe that, though the father made a pretence
of talking of these things only for the amusement of his child, he was
actually the more childish of the two. It was only when he left that
fire-lit room, and went back into the hard, reasonable, commonplace
world, that he remembered how foolish the talk was, and how it was
impossible--yes, impossible--that he, the law-writer and supernumerary,
could ever come to be master of Marchmont Towers.

Poor little Mary was in this less practical than her father. She
carried her day-dreams into the street, until all Lambeth was made
glorious by their supernal radiance. Her imagination ran riot in a
vision of a happy future, in which her father would be rich and
powerful. I am sorry to say that she derived most of her ideas of
grandeur from the New Cut. She furnished the drawing-room at Marchmont
Towers from the splendid stores of an upholsterer in that thoroughfare.
She laid flaming Brussels carpets upon the polished oaken floors which
her father had described to her, and hung cheap satin damask of
gorgeous colours before the great oriel windows. She put gilded vases
of gaudy artificial flowers on the high carved mantel-pieces in the old
rooms, and hung a disreputable gray parrot--for sale at a
greengrocer's, and given to the use of bad language--under the stone
colonnnade at the end of the western wing. She appointed the
tradespeople who should serve the far-away Lincolnshire household; the
small matter of distance would, of course, never stand in the way of
her gratitude and benevolence. Her papa would employ the civil
greengrocer who gave such excellent halfpennyworths of watercresses;
the kind butterman who took such pains to wrap up a quarter of a pound
of the best eighteenpenny fresh butter for the customer whom he always
called "little lady;" the considerate butcher who never cut _more_ than
the three-quarters of a pound of rump-steak, which made an excellent
dinner for Mr. Marchmont and his little girl. Yes, all these people
should be rewarded when the Lincolnshire property came to Mary's papa.
Miss Marchmont had some thoughts of building a shop close to Marchmont
Towers for the accommodating butcher, and of adopting the greengrocer's
eldest daughter for her confidante and companion. Heaven knows how many
times the little girl narrowly escaped being run over while walking the
material streets in some ecstatic reverie such as this; but Providence
was very careful of the motherless girl, and she always returned safely
to Oakley Street with her pitiful little purchases of tea and sugar,
butter and meat. You will say, perhaps, that at least these foolish
day-dreams were childish; but I maintain still, that Mary's soul had
long ago bade adieu to infancy, and that even in these visions she was
womanly; for she was always thoughtful of others rather than of
herself, and there was a great deal more of the practical business of
life mingled with the silvery web of her fancies than there should have
been so soon after her eighth birthday. At times, too, an awful horror
would quicken the pulses of her loving heart as she heard the hacking
sound of her father's cough; and a terrible dread would seize her,--the
fear that John Marchmont might never live to inherit the Lincolnshire
fortune. The child never said her prayers without adding a little
extempore supplication, that she might die when her father died. It was
a wicked prayer, perhaps; and a clergyman might have taught her that
her life was in the hands of Providence; and that it might please Him
who had created her to doom her to many desolate years of loneliness;
and that it was not for her, in her wretched and helpless ignorance, to
rebel against His divine will. I think if the Archbishop of Canterbury
had driven from Lambeth Palace to Oakley Street to tell little Mary
this, he would have taught her in vain; and that she would have fallen
asleep that night with the old prayer upon her lips, the fond foolish
prayer that the bonds which love had woven so firmly might never be
roughly broken by death.

Miss Marchmont heard the story of last night's meeting with great
pleasure, though it must be owned she looked a little grave when she
was told that the generous-hearted school-boy was coming to breakfast;
but her gravity was only that of a thoughtful housekeeper, who ponders
ways and means, and even while you are telling her the number and
quality of your guests, sketches out a rough ground-plan of her dishes,
considers the fish in season, and the soups most fitting to precede
them, and balances the contending advantages of Palestine and Julienne
or Hare and Italian.

"A 'nice' breakfast you say, papa," she said, when her father had
finished speaking; "then we must have watercresses, _of course_."

"And hot rolls, Polly dear. Arundel was always fond of hot rolls."

"And hot rolls, four for threepence-halfpenny in the Cut."--(I am
ashamed to say that this benighted child talked as deliberately of the
"Cut" as she might have done of the "Row.")--"There'll be one left for
tea, papa; for we could never eat four rolls. They'll take _such_ a lot
of butter, though."

The little housekeeper took out an antediluvian bead-purse, and began
to examine her treasury. Her father handed all his money to her, as he
would have done to his wife; and Mary doled him out the little sums he
wanted,--money for half an ounce of tobacco, money for a pint of beer.
There were no penny papers in those days, or what a treat an occasional
"Telegraph" would have been to poor John Marchmont!

Mary had only one personal extravagance. She read novels,--dirty,
bloated, ungainly volumes,--which she borrowed from a snuffy old woman
in a little back street, who charged her the smallest hire ever known
in the circulating-library business, and who admired her as a wonder of
precocious erudition. The only pleasure the child knew in her father's
absence was the perusal of these dingy pages; she neglected no duty,
she forgot no tender office of ministering care for the loved one who
was absent; but when all the little duties had been finished, how
delicious it was to sit down to "Madeleine the Deserted," or "Cosmo the
Pirate," and to lose herself far away in illimitable regions, peopled
by wandering princesses in white satin, and gentlemanly bandits, who
had been stolen from their royal fathers' halls by vengeful hordes of
gipsies. During these early years of poverty and loneliness, John
Marchmont's daughter stored up, in a mind that was morbidly sensitive
rather than strong, a terrible amount of dim poetic sentiment; the
possession of which is scarcely, perhaps, the best or safest dower for
a young lady who has life's journey all before her.

At half-past nine o'clock, all the simple preparations necessary for
the reception of a visitor had been completed by Mr. Marchmont and his
daughter. All vestiges of John's bed had disappeared; leaving, it is
true, rather a suspicious-looking mahogany chest of drawers to mark the
spot where once a bed had been. The window had been opened, the room
aired and dusted, a bright little fire burned in the shining grate, and
the most brilliant of tin tea-kettles hissed upon the hob. The white
table-cloth was darned in several places; but it was a remnant of the
small stock of linen with which John had begun married life; and the
Irish damask asserted its superior quality, in spite of many darns, as
positively as Mr. Marchmont's good blood asserted itself in spite of
his shabby coat. A brown teapot full of strong tea, a plate of French
rolls, a pat of fresh butter, and a broiled haddock, do not compose a
very epicurean repast; but Mary Marchmont looked at the humble
breakfast as a prospective success.

"We could have haddocks every day at Marchmont Towers, couldn't we,
papa?" she said naïvely.

But the little girl was more than delighted when Edward Arundel dashed
up the narrow staircase, and burst into the room, fresh, radiant,
noisy, splendid, better dressed even than the waxen preparations of
elegant young gentlemen exhibited at the portal of a great outfitter in
the New Cut, and yet not at all like either of those red-lipped types
of fashion. How delighted the boy declared himself with every thing! He
had driven over in a cabriolet, and he was awfully hungry, he informed
his host. The rolls and watercresses disappeared before him as if by
magic; little Mary shivered at the slashing cuts he made at the butter;
the haddock had scarcely left the gridiron before it was no more.

"This is ten times better than Aunt Mostyn's skinny breakfasts," the
young gentleman observed candidly. "You never get enough with her. Why
does she say, 'You won't take another egg, will you, Edward?' if she
wants me to have one? You should see our hunting-breakfasts at
Dangerfield, Marchmont. Four sorts of claret, and no end of Moselle and
champagne. You shall go to Dangerfield some day, to see my mother, Miss
Mary."

He called her "Miss Mary," and seemed rather shy of speaking to her.
Her womanliness impressed him in spite of himself. He had a fancy that
she was old enough to feel the humiliation of her father's position,
and to be sensitive upon the matter of the two-pair back; and he was
sorry the moment after he had spoken of Dangerfield.

"What a snob I am!" he thought; "always bragging of home."

But Mr. Arundel was not able to stop very long in Oakley Street, for
the supernumerary had to attend a rehearsal at twelve o'clock; so at
half-past eleven John Marchmont and his pupil went out together, and
little Mary was left alone to clear away the breakfast, and perform the
rest of her household duties.

She had plenty of time before her, so she did not begin at once, but
sat upon a stool near the fender, gazing dreamily at the low fire.

"How good and kind he is!" she thought; "just like Cosmo,--only Cosmo
was dark; or like Reginald Ravenscroft,--but then he was dark too. I
wonder why the people in novels are always dark? How kind he is to
papa! Shall we ever go to Dangerfield, I wonder, papa and I? Of course
I wouldn't go without papa."



CHAPTER III.

ABOUT THE LINCOLNSHIRE PROPERTY.


While Mary sat absorbed in such idle visions as these, Mr. Marchmont
and his old pupil walked towards Waterloo Bridge together.

"I'll go as far as the theatre with you, Marchmont," the boy said;
"it's my holidays now, you know, and I can do as I like. I am going to
a private tutor in another month, and he's to prepare me for the army.
I want you to tell me all about that Lincolnshire property, old boy. Is
it anywhere near Swampington?"

"Yes; within nine miles."

"Goodness gracious me! Lord bless my soul! what an extraordinary
coincidence! My uncle Hubert's Rector of Swampington--such a hole! I go
there sometimes to see him and my cousin Olivia. Isn't she a stunner,
though! Knows more Greek and Latin than I, and more mathematics than
you. Could eat our heads off at any thing."

John Marchmont did not seem very much impressed by the coincidence that
appeared so extraordinary to Edward Arundel; but, in order to oblige
his friend, he explained very patiently and lucidly how it was that
only three lives stood between him and the possession of Marchmont
Towers, and all lands and tenements appertaining thereto.

"The estate's a very large one," he said finally; "but the idea of _my_
ever getting it is, of course, too preposterous."

"Good gracious me! I don't see that at all," exclaimed Edward with
extraordinary vivacity. "Let me see, old fellow; if I understand your
story right, this is how the case stands: your first cousin is the
present possessor of Marchmont Towers; he has a son, fifteen years of
age, who may or may not marry; only one son, remember. But he has also
an uncle--a bachelor uncle, and your uncle, too--who, by the terms of
your grandfather's will, must get the property before you can succeed
to it. Now, this uncle is an old man: so of course _he'll_ die soon.
The present possessor himself is a middle-aged man; so I shouldn't
think _he_ can be likely to last long. I dare say he drinks too much
port, or hunts, or something of that sort; goes to sleep after dinner,
and does all manner of apoplectic things, I'll be bound. Then there's
the son, only fifteen, and not yet marriageable; consumptive, I dare
say. Now, will you tell me the chances are not six to six he dies
unmarried? So you see, my dear old boy, you're sure to get the fortune;
for there's nothing to keep you out of it, except--"

"Except three lives, the worst of which is better than mine. It's kind
of you to look at it in this sanguine way, Arundel; but I wasn't born
to be a rich man. Perhaps, after all, Providence has used me better
than I think. I mightn't have been happy at Marchmont Towers. I'm a
shy, awkward, humdrum fellow. If it wasn't for Mary's sake--"

"Ah, to be sure!" cried Edward Arundel. "You're not going to forget all
about--Miss Marchmont!" He was going to say "little Mary," but had
checked himself abruptly at the sudden recollection of the earnest
hazel eyes that had kept wondering watch upon his ravages at the
breakfast-table. "I'm sure Miss Marchmont's born to be an heiress. I
never saw such a little princess."

"What!" demanded John Marchmont sadly, "in a darned pinafore and a
threadbare frock?"

The boy's face flushed, almost indignantly, as his old master said
this.

"You don't think I'm such a snob as to admire a lady"--he spoke thus of
Miss Mary Marchmont, yet midway between her eighth and ninth
birthday--"the less because she isn't rich? But of course your daughter
will have the fortune by-and-by, even if--"

He stopped, ashamed of his want of tact; for he knew John would divine
the meaning of that sudden pause.

"Even if I should die before Philip Marchmont," the teacher of
mathematics answered, quietly. "As far as that goes, Mary's chance is
as remote as my own. The fortune can only come to her in the event of
Arthur dying without issue, or, having issue, failing to cut off the
entail, I believe they call it."

"Arthur! that's the son of the present possessor?"

"Yes. If I and my poor little girl, who is delicate like her mother,
should die before either of these three men, there is another who will
stand in my shoes, and will look out perhaps more eagerly than I have
done for his chances of getting the property."

"Another!" exclaimed Mr. Arundel. "By Jove, Marchmont, it's the most
complicated affair I ever heard of. It's worse than those sums you used
to set me in barter: 'If A. sells B. 999 Stilton cheeses at 9 1/2_d_ a
pound,' and all that sort of thing, you know. Do make me understand it,
old fellow, if you can."

John Marchmont sighed.

"It's a wearisome story, Arundel," he said. "I don't know why I should
bore you with it."

"But you don't bore me with it," cried the boy energetically. "I'm
awfully interested in it, you know; and I could walk up and down here
all day talking about it."

The two gentlemen had passed the Surrey toll-gate of Waterloo Bridge by
this time. The South-Western Terminus had not been built in the year
'38, and the bridge was about the quietest thoroughfare any two
companions confidentially inclined could have chosen. The shareholders
knew this, to their cost.

Perhaps Mr. Marchmont might have been beguiled into repeating the old
story, which he had told so often in the dim firelight to his little
girl; but the great clock of St. Paul's boomed forth the twelve
ponderous strokes that told the hour of noon, and a hundred other
steeples upon either side of the water made themselves clamorous with
the same announcement.

"I must leave you, Arundel," the supernumerary said hurriedly; he had
just remembered that it was time for him to go and be browbeaten by a
truculent stage-manager. "God bless you, my dear boy! It was very good
of you to want to see me, and the sight of your fresh face has made me
very happy. I _should_ like you to understand all about the
Lincolnshire property. God knows there's small chance of its ever
coming to me or to my child; but when I am dead and gone, Mary will be
left alone in the world, and it would be some comfort to me to know
that she was not without _one_ friend--generous and disinterested like
you, Arundel,--who, if the chance _did_ come, would see her righted."

"And so I would," cried the boy eagerly. His face flushed, and his eyes
fired. He was a preux chevalier already, in thought, going forth to do
battle for a hazel-eyed mistress.

"I'll _write_ the story, Arundel," John Marchmont said; "I've no time
to tell it, and you mightn't remember it either. Once more, good-bye;
once more, God bless you!"

"Stop!" exclaimed Edward Arundel, flushing a deeper red than
before,--he had a very boyish habit of blushing,--"stop, dear old boy.
You must borrow this of me, please. I've lots of them. I should only
spend it on all sorts of bilious things; or stop out late and get
tipsy. You shall pay me with interest when you get Marchmont Towers. I
shall come and see you again soon. Good-bye."

The lad forced some crumpled scrap of paper into his old tutor's hand,
bolted through the toll-bar, and jumped into a cabriolet, whose
high-stepping charger was dawdling along Lancaster Place.

The supernumerary hurried on to Drury Lane as fast as his weak legs
could carry him. He was obliged to wait for a pause in the rehearsal
before he could find an opportunity of looking at the parting gift
which his old pupil had forced upon him. It was a crumpled and rather
dirty five-pound note, wrapped round two half-crowns, a shilling, and
half-a-sovereign.

The boy had given his friend the last remnant of his slender stock of
pocket-money. John Marchmont turned his face to the dark wing that
sheltered him, and wept silently. He was of a gentle and rather womanly
disposition, be it remembered; and he was in that weak state of health
in which a man's eyes are apt to moisten, in spite of himself, under
the influence of any unwonted emotion.

He employed a part of that afternoon in writing the letter which he had
promised to send to his boyish friend:--

"MY DEAR ARUNDEL,

"My purpose in writing to you to-day is so entirely connected with the
future welfare of my beloved and only child, that I shall carefully
abstain from any subject not connected with her interests. I say
nothing, therefore, respecting your conduct of this morning, which,
together with my previous knowledge of your character, has decided me
upon confiding to you the doubts and fears which have long tormented me
upon the subject of my darling's future.

"I am a doomed man, Arundel! The doctors have told me this; but they
have told me also that, though I can never escape the sentence of death
which was passed upon me long ago, I may live for some years if I live
the careful life which only a rich man can lead. If I go on carrying
banners and breathing sulphur, I cannot last long. My little girl will
be left penniless, but not quite friendless; for there are humble
people, relatives of her poor mother, who would help her kindly, I am
sure, in their own humble way. The trials which I fear for my orphan
girl are not so much the trials of poverty as the dangers of wealth. If
the three men who, on my death, would alone stand between Mary and the
Lincolnshire property die childless, my poor darling will become the
only obstacle in the pathway of a man whom, I will freely own to you, I
distrust.

"My father, John Marchmont, was the third of four brothers. The eldest,
Philip, died leaving one son, also called Philip, and the present
possessor of Marchmont Towers. The second, Marmaduke, is still alive, a
bachelor. The third, John, left four children, of whom I alone survive.
The fourth, Paul, left a son and two daughters. The son is an artist,
exercising his profession now in London; one of the daughters is
married to a parish surgeon, who practises at Stanfield, in
Lincolnshire; the other is an old maid, and entirely dependent upon her
brother.

"It is this man, Paul Marchmont the artist, whom I fear.

"Do not think me weak, or foolishly suspicious, Arundel, when I tell
you that the very thought of this man brings the cold sweat upon my
forehead, and seems to stop the beating of my heart. I know that this
is a prejudice, and an unworthy one. I do not believe Paul Marchmont is
a good man; but I can assign no sufficient reason for my hatred and
terror of him. It is impossible for you, a frank and careless boy, to
realise the feelings of a man who looks at his only child, and
remembers that she may soon be left, helpless and defenceless, to fight
the battle of life with a bad man. Sometimes I pray to God that the
Marchmont property may never come to my child after my death; for I
cannot rid myself of the thought--may Heaven forgive me for its
unworthiness!--that Paul Marchmont would leave no means untried,
however foul, to wrest the fortune from her. I dare say worldly people
would laugh at me for writing this letter to you, my dear Arundel; but
I address myself to the best friend I have,--the only creature I know
whom the influence of a bad man is never likely to corrupt. _Noblesse
oblige!_ I am not afraid that Edward Dangerfield Arundel will betray
any trust, however foolish, that may have been confided to him.

"Perhaps, in writing to you thus, I may feel something of that blind
hopefulness--amid the shipwreck of all that commonly gives birth to
hope--which the mariner cast away upon some desert island feels, when
he seals his simple story in a bottle, and launches it upon the waste
of waters that close him in on every side. Before my little girl is
four years older, you will be a man, Arundel--with a man's intellect, a
man's courage, and, above all, a man's keen sense of honour. So long as
my darling remains poor, her humble friends will be strong enough to
protect her; but if ever Providence should think fit to place her in a
position of antagonism to Paul Marchmont,--for he would look upon any
one as an enemy who stood between him and fortune,--she would need a
far more powerful protector than any she could find amongst her poor
mother's relatives. Will _you_ be that protector, Edward Arundel? I am
a drowning man, you see, and catch at the frailest straw that floats
past me. I believe in you, Edward, as much as I distrust Paul
Marchmont. If the day ever comes in which my little girl should have to
struggle with this man, will you help her to fight the battle? It will
not be an easy one.

"Subjoined to this letter I send you an extract from the copy of my
grandfather's will, which will explain to you how he left his property.
Do not lose either the letter or the extract. If you are willing to
undertake the trust which I confide to you to-day, you may have need to
refer to them after my death. The legacy of a child's helplessness is
the only bequest which I can leave to the only friend I have.

"JOHN MARCHMONT.

"27, OAKLEY STREET, LAMBETH,

"_December_ 30_th_, 1838.

 * * * * *

"EXTRACT FROM THE WILL OF PHILIP MARCHMONT, SENIOR, OF MARCHMONT
TOWERS.

"'I give and devise all that my estate known as Marchmont Towers and
appurtenances thereto belonging to the use of my eldest son Philip
Marchmont during his natural life without impeachment of waste and from
and after his decease then to the use of my grandson Philip the first
son of my said son Philip during the term of his natural life without
impeachment of waste and after the decease of my said grandson Philip
to the use of the first and every other son of my said grandson
severally and successively according to their respective seniority in
tail and for default of such issue to the use of all and every the
daughters and daughter of my said grandson Philip as tenants in common
in tail with cross remainders between or amongst them in tail and if
all the daughters of my said grandson Philip except one shall die
without issue or if there shall be but one such daughter then to the
use of such one or only daughter in tail and in default of such issue
then to the use of the second and every other son of my said eldest son
severally and successively according to his respective seniority in
tail and in default of such issue to the use of all and every the
daughters and daughter of my said eldest son Philip as tenants in
common in tail with cross remainders between or amongst them in tail
and in default of such issue to the use of my second son Marmaduke and
his assigns during the term of his natural life without impeachment of
waste and after his decease to the use of the first and every son of my
said son Marmaduke severally and successively according to their
respective seniorities in tail and for default of such issue to the use
of all and every the daughters and daughter of my said son Marmaduke as
tenants in common in tail with cross remainders between or amongst them
in tail and if all the daughters of my said son Marmaduke except one
shall die without issue or if there shall be but one such daughter then
to the use of such one or only daughter in tail and in default of such
issue then to the use of my third son John during the term of his
natural life without impeachment of waste and from and after his
decease then to the use of my grandson John the first son of my said
son John during the term of his natural life without impeachment of
waste and after the decease of my said grandson John to the use of the
first and every other son of my said grandson John severally and
successively according to their respective seniority in tail and for
default of such issue to the use of all and every the daughters and
daughter of my said grandson John as tenants in common in tail with
cross remainders between or among them in tail and if all the daughters
of my said grandson John except one shall die without issue or if there
shall be but one such daughter' [_This, you will see, is my little
Mary_] 'then to the use of such one or only daughter in tail and in
default of such issue then to the use of the second and every other son
of my said third son John severally and successively according to his
respective seniority in tail and in default of such issue to the use of
all and every the daughters and daughter of my said third son John as
tenants in common in tail with cross remainders between or amongst them
in tail and in default of such issue to the use of my fourth son Paul
during the term of his natural life without impeachment of waste and
from and after his decease then to the use of my grandson Paul the son
of my said son Paul during his natural life without impeachment of
waste and after the decease of my said grandson Paul to the use of the
first and every other son of my said grandson severally and
successively according to their respective seniority in tail and for
default of such issue to the use of all and every the daughters and
daughter of my said grandson Paul as tenants in common in tail with
cross remainders between or amongst them in tail and if all the
daughters of my said grandson Paul except one shall die without issue
or if there shall be but one such daughter then to the use of such one
or only daughter in tail and in default of such issue then to the use
of the second and every other son of my said fourth son Paul severally
and successively according to his respective seniority in tail and in
default of such issue to the use of all and every the daughters and
daughter of my said fourth son Paul as tenants in common in tail with
cross remainders between or amongst them in tail,' &c. &c.

"P.S.--Then comes what the lawyers call a general devise to trustees,
to preserve the contingent remainders before devised from being
destroyed; but what that means, perhaps you can get somebody to tell
you. I hope it may be some legal jargon to preserve my _very_
contingent remainder."

 * * * * *

The tone of Edward Arundel's answer to this letter was more
characteristic of the writer than in harmony with poor John's solemn
appeal.

"You dear, foolish old Marchmont," the lad wrote, "of course I shall
take care of Miss Mary; and my mother shall adopt her, and she shall
live at Dangerfield, and be educated with my sister Letitia, who has
the jolliest French governess, and a German maid for conversation; and
don't let Paul Marchmont try on any of his games with me, that's all!
But what do you mean, you ridiculous old boy, by talking about dying,
and drowning, and shipwrecked mariners, and catching at straws, and all
that sort of humbug, when you know very well that you'll live to
inherit the Lincolnshire property, and that I'm coming to you every
year to shoot, and that you're going to build a tennis-court,--of
course there _is_ a billiard-room,--and that you're going to have a
stud of hunters, and be master of the hounds, and no end of bricks to

"Your ever devoted Roman countryman and lover,

"EDGARDO?

"42, MONTAGUE SQUARE,

"_December_ 3l_st_, 1838.

"P.S.--By-the-bye, don't you think a situation in a lawyer's office
would suit you better than the T. R. D. L.? If you do, I think I could
manage it. A happy new year to Miss Mary!"

 * * * * *

It was thus that Mr. Edward Arundel accepted the solemn trust which his
friend confided to him in all simplicity and good faith. Mary Marchmont
herself was not more innocent in the ways of the world outside Oakley
Street, the Waterloo Road, and the New Cut, than was the little girl's
father; nothing seemed more natural to him than to intrust the doubtful
future of his only child to the bright-faced handsome boy, whose early
boyhood had been unblemished by a mean sentiment or a dishonourable
action. John Marchmont had spent three years in the Berkshire Academy
at which Edward and his cousin, Martin Mostyn, had been educated; and
young Arundel, who was far behind his kinsman in the comprehension of a
problem in algebra, had been wise enough to recognise that paradox
which Martin Mostyn could not understand--a gentleman in a shabby coat.
It was thus that a friendship had arisen between the teacher of
mathematics and his handsome pupil; and it was thus that an unreasoning
belief in Edward Arundel had sprung up in John's simple mind.

"If my little girl were certain of inheriting the fortune," Mr.
Marchmont thought, "I might find many who would be glad to accept my
trust, and to serve her well and faithfully. But the chance is such a
remote one. I cannot forget how the Jews laughed at me two years ago,
when I tried to borrow money upon my reversionary interest. No! I must
trust this brave-hearted boy, for I have no one else to confide in; and
who else is there who would not ridicule my fear of my cousin Paul?"

Indeed, Mr. Marchmont had some reason to be considerably ashamed of his
antipathy to the young artist working for his bread, and for the bread
of his invalid mother and unmarried sister, in that bitter winter of
'38; working patiently and hopefully, in despite of all discouragement,
and content to live a joyless and monotonous life in a dingy lodging
near Fitzroy Square. I can find no excuse for John Marchmont's
prejudice against an industrious and indefatigable young man, who was
the sole support of two helpless women. Heaven knows, if to be adored
by two women is any evidence of a man's virtue, Paul must have been the
best of men; for Stephanie Marchmont, and her daughter Clarisse,
regarded the artist with a reverential idolatry that was not without a
tinge of romance. I can assign no reason, then, for John's dislike of
his cousin. They had been schoolfellows at a wretched suburban school,
where the children of poor people were boarded, lodged, and educated
all the year round for a pitiful stipend of something under twenty
pounds. One of the special points of the prospectus was the
announcement that there were no holidays; for the jovial Christmas
gatherings of merry faces, which are so delightful to the wealthy
citizens of Bloomsbury or Tyburnia, take another complexion in
poverty-stricken households, whose scantily-stocked larders can ill
support the raids of rawboned lads clamorous for provender. The two
boys had met at a school of this calibre, and had never met since. They
may not have been the best friends, perhaps, at the classical academy;
but their quarrels were by no means desperate. They may have rather
freely discussed their several chances of the Lincolnshire property;
but I have no romantic story to tell of a stirring scene in the humble
schoolroom--no exciting record of deadly insult and deep vows of
vengeance. No inkstand was ever flung by one boy into the face of the
other; no savage blow from a horsewhip ever cut a fatal scar across the
brow of either of the cousins. John Marchmont would have been almost as
puzzled to account for his objection to his kinsman, as was the
nameless gentleman who so naïvely confessed his dislike of Dr. Fell. I
fear that a great many of our likings and dislikings are too apt to be
upon the Dr. Fell principle. Mr. Wilkie Collins's Basil could not tell
_why_ he fell madly in love with the lady whom it was his evil fortune
to meet in an omnibus; nor why he entertained an uncomfortable feeling
about the gentleman who was to be her destroyer. David Copperfield
disliked Uriah Heep even before he had any substantial reason for
objecting to the evil genius of Agnes Wickfield's father. The boy
disliked the snake-like schemer of Canterbury because his eyes were
round and red, and his hands clammy and unpleasant to the touch.
Perhaps John Marchmont's reasons for his aversion to his cousin were
about as substantial as those of Master Copperfield. It may be that the
schoolboy disliked his comrade because Paul Marchmont's handsome grey
eyes were a little too near together; because his thin and delicately
chiselled lips were a thought too tightly compressed; because his
cheeks would fade to an awful corpse-like whiteness under circumstances
which would have brought the rushing life-blood, hot and red, into
another boy's face; because he was silent and suppressed when it would
have been more natural to be loud and clamorous; because he could smile
under provocations that would have made another frown; because, in
short, there was that about him which, let it be found where it will,
always gives birth to suspicion,--MYSTERY!

So the cousins had parted, neither friends nor foes, to tread their
separate roads in the unknown country, which is apt to seem barren and
desolate enough to travellers who foot it in hobnailed boots
considerably the worse for wear; and as the iron hand of poverty held
John Marchmont even further back than Paul upon the hard road which
each had to tread, the quiet pride of the teacher of mathematics most
effectually kept him out of his kinsman's way. He had only heard enough
of Paul to know that he was living in London, and working hard for a
living; working as hard as John himself, perhaps; but at least able to
keep afloat in a higher social position than the law-stationer's hack
and the banner-holder of Drury Lane.

But Edward Arundel did not forget his friends in Oakley Street. The boy
made a morning call upon his father's solicitors, Messrs. Paulette,
Paulette, and Mathewson, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, and was so extremely
eloquent in his needy friend's cause, as to provoke the good-natured
laughter of one of the junior partners, who declared that Mr. Edward
Arundel ought to wear a silk gown before he was thirty. The result of
this interview was, that before the first month of the new year was
out, John Marchmont had abandoned the classic banner and the demoniac
mask to a fortunate successor, and had taken possession of a
hard-seated, slim-legged stool in one of the offices of Messrs.
Paulette, Paulette, and Mathewson, as copying and out-door clerk, at a
salary of thirty shillings a week.

So little Mary entered now upon a golden age, in which her evenings
were no longer desolate and lonely, but spent pleasantly with her
father in the study of such learning as was suited to her years, or
perhaps rather to her capacity, which was far beyond her years; and on
certain delicious nights, to be remembered ever afterwards, John
Marchmont took his little girl to the gallery of one or other of the
transpontine theatres; and I am sorry to say that my heroine--for she
is to be my heroine by-and-by--sucked oranges, ate Abernethy biscuits,
and cooled her delicate nose against the iron railing of the gallery,
after the manner of the masses when they enjoy the British Drama.

But all this time John Marchmont was utterly ignorant of one rather
important fact in the history of those three lives which he was apt to
speak of as standing between him and Marchmont Towers. Young Arthur
Marchmont, the immediate heir of the estate, had been shot to death
upon the 1st of September, 1838, without blame to anyone or anything
but his own boyish carelessness, which had induced him to scramble
through a hedge with his fowling-piece, the costly present of a doating
father, loaded and on full-cock. This melancholy event, which had been
briefly recorded in all the newspapers, had never reached the knowledge
of poor John Marchmont, who had no friends to busy themselves about his
interests, or to rush eagerly to carry him any intelligence affecting
his prosperity. Nor had he read the obituary notice respecting
Marmaduke Marchmont, the bachelor, who had breathed his last stertorous
breath in a fit of apoplexy exactly one twelvemonth before the day upon
which Edward Arundel breakfasted in Oakley Street.



CHAPTER IV.

GOING AWAY.


Edward Arundel went from Montague Square straight into the household of
the private tutor of whom he had spoken, there to complete his
education, and to be prepared for the onerous duties of a military
life. From the household of this private tutor he went at once into a
cavalry regiment; after sundry examinations, which were not nearly so
stringent in the year one thousand eight hundred and forty, as they
have since become. Indeed, I think the unfortunate young cadets who are
educated upon the high-pressure system, and who are expected to give a
synopsis of Portuguese political intrigue during the eighteenth
century, a scientific account of the currents of the Red Sea, and a
critical disquisition upon the comedies of Aristophanes as compared
with those of Pedro Calderon de la Barca, not forgetting to glance at
the effect of different ages and nationalities upon the respective
minds of the two playwrights, within a given period of, say
half-an-hour,--would have envied Mr. Arundel for the easy manner in
which he obtained his commission in a distinguished cavalry regiment.
Mr. Edward Arundel therefore inaugurated the commencement of the year
1840 by plunging very deeply into the books of a crack military-tailor
in New Burlington Street, and by a visit to Dangerfield Park; where he
went to make his adieux before sailing for India, whither his regiment
had just been ordered.

I do not doubt that Mrs Arundel was very sorrowful at this sudden
parting with her yellow-haired younger son. The boy and his mother
walked together in the wintry sunset under the leafless beeches at
Dangerfield, and talked of the dreary voyage that lay before the lad;
the arid plains and cruel jungles far away; perils by sea and perils by
land; but across them all, Fame waving her white beckoning arms to the
young soldier, and crying, "Come, conqueror that shall be! come,
through trial and danger, through fever and famine,--come to your rest
upon my bloodstained lap!" Surely this boy, being only just eighteen
years of age, may be forgiven if he is a little romantic, a little over
eager and impressionable, a little too confident that the next thing to
going out to India as a sea-sick subaltern in a great transport-ship is
coming home with the reputation of a Clive. Perhaps he may be forgiven,
too, if, in his fresh enthusiasm, he sometimes forgot the shabby friend
whom he had helped little better than a twelvemonth before, and the
earnest hazel eyes that had shone upon him in the pitiful Oakley Street
chamber. I do not say that he was utterly unmindful of his old teacher
of mathematics. It was not in his nature to forget anyone who had need
of his services; for this boy, so eager to be a soldier, was of the
chivalrous temperament, and would have gone out to die for his
mistress, or his friend, if need had been. He had received two or three
grateful letters from John Marchmont; and in these letters the lawyer's
clerk had spoken pleasantly of his new life, and hopefully of his
health, which had improved considerably, he said, since his resignation
of the tragic banner and the pantomimic mask. Neither had Edward quite
forgotten his promise of enlisting Mrs. Arundel's sympathies in aid of
the motherless little girl. In one of these wintry walks beneath the
black branches at Dangerfield, the lad had told the sorrowful story of
his well-born tutor's poverty and humiliation.

"Only think, mother!" he cried at the end of the little history. "I saw
the poor fellow carrying a great calico flag, and marching about at the
heel of a procession, to be laughed at by the costermongers in the
gallery; and I know that he belongs to a capital Lincolnshire family,
and will come in for no end of money if he only lives long enough. But
if he should die, mother, and leave his little girl destitute, you'll
look after her, won't you?"

I don't know whether Mrs. Arundel quite entered into her son's ideas
upon the subject of adopting Mary Marchmont, or whether she had any
definite notion of bringing the little girl home to Dangerfield for the
natural term of her life, in the event of the child being left an
orphan. But she was a kind and charitable lady, and she scarcely cared
to damp her boy's spirits by holding forth upon the doubtful wisdom of
his adopting, or promising to adopt, any stray orphans who might cross
his pathway.

"I hope the little girl may not lose her father, Edward," she said
gently. "Besides, dear, you say that Mr. Marchmont tells you he has
humble friends, who would take the child if anything happened to him.
He does not wish us to adopt the little girl; he only asks us to
interest ourselves in her fate."

"And you will do that, mother darling?" cried the boy. "You will take
an interest in her, won't you? You couldn't help doing so, if you were
to see her. She's not like a child, you know,--not a bit like Letitia.
She's as grave and quiet as you are, mother,--or graver, I think; and
she looks like a lady, in spite of her poor, shabby pinafore and
frock."

"Does she wear shabby frocks?" said the mother. "I could help her in
that matter, at all events, Ned. I might send her a great trunk-full of
Letitia's things: she outgrows them before they have been worn long
enough to be shabby."

The boy coloured, and shook his head.

"It's very kind of you to think of it, mother dear; but I don't think
that would quite answer," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because, you see, John Marchmont is a gentleman; and, you know, though
he's so dreadfully poor now, he _is_ heir to Marchmont Towers. And
though he didn't mind doing any thing in the world to earn a few
shillings a week, he mightn't like to take cast-off clothes."

So nothing more was to be said or done upon the subject.

Edward Arundel wrote his humble friend a pleasant letter, in which he
told John that he had enlisted his mother's sympathy in Mary's cause,
and in which he spoke in very glowing terms of the Indian expedition
that lay before him.

"I wish I could come to say good-bye to you and Miss Mary before I go,"
he wrote; "but that's impossible. I go straight from here to
Southampton by coach at the end of this month, and the _Auckland_ sails
on the 2nd of February. Tell Miss Mary I shall bring her home all kinds
of pretty presents from Affghanistan,--ivory fans, and Cashmere shawls,
and Chinese puzzles, and embroidered slippers with turned-up toes, and
diamonds, and attar-of-roses, and suchlike; and remember that I expect
you to write to me, and to give me the earliest news of your coming
into the Lincolnshire property."

John Marchmont received this letter in the middle of January. He gave a
despondent sigh as he refolded the boyish epistle, after reading it to
his little girl.

"We haven't so many friends, Polly," he said, "that we should be
indifferent to the loss of this one."

Mary Marchmont's cheek grew paler at her father's sorrowful speech.
That imaginative temperament, which was, as I have said, almost morbid
in its intensity, presented every object to the little girl in a light
in which things are looked at by very few children. Only these few
words, and her fancy roamed far away to that cruel land whose perils
her father had described to her. Only these few words, and she was away
in the rocky Bolan Pass, under hurricanes of drifting snow; she saw the
hungry soldiers fighting with savage dogs for the possession of foul
carrion. She had heard all the perils and difficulties which had
befallen the Army of the Indus in the year '39, and the womanly heart
ached with the pain of those cruel memories.

"He will go to India and be killed, papa dear," she said. "Oh! why, why
do they let him go? His mother can't love him, can she? She would never
let him go, if she did."

John Marchmont was obliged to explain to his daughter that motherly
love must not go so far as to deprive a nation of its defenders; and
that the richest jewels which Cornelia can give to her country are
those ruby life-drops which flow from the hearts of her bravest and
brightest sons. Mary was no political economist; she could not reason
upon the necessity of chastising Persian insolence, or checking Russian
encroachments upon the far-away shores of the Indus. Was Edward
Arundel's bright head, with its aureola of yellow hair, to be cloven
asunder by an Affghan renegade's sabre, because the young Shah of
Persia had been contumacious?

Mary Marchmont wept silently that day over a three-volume novel, while
her father was away serving writs upon wretched insolvents, in his
capacity of out-door clerk to Messrs. Paulette, Paulette, and
Mathewson.

The young lady no longer spent her quiet days in the two-pair back. Mr.
Marchmont and his daughter had remained faithful to Oakley Street and
the proprietress of the ladies' wardrobe, who was a good, motherly
creature; but they had descended to the grandeur of the first floor,
whose gorgeous decorations Mary had glanced at furtively in the days
gone by, when the splendid chambers were occupied by an elderly and
reprobate commission-agent, who seemed utterly indifferent to the
delights of a convex mirror, surmounted by a maimed eagle, whose
dignity was somewhat impaired by the loss of a wing; but which bijou
appeared, to Mary, to be a fitting adornment for the young Queen's
palace in St. James's Park.

But neither the eagle nor the third volume of a thrilling romance could
comfort Mary upon this bleak January day. She shut her book, and stood
by the window, looking out into the dreary street, that seemed so
blotted and dim under the falling snow.

"It snowed in the Pass of Bolan," she thought; "and the treacherous
Indians harassed the brave soldiers, and killed their camels. What will
become of him in that dreadful country? Shall we ever see him again?"

Yes, Mary, to your sorrow! Indian scimitars will let him go scatheless;
famine and fever will pass him by; but the hand which points to that
far-away day on which you and he are to meet, will never fail or falter
in its purpose until the hour of your meeting comes.

 * * * * *

We have no need to dwell upon the preparations which were made for the
young soldier's departure from home, nor on the tender farewells
between the mother and her son.

Mr. Arundel was a country gentleman _pur et simple_; a hearty,
broad-shouldered squire, who had no thought above his farm and his
dog-kennel, or the hunting of the red deer with which his neighbourhood
abounded. He sent his younger son to India as coolly as he had sent the
elder to Oxford. The boy had little to inherit, and must be provided
for in a gentlemanly manner. Other younger sons of the House of Arundel
had fought and conquered in the Honourable East India Company's
service; and was Edward any better than they, that there should be
sentimental whining because the lad was going away to fight his way to
fortune, if he could? Mr. Arundel went even further than this, and
declared that Master Edward was a lucky dog to be going out at such a
time, when there was plenty of fighting, and a very fair chance of
speedy promotion for a good soldier.

He gave the young cadet his blessing, reminded him of the limit of such
supplies as he was to expect from home, bade him keep clear of the
brandy-bottle and the dice-box; and having done this, believed that he
had performed his duty as an Englishman and a father.

If Mrs. Arundel wept, she wept in secret, loth to discourage her son by
the sight of those natural, womanly tears. If Miss Letitia Arundel was
sorry to lose her brother, she mourned with most praiseworthy
discretion, and did not forget to remind the young traveller that she
expected to receive a muslin frock, embroidered with beetle-wings, by
an early mail. And as Algernon Fairfax Dangerfield Arundel, the heir,
was away at college, there was no one else to mourn. So Edward left the
home of his forefathers by a branch-coach, which started from the
"Arundel Arms" in time to meet the "Telegraph" at Exeter; and no noisy
lamentations shook the sky above Dangerfield Park--no mourning voices
echoed through the spacious rooms. The old servants were sorry to lose
the younger-born, whose easy, genial temperament had made him an
especial favourite; but there was a certain admixture of joviality with
their sorrow, as there generally is with all mourning in the basement;
and the strong ale, the famous Dangerfield October, went faster upon
that 31st of January than on any day since Christmas.

I doubt if any one at Dangerfield Park sorrowed as bitterly for the
departure of the boyish soldier as a romantic young lady, of nine years
old, in Oakley Street, Lambeth; whose one sentimental
day-dream--half-childish, half-womanly--owned Edward Arundel as its
centre figure.

So the curtain falls on the picture of a brave ship sailing eastward,
her white canvas strained against the cold grey February sky, and a
little girl weeping over the tattered pages of a stupid novel in a
shabby London lodging.



CHAPTER V.

MARCHMONT TOWERS.


There is a lapse of three years and a half between the acts; and the
curtain rises to reveal a widely-different picture:--the picture of a
noble mansion in the flat Lincolnshire country; a stately pile of
building, standing proudly forth against a background of black
woodland; a noble building, supported upon either side by an octagon
tower, whose solid masonry is half-hidden by the ivy which clings about
the stonework, trailing here and there, and flapping restlessly with
every breath of wind against the narrow casements.

A broad stone terrace stretches the entire length of the grim façade,
from tower to tower; and three flights of steps lead from the terrace
to the broad lawn, which loses itself in a vast grassy flat, only
broken by a few clumps of trees and a dismal pool of black water, but
called by courtesy a park. Grim stone griffins surmount the
terrace-steps, and griffins' heads and other architectural
monstrosities, worn and moss-grown, keep watch and ward over every door
and window, every archway and abutment--frowning threat and defiance
upon the daring visitor who approaches the great house by this, the
formidable chief entrance.

The mansion looks westward: but there is another approach, a low
archway on the southern side, which leads into a quadrangle, where
there is a quaint little door under a stone portico, ivy-covered like
the rest; a comfortable little door of massive oak, studded with knobs
of rusty iron,--a door generally affected by visitors familiar with the
house.

This is Marchmont Towers,--a grand and stately mansion, which had been
a monastery in the days when England and the Pope were friends and
allies; and which had been bestowed upon Hugh Marchmont, gentleman, by
his Sovereign Lord and Most Christian Majesty the King Henry VIII, of
blessed memory, and by that gentleman-commoner extended and improved at
considerable outlay. This is Marchmont Towers,--a splendid and a
princely habitation truly, but perhaps scarcely the kind of dwelling
one would choose for the holy resting-place we call home. The great
mansion is a little too dismal in its lonely grandeur: it lacks shelter
when the dreary winds come sweeping across the grassy flats in the
bleak winter weather; it lacks shade when the western sun blazes on
every window-pane in the stifling summer evening. It is at all times
rather too stony in its aspect; and is apt to remind one almost
painfully of every weird and sorrowful story treasured in the
storehouse of memory. Ancient tales of enchantment, dark German
legends, wild Scottish fancies, grim fragments of half-forgotten
demonology, strange stories of murder, violence, mystery, and wrong,
vaguely intermingle in the stranger's mind as he looks, for the first
time, at Marchmont Towers.

But of course these feelings wear off in time. So invincible is the
power of custom, that we might make ourselves comfortable in the Castle
of Otranto, after a reasonable sojourn within its mysterious walls:
familiarity would breed contempt for the giant helmet, and all the
other grim apparitions of the haunted dwelling. The commonplace and
ignoble wants of every-day life must surely bring disenchantment with
them. The ghost and the butcher's boy cannot well exist
contemporaneously; and the avenging shade can scarcely continue to lurk
beneath the portal which is visited by the matutinal milkman. Indeed,
this is doubtless the reason that the most restless and impatient
spirit, bent on early vengeance and immediate retribution, will yet
wait until the shades of night have fallen before he reveals himself,
rather than run the risk of an ignominious encounter with the postman
or the parlour-maid. Be it how it might, the phantoms of Marchmont
Towers were not intrusive. They may have perambulated the long
tapestried corridors, the tenantless chambers, the broad black
staircase of shining oak; but, happily, no dweller in the mansion was
ever scared by the sight of their pale faces. All the dead-and-gone
beauties, and soldiers, and lawyers, and parsons, and simple
country-squires of the Marchmont race may have descended from their
picture-frames to hold a witches' sabbath in the old mansion; but as
the Lincolnshire servants were hearty eaters and heavy sleepers, the
ghosts had it all to themselves. I believe there was one dismal story
attached to the house,--the story of a Marchmont of the time of Charles
I, who had murdered his coachman in a fit of insensate rage; and it was
even asserted, upon the authority of an old housekeeper, that John
Marchmont's grandmother, when a young woman and lately come as a bride
to the Towers, had beheld the murdered coachman stalk into her chamber,
ghastly and blood-bedabbled, in the dim summer twilight. But as this
story was not particularly romantic, and possessed none of the elements
likely to insure popularity,--such as love, jealousy, revenge, mystery,
youth, and beauty,--it had never been very widely disseminated.

I should think that the new owner of Marchmont Towers--new within the
last six months--was about the last person in Christendom to be
hypercritical, or to raise fanciful objections to his dwelling; for
inasmuch as he had come straight from a wretched transpontine lodging
to this splendid Lincolnshire mansion, and had at the same time
exchanged a stipend of thirty shillings a week for an income of eleven
thousand a year (derivable from lands that spread far away, over fenny
flats and low-lying farms, to the solitary seashore), he had ample
reason to be grateful to Providence, and well pleased with his new
abode.

Yes; Philip Marchmont, the childless widower, had died six months
before, at the close of the year '43, of a broken heart,--his old
servants said, broken by the loss of his only and idolised son; after
which loss he had never been known to smile. He was one of those
undemonstrative men who can take a great sorrow quietly, and only--die
of it. Philip Marchmont lay in a velvet-covered coffin, above his
son's, in the stone recess set apart for them in the Marchmont vault
beneath Kemberling Church, three miles from the Towers; and John
reigned in his stead. John Marchmont, the supernumerary, the
banner-holder of Drury Lane, the patient, conscientious copying and
outdoor clerk of Lincoln's Inn, was now sole owner of the Lincolnshire
estate, sole master of a household of well-trained old servants, sole
proprietor of a very decent country-gentleman's stud, and of chariots,
barouches, chaises, phaetons, and other vehicles--a little shabby and
out of date it may be, but very comfortable to a man for whom an
omnibus ride had long been a treat and a rarity. Nothing had been
touched or disturbed since Philip Marchmont's death. The rooms he had
used were still the occupied apartments; the chambers he had chosen to
shut up were still kept with locked doors; the servants who had served
him waited upon his successor, whom they declared to be a quiet, easy
gentleman, far too wise to interfere with old servants, every one of
whom knew the ways of the house a great deal better than he did, though
he was the master of it.

There was, therefore, no shadow of change in the stately mansion. The
dinner-bell still rang at the same hour; the same tradespeople left the
same species of wares at the low oaken door; the old housekeeper,
arranging her simple _menu_, planned her narrow round of soups and
roasts, sweets and made-dishes, exactly as she had been wont to do, and
had no new tastes to consult. A grey-haired bachelor, who had been
own-man to Philip, was now own-man to John. The carriage which had
conveyed the late lord every Sunday to morning and afternoon service at
Kemberling conveyed the new lord, who sat in the same seat that his
predecessor had occupied in the great family-pew, and read his prayers
out of the same book,--a noble crimson, morocco-covered volume, in
which George, our most gracious King and Governor, and all manner of
dead-and-gone princes and princesses were prayed for.

The presence of Mary Marchmont made the only change in the old house;
and even that change was a very trifling one. Mary and her father were
as closely united at Marchmont Towers as they had been in Oakley
Street. The little girl clung to her father as tenderly as ever--more
tenderly than ever perhaps; for she knew something of that which the
physicians had said, and she knew that John Marchmont's lease of life
was not a long one. Perhaps it would be better to say that he had no
lease at all. His soul was a tenant on sufferance in its frail earthly
habitation, receiving a respite now and again, when the flicker of the
lamp was very low--every chance breath of wind threatening to
extinguish it for ever. It was only those who knew John Marchmont very
intimately who were fully acquainted with the extent of his danger. He
no longer bore any of those fatal outward signs of consumption, which
fatigue and deprivation had once made painfully conspicuous. The hectic
flush and the unnatural brightness of the eyes had subsided; indeed,
John seemed much stronger and heartier than of old; and it is only
great medical practitioners who can tell to a nicety what is going on
_inside_ a man, when he presents a very fair exterior to the
unprofessional eye. But John was decidedly better than he had been. He
might live three years, five, seven, possibly even ten years; but he
must live the life of a man who holds himself perpetually upon his
defence against death; and he must recognise in every bleak current of
wind, in every chilling damp, or perilous heat, or over-exertion, or
ill-chosen morsel of food, or hasty emotion, or sudden passion, an
insidious ally of his dismal enemy.

Mary Marchmont knew all this,--or divined it, perhaps, rather than knew
it, with the child-woman's subtle power of divination, which is even
stronger than the actual woman's; for her father had done his best to
keep all sorrowful knowledge from her. She knew that he was in danger;
and she loved him all the more dearly, as the one precious thing which
was in constant peril of being snatched away. The child's love for her
father has not grown any less morbid in its intensity since Edward
Arundel's departure for India; nor has Mary become more childlike since
her coming to Marchmont Towers, and her abandonment of all those sordid
cares, those pitiful every-day duties, which had made her womanly.

It may be that the last lingering glamour of childhood had for ever
faded away with the realisation of the day-dream which she had carried
about with her so often in the dingy transpontine thoroughfares around
Oakley Street. Marchmont Towers, that fairy palace, whose lighted
windows had shone upon her far away across a cruel forest of poverty
and trouble, like the enchanted castle which appears to the lost
wanderer of the child's story, was now the home of the father she
loved. The grim enchanter Death, the only magician of our modern
histories, had waved his skeleton hand, more powerful than the
star-gemmed wand of any fairy godmother, and the obstacles which had
stood between John Marchmont and his inheritance had one by one been
swept away.

But was Marchmont Towers quite as beautiful as that fairy palace of
Mary's day-dream? No, not quite--not quite. The rooms were
handsome,--handsomer and larger, even, than the rooms she had dreamed
of; but perhaps none the better for that. They were grand and gloomy
and magnificent; but they were not the sunlit chambers which her fancy
had built up, and decorated with such shreds and patches of splendour
as her narrow experience enabled her to devise. Perhaps it was rather a
disappointment to Miss Marchmont to discover that the mansion was
completely furnished, and that there was no room in it for any of those
splendours which she had so often contemplated in the New Cut. The
parrot at the greengrocer's was a vulgar bird, and not by any means
admissible in Lincolnshire. The carrying away and providing for Mary's
favourite tradespeople was not practicable; and John Marchmont had
demurred to her proposal of adopting the butcher's daughter.

There is always something to be given up even when our brightest
visions are realised; there is always some one figure (a low one
perhaps) missing in the fullest sum of earthly happiness. I dare say if
Alnaschar had married the Vizier's daughter, he would have found her a
shrew, and would have looked back yearningly to the humble days in
which he had been an itinerant vendor of crockery-ware.

If, therefore, Mary Marchmont found her sunlit fancies not quite
realised by the great stony mansion that frowned upon the fenny
countryside, the wide grassy flat, the black pool, with its dismal
shelter of weird pollard-willows, whose ugly reflections, distorted on
the bosom of the quiet water, looked like the shadows of hump-backed
men;--if these things did not compose as beautiful a picture as that
which the little girl had carried so long in her mind, she had no more
reason to be sorry than the rest of us, and had been no more foolish
than other dreamers. I think she had built her airy castle too much
after the model of a last scene in a pantomime, and that she expected
to find spangled waters twinkling in perpetual sunshine, revolving
fountains, ever-expanding sunflowers, and gilded clouds of
rose-coloured gauze,--every thing except the fairies, in short,--at
Marchmont Towers. Well, the dream was over: and she was quite a woman
now, and very grateful to Providence when she remembered that her
father had no longer need to toil for his daily bread, and that he was
luxuriously lodged, and could have the first physicians in the land at
his beck and call.

"Oh, papa, it is so nice to be rich!" the young lady would exclaim now
and then, in a fleeting transport of enthusiasm. "How good we ought to
be to the poor people, when we remember how poor we once were!"

And the little girl did not forget to be good to the poor about
Kemberling and Marchmont Towers. There were plenty of poor, of
course--free-and-easy pensioners, who came to the Towers for brandy,
and wine, and milk, and woollen stuffs, and grocery, precisely as they
would have gone to a shop, except that there was to be no bill. The
housekeeper doled out her bounties with many short homilies upon the
depravity and ingratitude of the recipients, and gave tracts of an
awful and denunciatory nature to the pitiful petitioners--tracts
interrogatory, and tracts fiercely imperative; tracts that asked,
"Where are you going?" "Why are you wicked?" "What will become of you?"
and other tracts which cried, "Stop, and think!" "Pause, while there is
time!" "Sinner, consider!" "Evil-doer, beware!" Perhaps it may not be
the wisest possible plan to begin the work of reformation by
frightening, threatening, and otherwise disheartening the wretched
sinner to be reformed. There is a certain sermon in the New Testament,
containing sacred and comforting words which were spoken upon a
mountain near at hand to Jerusalem, and spoken to an auditory amongst
which there must have been many sinful creatures; but there is more of
blessing than cursing in that sublime discourse, and it might be rather
a tender father pleading gently with his wayward children than an
offended Deity dealing out denunciation upon a stubborn and refractory
race. But the authors of the tracts may have never read this sermon,
perhaps; and they may take their ideas of composition from that
comforting service which we read on Ash-Wednesday, cowering in fear and
trembling in our pews, and calling down curses upon ourselves and our
neighbours. Be it as it might, the tracts were not popular amongst the
pensioners of Marchmont Towers. They infinitely preferred to hear Mary
read a chapter in the New Testament, or some pretty patriarchal story
of primitive obedience and faith. The little girl would discourse upon
the Scripture histories in her simple, old-fashioned manner; and many a
stout Lincolnshire farm-labourer was content to sit over his hearth,
with a pipe of shag-tobacco and a mug of fettled beer, while Miss
Marchmont read and expounded the history of Abraham and Isaac, or
Joseph and his brethren.

"It's joost loike a story-book to hear her," the man would say to his
wife; "and yet she brings it all hoame, too, loike. If she reads about
Abraham, she'll say, maybe, 'That's joost how you gave your only son to
be a soldier, you know, Muster Moggins;'--she allus says Muster
Moggins;--'you gave un into God's hands, and you troosted God would
take care of un; and whatever cam' to un would be the best, even if it
was death.' That's what she'll say, bless her little heart! so gentle
and tender loike. The wust o' chaps couldn't but listen to her."

Mary Marchmont's morbidly sensitive nature adapted her to all
charitable offices. No chance word in her simple talk ever inflicted a
wound upon the listener. She had a subtle and intuitive comprehension
of other people's feelings, derived from the extreme susceptibility of
her own. She had never been vulgarised by the associations of poverty;
for her self-contained nature took no colour from the things that
surrounded her, and she was only at Marchmont Towers that which she had
been from the age of six--a little lady, grave and gentle, dignified,
discreet, and wise.

There was one bright figure missing out of the picture which Mary had
been wont of late years to make of the Lincolnshire mansion, and that
was the figure of the yellow-haired boy who had breakfasted upon
haddocks and hot rolls in Oakley Street. She had imagined Edward
Arundel an inhabitant of that fair Utopia. He would live with them; or,
if he could not live with them, he would be with them as a
visitor,--often--almost always. He would leave off being a soldier, for
of course her papa could give him more money than he could get by being
a soldier--(you see that Mary's experience of poverty had taught her to
take a mercantile and sordid view of military life)--and he would come
to Marchmont Towers, and ride, and drive, and play tennis (what was
tennis? she wondered), and read three-volume novels all day long. But
that part of the dream was at least broken. Marchmont Towers was Mary's
home, but the young soldier was far away; in the Pass of Bolan,
perhaps,--Mary had a picture of that cruel rocky pass almost always in
her mind,--or cutting his way through a black jungle, with the yellow
eyes of hungry tigers glaring out at him through the rank tropical
foliage; or dying of thirst and fever under a scorching sun, with no
better pillow than the neck of a dead camel, with no more tender
watcher than the impatient vulture flapping her wings above his head,
and waiting till he, too, should be carrion. What was the good of
wealth, if it could not bring this young soldier home to a safe shelter
in his native land? John Marchmont smiled when his daughter asked this
question, and implored her father to write to Edward Arundel, recalling
him to England.

"God knows how glad I should be to have the boy here, Polly!" John
said, as he drew his little girl closer to his breast,--she sat on his
knee still, though she was thirteen years of age. "But Edward has a
career before him, my dear, and could not give it up for an inglorious
life in this rambling old house. It isn't as if I could hold out any
inducement to him: you know, Polly, I can't; for I mustn't leave any
money away from my little girl."

"But he might have half my money, papa, or all of it," Mary added
piteously. "What could I do with money, if----?"

She didn't finish the sentence; she never could complete any such
sentence as this; but her father knew what she meant.

So six months had passed since a dreary January day upon which John
Marchmont had read, in the second column of the "Times," that he could
hear of something greatly to his advantage by applying to a certain
solicitor, whose offices were next door but one to those of Messrs.
Paulette, Paulette, and Mathewson's. His heart began to beat very
violently when he read that advertisement in the supplement, which it
was one of his duties to air before the fire in the clerks' office; but
he showed no other sign of emotion. He waited until he took the papers
to his employer; and as he laid them at Mr. Mathewson's elbow, murmured
a respectful request to be allowed to go out for half-an-hour, upon his
own business.

"Good gracious me, Marchmont!" cried the lawyer; "what can you want to
go out for at this time in the morning? You've only just come; and
there's that agreement between Higgs and Sandyman must be copied
before----"

"Yes, I know, sir. I'll be back in time to attend to it; but I--I think
I've come into a fortune, sir; and I should like to go and see about
it."

The solicitor turned in his revolving library-chair, and looked aghast
at his clerk. Had this Marchmont--always rather unnaturally reserved
and eccentric--gone suddenly mad? No; the copying-clerk stood by his
employer's side, grave, self-possessed as ever, with his forefinger
upon the advertisement.

"Marchmont--John--call--Messrs. Tindal and Trollam--" gasped Mr.
Mathewson. "Do you mean to tell me it's _you_?"

"Yes, sir."

"Egad, I'll go with you!" cried the solicitor, hooking his arm through
that of his clerk, snatching his hat from an adjacent stand, and
dashing through the outer office, down the great staircase, and into
the next door but one before John Marchmont knew where he was.

John had not deceived his employer. Marchmont Towers was his, with all
its appurtenances. Messrs. Paulette, Paulette, and Mathewson took him
in hand, much to the chagrin of Messrs. Tindal and Trollam, and proved
his identity in less than a week. On a shelf above the high wooden desk
at which John had sat, copying law-papers, with a weary hand and an
aching spine, appeared two bran-new deed-boxes, inscribed, in white
letters, with the name and address of JOHN MARCHMONT, ESQ., MARCHMONT
TOWERS. The copying-clerk's sudden accession to fortune was the talk of
all the _employés_ in "The Fields." Marchmont Towers was exaggerated
into half Lincolnshire, and a tidy slice of Yorkshire; eleven thousand
a year was expanded into an annual million. Everybody expected largesse
from the legatee. How fond people had been of the quiet clerk, and how
magnanimously they had concealed their sentiments during his poverty,
lest they should wound him, as they urged, "which" they knew he was
sensitive; and how expansively they now dilated on their
long-suppressed emotions! Of course, under these circumstances, it is
hardly likely that everybody could be satisfied; so it is a small thing
to say that the dinner which John gave--by his late employers'
suggestion (he was about the last man to think of giving a dinner)--at
the "Albion Tavern," to the legal staff of Messrs. Paulette, Paulette,
and Mathewson, and such acquaintance of the legal profession as they
should choose to invite, was a failure; and that gentlemen who were
pretty well used to dine upon liver and bacon, or beefsteak and onions,
or the joint, vegetables, bread, cheese, and celery for a shilling,
turned up their noses at the turbot, murmured at the paucity of green
fat in the soup, made light of red mullet and ortolans, objected to the
flavour of the truffles, and were contemptuous about the wines.

John knew nothing of this. He had lived a separate and secluded
existence; and his only thought now was of getting away to Marchmont
Towers, which had been familiar to him in his boyhood, when he had been
wont to go there on occasional visits to his grandfather. He wanted to
get away from the turmoil and confusion of the big, heartless city, in
which he had endured so much; he wanted to carry away his little girl
to a quiet country home, and live and die there in peace. He liberally
rewarded all the good people about Oakley Street who had been kind to
little Mary; and there was weeping in the regions of the Ladies'
Wardrobe when Mr. Marchmont and his daughter went away one bitter
winter's morning in a cab, which was to carry them to the hostelry
whence the coach started for Lincoln.

It is strange to think how far those Oakley-street days of privation
and endurance seem to have receded in the memories of both father and
daughter. The impalpable past fades away, and it is difficult for John
and his little girl to believe that they were once so poor and
desolate. It is Oakley Street now that is visionary and unreal. The
stately county families bear down upon Marchmont Towers in great
lumbering chariots, with brazen crests upon the hammer-cloths, and
sulky coachmen in Brown-George wigs. The county mammas patronise and
caress Miss Marchmont--what a match she will be for one of the county
sons by-and-by!--the county daughters discourse with Mary about her
poor, and her fancy-work, and her piano. She is getting on slowly
enough with her piano, poor little girl! under the tuition of the
organist of Swampington, who gives lessons to that part of the county.
And there are solemn dinners now and then at Marchmont Towers--dinners
at which Miss Mary appears when the cloth has been removed, and
reflects in silent wonder upon the change that has come to her father
and herself. Can it be true that she has ever lived in Oakley Street,
whither came no more aristocratic visitors than her Aunt Sophia, who
was the wife of a Berkshire farmer, and always brought hogs' puddings,
and butter, and home-made bread, and other rustic delicacies to her
brother-in-law; or Mrs. Brigsome, the washer-woman, who made a
morning-call every Monday, to fetch John Marchmont's shabby shirts? The
shirts were not shabby now; and it was no longer Mary's duty to watch
them day by day, and manipulate them tenderly when the linen grew
frayed at the sharp edges of the folds, or the buttonholes gave signs
of weakness. Corson, Mr. Marchmont's own-man, had care of the shirts
now: and John wore diamond-studs and a black-satin waistcoat, when he
gave a dinner-party. They were not very lively, those Lincolnshire
dinner-parties; though the dessert was a sight to look upon, in Mary's
eyes. The long shining table, the red and gold and purple Indian china,
the fluffy woollen d'oyleys, the sparkling cut-glass, the sticky
preserved ginger and guava-jelly, and dried orange rings and chips, and
all the stereotyped sweetmeats, were very grand and beautiful, no
doubt; but Mary had seen livelier desserts in Oakley Street, though
there had been nothing better than a brown-paper bag of oranges from
the Westminster Road, and a bottle of two-and-twopenny Marsala from a
licensed victualler's in the Borough, to promote conviviality.



CHAPTER VI.

THE YOUNG SOLDIER'S RETURN.


The rain beats down upon the battlemented roof of Marchmont Towers this
July day, as if it had a mind to flood the old mansion. The flat waste
of grass, and the lonely clumps of trees, are almost blotted out by the
falling rain. The low grey sky shuts out the distance. This part of
Lincolnshire--fenny, misty, and flat always--seems flatter and mistier
than usual to-day. The rain beats hopelessly upon the leaves in the
wood behind Marchmont Towers, and splashes into great pools beneath the
trees, until the ground is almost hidden by the fallen water, and the
trees seem to be growing out of a black lake. The land is lower behind
Marchmont Towers, and slopes down gradually to the bank of a dismal
river, which straggles through the Marchmont property at a snail's
pace, to gain an impetus farther on, until it hurries into the sea
somewhere northward of Grimsby. The wood is not held in any great
favour by the household at the Towers; and it has been a pet project of
several Marchmonts to level and drain it, but a project not very easily
to be carried out. Marchmont Towers is said to be unhealthy, as a
dwelling-house, by reason of this wood, from which miasmas rise in
certain states of the weather; and it is on this account that the back
of the house--the eastern front, at least, as it is called--looking to
the wood is very little used.

Mary Marchmont sits at a window in the western drawing-room, watching
the ceaseless falling of the rain upon this dreary summer afternoon.
She is little changed since the day upon which Edward Arundel saw her
in Oakley Street. She is taller, of course, but her figure is as
slender and childish as ever: it is only her face in which the
earnestness of premature womanhood reveals itself in a grave and sweet
serenity very beautiful to contemplate. Her soft brown eyes have a
pensive shadow in their gentle light; her mouth is even more pensive.
It has been said of Jane Grey, of Mary Stuart, of Marie Antoinette,
Charlotte Corday, and other fated women, that in the gayest hours of
their youth they bore upon some feature, or in some expression, the
shadow of the End--an impalpable, indescribable presage of an awful
future, vaguely felt by those who looked upon them.

Is it thus with Mary Marchmont? Has the solemn hand of Destiny set that
shadowy brand upon the face of this child, that even in her prosperity,
as in her adversity, she should be so utterly different from all other
children? Is she already marked out for some womanly martyrdom--already
set apart for more than common suffering?

She sits alone this afternoon, for her father is busy with his agent.
Wealth does not mean immunity from all care and trouble; and Mr.
Marchmont has plenty of work to get through, in conjunction with his
land-steward, a hard-headed Yorkshireman, who lives at Kemberling, and
insists on doing his duty with pertinacious honesty.

The large brown eyes looked wistfully out at the dismal waste and the
falling rain. There was a wretched equestrian making his way along the
carriage-drive.

"Who can come to see us on such a day?" Mary thought. "It must be Mr.
Gormby, I suppose;"--the agent's name was Gormby. "Mr. Gormby never
cares about the wet; but then I thought he was with papa. Oh, I hope it
isn't anybody coming to call."

But Mary forgot all about the struggling equestrian the next moment.
She had some morsel of fancy-work upon her lap, and picked it up and
went on with it, setting slow stitches, and letting her thoughts wander
far away from Marchmont Towers--to India, I am afraid; or to that
imaginary India which she had created for herself out of such images as
were to be picked up in the "Arabian Nights." She was roused suddenly
by the opening of a door at the farther end of the room, and by the
voice of a servant, who mumbled a name which sounded something like Mr.
Armenger.

She rose, blushing a little, to do honour to one of her father's county
acquaintance, as she thought; when a fair-haired gentleman dashed in,
very much excited and very wet, and made his way towards her.

"I _would_ come, Miss Marchmont," he said,--"I would come, though the
day was so wet. Everybody vowed I was mad to think of it, and it was as
much as my poor brute of a horse could do to get over the ten miles of
swamp between this and my uncle's house; but I would come! Where's
John? I want to see John. Didn't I always tell him he'd come into the
Lincolnshire property? Didn't I always say so, now? You should have
seen Martin Mostyn's face--he's got a capital berth in the War Office,
and he's such a snob!--when I told him the news: it was as long as my
arm! But I must see John, dear old fellow! I long to congratulate him."

Mary stood with her hands clasped, and her breath coming quickly. The
blush had quite faded out, and left her unusually pale. But Edward
Arundel did not see this: young gentlemen of four-and-twenty are not
very attentive to every change of expression in little girls of
thirteen.

"Oh, is it you, Mr. Arundel? Is it really you?"

She spoke in a low voice, and it was almost difficult to keep the
rushing tears back while she did so. She had pictured him so often in
peril, in famine, in sickness, in death, that to see him here, well,
happy, light-hearted, cordial, handsome, and brave, as she had seen him
four-and-a-half years before in the two-pair back in Oakley Street, was
almost too much for her to bear without the relief of tears. But she
controlled her emotion as bravely as if she had been a woman of twenty.

"I am so glad to see you," she said quietly; "and papa will be so glad
too! It is the only thing we want, now we are rich; to have you with
us. We have talked of you so often; and I--we--have been so unhappy
sometimes, thinking that----"

"That I should be killed, I suppose?"

"Yes; or wounded very, very badly. The battles in India have been
dreadful, have they not?"

Mr. Arundel smiled at her earnestness.

"They have not been exactly child's play," he said, shaking back his
chesnut hair and smoothing his thick moustache. He was a man now, and a
very handsome one; something of that type which is known in this year
of grace as "swell"; but brave and chivalrous withal, and not afflicted
with any impediment in his speech. "The men who talk of the Affghans as
a chicken-hearted set of fellows are rather out of their reckoning. The
Indians can fight, Miss Mary, and fight like the devil; but we can lick
'em!"

He walked over to the fireplace, where--upon this chilly wet day, there
was a fire burning--and began to shake himself dry. Mary, following him
with her eyes, wondered if there was such another soldier in all Her
Majesty's dominions, and how soon he would be made General-in-Chief of
the Army of the Indus.

"Then you've not been wounded at all, Mr. Arundel?" she said, after a
pause.

"Oh, yes, I've been wounded; I got a bullet in my shoulder from an
Affghan musket, and I'm home on sick-leave."

This time he saw the expression of her face, and interpreted her look
of alarm.

"But I'm not ill, you know, Miss Marchmont," he said, laughing. "Our
fellows are very glad of a wound when they feel home-sick. The 8th come
home before long, all of 'em; and I've a twelvemonth's leave of
absence; and we're pretty sure to be ordered out again by the end of
that time, as I don't believe there's much chance of quiet over there."

"You will go out again!----"

Edward Arundel smiled at her mournful tone.

"To be sure, Miss Mary. I have my captaincy to win, you know; I'm only
a lieutenant, as yet."

It was only a twelvemonth's reprieve, after all, then, Mary thought. He
would go back again--to suffer, and to be wounded, and to die, perhaps.
But then, on the other hand, there was a twelvemonth's respite; and her
father might in that time prevail upon the young soldier to stay at
Marchmont Towers. It was such inexpressible happiness to see him once
more, to know that he was safe and well, that Mary could scarcely do
otherwise than see all things in a sunny light just now.

She ran to John Marchmont's study to tell him of the coming of this
welcome visitor; but she wept upon her father's shoulder before she
could explain who it was whose coming had made her so glad. Very few
friendships had broken the monotony of her solitary existence; and
Edward Arundel was the only chivalrous image she had ever known, out of
her books.

John Marchmont was scarcely less pleased than his child to see the man
who had befriended him in his poverty. Never has more heartfelt welcome
been given than that which greeted Edward Arundel at Marchmont Towers.

"You will stay with us, of course, my dear Arundel," John said; "you
will stop for September and the shooting. You know you promised you'd
make this your shooting-box; and we'll build the tennis-court. Heaven
knows, there's room enough for it in the great quadrangle; and there's
a billiard-room over this, though I'm afraid the table is out of order.
But we can soon set that right, can't we, Polly?"

"Yes, yes, papa; out of my pocket-money, if you like."

Mary Marchmont said this in all good faith. It was sometimes difficult
for her to remember that her father was really rich, and had no need of
help out of her pocket-money. The slender savings in her little purse
had often given him some luxury that he would not otherwise have had,
in the time gone by.

"You got my letter, then?" John said; "the letter in which I told
you----"

"That Marchmont Towers was yours. Yes, my dear old boy. That letter was
amongst a packet my agent brought me half-an-hour before I left
Calcutta. God bless you, dear old fellow; how glad I was to hear of it!
I've only been in England a fortnight. I went straight from Southampton
to Dangerfield to see my father and mother, stayed there little over
ten days, and then offended them all by running away. I reached
Swampington yesterday, slept at my uncle Hubert's, paid my respects to
my cousin Olivia, who is,--well, I've told you what she is,--and rode
over here this morning, much to the annoyance of the inhabitants of the
Rectory. So, you see, I've been doing nothing but offending people for
your sake, John; and for yours, Miss Mary. By-the-by, I've brought you
such a doll!"

A doll! Mary's pale face flushed a faint crimson. Did he think her
still a child, then, this soldier; did he think her only a silly child,
with no thought above a doll, when she would have gone out to India,
and braved every peril of that cruel country, to be his nurse and
comfort in fever and sickness, like the brave Sisters of Mercy she had
read of in some of her novels?

Edward Arundel saw that faint crimson glow lighting up in her face.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Marchmont," he said. "I was only joking; of
course you are a young lady now, almost grown up, you know. Can you
play chess?"

"No, Mr. Arundel."

"I am sorry for that; for I have brought you a set of chessmen that
once belonged to Dost Mahommed Khan. But I'll teach you the game, if
you like?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. Arundel; I should like it very, very much."

The young soldier could not help being amused by the little girl's
earnestness. She was about the same age as his sister Letitia; but, oh,
how widely different to that bouncing and rather wayward young lady,
who tore the pillow-lace upon her muslin frocks, rumpled her long
ringlets, rasped the skin off the sharp points of her elbows, by
repeated falls upon the gravel-paths at Dangerfield, and tormented a
long-suffering Swiss attendant, half-lady's-maid, half-governess, from
morning till night. No fold was awry in Mary Marchmont's simple
black-silk frock; no plait disarranged in the neat cambric tucker that
encircled the slender white throat. Intellect here reigned supreme.
Instead of the animal spirits of a thoughtless child, there was a
woman's loving carefulness for others, a woman's unselfishness and
devotion.

Edward Arundel did not understand all this, but I think he had a dim
comprehension of the greater part of it.

"She is a dear little thing," he thought, as he watched her clinging to
her father's arm; and then he began to talk about Marchmont Towers, and
insisted upon being shown over the house; and, perhaps for the first
time since the young heir had shot himself to death upon a bright
September morning in a stubble-field within earshot of the park, the
sound of merry laughter echoed through the long corridors, and
resounded in the unoccupied rooms.

Edward Arundel was in raptures with everything. "There never was such a
dear old place," he said. "'Gloomy?' 'dreary?' 'draughty?' pshaw! Cut a
few logs out of that wood at the back there, pile 'em up in the wide
chimneys, and set a light to 'em, and Marchmont Towers would be like a
baronial mansion at Christmas-time." He declared that every dingy
portrait he looked at was a Rubens or a Velasquez, or a Vandyke, a
Holbein, or a Lely.

"Look at that fur border to the old woman's black-velvet gown, John;
look at the colouring of the hands! Do you think anybody but Peter Paul
could have painted that? Do you see that girl with the blue-satin
stomacher and the flaxen ringlets?--one of your ancestresses, Miss
Mary, and very like you. If that isn't in Sir Peter Lely's best
style,--his earlier style, you know, before he was spoiled by royal
patronage, and got lazy,--I know nothing of painting."

The young soldier ran on in this manner, as he hurried his host from
room to room; now throwing open windows to look out at the wet
prospect; now rapping against the wainscot to find secret hiding-places
behind sliding panels; now stamping on the oak-flooring in the hope of
discovering a trap-door. He pointed out at least ten eligible sites for
the building of the tennis-court; he suggested more alterations and
improvements than a builder could have completed in a lifetime. The
place brightened under the influence of his presence, as a landscape
lights up under a burst of sudden sunshine breaking through a dull grey
sky.

Mary Marchmont did not wait for the removal of the table-cloth that
evening, but dined with her father and his friend in a snug
oak-panelled chamber, half-breakfast-room, half-library, which opened
out of the western drawing-room. How different Edward Arundel was to
all the rest of the world, Miss Marchmont thought; how gay, how bright,
how genial, how happy! The county families, mustered in their fullest
force, couldn't make such mirth amongst them as this young soldier
created in his single person.

The evening was an evening in fairy-land. Life was sometimes like the
last scene in a pantomime, after all, with rose-coloured cloud and
golden sunlight.

One of the Marchmont servants went over to Swampington early the next
day to fetch Mr. Arundel's portmanteaus from the Rectory; and after
dinner upon that second evening, Mary Marchmont took her seat opposite
Edward, and listened reverently while he explained to her the moves
upon the chessboard.

"So you don't know my cousin Olivia?" the young soldier said by-and-by.
"That's odd! I should have thought she would have called upon you long
before this."

Mary Marchmont shook her head.

"No," she said; "Miss Arundel has never been to see us; and I should so
like to have seen her, because she would have told me about you. Mr.
Arundel has called one or twice upon papa; but I have never seen him.
He is not our clergyman, you know; Marchmont Towers belongs to
Kemberling parish."

"To be sure; and Swampington is ten miles off. But, for all that, I
should have thought Olivia would have called upon you. I'll drive you
over to-morrow, if John thinks me whip enough to trust you with me, and
you shall see Livy. The Rectory's such a queer old place!"

Perhaps Mr. Marchmont was rather doubtful as to the propriety of
committing his little girl to Edward Arundel's charioteership for a
ten-mile drive upon a wretched road. Be it as it might, a lumbering
barouche, with a pair of over-fed horses, was ordered next morning,
instead of the high, old-fashioned gig which the soldier had proposed
driving; and the safety of the two young people was confided to a sober
old coachman, rather sulky at the prospect of a drive to Swampington so
soon after the rainy weather.

It does not rain always, even in this part of Lincolnshire; and the
July morning was bright and pleasant, the low hedges fragrant with
starry opal-tinted wild roses and waxen honeysuckle, the yellowing corn
waving in the light summer breeze. Mary assured her companion that she
had no objection whatever to the odour of cigar-smoke; so Mr. Arundel
lolled upon the comfortable cushions of the barouche, with his back to
the horses, smoking cheroots, and talking gaily, while Miss Marchmont
sat in the place of state opposite to him. A happy drive; a drive in a
fairy chariot through regions of fairyland, for ever and for ever to be
remembered by Mary Marchmont.

They left the straggling hedges and the yellowing corn behind them
by-and-by, as they drew near the outskirts of Swampington. The town
lies lower even than the surrounding country, flat and low as that
country is. A narrow river crawls at the base of a half-ruined wall,
which once formed part of the defences of the place. Black barges lie
at anchor here; and a stone bridge, guarded by a toll-house, spans the
river. Mr. Marchmont's carriage lumbered across this bridge, and under
an archway, low, dark, stony, and grim, into a narrow street of solid,
well-built houses, low, dark, stony, and grim, like the archway, but
bearing the stamp of reputable occupation. I believe the grass grew,
and still grows, in this street, as it does in all the other streets
and in the market-place of Swampington. They are all pretty much in the
same style, these streets,--all stony, narrow, dark, and grim; and they
wind and twist hither and thither, and in and out, in a manner utterly
bewildering to the luckless stranger, who, seeing that they are all
alike, has no landmarks for his guidance.

There are two handsome churches, both bearing an early date in the
history of Norman supremacy: one crowded into an inconvenient corner of
a back street, and choked by the houses built up round about it; the
other lying a little out of the town, upon a swampy waste looking
towards the sea, which flows within a mile of Swampington. Indeed,
there is no lack of water in that Lincolnshire borough. The river winds
about the outskirts of the town; unexpected creeks and inlets meet you
at every angle; shallow pools lie here and there about the marshy
suburbs; and in the dim distance the low line of the grey sea meets the
horizon.

But perhaps the positive ugliness of the town is something redeemed by
a vague air of romance and old-world mystery which pervades it. It is
an exceptional place, and somewhat interesting thereby. The great
Norman church upon the swampy waste, the scattered tombstones, bordered
by the low and moss-grown walls, make a picture which is apt to dwell
in the minds of those who look upon it, although it is by no means a
pretty picture. The Rectory lies close to the churchyard; and a
wicket-gate opens from Mr. Arundel's garden into a narrow pathway,
leading across a patch of tangled grass and through a lane of sunken
and lopsided tombstones, to the low vestry door. The Rectory itself is
a long irregular building, to which one incumbent after another has
built the additional chamber, or chimney, or porch, or bow-window,
necessary for his accommodation. There is very little garden in front
of the house, but a patch of lawn and shrubbery and a clump of old
trees at the back.

"It's not a pretty house, is it, Miss Marchmont?" asked Edward, as he
lifted his companion out of the carriage.

"No, not very pretty," Mary answered; "but I don't think any thing is
pretty in Lincolnshire. Oh, there's the sea!" she cried, looking
suddenly across the marshes to the low grey line in the distance. "How
I wish we were as near the sea at Marchmont Towers!"

The young lady had something of a romantic passion for the
wide-spreading ocean. It was an unknown region, that stretched far
away, and was wonderful and beautiful by reason of its solemn mystery.
All her Corsair stories were allied to that far, fathomless deep. The
white sail in the distance was Conrad's, perhaps; and he was speeding
homeward to find Medora dead in her lonely watch-tower, with fading
flowers upon her breast. The black hull yonder, with dirty canvas
spread to the faint breeze, was the bark of some terrible pirate bound
on rapine and ravage. (She was a coal-barge, I have no doubt, sailing
Londonward with her black burden.) Nymphs and Lurleis, Mermaids and
Mermen, and tiny water-babies with silvery tails, for ever splashing in
the sunshine, were all more or less associated with the long grey line
towards which Mary Marchmont looked with solemn, yearning eyes.

"We'll drive down to the seashore some morning, Polly," said Mr.
Arundel. He was beginning to call her Polly, now and then, in the easy
familiarity of their intercourse. "We'll spend a long day on the sands,
and I'll smoke cheroots while you pick up shells and seaweed."

Miss Marchmont clasped her hands in silent rapture. Her face was
irradiated by the new light of happiness. How good he was to her, this
brave soldier, who must undoubtedly be made Commander-in-Chief of the
Army of the Indus in a year or so!

Edward Arundel led his companion across the flagged way between the
iron gate of the Rectory garden and a half-glass door leading into the
hall. Out of this simple hall, only furnished with a couple of chairs,
a barometer, and an umbrella-stand, they went, without announcement,
into a low, old-fashioned room, half-study, half-parlour, where a young
lady was sitting at a table writing.

She rose as Edward opened the door, and came to meet him.

"At last!" she said; "I thought your rich friends engrossed all your
attention."

She paused, seeing Mary.

"This is Miss Marchmont, Olivia," said Edward; "the only daughter of my
old friend. You must be very fond of her, please; for she is a dear
little girl, and I know she means to love you."

Mary lifted her soft brown eyes to the face of the young lady, and then
dropped her eyelids suddenly, as if half-frightened by what she had
seen there.

What was it? What was it in Olivia Arundel's handsome face from which
those who looked at her so often shrank, repelled and disappointed?
Every line in those perfectly-modelled features was beautiful to look
at; but, as a whole, the face was not beautiful. Perhaps it was too
much like a marble mask, exquisitely chiselled, but wanting in variety
of expression. The handsome mouth was rigid; the dark grey eyes had a
cold light in them. The thick bands of raven-black hair were drawn
tightly off a square forehead, which was the brow of an intellectual
and determined man rather than of a woman. Yes; womanhood was the
something wanted in Olivia Arundel's face. Intellect, resolution,
courage, are rare gifts; but they are not the gifts whose tokens we
look for most anxiously in a woman's face. If Miss Arundel had been a
queen, her diadem would have become her nobly; and she might have been
a very great queen: but Heaven help the wretched creature who had
appealed from minor tribunals to _her_ mercy! Heaven help delinquents
of every kind whose last lingering hope had been in her compassion!

Perhaps Mary Marchmont vaguely felt something of all this. At any rate,
the enthusiasm with which she had been ready to regard Edward Arundel's
cousin cooled suddenly beneath the winter in that pale, quiet face.

Miss Arundel said a few words to her guest; kindly enough; but rather
too much as if she had been addressing a child of six. Mary, who was
accustomed to be treated as a woman, was wounded by her manner.

"How different she is from Edward!" thought Miss Marchmont. "I shall
never like her as I like him."

"So this is the pale-faced child who is to have Marchmont Towers
by-and-by," thought Miss Arundel; "and these rich friends are the
people for whom Edward stays away from us."

The lines about the rigid mouth grew harder, the cold light in the grey
eyes grew colder, as the young lady thought this.

It was thus that these two women met: while one was but a child in
years; while the other was yet in the early bloom of womanhood: these
two, who were predestined to hate each other, and inflict suffering
upon each other in the days that were to come. It was thus that they
thought of one another; each with an unreasonable dread, an undefined
aversion gathering in her breast.

 * * * * *

Six weeks passed, and Edward Arundel kept his promise of shooting the
partridges on the Marchmont preserves. The wood behind the Towers, and
the stubbled corn-fields on the home-farm, bristled with game. The
young soldier heartily enjoyed himself through that delicious first
week in September; and came home every afternoon, with a heavy game-bag
and a light heart, to boast of his prowess before Mary and her father.

The young man was by this time familiar with every nook and corner of
Marchmont Towers; and the builders were already at work at the
tennis-court which John had promised to erect for his friend's
pleasure. The site ultimately chosen was a bleak corner of the eastern
front, looking to the wood; but as Edward declared the spot in every
way eligible, John had no inclination to find fault with his friend's
choice. There was other work for the builders; for Mr. Arundel had
taken a wonderful fancy to a ruined boat-house upon the brink of the
river; and this boat-house was to be rebuilt and restored, and made
into a delightful pavilion, in the upper chambers of which Mary might
sit with her father in the hot summer weather, while Mr. Arundel kept a
couple of trim wherries in the recesses below.

So, you see, the young man made himself very much at home, in his own
innocent, boyish fashion, at Marchmont Towers. But as he had brought
life and light to the old Lincolnshire mansion, nobody was inclined to
quarrel with him for any liberties which he might choose to take: and
every one looked forward sorrowfully to the dark days before Christmas,
at which time he was under a promise to return to Dangerfield Park;
there to spend the remainder of his leave of absence.



CHAPTER VII.

OLIVIA.


While busy workmen were employed at Marchmont Towers, hammering at the
fragile wooden walls of the tennis-court,--while Mary Marchmont and
Edward Arundel wandered, with the dogs at their heels, amongst the
rustle of the fallen leaves in the wood behind the great gaunt
Lincolnshire mansion,--Olivia, the Rector's daughter, sat in her
father's quiet study, or walked to and fro in the gloomy streets of
Swampington, doing her duty day by day.

Yes, the life of this woman is told in these few words: she did her
duty. From the earliest age at which responsibility can begin, she had
done her duty, uncomplainingly, unswervingly, as it seemed to those who
watched her.

She was a good woman. The bishop of the diocese had specially
complimented her for her active devotion to that holy work which falls
somewhat heavily upon the only daughter of a widowed rector. All the
stately dowagers about Swampington were loud in their praises of Olivia
Arundel. Such devotion, such untiring zeal in a young person of
three-and-twenty years of age, were really most laudable, these solemn
elders said, in tones of supreme patronage; for the young saint of whom
they spoke wore shabby gowns, and was the portionless daughter of a
poor man who had let the world slip by him, and who sat now amid the
dreary ruins of a wasted life, looking yearningly backward, with hollow
regretful eyes, and bewailing the chances he had lost. Hubert Arundel
loved his daughter; loved her with that sorrowful affection we feel for
those who suffer for our sins, whose lives have been blighted by our
follies.

Every shabby garment which Olivia wore was a separate reproach to her
father; every deprivation she endured stung him as cruelly as if she
had turned upon him and loudly upbraided him for his wasted life and
his squandered patrimony. He loved her; and he watched her day after
day, doing her duty to him as to all others; doing her duty for ever
and for ever; but when he most yearned to take her to his heart, her
own cold perfections arose, and separated him from the child he loved.
What was he but a poor, vacillating, erring creature; weak, supine,
idle, epicurean; unworthy to approach this girl, who never seemed to
sicken of the hardness of her life, who never grew weary of well-doing?

But how was it that, for all her goodness, Olivia Arundel won so small
a share of earthly reward? I do not allude to the gold and jewels and
other worldly benefits with which the fairies in our children's
story-books reward the benevolent mortals who take compassion upon them
when they experimentalise with human nature in the guise of old women;
but I speak rather of the love and gratitude, the tenderness and
blessings, which usually wait upon the footsteps of those who do good
deeds. Olivia Arundel's charities were never ceasing; her life was one
perpetual sacrifice to her father's parishioners. There was no natural
womanly vanity, no simple girlish fancy, which this woman had not
trodden under foot, and trampled out in the hard pathway she had chosen
for herself.

The poor people knew this. Rheumatic men and women, crippled and
bed-ridden, knew that the blankets which covered them had been bought
out of money that would have purchased silk dresses for the Rector's
handsome daughter, or luxuries for the frugal table at the Rectory.
They knew this. They knew that, through frost and snow, through storm
and rain, Olivia Arundel would come to sit beside their dreary hearths,
their desolate sick-beds, and read holy books to them; sublimely
indifferent to the foul weather without, to the stifling atmosphere
within, to dirt, discomfort, poverty, inconvenience; heedless of all,
except the performance of the task she had set herself.

People knew this; and they were grateful to Miss Arundel, and
submissive and attentive in her presence; they gave her such return as
they were able to give for the benefits, spiritual and temporal, which
she bestowed upon them: but they did not love her.

They spoke of her in reverential accents, and praised her whenever her
name was mentioned; but they spoke with tearless eyes and unfaltering
voices. Her virtues were beautiful, of course, as virtue in the
abstract must always be; but I think there was a want of individuality
in her goodness, a lack of personal tenderness in her kindness, which
separated her from the people she benefited.

Perhaps there was something almost chilling in the dull monotony of
Miss Arundel's benevolence. There was no blemish of mortal weakness
upon the good deeds she performed; and the recipients of her bounties,
seeing her so far off, grew afraid of her, even by reason of her
goodness, and _could_ not love her.

She made no favourites amongst her father's parishioners. Of all the
school-children she had taught, she had never chosen one curly-headed
urchin for a pet. She had no good days and bad days; she was never
foolishly indulgent or extravagantly cordial. She was always the
same,--Church-of-England charity personified; meting out all mercies by
line and rule; doing good with a note-book and a pencil in her hand;
looking on every side with calm, scrutinising eyes; rigidly just,
terribly perfect.

It was a fearfully monotonous, narrow, and uneventful life which Olivia
Arundel led at Swampington Rectory. At three-and-twenty years of age
she could have written her history upon a few pages. The world outside
that dull Lincolnshire town might be shaken by convulsions, and made
irrecognisable by repeated change; but all those outer changes and
revolutions made themselves but little felt in the quiet grass-grown
streets, and the flat surrounding swamps, within whose narrow boundary
Olivia Arundel had lived from infancy to womanhood; performing and
repeating the same duties from day to day, with no other progress to
mark the lapse of her existence than the slow alternation of the
seasons, and the dark hollow circles which had lately deepened beneath
her grey eyes, and the depressed lines about the corners of her firm
lower-lip.

These outward tokens, beyond her own control, alone betrayed this
woman's secret. She was weary of her life. She sickened under the dull
burden which she had borne so long, and carried so patiently. The slow
round of duty was loathsome to her. The horrible, narrow, unchanging
existence, shut in by cruel walls, which bounded her on every side and
kept her prisoner to herself, was odious to her. The powerful intellect
revolted against the fetters that bound and galled it. The proud heart
beat with murderous violence against the bonds that kept it captive.

"Is my life always to be this--always, always, always?" The passionate
nature burst forth sometimes, and the voice that had so long been
stifled cried aloud in the black stillness of the night, "Is it to go
on for ever and for ever; like the slow river that creeps under the
broken wall? O my God! is the lot of other women never to be mine? Am I
never to be loved and admired; never to be sought and chosen? Is my
life to be all of one dull, grey, colourless monotony; without one
sudden gleam of sunshine, without one burst of rainbow-light?"

How shall I anatomise this woman, who, gifted with no womanly
tenderness of nature, unendowed with that pitiful and unreasoning
affection which makes womanhood beautiful, yet tried, and tried
unceasingly, to do her duty, and to be good; clinging, in the very
blindness of her soul, to the rigid formulas of her faith, but unable
to seize upon its spirit? Some latent comprehension of the want in her
nature made her only the more scrupulous in the performance of those
duties which she had meted out for herself. The holy sentences she had
heard, Sunday after Sunday, feebly read by her father, haunted her
perpetually, and would not be put away from her. The tenderness in
every word of those familiar gospels was a reproach to the want of
tenderness in her own heart. She could be good to her father's
parishioners, and she could make sacrifices for them; but she could not
love them, any more than they could love her.

That divine and universal pity, that spontaneous and boundless
affection, which is the chief loveliness of womanhood and Christianity,
had no part in her nature. She could understand Judith with the
Assyrian general's gory head held aloft in her uplifted hand; but she
could not comprehend that diviner mystery of sinful Magdalene sitting
at her Master's feet, with the shame and love in her face half hidden
by a veil of drooping hair.

No; Olivia Arundel was not a good woman, in the commoner sense we
attach to the phrase. It was not natural to her to be gentle and
tender, to be beneficent, compassionate, and kind, as it is to the
women we are accustomed to call "good." She was a woman who was for
ever fighting against her nature; who was for ever striving to do
right; for ever walking painfully upon the difficult road mapped out
for her; for ever measuring herself by the standard she had set up for
her self-abasement. And who shall say that such a woman as this, if she
persevere unto the end, shall not wear a brighter crown than her more
gentle sisters,--the starry circlet of a martyr?

If she persevere unto the end! But was Olivia Arundel the woman to do
this? The deepening circles about her eyes, the hollowing cheeks, and
the feverish restlessness of manner which she could not always control,
told how terrible the long struggle had become to her. If she could
have died then,--if she had fallen beneath the weight of her
burden,--what a record of sin and anguish might have remained unwritten
in the history of woman's life! But this woman was one of those who can
suffer, and yet not die. She bore her burden a little longer; only to
fling it down by-and-by, and to abandon herself to the eager devils who
had been watching for her so untiringly.

Hubert Arundel was afraid of his daughter. The knowledge that he had
wronged her,--wronged her even before her birth by the foolish waste of
his patrimony, and wronged her through life by his lack of energy in
seeking such advancement as a more ambitious man might have won,--the
knowledge of this, and of his daughter's superior virtues, combined to
render the father ashamed and humiliated by the presence of his only
child. The struggle between this fear and his remorseful love of her
was a very painful one; but fear had the mastery, and the Rector of
Swampington was content to stand aloof, mutely watchful of his
daughter, wondering feebly whether she was happy, striving vainly to
discover that one secret, that keystone of the soul, which must exist
in every nature, however outwardly commonplace.

Mr. Arundel had hoped that his daughter would marry, and marry well,
even at Swampington; for there were rich young landowners who visited
at the Rectory. But Olivia's handsome face won her few admirers, and at
three-and-twenty Miss Arundel had received no offer of marriage. The
father reproached himself for this. It was he who had blighted the life
of his penniless girl; it was his fault that no suitors came to woo his
motherless child. Yet many dowerless maidens have been sought and
loved; and I do not think it was Olivia's lack of fortune which kept
admirers at bay. I believe it was rather that inherent want of
tenderness which chilled and dispirited the timid young Lincolnshire
squires.

Had Olivia ever been in love? Hubert Arundel constantly asked himself
this question. He did so because he saw that some blighting influence,
even beyond the poverty and dulness of her home, had fallen upon the
life of his only child. What was it? What was it? Was it some hopeless
attachment, some secret tenderness, which had never won the sweet
return of love for love?

He would no more have ventured to question his daughter upon this
subject than he would have dared to ask his fair young Queen, newly
married in those days, whether she was happy with her handsome husband.

Miss Arundel stood by the Rectory gate in the early September evening,
watching the western sunlight on the low sea-line beyond the marshes.
She was wearied and worn out by a long day devoted to visiting amongst
her parishioners; and she stood with her elbow leaning on the gate, and
her head resting on her hand, in an attitude peculiarly expressive of
fatigue. She had thrown off her bonnet, and her black hair was pushed
carelessly from her forehead. Those masses of hair had not that purple
lustre, nor yet that wandering glimmer of red gold, which gives
peculiar beauty to some raven tresses. Olivia's hair was long and
luxuriant; but it was of that dead, inky blackness, which is all
shadow. It was dark, fathomless, inscrutable, like herself. The cold
grey eyes looked thoughtfully seaward. Another day's duty had been
done. Long chapters of Holy Writ had been read to troublesome old women
afflicted with perpetual coughs; stifling, airless cottages had been
visited; the dull, unvarying track had been beaten by the patient feet,
and the yellow sun was going down upon another joyless day. But did the
still evening hour bring peace to that restless spirit? No; by the
rigid compression of the lips, by the feverish lustre in the eyes, by
the faint hectic flush in the oval cheeks, by every outward sign of
inward unrest, Olivia Arundel was not at peace! The listlessness of her
attitude was merely the listlessness of physical fatigue. The mental
struggle was not finished with the close of the day's work.

The young lady looked up suddenly as the tramp of a horse's hoofs, slow
and lazy-sounding on the smooth road, met her ear. Her eyes dilated,
and her breath went and came more rapidly; but she did not stir from
her weary attitude.

The horse was from the stables at Marchmont Towers, and the rider was
Mr. Arundel. He came smiling to the Rectory gate, with the low sunshine
glittering in his chesnut hair, and the light of careless, indifferent
happiness irradiating his handsome face.

"You must have thought I'd forgotten you and my uncle, my dear Livy,"
he said, as he sprang lightly from his horse. "We've been so busy with
the tennis-court, and the boat-house, and the partridges, and goodness
knows what besides at the Towers, that I couldn't get the time to ride
over till this evening. But to-day we dined early, on purpose that I
might have the chance of getting here. I come upon an important
mission, Livy, I assure you."

"What do you mean?"

There was no change in Miss Arundel's voice when she spoke to her
cousin; but there was a change, not easily to be defined, in her face
when she looked at him. It seemed as if that weary hopelessness of
expression which had settled on her countenance lately grew more weary,
more hopeless, as she turned towards this bright young soldier,
glorious in the beauty of his own light-heartedness. It may have been
merely the sharpness of contrast which produced this effect. It may
have been an actual change arising out of some secret hidden in
Olivia's breast.

"What do you mean by an important mission, Edward?" she said.

She had need to repeat the question; for the young man's attention had
wandered from her, and he was watching his horse as the animal cropped
the tangled herbage about the Rectory gate.

"Why, I've come with an invitation to a dinner at Marchmont Towers.
There's to be a dinner-party; and, in point of fact, it's to be given
on purpose for you and my uncle. John and Polly are full of it. You'll
come, won't you, Livy?"

Miss Arundel shrugged her shoulders, with an impatient sigh.

"I hate dinner-parties," she said; "but, of course, if papa accepts Mr.
Marchmont's invitation, I cannot refuse to go. Papa must choose for
himself."

There had been some interchange of civilities between Marchmont Towers
and Swampington Rectory during the six weeks which had passed since
Mary's introduction to Olivia Arundel; and this dinner-party was the
result of John's simple desire to do honour to his friend's kindred.

"Oh, you must come, Livy," Mr. Arundel exclaimed. "The tennis-court is
going on capitally. I want you to give us your opinion again. Shall I
take my horse round to the stables? I am going to stop an hour or two,
and ride back by moonlight."

Edward Arundel took the bridle in his hand, and the cousins walked
slowly round by the low garden-wall to a dismal and rather dilapidated
stable-yard at the back of the Rectory, where Hubert Arundel kept a
wall-eyed white horse, long-legged, shallow-chested, and large-headed,
and a fearfully and wonderfully made phaëton, with high wheels and a
mouldy leathern hood.

Olivia walked by the young soldier's side with that air of hopeless
indifference that had so grown upon her very lately. Her eyelids
drooped with a look of sullen disdain; but the grey eyes glanced
furtively now and again at her companion's handsome face. He was very
handsome. The glitter of reddish gold in his hair, and the light in his
fearless blue eyes; the careless grace peculiar to the kind of man we
call "a swell;" the gay _insouciance_ of an easy, candid, generous
nature,--all combined to make Edward Arundel singularly attractive.
These spoiled children of nature demand our admiration, in very spite
of ourselves. These beautiful, useless creatures call upon us to
rejoice in their valueless beauty, like the flaunting poppies in the
cornfield, and the gaudy wild-flowers in the grass.

The darkness of Olivia's face deepened after each furtive glance she
cast at her cousin. Could it be that this girl, to whom nature had
given strength but denied grace, envied the superficial attractions of
the young man at her side? She did envy him; she envied him that sunny
temperament which was so unlike her own; she envied him that wondrous
power of taking life lightly. Why should existence be so bright and
careless to him; while to her it was a terrible fever-dream, a long
sickness, a never-ceasing battle?

"Is my uncle in the house?" Mr. Arundel asked, as he strolled from the
stable into the garden with his cousin by his side.

"No; he has been out since dinner," Olivia answered; "but I expect him
back every minute. I came out into the garden,--the house seemed so hot
and stifling to-night, and I have been sitting in close cottages all
day."

"Sitting in close cottages!" repeated Edward. "Ah, to be sure; visiting
your rheumatic old pensioners, I suppose. How good you are, Olivia!"

"Good!"

She echoed the word in the very bitterness of a scorn that could not be
repressed.

"Yes; everybody says so. The Millwards were at Marchmont Towers the
other day, and they were talking of you, and praising your goodness,
and speaking of your schools, and your blanket-associations, and your
invalid-societies, and your mutual-help clubs, and all your plans for
the parish. Why, you must work as hard as a prime-minister, Livy, by
their account; you, who are only a few years older than I."

Only a few years! She started at the phrase, and bit her lip.

"I was three-and-twenty last month," she said.

"Ah, yes; to be sure. And I'm one-and-twenty. Then you're only two
years older than I, Livy. But, then, you see, you're so clever, that
you seem much older than you are. You'd make a fellow feel rather
afraid of you, you know. Upon my word you do, Livy."

Miss Arundel did not reply to this speech of her cousin's. She was
walking by his side up and down a narrow gravelled pathway, bordered by
a hazel-hedge; she had gathered one of the slender twigs, and was idly
stripping away the fluffy buds.

"What do you think, Livy?" cried Edward suddenly, bursting out laughing
at the end of the question. "What do you think? It's my belief you've
made a conquest."

"What do you mean?"

"There you go; turning upon a fellow as if you could eat him. Yes,
Livy; it's no use your looking savage. You've made a conquest; and of
one of the best fellows in the world, too. John Marchmont's in love
with you."

Olivia Arundel's face flushed a vivid crimson to the roots of her black
hair.

"How dare you come here to insult me, Edward Arundel?" she cried
passionately.

"Insult you? Now, Livy dear, that's too bad, upon my word,"
remonstrated the young man. "I come and tell you that as good a man as
ever breathed is over head and ears in love with you, and that you may
be mistress of one of the finest estates in Lincolnshire if you please,
and you turn round upon me like no end of furies."

"Because I hate to hear you talk nonsense," answered Olivia, her bosom
still heaving with that first outburst of emotion, but her voice
suppressed and cold. "Am I so beautiful, or so admired or beloved, that
a man who has not seen me half a dozen times should fall in love with
me? Do those who know me estimate me so much, or prize me so highly,
that a stranger should think of me? You _do_ insult me, Edward Arundel,
when you talk as you have talked to-night."

She looked out towards the low yellow light in the sky with a black
gloom upon her face, which no reflected glimmer of the sinking sun
could illumine; a settled darkness, near akin to the utter blackness of
despair.

"But, good heavens, Olivia, what do you mean?" cried the young man. "I
tell you something that I think a good joke, and you go and make a
tragedy out of it. If I'd told Letitia that a rich widower had fallen
in love with her, she'd think it the finest fun in the world."

"I'm not your sister Letitia."

"No; but I wish you'd half as good a temper as she has, Livy. However,
never mind; I'll say no more. If poor old Marchmont has fallen in love
with you, that's his look-out. Poor dear old boy, he's let out the
secret of his weakness half a dozen ways within these last few days.
It's Miss Arundel this, and Miss Arundel the other; so unselfish, so
accomplished, so ladylike, so good! That's the way he goes on, poor
simple old dear; without having the remotest notion that he's making a
confounded fool of himself."

Olivia tossed the rumpled hair from her forehead with an impatient
gesture of her hand.

"Why should this Mr. Marchmont think all this of me?" she said,
"when--" she stopped abruptly.

"When--what, Livy?"

"When other people don't think it."

"How do you know what other people think? You haven't asked them, I
suppose?"

The young soldier treated his cousin in very much the same
free-and-easy manner which he displayed towards his sister Letitia. It
would have been almost difficult for him to recognise any degree in his
relationship to the two girls. He loved Letitia better than Olivia; but
his affection for both was of exactly the same character.

Hubert Arundel came into the garden, wearied out, like his daughter,
while the two cousins were walking under the shadow of the neglected
hazels. He declared his willingness to accept the invitation to
Marchmont Towers, and promised to answer John's ceremonious note the
next day.

"Cookson, from Kemberling, will be there, I suppose," he said, alluding
to a brother parson, "and the usual set? Well, I'll come, Ned, if you
wish it. You'd like to go, Olivia?"

"If you like, papa."

There was a duty to be performed now--the duty of placid obedience to
her father; and Miss Arundel's manner changed from angry impatience to
grave respect. She owed no special duty, be it remembered, to her
cousin. She had no line or rule by which to measure her conduct to him.

She stood at the gate nearly an hour later, and watched the young man
ride away in the dim moonlight. If every separate tramp of his horse's
hoofs had struck upon her heart, it could scarcely have given her more
pain than she felt as the sound of those slow footfalls died away in
the distance.

"O my God," she cried, "is this madness to undo all that I have done?
Is this folly to be the climax of my dismal life? Am I to die for the
love of a frivolous, fair-haired boy, who laughs in my face when he
tells me that his friend has pleased to 'take a fancy to me'?"

She walked away towards the house; then stopping, with a sudden shiver,
she turned, and went back to the hazel-alley she had paced with Edward
Arundel.

"Oh, my narrow life!" she muttered between her set teeth; "my narrow
life! It is that which has made me the slave of this madness. I love
him because he is the brightest and fairest thing I have ever seen. I
love him because he brings me all I have ever known of a more beautiful
world than that I live in. Bah! why do I reason with myself?" she
cried, with a sudden change of manner. "I love him because I am mad."

She paced up and down the hazel-shaded pathway till the moonlight grew
broad and full, and every ivy-grown gable of the Rectory stood sharply
out against the vivid purple of the sky. She paced up and down, trying
to trample the folly within her under her feet as she went; a fierce,
passionate, impulsive woman, fighting against her mad love for a
bright-faced boy.

"Two years older--only two years!" she said; "but he spoke of the
difference between us as if it had been half a century. And then I am
so clever, that I seem older than I am; and he is afraid of me! Is it
for this that I have sat night after night in my father's study, poring
over the books that were too difficult for him? What have I made of
myself in my pride of intellect? What reward have I won for my
patience?"

Olivia Arundel looked back at her long life of duty--a dull, dead
level, unbroken by one of those monuments which mark the desert of the
past; a desolate flat, unlovely as the marshes between the low Rectory
wall and the shimmering grey sea.



CHAPTER VIII.

"MY LIFE IS COLD, AND DARK, AND DREARY."


Mr. Richard Paulette, of that eminent legal firm, Paulette, Paulette,
and Mathewson, coming to Marchmont Towers on business, was surprised to
behold the quiet ease with which the sometime copying-clerk received
the punctilious country gentry who came to sit at his board and do him
honour.

Of all the legal fairy-tales, of all the parchment-recorded romances,
of all the poetry run into affidavits, in which the solicitor had ever
been concerned, this story seemed the strangest. Not so very strange in
itself, for such romances are not uncommon in the history of a lawyer's
experience; but strange by reason of the tranquil manner in which John
Marchmont accepted his new position, and did the honours of his house
to his late employer.

"Ah, Paulette," Edward Arundel said, clapping the solicitor on the
back, "I don't suppose you believed me when I told you that my friend
here was heir-presumptive to a handsome fortune."

The dinner-party at the Towers was conducted with that stately grandeur
peculiar to such solemnities. There was the usual round of country-talk
and parish-talk; the hunting squires leading the former section of the
discourse, the rectors and rectors' wives supporting the latter part of
the conversation. You heard on one side that Martha Harris' husband had
left off drinking, and attended church morning and evening; and on the
other that the old grey fox that had been hunted nine seasons between
Crackbin Bottom and Hollowcraft Gorse had perished ignobly in the
poultry-yard of a recusant farmer. While your left ear became conscious
of the fact that little Billy Smithers had fallen into a copper of
scalding water, your right received the dismal tidings that all the
young partridges had been drowned by the rains after St. Swithin, and
that there were hardly any of this year's birds, sir, and it would be a
very blue look-out for next season.

Mary Marchmont had listened to gayer talk in Oakley Street than any
that was to be heard that night in her father's drawing-rooms, except
indeed when Edward Arundel left off flirting with some pretty girls in
blue, and hovered near her side for a little while, quizzing the
company. Heaven knows the young soldier's jokes were commonplace
enough; but Mary admired him as the most brilliant and accomplished of
wits.

"How do you like my cousin, Polly?" he asked at last.

"Your cousin, Miss Arundel?"

"Yes."

"She is very handsome."

"Yes, I suppose so," the young man answered carelessly. "Everybody says
that Livy's handsome; but it's rather a cold style of beauty, isn't it?
A little too much of the Pallas Athenë about it for my taste. I like
those girls in blue, with the crinkly auburn hair,--there's a touch of
red in it in the light,--and the dimples. You've a dimple, Polly, when
you smile."

Miss Marchmont blushed as she received this information, and her brown
eyes wandered away, looking very earnestly at the pretty girls in blue.
She looked at them with a strange interest, eager to discover what it
was that Edward admired.

"But you haven't answered my question, Polly," said Mr. Arundel. "I am
afraid you have been drinking too much wine, Miss Marchmont, and
muddling that sober little head of yours with the fumes of your papa's
tawny port. I asked you how you liked Olivia."

Mary blushed again.

"I don't know Miss Arundel well enough to like her--yet," she answered
timidly.

"But shall you like her when you've known her longer? Don't be
jesuitical, Polly. Likings and dislikings are instantaneous and
instinctive. I liked you before I'd eaten half a dozen mouthfuls of the
roll you buttered for me at that breakfast in Oakley Street, Polly. You
don't like my cousin Olivia, miss; I can see that very plainly. You're
jealous of her."

"Jealous of her!"

The bright colour faded out of Mary Marchmont's face, and left her ashy
pale.

"Do _you_ like her, then?" she asked.

But Mr. Arundel was not such a coxcomb as to catch at the secret so
naïvely betrayed in that breathless question.

"No, Polly," he said, laughing; "she's my cousin, you know, and I've
known her all my life; and cousins are like sisters. One likes to tease
and aggravate them, and all that; but one doesn't fall in love with
them. But I think I could mention somebody who thinks a great deal of
Olivia."

"Who?"

"Your papa."

Mary looked at the young soldier in utter bewilderment.

"Papa!" she echoed.

"Yes, Polly. How would you like a stepmamma? How would you like your
papa to marry again?"

Mary Marchmont started to her feet, as if she would have gone to her
father in the midst of all those spectators. John was standing near
Olivia and her father, talking to them, and playing nervously with his
slender watch-chain when he addressed the young lady.

"My papa--marry again!" gasped Mary. "How dare you say such a thing,
Mr. Arundel?"

Her childish devotion to her father arose in all its force; a flood of
passionate emotion that overwhelmed her sensitive nature. Marry again!
marry a woman who would separate him from his only child! Could he ever
dream for one brief moment of such a horrible cruelty?

She looked at Olivia's sternly handsome face, and trembled. She could
almost picture that very woman standing between her and her father, and
putting her away from him. Her indignation quickly melted into grief.
Indignation, however intense, was always short-lived in that gentle
nature.

"Oh, Mr Arundel!" she said, piteously appealing to the young man, "papa
would never, never, never marry again,--would he?"

"Not if it was to grieve you, Polly, I dare say," Edward answered
soothingly.

He had been dumbfounded by Mary's passionate sorrow. He had expected
that she would have been rather pleased, than otherwise, at the idea of
a young stepmother,--a companion in those vast lonely rooms, an
instructress and a friend as she grew to womanhood.

"I was only talking nonsense, Polly darling," he said. "You mustn't
make yourself unhappy about any absurd fancies of mine. I think your
papa admires my cousin Olivia: and I thought, perhaps, you'd be glad to
have a stepmother."

"Glad to have any one who'd take papa's love away from me?" Mary said
plaintively. "Oh, Mr. Arundel, how could you think so?"

In all their familiarity the little girl had never learned to call her
father's friend by his Christian name, though he had often told her to
do so. She trembled to pronounce that simple Saxon name, which was so
beautiful and wonderful because it was his: but when she read a very
stupid novel, in which the hero was a namesake of Mr. Arundel's, the
vapid pages seemed to be phosphorescent with light wherever the name
appeared upon them.

I scarcely know why John Marchmont lingered by Miss Arundel's chair. He
had heard her praises from every one. She was a paragon of goodness, an
uncanonised saint, for ever sacrificing herself for the benefit of
others. Perhaps he was thinking that such a woman as this would be the
best friend he could win for his little girl. He turned from the county
matrons, the tender, kindly, motherly creatures, who would have been
ready to take little Mary to the loving shelter of their arms, and
looked to Olivia Arundel--this cold, perfect benefactress of the
poor--for help in his difficulty.

"She, who is so good to all her father's parishioners, could not refuse
to be kind to my poor Mary?" he thought.

But how was he to win this woman's friendship for his darling? He asked
himself this question even in the midst of the frivolous people about
him, and with the buzz of their conversation in his ears. He was
perpetually tormenting himself about his little girl's future, which
seemed more dimly perplexing now than it had ever appeared in Oakley
Street, when the Lincolnshire property was a far-away dream, perhaps
never to be realised. He felt that his brief lease of life was running
out; he felt as if he and Mary had been standing upon a narrow tract of
yellow sand; very bright, very pleasant under the sunshine; but with
the slow-coming tide rising like a wall about them, and creeping
stealthily onward to overwhelm them.

Mary might gather bright-coloured shells and wet seaweed in her
childish ignorance; but he, who knew that the flood was coming, could
but grow sick at heart with the dull horror of that hastening doom. If
the black waters had been doomed to close over them both, the father
might have been content to go down under the sullen waves, with his
daughter clasped to his breast. But it was not to be so. He was to sink
in that unknown stream while she was left upon the tempest-tossed
surface, to be beaten hither and thither, feebly battling with the
stormy billows.

Could John Marchmont be a Christian, and yet feel this horrible dread
of the death which must separate him from his daughter? I fear this
frail, consumptive widower loved his child with an intensity of
affection that is scarcely reconcilable with Christianity. Such great
passions as these must be put away before the cross can be taken up,
and the troublesome path followed. In all love and kindness towards his
fellow-creatures, in all patient endurance of the pains and troubles
that befel himself, it would have been difficult to find a more
single-hearted follower of Gospel-teaching than John Marchmont; but in
this affection for his motherless child he was a very Pagan. He set up
an idol for himself, and bowed down before it. Doubtful and fearful of
the future, he looked hopelessly forward. He _could_ not trust his
orphan child into the hands of God; and drop away himself into the
fathomless darkness, serene in the belief that she would be cared for
and protected. No; he could not trust. He could be faithful for
himself; simple and confiding as a child; but not for her. He saw the
gloomy rocks louring black in the distance; the pitiless waves beating
far away yonder, impatient to devour the frail boat that was so soon to
be left alone upon the waters. In the thick darkness of the future he
could see no ray of light, except one,--a new hope that had lately
risen in his mind; the hope of winning some noble and perfect woman to
be the future friend of his daughter.

The days were past in which, in his simplicity, he had looked to Edward
Arundel as the future shelter of his child. The generous boy had grown
into a stylish young man, a soldier, whose duty lay far away from
Marchmont Towers. No; it was to a good woman's guardianship the father
must leave his child.

Thus the very intensity of his love was the one motive which led John
Marchmont to contemplate the step that Mary thought such a cruel and
bitter wrong to her.

 * * * * *

It was not till long after the dinner-party at Marchmont Towers that
these ideas resolved themselves into any positive form, and that John
began to think that for his daughter's sake he might be led to
contemplate a second marriage. Edward Arundel had spoken the truth when
he told his cousin that John Marchmont had repeatedly mentioned her
name; but the careless and impulsive young man had been utterly unable
to fathom the feeling lurking in his friend's mind. It was not Olivia
Arundel's handsome face which had won John's admiration; it was the
constant reiteration of her praises upon every side which had led him
to believe that this woman, of all others, was the one whom he would do
well to win for his child's friend and guardian in the dark days that
were to come.

The knowledge that Olivia's intellect was of no common order, together
with the somewhat imperious dignity of her manner, strengthened this
belief in John Marchmont's mind. It was not a good woman only whom he
must seek in the friend he needed for his child; it was a woman
powerful enough to shield her in the lonely path she would have to
tread; a woman strong enough to help her, perhaps, by-and-by to do
battle with Paul Marchmont.

So, in the blind paganism of his love, John refused to trust his child
into the hands of Providence, and chose for himself a friend and
guardian who should shelter his darling. He made his choice with so
much deliberation, and after such long nights and days of earnest
thought, that he may be forgiven if he believed he had chosen wisely.

Thus it was that in the dark November days, while Edward and Mary
played chess by the wide fireplace in the western drawing-room, or ball
in the newly-erected tennis-court, John Marchmont sat in his study
examining his papers, and calculating the amount of money at his own
disposal, in serious contemplation of a second marriage.

Did he love Olivia Arundel? No. He admired her and respected her, and
he firmly believed her to be the most perfect of women. No impulse of
affection had prompted the step he contemplated taking. He had loved
his first wife truly and tenderly; but he had never suffered very
acutely from any of those torturing emotions which form the several
stages of the great tragedy called Love.

But had he ever thought of the likelihood of his deliberate offer being
rejected by the young lady who had been the object of such careful
consideration? Yes; he had thought of this, and was prepared to abide
the issue. He should, at least, have tried his uttermost to secure a
friend for his darling.

With such unloverlike feelings as these the owner of Marchmont Towers
drove into Swampington one morning, deliberately bent upon offering
Olivia Arundel his hand. He had consulted with his land-steward, and
with Messrs. Paulette, and had ascertained how far he could endow his
bride with the goods of this world. It was not much that he could give
her, for the estate was strictly entailed; but there would be his own
savings for the brief term of his life, and if he lived only a few
years these savings might accumulate to a considerable amount, so
limited were the expenses of the quiet Lincolnshire household; and
there was a sum of money, something over nine thousand pounds, left him
by Philip Marchmont, senior. He had something, then, to offer to the
woman he sought to make his wife; and, above all, he had a supreme
belief in Olivia Arundel's utter disinterestedness. He had seen her
frequently since the dinner-party, and had always seen her the
same,--grave, reserved, dignified; patiently employed in the strict
performance of her duty.

He found Miss Arundel sitting in her father's study, busily cutting out
coarse garments for her poor. A newly-written sermon lay open on the
table. Had Mr. Marchmont looked closely at the manuscript, he would
have seen that the ink was wet, and that the writing was Olivia's. It
was a relief to this strange woman to write sermons sometimes--fierce
denunciatory protests against the inherent wickedness of the human
heart. Can you imagine a woman with a wicked heart steadfastly trying
to do good, and to be good? It is a dark and horrible picture; but it
is the only true picture of the woman whom John Marchmont sought to win
for his wife.

The interview between Mary's father and Olivia Arundel was not a very
sentimental one; but it was certainly the very reverse of commonplace.
John was too simple-hearted to disguise the purpose of his wooing. He
pleaded, not for a wife for himself, but a mother for his orphan child.
He talked of Mary's helplessness in the future, not of his own love in
the present. Carried away by the egotism of his one affection, he let
his motives appear in all their nakedness. He spoke long and earnestly;
he spoke until the blinding tears in his eyes made the face of her he
looked at seem blotted and dim.

Miss Arundel watched him as he pleaded; sternly, unflinchingly. But she
uttered no word until he had finished; and then, rising suddenly, with
a dusky flush upon her face, she began to pace up and down the narrow
room. She had forgotten John Marchmont. In the strength and vigour of
her intellect, this weak-minded widower, whose one passion was a
pitiful love for his child, appeared to her so utterly insignificant,
that for a few moments she had forgotten his presence in that room--his
very existence, perhaps. She turned to him presently, and looked him
full in the face.

"You do not love me, Mr. Marchmont?" she said.

"Pardon me," John stammered; "believe me, Miss Arundel, I respect, I
esteem you so much, that--"

"That you choose me as a fitting friend for your child. I understand. I
am not the sort of woman to be loved. I have long comprehended that. My
cousin Edward Arundel has often taken the trouble to tell me as much.
And you wish me to be your wife in order that you may have a guardian
for your child? It is very much the same thing as engaging a governess;
only the engagement is to be more binding."

"Miss Arundel," exclaimed John Marchmont, "forgive me! You
misunderstand me; indeed you do. Had I thought that I could have
offended you--"

"I am not offended. You have spoken the truth where another man would
have told a lie. I ought to be flattered by your confidence in me. It
pleases me that people should think me good, and worthy of their
trust."

She broke into a sigh as she finished speaking.

"And you will not reject my appeal?"

"I scarcely know what to do," answered Olivia, pressing her hand to her
forehead.

She leaned against the angle of the deep casement window, looking out
at the garden, desolate and neglected in the bleak winter weather. She
was silent for some minutes. John Marchmont did not interrupt her; he
was content to wait patiently until she should choose to speak.

"Mr. Marchmont," she said at last, turning upon poor John with an
abrupt vehemence that almost startled him, "I am three-and-twenty; and
in the long, dull memory of the three-and-twenty years that have made
my life, I cannot look back upon one joy--no, so help me Heaven, not
one!" she cried passionately. "No prisoner in the Bastille, shut in a
cell below the level of the Seine, and making companions of rats and
spiders in his misery, ever led a life more hopelessly narrow, more
pitifully circumscribed, than mine has been. These grass-grown streets
have made the boundary of my existence. The flat fenny country round me
is not flatter or more dismal than my life. You will say that I should
take an interest in the duties which I do; and that they should be
enough for me. Heaven knows I have tried to do so; but my life is hard.
Do you think there has been nothing in all this to warp my nature? Do
you think after hearing this, that I am the woman to be a second mother
to your child?"

She sat down as she finished speaking, and her hands dropped listlessly
in her lap. The unquiet spirit raging in her breast had been stronger
than herself, and had spoken. She had lifted the dull veil through
which the outer world beheld her, and had showed John Marchmont her
natural face.

"I think you are a good woman, Miss Arundel," he said earnestly. "If I
had thought otherwise, I should not have come here to-day. I want a
good woman to be kind to my child; kind to her when I am dead and
gone," he added, in a lower voice.

Olivia Arundel sat silent and motionless, looking straight before her
out into the black dulness of the garden. She was trying to think out
the dark problem of her life.

Strange as it may seem, there was a certain fascination for her in John
Marchmont's offer. He offered her something, no matter what; it would
be a change. She had compared herself to a prisoner in the Bastille;
and I think she felt very much as such a prisoner might have felt upon
his gaoler's offering to remove him to Vincennes. The new prison might
be worse than the old one, perhaps; but it would be different. Life at
Marchmont Towers might be more monotonous, more desolate, than at
Swampington; but it would be a new monotony, another desolation. Have
you never felt, when suffering the hideous throes of toothache, that it
would be a relief to have the earache or the rheumatism; that variety
even in torture would be agreeable?

Then, again, Olivia Arundel, though unblest with many of the charms of
womanhood, was not entirely without its weaknesses. To marry John
Marchmont would be to avenge herself upon Edward Arundel. Alas! she
forgot how impossible it is to inflict a dagger-thrust upon him who is
guarded by the impenetrable armour of indifference. She saw herself the
mistress of Marchmont Towers, waited upon by liveried servants,
courted, not patronised by the country gentry; avenged upon the
mercenary aunt who had slighted her, who had bade her go out and get
her living as a nursery governess. She saw this; and all that was
ignoble in her nature arose, and urged her to snatch the chance offered
her--the one chance of lifting herself out of the horrible obscurity of
her life. The ambition which might have made her an empress lowered its
crest, and cried, "Take this; at least it is something." But, through
all, the better voices which she had enlisted to do battle with the
natural voice of her soul cried, "This is a temptation of the devil;
put it away from thee."

But this temptation came to her at the very moment when her life had
become most intolerable; too intolerable to be borne, she thought. She
knew now, fatally, certainly, that Edward Arundel did not love her;
that the one only day-dream she had ever made for herself had been a
snare and a delusion. The radiance of that foolish dream had been the
single light of her life. That taken away from her, the darkness was
blacker than the blackness of death; more horrible than the obscurity
of the grave.

In all the future she had not one hope: no, not one. She had loved
Edward Arundel with all the strength of her soul; she had wasted a
world of intellect and passion upon this bright-haired boy. This
foolish, grovelling madness had been the blight of her life. But for
this, she might have grown out of her natural self by force of her
conscientious desire to do right; and might have become, indeed, a good
and perfect woman. If her life had been a wider one, this wasted love
would, perhaps, have shrunk into its proper insignificance; she would
have loved, and suffered, and recovered; as so many of us recover from
this common epidemic. But all the volcanic forces of an impetuous
nature, concentrated into one narrow focus, wasted themselves upon this
one feeling, until that which should have been a sentiment became a
madness.

To think that in some far-away future time she might cease to love
Edward Arundel, and learn to love somebody else, would have seemed
about as reasonable to Olivia as to hope that she could have new legs
and arms in that distant period. She could cut away this fatal passion
with a desperate stroke, it may be, just as she could cut off her arm;
but to believe that a new love would grow in its place was quite as
absurd as to believe in the growing of a new arm. Some cork monstrosity
might replace the amputated limb; some sham and simulated affection
might succeed the old love.

Olivia Arundel thought of all these things, in about ten minutes by the
little skeleton clock upon the mantel-piece, and while John Marchmont
fidgeted rather nervously, with a pair of gloves in the crown of his
hat, and waited for some definite answer to his appeal. Her mind came
back at last, after all its passionate wanderings, to the rigid channel
she had so laboriously worn for it,--the narrow groove of duty. Her
first words testified this.

"If I accept this responsibility, I will perform it faithfully," she
said, rather to herself than to Mr. Marchmont.

"I am sure you will, Miss Arundel," John answered eagerly; "I am sure
you will. You mean to undertake it, then? you mean to consider my
offer? May I speak to your father? may I tell him that I have spoken to
you? may I say that you have given me a hope of your ultimate consent?"

"Yes, yes," Olivia said, rather impatiently; "speak to my father; tell
him anything you please. Let him decide for me; it is my duty to obey
him."

There was a terrible cowardice in this. Olivia Arundel shrank from
marrying a man she did not love, prompted by no better desire than the
mad wish to wrench herself away from her hated life. She wanted to
fling the burden of responsibility in this matter away from her. Let
another decide, let another urge her to do this wrong; and let the
wrong be called a sacrifice.

So for the first time she set to work deliberately to cheat her own
conscience. For the first time she put a false mark upon the standard
she had made for the measurement of her moral progress.

She sank into a crouching attitude on a low stool by the fire-place, in
utter prostration of body and mind, when John Marchmont had left her.
She let her weary head fall heavily against the carved oaken shaft that
supported the old-fashioned mantel-piece, heedless that her brow struck
sharply against the corner of the wood-work.

If she could have died then, with no more sinful secret than a woman's
natural weakness hidden in her breast; if she could have died then,
while yet the first step upon the dark pathway of her life was
untrodden,--how happy for herself, how happy for others! How miserable
a record of sin and suffering might have remained unwritten in the
history of woman's life!

 * * * * *

She sat long in the same attitude. Once, and once only, two solitary
tears gathered in her eyes, and rolled slowly down her pale cheeks.

"Will you be sorry when I am married, Edward Arundel?" she murmured;
"will you be sorry?"



CHAPTER IX.

"WHEN SHALL I CEASE TO BE ALL ALONE?"


Hubert Arundel was not so much surprised as might have been anticipated
at the proposal made him by his wealthy neighbour. Edward had prepared
his uncle for the possibility of such a proposal by sundry jocose
allusions and arch hints upon the subject of John Marchmont's
admiration for Olivia. The frank and rather frivolous young man thought
it was his cousin's handsome face that had captivated the master of
Marchmont Towers, and was quite unable to fathom the hidden motive
underlying all John's talk about Miss Arundel.

The Rector of Swampington, being a simple-hearted and not very
far-seeing man, thanked God heartily for the chance that had befallen
his daughter. She would be well off and well cared for, then, by the
mercy of Providence, in spite of his own shortcomings, which had left
her with no better provision for the future than a pitiful Policy of
Assurance upon her father's life. She would be well provided for
henceforward, and would live in a handsome house; and all those noble
qualities which had been dwarfed and crippled in a narrow sphere would
now expand, and display themselves in unlooked-for grandeur.

"People have called her a good girl," he thought; "but how could they
ever know her goodness, unless they had seen, as I have, the
deprivations she has borne so uncomplainingly?"

John Marchmont, being newly instructed by his lawyer, was able to give
Mr. Arundel a very clear statement of the provision he could make for
his wife's future. He could settle upon her the nine thousand pounds
left him by Philip Marchmont. He would allow her five hundred a year
pin-money during his lifetime; he would leave her his savings at his
death; and he would effect an insurance upon his life for her benefit.
The amount of these savings would, of course, depend upon the length of
John's life; but the money would accumulate very quickly, as his income
was eleven thousand a year, and his expenditure was not likely to
exceed three.

The Swampington living was worth little more than three hundred and
fifty pounds a year; and out of that sum Hubert Arundel and his
daughter had done treble as much good for the numerous poor of the
parish as ever had been achieved by any previous Rector or his family.
Hubert and his daughter had patiently endured the most grinding
poverty, the burden ever falling heavier on Olivia, who had the heroic
faculty of endurance as regards all physical discomfort. Can it be
wondered, then, that the Rector of Swampington thought the prospect
offered to his child a very brilliant one? Can it be wondered that he
urged his daughter to accept this altered lot?

He did urge her, pleading John Marchmont's cause a great deal more
warmly than the widower had himself pleaded.

"My darling," he said, "my darling girl! if I can live to see you
mistress of Marchmont Towers, I shall go to my grave contented and
happy. Think, my dear, of the misery from which this marriage will save
you. Oh, my dear girl, I can tell you now what I never dared tell you
before; I can tell you of the long, sleepless nights I have passed
thinking of you, and of the wicked wrongs I have done you. Not wilful
wrongs, my love," the Rector added, with the tears gathering in his
eyes; "for you know how dearly I have always loved you. But a father's
responsibility towards his children is a very heavy burden. I have only
looked at it in this light lately, my dear,--now that I've let the time
slip by, and it is too late to redeem the past. I've suffered very
much, Olivia; and all this has seemed to separate us, somehow. But
that's past now, isn't it, my dear? and you'll marry this Mr.
Marchmont. He appears to be a very good, conscientious man, and I think
he'll make you happy."

The father and daughter were sitting together after dinner in the dusky
November twilight, the room only lighted by the fire, which was low and
dim. Hubert Arundel could not see his daughter's face as he talked to
her; he could only see the black outline of her figure sharply defined
against the grey window behind her, as she sat opposite to him. He
could see by her attitude that she was listening to him, with her head
drooping and her hands lying idle in her lap.

She was silent for some little time after he had finished speaking; so
silent that he feared his words might have touched her too painfully,
and that she was crying.

Heaven help this simple-hearted father! She had scarcely heard three
consecutive words that he had spoken, but had only gathered dimly from
his speech that he wanted her to accept John Marchmont's offer.

Every great passion is a supreme egotism. It is not the object which we
hug so determinedly; it is not the object which coils itself about our
weak hearts: it is our own madness we worship and cleave to, our own
pitiable folly which we refuse to put away from us. What is Bill Sykes'
broken nose or bull-dog visage to Nancy? The creature she loves and
will not part from is not Bill, but her own love for Bill,--the one
delusion of a barren life; the one grand selfishness of a feeble
nature.

Olivia Arundel's thoughts had wandered far away while her father had
spoken so piteously to her. She had been thinking of her cousin Edward,
and had been asking herself the same question over and over again.
Would he be sorry? would he be sorry if she married John Marchmont?

But she understood presently that her father was waiting for her to
speak; and, rising from her chair, she went towards him, and laid her
hand upon his shoulder.

"I am afraid I have not done my duty to you, papa," she said.

Latterly she had been for ever harping upon this one theme,--her duty!
That word was the keynote of her life; and her existence had latterly
seemed to her so inharmonious, that it was scarcely strange she should
repeatedly strike that leading note in the scale.

"My darling," cried Mr. Arundel, "you have been all that is good!"

"No, no, papa; I have been cold, reserved, silent."

"A little silent, my dear," the Rector answered meekly; "but you have
not been happy. I have watched you, my love, and I know you have not
been happy. But that is not strange. This place is so dull, and your
life has been so fatiguing. How different that would all be at
Marchmont Towers!"

"You wish me to many Mr. Marchmont, then, papa?"

"I do, indeed, my love. For your own sake, of course," the Rector added
deprecatingly.

"You really wish it?"

"Very, very much, my dear."

"Then I will marry him, papa."

She took her hand from the Rector's shoulder, and walked away from him
to the uncurtained window, against which she stood with her back to her
father, looking out into the grey obscurity.

I have said that Hubert Arundel was not a very clever or far-seeing
person; but he vaguely felt that this was not exactly the way in which
a brilliant offer of marriage should be accepted by a young lady who
was entirely fancy-free, and he had an uncomfortable apprehension that
there was something hidden under his daughter's quiet manner.

"But, my dear Olivia," he said nervously, "you must not for a moment
suppose that I would force you into this marriage, if it is in any way
repugnant to yourself. You--you may have formed some prior
attachment--or, there may be somebody who loves you, and has loved you
longer than Mr. Marchmont, who--"

His daughter turned upon him sharply as he rambled on.

"Somebody who loves me!" she echoed. "What have you ever seen that
should make you think any one loved me?"

The harshness of her tone jarred upon Mr. Arundel, and made him still
more nervous.

"My love, I beg your pardon, I have seen nothing. I--"

"Nobody loves me, or has ever loved me,--but you," resumed Olivia,
taking no heed of her father's feeble interruption. "I am not the sort
of woman to be loved; I feel and know that. I have an aquiline nose,
and a clear skin, and dark eyes, and people call me handsome; but
nobody loves me, or ever will, so long as I live."

"But Mr. Marchmont, my dear,--surely he loves and admires you?"
remonstrated the Rector.

"Mr. Marchmont wants a governess and _chaperone_ for his daughter, and
thinks me a suitable person to fill such a post; that is all the _love_
Mr. Marchmont has for me. No, papa; there is no reason I should shrink
from this marriage. There is no one who will be sorry for it; no one! I
am asked to perform a duty towards this little girl, and I am prepared
to perform it faithfully. That is my part of the bargain. Do I commit a
sin in marrying John Marchmont in this spirit, papa?"

She asked the question eagerly, almost breathlessly; as if her decision
depended upon her father's answer.

"A sin, my dear! How can you ask such a question?"

"Very well, then; if I commit no sin in accepting this offer, I will
accept it."

It was thus Olivia paltered with her conscience, holding back half the
truth. The question she should have asked was this, "Do I commit a sin
in marrying one man, while my heart is racked by a mad passion for
another?"

Miss Arundel could not visit her poor upon the day after this interview
with her father. Her monotonous round of duty seemed more than ever
abhorrent to her. She wandered across the dreary marshes, down by the
lonely seashore, in the grey November fog.

She stood for a long time, shivering with the cold dampness of the
atmosphere, but not even conscious that she was cold, looking at a
dilapidated boat that lay upon the rugged beach. The waters before her
and the land behind her were hidden by a dense veil of mist. It seemed
as if she stood alone in the world,--utterly isolated, utterly
forgotten.

"O my God!" she murmured, "if this boat at my feet could drift me away
to some desert island, I could never be more desolate than I am,
amongst the people who do not love me."

Dim lights in distant windows were gleaming across the flats when she
returned to Swampington, to find her father sitting alone and
dispirited at his frugal dinner. Miss Arundel took her place quietly at
the bottom of the table, no trace of emotion upon her face.

"I am sorry I stayed out so long, papa" she said; "I had no idea it was
so late."

"Never mind, my dear, I know you have always enough to occupy you. Mr.
Marchmont called while you were out. He seemed very anxious to hear
your decision, and was delighted when he found that it was favourable
to himself."

Olivia dropped her knife and fork, and rose from her chair suddenly,
with a strange look, which was almost terror, in her face.

"It is quite decided, then?" she said.

"Yes, my love. But you are not sorry, are you?"

"Sorry! No; I am glad."

She sank back into her chair with a sigh of relief. She _was_ glad. The
prospect of this strange marriage offered a relief from the horrible
oppression of her life.

"Henceforward to think of Edward Arundel will be a sin," she thought.
"I have not won another man's love; but I shall be another man's wife."



CHAPTER X.

MARY'S STEPMOTHER.


Perhaps there was never a quieter courtship than that which followed
Olivia's acceptance of John Marchmont's offer. There had been no
pretence of sentiment on either side; yet I doubt if John had been much
more sentimental during his early love-making days, though he had very
tenderly and truly loved his first wife. There were few sparks of the
romantic or emotional fire in his placid nature. His love for his
daughter, though it absorbed his whole being, was a silent and
undemonstrative affection; a thoughtful and almost fearful devotion,
which took the form of intense but hidden anxiety for his child's
future, rather than any outward show of tenderness.

Had his love been of a more impulsive and demonstrative character, he
would scarcely have thought of taking such a step as that he now
contemplated, without first ascertaining whether it would be agreeable
to his daughter.

But he never for a moment dreamt of consulting Mary's will upon this
important matter. He looked with fearful glances towards the dim
future, and saw his darling, a lonely figure upon a barren landscape,
beset by enemies eager to devour her; and he snatched at this one
chance of securing her a protectress, who would be bound to her by a
legal as well as a moral tie; for John Marchmont meant to appoint his
second wife the guardian of his child. He thought only of this; and he
hurried on his suit at the Rectory, fearful lest death should come
between him and his loveless bride, and thus deprive his darling of a
second mother.

This was the history of John Marchmont's marriage. It was not till a
week before the day appointed for the wedding that he told his daughter
what he was about to do. Edward Arundel knew the secret, but he had
been warned not to reveal it to Mary.

The father and daughter sat together late one evening in the first week
of December, in the great western drawing-room. Edward had gone to a
party at Swampington, and was to sleep at the Rectory; so Mary and her
father were alone.

It was nearly eleven o'clock; but Miss Marchmont had insisted upon
sitting up until her father should retire to rest. She had always sat
up in Oakley Street, she had remonstrated, though she was much younger
then. She sat on a velvet-covered hassock at her father's feet, with
her loose hair falling over his knee, as her head lay there in loving
abandonment. She was not talking to him; for neither John nor Mary were
great talkers; but she was with him--that was quite enough.

Mr. Marchmont's thin fingers twined themselves listlessly in and out of
the fair curls upon his knee. Mary was thinking of Edward and the party
at Swampington. Would he enjoy himself very, very much? Would he be
sorry that she was not there? It was a grown-up party, and she wasn't
old enough for grown-up parties yet. Would the pretty girls in blue be
there? and would he dance with them?

Her father's face was clouded by a troubled expression, as he looked
absently at the red embers in the low fireplace. He spoke presently,
but his observation was a very commonplace one. The opening speeches of
a tragedy are seldom remarkable for any ominous or solemn meaning. Two
gentlemen meet each other in a street very near the footlights, and
converse rather flippantly about the aspect of affairs in general;
there is no hint of bloodshed and agony till we get deeper into the
play.

So Mr. Marchmont, bent upon making rather an important communication to
his daughter, and for the first time feeling very fearful as to how she
would take it, began thus:

"You really ought to go to bed earlier, Polly dear; you've been looking
very pale lately, and I know such hours as these must be bad for you."

"Oh, no, papa dear," cried the young lady; "I'm always pale; that's
natural to me. Sitting up late doesn't hurt me, papa. It never did in
Oakley Street, you know."

John Marchmont shook his head sadly.

"I don't know that," he said. "My darling had to suffer many evils
through her father's poverty. If you had some one who loved you, dear,
a lady, you know,--for a man does not understand these sort of
things,--your health would be looked after more carefully,
and--and--your education--and--in short, you would be altogether
happier; wouldn't you, Polly darling?"

He asked the question in an almost piteously appealing tone. A terrible
fear was beginning to take possession of him. His daughter might be
grieved at this second marriage. The very step which he had taken for
her happiness might cause her loving nature pain and sorrow. In the
utter cowardice of his affection he trembled at the thought of causing
his darling any distress in the present, even for her own
welfare,--even for her future good; and he _knew_ that the step he was
about to take would secure that. Mary started from her reclining
position, and looked up into her father's face.

"You're not going to engage a governess for me, papa?" she cried
eagerly. "Oh, please don't. We are so much better as it is. A governess
would keep me away from you, papa; I know she would. The Miss Llandels,
at Impley Grange, have a governess; and they only come down to dessert
for half an hour, or go out for a drive sometimes, so that they very
seldom see their papa. Lucy told me so; and they said they'd give the
world to be always with their papa, as I am with you. Oh, pray, pray,
papa darling, don't let me have a governess."

The tears were in her eyes as she pleaded to him. The sight of those
tears made him terribly nervous.

"My own dear Polly," he said, "I'm not going to engage a governess.
I--; Polly, Polly dear, you must be reasonable. You mustn't grieve your
poor father. You are old enough to understand these things now, dear.
You know what the doctors have said. I may die, Polly, and leave you
alone in the world."

She clung closely to her father, and looked up, pale and trembling, as
she answered him.

"When you die, papa, I shall die too. I could never, never live without
you."

"Yes, yes, my darling, you would. You will live to lead a happy life,
please God, and a safe one; but if I die, and leave you very young,
very inexperienced, and innocent, as I may do, my dear, you must not be
without a friend to watch over you, to advise, to protect you. I have
thought of this long and earnestly, Polly; and I believe that what I am
going to do is right."

"What you are going to do!" Mary cried, repeating her father's words,
and looking at him in sudden terror. "What do you mean, papa? What are
you going to do? Nothing that will part us! O papa, papa, you will
never do anything to part us!"

"No, Polly darling," answered Mr. Marchmont. "Whatever I do, I do for
your sake, and for that alone. I'm going to be married, my dear."

Mary burst into a low wail, more pitiful than any ordinary weeping.

"O papa, papa," she cried, "you never will, you never will!"

The sound of that piteous voice for a few moments quite unmanned John
Marchmont; but he armed himself with a desperate courage. He determined
not to be influenced by this child to relinquish the purpose which he
believed was to achieve her future welfare.

"Mary, Mary dear," he said reproachfully, "this is very cruel of you.
Do you think I haven't consulted your happiness before my own? Do you
think I shall love you less because I take this step for your sake? You
are very cruel to me, Mary."

The little girl rose from her kneeling attitude, and stood before her
father, with the tears streaming down her white cheeks, but with a
certain air of resolution about her. She had been a child for a few
moments; a child, with no power to look beyond the sudden pang of that
new sorrow which had come to her. She was a woman now, able to rise
superior to her sorrow in the strength of her womanhood.

"I won't be cruel, papa," she said; "I was selfish and wicked to talk
like that. If it will make you happy to have another wife, papa, I'll
not be sorry. No, I won't be sorry, even if your new wife separates
us--a little."

"But, my darling," John remonstrated, "I don't mean that she should
separate us at all. I wish you to have a second friend, Polly; some one
who can understand you better than I do, who may love you perhaps
almost as well." Mary Marchmont shook her head; she could not realise
this possibility. "Do you understand me, my dear?" her father continued
earnestly. "I want you to have some one who will be a mother to you;
and I hope--I am sure that Olivia--"

Mary interrupted him by a sudden exclamation, that was almost like a
cry of pain.

"Not Miss Arundel!" she said. "O papa, it is not Miss Arundel you're
going to marry!"

Her father bent his head in assent.

"What is the matter with you, Mary?" he said, almost fretfully, as he
saw the look of mingled grief and terror in his daughter's face. "You
are really quite unreasonable to-night. If I am to marry at all, who
should I choose for a wife? Who could be better than Olivia Arundel?
Everybody knows how good she is. Everybody talks of her goodness."

In these two sentences Mr. Marchmont made confession of a fact he had
never himself considered. It was not his own impulse, it was no
instinctive belief in her goodness, that had led him to choose Olivia
Arundel for his wife. He had been influenced solely by the reiterated
opinions of other people.

"I know she is very good, papa," Mary cried; "but, oh, why, why do you
marry her? Do you love her so very, very much?"

"Love her!" exclaimed Mr. Marchmont naïvely; "no, Polly dear; you know
I never loved any one but you."

"Why do you marry her then?"

"For your sake, Polly; for your sake."

"But don't then, papa; oh, pray, pray don't. I don't want her. I don't
like her. I could never be happy with her."

"Mary! Mary!"

"Yes, I know it's very wicked to say so, but it's true, papa; I never,
never, never could be happy with her. I know she is good, but I don't
like her. If I did anything wrong, I should never expect her to forgive
me for it; I should never expect her to have mercy upon me. Don't marry
her, papa; pray, pray don't marry her."

"Mary," said Mr. Marchmont resolutely, "this is very wrong of you. I
have given my word, my dear, and I cannot recall it. I believe that I
am acting for the best. You must not be childish now, Mary. You have
been my comfort ever since you were a baby; you mustn't make me unhappy
now."

Her father's appeal went straight to her heart. Yes, she had been his
help and comfort since her earliest infancy, and she was not unused to
self-sacrifice: why should she fail him now? She had read of martyrs,
patient and holy creatures, to whom suffering was glory; she would be a
martyr, if need were, for his sake. She would stand steadfast amid the
blazing fagots, or walk unflinchingly across the white-hot ploughshare,
for his sake, for his sake.

"Papa, papa," she cried, flinging herself upon her father's neck, "I
will not make you sorry. I will be good and obedient to Miss Arundel,
if you wish it."

Mr. Marchmont carried his little girl up to her comfortable bedchamber,
close at hand to his own. She was very calm when she bade him good
night, and she kissed him with a smile upon her face; but all through
the long hours before the late winter morning Mary Marchmont lay awake,
weeping silently and incessantly in her new sorrow; and all through the
same weary hours the master of that noble Lincolnshire mansion slept a
fitful and troubled slumber, rendered hideous by confused and horrible
dreams, in which the black shadow that came between him and his child,
and the cruel hand that thrust him for ever from his darling, were
Olivia Arundel's.

But the morning light brought relief to John Marchmont and his child.
Mary arose with the determination to submit patiently to her father's
choice, and to conceal from him all traces of her foolish and
unreasoning sorrow. John awoke from troubled dreams to believe in the
wisdom of the step he had taken, and to take comfort from the thought
that in the far-away future his daughter would have reason to thank and
bless him for the choice he had made.

So the few days before the marriage passed away--miserably short days,
that flitted by with terrible speed; and the last day of all was made
still more dismal by the departure of Edward Arundel, who left
Marchmont Towers to go to Dangerfield Park, whence he was most likely
to start once more for India.

Mary felt that her narrow world of love was indeed crumbling away from
her. Edward was lost, and to-morrow her father would belong to another.
Mr. Marchmont dined at the Rectory upon that last evening; for there
were settlements to be signed, and other matters to be arranged; and
Mary was alone--quite alone--weeping over her lost happiness.

"This would never have happened," she thought, "if we hadn't come to
Marchmont Towers. I wish papa had never had the fortune; we were so
happy in Oakley Street,--so very happy. I wouldn't mind a bit being
poor again, if I could be always with papa."

Mr. Marchmont had not been able to make himself quite comfortable in
his mind, after that unpleasant interview with his daughter in which he
had broken to her the news of his approaching marriage. Argue with
himself as he might upon the advisability of the step he was about to
take, he could not argue away the fact that he had grieved the child he
loved so intensely. He could not blot away from his memory the pitiful
aspect of her terror-stricken face as she had turned it towards him
when he uttered the name of Olivia Arundel.

No; he had grieved and distressed her. The future might reconcile her
to that grief, perhaps, as a bygone sorrow which she had been allowed
to suffer for her own ultimate advantage. But the future was a long way
off: and in the meantime there was Mary's altered face, calm and
resigned, but bearing upon it a settled look of sorrow, very close at
hand; and John Marchmont could not be otherwise than unhappy in the
knowledge of his darling's grief.

I do not believe that any man or woman is ever suffered to take a fatal
step upon the roadway of life without receiving ample warning by the
way. The stumbling-blocks are placed in the fatal path by a merciful
hand; but we insist upon clambering over them, and surmounting them in
our blind obstinacy, to reach that shadowy something beyond, which we
have in our ignorance appointed to be our goal. A thousand ominous
whispers in his own breast warned John Marchmont that the step he
considered so wise was not a wise one: and yet, in spite of all these
subtle warnings, in spite of the ever-present reproach of his
daughter's altered face, this man, who was too weak to trust blindly in
his God, went on persistently upon his way, trusting, with a thousand
times more fatal blindness, in his own wisdom.

He could not be content to confide his darling and her altered fortunes
to the Providence which had watched over her in her poverty, and
sheltered her from every harm. He could not trust his child to the
mercy of God; but he cast her upon the love of Olivia Arundel.

A new life began for Mary Marchmont after the quiet wedding at
Swampington Church. The bride and bridegroom went upon a brief
honeymoon excursion far away amongst snow-clad Scottish mountains and
frozen streams, upon whose bloomless margins poor John shivered
dismally. I fear that Mr. Marchmont, having been, by the hard pressure
of poverty, compelled to lead a Cockney life for the better half of his
existence, had but slight relish for the grand and sublime in nature. I
do not think he looked at the ruined walls which had once sheltered
Macbeth and his strong-minded partner with all the enthusiasm which
might have been expected of him. He had but one idea about Macbeth, and
he was rather glad to get out of the neighbourhood associated with the
warlike Thane; for his memories of the past presented King Duncan's
murderer as a very stern and uncompromising gentleman, who was utterly
intolerant of banners held awry, or turned with the blank and ignoble
side towards the audience, and who objected vehemently to a violent fit
of coughing on the part of any one of his guests during the blank
barmecide feast of pasteboard and Dutch metal with which he was wont to
entertain them. No; John Marchmont had had quite enough of Macbeth, and
rather wondered at the hot enthusiasm of other red-nosed tourists,
apparently indifferent to the frosty weather.

I fear that the master of Marchmont Towers would have preferred Oakley
Street, Lambeth, to Princes Street, Edinburgh; for the nipping and
eager airs of the Modern Athens nearly blew him across the gulf between
the new town and the old. A visit to the Calton Hill produced an attack
of that chronic cough which had so severely tormented the weak-kneed
supernumerary in the draughty corridors of Drury Lane. Melrose and
Abbotsford fatigued this poor feeble tourist; he tried to be interested
in the stereotyped round of associations beloved by other travellers,
but he had a weary craving for rest, which was stronger than any
hero-worship; and he discovered, before long, that he had done a very
foolish thing in coming to Scotland in December and January, without
having consulted his physician as to the propriety of such a step.

But above all personal inconvenience, above all personal suffering,
there was one feeling ever present in his heart--a sick yearning for
the little girl he had left behind him; a mournful longing to be back
with his child. Already Mary's sad forebodings had been in some way
realised; already his new wife had separated him, unintentionally of
course, from his daughter. The aches and pains he endured in the bleak
Scottish atmosphere reminded him only too forcibly of the warnings he
had received from his physicians. He was seized with a panic, almost,
when he remembered his own imprudence. What if he had needlessly
curtailed the short span of his life? What if he were to die
soon--before Olivia had learned to love her stepdaughter; before Mary
had grown affectionately familiar with her new guardian? Again and
again he appealed to his wife, imploring her to be tender to the orphan
child, if he should be snatched away suddenly.

"I know you will love her by-and-by, Olivia," he said; "as much as I
do, perhaps; for you will discover how good she is, how patient and
unselfish. But just at first, and before you know her very well, you
will be kind to her, won't you, Olivia? She has been used to great
indulgence; she has been spoiled, perhaps; but you'll remember all
that, and be very kind to her?"

"I will try and do my duty," Mrs. Marchmont answered. "I pray that I
never may do less."

There was no tender yearning in Olivia Marchmont's heart towards the
motherless girl. She herself felt that such a sentiment was wanting,
and comprehended that it should have been there. She would have loved
her stepdaughter in those early days, if she could have done so; but
_she could not_--she could not. All that was tender or womanly in her
nature had been wasted upon her hopeless love for Edward Arundel. The
utter wreck of that small freight of affection had left her nature
warped and stunted, soured, disappointed, unwomanly.

How was she to love this child, this hazel-haired, dove-eyed girl,
before whom woman's life, with all its natural wealth of affection,
stretched far away, a bright and fairy vista? How was _she_ to love
her,--she, whose black future was unchequered by one ray of light; who
stood, dissevered from the past, alone in the dismal, dreamless
monotony of the present?

"No" she thought; "beggars and princes can never love one another. When
this girl and I are equals,--when she, like me, stands alone upon a
barren rock, far out amid the waste of waters, with not one memory to
hold her to the past, with not one hope to lure her onward to the
future, with nothing but the black sky above and the black waters
around,--_then_ we may grow fond of each other."

But always more or less steadfast to the standard she had set up for
herself, Olivia Marchmont intended to do her duty to her stepdaughter.
She had not failed in other duties, though no glimmer of love had
brightened them, no natural affection had made them pleasant. Why
should she fail in this?

If this belief in her own power should appear to be somewhat arrogant,
let it be remembered that she had set herself hard tasks before now,
and had performed them. Would the new furnace through which she was to
pass be more terrible than the old fires? She had gone to God's altar
with a man for whom she had no more love than she felt for the lowest
or most insignificant of the miserable sinners in her father's flock.
She had sworn to honour and obey him, meaning at least faithfully to
perform that portion of her vow; and on the night before her loveless
bridal she had grovelled, white, writhing, mad, and desperate, upon the
ground, and had plucked out of her lacerated heart her hopeless love
for another man.

Yes; she had done this. Another woman might have spent that bridal eve
in vain tears and lamentations, in feeble prayers, and such weak
struggles as might have been evidenced by the destruction of a few
letters, a tress of hair, some fragile foolish tokens of a wasted love.
She would have burnt five out of six letters, perhaps, that helpless,
ordinary sinner, and would have kept the sixth, to hoard away hidden
among her matrimonial trousseau; she would have thrown away
fifteen-sixteenths of that tress of hair, and would have kept the
sixteenth portion,--one delicate curl of gold, slender as the thread by
which her shattered hopes had hung,--to be wept over and kissed in the
days that were to come. An ordinary woman would have played fast and
loose with love and duty; and so would have been true to neither.

But Olivia Arundel did none of these things. She battled with her
weakness as St George battled with the fiery dragon. She plucked the
rooted serpent from her heart, reckless as to how much of that
desperate heart was to be wrenched away with its roots. A cowardly
woman would have killed herself, perhaps, rather than endure this
mortal agony. Olivia Arundel killed more than herself; she killed the
passion that had become stronger than herself.

"Alone she did it;" unaided by any human sympathy or compassion,
unsupported by any human counsel, not upheld by her God; for the
religion she had made for herself was a hard creed, and the many words
of tender comfort which must have been familiar to her were
unremembered in that long night of anguish.

It was the Roman's stern endurance, rather than the meek faithfulness
of the Christian, which upheld this unhappy girl under her torture. She
did not do this thing because it pleased her to be obedient to her God.
She did not do it because she believed in the mercy of Him who
inflicted the suffering, and looked forward hopefully, even amid her
passionate grief, to the day when she should better comprehend that
which she now saw so darkly. No; she fought the terrible fight, and she
came forth out of it a conqueror, by reason of her own indomitable
power of suffering, by reason of her own extraordinary strength of
will.

But she did conquer. If her weapon was the classic sword and not the
Christian cross, she was nevertheless a conqueror. When she stood
before the altar and gave her hand to John Marchmont, Edward Arundel
was dead to her. The fatal habit of looking at him as the one centre of
her narrow life was cured. In all her Scottish wanderings, her thoughts
never once went back to him; though a hundred chance words and
associations tempted her, though a thousand memories assailed her,
though some trick of his face in the faces of other people, though some
tone of his voice in the voices of strangers, perpetually offered to
entrap her. No; she was steadfast.

Dutiful as a wife as she had been dutiful as a daughter, she bore with
her husband when his feeble health made him a wearisome companion. She
waited upon him when pain made him fretful, and her duties became
little less arduous than those of a hospital nurse. When, at the
bidding of the Scotch physician who had been called in at Edinburgh,
John Marchmont turned homewards, travelling slowly and resting often on
the way, his wife was more devoted to him than his experienced servant,
more watchful than the best-trained sick-nurse. She recoiled from
nothing, she neglected nothing; she gave him full measure of the honour
and obedience which she had promised upon her wedding-day. And when she
reached Marchmont Towers upon a dreary evening in January, she passed
beneath the solemn portal of the western front, carrying in her heart
the full determination to hold as steadfastly to the other half of her
bargain, and to do her duty to her stepchild.

Mary ran out of the western drawing-room to welcome her father and his
wife. She had cast off her black dresses in honour of Mr. Marchmont's
marriage, and she wore some soft, silken fabric, of a pale shimmering
blue, which contrasted exquisitely with her soft, brown hair, and her
fair, tender face. She uttered a cry of mingled alarm and sorrow when
she saw her father, and perceived the change that had been made in his
looks by the northern journey; but she checked herself at a warning
glance from her stepmother, and bade that dear father welcome, clinging
about him with an almost desperate fondness. She greeted Olivia gently
and respectfully.

"I will try to be very good, mamma," she said, as she took the passive
hand of the lady who had come to rule at Marchmont Towers.

"I believe you will, my dear," Olivia answered, kindly.

She had been startled a little as Mary addressed her by that endearing
corruption of the holy word mother. The child had been so long
motherless, that she felt little of that acute anguish which some
orphans suffer when they have to look up in a strange face and say
"mamma." She had taught herself the lesson of resignation, and she was
prepared to accept this stranger as her new mother, and to look up to
her and obey her henceforward. No thought of her own future position,
as sole owner of that great house and all appertaining to it, ever
crossed Mary Marchmont's mind, womanly as that mind had become in the
sharp experiences of poverty. If her father had told her that he had
cut off the entail, and settled Marchmont Towers upon his new wife, I
think she would have submitted meekly to his will, and would have seen
no injustice in the act. She loved him blindly and confidingly. Indeed,
she could only love after one fashion. The organ of veneration must
have been abnormally developed in Mary Marchmont's head. To believe
that any one she loved was otherwise than perfect, would have been, in
her creed, an infidelity against love. Had any one told her that Edward
Arundel was not eminently qualified for the post of General-in-Chief of
the Army of the Indus; or that her father could by any possible chance
be guilty of a fault or folly: she would have recoiled in horror from
the treasonous slanderer.

A dangerous quality, perhaps, this quality of guilelessness which
thinketh no evil, which cannot be induced to see the evil under its
very nose. But surely, of all the beautiful and pure things upon this
earth, such blind confidence is the purest and most beautiful. I knew a
lady, dead and gone,--alas for this world, which could ill afford to
lose so good a Christian!--who carried this trustfulness of spirit,
this utter incapacity to believe in wrong, through all the strife and
turmoil of a troubled life, unsullied and unlessened, to her grave. She
was cheated and imposed upon, robbed and lied to, by people who loved
her, perhaps, while they wronged her,--for to know her was to love her.
She was robbed systematically by a confidential servant for years, and
for years refused to believe those who told her of his delinquencies.
She _could_ not believe that people were wicked. To the day of her
death she had faith in the scoundrels and scamps who had profited by
her sweet compassion and untiring benevolence; and indignantly defended
them against those who dared to say that they were anything more than
"unfortunate." To go to her was to go to a never-failing fountain of
love and tenderness. To know her goodness was to understand the
goodness of God; for her love approached the Infinite, and might have
taught a sceptic the possibility of Divinity. Three-score years and ten
of worldly experience left her an accomplished lady, a delightful
companion; but in guilelessness a child.

So Mary Marchmont, trusting implicitly in those she loved, submitted to
her father's will, and prepared to obey her stepmother. The new life at
the Towers began very peacefully; a perfect harmony reigned in the
quiet household. Olivia took the reins of management with so little
parade, that the old housekeeper, who had long been paramount in the
Lincolnshire mansion, found herself superseded before she knew where
she was. It was Olivia's nature to govern. Her strength of will
asserted itself almost unconsciously. She took possession of Mary
Marchmont as she had taken possession of her school-children at
Swampington, making her own laws for the government of their narrow
intellects. She planned a routine of study that was actually terrible
to the little girl, whose education had hitherto been conducted in a
somewhat slip-slop manner by a weakly-indulgent father. She came
between Mary and her one amusement,--the reading of novels. The
half-bound romances were snatched ruthlessly from this young devourer
of light literature, and sent back to the shabby circulating library at
Swampington. Even the gloomy old oak book-cases in the library at the
Towers, and the Abbotsford edition of the Waverley Novels, were
forbidden to poor Mary; for, though Sir Walter Scott's morality is
irreproachable, it will not do for a young lady to be weeping over Lucy
Ashton or Amy Robsart when she should be consulting her terrestrial
globe, and informing herself as to the latitude and longitude of the
Fiji Islands.

So a round of dry and dreary lessons began for poor Miss Marchmont, and
her brain grew almost dazed under that continuous and pelting shower of
hard facts which many worthy people consider the one sovereign method
of education. I have said that her mind was far in advance of her
years; Olivia perceived this, and set her tasks in advance of her mind:
in order that the perfection attained by a sort of steeple-chase of
instruction might not be lost to her. If Mary learned difficult lessons
with surprising rapidity, Mrs. Marchmont plied her with even yet more
difficult lessons, thus keeping the spur perpetually in the side of
this heavily-weighted racer on the road to learning. But it must not be
thought that Olivia wilfully tormented or oppressed her stepdaughter.
It was not so. In all this, John Marchmont's second wife implicitly
believed that she was doing her duty to the child committed to her
care. She fully believed that this dreary routine of education was wise
and right, and would be for Mary's ultimate advantage. If she caused
Miss Marchmont to get up at abnormal hours on bleak wintry mornings,
for the purpose of wrestling with a difficult variation by Hertz or
Schubert, she herself rose also, and sat shivering by the piano,
counting the time of the music which her stepdaughter played.

Whatever pains and trouble she inflicted on Mary, she most
unshrinkingly endured herself. She waded through the dismal slough of
learning side by side with the younger sufferer: Roman emperors,
medieval schisms, early British manufactures, Philippa of Hainault,
Flemish woollen stuffs, Magna Charta, the sidereal heavens, Luther,
Newton, Huss, Galileo, Calvin, Loyola, Sir Robert Walpole, Cardinal
Wolsey, conchology, Arianism in the Early Church, trial by jury, Habeas
Corpus, zoology, Mr. Pitt, the American war, Copernicus, Confucius,
Mahomet, Harvey, Jenner, Lycurgus, and Catherine of Arragon; through a
very diabolical dance of history, science, theology, philosophy, and
instruction of all kinds, did this devoted priestess lead her hapless
victim, struggling onward towards that distant altar at which Pallas
Athenë waited, pale and inscrutable, to receive a new disciple.

But Olivia Marchmont did not mean to be unmerciful; she meant to be
good to her stepdaughter. She did not love her; but, on the other hand,
she did not dislike her. Her feelings were simply negative. Mary
understood this, and the submissive obedience she rendered to her
stepmother was untempered by affection. So for nearly two years these
two people led a monotonous life, unbroken by any more important event
than a dinner party at Marchmont Towers, or a brief visit to Harrowgate
or Scarborough.

This monotonous existence was not to go on for ever. The fatal day, so
horribly feared by John Marchmont, was creeping closer and closer. The
sorrow which had been shadowed in every childish dream, in every
childish prayer, came at last; and Mary Marchmont was left an orphan.

Poor John had never quite recovered the effects of his winter excursion
to Scotland; neither his wife's devoted nursing, nor his physician's
care, could avail for ever; and, late in the autumn of the second year
of his marriage, he sank, slowly and peacefully enough as regards
physical suffering, but not without bitter grief of mind.

In vain Hubert Arundel talked to him; in vain did he himself pray for
faith and comfort in this dark hour of trial. He _could_ not bear to
leave his child alone in the world. In the foolishness of his love, he
would have trusted in the strength of his own arm to shield her in the
battle; yet he could not trust her hopefully to the arm of God. He
prayed for her night and day during the last week of his illness; while
she was praying passionately, almost madly, that he might be spared to
her, or that she might die with him. Better for her, according to all
mortal reasoning, if she had. Happier for her, a thousand times, if she
could have died as she wished to die, clinging to her father's breast.

The blow fell at last upon those two loving hearts. These were the
awful shadows of death that shut his child's face from John Marchmont's
fading sight. His feeble arms groped here and there for her in that dim
and awful obscurity.

Yes, this was death. The narrow tract of yellow sand had little by
little grown narrower and narrower. The dark and cruel waters were
closing in; the feeble boat went down into the darkness: and Mary stood
alone, with her dead father's hand clasped in hers,--the last feeble
link which bound her to the Past,--looking blankly forward to an
unknown Future.



CHAPTER XI.

THE DAY OF DESOLATION.


Yes; the terrible day had come. Mary Marchmont roamed hither and
thither in the big gaunt rooms, up and down the long dreary corridors,
white and ghostlike in her mute anguish, while the undertaker's men
were busy in her father's chamber, and while John's widow sat in the
study below, writing business letters, and making all necessary
arrangements for the funeral.

In those early days no one attempted to comfort the orphan. There was
something more terrible than the loudest grief in the awful quiet of
the girl's anguish. The wan eyes, looking wearily out of a white
haggard face, that seemed drawn and contracted as if by some hideous
physical torture, were tearless. Except the one long wail of despair
which had burst from her lips in the awful moment of her father's death
agony, no cry of sorrow, no utterance of pain, had given relief to Mary
Marchmont's suffering.

She suffered, and was still. She shrank away from all human
companionship; she seemed specially to avoid the society of her
stepmother. She locked the door of her room upon all who would have
intruded on her, and flung herself upon the bed, to lie there in a dull
stupor for hour after hour. But when the twilight was grey in the
desolate corridors, the wretched girl wandered out into the gallery on
which her father's room opened, and hovered near that solemn
death-chamber; fearful to go in, fearful to encounter the watchers of
the dead, lest they should torture her by their hackneyed expressions
of sympathy, lest they should agonise her by their commonplace talk of
the lost.

Once during that brief interval, while the coffin still held terrible
tenancy of the death-chamber, the girl wandered in the dead of the
night, when all but the hired watchers were asleep, to the broad
landing of the oaken staircase, and into a deep recess formed by an
embayed window that opened over the great stone porch which sheltered
the principal entrance to Marchmont Towers.

The window had been left open; for even in the bleak autumn weather the
atmosphere of the great house seemed hot and oppressive to its living
inmates, whose spirits were weighed down by a vague sense of the Awful
Presence in that Lincolnshire mansion. Mary had wandered to this open
window, scarcely knowing whither she went, after remaining for a long
time on her knees by the threshold of her father's room, with her head
resting against the oaken panel of the door,--not praying; why should
she pray now, unless her prayers could have restored the dead? She had
come out upon the wide staircase, and past the ghostly pictured faces,
that looked grimly down upon her from the oaken wainscot against which
they hung; she had wandered here in the dim grey light--there was light
somewhere in the sky, but only a shadowy and uncertain glimmer of
fading starlight or coming dawn--and she stood now with her head
resting against one of the angles of the massive stonework, looking out
of the open window.

The morning which was already glimmering dimly in the eastern sky
behind Marchmont Towers was to witness poor John's funeral. For nearly
six days Mary Marchmont had avoided all human companionship: for nearly
six days she had shunned all human sympathy and comfort. During all
that time she had never eaten, except when forced to do so by her
stepmother; who had visited her from time to time, and had insisted
upon sitting by her bedside while she took the food that had been
brought to her. Heaven knows how often the girl had slept during those
six dreary days; but her feverish slumbers had brought her very little
rest or refreshment. They had brought her nothing but cruel dreams, in
which her father was still alive; in which she felt his thin arms
clasped round her neck, his faint and fitful breath warm upon her
cheek.

A great clock in the stables struck five while Mary Marchmont stood
looking out of the Tudor window. The broad grey flat before the house
stretched far away, melting into the shadowy horizon. The pale stars
grew paler as Mary looked at them; the black-water pools began to
glimmer faintly under the widening patch of light in the eastern sky.
The girl's senses were bewildered by her suffering, and her head was
light and dizzy.

Her father's death had made so sudden and terrible a break in her
existence, that she could scarcely believe the world had not come to an
end, with all the joys and sorrows of its inhabitants. Would there be
anything more after to-morrow? she thought; would the blank days and
nights go monotonously on when the story that had given them a meaning
and a purpose had come to its dismal end? Surely not; surely, after
those gaunt iron gates, far away across the swampy waste that was
called a park, had closed upon her father's funeral train, the world
would come to an end, and there would be no more time or space. I think
she really believed this in the semi-delirium into which she had fallen
within the last hour. She believed that all would be over; and that she
and her despair would melt away into the emptiness that was to engulf
the universe after her father's funeral.

Then suddenly the full reality of her grief flashed upon her with
horrible force. She clasped her hands upon her forehead, and a low
faint cry broke from her white lips.

It was _not_ all over. Time and space would _not_ be annihilated. The
weary, monotonous, workaday world would still go on upon its course.
_Nothing_ would be changed. The great gaunt stone mansion would still
stand, and the dull machinery of its interior would still go on: the
same hours; the same customs; the same inflexible routine. John
Marchmont would be carried out of the house that had owned him master,
to lie in the dismal vault under Kemberling Church; and the world in
which he had made so little stir would go on without him. The
easy-chair in which he had been wont to sit would be wheeled away from
its corner by the fireplace in the western drawing-room. The papers in
his study would be sorted and put away, or taken possession of by
strange hands. Cromwells and Napoleons die, and the earth reels for a
moment, only to be "alive and bold" again in the next instant, to the
astonishment of poets, and the calm satisfaction of philosophers; and
ordinary people eat their breakfasts while the telegram lies beside
them upon the table, and while the ink in which Mr. Reuter's message is
recorded is still wet from the machine in Printing-house Square.

Anguish and despair more terrible than any of the tortures she had felt
yet took possession of Mary Marchmont's breast. For the first time she
looked out at her own future. Until now she had thought only of her
father's death. She had despaired because he was gone; but she had
never contemplated the horror of her future life,--a life in which she
was to exist without him. A sudden agony, that was near akin to
madness, seized upon this girl, in whose sensitive nature affection had
always had a morbid intensity. She shuddered with a wild dread at the
prospect of that blank future; and as she looked out at the wide stone
steps below the window from which she was leaning, for the first time
in her young life the idea of self-destruction flashed across her mind.

She uttered a cry, a shrill, almost unearthly cry, that was
notwithstanding low and feeble, and clambered suddenly upon the broad
stone sill of the Tudor casement. She wanted to fling herself down and
dash her brains out upon the stone steps below; but in the utter
prostration of her state she was too feeble to do this, and she fell
backwards and dropped in a heap upon the polished oaken flooring of the
recess, striking her forehead as she fell. She lay there unconscious
until nearly seven o'clock, when one of the women-servants found her,
and carried her off to her own room, where she suffered herself to be
undressed and put to bed.

Mary Marchmont did not speak until the good-hearted Lincolnshire
housemaid had laid her in her bed, and was going away to tell Olivia of
the state in which she had found the orphan girl.

"Don't tell my stepmother anything about me, Susan," she said; "I think
I was mad last night."

This speech frightened the housemaid, and she went straight to the
widow's room. Mrs. Marchmont, always an early riser, had been up and
dressed for some time, and went at once to look at her stepdaughter.

She found Mary very calm and reasonable. There was no trace of
bewilderment or delirium now in her manner; and when the principal
doctor of Swampington came a couple of hours afterwards to look at the
young heiress, he declared that there was no cause for any alarm. The
young lady was sensitive, morbidly sensitive, he said, and must be kept
very quiet for a few days, and watched by some one whose presence would
not annoy her. If there was any girl of her own age whom she had ever
shown a predilection for, that girl would be the fittest companion for
her just now. After a few days, it would be advisable that she should
have change of air and change of scene. She must not be allowed to
brood continuously on her father's death. The doctor repeated this last
injunction more than once. It was most important that she should not
give way too perpetually to her grief.

So Mary Marchmont lay in her darkened room while her father's funeral
train was moving slowly away from the western entrance. It happened
that the orphan girl's apartments looked out into the quadrangle; so
she heard none of the subdued sounds which attended the departure of
that solemn procession. In her weakness she had grown submissive to the
will of others. She thought this feebleness and exhaustion gave warning
of approaching death. Her prayers would be granted, after all. This
anguish and despair would be but of brief duration, and she would ere
long be carried to the vault under Kemberling Church, to lie beside her
father in the black stillness of that solemn place.

Mrs. Marchmont strictly obeyed the doctor's injunctions. A girl of
seventeen, the daughter of a small tenant farmer near the Towers, had
been a special favourite with Mary, who was not apt to make friends
amongst strangers. This girl, Hester Pollard, was sent for, and came
willingly and gladly to watch her young patroness. She brought her
needlework with her, and sat near the window busily employed, while
Mary lay shrouded by the curtains of the bed. All active services
necessary for the comfort of the invalid were performed by Olivia or
her own special attendant--an old servant who had lived with the Rector
ever since his daughter's birth, and had only left him to follow that
daughter to Marchmont Towers after her marriage. So Hester Pollard had
nothing to do but to keep very quiet, and patiently await the time when
Mary might be disposed to talk to her. The farmer's daughter was a
gentle, unobtrusive creature, very well fitted for the duty imposed
upon her.



CHAPTER XII.

PAUL.


Olivia Marchmont sat in her late husband's study while John's funeral
train was moving slowly along under the misty October sky. A long
stream of carriages followed the stately hearse, with its four black
horses, and its voluminous draperies of rich velvet, and nodding plumes
that were damp and heavy with the autumn atmosphere. The unassuming
master of Marchmont Towers had won for himself a quiet popularity
amongst the simple country gentry, and the best families in
Lincolnshire had sent their chiefs to do honour to his burial, or at
the least their empty carriages to represent them at that mournful
ceremonial. Olivia sat in her dead husband's favourite chamber. Her
head lay back upon the cushion of the roomy morocco-covered arm-chair
in which he had so often sat. She had been working hard that morning,
and indeed every morning since John Marchmont's death, sorting and
arranging papers, with the aid of Richard Paulette, the Lincoln's Inn
solicitor, and James Gormby, the land-steward. She knew that she had
been left sole guardian of her stepdaughter, and executrix to her
husband's will; and she had lost no time in making herself acquainted
with the business details of the estate, and the full nature of the
responsibilities intrusted to her.

She was resting now. She had done all that could be done until after
the reading of the will. She had attended to her stepdaughter. She had
stood in one of the windows of the western drawing-room, watching the
departure of the funeral _cortège_; and now she abandoned herself for a
brief space to that idleness which was so unusual to her.

A fire burned in the low grate at her feet, and a rough cur--half
shepherd's dog, half Scotch deer-hound, who had been fond of John, but
was not fond of Olivia--lay at the further extremity of the hearth-rug,
watching her suspiciously.

Mrs. Marchmont's personal appearance had not altered during the two
years of her married life. Her face was thin and haggard; but it had
been thin and haggard before her marriage. And yet no one could deny
that the face was handsome, and the features beautifully chiselled. But
the grey eyes were hard and cold, the line of the faultless eyebrows
gave a stern expression to the countenance; the thin lips were rigid
and compressed. The face wanted both light and colour. A sculptor
copying it line by line would have produced a beautiful head. A painter
must have lent his own glowing tints if he wished to represent Olivia
Marchmont as a lovely woman.

Her pale face looked paler, and her dead black hair blacker, against
the blank whiteness of her widow's cap. Her mourning dress clung
closely to her tall, slender figure. She was little more than
twenty-five, but she looked a woman of thirty. It had been her
misfortune to look older than she was from a very early period in her
life.

She had not loved her husband when she married him, nor had she ever
felt for him that love which in most womanly natures grows out of
custom and duty. It was not in her nature to love. Her passionate
idolatry of her boyish cousin had been the one solitary affection that
had ever held a place in her cold heart. All the fire of her nature had
been concentrated in this one folly, this one passion, against which
only heroic endurance had been able to prevail.

Mrs. Marchmont felt no grief, therefore, at her husband's loss. She had
felt the shock of his death, and the painful oppression of his dead
presence in the house. She had faithfully nursed him through many
illnesses; she had patiently tended him until the very last; she had
done her duty. And now, for the first time, she had leisure to
contemplate the past, and look forward to the future.

So far this woman had fulfilled the task which she had taken upon
herself; she had been true and loyal to the vow she had made before
God's altar, in the church of Swampington. And now she was free. No,
not quite free; for she had a heavy burden yet upon her hands; the
solemn charge of her stepdaughter during the girl's minority. But as
regarded marriage-vows and marriage-ties she was free.

She was free to love Edward Arundel again.

The thought came upon her with a rush and an impetus, wild and strong
as the sudden uprising of a whirlwind, or the loosing of a
mountain-torrent that had long been bound. She was a wife no longer. It
was no longer a sin to think of the bright-haired soldier, fighting far
away. She was free. When Edward returned to England by-and-by, he would
find her free once more; a young widow,--young, handsome, and rich
enough to be no bad prize for a younger son. He would come back and
find her thus; and then--and then--!

She flung one of her clenched hands up into the air, and struck it on
her forehead in a sudden paroxysm of rage. What then? Would he love her
any better then than he had loved her two years ago? No; he would treat
her with the same cruel indifference, the same commonplace cousinly
friendliness, with which he had mocked and tortured her before. Oh,
shame! Oh, misery! Was there no pride in women, that there could be one
among them fallen so low as her; ready to grovel at the feet of a
fair-haired boy, and to cry aloud, "Love me, love me! or be pitiful,
and strike me dead!"

Better that John Marchmont should have lived for ever, better that
Edward Arundel should die far away upon some Eastern battle-field,
before some Affghan fortress, than that he should return to inflict
upon her the same tortures she had writhed under two years before.

"God grant that he may never come back!" she thought. "God grant that
he may marry out yonder, and live and die there! God keep him from me
for ever and far ever in this weary world!"

And yet in the next moment, with the inconsistency which is the chief
attribute of that madness we call love, her thoughts wandered away
dreamily into visions of the future; and she pictured Edward Arundel
back again at Swampington, at Marchmont Towers. Her soul burst its
bonds and expanded, and drank in the sunlight of gladness: and she
dared to think that it _might_ be so--there _might_ be happiness yet
for her. He had been a boy when he went back to India--careless,
indifferent. He would return a man,--graver, wiser, altogether changed:
changed so much as to love her perhaps.

She knew that, at least, no rival had shut her cousin's heart against
her, when she and he had been together two years before. He had been
indifferent to her; but he had been indifferent to others also. There
was comfort in that recollection. She had questioned him very sharply
as to his life in India and at Dangerfield, and she had discovered no
trace of any tender memory of the past, no hint of a cherished dream of
the future. His heart had been empty: a boyish, unawakened heart: a
temple in which the niches were untenanted, the shrine unhallowed by
the presence of a goddess.

Olivia Marchmont thought of these things. For a few moments, if only
for a few moments, she abandoned herself to such thoughts as these. She
let herself go. She released the stern hold which it was her habit to
keep upon her own mind; and in those bright moments of delicious
abandonment the glorious sunshine streamed in upon her narrow life, and
visions of a possible future expanded before her like a fairy panorama,
stretching away into realms of vague light and splendour. It was
_possible_; it was at least possible.

But, again, in the next moment the magical panorama collapsed and
shrivelled away, like a burning scroll; the fairy picture, whose
gorgeous colouring she had looked upon with dazzled eyes, almost
blinded by its overpowering glory, shrank into a handful of black
ashes, and was gone. The woman's strong nature reasserted itself; the
iron will rose up, ready to do battle with the foolish heart.

"I _will_ not be fooled a second time," she cried. "Did I suffer so
little when I blotted that image out of my heart? Did the destruction
of my cruel Juggernaut cost me so small an agony that I must needs be
ready to elevate the false god again, and crush out my heart once more
under the brazen wheels of his chariot? _He will never love me!_"

She writhed; this self-sustained and resolute woman writhed in her
anguish as she uttered those five words, "He will never love me!" She
knew that they were true; that of all the changes that Time could bring
to pass, it would never bring such a change as that. There was not one
element of sympathy between herself and the young soldier; they had not
one thought in common. Nay, more; there was an absolute antagonism
between them, which, in spite of her love, Olivia fully recognised.
Over the gulf that separated them no coincidence of thought or fancy,
no sympathetic emotion, ever stretched its electric chain to draw them
together in mysterious union. They stood aloof, divided by the width of
an intellectual universe. The woman knew this, and hated herself for
her folly, scorning alike her love and its object; but her love was not
the less because of her scorn. It was a madness, an isolated madness,
which stood alone in her soul, and fought for mastery over her better
aspirations, her wiser thoughts. We are all familiar with strange
stories of wise and great minds which have been ridden by some
hobgoblin fancy, some one horrible monomania; a bleeding head upon a
dish, a grinning skeleton playing hide-and-seek in the folds of the
bed-curtains; some devilry or other before which the master-spirit
shrank and dwindled until the body withered and the victim died.

Had Olivia Marchmont lived a couple of centuries before, she would have
gone straight to the nearest old crone, and would have boldly accused
the wretched woman of being the author of her misery.

"You harbour a black cat and other noisome vermin, and you prowl about
muttering to yourself o' nights" she might have said. "You have been
seen to gather herbs, and you make strange and uncanny signs with your
palsied old fingers. The black cat is the devil, your colleague; and
the rats under your tumble-down roof are his imps, your associates. It
is _you_ who have instilled this horrible madness into my soul; for it
_could_ not come of itself."

And Olivia Marchmont, being resolute and strong-minded, would not have
rested until her tormentor had paid the penalty of her foul work at a
stake in the nearest market-place.

And indeed some of our madnesses are so mad, some of our follies are so
foolish, that we might almost be forgiven if we believed that there was
a company of horrible crones meeting somewhere on an invisible Brocken,
and making incantations for our destruction. Take up a newspaper and
read its hideous revelations of crime and folly; and it will be
scarcely strange if you involuntarily wonder whether witchcraft is a
dark fable of the middle ages, or a dreadful truth of the nineteenth
century. Must not some of these miserable creatures whose stories we
read be _possessed_; possessed by eager, relentless demons, who lash
and goad them onward, until no black abyss of vice, no hideous gulf of
crime, is black or hideous enough to content them?

Olivia Marchmont might have been a good and great woman. She had all
the elements of greatness. She had genius, resolution, an indomitable
courage, an iron will, perseverance, self-denial, temperance, chastity.
But against all these qualities was set a fatal and foolish love for a
boy's handsome face and frank and genial manner. If Edward Arundel had
never crossed her path, her unfettered soul might have taken the
highest and grandest flight; but, chained down, bound, trammelled by
her love for him, she grovelled on the earth like some maimed and
wounded eagle, who sees his fellows afar off, high in the purple
empyrean, and loathes himself for his impotence.

"What do I love him for?" she thought. "Is it because he has blue eyes
and chestnut hair, with wandering gleams of golden light in it? Is it
because he has gentlemanly manners, and is easy and pleasant, genial
and light-hearted? Is it because he has a dashing walk, and the air of
a man of fashion? It must be for some of these attributes, surely; for
I know nothing more in him. Of all the things he has ever said, I can
remember nothing--and I remember his smallest words, Heaven help
me!--that any sensible person could think worth repeating. He is brave,
I dare say, and generous; but what of that? He is neither braver nor
more generous than other men of his rank and position."

She sat lost in such a reverie as this while her dead husband was being
carried to the roomy vault set apart for the owners of Marchmont Towers
and their kindred; she was absorbed in some such thoughts as these,
when one of the grave, grey-headed old servants brought her a card upon
a heavy salver emblazoned with the Marchmont arms.

Olivia took the card almost mechanically. There are some thoughts which
carry us a long way from the ordinary occupations of every-day life,
and it is not always easy to return to the dull jog-trot routine. The
widow passed her left hand across her brow before she looked at the
name inscribed upon the card in her right.

"Mr. Paul Marchmont."

She started as she read the name. Paul Marchmont! She remembered what
her husband had told her of this man. It was not much; for John's
feelings on the subject of his cousin had been of so vague a nature
that he had shrunk from expounding them to his stern, practical wife.
He had told her, therefore, that he did not very much care for Paul,
and that he wished no intimacy ever to arise between the artist and
Mary; but he had said nothing more than this.

"The gentleman is waiting to see me, I suppose?" Mrs. Marchmont said.

"Yes, ma'am. The gentleman came to Kemberling by the 11.5 train from
London, and has driven over here in one of Harris's flys."

"Tell him I will come to him immediately. Is he in the drawing-room?"

"Yes, ma'am."

The man bowed and left the room. Olivia rose from her chair and
lingered by the fireplace with her foot on the fender, her elbow
resting on the carved oak chimneypiece.

"Paul Marchmont! He has come to the funeral, I suppose. And he expects
to find himself mentioned in the will, I dare say. I think, from what
my husband told me, he will be disappointed in that. Paul Marchmont! If
Mary were to die unmarried, this man or his sisters would inherit
Marchmont Towers."

There was a looking-glass over the mantelpiece; a narrow, oblong glass,
in an old-fashioned carved ebony frame, which was inclined forward.
Olivia looked musingly in this glass, and smoothed the heavy bands of
dead-black hair under her cap.

"There are people who would call me handsome," she thought, as she
looked with a moody frown at her image in the glass; "and yet I have
seen Edward Arundel's eyes wander away from my face, even while I have
been talking to him, to watch the swallows skimming by in the sun, or
the ivy-leaves flapping against the wall."

She turned from the glass with a sigh, and went out into a dusky
corridor. The shutters of all the principal rooms and the windows upon
the grand staircase were still closed; the wide hall was dark and
gloomy, and drops of rain spattered every now and then upon the logs
that smouldered on the wide old-fashioned hearth. The misty October
morning had heralded a wet day.

Paul Marchmont was sitting in a low easy-chair before a blazing fire in
the western drawing-room, the red light full upon his face. It was a
handsome face, or perhaps, to speak more exactly, it was one of those
faces that are generally called "interesting." The features were very
delicate and refined, the pale greyish-blue eyes were shaded by long
brown lashes, and the small and rather feminine mouth was overshadowed
by a slender auburn moustache, under which the rosy tint of the lips
was very visible. But it was Paul Marchmont's hair which gave a
peculiarity to a personal appearance that might otherwise have been in
no way out of the common. This hair, fine, silky, and luxuriant, was
_white_, although its owner could not have been more than thirty-seven
years of age.

The uninvited guest rose as Olivia Marchmont entered the room.

"I have the honour of speaking to my cousin's widow?" he said, with a
courteous smile.

"Yes, I am Mrs. Marchmont."

Olivia seated herself near the fire. The wet day was cold and
cheerless. Mrs. Marchmont shivered as she extended her long thin hand
to the blaze.

"And you are doubtless surprised to see me here, Mrs. Marchmont?" the
artist said, leaning upon the back of his chair in the easy attitude of
a man who means to make himself at home. "But believe me, that although
I never took advantage of a very friendly letter written to me by poor
John----"

Paul Marchmont paused for a moment, keeping sharp watch upon the
widow's face; but no sorrowful expression, no evidence of emotion, was
visible in that inflexible countenance.

"Although, I repeat, I never availed myself of a sort of general
invitation to come and shoot his partridges, or borrow money of him, or
take advantage of any of those other little privileges generally
claimed by a man's poor relations, it is not to be supposed, my dear
Mrs. Marchmont, that I was altogether forgetful of either Marchmont
Towers or its owner, my cousin. I did not come here, because I am a
hard-working man, and the idleness of a country house would have been
ruin to me. But I heard sometimes of my cousin from neighbours of his."

"Neighbours!" repeated Olivia, in a tone of surprise.

"Yes; people near enough to be called neighbours in the country. My
sister lives at Stanfield. She is married to a surgeon who practises in
that delightful town. You know Stanfield, of course?"

"No, I have never been there. It is five-and-twenty miles from here."

"Indeed! too far for a drive, then. Yes, my sister lives at Stanfield.
John never knew much of her in his adversity; and therefore may be
forgiven if he forgot her in his prosperity. But she did not forget
him. We poor relations have excellent memories. The Stanfield people
have so little to talk about, that it is scarcely any wonder if they
are inquisitive about the affairs of the grand country gentry round
about them. I heard of John through my sister; I heard of his marriage
through her,"--he bowed to Olivia as he said this,--"and I wrote
immediately to congratulate him upon that happy event,"--he bowed again
here;--"and it was through Lavinia Weston, my sister, that I heard of
poor John's death; one day before the announcement appeared in the
columns of the 'Times.' I am sorry to find that I am too late for the
funeral. I could have wished to have paid my cousin the last tribute of
esteem that one man can pay another."

"You would wish to hear the reading of the will?" Olivia said,
interrogatively.

Paul Marchmont shrugged his shoulders, with a low, careless laugh; not
an indecorous laugh,--nothing that this man did or said ever appeared
ill-advised or out of place. The people who disliked him were compelled
to acknowledge that they disliked him unreasonably, and very much on
the Doctor-Fell principle; for it was impossible to take objection to
either his manners or his actions.

"That important legal document can have very little interest for me, my
dear Mrs. Marchmont," he said gaily. "John can have had nothing to
leave me. I am too well acquainted with the terms of my grandfather's
will to have any mercenary hopes in coming to Marchmont Towers."

He stopped, and looked at Olivia's impassible face.

"What on earth could have induced this woman to marry my cousin?" he
thought. "John could have had very little to leave his widow."

He played with the ornaments at his watch-chain, looking reflectively
at the fire for some moments.

"Miss Marchmont,--my cousin, Mary Marchmont, I should say,--bears her
loss pretty well, I hope?"

Olivia shrugged her shoulders.

"I am sorry to say that my stepdaughter displays very little Christian
resignation," she said.

And then a spirit within her arose and whispered, with a mocking voice,
"What resignation do _you_ show beneath _your_ affliction,--you, who
should be so good a Christian? How have _you_ learned to school your
rebellious heart?"

"My cousin is very young," Paul Marchmont said, presently.

"She was fifteen last July."

"Fifteen! Very young to be the owner of Marchmont Towers and an income
of eleven thousand a year," returned the artist. He walked to one of
the long windows, and drawing aside the edge of the blind, looked out
upon the terrace and the wide flats before the mansion. The rain
dripped and splashed upon the stone steps; the rain-drops hung upon the
grim adornments of the carved balustrade, soaking into moss-grown
escutcheons and half-obliterated coats-of-arms. The weird willows by
the pools far away, and a group of poplars near the house, looked gaunt
and black against the dismal grey sky.

Paul Marchmont dropped the blind, and turned away from the gloomy
landscape with a half-contemptuous gesture. "I don't know that I envy
my cousin, after all," he said: "the place is as dreary as Tennyson's
Moated Grange."

There was the sound of wheels on the carriage-drive before the terrace,
and presently a subdued murmur of hushed voices in the hall. Mr.
Richard Paulette, and the two medical men who had attended John
Marchmont, had returned to the Towers, for the reading of the will.
Hubert Arundel had returned with them; but the other followers in the
funeral train had departed to their several homes. The undertaker and
his men had come back to the house by the side-entrance, and were
making themselves very comfortable in the servants'-hall after the
fulfilment of their mournful duties.

The will was to be read in the dining-room; and Mr. Paulette and the
clerk who had accompanied him to Marchmont Towers were already seated
at one end of the long carved-oak table, busy with their papers and
pens and ink, assuming an importance the occasion did not require.
Olivia went out into the hall to speak to her father.

"You will find Mr. Marchmont's solicitor in the dining-room," she said
to Paul, who was looking at some of the old pictures on the
drawing-room walls.

A large fire was blazing in the wide grate at the end of the
dining-room. The blinds had been drawn up. There was no longer need
that the house should be wrapped in darkness. The Awful Presence had
departed; and such light as there was in the gloomy October sky was
free to enter the rooms, which the death of one quiet, unobtrusive
creature had made for a time desolate.

There was no sound in the room but the low voice of the two doctors
talking of their late patient in undertones near the fireplace, and the
occasional fluttering of the papers under the lawyer's hand. The clerk,
who sat respectfully a little way behind his master, and upon the very
edge of his ponderous morocco-covered chair, had been wont to give John
Marchmont his orders, and to lecture him for being tardy with his work
a few years before, in the Lincoln's Inn office. He was wondering now
whether he should find himself remembered in the dead man's will, to
the extent of a mourning ring or an old-fashioned silver snuff-box.

Richard Paulette looked up as Olivia and her father entered the room,
followed at a little distance by Paul Marchmont, who walked at a
leisurely pace, looking at the carved doorways and the pictures against
the wainscot, and appearing, as he had declared himself, very little
concerned in the important business about to be transacted.

"We shall want Miss Marchmont here, if you please," Mr. Paulette said,
as he looked up from his papers.

"Is it necessary that she should be present?" Olivia asked.

"Very necessary."

"But she is ill; she is in bed."

"It is most important that she should be here when the will is read.
Perhaps Mr. Bolton"--the lawyer looked towards one of the medical
men--"will see. He will be able to tell us whether Miss Marchmont can
safely come downstairs."

Mr. Bolton, the Swampington surgeon who had attended Mary that morning,
left the room with Olivia. The lawyer rose and warmed his hands at the
blaze, talking to Hubert Arundel and the London physician as he did so.
Paul Marchmont, who had not been introduced to any one, occupied
himself entirely with the pictures for a little time; and then,
strolling over to the fireplace, fell into conversation with the three
gentlemen, contriving, adroitly enough, to let them know who he was.
The lawyer looked at him with some interest,--a professional interest,
no doubt; for Mr. Paulette had a copy of old Philip Marchmont's will in
one of the japanned deed-boxes inscribed with poor John's name. He knew
that this easy-going, pleasant-mannered, white-haired gentleman was the
Paul Marchmont named in that document, and stood next in succession to
Mary. Mary might die unmarried, and it was as well to be friendly and
civil to a man who was at least a possible client.

The four gentlemen stood upon the broad Turkey hearth-rug for some
time, talking of the dead man, the wet weather, the cold autumn, the
dearth of partridges, and other very safe topics of conversation.
Olivia and the Swampington doctor were a long time absent; and Richard
Paulette, who stood with his back to the fire, glanced every now and
then towards the door.

It opened at last, and Mary Marchmont came into the room, followed by
her stepmother.

Paul Marchmont turned at the sound of the opening of that ponderous
oaken door, and for the first time saw his second cousin, the young
mistress of Marchmont Towers. He started as he looked at her, though
with a scarcely perceptible movement, and a change came over his face.
The feminine pinky hue in his cheeks faded suddenly, and left them
white. It had been a peculiarity of Paul Marchmont's, from his boyhood,
always to turn pale with every acute emotion.

What was the emotion which had now blanched his cheeks? Was he
thinking, "Is _this_ fragile creature the mistress of Marchmont Towers?
Is _this_ frail life all that stands between me and eleven thousand a
year?"

The light which shone out of that feeble earthly tabernacle did indeed
seem a frail and fitful flame, likely to be extinguished by any rude
breath from the coarse outer world. Mary Marchmont was deadly pale;
black shadows encircled her wistful hazel eyes. Her new mourning-dress,
with its heavy trimmings of lustreless crape, seemed to hang loose upon
her slender figure; her soft brown hair, damp with the water with which
her burning forehead had been bathed, fell in straight lank tresses
about her shoulders. Her eyes were tearless, her mouth terribly
compressed. The rigidity of her face betokened the struggle by which
her sorrow was repressed. She sat in an easy-chair which Olivia
indicated to her, and with her hands lying on the white handkerchief in
her lap, and her swollen eyelids drooping over her eyes, waited for the
reading of her father's will. It would be the last, the very last, she
would ever hear of that dear father's words. She remembered this, and
was ready to listen attentively; but she remembered nothing else. What
was it to her that she was sole heiress of that great mansion, and of
eleven thousand a year? She had never in her life thought of the
Lincolnshire fortune with any reference to herself or her own
pleasures; and she thought of it less than ever now.

The will was dated February 4th, 1844, exactly two months after John's
marriage. It had been made by the master of Marchmont Towers without
the aid of a lawyer, and was only witnessed by John's housekeeper, and
by Corson the old valet, a confidential servant who had attended upon
Mr. Marchmont's predecessor.

Richard Paulette began to read; and Mary, for the first time since she
had taken her seat near the fire, lifted her eyes, and listened
breathlessly, with faintly tremulous lips. Olivia sat near her
stepdaughter; and Paul Marchmont stood in a careless attitude at one
corner of the fireplace, with his shoulders resting against the massive
oaken chimneypiece. The dead man's will ran thus:

"I John Marchmont of Marchmont Towers declare this to be my last will
and testament Being persuaded that my end is approaching I feel my dear
little daughter Mary will be left unprotected by any natural guardian
My young friend Edward Arundel I had hoped when in my poverty would
have been a friend and adviser to her if not a protector but her tender
years and his position in life must place this now out of the question
and I may die before a fond hope which I have long cherished can be
realised and which may now never be realised I now desire to make my
will more particularly to provide as well as I am permitted for the
guardianship and care of my dear little Mary during her minority Now I
will and desire that my wife Olivia shall act as guardian adviser and
mother to my dear little Mary and that she place herself under the
charge and guardianship of my wife And as she will be an heiress of
very considerable property I would wish her to be guided by the advice
of my said wife in the management of her property and particularly in
the choice of a husband As my dear little Mary will be amply provided
for on my death I make no provision for her by this my will but I
direct my executrix to present to her a diamond-ring which I wish her
to wear in memory of her loving father so that she may always have me
in her thoughts and particularly of these my wishes as to her future
life until she shall be of age and capable of acting on her own
judgment. I also request my executrix to present my young friend Edward
Arundel also with a diamond-ring of the value of at least one hundred
guineas as a slight tribute of the regard and esteem which I have ever
entertained for him. . . . As to all the property as well real as
personal over which I may at the time of my death have any control and
capable of claiming or bequeathing I give devise and bequeath to my
wife Olivia absolutely And I appoint my said wife sole executrix of
this my will and guardian of my dear little Mary."

There were a few very small legacies, including a mourning-ring to the
expectant clerk; and this was all. Paul Marchmont had been quite right;
nobody could be less interested than himself in this will.

But he was apparently very much interested in John's widow and
daughter. He tried to enter into conversation with Mary, but the girl's
piteous manner seemed to implore him to leave her unmolested; and Mr.
Bolton approached his patient almost immediately after the reading of
the will, and in a manner took possession of her. Mary was very glad to
leave the room once more, and to return to the dim chamber where Hester
Pollard sat at needlework. Olivia left her stepdaughter to the care of
this humble companion, and went back to the long dining-room, where the
gentlemen still hung listlessly over the fire, not knowing very well
what to do with themselves.

Mrs. Marchmont could not do less than invite Paul to stay a few days at
the Towers. She was virtually mistress of the house during Mary's
minority, and on her devolved all the troubles, duties, and
responsibilities attendant on such a position. Her father was going to
stay with her till the end of the week; and he therefore would be able
to entertain Mr. Marchmont. Paul unhesitatingly accepted the widow's
hospitality. The old place was picturesque and interesting, he said;
there were some genuine Holbeins in the hall and dining-room, and one
good Lely in the drawing-room. He would give himself a couple of days'
holiday, and go to Stanfield by an early train on Saturday.

"I have not seen my sister for a long time," he said; "her life is dull
enough and hard enough, Heaven knows, and she will be glad to see me
upon my way back to London."

Olivia bowed. She did not persuade Mr. Marchmont to extend his visit.
The common courtesy she offered him was kept within the narrowest
limits. She spent the best part of the time in the dead man's study
during Paul's two-days' stay, and left the artist almost entirely to
her father's companionship.

But she was compelled to appear at dinner, and she took her accustomed
place at the head of the table. Paul therefore had some opportunity of
sounding the depths of the strangest nature he had ever tried to
fathom. He talked to her very much, listening with unvarying attention
to every word she uttered. He watched her--but with no obtrusive
gaze--almost incessantly; and when he went away from Marchmont Towers,
without having seen Mary since the reading of the will, it was of
Olivia he thought; it was the recollection of Olivia which interested
as much as it perplexed him.

The few people waiting for the London train looked at the artist as he
strolled up and down the quiet platform at Kemberling Station, with his
head bent and his eyebrows slightly contracted. He had a certain easy,
careless grace of dress and carriage, which harmonised well with his
delicate face, his silken silvery hair, his carefully-trained auburn
moustache, and rosy, womanish mouth. He was a romantic-looking man. He
was the beau-ideal of the hero in a young lady's novel. He was a man
whom schoolgirls would have called "a dear." But it had been better, I
think, for any helpless wretch to be in the bull-dog hold of the
sturdiest Bill Sykes ever loosed upon society by right of his
ticket-of-leave, than in the power of Paul Marchmont, artist and
teacher of drawing, of Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square.

He was thinking of Olivia as he walked slowly up and down the bare
platform, only separated by a rough wooden paling from the flat open
fields on the outskirts of Kemberling.

"The little girl is as feeble as a pale February butterfly." he
thought; "a puff of frosty wind might wither her away. But that woman,
that woman--how handsome she is, with her accurate profile and iron
mouth; but what a raging fire there is hidden somewhere in her breast,
and devouring her beauty by day and night! If I wanted to paint the
sleeping scene in _Macbeth_, I'd ask her to sit for the Thane's wicked
wife. Perhaps she has some bloody secret as deadly as the murder of a
grey-headed Duncan upon her conscience, and leaves her bedchamber in
the stillness of the night to walk up and down those long oaken
corridors at the Towers, and wring her hands and wail aloud in her
sleep. Why did she marry John Marchmont? His life gave her little more
than a fine house to live in; his death leaves her with nothing but ten
or twelve thousand pounds in the Three per Cents. What is her
mystery--what is her secret, I wonder? for she must surely have one."

Such thoughts as these filled his mind as the train carried him away
from the lonely little station, and away from the neighbourhood of
Marchmont Towers, within whose stony walls Mary lay in her quiet
chamber, weeping for her dead father, and wishing--God knows in what
utter singleness of heart!--that she had been buried in the vault by
his side.



CHAPTER XIII.

OLIVIA'S DESPAIR.


The life which Mary and her stepmother led at Marchmont Towers after
poor John's death was one of those tranquil and monotonous existences
that leave very little to be recorded, except the slow progress of the
weeks and months, the gradual changes of the seasons. Mary bore her
sorrows quietly, as it was her nature to bear all things. The doctor's
advice was taken, and Olivia removed her stepdaughter to Scarborough
soon after the funeral. But the change of scene was slow to effect any
change in the state of dull despairing sorrow into which the girl had
fallen. The sea-breezes brought no colour into her pale cheeks. She
obeyed her stepmother's behests unmurmuringly, and wandered wearily by
the dreary seashore in the dismal November weather, in search of health
and strength. But wherever she went, she carried with her the awful
burden of her grief; and in every changing cadence of the low winter
winds, in every varying murmur of the moaning waves, she seemed to hear
her dead father's funeral dirge.

I think that, young as Mary Marchmont was, this mournful period was the
grand crisis of her life. The past, with its one great affection, had
been swept away from her, and as yet there was no friendly figure to
fill the dismal blank of the future. Had any kindly matron, any gentle
Christian creature been ready to stretch out her arms to the desolate
orphan, Mary's heart would have melted, and she would have crept to the
shelter of that womanly embrace, to nestle there for ever. But there
was no one. Olivia Marchmont obeyed the letter of her husband's solemn
appeal, as she had obeyed the letter of those Gospel sentences that had
been familiar to her from her childhood, but was utterly unable to
comprehend its spirit. She accepted the charge intrusted to her. She
was unflinching in the performance of her duty; but no one glimmer of
the holy light of motherly love and tenderness, the semi-divine
compassion of womanhood, ever illumined the dark chambers of her heart.
Every night she questioned herself upon her knees as to her rigid
performance of the level round of duty she had allotted to herself;
every night--scrupulous and relentless as the hardest judge who ever
pronounced sentence upon a criminal--she took note of her own
shortcomings, and acknowledged her deficiencies.

But, unhappily, this self-devotion of Olivia's pressed no less heavily
upon Mary than on the widow herself. The more rigidly Mrs. Marchmont
performed the duties which she understood to be laid upon her by her
dead husband's last will and testament, the harder became the orphan's
life. The weary treadmill of education worked on, when the young
student was well-nigh fainting upon every step in that hopeless
revolving ladder of knowledge. If Olivia, on communing with herself at
night, found that the day just done had been too easy for both mistress
and pupil, the morrow's allowance of Roman emperors and French grammar
was made to do penance for yesterday's shortcomings.

"This girl has been intrusted to my care, and one of my first duties is
to give her a good education," Olivia Marchmont thought. "She is
inclined to be idle; but I must fight against her inclination, whatever
trouble the struggle entails upon myself. The harder the battle, the
better for me if I am conqueror."

It was only thus that Olivia Marchmont could hope to be a good woman.
It was only by the rigid performance of hard duties, the patient
practice of tedious rites, that she could hope to attain that eternal
crown which simpler Christians seem to win so easily.

Morning and night the widow and her stepdaughter read the Bible
together; morning and night they knelt side by side to join in the same
familiar prayers; yet all these readings and all these prayers failed
to bring them any nearer together. No tender sentence of inspiration,
not the words of Christ himself, ever struck the same chord in these
two women's hearts, bringing both into sudden unison. They went to
church three times upon every dreary Sunday,--dreary from the terrible
uniformity which made one day a mechanical repetition of another,--and
sat together in the same pew; and there were times when some solemn
word, some sublime injunction, seemed to fall with a new meaning upon
the orphan girl's heart; but if she looked at her stepmother's face,
thinking to see some ray of that sudden light which had newly shone
into her own mind reflected _there_, the blank gloom of Olivia's
countenance seemed like a dead wall, across which no glimmer of
radiance ever shone.

They went back to Marchmont Towers in the early spring. People imagined
that the young widow would cultivate the society of her husband's old
friends, and that morning callers would be welcome at the Towers, and
the stately dinner-parties would begin again, when Mrs. Marchmont's
year of mourning was over. But it was not so; Olivia closed her doors
upon almost all society, and devoted herself entirely to the education
of her stepdaughter. The gossips of Swampington and Kemberling, the
county gentry who had talked of her piety and patience, her unflinching
devotion to the poor of her father's parish, talked now of her
self-abnegation, the sacrifices she made for her stepdaughter's sake,
the noble manner in which she justified John Marchmont's confidence in
her goodness. Other women would have intrusted the heiress's education
to some hired governess, people said; other women would have been upon
the look-out for a second husband; other women would have grown weary
of the dulness of that lonely Lincolnshire mansion, the monotonous
society of a girl of sixteen. They were never tired of lauding Mrs.
Marchmont as a model for all stepmothers in time to come.

Did she sacrifice much, this woman, whose spirit was a raging fire, who
had the ambition of a Semiramis, the courage of a Boadicea, the
resolution of a Lady Macbeth? Did she sacrifice much in resigning such
provincial gaieties as might have adorned her life,--a few
dinner-parties, an occasional county ball, a flirtation with some
ponderous landed gentleman or hunting squire?

No; these things would very soon have grown odious to her--more odious
than the monotony of her empty life, more wearisome even than the
perpetual weariness of her own spirit. I said, that when she accepted a
new life by becoming the wife of John Marchmont, she acted in the
spirit of a prisoner, who is glad to exchange his old dungeon for a new
one. But, alas! the novelty of the prison-house had very speedily worn
off, and that which Olivia Arundel had been at Swampington Rectory,
Olivia Marchmont was now in the gaunt country mansion,--a wretched
woman, weary of herself and all the world, devoured by a slow-consuming
and perpetual fire.

This woman was, for two long melancholy years, Mary Marchmont's sole
companion and instructress. I say sole companion advisedly; for the
girl was not allowed to become intimate with the younger members of
such few county families as still called occasionally at the Towers,
lest she should become empty-headed and frivolous by their
companionship. Alas, there was little fear of Mary becoming
empty-headed! As she grew taller, and more slender, she seemed to get
weaker and paler; and her heavy head drooped wearily under the load of
knowledge which it had been made to carry, like some poor sickly flower
oppressed by the weight of the dew-drops, which would have revivified a
hardier blossom.

Heaven knows to what end Mrs. Marchmont educated her stepdaughter! Poor
Mary could have told the precise date of any event in universal
history, ancient or modern; she could have named the exact latitude and
longitude of the remotest island in the least navigable ocean, and
might have given an accurate account of the manners and customs of its
inhabitants, had she been called upon to do so. She was alarmingly
learned upon the subject of tertiary and old red sandstone, and could
have told you almost as much as Mr. Charles Kingsley himself about the
history of a gravel-pit,--though I doubt if she could have conveyed her
information in quite such a pleasant manner; she could have pointed out
every star in the broad heavens above Lincolnshire, and could have told
the history of its discovery; she knew the hardest names that science
had given to the familiar field-flowers she met in her daily
walks;--yet I cannot say that her conversation was any the more
brilliant because of this, or that her spirits grew lighter under the
influence of this general mental illumination.

But Mrs. Marchmont did most earnestly believe that this laborious
educationary process was one of the duties she owed her stepdaughter;
and when, at seventeen years of age, Mary emerged from the struggle,
laden with such intellectual spoils as I have described above, the
widow felt a quiet satisfaction as she contemplated her work, and said
to herself, "In this, at least, I have done my duty."

Amongst all the dreary mass of instruction beneath which her health had
very nearly succumbed, the girl had learned one thing that was a source
of pleasure to herself; she had learned to become a very brilliant
musician. She was not a musical genius, remember; for no such vivid
flame as the fire of genius had ever burned in her gentle breast; but
all the tenderness of her nature, all the poetry of a hyper-poetical
mind, centred in this one accomplishment, and, condemned to perpetual
silence in every other tongue, found a new and glorious language here.
The girl had been forbidden to read Byron and Scott; but she was not
forbidden to sit at her piano, when the day's toils were over, and the
twilight was dusky in her quiet room, playing dreamy melodies by
Beethoven and Mozart, and making her own poetry to Mendelssohn's
wordless songs. I think her soul must have shrunk and withered away
altogether had it not been for this one resource, this one refuge, in
which her mind regained its elasticity, springing up, like a trampled
flower, into new life and beauty.

Olivia was well pleased to see the girl sit hour after hour at her
piano. She had learned to play well and brilliantly herself, mastering
all difficulties with the proud determination which was a part of her
strong nature; but she had no special love for music. All things that
compose the poetry and beauty of life had been denied to this woman, in
common with the tenderness which makes the chief loveliness of
womankind. She sat by the piano and listened while Mary's slight hands
wandered over the keys, carrying the player's soul away into trackless
regions of dream-land and beauty; but she heard nothing in the music
except so many chords, so many tones and semitones, played in such or
such a time.

It would have been scarcely natural for Mary Marchmont, reserved and
self-contained though she had been ever since her father's death, to
have had no yearning for more genial companionship than that of her
stepmother. The girl who had kept watch in her room, by the doctor's
suggestion, was the one friend and confidante whom the young mistress
of Marchmont Towers fain would have chosen. But here Olivia interposed,
sternly forbidding any intimacy between the two girls. Hester Pollard
was the daughter of a small tenant-farmer, and no fit associate for
Mrs. Marchmont's stepdaughter. Olivia thought that this taste for
obscure company was the fruit of Mary's early training--the taint left
by those bitter, debasing days of poverty, in which John Marchmont and
his daughter had lived in some wretched Lambeth lodging.

"But Hester Pollard is fond of me, mamma," the girl pleaded; "and I
feel so happy at the old farm house! They are all so kind to me when I
go there,--Hester's father and mother, and little brothers and sisters,
you know; and the poultry-yard, and the pigs and horses, and the green
pond, with the geese cackling round it, remind me of my aunt's, in
Berkshire. I went there once with poor papa for a day or two; it was
_such_ a change after Oakley Street."

But Mrs. Marchmont was inflexible upon this point. She would allow her
stepdaughter to pay a ceremonial visit now and then to Farmer
Pollard's, and to be entertained with cowslip-wine and pound-cake in
the low, old-fashioned parlour, where all the polished mahogany chairs
were so shining and slippery that it was a marvel how anybody ever
contrived to sit down upon them. Olivia allowed such solemn visits as
these now and then, and she permitted Mary to renew the farmer's lease
upon sufficiently advantageous terms, and to make occasional presents
to her favourite, Hester. But all stolen visits to the farmyard, all
evening rambles with the farmer's daughter in the apple orchard at the
back of the low white farmhouse, were sternly interdicted; and though
Mary and Hester were friends still, they were fain to be content with a
chance meeting once in the course of a dreary interval of months, and a
silent pressure of the hand.

"You mustn't think that I am proud of my money, Hester," Mary said to
her friend, "or that I forget you now that we see each other so seldom.
Papa used to let me come to the farm whenever I liked; but papa had
seen a great deal of poverty. Mamma keeps me almost always at home at
my studies; but she is very good to me, and of course I am bound to
obey her; papa wished me to obey her."

The orphan girl never for a moment forgot the terms of her father's
will. _He_ had wished her to obey; what should she do, then, but be
obedient? Her submission to Olivia's lightest wish was only a part of
the homage which she paid to that beloved father's memory.

It was thus she grew to early womanhood; a child in gentle obedience
and docility; a woman by reason of that grave and thoughtful character
which had been peculiar to her from her very infancy. It was in a life
such as this, narrow, monotonous, joyless, that her seventeenth
birthday came and went, scarcely noticed, scarcely remembered, in the
dull uniformity of the days which left no track behind them; and Mary
Marchmont was a woman,--a woman with all the tragedy of life before
her; infantine in her innocence and inexperience of the world outside
Marchmont Towers.

The passage of time had been so long unmarked by any break in its
tranquil course, the dull routine of life had been so long undisturbed
by change, that I believe the two women thought their lives would go on
for ever and ever. Mary, at least, had never looked beyond the dull
horizon of the present. Her habit of castle-building had died out with
her father's death. What need had she to build castles, now that he
could no longer inhabit them? Edward Arundel, the bright boy she
remembered in Oakley Street, the dashing young officer who had come to
Marchmont Towers, had dropped back into the chaos of the past. Her
father had been the keystone in the arch of Mary's existence: he was
gone, and a mass of chaotic ruins alone remained of the familiar
visions which had once beguiled her. The world had ended with John
Marchmont's death, and his daughter's life since that great sorrow had
been at best only a passive endurance of existence. They had heard very
little of the young soldier at Marchmont Towers. Now and then a letter
from some member of the family at Dangerfield had come to the Rector of
Swampington. The warfare was still raging far away in the East, cruel
and desperate battles were being fought, and brave Englishmen were
winning loot and laurels, or perishing under the scimitars of Sikhs and
Affghans, as the case might be. Squire Arundel's youngest son was not
doing less than his duty, the letters said. He had gained his
captaincy, and was well spoken of by great soldiers, whose very names
were like the sound of the war-trumpet to English ears.

Olivia heard all this. She sat by her father, sometimes looking over
his shoulder at the crumpled letter, as he read aloud to her of her
cousin's exploits. The familiar name seemed to be all ablaze with lurid
light as the widow's greedy eyes devoured it. How commonplace the
letters were! What frivolous nonsense Letitia Arundel intermingled with
the news of her brother!--"You'll be glad to hear that my grey pony has
got the better of his lameness. Papa gave a hunting-breakfast on
Tuesday week. Lord Mountlitchcombe was present; but the hunting-men are
very much aggravated about the frost, and I fear we shall have no
crocuses. Edward has got his captaincy, papa told me to tell you. Sir
Charles Napier and Major Outram have spoken very highly of him; but
he--Edward, I mean--got a sabre-cut on his left arm, besides a wound on
his forehead, and was laid up for nearly a month. I daresay you
remember old Colonel Tollesly, at Halburton Lodge? He died last
November; and has left all his money to----" and the young lady ran on
thus, with such gossip as she thought might be pleasing to her uncle;
and there were no more tidings of the young soldier, whose life-blood
had so nearly been spilt for his country's glory.

Olivia thought of him as she rode back to Marchmont Towers. She thought
of the sabre-cut upon his arm, and pictured him wounded and bleeding,
lying beneath the canvass-shelter of a tent, comfortless, lonely,
forsaken.

"Better for me if he had died," she thought; "better for me if I were
to hear of his death to-morrow!"

And with the idea the picture of such a calamity arose before her so
vividly and hideously distinct, that she thought for one brief moment
of agony, "This is not a fancy, it is a presentiment; it is second
sight; the thing will occur."

She imagined herself going to see her father as she had gone that
morning. All would be the same: the low grey garden-wall of the
Rectory; the ceaseless surging of the sea; the prim servant-maid; the
familiar study, with its litter of books and papers; the smell of stale
cigar-smoke; the chintz curtains flapping in the open window; the dry
leaves fluttering in the garden without. There would be nothing changed
except her father's face, which would be a little graver than usual.
And then, after a little hesitation--after a brief preamble about the
uncertainty of life, the necessity for looking always beyond this
world, the horrors of war,--the dreadful words would be upon his lips,
when she would read all the hideous truth in his face, and fall prone
to the ground, before he could say, "Edward Arundel is dead!"

Yes; she felt all the anguish. It would be this--this sudden paralysis
of black despair. She tested the strength of her endurance by this
imaginary torture,--scarcely imaginary, surely, when it seemed so
real,--and asked herself a strange question: "Am I strong enough to
bear this, or would it be less terrible to go on, suffering for
ever--for ever abased and humiliated by the degradation of my love for
a man who does not care for me?"

So long as John Marchmont had lived, this woman would have been true to
the terrible victory she had won upon the eve of her bridal. She would
have been true to herself and to her marriage-vow; but her husband's
death, in setting her free, had cast her back upon the madness of her
youth. It was no longer a sin to think of Edward Arundel. Having once
suffered this idea to arise in her mind, her idol grew too strong for
her, and she thought of him by night and day.

Yes; she thought of him for ever and ever. The narrow life to which she
doomed herself, the self-immolation which she called duty, left her a
prey to this one thought. Her work was not enough for her. Her powerful
mind wasted and shrivelled for want of worthy employment. It was like
one vast roll of parchment whereon half the wisdom of the world might
have been inscribed, but on which was only written over and over again,
in maddening repetition, the name of Edward Arundel. If Olivia
Marchmont could have gone to America, and entered herself amongst the
feminine professors of law or medicine,--if she could have turned
field-preacher, like simple Dinah Morris, or set up a printing-press in
Bloomsbury, or even written a novel,--I think she might have been
saved. The superabundant energy of her mind would have found a new
object. As it was, she did none of these things. She had only dreamt
one dream, and by force of perpetual repetition the dream had become a
madness.

But the monotonous life was not to go on for ever. The dull, grey,
leaden sky was to be illumined by sudden bursts of sunshine, and swept
by black thunder-clouds, whose stormy violence was to shake the very
universe for these two solitary women.

John Marchmont had been dead nearly three years. Mary's humble friend,
the farmer's daughter, had married a young tradesman in the village of
Kemberling, a mile and a half from the Towers. Mary was a woman now,
and had seen the last of the Roman emperors and all the dry-as-dust
studies of her early girlhood. She had nothing to do but accompany her
stepmother hither and thither amongst the poor cottagers about
Kemberling and two or three other small parishes within a drive of the
Towers, "doing good," after Olivia's fashion, by line and rule. At home
the young lady did what she pleased, sitting for hours together at her
piano, or wading through gigantic achievements in the way of
embroidery-work. She was even allowed to read novels now, but only such
novels as were especially recommended to Olivia, who was one of the
patronesses of a book-club at Swampington: novels in which young ladies
fell in love with curates, and didn't marry them: novels in which
everybody suffered all manner of misery, and rather liked it: novels in
which, if the heroine did marry the man she loved--and this happy
conclusion was the exception, and not the rule--the smallpox swept away
her beauty, or a fatal accident deprived him of his legs, or eyes, or
arms before the wedding-day.

The two women went to Kemberling Church together three times every
Sunday. It was rather monotonous--the same church, the same rector and
curate, the same clerk, the same congregation, the same old organ-tunes
and droning voices of Lincolnshire charity-children, the same sermons
very often. But Mary had grown accustomed to monotony. She had ceased
to hope or care for anything since her father's death, and was very
well contented to be let alone, and allowed to dawdle through a dreary
life which was utterly without aim or purpose. She sat opposite her
stepmother on one particular afternoon in the state-pew at Kemberling,
which was lined with faded red baize, and raised a little above the
pews of meaner worshippers; she was sitting with her listless hands
lying in her lap, looking thoughtfully at her stepmother's stony face,
and listening to the dull droning of the rector's voice above her head.
It was a sunny afternoon in early June, and the church was bright with
a warm yellow radiance; one of the old diamond-paned windows was open,
and the tinkling of a sheep-bell far away in the distance, and the hum
of bees in the churchyard, sounded pleasantly in the quiet of the hot
atmosphere.

The young mistress of Marchmont Towers felt the drowsy influence of
that tranquil summer weather creeping stealthily upon her. The heavy
eyelids drooped over her soft brown eyes, those wistful eyes which had
so long looked wearily out upon a world in which there seemed so little
joy. The rector's sermon was a very long one this warm afternoon, and
there was a low sound of snoring somewhere in one of the shadowy and
sheltered pews beneath the galleries. Mary tried very hard to keep
herself awake. Mrs. Marchmont had frowned darkly at her once or twice
already, for to fall asleep in church was a dire iniquity in Olivia's
rigid creed; but the drowsiness was not easily to be conquered, and the
girl was sinking into a peaceful slumber in spite of her stepmother's
menacing frowns, when the sound of a sharp footfall on one of the
gravel pathways in the churchyard aroused her attention.

Heaven knows why she should have been awoke out of her sleep by the
sound of that step. It was different, perhaps, to the footsteps of the
Kemberling congregation. The brisk, sharp sound of the tread striking
lightly but firmly on the gravel was not compatible with the shuffling
gait of the tradespeople and farmers' men who formed the greater part
of the worshippers at that quiet Lincolnshire church. Again, it would
have been a monstrous sin in that tranquil place for any one member of
the congregation to disturb the devotions of the rest by entering at
such a time as this. It was a stranger, then, evidently. What did it
matter? Miss Marchmont scarcely cared to lift her eyelids to see who or
what the stranger was; but the intruder let in such a flood of June
sunshine when he pushed open the ponderous oaken door under the
church-porch, that she was dazzled by that sudden burst of light, and
involuntarily opened her eyes.

The stranger let the door swing softly to behind him, and stood beneath
the shadow of the porch, not caring to advance any further, or to
disturb the congregation by his presence.

Mary could not see him very plainly at first. She could only dimly
define the outline of his tall figure, the waving masses of chestnut
hair tinged with gleams of gold; but little by little his face seemed
to grow out of the shadow, until she saw it all,--the handsome
patrician features, the luminous blue eyes, the amber moustache,--the
face which, in Oakley Street eight years ago, she had elected as her
type of all manly perfection, her ideal of heroic grace.

Yes; it was Edward Arundel. Her eyes lighted up with an unwonted
rapture as she looked at him; her lips parted; and her breath came in
faint gasps. All the monotonous years, the terrible agonies of sorrow,
dropped away into the past; and Mary Marchmont was conscious of nothing
except the unutterable happiness of the present.

The one friend of her childhood had come back. The one link, the almost
forgotten link, that bound her to every day-dream of those foolish
early days, was united once more by the presence of the young soldier.
All that happy time, nearly five years ago,--that happy time in which
the tennis-court had been built, and the boat-house by the river
restored,--those sunny autumn days before her father's second
marriage,--returned to her. There was pleasure and joy in the world,
after all; and then the memory of her father came back to her mind, and
her eyes filled with tears. How sorry Edward would be to see his old
friend's empty place in the western drawing-room; how sorry for her,
and for her loss! Olivia Marchmont saw the change in her stepdaughter's
face, and looked at her with stern amazement. But, after the first
shock of that delicious surprise, Mary's training asserted itself. She
folded her hands,--they trembled a little, but Olivia did not see
that,--and waited patiently, with her eyes cast down and a faint flush
lighting up her pale cheeks, until the sermon was finished, and the
congregation began to disperse. She was not impatient. She felt as if
she could have waited thus peacefully and contentedly for ever, knowing
that the only friend she had on earth was near her.

Olivia was slow to leave her pew; but at last she opened the door and
went out into the quiet aisle, followed by Mary, out under the shadowy
porch and into the gravel-walk in the churchyard, where Edward Arundel
was waiting for the two ladies.

John Marchmont's widow uttered no cry of surprise when she saw her
cousin standing a little way apart from the slowly-dispersing
Kemberling congregation. Her dark face faded a little, and her heart
seemed to stop its pulsation suddenly, as if she had been turned into
stone; but this was only for a moment. She held out her hand to Mr.
Arundel in the next instant, and bade him welcome to Lincolnshire.

"I did not know you were in England," she said.

"Scarcely any one knows it yet," the young man answered; "and I have
not even been home. I came to Marchmont Towers at once."

He turned from his cousin to Mary, who was standing a little behind her
stepmother.

"Dear Polly," he said, taking both her hands in his, "I was so sorry
for you, when I heard----"

He stopped, for he saw the tears welling up to her eyes. It was not his
allusion to her father's death that had distressed her. He had called
her Polly, the old familiar name, which she had never heard since that
dead father's lips had last spoken it.

The carriage was waiting at the gate of the churchyard, and Edward
Arundel went back to Marchmont Towers with the two ladies. He had
reached the house a quarter of an hour after they had left it for
afternoon church, and had walked over to Kemberling.

"I was so anxious to see you, Polly," he said, "after all this long
time, that I had no patience to wait until you and Livy came back from
church."

Olivia started as the young man said this. It was Mary Marchmont whom
he had come to see, then--not herself. Was _she_ never to be anything?
Was she to be for ever insulted by this humiliating indifference? A
dark flush came over her face, as she drew her head up with the air of
an offended empress, and looked angrily at her cousin. Alas! he did not
even see that indignant glance. He was bending over Mary, telling her,
in a low tender voice, of the grief he had felt at learning the news of
her father's death.

Olivia Marchmont looked with an eager, scrutinising gaze at her
stepdaughter. Could it be possible that Edward Arundel might ever come
to love this girl? _Could_ such a thing be possible? A hideous depth of
horror and confusion seemed to open before her with the thought. In all
the past, amongst all things she had imagined, amongst all the
calamities she had pictured to herself, she had never thought of
anything like this. Would such a thing ever come to pass? Would she
ever grow to hate this girl--this girl, who had been intrusted to her
by her dead husband--with the most terrible hatred that one woman can
feel towards another?

In the next moment she was angry with herself for the abject folly of
this new terror. She had never yet learned to think of Mary as a woman.
She had never thought of her otherwise than as the pale childlike girl
who had come to her meekly, day after day, to recite difficult lessons,
standing in a submissive attitude before her, and rendering obedience
to her in all things. Was it likely, was it possible, that this
pale-faced girl would enter into the lists against her in the great
battle of her life? Was it likely that she was to find her adversary
and her conqueror here, in the meek child who had been committed to her
charge?

She watched her stepdaughter's face with a jealous, hungry gaze. Was it
beautiful? No! The features were delicate; the brown eyes soft and
dovelike, almost lovely, now that they were irradiated by a new light,
as they looked shyly up at Edward Arundel. But the girl's face was wan
and colourless. It lacked the splendour of beauty. It was only after
you had looked at Mary for a very long time that you began to think her
rather pretty.

The five years during which Edward Arundel had been away had made
little alteration in him. He was rather taller, perhaps; his amber
moustache thicker; his manner more dashing than of old. The mark of a
sabre-cut under the clustering chestnut curls upon the temple gave him
a certain soldierly dignity. He seemed a man of the world now, and Mary
Marchmont was rather afraid of him. He was so different to the
Lincolnshire squires, the bashful younger sons who were to be educated
for the Church: he was so dashing, so elegant, so splendid! From the
waving grace of his hair to the tip of the polished boot peeping out of
his well-cut trouser (there were no pegtops in 1847, and it was _le
genre_ to show very little of the boot), he was a creature to be
wondered at, to be almost reverenced, Mary thought. She could not help
admiring the cut of his coat, the easy _nonchalance_ of his manner, the
waxed ends of his curved moustache, the dangling toys of gold and
enamel that jingled at his watch-chain, the waves of perfume that
floated away from his cambric handkerchief. She was childish enough to
worship all these external attributes in her hero.

"Shall I invite him to Marchmont Towers?" Olivia thought; and while she
was deliberating upon this question, Mary Marchmont cried out, "You
will stop at the Towers, won't you, Mr. Arundel, as you did when poor
papa was alive?"

"Most decidedly, Miss Marchmont," the young man answered. "I mean to
throw myself upon your hospitality as confidingly as I did a long time
ago in Oakley Street, when you gave me hot rolls for my breakfast."

Mary laughed aloud--perhaps for the first time since her father's
death. Olivia bit her lip. She was of so little account, then, she
thought, that they did not care to consult her. A gloomy shadow spread
itself over her face. Already, already she began to hate this
pale-faced, childish orphan girl, who seemed to be transformed into a
new being under the spell of Edward Arundel's presence.

But she made no attempt to prevent his stopping at the Towers, though a
word from her would have effectually hindered his coming. A dull torpor
of despair took possession of her; a black apprehension paralysed her
mind. She felt that a pit of horror was opening before her ignorant
feet. All that she had suffered was as nothing to what she was about to
suffer. Let it be, then! What could she do to keep this torture away
from her? Let it come, since it seemed that it must come in some shape
or other.

She thought all this, while she sat back in a corner of the carriage
watching the two faces opposite to her, as Edward and Mary, seated with
their backs to the horses, talked together in low confidential tones,
which scarcely reached her ear. She thought all this during the short
drive between Kemberling and Marchmont Towers; and when the carriage
drew up before the low Tudor portico, the dark shadow had settled on
her face. Her mind was made up. Let Edward Arundel come; let the worst
come. She had struggled; she had tried to do her duty; she had striven
to be good. But her destiny was stronger than herself, and had brought
this young soldier over land and sea, safe out of every danger, rescued
from every peril, to be her destruction. I think that in this crisis of
her life the last faint ray of Christian light faded out of this lost
woman's soul, leaving utter darkness and desolation. The old landmarks,
dimly descried in the weary desert, sank for ever down into the
quicksands, and she was left alone,--alone with her despair. Her
jealous soul prophesied the evil which she dreaded. This man, whose
indifference to her was almost an insult, would fall in love with Mary
Marchmont,--with Mary Marchmont, whose eyes lit up into new beauty
under the glances of his, whose pale face blushed into faint bloom as
he talked to her. The girl's undisguised admiration would flatter the
young man's vanity, and he would fall in love with her out of very
frivolity and weakness of purpose.

"He is weak and vain, and foolish and frivolous, I daresay," Olivia
thought; "and if I were to fling myself upon my knees at his feet, and
tell him that I loved him, he would be flattered and grateful, and
would be ready to return my affection. If I could tell him what this
girl tells him in every look and word, he would be as pleased with me
as he is with her."

Her lip curled with unutterable scorn as she thought this. She was so
despicable to herself by the deep humiliation of her wasted love, that
the object of that foolish passion seemed despicable also. She was for
ever weighing Edward Arundel against all the tortures she had endured
for his sake, and for ever finding him wanting. He must have been a
demigod if his perfections could have outweighed so much misery; and
for this reason she was unjust to her cousin, and could not accept him
for that which he really was,--a generous-hearted, candid, honourable
young man (not a great man or a wonderful man),--a brave and
honest-minded soldier, very well worthy of a good woman's love.

 * * * * *

Mr. Arundel stayed at the Towers, occupying the room which had been his
in John Marchmont's lifetime; and a new existence began for Mary. The
young man was delighted with his old friend's daughter. Among all the
Calcutta belles whom he had danced with at Government-House balls and
flirted with upon the Indian racecourse, he could remember no one as
fascinating as this girl, who seemed as childlike now, in her early
womanhood, as she had been womanly while she was a child. Her naïve
tenderness for himself bewitched and enraptured him. Who could have
avoided being charmed by that pure and innocent affection, which was as
freely given by the girl of eighteen as it had been by the child, and
was unchanged in character by the lapse of years? The young officer had
been so much admired and caressed in Calcutta, that perhaps, by reason
of his successes, he had returned to England heart-whole; and he
abandoned himself, without any _arrière-pensée_, to the quiet happiness
which he felt in Mary Marchmont's society. I do not say that he was
intoxicated by her beauty, which was by no means of the intoxicating
order, or that he was madly in love with her. The gentle fascination of
her society crept upon him before he was aware of its influence. He had
never taken the trouble to examine his own feelings; they were
disengaged,--as free as butterflies to settle upon which flower might
seem the fairest; and he had therefore no need to put himself under a
course of rigorous self-examination. As yet he believed that the
pleasure he now felt in Mary's society was the same order of enjoyment
he had experienced five years before, when he had taught her chess, and
promised her long rambles by the seashore.

They had no long rambles now in solitary lanes and under flowering
hedgerows beside the waving green corn. Olivia watched them with
untiring eyes. The tortures to which a jealous woman may condemn
herself are not much greater than those she can inflict upon others.
Mrs. Marchmont took good care that her ward and her cousin were not
_too_ happy. Wherever they went, she went also; whenever they spoke,
she listened; whatever arrangement was most likely to please them was
opposed by her. Edward was not coxcomb enough to have any suspicion of
the reason of this conduct on his cousin's part. He only smiled and
shrugged his shoulders; and attributed her watchfulness to an
overstrained sense of her responsibility, and the necessity of
_surveillance_.

"Does she think me such a villain and a traitor," he thought, "that she
fears to leave me alone with my dead friend's orphan daughter, lest I
should whisper corruption into her innocent ear? How little these good
women know of us, after all! What vulgar suspicions and narrow-minded
fears influence them against us! Are they honourable and honest towards
one another, I wonder, that they can entertain such pitiful doubts of
our honour and honesty?"

So, hour after hour, and day after day, Olivia Marchmont kept watch and
ward over Edward and Mary. It seems strange that love could blossom in
such an atmosphere; it seems strange that the cruel gaze of those hard
grey eyes did not chill the two innocent hearts, and prevent their free
expansion. But it was not so; the egotism of love was all-omnipotent.
Neither Edward nor Mary was conscious of the evil light in the glance
that so often rested upon them. The universe narrowed itself to the one
spot of earth upon which these two stood side by side.

Edward Arundel had been more than a month at Marchmont Towers when
Olivia went, upon a hot July evening, to Swampington, on a brief visit
to the Rector,--a visit of duty. She would doubtless have taken Mary
Marchmont with her; but the girl had been suffering from a violent
headache throughout the burning summer day, and had kept her room.
Edward Arundel had gone out early in the morning upon a fishing
excursion to a famous trout-stream seven or eight miles from the
Towers, and was not likely to return until after nightfall. There was
no chance, therefore, of a meeting between Mary and the young officer,
Olivia thought--no chance of any confidential talk which she would not
be by to hear.

Did Edward Arundel love the pale-faced girl, who revealed her devotion
to him with such childlike unconsciousness? Olivia Marchmont had not
been able to answer that question. She had sounded the young man
several times upon his feelings towards her stepdaughter; but he had
met her hints and insinuations with perfect frankness, declaring that
Mary seemed as much a child to him now as she had appeared nearly nine
years before in Oakley Street, and that the pleasure he took in her
society was only such as he might have felt in that of any innocent and
confiding child.

"Her simplicity is so bewitching, you know, Livy," he said; "she looks
up in my face, and trusts me with all her little secrets, and tells me
her dreams about her dead father, and all her foolish, innocent
fancies, as confidingly as if I were some playfellow of her own age and
sex. She's so refreshing after the artificial belles of a Calcutta
ballroom, with their stereotyped fascinations and their complete manual
of flirtation, the same for ever and ever. She is such a pretty little
spontaneous darling, with her soft, shy, brown eyes, and her low voice,
which always sounds to me like the cooing of the doves in the
poultry-yard."

I think that Olivia, in the depth of her gloomy despair, took some
comfort from such speeches as these. Was this frank expression of
regard for Mary Marchmont a token of _love_? No; not as the widow
understood the stormy madness. Love to her had been a dark and terrible
passion, a thing to be concealed, as monomaniacs have sometimes
contrived to keep the secret of their mania, until it burst forth at
last, fatal and irrepressible, in some direful work of wreck and ruin.

So Olivia Marchmont took an early dinner alone, and drove away from the
Towers at four o'clock on a blazing summer afternoon, more at peace
perhaps than she had been since Edward Arundel's coming. She paid her
dutiful visit to her father, sat with him for some time, talked to the
two old servants who waited upon him, walked two or three times up and
down the neglected garden, and then drove back to the Towers.

The first object upon which her eyes fell as she entered the hall was
Edward Arundel's fishing-tackle lying in disorder upon an oaken bench
near the broad arched door that opened out into the quadrangle. An
angry flush mounted to her face as she turned upon the servant near
her.

"Mr. Arundel has come home?" she said.

"Yes, ma'am, he came in half an hour ago; but he went out again almost
directly with Miss Marchmont."

"Indeed! I thought Miss Marchmont was in her room?"

"No, ma'am; she came down to the drawing-room about an hour after you
left. Her head was better, ma'am, she said."

"And she went out with Mr. Arundel? Do you know which way they went?"

"Yes, ma'am; I heard Mr. Arundel say he wanted to look at the old
boat-house by the river."

"And they have gone there?"

"I think so, ma'am."

"Very good; I will go down to them. Miss Marchmont must not stop out in
the night-air. The dew is falling already."

The door leading into the quadrangle was open; and Olivia swept across
the broad threshold, haughty and self-possessed, very stately-looking
in her long black garments. She still wore mourning for her dead
husband. What inducement had she ever had to cast off that sombre
attire; what need had she to trick herself out in gay colours? What
loving eyes would be charmed by her splendour? She went out of the
door, across the quadrangle, under a stone archway, and into the low
stunted wood, which was gloomy even in the summer-time. The setting sun
was shining upon the western front of the Towers; but here all seemed
cold and desolate. The damp mists were rising from the sodden ground
beneath the tree; the frogs were croaking down by the river-side. With
her small white teeth set, and her breath coming in fitful gasps,
Olivia Marchmont hurried to the water's edge, winding in and out
between the trees, tearing her black dress amongst the brambles,
scorning all beaten paths, heedless where she trod, so long as she made
her way speedily to the spot she wanted to reach.

At last the black sluggish river and the old boat-house came in sight,
between a long vista of ugly distorted trunks and gnarled branches of
pollard oak and willow. The building was dreary and
dilapidated-looking, for the improvements commenced by Edward Arundel
five years ago had never been fully carried out; but it was
sufficiently substantial, and bore no traces of positive decay. Down by
the water's edge there was a great cavernous recess for the shelter of
the boats, and above this there was a pavilion, built of brick and
stone, containing two decent-sized chambers, with latticed windows
overlooking the river. A flight of stone steps with an iron balustrade
led up to the door of this pavilion, which was supported upon the solid
side-walls of the boat-house below.

In the stillness of the summer twilight Olivia heard the voices of
those whom she came to seek. They were standing down by the edge of the
water, upon a narrow pathway that ran along by the sedgy brink of the
river, and only a few paces from the pavilion. The door of the
boat-house was open; a long-disused wherry lay rotting upon the damp
and mossy flags. Olivia crept into the shadowy recess. The door that
faced the river had fallen from its rusty hinges, and the slimy
woodwork lay in ruins upon the shore. Sheltered by the stone archway
that had once been closed by this door, Olivia listened to the voices
beside the still water.

Mary Marchmont was standing close to the river's edge; Edward stood
beside her, leaning against the trunk of a willow that hung over the
water.

"My childish darling," the young man murmured, as if in reply to
something his companion had said, "and so you think, because you are
simple-minded and innocent, I am not to love you. It is your innocence
I love, Polly dear,--let me call you Polly, as I used five years
ago,--and I wouldn't have you otherwise for all the world. Do you know
that sometimes I am almost sorry I ever came back to Marchmont Towers?"

"Sorry you came back?" cried Mary, in a tone of alarm. "Oh, why do you
say that, Mr. Arundel?"

"Because you are heiress to eleven thousand a year, Mary, and the
Moated Grange behind us; and this dreary wood, and the river,--the
river is yours, I daresay, Miss Marchmont;--and I wish you joy of the
possession of so much sluggish water and so many square miles of swamp
and fen."

"But what then?" Mary asked wonderingly.

"What then? Do you know, Polly darling, that if I ask you to marry me
people will call me a fortune-hunter, and declare that I came to
Marchmont Towers bent upon stealing its heiress's innocent heart,
before she had learned the value of the estate that must go along with
it? God knows they'd wrong me, Polly, as cruelly as ever an honest man
was wronged; for, so long as I have money to pay my tailor and
tobacconist,--and I've more than enough for both of them,--I want
nothing further of the world's wealth. What should I do with all this
swamp and fen, Miss Marchmont--with all that horrible complication of
expired leases to be renewed, and income-taxes to be appealed against,
that rich people have to endure? If you were not rich, Polly, I----"

He stopped and laughed, striking the toe of his boot amongst the weeds,
and knocking the pebbles into the water. The woman crouching in the
shadow of the archway listened with whitened cheeks and glaring eyes;
listened as she might have listened to the sentence of her death,
drinking in every syllable, in her ravenous desire to lose no breath
that told her of her anguish.

"If I were not rich!" murmured Mary; "what if I were not rich?"

"I should tell you how dearly I love you, Polly, and ask you to be my
wife by-and-by."

The girl looked up at him for a few moments in silence, shyly at first,
and then more boldly, with a beautiful light kindling in her eyes.

"I love you dearly too, Mr. Arundel," she said at last; "and I would
rather you had my money than any one else in the world; and there was
something in papa's will that made me think--"

"There was something that made you think he would wish this, Polly,"
cried the young man, clasping the trembling little figure to his
breast. "Mr. Paulette sent me a copy of the will, Polly, when he sent
my diamond-ring; and I think there were some words in it that hinted at
such a wish. Your father said he left me this legacy, darling,--I have
his letter still,--the legacy of a helpless girl. God knows I will try
to be worthy of such a trust, Mary dearest; God knows I will be
faithful to my promise, made nine years ago."

The woman listening in the dark archway sank down upon the damp flags
at her feet, amongst the slimy rotten wood and rusty iron nails and
broken bolts and hinges. She sat there for a long time, not
unconscious, but quite motionless, her white face leaning against the
moss-grown arch, staring blankly out of the black shadows. She sat
there and listened, while the lovers talked in low tender murmurs of
the sorrowful past and of the unknown future; that beautiful untrodden
region, in which they were to go hand in hand through all the long
years of quiet happiness between the present moment and the grave. She
sat and listened till the moonlight faintly shimmered upon the water,
and the footsteps of the lovers died away upon the narrow pathway by
which they went back to the house.

Olivia Marchmont did not move until an hour after they had gone. Then
she raised herself with an effort, and walked with stiffened limbs
slowly and painfully to the house, and to her own room, where she
locked her door, and flung herself upon the ground in the darkness.

Mary came to her to ask why she did not come to the drawing-room, and
Mrs. Marchmont answered, with a hoarse voice, that she was ill, and
wished to be alone. Neither Mary, nor the old woman-servant who had
been Olivia's nurse long ago, and who had some little influence over
her, could get any other answer than this.



CHAPTER XIV.

DRIVEN AWAY.


Mary Marchmont and Edward Arundel were happy. They were happy; and how
should they guess the tortures of that desperate woman, whose benighted
soul was plunged in a black gulf of horror by reason of their innocent
love? How should these two--very children in their ignorance of all
stormy passions, all direful emotions--know that in the darkened
chamber where Olivia Marchmont lay, suffering under some vague illness,
for which the Swampington doctor was fain to prescribe quinine, in
utter unconsciousness as to the real nature of the disease which he was
called upon to cure,--how should they know that in that gloomy chamber
a wicked heart was abandoning itself to all the devils that had so long
held patient watch for this day?

Yes; the struggle was over. Olivia Marchmont flung aside the cross she
had borne in dull, mechanical obedience, rather than in Christian love
and truth. Better to have been sorrowful Magdalene, forgiven for her
love and tears, than this cold, haughty, stainless woman, who had never
been able to learn the sublime lessons which so many sinners have taken
meekly to heart. The religion which was wanting in the vital principle
of Christianity, the faith which showed itself only in dogged
obedience, failed this woman in the hour of her agony. Her pride arose;
the defiant spirit of the fallen angel asserted its gloomy grandeur.

"What have I done that I should suffer like this?" she thought. "What
am I that an empty-headed soldier should despise me, and that I should
go mad because of his indifference? Is this the recompense for my long
years of obedience? Is this the reward Heaven bestows upon me for my
life of duty!"

She remembered the histories of other women,--women who had gone their
own way and had been happy; and a darker question arose in her mind;
almost the question which Job asked in his agony.

"Is there neither truth nor justice in the dealings of God?" she
thought. "Is it useless to be obedient and submissive, patient and
untiring? Has all my life been a great mistake, which is to end in
confusion and despair?"

And then she pictured to herself the life that might have been hers if
Edward Arundel had loved her. How good she would have been! The
hardness of her iron nature would have teen melted and subdued. By
force of her love and tenderness for him, she would have learned to be
loving and tender to others. Her wealth of affection for him would have
overflowed in gentleness and consideration for every creature in the
universe. The lurking bitterness which had lain hidden in her heart
ever since she had first loved Edward Arundel, and first discovered his
indifference to her; and the poisonous envy of happier women, who had
loved and were beloved,--would have been blotted away. Her whole nature
would have undergone a wondrous transfiguration, purified and exalted
by the strength of her affection. All this might have come to pass if
he had loved her,--if he had only loved her. But a pale-faced child had
come between her and this redemption; and there was nothing left for
her but despair.

Nothing but despair? Yes; perhaps something further,--revenge.

But this last idea took no tangible shape. She only knew that, in the
black darkness of the gulf into which her soul had gone down, there
was, far away somewhere, one ray of lurid light. She only knew this as
yet, and that she hated Mary Marchmont with a mad and wicked hatred. If
she could have thought meanly of Edward Arundel,--if she could have
believed him to be actuated by mercenary motives in his choice of the
orphan girl,--she might have taken some comfort from the thought of his
unworthiness, and of Mary's probable sorrow in the days to come. But
she _could_ not think this. Little as the young soldier had said in the
summer twilight beside the river, there had been that in his tones and
looks which had convinced the wretched watcher of his truth. Mary might
have been deceived by the shallowest pretender; but Olivia's eyes
devoured every glance; Olivia's greedy ears drank in every tone; and
she _knew_ that Edward Arundel loved her stepdaughter.

She knew this, and she hated Mary Marchmont. What had she done, this
girl, who had never known what it was to fight a battle with her own
rebellious heart? what had she done, that all this wealth of love and
happiness should drop into her lap unsought,--comparatively unvalued,
perhaps?

John Marchmont's widow lay in her darkened chamber thinking over these
things; no longer fighting the battle with her own heart, but utterly
abandoning herself to her desperation,--reckless, hardened, impenitent.

Edward Arundel could not very well remain at the Towers while the
reputed illness of his hostess kept her to her room. He went over to
Swampington, therefore, upon a dutiful visit to his uncle; but rode to
the Towers every day to inquire very particularly after his cousin's
progress, and to dawdle on the sunny western terrace with Mary
Marchmont.

Their innocent happiness needs little description. Edward Arundel
retained a good deal of that boyish chivalry which had made him so
eager to become the little girl's champion in the days gone by. Contact
with the world had not much sullied the freshness of the young man's
spirit. He loved his innocent, childish companion with the purest and
truest devotion; and he was proud of the recollection that in the day
of his poverty John Marchmont had chosen _him_ as the future shelterer
of this tender blossom.

"You must never grow any older or more womanly, Polly," he said
sometimes to the young mistress of Marchmont Towers. "Remember that I
always love you best when I think of you as the little girl in the
shabby pinafore, who poured out my tea for me one bleak December
morning in Oakley Street."

They talked a great deal of John Marchmont. It was such a happiness to
Mary to be able to talk unreservedly of her father to some one who had
loved and comprehended him.

"My stepmamma was very good to poor papa, you know, Edward," she said,
"and of course he was very grateful to her; but I don't think he ever
loved her quite as he loved you. You were the friend of his poverty,
Edward; he never forgot that."

Once, as they strolled side by side together upon the terrace in the
warm summer noontide, Mary Marchmont put her little hand through her
lover's arm, and looked up shyly in his face.

"Did papa say that, Edward?" she whispered; "did he really say that?"

"Did he really say what, darling?"

"That he left me to you as a legacy?"

"He did indeed, Polly," answered the young man. "I'll bring you the
letter to-morrow."

And the next day he showed Mary Marchmont the yellow sheet of
letter-paper and the faded writing, which had once been black and wet
under her dead father's hand. Mary looked through her tears at the old
familiar Oakley-street address, and the date of the very day upon which
Edward Arundel had breakfasted in the shabby lodging. Yes--there were
the words: "The legacy of a child's helplessness is the only bequest I
can leave to the only friend I have."

"And you shall never know what it is to be helpless while I am near
you, Polly darling," the soldier said, as he refolded his dead friend's
epistle. "You may defy your enemies henceforward, Mary--if you have any
enemies. O, by-the-bye, you have never heard any thing of that Paul
Marchmont, I suppose?"

"Papa's cousin--Mr Marchmont the artist?"

"Yes."

"He came to the reading of papa's will."

"Indeed! and did you see much of him?"

"Oh, no, very little. I was ill, you know," the girl added, the tears
rising to her eyes at the recollection of that bitter time,--"I was
ill, and I didn't notice any thing. I know that Mr. Marchmont talked to
me a little; but I can't remember what he said."

"And he has never been here since?"

"Never."

Edward Arundel shrugged his shoulders. This Paul Marchmont could not be
such a designing villain, after all, or surely he would have tried to
push his acquaintance with his rich cousin!

"I dare say John's suspicion of him was only one of the poor fellow's
morbid fancies," he thought. "He was always full of morbid fancies."

Mrs. Marchmont's rooms were in the western front of the house; and
through her open windows she heard the fresh young voices of the lovers
as they strolled up and down the terrace. The cavalry officer was
content to carry a watering-pot full of water, for the refreshment of
his young mistress's geraniums in the stone vases on the balustrade,
and to do other under-gardener's work for her pleasure. He talked to
her of the Indian campaign; and she asked a hundred questions about
midnight marches and solitary encampments, fainting camels, lurking
tigers in the darkness of the jungle, intercepted supplies of
provisions, stolen ammunition, and all the other details of the war.

Olivia arose at last, before the Swampington surgeon's saline draughts
and quinine mixtures had subdued the fiery light in her eyes, or cooled
the raging fever that devoured her. She arose because she could no
longer lie still in her desolation knowing that, for two hours in each
long summer's day, Edward Arundel and Mary Marchmont could be happy
together in spite of her. She came down stairs, therefore, and renewed
her watch--chaining her stepdaughter to her side, and interposing
herself for ever between the lovers.

The widow arose from her sick-bed an altered woman, as it appeared to
all who knew her. A mad excitement seemed to have taken sudden
possession of her. She flung off her mourning garments, and ordered
silks and laces, velvets and satins, from a London milliner; she
complained of the absence of society, the monotonous dulness of her
Lincolnshire life; and, to the surprise of every one, sent out cards of
invitation for a ball at the Towers in honour of Edward Arundel's
return to England. She seemed to be seized with a desire to do
something, she scarcely cared what, to disturb the even current of her
days.

During the brief interval between Mrs. Marchmont's leaving her room and
the evening appointed for the ball, Edward Arundel found no very
convenient opportunity of informing his cousin of the engagement
entered into between himself and Mary. He had no wish to hurry this
disclosure; for there was something in the orphan girl's childishness
and innocence that kept all definite ideas of an early marriage very
far away from her lover's mind. He wanted to go back to India, and win
more laurels, to lay at the feet of the mistress of Marchmont Towers.
He wanted to make a name for himself, which should cause the world to
forget that he was a younger son,--a name that the vilest tongue would
never dare to blacken with the epithet of fortune-hunter.

The young man was silent therefore, waiting for a fitting opportunity
in which to speak to Mary's stepmother. Perhaps he rather dreaded the
idea of discussing his attachment with Olivia; for she had looked at
him with cold angry eyes, and a brow as black as thunder, upon those
occasions on which she had sounded him as to his feelings for Mary.

"She wants poor Polly to marry some grandee, I dare say," he thought,
"and will do all she can to oppose my suit. But her trust will cease
with Mary's majority; and I don't want my confiding little darling to
marry me until she is old enough to choose for herself, and to choose
wisely. She will be one-and-twenty in three years; and what are three
years? I would wait as long as Jacob for my pet, and serve my fourteen
years' apprenticeship under Sir Charles Napier, and be true to her all
the time."

Olivia Marchmont hated her stepdaughter. Mary was not slow to perceive
the change in the widow's manner towards her. It had always been cold,
and sometimes severe; but it was now almost abhorrent. The girl shrank
appalled from the sinister light in her stepmother's gray eyes, as they
followed her unceasingly, dogging her footsteps with a hungry and evil
gaze. The gentle girl wondered what she had done to offend her
guardian, and then, being unable to think of any possible delinquency
by which she might have incurred Mrs. Marchmont's displeasure, was fain
to attribute the change in Olivia's manner to the irritation consequent
upon her illness, and was thus more gentle and more submissive than of
old; enduring cruel looks, returning no answer to bitter speeches, but
striving to conciliate the supposed invalid by her sweetness and
obedience.

But the girl's amiability only irritated the despairing woman. Her
jealousy fed upon every charm of the rival who had supplanted her. That
fatal passion fed upon Edward Arundel's every look and tone, upon the
quiet smile which rested on Mary's face as the girl sat over her
embroidery, in meek silence, thinking of her lover. The self-tortures
which Olivia Marchmont inflicted upon herself were so horrible to bear,
that she turned, with a mad desire for relief, upon those she had the
power to torture. Day by day, and hour by hour, she contrived to
distress the gentle girl, who had so long obeyed her, now by a word,
now by a look, but always with that subtle power of aggravation which
some women possess in such an eminent degree--until Mary Marchmont's
life became a burden to her, or would have so become, but for that
inexpressible happiness, of which her tormentor could not deprive
her,--the joy she felt in her knowledge of Edward Arundel's love.

She was very careful to keep the secret of her stepmother's altered
manner from the young soldier. Olivia was his cousin, and he had said
long ago that she was to love her. Heaven knows she had tried to do so,
and had failed most miserably; but her belief in Olivia's goodness was
still unshaken. If Mrs. Marchmont was now irritable, capricious, and
even cruel, there was doubtless some good reason for the alteration in
her conduct; and it was Mary's duty to be patient. The orphan girl had
learned to suffer quietly when the great affliction of her father's
death had fallen upon her; and she suffered so quietly now, that even
her lover failed to perceive any symptoms of her distress. How could
she grieve him by telling him of her sorrows, when his very presence
brought such unutterable joy to her?

So, on the morning of the ball at Marchmont Towers,--the first
entertainment of the kind that had been given in that grim Lincolnshire
mansion since young Arthur Marchmont's untimely death,--Mary sat in her
room, with her old friend Farmer Pollard's daughter, who was now Mrs.
Jobson, the wife of the most prosperous carpenter in Kemberling. Hester
had come up to the Towers to pay a dutiful visit to her young
patroness; and upon this particular occasion Olivia had not cared to
prevent Mary and her humble friend spending half an hour together. Mrs.
Marchmont roamed from room to room upon this day, with a perpetual
restlessness. Edward Arundel was to dine at the Towers, and was to
sleep there after the ball. He was to drive his uncle over from
Swampington, as the Rector had promised to show himself for an hour or
two at his daughter's entertainment. Mary had met her stepmother
several times that morning, in the corridors and on the staircase; but
the widow had passed her in silence, with a dark face, and a shivering,
almost abhorrent gesture.

The bright July day dragged itself out at last, with hideous slowness
for the desperate woman, who could not find peace or rest in all those
splendid rooms, on all that grassy flat, dry and burning under the
blazing summer sun. She had wandered out upon the waste of barren turf,
with her head bared to the hot sky, and had loitered here and there by
the still pools, looking gloomily at the black tideless water, and
wondering what the agony of drowning was like. Not that she had any
thought of killing herself. No: the idea of death was horrible to her;
for after her death Edward and Mary would be happy. Could she ever find
rest in the grave, knowing this? Could there be any possible extinction
that would blot out her jealous fury? Surely the fire of her hate--it
was no longer love, but hate, that raged in her heart--would defy
annihilation, eternal by reason of its intensity. When the dinner-hour
came, and Edward and his uncle arrived at the Towers, Olivia
Marchmont's pale face was lit up with eyes that flamed like fire; but
she took her accustomed place very quietly, with her father opposite to
her, and Mary and Edward upon either side.

"I'm sure you're ill, Livy," the young man said; "you're as pale as
death, and your hand is dry and burning. I'm afraid you've not been
obedient to the Swampington doctor."

Mrs. Marchmont shrugged her shoulders with a short contemptuous laugh.

"I am well enough," she said. "Who cares whether I am well or ill?"

Her father looked up at her in mute surprise. The bitterness of her
tone startled and alarmed him; but Mary never lifted her eyes. It was
in such a tone as this that her stepmother had spoken constantly of
late.

But two or three hours afterwards, when the flats before the house were
silvered by the moonlight, and the long ranges of windows glittered
with the lamps within, Mrs. Marchmont emerged from her dressing-room
another creature, as it seemed.

Edward and his uncle were walking up and down the great oaken
banqueting-hall, which had been decorated and fitted up as a ballroom
for the occasion, when Olivia crossed the wide threshold of the
chamber. The young officer looked up with an involuntary expression of
surprise. In all his acquaintance with his cousin, he had never seen
her thus. The gloomy black-robed woman was transformed into a
Semiramis. She wore a voluminous dress of a deep claret-coloured
velvet, that glowed with the warm hues of rich wine in the lamplight.
Her massive hair was coiled in a knot at the back of her head, and
diamonds glittered amidst the thick bands that framed her broad white
brow. Her stern classical beauty was lit up by the unwonted splendour
of her dress, and asserted itself as obviously as if she had said, "Am
I a woman to be despised for the love of a pale-faced child?"

Mary Marchmont came into the room a few minutes after her stepmother.
Her lover ran to welcome her, and looked fondly at her simple dress of
shadowy white crape, and the pearl circlet that crowned her soft brown
hair. The pearls she wore upon this night had been given to her by her
father on her fourteenth birthday.

Olivia watched the young man as he bent over Mary Marchmont.

He wore his uniform to-night for the special gratification of his young
mistress, and he was looking down with a tender smile at her childish
admiration of the bullion ornaments upon his coat, and the decoration
he had won in India.

The widow looked from the two lovers to an antique glass upon an ebony
bureau in a niche opposite to her, which reflected her own face,--her
own face, more beautiful than she had ever seen it before, with a
feverish glow of vivid crimson lighting up her hollow cheeks.

"I might have been beautiful if he had loved me," she thought; and then
she turned to her father, and began to talk to him of his parishioners,
the old pensioners upon her bounty, whose little histories were so
hatefully familiar to her. Once more she made a feeble effort to tread
the old hackneyed pathway, which she had toiled upon with such weary
feet; but she could not,--she could not. After a few minutes she turned
abruptly from the Rector, and seated herself in a recess of the window,
from which she could see Edward and Mary.

But Mrs. Marchmont's duties as hostess soon demanded her attention. The
county families began to arrive; the sound of carriage-wheels seemed
perpetual upon the crisp gravel-drive before the western front; the
names of half the great people in Lincolnshire were shouted by the old
servants in the hall. The band in the music-gallery struck up a
quadrille, and Edward Arundel led the youthful mistress of the mansion
to her place in the dance.

To Olivia that long night seemed all glare and noise and confusion. She
did the honours of the ballroom, she received her guests, she meted out
due attention to all; for she had been accustomed from her earliest
girlhood to the stereotyped round of country society. She neglected no
duty; but she did all mechanically, scarcely knowing what she said or
did in the feverish tumult of her soul.

Yet, amidst all the bewilderment of her senses, in all the confusion of
her thoughts, two figures were always before her. Wherever Edward
Arundel and Mary Marchmont went, her eyes followed them--her fevered
imagination pursued them. Once, and once only, in the course of that
long night she spoke to her stepdaughter.

"How often do you mean to dance with Captain Arundel, Miss Marchmont?"
she said.

But before Mary could answer, her stepmother had moved away upon the
arm of a portly country squire, and the girl was left in sorrowful
wonderment as to the reason of Mrs. Marchmont's angry tone.

Edward and Mary were standing in one of the deep embayed windows of the
banqueting-hall, when the dancers began to disperse, long after supper.
The girl had been very happy that evening, in spite of her stepmother's
bitter words and disdainful glances. For almost the first time in her
life, the young mistress of Marchmont Towers had felt the contagious
influence of other people's happiness. The brilliantly-lighted
ballroom, the fluttering dresses of the dancers, the joyous music, the
low sound of suppressed laughter, the bright faces which smiled at each
other upon every side, were as new as any thing in fairyland to this
girl, whose narrow life had been overshadowed by the gloomy figure of
her stepmother, for ever interposed between her and the outer world.
The young spirit arose and shook off its fetters, fresh and radiant as
the butterfly that escapes from its chrysalis. The new light of
happiness illumined the orphan's delicate face, until Edward Arundel
began to wonder at her loveliness, as he had wondered once before that
night at the fiery splendour of his cousin Olivia.

"I had no idea that Olivia was so handsome, or you so pretty, my
darling," he said, as he stood with Mary in the embrasure of the
window. "You look like Titania, the queen of the fairies, Polly, with
your cloudy draperies and crown of pearls."

The window was open, and Captain Arundel looked wistfully at the broad
flagged quadrangle beautified by the light of the full summer moon. He
glanced back into the room; it was nearly empty now; and Mrs. Marchmont
was standing near the principal doorway, bidding the last of her guests
goodnight.

"Come into the quadrangle, Polly," he said, "and take a turn with me
under the colonnade. It was a cloister once, I dare say, in the good
old days before Harry the Eighth was king; and cowled monks have paced
up and down under its shadow, muttering mechanical aves and
paternosters, as the beads of their rosaries dropped slowly through
their shrivelled old fingers. Come out into the quadrangle, Polly; all
the people we know or case about are gone; and we'll go out and walk in
the moonlight as true lovers ought."

The soldier led his young companion across the threshold of the window,
and out into a cloister-like colonnade that ran along one side of the
house. The shadows of the Gothic pillars were black upon the moonlit
flags of the quadrangle, which was as light now as in the day; but a
pleasant obscurity reigned in the sheltered colonnade.

"I think this little bit of pre-Lutheran masonry is the best of all
your possessions, Polly," the young man said, laughing. "By-and-by,
when I come home from India a general,--as I mean to do, Miss
Marchmont, before I ask you to become Mrs. Arundel,--I shall stroll up
and down here in the still summer evenings, smoking my cheroots. You
will let me smoke out of doors, won't you, Polly? But suppose I should
leave some of my limbs on the banks of the Sutlej, and come limping
home to you with a wooden leg, would you have me then, Mary; or would
you dismiss me with ignominy from your sweet presence, and shut the
doors of your stony mansion upon myself and my calamities? I'm afraid,
from your admiration of my gold epaulettes and silk sash, that glory in
the abstract would have very little attraction for you."

Mary Marchmont looked up at her lover with widely-opened and wondering
eyes, and the clasp of her hand tightened a little upon his arm.

"There is nothing that could ever happen to you that would make me love
you less _now_," she said naïvely. "I dare say at first I liked you a
little because you were handsome, and different to every one else I had
ever seen. You were so very handsome, you know," she added
apologetically; "but it was not because of that _only_ that I loved
you. I loved you because papa told me you were good and generous, and
his true friend when he was in cruel need of a friend. Yes; you were
his friend at school, when your cousin, Martin Mostyn, and the other
pupils sneered at him and ridiculed him. How can I ever forget that,
Edward? How can I ever love you enough to repay you for that?" In the
enthusiasm of her innocent devotion, she lifted her pure young brow,
and the soldier bent down and kissed that white throne of all virginal
thoughts, as the lovers stood side by side; half in the moonlight, half
in the shadow.

Olivia Marchmont came into the embrasure of the open window, and took
her place there to watch them.

She came again to the torture. From the remotest end of the long
banqueting-room she had seen the two figures glide out into the
moonlight. She had seen them, and had gone on with her courteous
speeches, and had repeated her formula of hospitality, with the fire in
her heart devouring and consuming her. She came again, to watch and to
listen, and to endure her self-imposed agonies--as mad and foolish in
her fatal passion as some besotted wretch who should come willingly to
the wheel upon which his limbs had been well-nigh broken, and
supplicate for a renewal of the torture. She stood rigid and motionless
in the shadow of the arched window, hiding herself, as she had hidden
in the dark cavernous recess by the river; she stood and listened to
all the childish babble of the lovers as they loitered up and down the
vaulted cloister. How she despised them, in the haughty superiority of
an intellect which might have planned a revolution, or saved a sinking
state! What bitter scorn curled her lip, as their foolish talk fell
upon her ear! They talked like Florizel and Perdita, like Romeo and
Juliet, like Paul and Virginia; and they talked a great deal of
nonsense, no doubt--soft harmonious foolishness, with little more
meaning in it than there is in the cooing of doves, but tender and
musical, and more than beautiful, to each other's ears. A tigress,
famished and desolate, and but lately robbed of her whelps, would not
be likely to listen very patiently to the communing of a pair of
prosperous ringdoves. Olivia Marchmont listened with her brain on fire,
and the spirit of a murderess raging in her breast. What was she that
she should be patient? All the world was lost to her. She was thirty
years of age, and she had never yet won the love of any human being.
She was thirty years of age, and all the sublime world of affection was
a dismal blank for her. From the outer darkness in which she stood, she
looked with wild and ignorant yearning into that bright region which
her accursed foot had never trodden, and saw Mary Marchmont wandering
hand-in-hand with the only man _she_ could have loved--the only
creature who had ever had the power to awake the instinct of womanhood
in her soul.

She stood and waited until the clock in the quadrangle struck the first
quarter after three: the moon was fading out, and the colder light of
early morning glimmered in the eastern sky.

"I mustn't keep you out here any longer, Polly," Captain Arundel said,
pausing near the window. "It's getting cold, my dear, and it's high
time the mistress of Marchmont should retire to her stony bower.
Good-night, and God bless you, my darling! I'll stop in the quadrangle
and smoke a cheroot before I go to my room. Your stepmamma will be
wondering what has become of you, Mary, and we shall have a lecture
upon the proprieties to-morrow; so, once more, good-night."

He kissed the fair young brow under the coronal of pearls, stopped to
watch Mary while she crossed the threshold of the open window, and then
strolled away into the flagged court, with his cigar-case in his hand.

Olivia Marchmont stood a few paces from the window when her
stepdaughter entered the room, and Mary paused involuntarily, terrified
by the cruel aspect of the face that frowned upon her: terrified by
something that she had never seen before,--the horrible darkness that
overshadows the souls of the lost.

"Mamma!" the girl cried, clasping her hands in sudden affright--"mamma!
why do you look at me like that? Why have you been so changed to me
lately? I cannot tell you how unhappy I have been. Mamma, mamma! what
have I done to offend you?"

Olivia Marchmont grasped the trembling hands uplifted entreatingly to
her, and held them in her own,--held them as if in a vice. She stood
thus, with her stepdaughter pinioned in her grasp, and her eyes fixed
upon the girl's face. Two streams of lurid light seemed to emanate from
those dilated gray eyes; two spots of crimson blazed in the widow's
hollow cheeks.

"_What_ have you done?" she cried. "Do you think I have toiled for
nothing to do the duty which I promised my dead husband to perform for
your sake? Has all my care of you been so little, that I am to stand by
now and be silent, when I see what you are? Do you think that I am
blind, or deaf, or besotted; that you defy me and outrage me, day by
day, and hour by hour, by your conduct?"

"Mamma, mamma! what do you mean?"

"Heaven knows how rigidly you have been educated; how carefully you
have been secluded from all society, and sheltered from every
influence, lest harm or danger should come to you. I have done my duty,
and I wash my hands of you. The debasing taint of your mother's low
breeding reveals itself in your every action. You run after my cousin
Edward Arundel, and advertise your admiration of him, to himself, and
every creature who knows you. You fling yourself into his arms, and
offer him yourself and your fortune: and in your low cunning you try to
keep the secret from me, your protectress and guardian, appointed by
the dead father whom you pretend to have loved so dearly."

Olivia Marchmont still held her stepdaughter's wrists in her iron
grasp. The girl stared wildly at her with her trembling lips apart. She
began to think that the widow had gone mad.

"I blush for you--I am ashamed of you!" cried Olivia. It seemed as if
the torrent of her words burst forth almost in spite of herself. "There
is not a village girl in Kemberling, there is not a scullerymaid in
this house, who would have behaved as you have done. I have watched
you, Mary Marchmont, remember, and I know all. I know your wanderings
down by the river-side. I heard you--yes, by the Heaven above me!--I
heard you offer yourself to my cousin."

Mary drew herself up with an indignant gesture, and over the whiteness
of her face there swept a sudden glow of vivid crimson that faded as
quickly as it came. Her submissive nature revolted against her
stepmother's horrible tyranny. The dignity of innocence arose and
asserted itself against Olivia's shameful upbraiding.

"If I offered myself to Edward Arundel, mamma," she said, "it was
because we love each other very truly, and because I think and believe
papa wished me to marry his old friend."

"Because _we_ love each other very truly!" Olivia echoed in a tone of
unmitigated scorn. "You can answer for Captain Arundel's heart, I
suppose, then, as well as for your own? You must have a tolerably good
opinion of yourself, Miss Marchmont, to be able to venture so much.
Bah!" she cried suddenly, with a disdainful gesture of her head; "do
you think your pitiful face has won Edward Arundel? Do you think he has
not had women fifty times your superior, in every quality of mind and
body, at his feet out yonder in India? Are you idiotic and besotted
enough to believe that it is anything but your fortune this man cares
for? Do you know the vile things people will do, the lies they will
tell, the base comedies of guilt and falsehood they will act, for the
love of eleven thousand a year? And you think that he loves you! Child,
dupe, fool! are you weak enough to be deluded by a fortune-hunter's
pretty pastoral flatteries? Are you weak enough to be duped by a man of
the world, worn out and jaded, no doubt, as to the world's
pleasures--in debt perhaps, and in pressing need of money, who comes
here to try and redeem his fortunes by a marriage with a semi-imbecile
heiress?"

Olivia Marchmont released her hold of the shrinking girl, who seemed to
have become transfixed to the spot upon which she stood, a pale statue
of horror and despair.

The iron will of the strong and resolute woman rode roughshod over the
simple confidence of the ignorant girl. Until this moment, Mary
Marchmont had believed in Edward Arundel as implicitly as she had
trusted in her dead father. But now, for the first time, a dreadful
region of doubt opened before her; the foundations of her world reeled
beneath her feet. Edward Arundel a fortune-hunter! This woman, whom she
had obeyed for five weary years, and who had acquired that ascendancy
over her which a determined and vigorous nature must always exercise
over a morbidly sensitive disposition, told her that she had been
deluded. This woman laughed aloud in bitter scorn of her credulity.
This woman, who could have no possible motive for torturing her, and
who was known to be scrupulously conscientious in all her dealings,
told her, as plainly as the most cruel words could tell a cruel truth,
that her own charms could not have won Edward Arundel's affection.

All the beautiful day-dreams of her life melted away from her. She had
never questioned herself as to her worthiness of her lover's devotion.
She had accepted it as she accepted the sunshine and the starlight--as
something beautiful and incomprehensible, that came to her by the
beneficence of God, and not through any merits of her own. But as the
fabric of her happiness dwindled away, the fatal spell exercised over
the girl's weak nature by Olivia's violent words evoked a hundred
doubts. How should he love her? why should he love her in preference to
every other woman in the world? Set any woman to ask herself this
question, and you fill her mind with a thousand suspicions, a thousand
jealous doubts of her lover, though he were the truest and noblest in
the universe.

Olivia Marchmont stood a few paces from her stepdaughter, watching her
while the black shadow of doubt blotted every joy from her heart, and
utter despair crept slowly into her innocent breast. The widow expected
that the girl's self-esteem would assert itself--that she would
contradict and defy the traducer of her lover's truth; but it was not
so. When Mary spoke again, her voice was low and subdued, her manner as
submissive as it had been two or three years before, when she had stood
before her stepmother, waiting to repeat some difficult lesson.

"I dare say you are right, mamma," she said in a low dreamy tone,
looking not at her stepmother, but straight before her into vacancy, as
if her tearless eyes ware transfixed by the vision of all her shattered
hopes, filling with wreck and ruin the desolate foreground of a blank
future. "I dare say you are right, mamma; it was very foolish of me to
think that Edward--that Captain Arundel could care for me, for--for--my
own sake; but if--if he wants my fortune, I should wish him to have it.
The money will never be any good to me, you know, mamma; and he was so
kind to papa in his poverty--so kind! I will never, never believe
anything against him;--but I couldn't expect him to love me. I
shouldn't have offered to be his wife; I ought only to have offered him
my fortune."

She heard her lover's footstep in the quadrangle without, in the
stillness of the summer morning, and shivered at the sound. It was less
than a quarter of an hour since she had been walking with him up and
down that cloistered way, in which his footsteps were echoing with a
hollow sound; and now----. Even in the confusion of her anguish, Mary
Marchmont could not help wondering, as she thought in how short a time
the happiness of a future might be swept away into chaos.

"Good-night, mamma," she said presently, with an accent of weariness.
She did not look at her stepmother (who had turned away from her now,
and had walked towards the open window), but stole quietly from the
room, crossed the hall, and went up the broad staircase to her own
lonely chamber. Heiress though she was, she had no special attendant of
her own: she had the privilege of summoning Olivia's maid whenever she
had need of assistance; but she retained the simple habits of her early
life, and very rarely troubled Mrs. Marchmont's grim and elderly
Abigail.

Olivia stood looking out into the stony quadrangle. It was broad
daylight now; the cocks were crowing in the distance, and a skylark
singing somewhere in the blue heaven, high up above Marchmont Towers.
The faded garlands in the banqueting-room looked wan in the morning
sunshine; the lamps were burning still, for the servants waited until
Mrs. Marchmont should have retired, before they entered the room.
Edward Arundel was walking up and down the cloister, smoking his second
cigar.

He stopped presently, seeing his cousin at the window.

"What, Livy!" he cried, "not gone to bed yet?"

"No; I am going directly."

"Mary has gone, I hope?"

"Yes; she has gone. Good-night."

"Good _morning_, my dear Mrs. Marchmont," the young man answered,
laughing. "If the partridges were in, I should be going out shooting,
this lovely morning, instead of crawling ignominiously to bed, like a
worn-out reveller who has drunk too much sparkling hock. I like the
still best, by-the-bye,--the Johannisberger, that poor John's
predecessor imported from the Rhine. But I suppose there is no help for
it, and I must go to bed in the face of all that eastern glory. I
should be mounting for a gallop on the race-course, if I were in
Calcutta. But I'll go to bed, Mrs Marchmont, and humbly await your
breakfast-hour. They're stacking the new hay in the meadows beyond the
park. Don't you smell it?"

Olivia shrugged her shoulders with an impatient frown. Good heavens!
how frivolous and senseless this man's talk seemed to her! She was
plunging her soul into an abyss of sin and ruin for his sake; and she
hated him, and rebelled against him, because he was so little worthy of
the sacrifice.

"Good morning," she said abruptly; "I'm tired to death."

She moved away, and left him.

Five minutes afterwards, he went up the great oak-staircase after her,
whistling a serenade from _Fra Diavolo_ as he went. He was one of those
people to whom life seems all holiday. Younger son though he was, he
had never known any of the pitfalls of debt and difficulty into which
the junior members of rich families are so apt to plunge headlong in
early youth, and from which they emerge enfeebled and crippled, to
endure an after-life embittered by all the shabby miseries which wait
upon aristocratic pauperism. Brave, honourable, and simple-minded,
Edward Arundel had fought the battle of life like a good soldier, and
had carried a stainless shield when the fight was thickest, and victory
hard to win. His sunshiny nature won him friends, and his better
qualities kept them. Young men trusted and respected him; and old men,
gray in the service of their country, spoke well of him. His handsome
face was a pleasant decoration at any festival; his kindly voice and
hearty laugh at a dinner-table were as good as music in the gallery at
the end of the banqueting-chamber.

He had that freshness of spirit which is the peculiar gift of some
natures; and he had as yet never known sorrow, except, indeed, such
tender and compassionate sympathy as he had often felt for the
calamities of others.

Olivia Marchmont heard her cousin's cheery tenor voice as he passed her
chamber. "How happy he is!" she thought. "His very happiness is one
insult the more to me."

The widow paced up and down her room in the morning sunshine, thinking
of the things she had said in the banqueting-hall below, and of her
stepdaughter's white despairing face. What had she done? What was the
extent of the sin she had committed? Olivia Marchmont asked herself
these two questions. The old habit of self-examination was not quite
abandoned yet. She sinned, and then set herself to work to try and
justify her sin.

"How should he love her?" she thought. "What is there in her pale
unmeaning face that should win the love of a man who despises me?"

She stopped before a cheval-glass, and surveyed herself from head to
foot, frowning angrily at her handsome image, hating herself for her
despised beauty. Her white shoulders looked like stainless marble
against the rich ruby darkness of her velvet dress. She had snatched
the diamond ornaments from her head, and her long black hair fell about
her bosom in thick waveless tresses.

"I am handsomer than she is, and cleverer; and I love him better, ten
thousand times, than she loves him," Olivia Marchmont thought, as she
turned contemptuously from the glass. "Is it likely, then, that he
cares for anything but her fortune? Any other woman in the world would
have argued as I argued to-night. Any woman would have believed that
she did her duty in warning this besotted girl against her folly. What
do I know of Edward Arundel that should lead me to think him better or
nobler than other men? and how many men sell themselves for the love of
a woman's wealth! Perhaps good may come of my mad folly, after all; and
I may have saved this girl from a life of misery by the words I have
spoken to-night."

The devils--for ever lying in wait for this woman, whose gloomy pride
rendered her in some manner akin to themselves--may have laughed at her
as she argued thus with herself.

She lay down at last to sleep, worn out by the excitement of the long
night, and to dream horrible dreams. The servants, with the exception
of one who rose betimes to open the great house, slept long after the
unwonted festival. Edward Arundel slumbered as heavily as any member of
that wearied household; and thus it was that there was no one in the
way to see a shrinking, trembling figure creep down the
sunlit-staircase, and steal across the threshold of the wide hall door.

There was no one to see Mary Marchmont's silent flight from the gaunt
Lincolnshire mansion in which she had known so little real happiness.
There was no one to comfort the sorrow-stricken girl in her despair and
desolation of spirit. She crept away, like some escaped prisoner, in
the early morning, from the house which the law called her own.

And the hand of the woman whom John Marchmont had chosen to be his
daughter's friend and counsellor was the hand which drove that daughter
from the shelter of her home. The voice of her whom the weak father had
trusted in, fearful to confide his child into the hand of God, but
blindly confident in his own judgment--was the voice which had uttered
the lying words, whose every syllable had been as a separate dagger
thrust in the orphan girl's lacerated heart. It was her father,--her
father, who had placed this woman over her, and had entailed upon her
the awful agony that drove her out into an unknown world, careless
whither she went in her despair.



VOLUME II.


CHAPTER I.

MARY'S LETTER.


It was past twelve o'clock when Edward Arundel strolled into the
dining-room. The windows were open, and the scent of the mignionette
upon the terrace was blown in upon the warm summer breeze.

Mrs. Marchmont was sitting at one end of the long table, reading a
newspaper. She looked up as Edward entered the room. She was pale, but
not much paler than usual. The feverish light had faded out of her
eyes, and they looked dim and heavy.

"Good morning, Livy," the young man said. "Mary is not up yet, I
suppose?"

"I believe not."

"Poor little girl! A long rest will do her good after her first ball.
How pretty and fairy-like she looked in her white gauze dress, and with
that circlet of pearls round her hair! Your taste, I suppose, Olivia?
She looked like a snow-drop among all the other gaudy flowers,--the
roses and tiger-lilies, and peonies and dahlias. That eldest Miss
Hickman is handsome, but she's so terribly conscious of her
attractions. That little girl from Swampington with the black ringlets
is rather pretty; and Laura Filmer is a jolly, dashing girl; she looks
you full in the face, and talks to you about hunting with as much gusto
as an old whipper-in. I don't think much of Major Hawley's three tall
sandy-haired daughters; but Fred Hawley's a capital fellow: it's a pity
he's a civilian. In short, my dear Olivia, take it altogether, I think
your ball was a success, and I hope you'll give us another in the
hunting-season."

Mrs. Marchmont did not condescend to reply to her cousin's meaningless
rattle. She sighed wearily, and began to fill the tea-pot from the
old-fashioned silver urn. Edward loitered in one of the windows,
whistling to a peacock that was stalking solemnly backwards and
forwards upon the stone balustrade.

"I should like to drive you and Mary down to the seashore, Livy, after
breakfast. Will you go?"

Mrs. Marchmont shook her head.

"I am a great deal too tired to think of going out to-day," she said
ungraciously.

"And I never felt fresher in my life," the young man responded,
laughing; "last night's festivities seem to have revivified me. I wish
Mary would come down," he added, with a yawn; "I could give her another
lesson in billiards, at any rate. Poor little girl, I am afraid she'll
never make a cannon."

Captain Arundel sat down to his breakfast, and drank the cup of tea
poured out for him by Olivia. Had she been a sinful woman of another
type, she would have put arsenic into the cup perhaps, and so have made
an end of the young officer and of her own folly. As it was, she only
sat by, with her own untasted breakfast before her, and watched him
while he ate a plateful of raised pie, and drank his cup of tea, with
the healthy appetite which generally accompanies youth and a good
conscience. He sprang up from the table directly he had finished his
meal, and cried out impatiently, "What can make Mary so lazy this
morning? she is usually such an early riser."

Mrs. Marchmont rose as her cousin said this, and a vague feeling of
uneasiness took possession of her mind. She remembered the white face
which had blanched beneath the angry glare of her eyes, the blank look
of despair that had come over Mary's countenance a few hours before.

"I will go and call her myself," she said. "N--no; I'll send Barbara."
She did not wait to ring the bell, but went into the hall, and called
sharply, "Barbara! Barbara!"

A woman came out of a passage leading to the housekeeper's room, in
answer to Mrs. Marchmont's call; a woman of about fifty years of age,
dressed in gray stuff, and with a grave inscrutable face, a wooden
countenance that gave no token of its owner's character. Barbara
Simmons might have been the best or the worst of women, a Mrs. Fry or a
Mrs. Brownrigg, for any evidence her face afforded against either
hypothesis.

"I want you to go up-stairs, Barbara, and call Miss Marchmont," Olivia
said. "Captain Arundel and I have finished breakfast."

The woman obeyed, and Mrs. Marchmont returned to the dining-room, where
Edward was trying to amuse himself with the "Times" of the previous
day.

Ten minutes afterwards Barbara Simmons came into the room carrying a
letter on a silver waiter. Had the document been a death-warrant, or a
telegraphic announcement of the landing of the French at Dover, the
well-trained servant would have placed it upon a salver before
presenting it to her mistress.

"Miss Marchmont is not in her room, ma'am," she said; "the bed has not
been slept on; and I found this letter, addressed to Captain Arundel,
upon the table."

Olivia's face grew livid; a horrible dread rushed into her mind. Edward
snatched the letter which the servant held towards him.

"Mary not in her room! What, in Heaven's name, can it mean?" he cried.

He tore open the letter. The writing was not easily decipherable for
the tears which the orphan girl had shed over it.

"MY OWN DEAR EDWARD,--I have loved you so dearly and so foolishly, and
you have been so kind to me, that I have quite forgotten how unworthy I
am of your affection. But I am forgetful no longer. Something has
happened which has opened my eyes to my own folly,--I know now that you
did not love me; that I had no claim to your love; no charms or
attractions such as so many other women possess, and for which you
might have loved me. I know this now, dear Edward, and that all my
happiness has been a foolish dream; but do not think that I blame any
one but myself for what has happened. Take my fortune: long ago, when I
was a little girl, I asked my father to let me share it with you. I ask
you now to take it all, dear friend; and I go away for ever from a
house in which I have learnt how little happiness riches can give. Do
not be unhappy about me. I shall pray for you always,--always
remembering your goodness to my dead father; always looking back to the
day upon which you came to see us in our poor lodging. I am very
ignorant of all worldly business, but I hope the law will let me give
you Marchmont Towers, and all my fortune, whatever it may be. Let Mr.
Paulette see this latter part of my letter, and let him fully
understand that I abandon all my rights to you from this day. Good-bye,
dear friend; think of me sometimes, but never think of me sorrowfully.

"MARY MARCHMONT."

This was all. This was the letter which the heart-broken girl had
written to her lover. It was in no manner different from the letter she
might have written to him nine years before in Oakley Street. It was as
childish in its ignorance and inexperience; as womanly in its tender
self-abnegation.

Edward Arundel stared at the simple lines like a man in a dream,
doubtful of his own identity, doubtful of the reality of the world
about him, in his hopeless wonderment. He read the letter line by line
again and again, first in dull stupefaction, and muttering the words
mechanically as he read them, then with the full light of their meaning
dawning gradually upon him.

Her fortune! He had never loved her! She had discovered her own folly!
What did it all mean? What was the clue to the mystery of this letter,
which had stunned and bewildered him, until the very power of
reflection seemed lost? The dawning of that day had seen their parting,
and the innocent face had been lifted to his, beaming with love and
trust. And now--? The letter dropped from his hand, and fluttered
slowly to the ground. Olivia Marchmont stooped to pick it up. Her
movement aroused the young man from his stupor, and in that moment he
caught the sight of his cousin's livid face.

He started as if a thunderbolt had burst at his feet. An idea, sudden
as some inspired revelation, rushed into his mind.

"Read that letter, Olivia Marchmont!" he said.

The woman obeyed. Slowly and deliberately she read the childish epistle
which Mary had written to her lover. In every line, in every word, the
widow saw the effect of her own deadly work; she saw how deeply the
poison, dropped from her own envenomed tongue, had sunk into the
innocent heart of the girl.

Edward Arundel watched her with flaming eyes. His tall soldierly frame
trembled in the intensity of his passion. He followed his cousin's eyes
along the lines in Mary Marchmont's letter, waiting till she should
come to the end. Then the tumultuous storm of indignation burst forth,
until Olivia cowered beneath the lightning of her cousin's glance.

Was this the man she had called frivolous? Was this the boyish
red-coated dandy she had despised? Was this the curled and perfumed
representative of swelldom, whose talk never soared to higher flights
than the description of a day's snipe-shooting, or a run with the
Burleigh fox-hounds? The wicked woman's eyelids drooped over her
averted eyes; she turned away, shrinking from this fearless accuser.

"This mischief is some of _your_ work, Olivia Marchmont!" Edward
Arundel cried. "It is you who have slandered and traduced me to my dead
friend's daughter! Who else would dare accuse a Dangerfield Arundel of
baseness? who else would be vile enough to call my father's son a liar
and a traitor? It is you who have whispered shameful insinuations into
this poor child's innocent ear! I scarcely need the confirmation of
your ghastly face to tell me this. It is you who have driven Mary
Marchmont from the home in which you should have sheltered and
protected her! You envied her, I suppose,--envied her the thousands
which might have ministered to your wicked pride and ambition;--the
pride which has always held you aloof from those who might have loved
you; the ambition that has made you a soured and discontented woman,
whose gloomy face repels all natural affection. You envied the gentle
girl whom your dead husband committed to your care, and who should have
been most sacred to you. You envied her, and seized the first occasion
upon which you might stab her to the very core of her tender heart.
What other motive could you have had for doing this deadly wrong? None,
so help me Heaven!"

No other motive! Olivia Marchmont dropped down in a heap on the ground
near her cousin's feet; not kneeling, but grovelling upon the carpeted
floor, writhing convulsively, with her hands twisted one in the other,
and her head falling forward on her breast. She uttered no syllable of
self-justification or denial. The pitiless words rained down upon her
provoked no reply. But in the depths of her heart sounded the echo of
Edward Arundel's words: "The pride which has always held you aloof from
those who might have loved you; . . . a discontented woman, whose
gloomy face repels all natural affection."

"O God!" she thought, "he might have loved me, then! He _might_ have
loved me, if I could have locked my anguish in my own heart, and smiled
at him and flattered him."

And then an icy indifference took possession of her. What did it matter
that Edward Arundel repudiated and hated her? He had never loved her.
His careless friendliness had made as wide a gulf between them as his
bitterest hate could ever make. Perhaps, indeed, his new-born hate
would be nearer to love than his indifference had been, for at least he
would think of her now, if he thought ever so bitterly.

"Listen to me, Olivia Marchmont," the young man said, while the woman
still crouched upon the ground near his feet, self-confessed in the
abandonment of her despair. "Wherever this girl may have gone, driven
hence by your wickedness, I will follow her. My answer to the lie you
have insinuated against me shall be my immediate marriage with my old
friend's orphan child. _He_ knew me well enough to know how far I was
above the baseness of a fortune-hunter, and he wished that I should be
his daughter's husband. I should be a coward and a fool were I to be
for one moment influenced by such a slander as that which you have
whispered in Mary Marchmont's ear. It is not the individual only whom
you traduce. You slander the cloth I wear, the family to which I
belong; and my best justification will be the contempt in which I hold
your infamous insinuations. When you hear that I have squandered Mary
Marchmont's fortune, or cheated the children I pray God she may live to
bear me, it will be time enough for you to tell the world that your
kinsman Edward Dangerfield Arundel is a swindler and a traitor."

He strode out into the hall, leaving his cousin on the ground; and she
heard his voice outside the dining-room door making inquiries of the
servants.

They could tell him nothing of Mary's flight. Her bed had not been
slept in; nobody had seen her leave the house; it was most likely,
therefore, that she had stolen away very early, before the servants
were astir.

Where had she gone? Edward Arundel's heart beat wildly as he asked
himself that question. He remembered how often he had heard of women,
as young and innocent as Mary Marchmont, who had rushed to destroy
themselves in a tumult of agony and despair. How easily this poor
child, who believed that her dream of happiness was for ever broken,
might have crept down through the gloomy wood to the edge of the
sluggish river, to drop into the weedy stream, and hide her sorrow
under the quiet water. He could fancy her, a new Ophelia, pale and pure
as the Danish prince's slighted love, floating past the weird branches
of the willows, borne up for a while by the current, to sink in silence
amongst the shadows farther down the stream.

He thought of these things in one moment, and in the next dismissed the
thought. Mary's letter breathed the spirit of gentle resignation rather
than of wild despair. "I shall always pray for you; I shall always
remember you," she had written. Her lover remembered how much sorrow
the orphan girl had endured in her brief life. He looked back to her
childish days of poverty and self-denial; her early loss of her mother;
her grief at her father's second marriage; the shock of that beloved
father's death. Her sorrows had followed each other in gloomy
succession, with only narrow intervals of peace between them. She was
accustomed, therefore, to grief. It is the soul untutored by
affliction, the rebellious heart that has never known calamity, which
becomes mad and desperate, and breaks under the first blow. Mary
Marchmont had learned the habit of endurance in the hard school of
sorrow.

Edward Arundel walked out upon the terrace, and re-read the missing
girl's letter. He was calmer now, and able to face the situation with
all its difficulties and perplexities. He was losing time perhaps in
stopping to deliberate; but it was no use to rush off in reckless
haste, undetermined in which direction he should seek for the lost
mistress of Marchmont Towers. One of the grooms was busy in the stables
saddling Captain Arundel's horse, and in the mean time the young man
went out alone upon the sunny terrace to deliberate upon Mary's letter.

Complete resignation was expressed in every line of that childish
epistle. The heiress spoke most decisively as to her abandonment of her
fortune and her home. It was clear, then, that she meant to leave
Lincolnshire; for she would know that immediate steps would be taken to
discover her hiding-place, and bring her back to Marchmont Towers.

Where was she likely to go in her inexperience of the outer world?
where but to those humble relations of her dead mother's, of whom her
father had spoken in his letter to Edward Arundel, and with whom the
young man knew she had kept up an occasional correspondence, sending
them many little gifts out of her pocket-money. These people were small
tenant-farmers, at a place called Marlingford, in Berkshire. Edward
knew their name and the name of the farm.

"I'll make inquiries at the Kemberling station to begin with," he
thought. "There's a through train from the north that stops at
Kemberling at a little before six. My poor darling may have easily
caught that, if she left the house at five."

Captain Arundel went back into the hall, and summoned Barbara Simmons.
The woman replied with rather a sulky air to his numerous questions;
but she told him that Miss Marchmont had left her ball-dress upon the
bed, and had put on a gray cashmere dress trimmed with black ribbon,
which she had worn as half-mourning for her father; a black straw
bonnet, with a crape veil, and a silk mantle trimmed with crape. She
had taken with her a small carpet-bag, some linen,--for the
linen-drawer of her wardrobe was open, and the things scattered
confusedly about,--and the little morocco case in which she kept her
pearl ornaments, and the diamond ring left her by her father.

"Had she any money?" Edward asked.

"Yes, sir; she was never without money. She spent a good deal amongst
the poor people she visited with my mistress; but I dare say she may
have had between ten and twenty pounds in her purse."

"She will go to Berkshire," Edward Arundel thought: "the idea of going
to her humble friends would be the first to present itself to her mind.
She will go to her dead mother's sister, and give her all her jewels,
and ask for shelter in the quiet farmhouse. She will act like one of
the heroines in the old-fashioned novels she used to read in Oakley
Street, the simple-minded damsels of those innocent story-books, who
think nothing of resigning a castle and a coronet, and going out into
the world to work for their daily bread in a white satin gown, and with
a string of pearls to bind their dishevelled locks."

Captain Arundel's horse was brought round to the terrace-steps, as he
stood with Mary's letter in his hand, waiting to hurry away to the
rescue of his sorrowful love.

"Tell Mrs. Marchmont that I shall not return to the Towers till I bring
her stepdaughter with me," he said to the groom; and then, without
stopping to utter another word, he shook the rein on his horse's neck,
and galloped away along the gravelled drive leading to the great iron
gates of Marchmont Towers.

Olivia heard his message, which had been spoken in a clear loud voice,
like some knightly defiance, sounding trumpet-like at a castle-gate.
She stood in one of the windows of the dining-room, hidden by the faded
velvet curtain, and watched her cousin ride away, brave and handsome as
any knight-errant of the chivalrous past, and as true as Bayard
himself.



CHAPTER II.

A NEW PROTECTOR.


Captain Arundel's inquiries at the Kemberling station resulted in an
immediate success. A young lady--a young woman, the railway official
called her--dressed in black, wearing a crape veil over her face, and
carrying a small carpet-bag in her hand, had taken a second-class
ticket for London, by the 5.50., a parliamentary train, which stopped
at almost every station on the line, and reached Euston Square at
half-past twelve.

Edward looked at his watch. It was ten minutes to two o'clock. The
express did not stop at Kemberling; but he would be able to catch it at
Swampington at a quarter past three. Even then, however, he could
scarcely hope to get to Berkshire that night.

"My darling girl will not discover how foolish her doubts have been
until to-morrow," he thought. "Silly child! has my love so little the
aspect of truth that she _can_ doubt me?"

He sprang on his horse again, flung a shilling to the railway porter
who had held the bridle, and rode away along the Swampington road. The
clocks in the gray old Norman turrets were striking three as the young
man crossed the bridge, and paid his toll at the little toll-house by
the stone archway.

The streets were as lonely as usual in the hot July afternoon; and the
long line of sea beyond the dreary marshes was blue in the sunshine.
Captain Arundel passed the two churches, and the low-roofed rectory,
and rode away to the outskirts of the town, where the station glared in
all the brilliancy of new red bricks, and dazzling stuccoed chimneys,
athwart a desert of waste ground.

The express-train came tearing up to the quiet platform two minutes
after Edward had taken his ticket; and in another minute the clanging
bell pealed out its discordant signal, and the young man was borne,
with a shriek and a whistle, away upon the first stage of his search
for Mary Marchmont.

It was nearly seven o'clock when he reached Euston Square; and he only
got to the Paddington station in time to hear that the last train for
Marlingford had just started. There was no possibility of his reaching
the little Berkshire village that night. No mail-train stopped within a
reasonable distance of the obscure station. There was no help for it,
therefore, Captain Arundel had nothing to do but to wait for the next
morning.

He walked slowly away from the station, very much disheartened by this
discovery.

"I'd better sleep at some hotel up this way," he thought, as he
strolled listlessly in the direction of Oxford Street, "so as to be on
the spot to catch the first train to-morrow morning. What am I to do
with myself all this night, racked with uncertainty about Mary?"

He remembered that one of his brother officers was staying at the hotel
in Covent Garden where Edward himself stopped, when business detained
him in London for a day or two.

"Shall I go and see Lucas?" Captain Arundel thought. "He's a good
fellow, and won't bore me with a lot of questions, if he sees I've
something on my mind. There may be some letters for me at E----'s. Poor
little Polly!"

He could never think of her without something of that pitiful
tenderness which he might have felt for a young and helpless child,
whom it was his duty and privilege to protect and succour. It may be
that there was little of the lover's fiery enthusiasm mingled with the
purer and more tender feelings with which Edward Arundel regarded his
dead friend's orphan daughter; but in place of this there was a
chivalrous devotion, such as woman rarely wins in these degenerate
modern days.

The young soldier walked through the lamp-lit western streets thinking
of the missing girl; now assuring himself that his instinct had not
deceived him, and that Mary must have gone straight to the Berkshire
farmer's house, and in the next moment seized with a sudden terror that
it might be otherwise: the helpless girl might have gone out into a
world of which she was as ignorant as a child, determined to hide
herself from all who had ever known her. If it should be thus: if, on
going down to Marlingford, he obtained no tidings of his friend's
daughter, what was he to do? Where was he to look for her next?

He would put advertisements in the papers, calling upon his betrothed
to trust him and return to him. Perhaps Mary Marchmont was, of all
people in this world, the least likely to look into a newspaper; but at
least it would be doing something to do this, and Edward Arundel
determined upon going straight off to Printing-House Square, to draw up
an appeal to the missing girl.

It was past ten o'clock when Captain Arundel came to this
determination, and he had reached the neighbourhood of Covent Garden
and of the theatres. The staring play-bills adorned almost every
threshold, and fluttered against every door-post; and the young
soldier, going into a tobacconist's to fill his cigar-case, stared
abstractedly at a gaudy blue-and-red announcement of the last dramatic
attraction to be seen at Drury Lane. It was scarcely strange that the
Captain's thoughts wandered back to his boyhood, that shadowy time, far
away behind his later days of Indian warfare and glory, and that he
remembered the December night upon which he had sat with his cousin in
a box at the great patent theatre, watching the consumptive
supernumerary struggling under the weight of his banner. From the box
at Drury Lane to the next morning's breakfast in Oakley Street, was but
a natural transition of thought; but with that recollection of the
humble Lambeth lodging, with the picture of a little girl in a pinafore
sitting demurely at her father's table, and meekly waiting on his
guest, an idea flashed across Edward Arundel's mind, and brought the
hot blood into his face.

What if Mary had gone to Oakley Street? Was not this even more likely
than that she should seek refuge with her kinsfolk in Berkshire? She
had lived in the Lambeth lodging for years, and had only left that
plebeian shelter for the grandeur of Marchmont Towers. What more
natural than that she should go back to the familiar habitation, dear
to her by reason of a thousand associations with her dead father? What
more likely than that she should turn instinctively, in the hour of her
desolation, to the humble friends whom she had known in her childhood?

Edward Arundel was almost too impatient to wait while the smart young
damsel behind the tobacconist's counter handed him change for the
half-sovereign which he had just tendered her. He darted out into the
street, and shouted violently to the driver of a passing hansom,--there
are always loitering hansoms in the neighbourhood of Covent
Garden,--who was, after the manner of his kind, looking on any side
rather than that upon which Providence had sent him a fare.

"Oakley Street, Lambeth," the young man cried. "Double fare if you get
there in ten minutes."

The tall raw-boned horse rattled off at that peculiar pace common to
his species, making as much noise upon the pavement as if he had been
winning a metropolitan Derby, and at about twenty minutes past nine
drew up, smoking and panting, before the dimly lighted windows of the
Ladies' Wardrobe, where a couple of flaring tallow-candles illuminated
the splendour of a foreground of dirty artificial flowers, frayed satin
shoes, and tarnished gilt combs; a middle distance of blue gauzy
tissue, embroidered with beetles' wings; and a background of greasy
black silk. Edward Arundel flung back the doors of the hansom with a
bang, and leaped out upon the pavement. The proprietress of the Ladies'
Wardrobe was lolling against the door-post, refreshing herself with the
soft evening breezes from the roads of Westminster and Waterloo, and
talking to her neighbour.

"Bless her pore dear innercent 'art!" the woman was saying; "she's
cried herself to sleep at last. But you never hear any think so pitiful
as she talked to me at fust, sweet love!--and the very picture of my
own poor Eliza Jane, as she looked. You might have said it was Eliza
Jane come back to life, only paler and more sickly like, and not that
beautiful fresh colour, and ringlets curled all round in a crop, as
Eliza Ja--"

Edward Arundel burst in upon the good woman's talk, which rambled on in
an unintermitting stream, unbroken by much punctuation.

"Miss Marchmont is here," he said; "I know she is. Thank God, thank
God! Let me see her please, directly. I am Captain Arundel, her
father's friend, and her affianced husband. You remember me, perhaps? I
came here nine years ago to breakfast, one December morning. I can
recollect you perfectly, and I know that you were always good to my
poor friend's daughter. To think that I should find her here! You shall
be well rewarded for your kindness to her. But take me to her; pray
take me to her at once!"

The proprietress of the wardrobe snatched up one of the candles that
guttered in a brass flat-candlestick upon the counter, and led the way
up the narrow staircase. She was a good lazy creature, and she was so
completely borne down by Edward's excitement, that she could only
mutter disjointed sentences, to the effect that the gentleman had
brought her heart into her mouth, and that her legs felt all of a
jelly; and that her poor knees was a'most giving way under her, and
other incoherent statements concerning the physical effect of the
mental shocks she had that day received.

She opened the door of that shabby sitting-room upon the first-floor,
in which the crippled eagle brooded over the convex mirror, and stood
aside upon the threshold while Captain Arundel entered the room. A
tallow candle was burning dimly upon the table, and a girlish form lay
upon the narrow horsehair sofa, shrouded by a woollen shawl.

"She went to sleep about half-an-hour ago, sir," the woman said, in a
whisper; "and she cried herself to sleep, pore lamb, I think. I made
her some tea, and got her a few creases and a French roll, with a bit
of best fresh; but she wouldn't touch nothin', or only a few spoonfuls
of the tea, just to please me. What is it that's drove her away from
her 'ome, sir, and such a good 'ome too? She showed me a diamont ring
as her pore par gave her in his will. He left me twenty pound, pore
gentleman,--which he always acted like a gentleman bred and born; and
Mr. Pollit, the lawyer, sent his clerk along with it and his
compliments,--though I'm sure I never looked for nothink, having always
had my rent faithful to the very minute: and Miss Mary used to bring it
down to me so pretty, and--"

But the whispering had grown louder by this time, and Mary Marchmont
awoke from her feverish sleep, and lifted her weary head from the hard
horsehair pillow and looked about her, half forgetful of where she was,
and of what had happened within the last eighteen hours of her life.
Her eyes wandered here and there, doubtful as to the reality of what
they looked upon, until the girl saw her lover's figure, tall and
splendid in the humble apartment, a tender half-reproachful smile upon
his face, and his handsome blue eyes beaming with love and truth. She
saw him, and a faint shriek broke from her tremulous lips, as she rose
and fell upon his breast.

"You love me, then, Edward," she cried; "you do love me!"

"Yes, my darling, as truly and tenderly as ever woman was loved upon
this earth."

And then the soldier sat down upon the hard bristly sofa, and with
Mary's head still resting upon his breast, and his strong hand straying
amongst her disordered hair, he reproached her for her foolishness, and
comforted and soothed her; while the proprietress of the apartment
stood, with the brass candlestick in her hand, watching the young
lovers and weeping over their sorrows, as if she had been witnessing a
scene in a play. Their innocent affection was unrestrained by the good
woman's presence; and when Mary had smiled upon her lover, and assured
him that she would never, never, never doubt him again, Captain Arundel
was fain to kiss the soft-hearted landlady in his enthusiasm, and to
promise her the handsomest silk dress that had ever been seen in Oakley
Street, amongst all the faded splendours of silk and satin that
ladies'-maids brought for her consideration.

"And now my darling, my foolish run-away Polly, what is to be done with
you?" asked the young soldier. "Will you go back to the Towers
to-morrow morning?"

Mary Marchmont clasped her hands before her face, and began to tremble
violently.

"Oh, no, no, no!" she cried; "don't ask me to do that, don't ask me to
go back, Edward. I can never go back to that house again, while--"

She stopped suddenly, looking piteously at her lover.

"While my cousin Olivia Marchmont lives there," Captain Arundel said
with an angry frown. "God knows it's a bitter thing for me to think
that your troubles should come from any of my kith and kin, Polly. She
has used you very badly, then, this woman? She has been very unkind to
you?"

"No, no! never before last night. It seems so long ago; but it was only
last night, was it? Until then she was always kind to me. I didn't love
her, you know, though I tried to do so for papa's sake, and out of
gratitude to her for taking such trouble with my education; but one can
be grateful to people without loving them, and I never grew to love
her. But last night--last night--she said such cruel things to me--such
cruel things. O Edward, Edward!" the girl cried suddenly, clasping her
hands and looking imploringly at Captain Arundel, "were the cruel
things she said true? Did I do wrong when I offered to be your wife?"

How could the young man answer this question except by clasping his
betrothed to his heart? So there was another little love-scene, over
which Mrs. Pimpernel,--the proprietress's name was Pimpernel--wept
fresh tears, murmuring that the Capting was the sweetest young man,
sweeter than Mr. Macready in Claude Melnock; and that the scene
altogether reminded her of that "cutting" episode where the proud
mother went on against the pore young man, and Miss Faucit came out so
beautiful. They are a playgoing population in Oakley Street, and
compassionate and sentimental like all true playgoers.

"What shall I do with you, Miss Marchmont?" Edward Arundel asked gaily,
when the little love-scene was concluded. "My mother and sister are
away, at a German watering-place, trying some unpronounceable Spa for
the benefit of poor Letty's health. Reginald is with them, and my
father's alone at Dangerfield. So I can't take you down there, as I
might have done if my mother had been at home; I don't much care for
the Mostyns, or you might have stopped in Montague Square. There are no
friendly friars nowadays who will marry Romeo and Juliet at
half-an-hour's notice. You must live a fortnight somewhere, Polly:
where shall it be?"

"Oh, let me stay here, please," Miss Marchmont pleaded; "I was always
so happy here!"

"Lord love her precious heart!" exclaimed Mrs. Pimpernel, lifting up
her hands in a rapture of admiration. "To think as she shouldn't have a
bit of pride, after all the money as her pore par come into! To think
as she should wish to stay in her old lodgins, where everythink shall
be done to make her comfortable; and the air back and front is very
'ealthy, though you might not believe it, and the Blind School and
Bedlam hard by, and Kennington Common only a pleasant walk, and
beautiful and open this warm summer weather."

"Yes, I should like to stop here, please," Mary murmured. Even in the
midst of her agitation, overwhelmed as she was by the emotions of the
present, her thoughts went back to the past, and she remembered how
delightful it would be to go and see the accommodating butcher, and the
greengrocer's daughter, the kind butterman who had called her "little
lady," and the disreputable gray parrot. How delightful it would be to
see these humble friends, now that she was grown up, and had money
wherewith to make them presents in token of her gratitude!

"Very well, then, Polly," Captain Arundel said, "you'll stay here. And
Mrs.----"

"Pimpernel," the landlady suggested.

"Mrs. Pimpernel will take as good care of you as if you were Queen of
England, and the welfare of the nation depended upon your safety. And
I'll stop at my hotel in Covent Garden; and I'll see Richard
Paulette,--he's my lawyer as well as yours, you know, Polly,--and tell
him something of what has happened, and make arrangements for our
immediate marriage."

"Our marriage!"

Mary Marchmont echoed her lover's last words, and looked up at him
almost with a bewildered air. She had never thought of an early
marriage with Edward Arundel as the result of her flight from
Lincolnshire. She had a vague notion that she would live in Oakley
Street for years, and that in some remote time the soldier would come
to claim her.

"Yes, Polly darling, Olivia Marchmont's conduct has made me decide upon
a very bold step. It is evident to me that my cousin hates you; for
what reason, Heaven only knows, since you can have done nothing to
provoke her hate. When your father was a poor man, it was to me he
would have confided you. He changed his mind afterwards, very
naturally, and chose another guardian for his orphan child. If my
cousin had fulfilled this trust, Mary, I would have deferred to her
authority, and would have held myself aloof until your minority was
passed, rather than ask you to marry me without your stepmother's
consent. But Olivia Marchmont has forfeited her right to be consulted
in this matter. She has tortured you and traduced me by her poisonous
slander. If you believe in me, Mary, you will consent to be my wife. My
justification lies in the future. You will not find that I shall sponge
upon your fortune, my dear, or lead an idle life because my wife is a
rich woman."

Mary Marchmont looked up with shy tenderness at her lover.

"I would rather the fortune were yours than mine, Edward," she said. "I
will do whatever you wish; I will be guided by you in every thing."

It was thus that John Marchmont's daughter consented to become the wife
of the man she loved, the man whose image she had associated since her
childhood with all that was good and beautiful in mankind. She knew
none of those pretty stereotyped phrases, by means of which well-bred
young ladies can go through a graceful fencing-match of hesitation and
equivocation, to the anguish of a doubtful and adoring suitor. She had
no notion of that delusive negative, that bewitching feminine "no,"
which is proverbially understood to mean "yes." Weary courses of Roman
Emperors, South-Sea Islands, Sidereal Heavens, Tertiary and Old Red
Sandstone, had very ill-prepared this poor little girl for the stern
realities of life.

"I will be guided by you, dear Edward," she said; "my father wished me
to be your wife; and if I did not love you, it would please me to obey
him."

It was eleven o'clock when Captain Arundel left Oakley Street. The
hansom had been waiting all the time, and the driver, seeing that his
fare was young, handsome, dashing, and what he called
"milingtary-like," demanded an enormous sum when he landed the soldier
before the portico of the hotel in Covent Garden.

Edward took a hasty breakfast the next morning, and then hurried off to
Lincoln's-Inn Fields. But here a disappointment awaited him. Richard
Paulette had started for Scotland upon a piscatorial excursion. The
elder Paulette was an octogenarian, who lived in the south of France,
and kept his name in the business as a fiction, by means of which
elderly and obstinate country clients were deluded into the belief that
the solicitor who conducted their affairs was the same legal
practitioner who had done business for their fathers and grandfathers
before them. Mathewson, a grim man, was away amongst the Yorkshire
wolds, superintending the foreclosure of certain mortgages upon a
bankrupt baronet's estate. A confidential clerk, who received clients,
and kept matters straight during the absence of his employers, was very
anxious to be of use to Captain Arundel: but it was not likely that
Edward could sit down and pour his secrets into the bosom of a clerk,
however trustworthy a personage that employé might be.

The young man's desire had been that his marriage with Mary Marchmont
should take place at least with the knowledge and approbation of her
dead father's lawyer: but he was impatient to assume the only title by
which he might have a right to be the orphan girl's champion and
protector; and he had therefore no inclination to wait until the long
vacation was over, and Messrs. Paulette and Mathewson returned from
their northern wanderings. Again, Mary Marchmont suffered from a
continual dread that her stepmother would discover the secret of her
humble retreat, and would follow her and reassume authority over her.

"Let me be your wife before I see her again, Edward," the girl pleaded
innocently, when this terror was uppermost in her mind. "She could not
say cruel things to me if I were your wife. I know it is wicked to be
so frightened of her; because she was always good to me until that
night: but I cannot tell you how I tremble at the thought of being
alone with her at Marchmont Towers. I dream sometimes that I am with
her in the gloomy old house, and that we two are alone there, even the
servants all gone, and you far away in India, Edward,--at the other end
of the world."

It was as much as her lover could do to soothe and reassure the
trembling girl when these thoughts took possession of her. Had he been
less sanguine and impetuous, less careless in the buoyancy of his
spirits, Captain Arundel might have seen that Mary's nerves had been
terribly shaken by the scene between her and Olivia, and all the
anguish which had given rise to her flight from Marchmont Towers. The
girl trembled at every sound. The shutting of a door, the noise of a
cab stopping in the street below, the falling of a book from the table
to the floor, startled her almost as much as if a gunpowder-magazine
had exploded in the neighbourhood. The tears rose to her eyes at the
slightest emotion. Her mind was tortured by vague fears, which she
tried in vain to explain to her lover. Her sleep was broken by dismal
dreams, foreboding visions of shadowy evil.

For a little more than a fortnight Edward Arundel visited his betrothed
daily in the shabby first-floor in Oakley Street, and sat by her side
while she worked at some fragile scrap of embroidery, and talked gaily
to her of the happy future; to the intense admiration of Mrs.
Pimpernel, who had no greater delight than to assist in the pretty
little sentimental drama that was being enacted on her first-floor.

Thus it was that, on a cloudy and autumnal August morning, Edward
Arundel and Mary Marchmont were married in a great empty-looking church
in the parish of Lambeth, by an indifferent curate, who shuffled
through the service at railroad speed, and with far less reverence for
the solemn rite than he would have displayed had he known that the
pale-faced girl kneeling before the altar-rails was undisputed mistress
of eleven thousand a-year. Mrs. Pimpernel, the pew-opener, and the
registrar who was in waiting in the vestry, and was beguiled thence to
give away the bride, were the only witnesses to this strange wedding.
It seemed a dreary ceremonial to Mrs. Pimpernel, who had been married
at the same church five-and-twenty years before, in a cinnamon satin
spencer, and a coal-scuttle bonnet, and with a young person in the
dressmaking line in attendance upon her as bridesmaid.

It _was_ rather a dreary wedding, no doubt. The drizzling rain dripped
ceaselessly in the street without, and there was a smell of damp
plaster in the great empty church. The melancholy street-cries sounded
dismally from the outer world, while the curate was hurrying through
those portentous words which were to unite Edward Arundel and Mary
Marchmont until the final day of earthly separation. The girl clung
shivering to her lover, her husband now, as they went into the vestry
to sign their names in the marriage-register. Throughout the service
she had expected to hear a footstep in the aisle behind her, and Olivia
Marchmont's cruel voice crying out to forbid the marriage.

"I am your wife now, Edward, am I not?" she said, when she had signed
her name in the register.

"Yes, my darling, for ever and for ever."

"And nothing can part us now?"

"Nothing but death, my dear."

In the exuberance of his spirits, Edward Arundel spoke of the King of
Terrors as if he had been a mere nobody, whose power to change or mar
the fortunes of mankind was so trifling as to be scarcely worth
mentioning.

The vehicle in waiting to carry the mistress of Marchmont Towers upon
the first stage of her bridal tour was nothing better than a hack cab.
The driver's garments exhaled stale tobacco-smoke in the moist
atmosphere, and in lieu of the flowers which are wont to bestrew the
bridal path of an heiress, Miss Marchmont trod upon damp and mouldy
straw. But she was happy,--happy, with a fearful apprehension that her
happiness could not be real,--a vague terror of Olivia's power to
torture and oppress her, which even the presence of her lover-husband
could not altogether drive away. She kissed Mrs. Pimpernel, who stood
upon the edge of the pavement, crying bitterly, with the slippery white
lining of a new silk dress, which Edward Arundel had given her for the
wedding, gathered tightly round her.

"God bless you, my dear!" cried the honest dealer in frayed satins and
tumbled gauzes; "I couldn't take this more to heart if you was my own
Eliza Jane going away with the young man as she was to have married,
and as is now a widower with five children, two in arms, and the
youngest brought up by hand. God bless your pretty face, my dear; and
oh, pray take care of her, Captain Arundel, for she's a tender flower,
sir, and truly needs your care. And it's but a trifle, my own sweet
young missy, for the acceptance of such as you, but it's given from a
full heart, and given humbly."

The latter part of Mrs. Pimpernel's speech bore relation to a hard
newspaper parcel, which she dropped into Mary's lap. Mrs. Arundel
opened the parcel presently, when she had kissed her humble friend for
the last time, and the cab was driving towards Nine Elms, and found
that Mrs. Pimpernel's wedding-gift was a Scotch shepherdess in china,
with a great deal of gilding about her tartan garments, very red legs,
a hat and feathers, and a curly sheep. Edward put this article of
_virtù_ very carefully away in his carpet-bag; for his bride would not
have the present treated with any show of disrespect.

"How good of her to give it me!" Mary said; "it used to stand upon the
back-parlour chimney-piece when I was a little girl; and I was so fond
of it. Of course I am not fond of Scotch shepherdesses now, you know,
dear; but how should Mrs. Pimpernel know that? She thought it would
please me to have this one."

"And you'll put it in the western drawing-room at the Towers, won't
you, Polly?" Captain Arundel asked, laughing.

"I won't put it anywhere to be made fun of, sir," the young bride
answered, with some touch of wifely dignity; "but I'll take care of it,
and never have it broken or destroyed; and Mrs. Pimpernel shall see it,
when she comes to the Towers,--if I ever go back there," she added,
with a sudden change of manner.

"_If_ you ever go back there!" cried Edward. "Why, Polly, my dear,
Marchmont Towers is your own house. My cousin Olivia is only there upon
sufferance, and her own good sense will tell her she has no right to
stay there, when she ceases to be your friend and protectress. She is a
proud woman, and her pride will surely never suffer her to remain where
she must feel she can be no longer welcome."

The young wife's face turned white with terror at her husband's words.

"But I could never ask her to go, Edward," she said. "I wouldn't turn
her out for the world. She may stay there for ever if she likes. I
never have cared for the place since papa's death; and I couldn't go
back while she is there, I'm so frightened of her, Edward, I'm so
frightened of her."

The vague apprehension burst forth in this childish cry. Edward Arundel
clasped his wife to his breast, and bent over her, kissing her pale
forehead, and murmuring soothing words, as he might have done to a
child.

"My dear, my dear," he said, "my darling Mary, this will never do; my
own love, this is so very foolish."

"I know, I know, Edward; but I can't help it, I can't indeed; I was
frightened of her long ago; frightened of her even the first day I saw
her, the day you took me to the Rectory. I was frightened of her when
papa first told me he meant to marry her; and I am frightened of her
now; even now that I am your wife, Edward, I'm frightened of her
still."

Captain Arundel kissed away the tears that trembled on his wife's
eyelids; but she had scarcely grown quite composed even when the cab
stopped at the Nine Elms railway station. It was only when she was
seated in the carriage with her husband, and the rain cleared away as
they advanced farther into the heart of the pretty pastoral country,
that the bride's sense of happiness and safety in her husband's
protection, returned to her. But by that time she was able to smile in
his face, and to look forward with delight to a brief sojourn in that
pretty Hampshire village, which Edward had chosen for the scene of his
honeymoon.

"Only a few days of quiet happiness, Polly," he said; "a few days of
utter forgetfulness of all the world except you; and then I must be a
man of business again, and write to your stepmother and my father and
mother, and Messrs. Paulette and Mathewson, and all the people who
ought to know of our marriage."



CHAPTER III.

PAUL'S SISTER.


Olivia Marchmont shut herself once more in her desolate chamber, making
no effort to find the runaway mistress of the Towers; indifferent as to
what the slanderous tongues of her neighbours might say of her;
hardened, callous, desperate.

To her father, and to any one else who questioned her about Mary's
absence,--for the story of the girl's flight was soon whispered abroad,
the servants at the Towers having received no injunctions to keep the
matter secret,--Mrs. Marchmont replied with such an air of cold and
determined reserve as kept the questioners at bay ever afterwards.

So the Kemberling people, and the Swampington people, and all the
country gentry within reach of Marchmont Towers, had a mystery and a
scandal provided for them, which afforded ample scope for repeated
discussion, and considerably relieved the dull monotony of their lives.
But there were some questioners whom Mrs. Marchmont found it rather
difficult to keep at a distance; there were some intruders who dared to
force themselves upon the gloomy woman's solitude, and who _would_ not
understand that their presence was abhorrent to her.

These people were a surgeon and his wife, who had newly settled at
Kemberling; the best practice in the village falling into the market by
reason of the death of a steady-going, gray-headed old practitioner,
who for many years had shared with one opponent the responsibility of
watching over the health of the Lincolnshire village.

It was about three weeks after Mary Marchmont's flight when these
unwelcome guests first came to the Towers.

Olivia sat alone in her dead husband's study,--the same room in which
she had sat upon the morning of John Marchmont's funeral,--a dark and
gloomy chamber, wainscoted with blackened oak, and lighted only by a
massive stone-framed Tudor window looking out into the quadrangle, and
overshadowed by that cloistered colonnade beneath whose shelter Edward
and Mary had walked upon the morning of the girl's flight. This
wainscoted study was an apartment which most women, having all the
rooms in Marchmont Towers at their disposal, would have been likely to
avoid; but the gloom of the chamber harmonised with that horrible gloom
which had taken possession of Olivia's soul, and the widow turned from
the sunny western front, as she turned from all the sunlight and
gladness in the universe, to come here, where the summer radiance
rarely crept through the diamond-panes of the window, where the shadow
of the cloister shut out the glory of the blue sky.

She was sitting in this room,--sitting near the open window, in a
high-backed chair of carved and polished oak, with her head resting
against the angle of the embayed window, and her handsome profile
thrown into sharp relief by the dark green-cloth curtain, which hung in
straight folds from the low ceiling to the ground, and made a sombre
background to the widow's figure. Mrs. Marchmont had put away all the
miserable gew-gaws and vanities which she had ordered from London in a
sudden excess of folly or caprice, and had reassumed her mourning-robes
of lustreless black. She had a book in her hand,--some new and popular
fiction, which all Lincolnshire was eager to read; but although her
eyes were fixed upon the pages before her, and her hand mechanically
turned over leaf after leaf at regular intervals of time, the
fashionable romance was only a weary repetition of phrases, a dull
current of words, always intermingled with the images of Edward Arundel
and Mary Marchmont, which arose out of every page to mock the hopeless
reader.

Olivia flung the book away from her at last, with a smothered cry of
rage.

"Is there no cure for this disease?" she muttered. "Is there no relief
except madness or death?"

But in the infidelity which had arisen out of her despair this woman
had grown to doubt if either death or madness could bring her oblivion
of her anguish. She doubted the quiet of the grave; and half-believed
that the torture of jealous rage and slighted love might mingle even
with that silent rest, haunting her in her coffin, shutting her out of
heaven, and following her into a darker world, there to be her torment
everlastingly. There were times when she thought madness must mean
forgetfulness; but there were other moments when she shuddered,
horror-stricken, at the thought that, in the wandering brain of a mad
woman, the image of that grief which had caused the shipwreck of her
senses might still hold its place, distorted and exaggerated,--a
gigantic unreality, ten thousand times more terrible than the truth.
Remembering the dreams which disturbed her broken sleep,--those dreams
which, in their feverish horror, were little better than intervals of
delirium,--it is scarcely strange if Olivia Marchmont thought thus.

She had not succumbed without many struggles to her sin and despair.
Again and again she had abandoned herself to the devils at watch to
destroy her, and again and again she had tried to extricate her soul
from their dreadful power; but her most passionate endeavours were in
vain. Perhaps it was that she did not strive aright; it was for this
reason, surely, that she failed so utterly to arise superior to her
despair; for otherwise that terrible belief attributed to the
Calvinists, that some souls are foredoomed to damnation, would be
exemplified by this woman's experience. She could not forget. She could
not put away the vengeful hatred that raged like an all-devouring fire
in her breast, and she cried in her agony, "There is no cure for this
disease!"

I think her mistake was in this, that she did not go to the right
Physician. She practised quackery with her soul, as some people do with
their bodies; trying their own remedies, rather than the simple
prescriptions of the Divine Healer of all woes. Self-reliant, and
scornful of the weakness against which her pride revolted, she trusted
to her intellect and her will to lift her out of the moral slough into
which her soul had gone down. She said:

"I am not a woman to go mad for the love of a boyish face; I am not a
woman to die for a foolish fancy, which the veriest schoolgirl might be
ashamed to confess to her companion. I am not a woman to do this, and I
_will_ cure myself of my folly."

Mrs. Marchmont made an effort to take up her old life, with its dull
round of ceaseless duty, its perpetual self-denial. If she had been a
Roman Catholic, she would have gone to the nearest convent, and prayed
to be permitted to take such vows as might soonest set a barrier
between herself and the world; she would have spent the long weary days
in perpetual and secret prayer; she would have worn deeper indentations
upon the stones already hollowed by faithful knees. As it was, she made
a routine of penance for herself, after her own fashion: going long
distances on foot to visit her poor, when she might have ridden in her
carriage; courting exposure to rain and foul weather; wearing herself
out with unnecessary fatigue, and returning footsore to her desolate
home, to fall fainting into the strong arms of her grim attendant,
Barbara.

But this self-appointed penance could not shut Edward Arundel and Mary
Marchmont from the widow's mind. Walking through a fiery furnace their
images would have haunted her still, vivid and palpable even in the
agony of death. The fatigue of the long weary walks made Mrs. Marchmont
wan and pale; the exposure to storm and rain brought on a tiresome,
hacking cough, which worried her by day and disturbed her fitful
slumbers by night. No good whatever seemed to come of her endeavours;
and the devils who rejoiced at her weakness and her failure claimed her
as their own. They claimed her as their own; and they were not without
terrestrial agents, working patiently in their service, and ready to
help in securing their bargain.

The great clock in the quadrangle had struck the half-hour after three;
the atmosphere of the August afternoon was sultry and oppressive. Mrs.
Marchmont had closed her eyes after flinging aside her book, and had
fallen into a doze: her nights were broken and wakeful, and the hot
stillness of the day had made her drowsy.

She was aroused from this half-slumber by Barbara Simmons, who came
into the room carrying two cards upon a salver,--the same old-fashioned
and emblazoned salver upon which Paul Marchmont's card had been brought
to the widow nearly three years before. The Abigail stood halfway
between the door and the window by which the widow sat, looking at her
mistress's face with a glance of sharp scrutiny.

"She's changed since he came back, and changed again since he went
away," the woman thought; "just as she always changed at the Rectory at
his coming and going. Why didn't he take to her, I wonder? He might
have known her fancy for him, if he'd had eyes to watch her face, or
ears to listen to her voice. She's handsomer than the other one, and
cleverer in book-learning; but she keeps 'em off--she seems allers to
keep 'em off."

I think Olivia Marchmont would have torn the very heart out of this
waiting-woman's breast, had she known the thoughts that held a place in
it: had she known that the servant who attended upon her, and took
wages from her, dared to pluck out her secret, and to speculate upon
her suffering.

The widow awoke suddenly, and looked up with an impatient frown. She
had not been awakened by the opening of the door, but by that
unpleasant sensation which almost always reveals the presence of a
stranger to a sleeper of nervous temperament.

"What is it, Barbara?" she asked; and then, as her eyes rested on the
cards, she added, angrily, "Haven't I told you that I would not see any
callers to-day? I am worn out with my cough, and feel too ill to see
any one."

"Yes, Miss Livy," the woman answered;--she called her mistress by this
name still, now and then, so familiar had it grown to her during the
childhood and youth of the Rector's daughter;--"I didn't forget that,
Miss Livy: I told Richardson you was not to be disturbed. But the lady
and gentleman said, if you saw what was wrote upon the back of one of
the cards, you'd be sure to make an exception in their favour. I think
that was what the lady said. She's a middle-aged lady, very talkative
and pleasant-mannered," added the grim Barbara, in nowise relaxing the
stolid gravity of her own manner as she spoke.

Olivia snatched the cards from the salver.

"Why do people worry me so?" she cried, impatiently. "Am I not to be
allowed even five minutes' sleep without being broken in upon by some
intruder or other?"

Barbara Simmons looked at her mistress's face. Anxiety and sadness
dimly showed themselves in the stolid countenance of the lady's-maid. A
close observer, penetrating below that aspect of wooden solemnity which
was Barbara's normal expression, might have discovered a secret: the
quiet waiting-woman loved her mistress with a jealous and watchful
affection, that took heed of every change in its object.

Mrs. Marchmont examined the two cards, which bore the names of Mr. and
Mrs. Weston, Kemberling. On the back of the lady's card these words
were written in pencil:

"Will Mrs. Marchmont be so good as to see Lavinia Weston, Paul
Marchmont's younger sister, and a connection of Mrs. M.'s?"

Olivia shrugged her shoulders, as she threw down the card.

"Paul Marchmont! Lavinia Weston!" she muttered; "yes, I remember he
said something about a sister married to a surgeon at Stanfield. Let
these people come to me, Barbara."

The waiting-woman looked doubtfully at her mistress.

"You'll maybe smooth your hair, and freshen yourself up a bit, before
ye see the folks, Miss Livy," she said, in a tone of mingled suggestion
and entreaty. "Ye've had a deal of worry lately, and it's made ye look
a little fagged and haggard-like. I'd not like the Kemberling folks to
say as you was ill."

Mrs. Marchmont turned fiercely upon the Abigail.

"Let me alone!" she cried. "What is it to you, or to any one, how I
look? What good have my looks done me, that I should worry myself about
them?" she added, under her breath. "Show these people in here, if they
want to see me."

"They've been shown into the western drawing-room, ma'am;--Richardson
took 'em in there."

Barbara Simmons fought hard for the preservation of appearances. She
wanted the Rector's daughter to receive these strange people, who had
dared to intrude upon her, in a manner befitting the dignity of John
Marchmont's widow. She glanced furtively at the disorder of the gloomy
chamber. Books and papers were scattered here and there; the hearth and
low fender were littered with heaps of torn letters,--for Olivia
Marchmont had no tenderness for the memorials of the past, and indeed
took a fierce delight in sweeping away the unsanctified records of her
joyless, loveless life. The high-backed oaken chairs had been pushed
out of their places; the green-cloth cover had been drawn half off the
massive table, and hung in trailing folds upon the ground. A book flung
here; a shawl there; a handkerchief in another place; an open
secretaire, with scattered documents and uncovered inkstand,--littered
the room, and bore mute witness of the restlessness of its occupant. It
needed no very subtle psychologist to read aright those separate tokens
of a disordered mind; of a weary spirit which had sought distraction in
a dozen occupations, and had found relief in none. It was some vague
sense of this that caused Barbara Simmons's anxiety. She wished to keep
strangers out of this room, in which her mistress, wan, haggard, and
weary-looking, revealed her secret by so many signs and tokens. But
before Olivia could make any answer to her servant's suggestion, the
door, which Barbara had left ajar, was pushed open by a very gentle
hand, and a sweet voice said, in cheery chirping accents,

"I am sure I may come in; may I not, Mrs. Marchmont? The impression my
brother Paul's description gave me of you is such a very pleasant one,
that I venture to intrude uninvited, almost forbidden, perhaps."

The voice and manner of the speaker were so airy and self-possessed,
there was such a world of cheerfulness and amiability in every tone,
that, as Olivia Marchmont rose from her chair, she put her hand to her
head, dazed and confounded, as if by the too boisterous carolling of
some caged bird. What did they mean, these accents of gladness, these
clear and untroubled tones, which sounded shrill, and almost
discordant, in the despairing woman's ears? She stood, pale and worn,
the very picture of all gloom and misery, staring hopelessly at her
visitor; too much abandoned to her grief to remember, in that first
moment, the stern demands of pride. She stood still; revealing, by her
look, her attitude, her silence, her abstraction, a whole history to
the watchful eyes that were looking at her.

Mrs. Weston lingered on the threshold of the chamber in a pretty
half-fluttering manner; which was charmingly expressive of a struggle
between a modest poor-relation-like diffidence and an earnest desire to
rush into Olivia's arms. The surgeon's wife was a delicate-looking
little woman, with features that seemed a miniature and feminine
reproduction of her brother Paul's, and with very light hair,--hair so
light and pale that, had it turned as white as the artist's in a single
night, very few people would have been likely to take heed of the
change. Lavinia Weston was eminently what is generally called a
_lady-like_ woman. She always conducted herself in that especial and
particular manner which was exactly fitted to the occasion. She
adjusted her behaviour by the nicest shades of colour and hair-breadth
scale of measurement. She had, as it were, made for herself a
homoeopathic system of good manners, and could mete out politeness and
courtesy in the veriest globules, never administering either too much
or too little. To her husband she was a treasure beyond all price; and
if the Lincolnshire surgeon, who was a fat, solemn-faced man, with a
character as level and monotonous as the flats and fens of his native
county, was henpecked, the feminine autocrat held the reins of
government so lightly, that her obedient subject was scarcely aware how
very irresponsible his wife's authority had become.

As Olivia Marchmont stood confronting the timid hesitating figure of
the intruder, with the width of the chamber between them, Lavinia
Weston, in her crisp muslin-dress and scarf, her neat bonnet and bright
ribbons and primly-adjusted gloves, looked something like an
adventurous canary who had a mind to intrude upon the den of a hungry
lioness. The difference, physical and moral, between the timid bird and
the savage forest-queen could be scarcely wider than that between the
two women.

But Olivia did not stand for ever embarrassed and silent in her
visitor's presence. Her pride came to her rescue. She turned sternly
upon the polite intruder.

"Walk in, if you please, Mrs. Weston," she said, "and sit down. I was
denied to you just now because I have been ill, and have ordered my
servants to deny me to every one."

"But, my dear Mrs. Marchmont," murmured Lavinia Weston in soft, almost
dove-like accents, "if you have been ill, is not your illness another
reason for seeing us, rather than for keeping us away from you? I would
not, of course, say a word which could in any way be calculated to give
offence to your regular medical attendant,--you have a regular medical
attendant, no doubt; from Swampington, I dare say,--but a doctor's wife
may often be useful when a doctor is himself out of place. There are
little nervous ailments--depression of spirits, mental uneasiness--from
which women, and sensitive women, suffer acutely, and which perhaps a
woman's more refined nature alone can thoroughly comprehend. You are
not looking well, my dear Mrs. Marchmont. I left my husband in the
drawing-room, for I was so anxious that our first meeting should take
place without witnesses. Men think women sentimental when they are only
impulsive. Weston is a good simple-hearted creature, but he knows as
much about a woman's mind as he does of an Æolian harp. When the
strings vibrate, he hears the low plaintive notes, but he has no idea
whence the melody comes. It is thus with us, Mrs. Marchmont. These
medical men watch us in the agonies of hysteria; they hear our sighs,
they see our tears, and in their awkwardness and ignorance they
prescribe commonplace remedies out of the pharmacopoeia. No, dear Mrs.
Marchmont, you do not look well. I fear it is the mind, the mind, which
has been over-strained. Is it not so?"

Mrs. Weston put her head on one side as she asked this question, and
smiled at Olivia with an air of gentle insinuation. If the doctor's
wife wished to plumb the depths of the widow's gloomy soul, she had an
advantage here; for Mrs. Marchmont was thrown off her guard by the
question, which had been perhaps asked hap-hazard, or it may be with a
deeply considered design. Olivia turned fiercely upon the polite
questioner.

"I have been suffering from nothing but a cold which I caught the other
day," she said; "I am not subject to any fine-ladylike hysteria, I can
assure you, Mrs. Weston."

The doctor's wife pursed up her lips into a sympathetic smile, not at
all abashed by this rebuff. She had seated herself in one of the
high-backed chairs, with her muslin skirt spread out about her. She
looked a living exemplification of all that is neat and prim and
commonplace, in contrast with the pale, stern-faced woman, standing
rigid and defiant in her long black robes.

"How very chy-arming!" exclaimed Mrs. Weston. "You are really _not_
nervous. Dee-ar me; and from what my brother Paul said, I should have
imagined that any one so highly organised must be rather nervous. But I
really fear I am impertinent, and that I presume upon our very slight
relationship. It _is_ a relationship, is it not, although such a very
slight one?"

"I have never thought of the subject," Mrs. Marchmont replied coldly.
"I suppose, however, that my marriage with your brother's cousin--"

"And _my_ cousin--"

"Made a kind of connexion between us. But Mr. Marchmont gave me to
understand that you lived at Stanfield, Mrs. Weston."

"Until last week, positively until last week," answered the surgeon's
wife. "I see you take very little interest in village gossip, Mrs.
Marchmont, or you would have heard of the change at Kemberling."

"What change?"

"My husband's purchase of poor old Mr. Dawnfield's practice. The dear
old man died a month ago,--you heard of his death, of course,--and Mr.
Weston negotiated the purchase with Mrs. Dawnfield in less than a
fortnight. We came here early last week, and already we are making
friends in the neighbourhood. How strange that you should not have
heard of our coming!"

"I do not see much society," Olivia answered indifferently, "and I hear
nothing of the Kemberling people."

"Indeed!" cried Mrs. Weston; "and we hear so much of Marchmont Towers
at Kemberling."

She looked full in the widow's face as she spoke, her stereotyped smile
subsiding into a look of greedy curiosity; a look whose intense
eagerness could not be concealed.

That look, and the tone in which her last sentence had been spoken,
said as plainly as the plainest words could have done, "I have heard of
Mary Marchmont's flight."

Olivia understood this; but in the passionate depth of her own madness
she had no power to fathom the meanings or the motives of other people.
She revolted against this Mrs. Weston, and disliked her because the
woman intruded upon her in her desolation; but she never once thought
of Lavinia Weston's interest in Mary's movements; she never once
remembered that the frail life of that orphan girl only stood between
this woman's brother and the rich heritage of Marchmont Towers.

Blind and forgetful of everything in the hideous egotism of her
despair, what was Olivia Marchmont but a fitting tool, a plastic and
easily-moulded instrument, in the hands of unscrupulous people, whose
hard intellects had never been beaten into confused shapelessness in
the fiery furnace of passion?

Mrs. Weston had heard of Mary Marchmont's flight; but she had heard
half a dozen different reports of that event, as widely diversified in
their details as if half a dozen heiresses had fled from Marchmont
Towers. Every gossip in the place had a separate story as to the
circumstances which had led to the girl's running away from her home.
The accounts vied with each other in graphic force and minute
elaboration; the conversations that had taken place between Mary and
her stepmother, between Edward Arundel and Mrs. Marchmont, between the
Rector of Swampington and nobody in particular, would have filled a
volume, as related by the gossips of Kemberling; but as everybody
assigned a different cause for the terrible misunderstanding at the
Towers, and a different direction for Mary's flight,--and as the
railway official at the station, who could have thrown some light on
the subject, was a stern and moody man, who had little sympathy with
his kind, and held his tongue persistently,--it was not easy to get
very near the truth. Under these circumstances, then, Mrs. Weston
determined upon seeking information at the fountain-head, and
approaching the cruel stepmother, who, according to some of the
reports, had starved and beaten her dead husband's child.

"Yes, dear Mrs. Marchmont," said Lavinia Weston, seeing that it was
necessary to come direct to the point if she wished to wring the truth
from Olivia; "yes, we hear of everything at Kemberling; and I need
scarcely tell you, that we heard of the sad trouble which you have had
to endure since your ball--the ball that is spoken of as the most
chy-arming entertainment remembered in the neighbourhood for a long
time. We heard of this sad girl's flight."

Mrs. Marchmont looked up with a dark frown, but made no answer.

"Was she--it really is such a very painful question, that I almost
shrink from--but was Miss Marchmont at all--eccentric--a little
mentally deficient? Pray pardon me, if I have given you pain by such a
question; but----"

Olivia started, and looked sharply at her visitor. "Mentally deficient?
No!" she said. But as she spoke her eyes dilated, her pale cheeks grew
paler, her upper lip quivered with a faint convulsive movement. It
seemed as if some idea presented itself to her with a sudden force that
almost took away her breath.

"_Not_ mentally deficient!" repeated Lavinia Weston; "dee-ar me! It's a
great comfort to hear that. Of course Paul saw very little of his
cousin, and he was not therefore in a position to judge,--though his
opinions, however rapidly arrived at, are generally so _very_
accurate;--but he gave me to understand that he thought Miss Marchmont
appeared a little--just a little--weak in her intellect. I am very glad
to find he was mistaken."

Olivia made no reply to this speech. She had seated herself in her
chair by the window; she looked straight before her into the flagged
quadrangle, with her hands lying idle in her lap. It seemed as if she
were actually unconscious of her visitor's presence, or as if, in her
scornful indifference, she did not even care to affect any interest in
that visitor's conversation.

Lavinia Weston returned again to the attack.

"Pray, Mrs. Marchmont, do not think me intrusive or impertinent," she
said pleadingly, "if I ask you to favour me with the true particulars
of this sad event. I am sure you will be good enough to remember that
my brother Paul, my sister, and myself are Mary Marchmont's nearest
relatives on her father's side, and that we have therefore some right
to feel interested in her?"

By this very polite speech Lavinia Weston plainly reminded the widow of
the insignificance of her own position at Marchmont Towers. In her
ordinary frame of mind Olivia would have resented the ladylike slight,
but to-day she neither heard nor heeded it; she was brooding with a
stupid, unreasonable persistency over the words "mental deficiency,"
"weak intellect." She only roused herself by a great effort to answer
Mrs. Weston's question, when that lady had repeated it in very plain
words.

"I can tell you nothing about Miss Marchmont's flight," she said,
coldly, "except that she chose to run away from her home. I found
reason to object to her conduct upon the night of the ball; and the
next morning she left the house, assigning no reason--to me, at any
rate--for her absurd and improper behaviour."

"She assigned no reason to _you_, my dear Mrs. Marchmont; but she
assigned a reason to somebody, I infer, from what you say?"

"Yes; she wrote a letter to my cousin, Captain Arundel."

"Telling him the reason of her departure?"

"I don't know--I forget. The letter told nothing clearly; it was wild
and incoherent."

Mrs. Weston sighed,--a long-drawn, desponding sigh.

"Wild and incoherent!" she murmured, in a pensive tone. "How grieved
Paul will be to hear of this! He took such an interest in his cousin--a
delicate and fragile-looking young creature, he told me. Yes, he took a
very great interest in her, Mrs. Marchmont, though you may perhaps
scarcely believe me when I say so. He kept himself purposely aloof from
this place; his sensitive nature led him to abstain from even revealing
his interest in Miss Marchmont. His position, you must remember, with
regard to this poor dear girl, is a very delicate--I may say a very
painful--one."

Olivia remembered nothing of the kind. The value of the Marchmont
estates; the sordid worth of those wide-stretching farms, spreading
far-away into Yorkshire; the pitiful, closely-calculated revenue, which
made Mary a wealthy heiress,--were so far from the dark thoughts of
this woman's desperate heart, that she no more suspected Mrs. Weston of
any mercenary design in coming to the Towers, than of burglarious
intentions with regard to the silver spoons in the plate-room. She only
thought that the surgeon's wife was a tiresome woman, against whose
pertinacious civility her angry spirit chafed and rebelled, until she
was almost driven to order her from the room.

In this cruel weariness of spirit Mrs. Marchmont gave a short impatient
sigh, which afforded a sufficient hint to such an accomplished
tactician as her visitor.

"I know I have tired you, my dear Mrs. Marchmont," the doctor's wife
said, rising and arranging her muslin scarf as she spoke, in token of
her immediate departure. "I am so sorry to find you a sufferer from
that nasty hacking cough; but of course you have the best advice,--Mr.
Barlow from Swampington, I think you said?"--Olivia had said nothing of
the kind;--"and I trust the warm weather will prevent the cough taking
any hold of your chest. If I might venture to suggest flannels--so many
young women quite ridicule the idea of flannels--but, as the wife of a
humble provincial practitioner, I have learned their value. Good-bye,
dear Mrs. Marchmont. I may come again, may I not, now that the ice is
broken, and we are so well acquainted with each other? Good-bye."

Olivia could not refuse to take at least _one_ of the two plump and
tightly-gloved hands which were held out to her with an air of frank
cordiality; but the widow's grasp was loose and nerveless, and,
inasmuch as two consentient parties are required to the shaking of
hands as well as to the getting up of a quarrel, the salutation was not
a very hearty one.

The surgeon's pony must have been weary of standing before the flight
of shallow steps leading to the western portico, when Mrs. Weston took
her seat by her husband's side in the gig, which had been newly painted
and varnished since the worthy couple's hegira from Stanfield.

The surgeon was not an ambitious man, nor a designing man; he was
simply stupid and lazy--lazy although, in spite of himself, he led an
active and hard-working life; but there are many square men whose sides
are cruelly tortured by the pressure of the round holes into which they
are ill-advisedly thrust, and if our destinies were meted out to us in
strict accordance with our temperaments, Mr. Weston should have been a
lotus-eater. As it was, he was content to drudge on, mildly complying
with every desire of his wife; doing what she told him, because it was
less trouble to do the hardest work at her bidding than to oppose her.
It would have been surely less painful for Macbeth to have finished
that ugly business of the murder than to have endured my lady's black
contemptuous scowl, and the bitter scorn and contumely concentrated in
those four words, "Give _me_ the daggers."

Mr. Weston asked one or two commonplace questions about his wife's
interview with John Marchmont's widow; but, slowly apprehending that
Lavinia did not care to discuss the matter, he relapsed into meek
silence, and devoted all his intellectual powers to the task of keeping
the pony out of the deeper ruts in the rugged road between Marchmont
Towers and Kemberling High Street.

"What is the secret of that woman's life?" thought Lavinia Weston
during that homeward drive. "Has she ill-treated the girl, or is she
plotting in some way or other to get hold of the Marchmont fortune?
Pshaw! that's impossible. And yet she may be making a purse, somehow or
other, out of the estate. Anyhow, there is bad blood between the two
women."



CHAPTER IV.

A STOLEN HONEYMOON.


The village to which Edward Arundel took his bride was within a few
miles of Winchester. The young soldier had become familiar with the
place in his early boyhood, when he had gone to spend a part of one
bright midsummer holiday at the house of a schoolfellow; and had ever
since cherished a friendly remembrance of the winding trout-streams,
the rich verdure of the valleys, and the sheltering hills that shut in
the pleasant little cluster of thatched cottages, the pretty
white-walled villas, and the grey old church.

But to Mary, whose experiences of town and country were limited to the
dingy purlieus of Oakley Street and the fenny flats of Lincolnshire,
this Hampshire village seemed a rustic paradise, which neither trouble
nor sorrow could ever approach. She had trembled at the thought of
Olivia's coming in Oakley Street; but here she seemed to lose all
terror of her stern stepmother,--here, sheltered and protected by her
young husband's love, she fancied that she might live her life out
happy and secure.

She told Edward this one sunny morning, as they sat by the young man's
favourite trout-stream. Captain Arundel's fishing-tackle lay idle on
the turf at his side, for he had been beguiled into forgetfulness of a
ponderous trout he had been watching and finessing with for upwards of
an hour, and had flung himself at full length upon the mossy margin of
the water, with his uncovered head lying in Mary's lap.

The childish bride would have been content to sit for ever thus in that
rural solitude, with her fingers twisted in her husband's chestnut
curls, and her soft eyes keeping timid watch upon his handsome
face,--so candid and unclouded in its careless repose. The undulating
meadow-land lay half-hidden in a golden haze, only broken here and
there by the glitter of the brighter sunlight that lit up the waters of
the wandering streams that intersected the low pastures. The massive
towers of the cathedral, the grey walls of St. Cross, loomed dimly in
the distance; the bubbling plash of a mill-stream sounded like some
monotonous lullaby in the drowsy summer atmosphere. Mary looked from
the face she loved to the fair landscape about her, and a tender
solemnity crept into her mind--a reverent love and admiration for this
beautiful earth, which was almost akin to awe.

"How pretty this place is, Edward!" she said. "I had no idea there were
such places in all the wide world. Do you know, I think I would rather
be a cottage-girl here than an heiress in Lincolnshire. Edward, if I
ask you a favour, will you grant it?"

She spoke very earnestly, looking down at her husband's upturned face;
but Captain Arundel only laughed at her question, without even caring
to lift the drowsy eyelids that drooped over his blue eyes.

"Well, my pet, if you want anything short of the moon, I suppose your
devoted husband is scarcely likely to refuse it. Our honeymoon is not a
fortnight old yet, Polly dear; you wouldn't have me turn tyrant quite
as soon as this. Speak out, Mrs. Arundel, and assert your dignity as a
British matron. What is the favour I am to grant?"

"I want you to live here always, Edward darling," pleaded the girlish
voice. "Not for a fortnight or a month, but for ever and ever. I have
never been happy at Marchmont Towers. Papa died there, you know, and I
cannot forget that. Perhaps that ought to have made the place sacred to
me, and so it has; but it is sacred like papa's tomb in Kemberling
Church, and it seems like profanation to be happy in it, or to forget
my dead father even for a moment. Don't let us go back there, Edward.
Let my stepmother live there all her life. It would seem selfish and
cruel to turn her out of the house she has so long been mistress of.
Mr. Gormby will go on collecting the rents, you know, and can send us
as much money as we want; and we can take that pretty house we saw to
let on the other side of Milldale,--the house with the rookery, and the
dovecotes, and the sloping lawn leading down to the water. You know you
don't like Lincolnshire, Edward, any more than I do, and there's
scarcely any trout-fishing near the Towers."

Captain Arundel opened his eyes, and lifted himself out of his
reclining position before he answered his wife.

"My own precious Polly," he said, smiling fondly at the gentle childish
face turned in such earnestness towards his own; "my runaway little
wife, rich people have their duties to perform as well as poor people;
and I am afraid it would never do for you to hide in this
out-of-the-way Hampshire village, and play absentee from stately
Marchmont and all its dependencies. I love that pretty, infantine,
unworldly spirit of yours, my darling; and I sometimes wish we were two
grown-up babes in the wood, and could wander about gathering wild
flowers, and eating blackberries and hazel-nuts, until the shades of
evening closed in, and the friendly robins came to bury us. Don't fancy
I am tired of our honeymoon, Polly, or that I care for Marchmont Towers
any more than you do; but I fear the non-residence plan would never
answer. The world would call my little wife eccentric, if she ran away
from her grandeur; and Paul Marchmont the artist,--of whom your poor
father had rather a bad opinion, by the way,--would be taking out a
statute of lunacy against you."

"Paul Marchmont!" repeated Mary. "Did papa dislike Mr. Paul Marchmont?"

"Well, poor John had a sort of a prejudice against the man, I believe;
but it was only a prejudice, for he freely confessed that he could
assign no reason for it. But whatever Mr. Paul Marchmont may be, you
must live at the Towers, Mary, and be Lady Bountiful-in-chief in your
neighbourhood, and look after your property, and have long interviews
with Mr. Gormby, and become altogether a woman of business; so that
when I go back to India----"

Mary interrupted him with a little cry:

"Go back to India!" she exclaimed. "What do you mean, Edward?"

"I mean, my darling, that my business in life is to fight for my Queen
and country, and not to spunge upon my wife's fortune. You don't
suppose I'm going to lay down my sword at seven-and-twenty years of
age, and retire upon my pension? No, Polly; you remember what Lord
Nelson said on the deck of the _Victory_ at Trafalgar. That saying can
never be so hackneyed as to lose its force. I must do my duty, Polly--I
must do my duty, even if duty and love pull different ways, and I have
to leave my darling, in the service of my country."

Mary clasped her hands in despair, and looked piteously at her
lover-husband, with the tears streaming down her pale cheeks.

"O Edward," she cried, "how cruel you are; how very, very cruel you are
to me! What is the use of my fortune if you won't share it with me, if
you won't take it all; for it is yours, my dearest--it is all yours? I
remember the words in the Marriage Service, 'with all my goods I thee
endow.' I have given you Marchmont Towers, Edward; nobody in the world
can take it away from you. You never, never, never could be so cruel as
to leave me! I know how brave and good you are, and I am proud to think
of your noble courage and all the brave deeds you did in India. But you
_have_ fought for your country, Edward; you _have_ done your duty.
Nobody can expect more of you; nobody shall take you from me. O my
darling, my husband, you promised to shelter and defend me while our
lives last! You won't leave me--you won't leave me, will you?"

Edward Arundel kissed the tears away from his wife's pale face, and
drew her head upon his bosom.

"My love," he said tenderly, "you cannot tell how much pain it gives me
to hear you talk like this. What can I do? To give up my profession
would be to make myself next kin to a pauper. What would the world say
of me, Mary? Think of that. This runaway marriage would be a dreadful
dishonour to me, if it were followed by a life of lazy dependence on my
wife's fortune. Nobody can dare to slander the soldier who spends the
brightest years of his life in the service of his country. You would
not surely have me be less than true to myself, Mary darling? For my
honour's sake, I must leave you."

"O no, no, no!" cried the girl, in a low wailing voice. Unselfish and
devoted as she had been in every other crisis of her young life, she
could not be reasonable or self-denying here; she was seized with
despair at the thought of parting with her husband. No, not even for
his honour's sake could she let him go. Better that they should both
die now, in this early noontide of their happiness.

"Edward, Edward," she sobbed, clinging convulsively about the young
man's neck, "don't leave me--don't leave me!"

"Will you go with me to India, then, Mary?"

She lifted her head suddenly, and looked her husband in the face, with
the gladness in her eyes shining through her tears, like an April sun
through a watery sky.

"I would go to the end of the world with you, my own darling," she
said; "the burning sands and the dreadful jungles would have no terrors
for me, if I were with you, Edward."

Captain Arundel smiled at her earnestness.

"I won't take you into the jungle, my love," he answered, playfully;
"or if I do, your palki shall be well guarded, and all ravenous beasts
kept at a respectful distance from my little wife. A great many ladies
go to India with their husbands, Polly, and come back very little the
worse for the climate or the voyage; and except your money, there is no
reason you should not go with me."

"Oh, never mind my money; let anybody have that."

"Polly," cried the soldier, very seriously, "we must consult Richard
Paulette as to the future. I don't think I did right in marrying you
during his absence; and I have delayed writing to him too long, Polly.
Those letters must be written this afternoon."

"The letter to Mr. Paulette and to your father?"

"Yes; and the letter to my cousin Olivia."

Mary's face grew sorrowful again, as Captain Arundel said this.

"_Must_ you tell my stepmother of our marriage?" she said.

"Most assuredly, my dear. Why should we keep her in ignorance of it?
Your father's will gave her the privilege of advising you, but not the
power to interfere with your choice, whatever that choice might be. You
were your own mistress, Mary, when you married me. What reason have you
to fear my cousin Olivia?"

"No reason, perhaps," the girl answered, sadly; "but I do fear her. I
know I am very foolish, Edward, and you have reason to despise me,--you
who are so brave. But I could never tell you how I tremble at the
thought of being once more in my stepmother's power. She said cruel
things to me, Edward. Every word she spoke seemed to stab me to the
heart; but it isn't that only. There's something more than that;
something that I can't describe, that I can't understand; something
which tells me that she hates me."

"Hates you, darling?"

"Yes, Edward; yes, she hates me. It wasn't always so, you know. She
used to be only cold and reserved, but lately her manner has changed. I
thought that she was ill, perhaps, and that my presence worried her.
People often wish to be alone, I know, when they are ill. O Edward, I
have seen her shrink from me, and shudder if her dress brushed against
mine, as if I had been some horrible creature. What have I done,
Edward, that she should hate me?"

Captain Arundel knitted his brows, and set himself to work out this
womanly problem, but he could make nothing of it. Yes, what Mary had
said was perfectly true: Olivia hated her. The young man had seen that
upon the morning of the girl's flight from Marchmont Towers; he had
seen vengeful fury and vindictive passion raging in the dark face of
John Marchmont's widow. But what reason could the woman have for her
hatred of this innocent girl? Again and again Olivia's cousin asked
himself this question; and he was so far away from the truth at last,
that he could only answer it by imagining the lowest motive for the
widow's bad feeling. "She envies my poor little girl her fortune and
position," he thought.

"But you won't leave me alone with my stepmother, will you, Edward?"
Mary said, recurring to her old prayer. "I am not afraid of her, nor of
anybody or anything in the world, while you are with me,--how should I
be?--but I think if I were to be alone with her again, I should die.
She would speak to me again as she spoke upon the night of the ball,
and her bitter taunts would kill me. I _could_ not bear to be in her
power again, Edward."

"And you shall not, my darling," answered the young man, enfolding the
slender, trembling figure in his strong arms. "My own childish pet, you
shall never be exposed to any woman's insolence or tyranny. You shall
be sheltered and protected, and hedged in on every side by your
husband's love. And when I go to India, you shall sail with me, my
pearl. Mary, look up and smile at me, and let's have no more talk of
cruel stepmothers. How strange it seems to me, Polly dear, that you
should have been so womanly when you were a child, and yet are so
childlike now you are a woman!"

The mistress of Marchmont Towers looked doubtfully at her husband, as
if she feared her childishness might be displeasing to him.

"You don't love me any the less because of that, do you, Edward?" she
asked timidly.

"Because of what, my treasure?"

"Because I am so--childish?"

"Polly," cried the young man, "do you think Jupiter liked Hebe any the
less because she was as fresh and innocent as the nectar she served out
to him? If he had, my dear, he'd have sent for Clotho, or Atropos, or
some one or other of the elderly maiden ladies of Hades, to wait upon
him as cupbearer. I wouldn't have you otherwise than you are, Polly, by
so much as one thought."

The girl looked up at her husband in a rapture of innocent affection.

"I am too happy, Edward," she said, in a low awe-stricken whisper--"I
am too happy! So much happiness can never last."

Alas! the orphan girl's experience of this life had early taught her
the lesson which some people learn so late. She had learnt to distrust
the equal blue of a summer sky, the glorious splendour of the blazing
sunlight. She was accustomed to sorrow; but these brief glimpses of
perfect happiness filled her with a dim sense of terror. She felt like
some earthly wanderer who had strayed across the threshold of Paradise.
In the midst of her delight and admiration, she trembled for the moment
in which the ruthless angels, bearing flaming swords, should drive her
from the celestial gates.

"It can't last, Edward," she murmured.

"Can't last, Polly!" cried the young man; "why, my dove is transformed
all at once into a raven. We have outlived our troubles, Polly, like
the hero and heroine in one of your novels; and what is to prevent our
living happy ever afterwards, like them? If you remember, my dear, no
sorrows or trials ever fall to the lot of people _after_ marriage. The
persecutions, the separations, the estrangements, are all ante-nuptial.
When once your true novelist gets his hero and heroine up to the
altar-rails in real earnest,--he gets them into the church sometimes,
and then forbids the banns, or brings a former wife, or a rightful
husband, pale and denouncing, from behind a pillar, and drives the
wretched pair out again, to persecute them through three hundred pages
more before he lets them get back again,--but when once the important
words are spoken and the knot tied, the story's done, and the happy
couple get forty or fifty years' wedded bliss, as a set-off against the
miseries they have endured in the troubled course of a twelvemonth's
courtship. That's the sort of thing, isn't it, Polly?"

The clock of St. Cross, sounding faintly athwart the meadows, struck
three as the young man finished speaking.

"Three o'clock, Polly!" he cried; "we must go home, my pet. I mean to
be businesslike to-day."

Upon each day in that happy honeymoon holiday Captain Arundel had made
some such declaration with regard to his intention of being
businesslike; that is to say, setting himself deliberately to the task
of writing those letters which should announce and explain his marriage
to the people who had a right to hear of it. But the soldier had a
dislike to all letter-writing, and a special horror of any epistolary
communication which could come under the denomination of a
business-letter; so the easy summer days slipped by,--the delicious
drowsy noontides, the soft and dreamy twilight, the tender moonlit
nights,--and the Captain put off the task for which he had no fancy,
from after breakfast until after dinner, and from after dinner until
after breakfast; always beguiled away from his open travelling-desk by
a word from Mary, who called him to the window to look at a pretty
child on the village green before the inn, or at the blacksmith's dog,
or the tinker's donkey, or a tired Italian organ-boy who had strayed
into that out-of-the-way nook, or at the smart butcher from Winchester,
who rattled over in a pony-cart twice a week to take orders from the
gentry round about, and to insult and defy the local purveyor, whose
stock-in-trade generally seemed to consist of one leg of mutton and a
dish of pig's fry.

The young couple walked slowly through the meadows, crossing rustic
wooden bridges that spanned the winding stream, loitering to look down
into the clear water at the fish which Captain Arundel pointed out, but
which Mary could never see;--that young lady always fixing her eyes
upon some long trailing weed afloat in the transparent water, while the
silvery trout indicated by her husband glided quietly away to the sedgy
bottom of the stream. They lingered by the water-mill, beneath whose
shadow some children were fishing; they seized upon every pretext for
lengthening that sunny homeward walk, and only reached the inn as the
village clocks were striking four, at which hour Captain Arundel had
ordered dinner.

But after the simple little repast, mild and artless in its nature as
the fair young spirit of the bride herself; after the landlord,
sympathetic yet respectful, had in his own person attended upon his two
guests; after the pretty rustic chamber had been cleared of all
evidence of the meal that had been eaten, Edward Arundel began
seriously to consider the business in hand.

"The letters must be written, Polly," he said, seating himself at a
table near the open window. Trailing branches of jasmine and
honeysuckle made a framework round the diamond-paned casement; the
perfumed blossoms blew into the room with every breath of the warm
August breeze, and hung trembling in the folds of the chintz curtains.
Mr. Arundel's gaze wandered dreamily away through this open window to
the primitive picture without,--the scattered cottages upon the other
side of the green, the cattle standing in the pond, the cackling geese
hurrying homeward across the purple ridge of common, the village
gossips loitering beneath the faded sign that hung before the low white
tavern at the angle of the road. He looked at all these things as he
flung his leathern desk upon the table, and made a great parade of
unlocking and opening it.

"The letters must be written," he repeated, with a smothered sigh. "Did
you ever notice a peculiar property in stationery, Polly?"

Mrs. Edward Arundel only opened her brown eyes to their widest extent,
and stared at her husband.

"No, I see you haven't," said the young man. "How should you, you
fortunate Polly? You've never had to write any business-letters yet,
though you are an heiress. The peculiarity of all stationery, my dear,
is, that it is possessed of an intuitive knowledge of the object for
which it is to be used. If one has to write an unpleasant letter,
Polly, it might go a little smoother, you know; one might round one's
paragraphs, and spell the difficult words--the 'believes' and
'receives,' the 'tills' and 'untils,' and all that sort of
thing--better with a pleasant pen, an easy-going, jolly, soft-nibbed
quill, that would seem to say, 'Cheer up, old fellow! I'll carry you
through it; we'll get to "your very obedient servant" before you know
where you are,' and so on. But, bless your heart, Polly! let a poor
unbusinesslike fellow try to write a business-letter, and everything
goes against him. The pen knows what he's at, and jibs, and stumbles,
and shies about the paper, like a broken-down screw; the ink turns
thick and lumpy; the paper gets as greasy as a London pavement after a
fall of snow, till a poor fellow gives up, and knocks under to the
force of circumstances. You see if my pen doesn't splutter, Polly, the
moment I address Richard Paulette."

Captain Arundel was very careful in the adjustment of his sheet of
paper, and began his letter with an air of resolution.

"White Hart Inn, Milldale, near Winchester,
"August 14th.

"MY DEAR SIR,"

He wrote as much as this with great promptitude, and then, with his
elbow on the table, fell to staring at his pretty young wife and
drumming his fingers on his chin. Mary was sitting opposite her husband
at the open window, working, or making a pretence of being occupied
with some impossible fragment of Berlin wool-work, while she watched
her husband.

"How pretty you look in that white frock, Polly!" said the soldier;
"you call those things frocks, don't you? And that blue sash, too,--you
ought always to wear white, Mary, like your namesakes abroad who are
_vouée au blanc_ by their faithful mothers, and who are a blessing to
the laundresses for the first seven or fourteen years of their lives.
What shall I say to Paulette? He's such a jolly fellow, there oughtn't
to be much difficulty about the matter. 'My dear sir,' seems absurdly
stiff; 'my dear Paulette,'--that's better,--'I write this to inform you
that your client, Miss Mary March----' What's that, Polly?"

It was the postman, a youth upon a pony, with the afternoon letters
from London. Captain Arundel flung down his pen and went to the window.
He had some interest in this young man's arrival, as he had left orders
that such letters as were addressed to him at the hotel in Covent
Garden should be forwarded to him at Milldale.

"I daresay there's a letter from Germany, Polly," he said eagerly. "My
mother and Letitia are capital correspondents; I'll wager anything
there's a letter, and I can answer it in the one I'm going to write
this evening, and that'll be killing two birds with one stone. I'll run
down to the postman, Polly."

Captain Arundel had good reason to go after his letters, for there
seemed little chance of those missives being brought to him. The
youthful postman was standing in the porch drinking ale out of a
ponderous earthenware mug, and talking to the landlord, when Edward
went down.

"Any letters for me, Dick?" the Captain asked. He knew the Christian
name of almost every visitor or hanger-on at the little inn, though he
had not stayed there an entire fortnight, and was as popular and
admired as if he had been some free-spoken young squire to whom all the
land round about belonged.

"'Ees, sir," the young man answered, shuffling off his cap; "there be
two letters for ye."

He handed the two packets to Captain Arundel, who looked doubtfully at
the address of the uppermost, which, like the other, had been
re-directed by the people at the London hotel. The original address of
this letter was in a handwriting that was strange to him; but it bore
the postmark of the village from which the Dangerfield letters were
sent.

The back of the inn looked into an orchard, and through an open door
opposite to the porch Edward Arundel saw the low branches of the trees,
and the ripening fruit red and golden in the afternoon sunlight. He
went out into this orchard to read his letters, his mind a little
disturbed by the strange handwriting upon the Dangerfield epistle.

The letter was from his father's housekeeper, imploring him most
earnestly to go down to the Park without delay. Squire Arundel had been
stricken with paralysis, and was declared to be in imminent danger.
Mrs. and Miss Arundel and Mr. Reginald were away in Germany. The
faithful old servant implored the younger son to lose no time in
hurrying home, if he wished to see his father alive.

The soldier leaned against the gnarled grey trunk of an old apple-tree,
and stared at this letter with a white awe-stricken face.

What was he to do? He must go to his father, of course. He must go
without a moment's delay. He must catch the first train that would
carry him westward from Southampton. There could be no question as to
his duty. He must go; he must leave his young wife.

His heart sank with a sharp thrill of pain, and with perhaps some faint
shuddering sense of an unknown terror, as he thought of this.

"It was lucky I didn't write the letters," he reflected; "no one will
guess the secret of my darling's retreat. She can stay here till I come
back to her. God knows I shall hurry back the moment my duty sets me
free. These people will take care of her. No one will know where to
look for her. I'm very glad I didn't write to Olivia. We were so happy
this morning! Who could think that sorrow would come between us so
soon?"

Captain Arundel looked at his watch. It was a quarter to six o'clock,
and he knew that an express left Southampton for the west at eight.
There would be time for him to catch that train with the help of a
sturdy pony belonging to the landlord of the White Hart, which would
rattle him over to the station in an hour and a half. There would be
time for him to catch the train; but, oh! how little time to comfort
his darling--how little time to reconcile his young wife to the
temporary separation!

He hurried back to the porch, briefly explained to the landlord what
had happened, ordered the pony and gig to be got ready immediately, and
then went very, very slowly upstairs, to the room in which his young
wife sat by the open window waiting for his return.

Mary looked up at his face as he entered the room, and that one glance
told her of some new sorrow.

"Edward," she cried, starting up from her chair with a look of terror,
"my stepmother has come."

Even in his trouble the young man smiled at his foolish wife's
all-absorbing fear of Olivia Marchmont.

"No, my darling," he said; "I wish to heaven our worst trouble were the
chance of your father's widow breaking in upon us. Something has
happened, Mary; something very sorrowful, very serious for me. My
father is ill, Polly dear, dangerously ill, and I must go to him."

Mary Arundel drew a long breath. Her face had grown very white, and the
hands that were linked tightly round her husband's arm trembled a
little.

"I will try to bear it," she said; "I will try to bear it."

"God bless you, my darling!" the soldier answered fervently, clasping
his young wife to his breast. "I know you will. It will be a very short
parting, Mary dearest. I will come back to you directly I have seen my
father. If he is worse, there will be little need for me to stop at
Dangerfield; if he is better, I can take you back there with me. My own
darling love, it is very bitter for us to be parted thus; but I know
that you will bear it like a heroine. Won't you, Polly?"

"I will try to bear it, dear."

She said very little more than this, but clung about her husband, not
with any desperate force, not with any clamorous and tumultuous grief,
but with a half-despondent resignation; as a drowning man, whose
strength is well-nigh exhausted, may cling, in his hopelessness, to a
spar, which he knows he must presently abandon.

Mary Arundel followed her husband hither and thither while he made his
brief and hurried preparations for the sudden journey; but although she
was powerless to assist him,--for her trembling hands let fall
everything she tried to hold, and there was a mist before her eyes,
which distorted and blotted the outline of every object she looked
at,--she hindered him by no noisy lamentations, she distressed him by
no tears. She suffered, as it was her habit to suffer, quietly and
uncomplainingly.

The sun was sinking when she went with Edward downstairs to the porch,
before which the landlord's pony and gig were in waiting, in custody of
a smart lad who was to accompany Mr. Arundel to Southampton. There was
no time for any protracted farewell. It was better so, perhaps, Edward
thought. He would be back so soon, that the grief he felt in this
parting--and it may be that his suffering was scarcely less than
Mary's--seemed wasted anguish, to which it would have been sheer
cowardice to give way. But for all this the soldier very nearly broke
down when he saw his childish wife's piteous face, white in the evening
sunlight, turned to him in mute appeal, as if the quivering lips would
fain have entreated him to abandon all and to remain. He lifted the
fragile figure in his arms,--alas! it had never seemed so fragile as
now,--and covered the pale face with passionate kisses and
fast-dropping tears.

"God bless and defend you, Mary! God keep----"

He was ashamed of the huskiness of his voice, and putting his wife
suddenly away from him, he sprang into the gig, snatched the reins from
the boy's hand, and drove away at the pony's best speed. The
old-fashioned vehicle disappeared in a cloud of dust; and Mary, looking
after her husband with eyes that were as yet tearless, saw nothing but
glaring light and confusion, and a pastoral landscape that reeled and
heaved like a stormy sea.

It seemed to her, as she went slowly back to her room, and sat down
amidst the disorder of open portmanteaus and overturned hatboxes, which
the young man had thrown here and there in his hurried selection of the
few things necessary for him to take on his hasty journey--it seemed as
if the greatest calamity of her life had now befallen her. As
hopelessly as she had thought of her father's death, she now thought of
Edward Arundel's departure. She could not see beyond the acute anguish
of this separation. She could not realise to herself that there was no
cause for all this terrible sorrow; that the parting was only a
temporary one; and that her husband would return to her in a few days
at the furthest. Now that she was alone, now that the necessity for
heroism was past, she abandoned herself utterly to the despair that had
held possession of her soul from the moment in which Captain Arundel
had told her of his father's illness.

The sun went down behind the purple hills that sheltered the western
side of the little village. The tree-tops in the orchard below the open
window of Mrs. Arundel's bedroom grew dim in the grey twilight. Little
by little the sound of voices in the rooms below died away into
stillness. The fresh rosy-cheeked country girl who had waited upon the
young husband and wife, came into the sitting-room with a pair of
wax-candles in old-fashioned silver candlesticks, and lingered in the
room for a little time, expecting to receive some order from the lonely
watcher. But Mary had locked the door of her bedchamber, and sat with
her head upon the sill of the open window, looking out into the dim
orchard. It was only when the stars glimmered in the tranquil sky that
the girl's blank despair gave way before a sudden burst of tears, and
she flung herself down beside the white-curtained bed to pray for her
young husband. She prayed for him in an ecstatic fervour of love and
faith, carried away by the new hopefulness that arose out of her ardent
supplications, and picturing him going triumphant on his course, to
find his father out of danger,--restored to health, perhaps,--and to
return to her before the stars glimmered through the darkness of
another summer's night. She prayed for him, hoping and believing
everything; though at the hour in which she knelt, with the faint
starlight shimmering upon her upturned face and clasped hands, Edward
Arundel was lying, maimed and senseless, in the wretched waiting-room
of a little railway-station in Dorsetshire, watched over by an obscure
country surgeon, while the frightened officials scudded here and there
in search of some vehicle in which the young man might be conveyed to
the nearest town.

There had been one of those accidents which seem terribly common on
every line of railway, however well managed. A signalman had mistaken
one train for another; a flag had been dropped too soon; and the
down-express had run into a heavy luggage-train blundering up from
Exeter with farm-produce for the London markets. Two men had been
killed, and a great many passengers hurt; some very seriously. Edward
Arundel's case was perhaps one of the most serious amongst these.



CHAPTER V.

SOUNDING THE DEPTHS.


Lavinia Weston spent the evening after her visit to Marchmont Towers at
her writing-desk, which, like everything else appertaining to her, was
a model of neatness and propriety; perfect in its way, although it was
no marvellous specimen of walnut-wood and burnished gold, no elegant
structure of papier-mâché and mother-of-pearl, but simply a
schoolgirl's homely rosewood desk, bought for fifteen shillings or a
guinea.

Mrs. Weston had administered the evening refreshment of weak tea, stale
bread, and strong butter to her meek husband, and had dismissed him to
the surgery, a sunken and rather cellar-like apartment opening out of
the prim second-best parlour, and approached from the village street by
a side-door. The surgeon was very well content to employ himself with
the preparation of such draughts and boluses as were required by the
ailing inhabitants of Kemberling, while his wife sat at her desk in the
room above him. He left his gallipots and pestle and mortar once or
twice in the course of the evening, to clamber ponderously up the three
or four stairs leading to the sitting-room, and stare through the
keyhole of the door at Mrs. Weston's thoughtful face, and busy hand
gliding softly over the smooth note-paper. He did this in no prying or
suspicious spirit, but out of sheer admiration for his wife.

"What a mind she has!" he murmured rapturously, as he went back to his
work; "what a mind!"

The letter which Lavinia Weston wrote that evening was a very long one.
She was one of those women who write long letters upon every convenient
occasion. To-night she covered two sheets of note-paper with her small
neat handwriting. Those two sheets contained a detailed account of the
interview that had taken place that day between the surgeon's wife and
Olivia; and the letter was addressed to the artist, Paul Marchmont.

Perhaps it was in consequence of the receipt of this letter that Paul
Marchmont arrived at his sister's house at Kemberling two days after
Mrs. Weston's visit to Marchmont Towers. He told the surgeon that he
came to Lincolnshire for a few days' change of air, after a long spell
of very hard work; and George Weston, who looked upon his
brother-in-law as an intellectual demigod, was very well content to
accept any explanation of Mr. Marchmont's visit.

"Kemberling isn't a very lively place for you, Mr. Paul," he said
apologetically,--he always called his wife's brother Mr. Paul,--"but I
dare say Lavinia will contrive to make you comfortable. She persuaded
me to come here when old Dawnfield died; but I can't say she acted with
her usual tact, for the business ain't as good as my Stanfield
practice; but I don't tell Lavinia so."

Paul Marchmont smiled.

"The business will pick up by-and-by, I daresay," he said. "You'll have
the Marchmont Towers family to attend to in good time, I suppose."

"That's what Lavinia said," answered the surgeon. "'Mrs. John Marchmont
can't refuse to employ a relation,' she says; 'and, as first-cousin to
Mary Marchmont's father, I ought'--meaning herself, you know--'to have
some influence in that quarter.' But then, you see, the very week we
come here the gal goes and runs away; which rather, as one may say,
puts a spoke in our wheel, you know."

Mr. George Weston rubbed his chin reflectively as he concluded thus. He
was a man given to spending his leisure-hours--when he had any leisure,
which was not very often--in tavern parlours, where the affairs of the
nation were settled and unsettled every evening over sixpenny glasses
of hollands and water; and he regretted his removal from Stanfield,
which had been as the uprooting of all his dearest associations. He was
a solemn man, who never hazarded an opinion lightly,--perhaps because
he never had an opinion to hazard,--and his stolidity won him a good
deal of respect from strangers; but in the hands of his wife he was
meeker than the doves that cooed in the pigeon-house behind his
dwelling, and more plastic than the knob of white wax upon which
industrious Mrs. Weston was wont to rub her thread when engaged in the
mysteries of that elaborate and terrible science which women
paradoxically call _plain_ needlework.

Paul Marchmont presented himself at the Towers upon the day after his
arrival at Kemberling. His interview with the widow was a very long
one. He had studied every line of his sister's letter; he had weighed
every word that had fallen from Olivia's lips and had been recorded by
Lavinia Weston; and taking the knowledge thus obtained as his
starting-point, he took his dissecting-knife and went to work at an
intellectual autopsy. He anatomised the wretched woman's soul. He made
her tell her secret, and bare her tortured breast before him; now
wringing some hasty word from her impatience, now entrapping her into
some admission,--if only so much as a defiant look, a sudden lowering
of the dark brows, an involuntary compression of the lips. He _made_
her reveal herself to him. Poor Rosencranz and Guildenstern were sorry
blunderers in that art which is vulgarly called pumping, and were
easily put out by a few quips and quaint retorts from the mad Danish
prince; but Paul Marchmont _would_ have played upon Hamlet more deftly
than ever mortal musician played upon pipe or recorder, and would have
fathomed the remotest depths of that sorrowful and erratic soul. Olivia
writhed under the torture of that polite inquisition, for she knew that
her secrets were being extorted from her; that her pitiful folly--that
folly which she would have denied even to herself, if possible--was
being laid bare in all its weak foolishness. She knew this; but she was
compelled to smile in the face of her bland inquisitor, to respond to
his commonplace expressions of concern about the protracted absence of
the missing girl, and meekly to receive his suggestions respecting the
course it was her duty to take. He had the air of responding to _her_
suggestions, rather than of himself dictating any particular line of
conduct. He affected to believe that he was only agreeing with some
understood ideas of hers, while he urged his own views upon her.

"Then we are quite of one mind in this, my dear Mrs. Marchmont," he
said at last; "this unfortunate girl must not be suffered to remain
away from her legitimate home any longer than we can help. It is our
duty to find and bring her back. I need scarcely say that you, being
bound to her by every tie of affection, and having, beyond this, the
strongest claim upon her gratitude for your devoted fulfilment of the
trust confided in you,--one hears of these things, Mrs. Marchmont, in a
country village like Kemberling,--I need scarcely say that you are the
most fitting person to win the poor child back to a sense of her
duty--if she _can_ be won to such a sense." Paul Marchmont added, after
a sudden pause and a thoughtful sigh, "I sometimes fear----"

He stopped abruptly, waiting until Olivia should question him.

"You sometimes fear----?"

"That--that the error into which Miss Marchmont has fallen is the
result of a mental rather than of a moral deficiency."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean this, my dear Mrs. Marchmont," answered the artist, gravely;
"one of the most powerful evidences of the soundness of a man's brain
is his capability of assigning a reasonable motive for every action of
his life. No matter how unreasonable the action in itself may seem, if
the motive for that action can be demonstrated. But the moment a man
acts _without_ motive, we begin to take alarm and to watch him. He is
eccentric; his conduct is no longer amenable to ordinary rule; and we
begin to trace his eccentricities to some weakness or deficiency in his
judgment or intellect. Now, I ask you what motive Mary Marchmont can
have had for running away from this house?"

Olivia quailed under the piercing scrutiny of the artist's cold grey
eyes, but she did not attempt to reply to his question.

"The answer is very simple," he continued, after that long scrutiny;
"the girl could have had no cause for flight; while, on the other hand,
every reasonable motive that can be supposed to actuate a woman's
conduct was arrayed against her. She had a happy home, a kind
stepmother. She was within a few years of becoming undisputed mistress
of a very large estate. And yet, immediately after having assisted at a
festive entertainment, to all appearance as gay and happy as the gayest
and happiest there, this girl runs away in the dead of the night,
abandoning the mansion which is her own property, and assigning no
reason whatever for what she does. Can you wonder, then, if I feel
confirmed in an opinion that I formed upon the day on which I heard the
reading of my cousin's will?"

"What opinion?"

"That Mary Marchmont is as feeble in mind as she is fragile in body."

He launched this sentence boldly, and waited for Olivia's reply. He had
discovered the widow's secret. He had fathomed the cause of her jealous
hatred of Mary Marchmont; but even _he_ did not yet understand the
nature of the conflict in the desperate woman's breast. She could not
be wicked all at once. Against every fresh sin she made a fresh
struggle, and she would not accept the lie which the artist tried to
force upon her.

"I do not think that there is any deficiency in my stepdaughter's
intellect," she said, resolutely.

She was beginning to understand that Paul Marchmont wanted to ally
himself with her against the orphan heiress, but as yet she did not
understand why he should do so. She was slow to comprehend feelings
that were utterly foreign to her own nature. There was so little of
mercenary baseness in this strange woman's soul, that had the flame of
a candle alone stood between her and the possession of Marchmont
Towers, I doubt if she would have cared to waste a breath upon its
extinction. She had lived away from the world, and out of the world;
and it was difficult for her to comprehend the mean and paltry
wickedness which arise out of the worship of Baal.

Paul Marchmont recoiled a little before the straight answer which the
widow had given him.

"You think Miss Marchmont strong-minded, then, perhaps?" he said.

"No; not strong minded."

"My dear Mrs. Marchmont, you deal in paradoxes," exclaimed the artist.
"You say that your stepdaughter is neither weak-minded nor
strong-minded?"

"Weak enough, perhaps, to be easily influenced by other people; weak
enough to believe anything my cousin Edward Arundel might choose to
tell her; but not what is generally called deficient in intellect."

"You think her perfectly able to take care of herself?"

"Yes; I think so."

"And yet this running away looks almost as if----. But I have no wish
to force any unpleasant belief upon you, my dear madam. I think--as you
yourself appear to suggest--that the best thing we can do is to get
this poor girl home again as quickly as possible. It will never do for
the mistress of Marchmont Towers to be wandering about the world with
Mr. Edward Arundel. Pray pardon me, Mrs. Marchmont, if I speak rather
disrespectfully of your cousin; but I really cannot think that the
gentleman has acted very honourably in this business."

Olivia was silent. She remembered the passionate indignation of the
young soldier, the angry defiance hurled at her, as Edward Arundel
galloped away from the gaunt western façade. She remembered these
things, and involuntarily contrasted them with the smooth blandness of
Paul Marchmont's talk, and the deadly purpose lurking beneath it--of
which deadly purpose some faint suspicion was beginning to dawn upon
her.

If she could have thought Mary Marchmont mad,--if she could have
thought Edward Arundel base, she would have been glad; for then there
would have been some excuse for her own wickedness. But she could not
think so. She slipped little by little down into the black gulf; now
dragged by her own mad passion; now lured yet further downward by Paul
Marchmont.

Between this man and eleven thousand a year the life of a fragile girl
was the solitary obstacle. For three years it had been so, and for
three years Paul Marchmont had waited--patiently, as it was his habit
to wait--the hour and the opportunity for action. The hour and
opportunity had come, and this woman, Olivia Marchmont, only stood in
his way. She must become either his enemy or his tool, to be baffled or
to be made useful. He had now sounded the depths of her nature, and he
determined to make her his tool.

"It shall be my business to discover this poor child's hiding-place,"
he said; "when that is found I will communicate with you, and I know
you will not refuse to fulfil the trust confided to you by your late
husband. You will bring your stepdaughter back to this house, and
henceforward protect her from the dangerous influence of Edward
Arundel."

Olivia looked at the speaker with an expression which seemed like
terror. It was as if she said,--

"Are you the devil, that you hold out this temptation to me, and twist
my own passions to serve your purpose?"

And then she paltered with her conscience.

"Do you consider that it is my duty to do this?" she asked.

"My dear Mrs. Marchmont, most decidedly."

"I will do it, then. I--I--wish to do my duty."

"And you can perform no greater act of charity than by bringing this
unhappy girl back to a sense of _her_ duty. Remember, that her
reputation, her future happiness, may fall a sacrifice to this foolish
conduct, which, I regret to say, is very generally known in the
neighbourhood. Forgive me if I express my opinion too freely; but I
cannot help thinking, that if Mr. Arundel's intentions had been
strictly honourable, he would have written to you before this, to tell
you that his search for the missing girl had failed; or, in the event
of his finding her, he would have taken the earliest opportunity of
bringing her back to her own home. My poor cousin's somewhat
unprotected position, her wealth, and her inexperience of the world,
place her at the mercy of a fortune-hunter; and Mr. Arundel has himself
to thank if his conduct gives rise to the belief that he wishes to
compromise this girl in the eyes of the scandalous, and thus make sure
of your consent to a marriage which would give him command of my
cousin's fortune."

Olivia Marchmont's bosom heaved with the stormy beating of her heart.
Was she to sit calmly by and hold her peace while this man slandered
the brave young soldier, the bold, reckless, generous-hearted lad, who
had shone upon her out of the darkness of her life, as the very
incarnation of all that is noble and admirable in mankind? Was she to
sit quietly by and hear a stranger lie away her kinsman's honour,
truth, and manhood?

Yes, she must do so. This man had offered her a price for her truth and
her soul. He was ready to help her to the revenge she longed for. He
was ready to give her his aid in separating the innocent young lovers,
whose pure affection had poisoned her life, whose happiness was worse
than the worst death to her. She kept silent, therefore, and waited for
Paul to speak again.

"I will go up to Town to-morrow, and set to work about this business,"
the artist said, as he rose to take leave of Mrs. Marchmont. "I do not
believe that I shall have much difficulty in finding the young lady's
hiding-place. My first task shall be to look for Mr. Arundel. You can
perhaps give me the address of some place in London where your cousin
is in the habit of staying?"

"I can."

"Thank you; that will very much simplify matters. I shall write you
immediate word of any discovery I make, and will then leave all the
rest to you. My influence over Mary Marchmont as an entire stranger
could be nothing. Yours, on the contrary, must be unbounded. It will be
for you to act upon my letter."

 * * * * *

Olivia Marchmont waited for two days and nights for the promised
letter. Upon the third morning it came. The artist's epistle was very
brief:

"MY DEAR MRS. MARCHMONT,--I have made the necessary discovery. Miss
Marchmont is to be found at the White Hart Inn, Milldale, near
Winchester. May I venture to urge your proceeding there in search of
her without delay?

"Yours very faithfully,

"PAUL MARCHMONT.

"_Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square,_
"_Aug._ 15_th_."



CHAPTER VI.

RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.


The rain dripped ceaselessly upon the dreary earth under a grey
November sky,--a dull and lowering sky, that seemed to brood over this
lower world with some menace of coming down to blot out and destroy it.
The express-train, rushing headlong across the wet flats of
Lincolnshire, glared like a meteor in the gray fog; the dismal shriek
of the engine was like the cry of a bird of prey. The few passengers
who had chosen that dreary winter's day for their travels looked
despondently out at the monotonous prospect, seeking in vain to descry
some spot of hope in the joyless prospect; or made futile attempts to
read their newspapers by the dim light of the lamp in the roof of the
carriage. Sulky passengers shuddered savagely as they wrapped
themselves in huge woollen rugs or ponderous coverings made from the
skins of wild beasts. Melancholy passengers drew grotesque and hideous
travelling-caps over their brows, and, coiling themselves in the corner
of their seats, essayed to sleep away the weary hours. Everything upon
this earth seemed dismal and damp, cold and desolate, incongruous and
uncomfortable.

But there was one first-class passenger in that Lincolnshire express
who made himself especially obnoxious to his fellows by the display of
an amount of restlessness and superabundant energy quite out of keeping
with the lazy despondency of those about him.

This was a young man with a long tawny beard and a white face,--a very
handsome face, though wan and attenuated, as if with some terrible
sickness, and somewhat disfigured by certain strappings of plaister,
which were bound about a patch of his skull a little above the left
temple. This young man had one side of the carriage to himself; and a
sort of bed had been made up for him with extra cushions, upon which he
lay at full length, when he was still, which was never for very long
together. He was enveloped almost to the chin in voluminous
railway-rugs, but, in spite of these coverings, shuddered every now and
then, as if with cold. He had a pocket-pistol amongst his travelling
paraphernalia, which he applied occasionally to his dry lips. Sometimes
drops of perspiration broke suddenly out upon his forehead, and were
brushed away by a tremulous hand, that was scarcely strong enough to
hold a cambric handkerchief. In short, it was sufficiently obvious to
every one that this young man with the tawny beard had only lately
risen from a sick-bed, and had risen therefrom considerably before the
time at which any prudent medical practitioner would have given him
licence to do so.

It was evident that he was very, very ill, but that he was, if
anything, more ill at ease in mind than in body; and that some terrible
gnawing anxiety, some restless care, some horrible uncertainty or
perpetual foreboding of trouble, would not allow him to be at peace. It
was as much as the three fellow-passengers who sat opposite to him
could do to bear with his impatience, his restlessness, his short
half-stifled moans, his long weary sighs; the horror of his fidgety
feet shuffled incessantly upon the cushions; the suddenly convulsive
jerks with which he would lift himself upon his elbow to stare fiercely
into the dismal fog outside the carriage window; the groans that were
wrung from him as he flung himself into new and painful positions; the
frightful aspect of physical agony which came over his face as he
looked at his watch,--and he drew out and consulted that ill-used
chronometer, upon an average, once in a quarter of an hour; his
impatient crumpling of the crisp leaves of a new "Bradshaw," which he
turned over ever and anon, as if, by perpetual reference to that
mysterious time-table, he might hasten the advent of the hour at which
he was to reach his destination. He was, altogether, a most aggravating
and exasperating travelling companion; and it was only out of Christian
forbearance with the weakness of his physical state that his irritated
fellow-passengers refrained from uniting themselves against him, and
casting him bodily out of the window of the carriage; as a clown
sometimes flings a venerable but tiresome pantaloon through a square
trap or pitfall, lurking, undreamed of, in the façade of an honest
tradesman's dwelling.

The three passengers had, in divers manners, expressed their sympathy
with the invalid traveller; but their courtesies had not been responded
to with any evidence of gratitude or heartiness. The young man had
answered his companions in an absent fashion, scarcely deigning to look
at them as he spoke;--speaking altogether with the air of some
sleep-walker, who roams hither and thither absorbed in a dreadful
dream, making a world for himself, and peopling it with horrible images
unknown to those about him.

Had he been ill?--Yes, very ill. He had had a railway accident, and
then brain-fever. He had been ill for a long time.

Somebody asked him how long.

He shuffled about upon the cushions, and groaned aloud at this
question, to the alarm of the man who had asked it.

"How long?" he cried, in a fierce agony of mental or bodily
uneasiness;--"how long? Two months,--three months,--ever since the 15th
of August."

Then another passenger, looking at the young man's very evident
sufferings from a commercial point of view, asked him whether he had
had any compensation.

"Compensation!" cried the invalid. "What compensation?"

"Compensation from the Railway Company. I hope you've a strong case
against them, for you've evidently been a terrible sufferer."

It was dreadful to see the way in which the sick man writhed under this
question.

"Compensation!" he cried. "What compensation can they give me for an
accident that shut me in a living grave for three months, that
separated me from----? You don't know what you're talking about, sir,"
he added suddenly; "I can't think of this business patiently; I can't
be reasonable. If they'd hacked _me_ to pieces, I shouldn't have cared.
I've been under a red-hot Indian sun, when we fellows couldn't see the
sky above us for the smoke of the cannons and the flashing of the
sabres about our heads, and I'm not afraid of a little cutting and
smashing more or less; but when I think what others may have suffered
through----I'm almost mad, and----!"

He couldn't say any more, for the intensity of his passion had shaken
him as a leaf is shaken by a whirlwind; and he fell back upon the
cushions, trembling in every limb, and groaning aloud. His
fellow-passengers looked at each other rather nervously, and two out of
the three entertained serious thoughts of changing carriages when the
express stopped midway between London and Lincoln.

But they were reassured by-and-by; for the invalid, who was Captain
Edward Arundel, or that pale shadow of the dashing young cavalry
officer which had risen from a sick-bed, relapsed into silence, and
displayed no more alarming symptoms than that perpetual restlessness
and disquietude which is cruelly wearying even to the strongest nerves.
He only spoke once more, and that was when the short day, in which
there had been no actual daylight, was closing in, and the journey
nearly finished, when he startled his companions by crying out
suddenly,--

"O my God! will this journey never come to an end? Shall I never be put
out of this horrible suspense?"

The journey, or at any rate Captain Arundel's share of it, came to an
end almost immediately afterwards, for the train stopped at
Swampington; and while the invalid was staggering feebly to his feet,
eager to scramble out of the carriage, his servant came to the door to
assist and support him.

"You seem to have borne the journey wonderful, sir," the man said
respectfully, as he tried to rearrange his master's wrappings, and to
do as much as circumstances, and the young man's restless impatience,
would allow of being done for his comfort.

"I have suffered the tortures of the infernal regions, Morrison,"
Captain Arundel ejaculated, in answer to his attendant's congratulatory
address. "Get me a fly directly; I must go to the Towers at once."

"Not to-night, sir, surely?" the servant remonstrated, in a tone of
alarm. "Your Mar and the doctors said you _must_ rest at Swampington
for a night."

"I'll rest nowhere till I've been to Marchmont Towers," answered the
young soldier passionately. "If I must walk there,--if I'm to drop down
dead on the road,--I'll go. If the cornfields between this and the
Towers were a blazing prairie or a raging sea, I'd go. Get me a fly,
man; and don't talk to me of my mother or the doctors. I'm going to
look for my wife. Get me a fly."

This demand for a commonplace hackney vehicle sounded rather like an
anti-climax, after the young man's talk of blazing prairies and raging
seas; but passionate reality has no ridiculous side, and Edward
Arundel's most foolish words were sublime by reason of their
earnestness.

"Get me a fly, Morrison," he said, grinding his heel upon the platform
in the intensity of his impatience. "Or, stay; we should gain more in
the end if you were to go to the George--it's not ten minutes' walk
from here; one of the porters will take you--the people there know me,
and they'll let you have some vehicle, with a pair of horses and a
clever driver. Tell them it's for an errand of life and death, and that
Captain Arundel will pay them three times their usual price, or six
times, if they wish. Tell them anything, so long as you get what we
want."

The valet, an old servant of Edward Arundel's father, was carried away
by the young man's mad impetuosity. The vitality of this broken-down
invalid, whose physical weakness contrasted strangely with his mental
energy, bore down upon the grave man-servant like an avalanche, and
carried him whither it would. He was fain to abandon all hope of being
true to the promises which he had given to Mrs. Arundel and the medical
men, and to yield himself to the will of the fiery young soldier.

He left Edward Arundel sitting upon a chair in the solitary
waiting-room, and hurried after the porter who had volunteered to show
him the way to the George Inn, the most prosperous hotel in
Swampington.

The valet had good reason to be astonished by his young master's energy
and determination; for Mary Marchmont's husband was as one rescued from
the very jaws of death. For eleven weeks after that terrible concussion
upon the South-Western Railway, Edward Arundel had lain in a state of
coma,--helpless, mindless; all the story of his life blotted away, and
his brain transformed into as blank a page as if he had been an infant
lying on his mother's knees. A fractured skull had been the young
Captain's chief share in those injuries which were dealt out pretty
freely to the travellers in the Exeter mail on the 15th of August; and
the young man had been conveyed to Dangerfield Park, whilst his
father's corpse lay in stately solemnity in one of the chief rooms,
almost as much a corpse as that dead father.

Mrs. Arundel's troubles had come, as the troubles of rich and
prosperous people often do come, in a sudden avalanche, that threatened
to overwhelm the tender-hearted matron. She had been summoned from
Germany to attend her husband's deathbed; and she was called away from
her faithful watch beside that deathbed, to hear tidings of the
accident that had befallen her younger son.

Neither the Dorsetshire doctor who attended the stricken traveller upon
his homeward journey, and brought the strong man, helpless as a child,
to claim the same tender devotion that had watched over his infancy,
nor the Devonshire doctors who were summoned to Dangerfield, gave any
hope of their patient's recovery. The sufferer might linger for years,
they said; but his existence would be only a living death, a horrible
blank, which it was a cruelty to wish prolonged. But when a great
London surgeon appeared upon the scene, a new light, a wonderful gleam
of hope, shone in upon the blackness of the mother's despair.

This great London surgeon, who was a very unassuming and matter-of-fact
little man, and who seemed in a great hurry to earn his fee and run
back to Saville Row by the next express, made a brief examination of
the patient, asked a very few sharp and trenchant questions of the
reverential provincial medical practitioners, and then declared that
the chief cause of Edward Arundel's state lay in the fact that a
portion of the skull was depressed,--a splinter pressed upon the brain.

The provincial practitioners opened their eyes very wide; and one of
them ventured to mutter something to the effect that he had thought as
much for a long time. The London surgeon further stated, that until the
pressure was removed from the patient's brain, Captain Edward Arundel
would remain in precisely the same state as that into which he had
fallen immediately upon the accident. The splinter could only be
removed by a very critical operation, and this operation must be
deferred until the patient's bodily strength was in some measure
restored.

The surgeon gave brief but decisive directions to the provincial
medical men as to the treatment of their patient during this
interregnum, and then departed, after promising to return as soon as
Captain Arundel was in a fit state for the operation. This period did
not arrive till the first week in November, when the Devonshire doctors
ventured to declare their patient's shattered frame in a great measure
renovated by their devoted attention, and the tender care of the best
of mothers.

The great surgeon came. The critical operation was performed, with such
eminent success as to merit a very long description, which afterwards
appeared in the _Lancet_; and slowly, like the gradual lifting of a
curtain, the black shadows passed away from Edward Arundel's mind, and
the memory of the past returned to him.

It was then that he raved madly about his young wife, perpetually
demanding that she might be summoned to him; continually declaring that
some great misfortune would befall her if she were not brought to his
side, that, even in his feebleness, he might defend and protect her.
His mother mistook his vehemence for the raving of delirium. The
doctors fell into the same error, and treated him for brain-fever. It
was only when the young soldier demonstrated to them that he could, by
making an effort over himself, be as reasonable as they were, that he
convinced them of their mistake. Then he begged to be left alone with
his mother; and, with his feverish hands clasped in hers, asked her the
meaning of her black dress, and the reason why his young wife had not
come to him. He learned that his mother's mourning garments were worn
in memory of his dead father. He learned also, after much bewilderment
and passionate questioning, that no tidings of Mary Marchmont had ever
come to Dangerfield.

It was then that the young man told his mother the story of his
marriage: how that marriage had been contracted in haste, but with no
real desire for secrecy; how he had, out of mere idleness, put off
writing to his friends until that last fatal night; and how, at the
very moment when the pen was in his hand and the paper spread out
before him, the different claims of a double duty had torn him asunder,
and he had been summoned from the companionship of his bride to the
deathbed of his father.

Mrs. Arundel tried in vain to set her son's mind at rest upon the
subject of his wife's silence.

"No, mother!" he cried; "it is useless talking to me. You don't know my
poor darling. She has the courage of a heroine, as well as the
simplicity of a child. There has been some foul play at the bottom of
this; it is treachery that has kept my wife from me. She would have
come here on foot, had she been free to come. I know whose hand is in
this business. Olivia Marchmont has kept my poor girl a prisoner;
Olivia Marchmont has set herself between me and my darling!"

"But you don't know this, Edward. I'll write to Mr. Paulette; he will
be able to tell us what has happened."

The young man writhed in a sudden paroxysm of mental agony.

"Write to Mr. Paulette!" he exclaimed. "No, mother; there shall be no
delay, no waiting for return-posts. That sort of torture would kill me
in a few hours. No, mother; I will go to my wife by the first train
that will take me on my way to Lincolnshire."

"You will go! You, Edward! in your state!"

There was a terrible outburst of remonstrance and entreaty on the part
of the poor mother. Mrs. Arundel went down upon her knees before her
son, imploring him not to leave Dangerfield till his strength was
recovered; imploring him to let her telegraph a summons to Richard
Paulette; to let her go herself to Marchmont Towers in search of Mary;
to do anything rather than carry out the one mad purpose that he was
bent on,--the purpose of going himself to look for his wife.

The mother's tears and prayers were vain; no adamant was ever firmer
than the young soldier.

"She is my wife, mother," he said; "I have sworn to protect and cherish
her; and I have reason to think she has fallen into merciless hands. If
I die upon the road, I must go to her. It is not a case in which I can
do my duty by proxy. Every moment I delay is a wrong to that poor
helpless girl. Be reasonable, dear mother, I implore you; I should
suffer fifty times more by the torture of suspense if I stayed here,
than I can possibly suffer in a railroad journey from here to
Lincolnshire."

The soldier's strong will triumphed over every opposition. The
provincial doctors held up their hands, and protested against the
madness of their patient; but without avail. All that either Mrs.
Arundel or the doctors could do, was to make such preparations and
arrangements as would render the weary journey easier; and it was under
the mother's superintendence that the air-cushions, the brandy-flasks,
the hartshorn, sal-volatile, and railway-rugs, had been provided for
the Captain's comfort.

It was thus that, after a blank interval of three months, Edward
Arundel, like some creature newly risen from the grave, returned to
Swampington, upon his way to Marchmont Towers.

The delay seemed endless to this restless passenger, sitting in the
empty waiting-room of the quiet Lincolnshire station, though the ostler
and stable-boys at the "George" were bestirring themselves with
good-will, urged on by Mr. Morrison's promises of liberal reward for
their trouble, and though the man who was to drive the carriage lost no
time in arraying himself for the journey. Captain Arundel looked at his
watch three times while he sat in that dreary Swampington waiting-room.
There was a clock over the mantelpiece, but he would not trust to that.

"Eight o'clock!" he muttered. "It will be ten before I get to the
Towers, if the carriage doesn't come directly."

He got up, and walked from the waiting-room to the platform, and from
the platform to the door of the station. He was so weak as to be
obliged to support himself with his stick; and even with that help he
tottered and reeled sometimes like a drunken man. But, in his eager
impatience, he was almost unconscious of his own weakness.

"Will it never come?" he muttered. "Will it never come?"

At last, after an intolerable delay, as it seemed to the young man, the
carriage-and-pair from the George Inn rattled up to the door of the
station, with Mr. Morrison upon the box, and a postillion loosely
balanced upon one of the long-legged, long-backed, bony grey horses.
Edward Arundel got into the vehicle before his valet could alight to
assist him.

"Marchmont Towers!" he cried to the postillion; "and a five-pound note
if you get there in less than an hour."

He flung some money to the officials who had gathered about the door to
witness his departure, and who had eagerly pressed forward to render
him that assistance which, even in his weakness, he disdained.

These men looked gravely at each other as the carriage dashed off into
the fog, blundering and reeling as it went along the narrow half-made
road, that led from the desert patch of waste ground upon which the
station was built into the high-street of Swampington.

"Marchmont Towers!" said one of the men, in a tone that seemed to imply
that there was something ominous even in the name of the Lincolnshire
mansion. "What does _he_ want at Marchmont Towers, I wonder?"

"Why, don't you know who he is, mate?" responded the other man,
contemptuously.

"No."

"He's Parson Arundel's nevy,--the young officer that some folks said
ran away with the poor young miss oop at the Towers."

"My word! is he now? Why, I shouldn't ha' known him."

"No; he's a'most like the ghost of what he was, poor young chap. I've
heerd as he was in that accident as happened last August on the
Sou'-Western."

The railway official shrugged his shoulders.

"It's all a queer story," he said. "I can't make out naught about it;
but I know _I_ shouldn't care to go up to the Towers after dark."

Marchmont Towers had evidently fallen into rather evil repute amongst
these simple Lincolnshire people.

 * * * * *

The carriage in which Edward Arundel rode was a superannuated old
chariot, whose uneasy springs rattled and shook the sick man to pieces.
He groaned aloud every now and then from sheer physical agony; and yet
I almost doubt if he knew that he suffered, so superior in its
intensity was the pain of his mind to every bodily torture. Whatever
consciousness he had of his racked and aching limbs was as nothing in
comparison to the racking anguish of suspense, the intolerable agony of
anxiety, which seemed multiplied by every moment. He sat with his face
turned towards the open window of the carriage, looking out steadily
into the night. There was nothing before him but a blank darkness and
thick fog, and a flat country blotted out by the falling rain; but he
strained his eyes until the pupils dilated painfully, in his desire to
recognise some landmark in the hidden prospect.

"_When_ shall I get there?" he cried aloud, in a paroxysm of rage and
grief. "My own one, my pretty one, my wife, when shall I get to you?"

He clenched his thin hands until the nails cut into his flesh. He
stamped upon the floor of the carriage. He cursed the rusty, creaking
springs, the slow-footed horses, the pools of water through which the
wretched animals floundered pastern-deep. He cursed the darkness of the
night, the stupidity of the postillion, the length of the
way,--everything, and anything, that kept him back from the end which
he wanted to reach.

At last the end came. The carriage drew up before the tall iron gates,
behind which stretched, dreary and desolate as some patch of
common-land, that melancholy waste which was called a park.

A light burned dimly in the lower window of the lodge,--a little spot
that twinkled faintly red and luminous through the darkness and the
rain; but the iron gates were as closely shut as if Marchmont Towers
had been a prison-house. Edward Arundel was in no humour to linger long
for the opening of those gates. He sprang from the carriage, reckless
of the weakness of his cramped limbs, before the valet could descend
from the rickety box-seat, or the postillion could get off his horse,
and shook the wet and rusty iron bars with his own wasted hands. The
gates rattled, but resisted the concussion; they had evidently been
locked for the night. The young man seized an iron ring, dangling at
the end of a chain, which hung beside one of the stone pillars, and
rang a peal that resounded like an alarm-signal through the darkness. A
fierce watchdog far away in the distance howled dismally at the
summons, and the dissonant shriek of a peacock sounded across the flat.

The door of the lodge was opened about five minutes after the bell had
rung, and an old man peered out into the night, holding a candle shaded
by his feeble hand, and looking suspiciously towards the gate.

"Who is it?" he said.

"It is I, Captain Arundel. Open the gate, please."

The man, who was very old, and whose intellect seemed to have grown as
dim and foggy as the night itself, reflected for a few moments, and
then mumbled,--

"Cap'en Arundel! Ay, to be sure, to be sure. Parson Arundel's nevy; ay,
ay."

He went back into the lodge, to the disgust and aggravation of the
young soldier, who rattled fiercely at the gate once more in his
impatience. But the old man emerged presently, as tranquil as if the
blank November night had been some sunshiny noontide in July, carrying
a lantern and a bunch of keys, one of which he proceeded in a leisurely
manner to apply to the great lock of the gate.

"Let me in!" cried Edward Arundel. "Man alive! do you think I came down
here to stand all night staring through these iron bars? Is Marchmont
Towers a prison, that you shut your gates as if they were never to be
opened until the Day of Judgment?"

The old man responded with a feeble, chirpy laugh, an audible grin,
senile and conciliatory.

"We've no need to keep t' geates open arter dark," he said; "folk
doan't coome to the Toowers arter dark."

He had succeeded by this time in turning the key in the lock; one of
the gates rolled slowly back upon its rusty hinges, creaking and
groaning as if in hoarse protest against all visitors to the Towers;
and Edward Arundel entered the dreary domain which John Marchmont had
inherited from his kinsman.

The postillion turned his horses from the highroad without the gates
into the broad drive leading up to the mansion. Far away, across the
wet flats, the broad western front of that gaunt stone dwelling-place
frowned upon the travellers, its black grimness only relieved by two or
three dim red patches, that told of lighted windows and human
habitation. It was rather difficult to associate friendly flesh and
blood with Marchmont Towers on this dark November night. The nervous
traveller would have rather expected to find diabolical denizens
lurking within those black and stony walls; hideous enchantments
beneath that rain-bespattered roof; weird and incarnate horrors
brooding by deserted hearths, and fearful shrieks of souls in perpetual
pain breaking upon the stillness of the night.

Edward Arundel had no thought of these things. He knew that the place
was darksome and gloomy, and that, in very spite of himself, he had
always been unpleasantly impressed by it; but he knew nothing more. He
only wanted to reach the house without delay, and to ask for the young
wife whom he had parted with upon a balmy August evening three months
before. He wanted this passionately, almost madly; and every moment
made his impatience wilder, his anxiety more intense. It seemed as if
all the journey from Dangerfield Park to Lincolnshire was as nothing
compared to the space that still lay between him and Marchmont Towers.

"We've done it in double-quick time, sir," the postillion said,
complacently pointing to the steaming sides of his horses. "Master'll
gie it to me for driving the beasts like this."

Edward Arundel looked at the panting animals. They had brought him
quickly, then, though the way had seemed so long.

"You shall have a five-pound note, my lad," he said, "if you get me up
to yonder house in five minutes."

He had his hand upon the door of the carriage, and was leaning against
it for support, while he tried to recover enough strength with which to
clamber into the vehicle, when his eye was caught by some white object
flapping in the rain against the stone pillar of the gate, and made
dimly visible in a flickering patch of light from the lodge-keeper's
lantern.

"What's that?" he cried, pointing to this white spot upon the
moss-grown stone.

The old man slowly raised his eyes to the spot towards which the
soldier's finger pointed.

"That?" he mumbled. "Ay, to be sure, to be sure. Poor young lady!
That's the printed bill as they stook oop. It's the printed bill, to be
sure, to be sure. I'd a'most forgot it. It ain't been much good,
anyhow; and I'd a'most forgot it."

"The printed bill! the young lady!" gasped Edward Arundel, in a hoarse,
choking voice.

He snatched the lantern from the lodge-keeper's hand with a force that
sent the old man reeling and tottering several paces backward; and,
rushing to the stone pillar, held the light up above his head, on a
level with the white placard which had attracted his notice. It was
damp and dilapidated at the edges; but that which was printed upon it
was as visible to the soldier as though each commonplace character had
been a fiery sign inscribed upon a blazing scroll.

This was the announcement which Edward Arundel read upon the gate-post
of Marchmont Towers:--

"ONE HUNDRED POUNDS REWARD.--Whereas Miss Mary Marchmont left her home
on Wednesday last, October 17th, and has not since been heard of, this
is to give notice that the above reward will be given to any one who
shall afford such information as will lead to her recovery if she be
alive, or to the discovery of her body if she be dead. The missing
young lady is eighteen years of age, rather below the middle height, of
fair complexion, light-brown hair, and hazel eyes. When she left her
home, she had on a grey silk dress, grey shawl, and straw bonnet. She
was last seen near the river-side upon the afternoon of Wednesday, the
17th instant.
"_Marchmont Towers, October_ 20_th_, 1848."



CHAPTER VII.

FACE TO FACE.


It is not easy to imagine a lion-hearted young cavalry officer, whose
soldiership in the Punjaub had won the praises of a Napier and an
Outram, fainting away like a heroine of romance at the coming of evil
tidings; but Edward Arundel, who had risen from a sick-bed to take a
long and fatiguing journey in utter defiance of the doctors, was not
strong enough to bear the dreadful welcome that greeted him upon the
gate-post at Marchmont Towers.

He staggered, and would have fallen, had not the extended arms of his
father's confidential servant been luckily opened to receive and
support him. But he did not lose his senses.

"Get me into the carriage, Morrison," he cried. "Get me up to that
house. They've tortured and tormented my wife while I've been lying
like a log on my bed at Dangerfield. For God's sake, get me up there as
quick as you can!"

Mr. Morrison had read the placard on the gate across his young master's
shoulder. He lifted the Captain into the carriage, shouted to the
postillion to drive on, and took his seat by the young man's side.

"Begging you pardon, Mr. Edward," he said, gently; "but the young lady
may be found by this time. That bill's been sticking there for upwards
of a month, you see, sir, and it isn't likely but what Miss Marchmont
has been found between that time and this."

The invalid passed his hand across his forehead, down which the cold
sweat rolled in great beads.

"Give me some brandy," he whispered; "pour some brandy down my throat,
Morrison, if you've any compassion upon me; I must get strength somehow
for the struggle that lies before me."

The valet took a wicker-covered flask from his pocket, and put the neck
of it to Edward Arundel's lips.

"She may be found, Morrison," muttered the young man, after drinking a
long draught of the fiery spirit; he would willingly have drunk living
fire itself, in his desire to obtain unnatural strength in this crisis.
"Yes; you're right there. She may be found. But to think that she
should have been driven away! To think that my poor, helpless, tender
girl should have been driven a second time from the home that is her
own! Yes; her own by every law and every right. Oh, the relentless
devil, the pitiless devil!--what can be the motive of her conduct? Is
it madness, or the infernal cruelty of a fiend incarnate?"

Mr. Morrison thought that his young master's brain had been disordered
by the shock he had just undergone, and that this wild talk was mere
delirium.

"Keep your heart up, Mr. Edward," he murmured, soothingly; "you may
rely upon it, the young lady has been found."

But Edward was in no mind to listen to any mild consolatory remarks
from his valet. He had thrust his head out of the carriage-window, and
his eyes were fixed upon the dimly-lighted casements of the western
drawing-room.

"The room in which John and Polly and I used to sit together when first
I came from India," he murmured. "How happy we were!--how happy we
were!"

The carriage stopped before the stone portico, and the young man got
out once more, assisted by his servant. His breath came short and quick
now that he stood upon the threshold. He pushed aside the servant who
opened the familiar door at the summons of the clanging bell, and
strode into the hall. A fire burned on the wide hearth; but the
atmosphere of the great stone-paved chamber was damp and chilly.

Captain Arundel walked straight to the door of the western
drawing-room. It was there that he had seen lights in the windows; it
was there that he expected to find Olivia Marchmont.

He was not mistaken. A shaded lamp burnt dimly on a table near the
fire. There was a low invalid-chair beside this table, an open book
upon the floor, and an Indian shawl, one he had sent to his cousin,
flung carelessly upon the pillows. The neglected fire burned low in the
old-fashioned grate, and above the dull-red blaze stood the figure of a
woman, tall, dark, and gloomy of aspect.

It was Olivia Marchmont, in the mourning-robes that she had worn, with
but one brief intermission, ever since her husband's death. Her profile
was turned towards the door by which Edward Arundel entered the room;
her eyes were bent steadily upon the low heap of burning ashes in the
grate. Even in that doubtful light the young man could see that her
features were sharpened, and that a settled frown had contracted her
straight black brows.

In her fixed attitude, in her air of deathlike tranquillity, this woman
resembled some sinful vestal sister, set, against her will, to watch a
sacred fire, and brooding moodily over her crimes.

She did not hear the opening of the door; she had not even heard the
trampling of the horses' hoofs, or the crashing of the wheels upon the
gravel before the house. There were times when her sense of external
things was, as it were, suspended and absorbed in the intensity of her
obstinate despair.

"Olivia!" said the soldier.

Mrs. Marchmont looked up at the sound of that accusing voice, for there
was something in Edward Arundel's simple enunciation of her name which
seemed like an accusation or a menace. She looked up, with a great
terror in her face, and stared aghast at her unexpected visitor. Her
white cheeks, her trembling lips, and dilated eyes could not have more
palpably expressed a great and absorbing horror, had the young man
standing quietly before her been a corpse newly risen from its grave.

"Olivia Marchmont," said Captain Arundel, after a brief pause, "I have
come here to look for my wife."

The woman pushed her trembling hands across her forehead, brushing the
dead black hair from her temples, and still staring with the same
unutterable horror at the face of her cousin. Several times she tried
to speak; but the broken syllables died away in her throat in hoarse,
inarticulate mutterings. At last, with a great effort, the words came.

"I--I--never expected to see you," she said; "I heard that you were
very ill; I heard that you----"

"You heard that I was dying," interrupted Edward Arundel; "or that, if
I lived, I should drag out the rest of my existence in hopeless idiocy.
The doctors thought as much a week ago, when one of them, cleverer than
the rest I suppose, had the courage to perform an operation that
restored me to consciousness. Sense and memory came back to me by
degrees. The thick veil that had shrouded the past was rent asunder;
and the first image that came to me was the image of my young wife, as
I had seen her upon the night of our parting. For more than three
months I had been dead. I was suddenly restored to life. I asked those
about me to give me tidings of my wife. Had she sought me out?--had she
followed me to Dangerfield? No! They could tell me nothing. They
thought that I was delirious, and tried to soothe me with compassionate
speeches, merciful falsehoods, promising me that I should see my
darling. But I soon read the secret of their scared looks. I saw pity
and wonder mingled in my mother's face, and I entreated her to be
merciful to me, and to tell me the truth. She had compassion upon me,
and told me all she knew, which was very little. She had never heard
from my wife. She had never heard of any marriage between Mary
Marchmont and me. The only communication which she had received from
any of her Lincolnshire relations had been a letter from my uncle
Hubert, in reply to one of hers telling him of my hopeless state.

"This was the shock that fell upon me when life and memory came back. I
could not bear the imprisonment of a sick-bed. I felt that for the
second time I must go out into the world to look for my darling; and in
defiance of the doctors, in defiance of my poor mother, who thought
that my departure from Dangerfield was a suicide, I am here. It is here
that I come first to seek for my wife. I might have stopped in London
to see Richard Paulette; I might sooner have gained tidings of my
darling. But I came here; I came here without stopping by the way,
because an uncontrollable instinct and an unreasoning impulse tells me
that it is here I ought to seek her. I am here, her husband, her only
true and legitimate defender; and woe be to those who stand between me
and my wife!"

He had spoken rapidly in his passion; and he stopped, exhausted by his
own vehemence, and sank heavily into a chair near the lamplit table.

Then for the first time that night Olivia Marchmont plainly saw her
cousin's face, and saw the terrible change that had transformed the
handsome young soldier, since the bright August morning on which he had
gone forth from Marchmont Towers. She saw the traces of a long and
wearisome illness sadly visible in his waxen-hued complexion, his
hollow cheeks, the faded lustre of his eyes, his dry and pallid lips.
She saw all this, the woman whose one great sin had been to love this
man wickedly and madly, in spite of her better self, in spite of her
womanly pride; she saw the change in him that had altered him from a
young Apollo to a shattered and broken invalid. And did any revulsion
of feeling arise in her breast? Did any corresponding transformation in
her own heart bear witness to the baseness of her love?

No; a thousand times, no! There was no thrill of disgust, how transient
soever; not so much as one passing shudder of painful surprise, one
pang of womanly regret. No! In place of these, a passionate yearning
arose in this woman's haughty soul; a flood of sudden tenderness rushed
across the black darkness of her mind. She fain would have flung
herself upon her knees, in loving self-abasement, at the sick man's
feet. She fain would have cried aloud, amid a tempest of passionate
sobs,--

"O my love, my love! you are dearer to me a hundred times by this cruel
change. It was _not_ your bright-blue eyes and waving chestnut
hair,--it was not your handsome face, your brave, soldier-like bearing
that I loved. My love was not so base as that. I inflicted a cruel
outrage upon myself when I thought that I was the weak fool of a
handsome face. Whatever _I_ have been, my love, at least, has been
pure. My love is pure, though I am base. I will never slander that
again, for I know now that it is immortal."

In the sudden rush of that flood-tide of love and tenderness, all these
thoughts welled into Olivia Marchmont's mind. In all her sin and
desperation she had never been so true a woman as now; she had never,
perhaps, been so near being a good woman. But the tender emotion was
swept out of her breast the next moment by the first words of Edward
Arundel.

"Why do you not answer my question?" he said.

She drew herself up in the erect and rigid attitude that had become
almost habitual to her. Every trace of womanly feeling faded out of her
face, as the sunlight disappears behind the sudden darkness of a
thundercloud.

"What question?" she asked, with icy indifference.

"The question I have come to Lincolnshire to ask--the question I have
perilled my life, perhaps, to ask," cried the young man. "Where is my
wife?"

The widow turned upon him with a horrible smile.

"I never heard that you were married," she said. "Who is your wife?"

"Mary Marchmont, the mistress of this house."

Olivia opened her eyes, and looked at him in half-sardonic surprise.

"Then it was not a fable?" she said.

"What was not a fable?"

"The unhappy girl spoke the truth when she said that you had married
her at some out-of-the-way church in Lambeth."

"The truth! Yes!" cried Edward Arundel. "Who should dare to say that
she spoke other than the truth? Who should dare to disbelieve her?"

Olivia Marchmont smiled again,--that same strange smile which was
almost too horrible for humanity, and yet had a certain dark and gloomy
grandeur of its own. Satan, the star of the morning, may have so smiled
despairing defiance upon the Archangel Michael.

"Unfortunately," she said, "no one believed the poor child. Her story
was such a very absurd one, and she could bring forward no shred of
evidence in support of it."

"O my God!" ejaculated Edward Arundel, clasping his hands above his
head in a paroxysm of rage and despair. "I see it all--I see it all! My
darling has been tortured to death. Woman!" he cried, "are you
possessed by a thousand fiends? Is there no one sentiment of womanly
compassion left in your breast? If there is one spark of womanhood in
your nature, I appeal to that; I ask you what has happened to my wife?"

"My wife! my wife!" The reiteration of that familiar phrase was to
Olivia Marchmont like the perpetual thrust of a dagger aimed at an open
wound. It struck every time upon the same tortured spot, and inflicted
the same agony.

"The placard upon the gates of this place can tell you as much as I
can," she said.

The ghastly whiteness of the soldier's face told her that he had seen
the placard of which she spoke.

"She has not been found, then?" he said, hoarsely.

"No."

"How did she disappear?"

"As she disappeared upon the morning on which you followed her. She
wandered out of the house, this time leaving no letter, nor message,
nor explanation of any kind whatever. It was in the middle of the day
that she went out; and for some time her absence caused no alarm. But,
after some hours, she was waited for and watched for very anxiously.
Then a search was made."

"Where?"

"Wherever she had at any time been in the habit of walking,--in the
park; in the wood; along the narrow path by the water; at Pollard's
farm; at Hester's house at Kemberling,--in every place where it might
be reasonably imagined there was the slightest chance of finding her."

"And all this was without result?"

"It was."

"_Why_ did she leave this place? God help you, Olivia Marchmont, if it
was your cruelty that drove her away!"

The widow took no notice of the threat implied in these words. Was
there anything upon earth that she feared now? No--nothing. Had she not
endured the worst long ago, in Edward Arundel's contempt? She had no
fear of a battle with this man; or with any other creature in the
world; or with the whole world arrayed and banded together against her,
if need were. Amongst all the torments of those black depths to which
her soul had gone down, there was no such thing as fear. That cowardly
baseness is for the happy and prosperous, who have something to lose.
This woman was by nature dauntless and resolute as the hero of some
classic story; but in her despair she had the desperate and reckless
courage of a starving wolf. The hand of death was upon her; what could
it matter how she died?

"I am very grateful to you, Edward Arundel," she said, bitterly, "for
the good opinion you have always had of me. The blood of the
Dangerfield Arundels must have had some drop of poison intermingled
with it, I should think, before it could produce so vile a creature as
myself; and yet I have heard people say that my mother was a good
woman."

The young man writhed impatiently beneath the torture of his cousin's
deliberate speech. Was there to be no end to this unendurable delay?
Even now,--now that he was in this house, face to face with the woman
he had come to question--it seemed as if he _could_ not get tidings of
his wife.

So, often in his dreams, he had headed a besieging-party against the
Affghans, with the scaling-ladders reared against the wall; he had seen
the dark faces grinning down upon him--all savage glaring eyes and
fierce glistening teeth--and had heard the voices of his men urging him
on to the encounter, but had felt himself paralysed and helpless, with
his sabre weak as a withered reed in his nerveless hand.

"For God's sake, let there be no quarrelling with phrases between you
and me, Olivia!" he cried. "If you or any other living being have
injured my wife, the reckoning between us shall be no light one. But
there will be time enough to talk of that by-and-by. I stand before
you, newly risen from a grave in which I have lain for more than three
months, as dead to the world, and to every creature I have ever loved
or hated, as if the Funeral Service had been read over my coffin. I
come to demand from you an account of what has happened during that
interval. If you palter or prevaricate with me, I shall know that it is
because you fear to tell me the truth."

"Fear!"

"Yes; you have good reason to fear, if you have wronged Mary Arundel.
Why did she leave this house?"

"Because she was not happy in it, I suppose. She chose to shut herself
up in her own room, and to refuse to be governed, or advised, or
consoled. I tried to do my duty to her; yes," cried Olivia Marchmont,
suddenly raising her voice, as if she had been vehemently
contradicted;--"yes, I did try to do my duty to her. I urged her to
listen to reason; I begged her to abandon her foolish falsehood about a
marriage with you in London."

"You disbelieved in that marriage?"

"I did," answered Olivia.

"You lie!" cried Edward Arundel. "You knew the poor child had spoken
the truth. You knew her--you knew me--well enough to know that I should
not have detained her away from her home an hour, except to make her my
wife--except to give myself the strongest right to love and defend
her."

"I knew nothing of the kind, Captain Arundel; you and Mary Marchmont
had taken good care to keep your secrets from me. I knew nothing of
your plots, your intentions. _I_ should have considered that one of the
Dangerfield Arundels would have thought his honour sullied by such an
act as a stolen marriage with an heiress, considerably under age, and
nominally in the guardianship of her stepmother. I did, therefore,
disbelieve the story Mary Marchmont told me. Another person, much more
experienced than I, also disbelieved the unhappy girl's account of her
absence."

"Another person! What other person?"

"Mr. Marchmont."

"Mr. Marchmont!"

"Yes; Paul Marchmont,--my husband's first-cousin."

A sudden cry of rage and grief broke from Edward Arundel's lips.

"O my God!" he exclaimed, "there was some foundation for the warning in
John Marchmont's letter, after all. And I laughed at him; I laughed at
my poor friend's fears."

The widow looked at her kinsman in mute wonder.

"Has Paul Marchmont been in this house?" he asked.

"Yes."

"When was he here?"

"He has been here often; he comes here constantly. He has been living
at Kemberling for the last three months."

"Why?"

"For his own pleasure, I suppose," Olivia answered haughtily. "It is no
business of mine to pry into Mr. Marchmont's motives."

Edward Arundel ground his teeth in an access of ungovernable passion.
It was not against Olivia, but against himself this time that he was
enraged. He hated himself for the arrogant folly, the obstinate
presumption, with which he had ridiculed and slighted John Marchmont's
vague fears of his kinsman Paul.

"So this man has been here,--is here constantly," he muttered. "Of
course, it is only natural that he should hang about the place. And you
and he are stanch allies, I suppose?" he added, turning upon Olivia.

"Stanch allies! Why?"

"Because you both hate my wife."

"What do you mean?"

"You both hate her. You, out of a base envy of her wealth; because of
her superior rights, which made you a secondary person in this house,
perhaps,--there is nothing else for which you _could_ hate her. Paul
Marchmont, because she stands between him and a fortune. Heaven help
her! Heaven help my poor, gentle, guileless darling! Surely Heaven must
have had some pity upon her when her husband was not by!"

The young man dashed the blinding tears from his eyes. They were the
first that he had shed since he had risen from that which many people
had thought his dying-bed, to search for his wife.

But this was no time for tears or lamentations. Stern determination
took the place of tender pity and sorrowful love. It was a time for
resolution and promptitude.

"Olivia Marchmont," he said, "there has been some foul play in this
business. My wife has been missing a month; yet when I asked my mother
what had happened at this house during my illness, she could tell me
nothing. Why did you not write to tell her of Mary's flight?"

"Because Mrs. Arundel has never done me the honour to cultivate any
intimacy between us. My father writes to his sister-in-law sometimes; I
scarcely ever write to my aunt. On the other hand, your mother had
never seen Mary Marchmont, and could not be expected to take any great
interest in her proceedings. There was, therefore, no reason for my
writing a special letter to announce the trouble that had befallen me."

"You might have written to my mother about my marriage. You might have
applied to her for confirmation of the story which you disbelieved."

Olivia Marchmont smiled.

"Should I have received that confirmation?" she said. "No. I saw your
mother's letters to my father. There was no mention in those letters of
any marriage; no mention whatever of Mary Marchmont. This in itself was
enough to confirm my disbelief. Was it reasonable to imagine that you
would have married, and yet have left your mother in total ignorance of
the fact?"

"O God, help me!" cried Edward Arundel, wringing his hands. "It seems
as if my own folly, my own vile procrastination, have brought this
trouble upon my wife. Olivia Marchmont, have pity upon me. If you hate
this girl, your malice must surely have been satisfied by this time.
She has suffered enough. Pity me, and help me; if you have any human
feeling in your breast. She left this house because her life here had
grown unendurable; because she saw herself doubted, disbelieved,
widowed in the first month of her marriage, utterly desolate and
friendless. Another woman might have borne up against all this misery.
Another woman would have known how to assert herself, and to defend
herself, even in the midst of her sorrow and desolation. But my poor
darling is a child; a baby in ignorance of the world. How should _she_
protect herself against her enemies? Her only instinct was to run away
from her persecutors,--to hide herself from those whose pretended
doubts flung the horror of dishonour upon her. I can understand all
now; I can understand. Olivia Marchmont, this man Paul has a strong
reason for being a villain. The motives that have induced you to do
wrong must be very small in comparison to his. He plays an infamous
game, I believe; but he plays for a high stake."

A high stake! Had not _she_ perilled her soul upon the casting of this
die? Had _she_ not flung down her eternal happiness in that fatal game
of hazard?

"Help me, then, Olivia," said Edward, imploringly; "help me to find my
wife; and atone for all that you have ever done amiss in the past. It
is not too late."

His voice softened as he spoke. He turned to her, with his hands
clasped, waiting anxiously for her answer. Perhaps this appeal was the
last cry of her good angel, pleading against the devils for her
redemption. But the devils had too long held possession of this woman's
breast. They arose, arrogant and unpitying, and hardened her heart
against that pleading voice.

"How much he loves her!" thought Olivia Marchmont; "how dearly he loves
her! For her sake he humiliates himself to me."

Then, with no show of relenting in her voice or manner, she said
deliberately:

"I can only tell you again what I told you before. The placard you saw
at the park-gates can tell you as much as I can. Mary Marchmont ran
away. She was sought for in every direction, but without success. Mr.
Marchmont, who is a man of the world, and better able to suggest what
is right in such a case as this, advised that Mr. Paulette should be
sent for. He was accordingly communicated with. He came, and instituted
a fresh search. He also caused a bill to be printed and distributed
through the country. Advertisements were inserted in the 'Times' and
other papers. For some reason--I forget what reason--Mary Marchmont's
name did not appear in these advertisements. They were so worded as to
render the publication of the name unnecessary."

Edward Arundel pushed his hand across his forehead.

"Richard Paulette has been here?" he murmured, in a low voice.

He had every confidence in the lawyer; and a deadly chill came over him
at the thought that the cool, hard-headed solicitor had failed to find
the missing girl.

"Yes; he was here two or three days."

"And he could do nothing?"

"Nothing, except what I have told you."

The young man thrust his hand into his breast to still the cruel
beating of his heart. A sudden terror had taken possession of him,--a
horrible dread that he should never look upon his young wife's face
again. For some minutes there was a dead silence in the room, only
broken once or twice by the falling of some ashes on the hearth.
Captain Arundel sat with his face hidden behind his hand. Olivia still
stood as she had stood when her cousin entered the room, erect and
gloomy, by the old-fashioned chimney-piece.

"There was something in that placard," the soldier said at last, in a
hoarse, altered voice,--"there was something about my wife having been
seen last by the water-side. Who saw her there?"

"Mr. Weston, a surgeon of Kemberling,--Paul Marchmont's
brother-in-law."

"Was she seen by no one else?"

"Yes; she was seen at about the same time--a little sooner or later, we
don't know which--by one of Farmer Pollard's men."

"And she has never been seen since?"

"Never; that is to say, we can hear of no one who has seen her."

"At what time in the day was she seen by this Mr. Weston?"

"At dusk; between five and six o'clock."

Edward Arundel put his hand suddenly to his throat, as if to check some
choking sensation that prevented his speaking.

"Olivia," he said, "my wife was last seen by the river-side. Does any
one think that, by any unhappy accident, by any terrible fatality, she
lost her way after dark, and fell into the water? or that--O God, that
would be too horrible!--does any one suspect that she drowned herself?"

"Many things have been said since her disappearance," Olivia Marchmont
answered. "Some people say one thing, some another."

"And it has been said that she--that she was drowned?"

"Yes; many people have said so. The river was dragged while Mr.
Paulette was here, and after he went away. The men were at work with
the drags for more than a week."

"And they found nothing?"

"Nothing."

"Was there any other reason for supposing that--that my wife fell into
the river?"

"Only one reason."

"What was that?"

"I will show you," Olivia Marchmont answered.

She took a bunch of keys from her pocket, and went to an old-fashioned
bureau or cabinet upon the other side of the room. She unlocked the
upper part of this bureau, opened one of the drawers, and took from it
something which she brought to Edward Arundel.

This something was a little shoe; a little shoe of soft bronzed
leather, stained and discoloured with damp and moss, and trodden down
upon one side, as if the wearer had walked a weary way in it, and had
been unaccustomed to so much walking.

Edward Arundel remembered, in that brief, childishly-happy honeymoon at
the little village near Winchester, how often he had laughed at his
young wife's propensity for walking about damp meadows in such delicate
little slippers as were better adapted to the requirements of a
ballroom. He remembered the slender foot, so small that he could take
it in his hand; the feeble little foot that had grown tired in long
wanderings by the Hampshire trout-streams, but which had toiled on in
heroic self-abnegation so long as it was the will of the sultan to
pedestrianise.

"Was this found by the river-side?" he asked, looking piteously at the
slipper which Mrs. Marchmont had put into his hand.

"Yes; it was found amongst the rushes on the shore, a mile below the
spot at which Mr. Weston saw my step-daughter."

Edward Arundel put the little shoe into his bosom.

"I'll not believe it," he cried suddenly; "I'll not believe that my
darling is lost to me. She was too good, far too good, to think of
suicide; and Providence would never suffer my poor lonely child to be
led away to a dreary death upon that dismal river-shore. No, no; she
fled away from this place because she was too wretched here. She went
away to hide herself amongst those whom she could trust, until her
husband came to claim her. I will believe anything in the world except
that she is lost to me. And I will not believe that, I will never
believe that, until I look down at her corpse; until I lay my hand on
her cold breast, and feel that her true heart has ceased beating. As I
went out of this place four months ago to look for her, I will go again
now. My darling, my darling, my innocent pet, my childish bride; I will
go to the very end of the world in search of you."

The widow ground her teeth as she listened to her kinsman's passionate
words. Why did he for ever goad her to blacker wickedness by this
parade of his love for Mary? Why did he force her to remember every
moment how much cause she had to hate this pale-faced girl?

Captain Arundel rose, and walked a few paces, leaning on his stick as
he went.

"You will sleep here to-night, of course?" Olivia Marchmont said.

"Sleep here!"

His tone expressed plainly enough that the place was abhorrent to him.

"Yes; where else should you stay?"

"I meant to have stopped at the nearest inn."

"The nearest inn is at Kemberling."

"That would suit me well enough," the young man answered indifferently;
"I must be in Kemberling early to-morrow, for I must see Paul
Marchmont. I am no nearer the comprehension of my wife's flight by
anything that you have told me. It is to Paul Marchmont that I must
look next. Heaven help him if he tries to keep the truth from me."

"You will see Mr. Marchmont here as easily as at Kemberling," Olivia
answered; "he comes here every day."

"What for?"

"He has built a sort of painting-room down by the river-side, and he
paints there whenever there is light."

"Indeed!" cried Edward Arundel; "he makes himself at home at Marchmont
Towers, then?"

"He has a right to do so, I suppose," answered the widow indifferently.
"If Mary Marchmont is dead, this place and all belonging to it is his.
As it is, I am only here on sufferance."

"He has taken possession, then?"

"On the contrary, he shrinks from doing so."

"And, by the Heaven above us, he does wisely," cried Edward Arundel.
"No man shall seize upon that which belongs to my darling. No foul plot
of this artist-traitor shall rob her of her own. God knows how little
value _I_ set upon her wealth; but I will stand between her and those
who try to rob her, until my last gasp. No, Olivia; I'll not stay here;
I'll accept no hospitality from Mr. Marchmont. I suspect him too much."

He walked to the door; but before he reached it the widow went to one
of the windows, and pushed aside the blind.

"Look at the rain," she said; "hark at it; don't you hear it, drip,
drip, drip upon the stone? I wouldn't turn a dog out of doors upon such
a night as this; and you--you are so ill--so weak. Edward Arundel, do
you hate me so much that you refuse to share the same shelter with me,
even for a night?"

There is nothing so difficult of belief to a man, who is not a coxcomb,
as the simple fact that he is beloved by a woman whom he does not love,
and has never wooed by word or deed. But for this, surely Edward
Arundel must, in that sudden burst of tenderness, that one piteous
appeal, have discovered a clue to his cousin's secret.

He discovered nothing; he guessed nothing. But he was touched by her
tone, even in spite of his utter ignorance of its meaning, and he
replied, in an altered manner,

"Certainly, Olivia, if you really wish it, I will stay. Heaven knows I
have no desire that you and I should be ill friends. I want your help;
your pity, perhaps. I am quite willing to believe that any cruel things
you said to Mary arose from an outbreak of temper. I cannot think that
you could be base at heart. I will even attribute your disbelief of the
statement made by my poor girl as to our marriage to the narrow
prejudices learnt in a small country town. Let us be friends, Olivia."

He held out his hand. His cousin laid her cold fingers in his open
palm, and he shuddered as if he had come in contact with a corpse.
There was nothing very cordial in the salutation. The two hands seemed
to drop asunder, lifeless and inert; as if to bear mute witness that
between these two people there was no possibility of sympathy or union.

But Captain Arundel accepted his cousin's hospitality. Indeed he had
need to do so; for he found that his valet had relied upon his master's
stopping at the Towers, and had sent the carriage back to Swampington.
A tray with cold meat and wine was brought into the drawing-room for
the young soldier's refreshment. He drank a glass of Madeira, and made
some pretence of eating a few mouthfuls, out of courtesy to Olivia; but
he did this almost mechanically. He sat silent and gloomy, brooding
over the terrible shock that he had so newly received; brooding over
the hidden things that had happened in that dreary interval, during
which he had been as powerless to defend his wife from trouble as a
dead man.

Again and again the cruel thought returned to him, each time with a
fresh agony,--that if he had written to his mother, if he had told her
the story of his marriage, the things which had happened could never
have come to pass. Mary would have been sheltered and protected by a
good and loving woman. This thought, this horrible self-reproach, was
the bitterest thing the young man had to bear.

"It is too great a punishment," he thought; "I am too cruelly punished
for having forgotten everything in my happiness with my darling."

The widow sat in her low easy-chair near the fire, with her eyes fixed
upon the burning coals; the grate had been replenished, and the light
of the red blaze shone full upon Olivia Marchmont's haggard face.
Edward Arundel, aroused for a few moments out of his gloomy
abstraction, was surprised at the change which an interval of a few
months had made in his cousin. The gloomy shadow which he had often
seen on her face had become a fixed expression; every line had
deepened, as if by the wear and tear of ten years, rather than by the
progress of a few months. Olivia Marchmont had grown old before her
time. Nor was this the only change. There was a look, undefined and
undefinable, in the large luminous grey eyes, unnaturally luminous now,
which filled Edward Arundel with a vague sense of terror; a terror
which he would not--which he dared not--attempt to analyse. He
remembered Mary's unreasoning fear of her stepmother, and he now
scarcely wondered at that fear. There was something almost weird and
unearthly in the aspect of the woman sitting opposite to him by the
broad hearth: no vestige of colour in her gloomy face, a strange light
burning in her eyes, and her black draperies falling round her in
straight, lustreless folds.

"I fear you have been ill, Olivia," the young man said, presently.

Another sentiment had arisen in his breast side by side with that vague
terror,--a fancy that perhaps there was some reason why his cousin
should be pitied.

"Yes," she answered indifferently; as if no subject of which Captain
Arundel could have spoken would have been of less concern to
her,--"yes, I have been very ill."

"I am sorry to hear it."

Olivia looked up at him and smiled. Her smile was the strangest he had
ever seen upon a woman's face.

"I am very sorry to hear it. What has been the matter with you?"

"Slow fever, Mr. Weston said."

"Mr. Weston?"

"Yes; Mr. Marchmont's brother-in-law. He has succeeded to Mr.
Dawnfield's practice at Kemberling. He attended me, and he attended my
step-daughter."

"My wife was ill, then?"

"Yes; she had brain-fever: she recovered from that, but she did not
recover strength. Her low spirits alarmed me, and I considered it only
right--Mr. Marchmont suggested also--that a medical man should be
consulted."

"And what did this man, this Mr. Weston, say?"

"Very little; there was nothing the matter with Mary, he said. He gave
her a little medicine, but only in the desire of strengthening her
nervous system. He could give her no medicine that would have any very
good effect upon her spirits, while she chose to keep herself
obstinately apart from every one."

The young man's head sank upon his breast. The image of his desolate
young wife arose before him; the image of a pale, sorrowful girl,
holding herself apart from her persecutors, abandoned, lonely,
despairing. Why had she remained at Marchmont Towers? Why had she ever
consented to go there, when she had again and again expressed such
terror of her stepmother? Why had she not rather followed her husband
down to Devonshire, and thrown herself upon his relatives for
protection? Was it like this girl to remain quietly here in
Lincolnshire, when the man she loved with such innocent devotion was
lying between life and death in the west?

"She is such a child," he thought,--"such a child in her ignorance of
the world. I must not reason about her as I would about another woman."

And then a sudden flush of passionate emotion rose to his face, as a
new thought flashed into his mind. What if this helpless girl had been
detained by force at Marchmont Towers?

"Olivia," he cried, "whatever baseness this man, Paul Marchmont, may be
capable of, you at least must be superior to any deliberate sin. I have
all my life believed in you, and respected you, as a good woman. Tell
me the truth, then, for pity's sake. Nothing that you can tell me will
fill up the dead blank that the horrible interval since my accident has
made in my life. But you can give me some help. A few words from you
may clear away much of this darkness. How did you find my wife? How did
you induce her to come back to this place? I know that she had an
unreasonable dread of returning here."

"I found her through the agency of Mr. Marchmont," Olivia answered,
quietly. "I had some difficulty in inducing her to return here; but
after hearing of your accident--"

"How was the news of that broken to her?"

"Unfortunately she saw a paper that had happened to be left in her
way."

"By whom?"

"By Mr. Marchmont."

"Where was this?"

"In Hampshire."

"Indeed! Then Paul Marchmont went with you to Hampshire?"

"He did. He was of great service to me in this crisis. After seeing the
paper, my stepdaughter was seized with brain-fever. She was unconscious
when we brought her back to the Towers. She was nursed by my old
servant Barbara, and had the highest medical care. I do not think that
anything more could have been done for her."

"No," answered Edward Arundel, bitterly; "unless you could have loved
her."

"We cannot force our affections," the widow said, in a hard voice.

Another voice in her breast seemed to whisper, "Why do you reproach me
for not having loved this girl? If you had loved _me_, the whole world
would have been different."

"Olivia Marchmont," said Captain Arundel, "by your own avowal there has
never been any affection for this orphan girl in your heart. It is not
my business to dwell upon the fact, as something almost unnatural under
the peculiar circumstances through which that helpless child was cast
upon your protection. It is needless to try to understand why you have
hardened your heart against my poor wife. Enough that it is so. But I
may still believe that, whatever your feelings may be towards your dead
husband's daughter, you would not be guilty of any deliberate act of
treachery against her. I can afford to believe this of you; but I
cannot believe it of Paul Marchmont. That man is my wife's natural
enemy. If he has been here during my illness, he has been here to plot
against her. When he came here, he came to attempt her destruction. She
stands between him and this estate. Long ago, when I was a careless
schoolboy, my poor friend, John Marchmont, told me that, if ever the
day came upon which Mary's interests should be opposed to the interests
of her cousin, that man would be a dire and bitter enemy; so much the
more terrible because in all appearance her friend. The day came; and
I, to whom the orphan girl had been left as a sacred legacy, was not by
to defend her. But I have risen from a bed that many have thought a bed
of death; and I come to this place with one indomitable resolution
paramount in my breast,--the determination to find my wife, and to
bring condign punishment upon the man who has done her wrong."

Captain Arundel spoke in a low voice; but his passion was all the more
terrible because of the suppression of those common outward evidences
by which anger ordinarily betrays itself. He relapsed into thoughtful
silence.

Olivia made no answer to anything that he had said. She sat looking at
him steadily, with an admiring awe in her face. How splendid he
was--this young hero--even in his sickness and feebleness! How
splendid, by reason of the grand courage, the chivalrous devotion, that
shone out of his blue eyes!

The clock struck eleven while the cousins sat opposite to each
other,--only divided, physically, by the width of the tapestried
hearth-rug; but, oh, how many weary miles asunder in spirit!--and
Edward Arundel rose, startled from his sorrowful reverie.

"If I were a strong man," he said, "I would see Paul Marchmont
to-night. But I must wait till to-morrow morning. At what time does he
come to his painting-room?"'

"At eight o'clock, when the mornings are bright; but later when the
weather is dull."

"At eight o'clock! I pray Heaven the sun may shine early to-morrow! I
pray Heaven I may not have to wait long before I find myself face to
face with that man! Good-night, Olivia."

He took a candle from a table near the door, and lit it almost
mechanically. He found Mr. Morrison waiting for him, very sleepy and
despondent, in a large bedchamber in which Captain Arundel had never
slept before,--a dreary apartment, decked out with the faded splendours
of the past; a chamber in which the restless sleeper might expect to
see a phantom lady in a ghostly sacque, cowering over the embers, and
spreading her transparent hands above the red light.

"It isn't particular comfortable, after Dangerfield," the valet
muttered in a melancholy voice; "and all I 'ope, Mr. Edward, is, that
the sheets are not damp. I've been a stirrin' of the fire and puttin'
on fresh coals for the last hour. There's a bed for me in the dressin'
room, within call."

Captain Arundel scarcely heard what his servant said to him. He was
standing at the door of the spacious chamber, looking out into a long
low-roofed corridor, in which he had just encountered Barbara, Mrs.
Marchmont's confidential attendant,--the wooden-faced,
inscrutable-looking woman, who, according to Olivia, had watched and
ministered to his wife.

"Was that the tenderest face that looked down upon my darling as she
lay on her sick-bed?" he thought. "I had almost as soon have had a
ghoul to watch by my poor dear's pillow."



CHAPTER VIII.

THE PAINTING-ROOM BY THE RIVER.


Edward Arundel lay awake through the best part of that November night,
listening to the ceaseless dripping of the rain upon the terrace, and
thinking of Paul Marchmont. It was of this man that he must demand an
account of his wife. Nothing that Olivia had told him had in any way
lessened this determination. The little slipper found by the water's
edge; the placard flapping on the moss-grown pillar at the entrance to
the park; the story of a possible suicide, or a more probable
accident;--all these things were as nothing beside the young man's
suspicion of Paul Marchmont. He had pooh-poohed John's dread of his
kinsman as weak and unreasonable; and now, with the same unreason, he
was ready to condemn this man, whom he had never seen, as a traitor and
a plotter against his young wife.

He lay tossing from side to side all that night, weak and feverish,
with great drops of cold perspiration rolling down his pale face,
sometimes falling into a fitful sleep, in whose distorted dreams Paul
Marchmont was for ever present, now one man, now another. There was no
sense of fitness in these dreams; for sometimes Edward Arundel and the
artist were wrestling together with newly-sharpened daggers in their
eager hands, each thirsting for the other's blood; and in the next
moment they were friends, and had been friendly--as it seemed--for
years.

The young man woke from one of these last dreams, with words of
good-fellowship upon his lips, to find the morning light gleaming
through the narrow openings in the damask window-curtains, and Mr.
Morrison laying out his master's dressing apparatus upon the carved oak
toilette-table.

Captain Arundel dressed himself as fast as he could, with the
assistance of the valet, and then made his way down the broad
staircase, with the help of his cane, upon which he had need to lean
pretty heavily, for he was as weak as a child.

"You had better give me the brandy-flask, Morrison," he said. "I am
going out before breakfast. You may as well come with me, by-the-by;
for I doubt if I could walk as far as I want to go, without the help of
your arm."

In the hall Captain Arundel found one of the servants. The western door
was open, and the man was standing on the threshold looking out at the
morning. The rain had ceased; but the day did not yet promise to be
very bright, for the sun gleamed like a ball of burnished copper
through a pale November mist.

"Do you know if Mr. Paul Marchmont has gone down to the boat-house?"
Edward asked.

"Yes, sir," the man answered; "I met him just now in the quadrangle.
He'd been having a cup of coffee with my mistress."

Edward started. They were friends, then, Paul Marchmont and
Olivia!--friends, but surely not allies! Whatever villany this man
might be capable of committing, Olivia must at least be guiltless of
any deliberate treachery?

Captain Arundel took his servant's arm and walked out into the
quadrangle, and from the quadrangle to the low-lying woody swamp, where
the stunted trees looked grim and weird-like in their leafless
ugliness. Weak as the young man was, he walked rapidly across the
sloppy ground, which had been almost flooded by the continual rains. He
was borne up by his fierce desire to be face to face with Paul
Marchmont. The savage energy of his mind was stronger than any physical
debility. He dismissed Mr. Morrison as soon as he was within sight of
the boat-house, and went on alone, leaning on his stick, and pausing
now and then to draw breath, angry with himself for his weakness.

The boat-house, and the pavilion above it, had been patched up by some
country workmen. A handful of plaster here and there, a little new
brickwork, and a mended window-frame bore witness of this. The
ponderous old-fashioned wooden shutters had been repaired, and a good
deal of the work which had been begun in John Marchmont's lifetime had
now, in a certain rough manner, been completed. The place, which had
hitherto appeared likely to fall into utter decay, had been rendered
weather-tight and habitable; the black smoke creeping slowly upward
from the ivy-covered chimney, gave evidence of occupation. Beyond this,
a large wooden shed, with a wide window fronting the north, had been
erected close against the boat-house. This rough shed Edward Arundel at
once understood to be the painting-room which the artist had built for
himself.

He paused a moment outside the door of this shed. A man's voice--a
tenor voice, rather thin and metallic in quality--was singing a scrap
of Rossini upon the other side of the frail woodwork.

Edward Arundel knocked with the handle of his stick upon the door. The
voice left off singing, to say "Come in."

The soldier opened the door, crossed the threshold, and stood face to
face with Paul Marchmont in the bare wooden shed. The painter had
dressed himself for his work. His coat and waistcoat lay upon a chair
near the door. He had put on a canvas jacket, and had drawn a loose
pair of linen trousers over those which belonged to his usual costume.
So far as this paint-besmeared coat and trousers went, nothing could
have been more slovenly than Paul Marchmont's appearance; but some
tincture of foppery exhibited itself in the black velvet smoking-cap,
which contrasted with and set off the silvery whiteness of his hair, as
well as in the delicate curve of his amber moustache. A moustache was
not a very common adornment in the year 1848. It was rather an
eccentricity affected by artists, and permitted as the wild caprice of
irresponsible beings, not amenable to the laws that govern rational and
respectable people.

Edward Arundel sharply scrutinised the face and figure of the artist.
He cast a rapid glance round the bare whitewashed walls of the shed,
trying to read even in those bare walls some chance clue to the
painter's character. But there was not much to be gleaned from the
details of that almost empty chamber. A dismal, black-looking iron
stove, with a crooked chimney, stood in one corner. A great easel
occupied the centre of the room. A sheet of tin, nailed upon a wooden
shutter, swung backwards and forwards against the northern window,
blown to and fro by the damp wind that crept in through the crevices in
the framework of the roughly-fashioned casement. A heap of canvases
were piled against the walls, and here and there a half-finished
picture--a lurid Turneresque landscape; a black stormy sky; or a rocky
mountain-pass, dyed blood-red by the setting sun--was propped up
against the whitewashed background. Scattered scraps of water-colour,
crayon, old engravings, sketches torn and tumbled, bits of rockwork and
foliage, lay littered about the floor; and on a paint-stained
deal-table of the roughest and plainest fashion were gathered the
colour-tubes and palettes, the brushes and sponges and dirty cloths,
the greasy and sticky tin-cans, which form the paraphernalia of an
artist. Opposite the northern window was the moss-grown stone-staircase
leading up to the pavilion over the boat-house. Mr. Marchmont had built
his painting-room against the side of the pavilion, in such a manner as
to shut in the staircase and doorway which formed the only entrance to
it. His excuse for the awkwardness of this piece of architecture was
the impossibility of otherwise getting the all-desirable northern light
for the illumination of his rough studio.

This was the chamber in which Edward Arundel found the man from whom he
came to demand an account of his wife's disappearance. The artist was
evidently quite prepared to receive his visitor. He made no pretence of
being taken off his guard, as a meaner pretender might have done. One
of Paul Marchmont's theories was, that as it is only a fool who would
use brass where he could as easily employ gold, so it is only a fool
who tells a lie when he can conveniently tell the truth.

"Captain Arundel, I believe?" he said, pushing a chair forward for his
visitor. "I am sorry to say I recognise you by your appearance of ill
health. Mrs. Marchmont told me you wanted to see me. Does my meerschaum
annoy you? I'll put it out if it does. No? Then, if you'll allow me,
I'll go on smoking. Some people say tobacco-smoke gives a tone to one's
pictures. If so, mine ought to be Rembrandts in depth of colour."

Edward Arundel dropped into the chair that had been offered to him. If
he could by any possibility have rejected even this amount of
hospitality from Paul Marchmont, he would have done so; but he was a
great deal too weak to stand, and he knew that his interview with the
artist must be a long one.

"Mr. Marchmont," he said, "if my cousin Olivia told you that you might
expect to see me here to-day, she most likely told you a great deal
more. Did she tell you that I looked to you to account to me for the
disappearance of my wife?"

Paul Marchmont shrugged his shoulders, as who should say, "This young
man is an invalid. I must not suffer myself to be aggravated by his
absurdity." Then taking his meerschaum from his lips, he set it down,
and seated himself at a few paces from Edward Arundel on the lowest of
the moss-grown steps leading up to the pavilion.

"My dear Captain Arundel," he said, very gravely, "your cousin did
repeat to me a great deal of last night's conversation. She told me
that you had spoken of me with a degree of violence, natural enough
perhaps to a hot-tempered young soldier, but in no manner justified by
our relations. When you call upon me to account for the disappearance
of Mary Marchmont, you act about as rationally as if you declared me
answerable for the pulmonary complaint that carried away her father.
If, on the other hand, you call upon me to assist you in the endeavour
to fathom the mystery of her disappearance, you will find me ready and
willing to aid you to the very uttermost. It is to my interest as much
as to yours that this mystery should be cleared up."

"And in the meantime you take possession of this estate?"

"No, Captain Arundel. The law would allow me to do so; but I decline to
touch one farthing of the revenue which this estate yields, or to
commit one act of ownership, until the mystery of Mary Marchmont's
disappearance, or of her death, is cleared up."

"The mystery of her death?" said Edward Arundel; "you believe, then,
that she is dead?"

"I anticipate nothing; I think nothing," answered the artist; "I only
wait. The mysteries of life are so many and so incomprehensible,--the
stories, which are every day to be read by any man who takes the
trouble to look through a newspaper, are so strange, and savour so much
of the improbabilities of a novel-writer's first wild fiction,--that I
am ready to believe everything and anything. Mary Marchmont struck me,
from the first moment in which I saw her, as sadly deficient in mental
power. Nothing she could do would astonish me. She may be hiding
herself away from us, prompted only by some eccentric fancy of her own.
She may have fallen into the power of designing people. She may have
purposely placed her slipper by the water-side, in order to give the
idea of an accident or a suicide; or she may have dropped it there by
chance, and walked barefoot to the nearest railway-station. She acted
unreasonably before when she ran away from Marchmont Towers; she may
have acted unreasonably again."

"You do not think, then, that she is dead?"

"I hesitate to form any opinion; I positively decline to express one."

Edward Arundel gnawed savagely at the ends of his moustache. This man's
cool imperturbability, which had none of the studied smoothness of
hypocrisy, but which seemed rather the plain candour of a thorough man
of the world, who had no wish to pretend to any sentiment he did not
feel, baffled and infuriated the passionate young soldier. Was it
possible that this man, who met him with such cool self-assertion, who
in no manner avoided any discussion of Mary Marchmont's
disappearance,--was it possible that he could have had any treacherous
and guilty part in that calamity? Olivia's manner looked like guilt;
but Paul Marchmont's seemed the personification of innocence. Not angry
innocence, indignant that its purity should have been suspected; but
the matter-of-fact, commonplace innocence of a man of the world, who is
a great deal too clever to play any hazardous and villanous game.

"You can perhaps answer me this question, Mr. Marchmont," said Edward
Arundel. "Why was my wife doubted when she told the story of her
marriage?"

The artist smiled, and rising from his seat upon the stone step, took a
pocket-book from one of the pockets of the coat that he had been
wearing.

"I _can_ answer that question," he said, selecting a paper from amongst
others in the pocket-book. "This will answer it."

He handed Edward Arundel the paper, which was a letter folded
lengthways, and indorsed, "From Mrs. Arundel, August 31st." Within this
letter was another paper, indorsed, "Copy of letter to Mrs. Arundel,
August 28th."

"You had better read the copy first," Mr. Marchmont said, as Edward
looked doubtfully at the inner paper.

The copy was very brief, and ran thus:

"Marchmont Towers, August 28, 1848.

"MADAM,--I have been given to understand that your son, Captain
Arundel, within a fortnight of his sad accident, contracted a secret
marriage with a young lady, whose name I, for several reasons, prefer
to withhold. If you can oblige me by informing me whether there is any
foundation for this statement, you will confer a very great favour upon

"Your obedient servant,

"PAUL MARCHMONT."

The answer to this letter, in the hand of Edward Arundel's mother, was
equally brief:

"Dangerfield Park, August 31, 1848.

"SIR,--In reply to your inquiry, I beg to state that there can be no
foundation whatever for the report to which you allude. My son is too
honourable to contract a secret marriage; and although his present
unhappy state renders it impossible for me to receive the assurance
from his own lips, my confidence in his high principles justifies me in
contradicting any such report as that which forms the subject of your
letter.

"I am, sir,

"Yours obediently,

"LETITIA ARUNDEL."

The soldier stood, mute and confounded, with his mother's letter in his
hand. It seemed as if every creature had been against the helpless girl
whom he had made his wife. Every hand had been lifted to drive her from
the house that was her own; to drive her out upon the world, of which
she was ignorant, a wanderer and an outcast; perhaps to drive her to a
cruel death.

"You can scarcely wonder if the receipt of that letter confirmed me in
my previous belief that Mary Marchmont's story of a marriage arose out
of the weakness of a brain, never too strong, and at that time very
much enfeebled by the effect of a fever."

Edward Arundel was silent. He crushed his mother's letter in his hand.
Even his mother--even his mother--that tender and compassionate woman,
whose protection he had so freely promised, ten years before, in the
lobby of Drury Lane, to John Marchmont's motherless child,--even she,
by some hideous fatality, had helped to bring grief and shame upon the
lonely girl. All this story of his young wife's disappearance seemed
enveloped in a wretched obscurity, through whose thick darkness he
could not penetrate. He felt himself encompassed by a web of mystery,
athwart which it was impossible to cut his way to the truth. He asked
question after question, and received answers which seemed freely
given; but the story remained as dark as ever. What did it all mean?
What was the clue to the mystery? Was this man, Paul Marchmont,--busy
amongst his unfinished pictures, and bearing in his every action, in
his every word, the stamp of an easy-going, free-spoken soldier of
fortune,--likely to have been guilty of any dark and subtle villany
against the missing girl? He had disbelieved in the marriage; but he
had had some reason for his doubt of a fact that could not very well be
welcome to him.

The young man rose from his chair, and stood irresolute, brooding over
these things.

"Come, Captain Arundel," cried Paul Marchmont, heartily, "believe me,
though I have not much superfluous sentimentality left in my
composition after a pretty long encounter with the world, still I can
truly sympathise with your regret for this poor silly child. I hope,
for your sake, that she still lives, and is foolishly hiding herself
from us all. Perhaps, now you are able to act in the business, there
may be a better chance of finding her. I am old enough to be your
father, and am ready to give you the help of any knowledge of the world
which I may have gathered in the experience of a lifetime. Will you
accept my help?"

Edward Arundel paused for a moment, with his head still bent, and his
eyes fixed upon the ground. Then suddenly lifting his head, he looked
full in the artist's face as he answered him.

"No!" he cried. "Your offer may be made in all good faith, and if so, I
thank you for it; but no one loves this missing girl as I love her; no
one has so good a right as I have to protect and shelter her. I will
look for my wife, alone, unaided; except by such help as I pray that
God may give me."



CHAPTER IX.

IN THE DARK.


Edward Arundel walked slowly back to the Towers, shaken in body,
perplexed in mind, baffled, disappointed, and most miserable; the young
husband, whose married life had been shut within the compass of a brief
honeymoon, went back to that dark and gloomy mansion within whose
encircling walls Mary had pined and despaired.

"Why did she stop here?" he thought; "why didn't she come to me? I
thought her first impulse would have brought her to me. I thought my
poor childish love would have set out on foot to seek her husband, if
need were."

He groped his way feebly and wearily amidst the leafless wood, and
through the rotting vegetation decaying in oozy slime beneath the black
shelter of the naked trees. He groped his way towards the dismal
eastern front of the great stone dwelling-house, his face always turned
towards the blank windows, that stared down at him from the discoloured
walls.

"Oh, if they could speak!" he exclaimed, almost beside himself in his
perplexity and desperation; "if they could speak! If those cruel walls
could find a voice, and tell me what my darling suffered within their
shadow! If they could tell me why she despaired, and ran away to hide
herself from her husband and protector! _If_ they could speak!"

He ground his teeth in a passion of sorrowful rage.

"I should gain as much by questioning yonder stone wall as by talking
to my cousin, Olivia Marchmont," he thought, presently. "Why is that
woman so venomous a creature in her hatred of my innocent wife? Why is
it that, whether I threaten, or whether I appeal, I can gain nothing
from her--nothing? She baffles me as completely by her measured
answers, which seem to reply to my questions, and which yet tell me
nothing, as if she were a brazen image set up by the dark ignorance of
a heathen people, and dumb in the absence of an impostor-priest. She
baffles me, question her how I will. And Paul Marchmont, again,--what
have I learned from him? Am I a fool, that people can prevaricate and
lie to me like this? Has my brain no sense, and my arm no strength,
that I cannot wring the truth from the false throats of these
wretches?"

The young man gnashed his teeth again in the violence of his rage.

Yes, it was like a dream; it was like nothing but a dream. In dreams he
had often felt this terrible sense of impotence wrestling with a mad
desire to achieve something or other. But never before in his waking
hours had the young soldier experienced such a sensation.

He stopped, irresolute, almost bewildered, looking back at the
boat-house, a black spot far away down by the sedgy brink of the slow
river, and then again turning his face towards the monotonous lines of
windows in the eastern frontage of Marchmont Towers.

"I let that man play with me to-day," he thought; "but our reckoning is
to come. We have not done with each other yet."

He walked on towards the low archway leading into the quadrangle.

The room which had been John Marchmont's study, and which his widow had
been wont to occupy since his death, looked into this quadrangle.
Edward Arundel saw his cousin's dark head bending over a book, or a
desk perhaps, behind the window.

"Let her beware of me, if she has done any wrong to my wife!" he
thought. "To which of these people am I to look for an account of my
poor lost girl? To which of these two am I to look! Heaven guide me to
find the guilty one; and Heaven have mercy upon that wretched creature
when the hour of reckoning comes; for I will have none."

Olivia Marchmont, looking through the window, saw her kinsman's face
while this thought was in his mind. The expression which she saw there
was so terrible, so merciless, so sublime in its grand and vengeful
beauty, that her own face blanched even to a paler hue than that which
had lately become habitual to it.

"Am I afraid of him?" she thought, as she pressed her forehead against
the cold glass, and by a physical effort restrained the convulsive
trembling that had suddenly shaken her frame. "Am I afraid of him? No;
what injury can he inflict upon me worse than that which he has done me
from the very first? If he could drag me to a scaffold, and deliver me
with his own hands into the grasp of the hangman, he would do me no
deeper wrong than he has done me from the hour of my earliest
remembrance of him. He could inflict no new pangs, no sharper tortures,
than I have been accustomed to suffer at his hands. He does not love
me. He has never loved me. He never will love me. _That_ is my wrong;
and it is for that I take my revenge!"

She lifted her head, which had rested in a sullen attitude against the
glass, and looked at the soldier's figure slowly advancing towards the
western side of the house.

Then, with a smile,--the same horrible smile which Edward Arundel had
seen light up her face on the previous night,--she muttered between her
set teeth:--

"Shall I be sorry because this vengeance has fallen across my pathway?
Shall I repent, and try to undo what I have done? Shall I thrust myself
between others and Mr. Edward Arundel? Shall _I_ make myself the ally
and champion of this gallant soldier, who seldom speaks to me except to
insult and upbraid me? Shall _I_ take justice into my hands, and
interfere for my kinsman's benefit? No; he has chosen to threaten me;
he has chosen to believe vile things of me. From the first his
indifference has been next kin to insolence. Let him take care of
himself."

Edward Arundel took no heed of the grey eyes that watched him with such
a vengeful light in their fixed gaze. He was still thinking of his
missing wife, still feeling, to a degree that was intolerably painful,
that miserable dream-like sense of helplessness and prostration.

"What am I to do?" he thought. "Shall I be for ever going backwards and
forwards between my Cousin Olivia and Paul Marchmont; for ever
questioning them, first one and then the other, and never getting any
nearer to the truth?"

He asked himself this question, because the extreme anguish, the
intense anxiety, which he had endured, seemed to have magnified the
smallest events, and to have multiplied a hundred-fold the lapse of
time. It seemed as if he had already spent half a lifetime in his
search after John Marchmont's lost daughter.

"O my friend, my friend!" he thought, as some faint link of
association, some memory thrust upon him by the aspect of the place in
which he was, brought back the simple-minded tutor who had taught him
mathematics eighteen years before,--"my poor friend, if this girl had
not been my love and my wife, surely the memory of your trust in me
would be enough to make me a desperate and merciless avenger of her
wrongs."

He went into the hall, and from the hall to the tenantless western
drawing-room,--a dreary chamber, with its grim and faded splendour, its
stiff, old-fashioned furniture; a chamber which, unadorned by the
presence of youth and innocence, had the aspect of belonging to a day
that was gone, and people that were dead. So might have looked one of
those sealed-up chambers in the buried cities of Italy, when the doors
were opened, and eager living eyes first looked in upon the habitations
of the dead.

Edward Arundel walked up and down the empty drawing-room. There were
the ivory chessmen that he had brought from India, under a glass shade
on an inlaid table in a window. How often he and Mary had played
together in that very window; and how she had always lost her pawns,
and left bishops and knights undefended, while trying to execute
impossible manoeuvres with her queen! The young man paced slowly
backwards and forwards across the old-fashioned bordered carpet, trying
to think what he should do. He must form some plan of action in his own
mind, he thought. There was foul work somewhere, he most implicitly
believed; and it was for him to discover the motive of the treachery,
and the person of the traitor.

Paul Marchmont! Paul Marchmont!

His mind always travelled back to this point. Paul Marchmont was Mary's
natural enemy. Paul Marchmont was therefore surely the man to be
suspected, the man to be found out and defeated.

And yet, if there was any truth in appearances, it was Olivia who was
most inimical to the missing girl; it was Olivia whom Mary had feared;
it was Olivia who had driven John Marchmont's orphan-child from her
home once, and who might, by the same power to tyrannise and torture a
weak and yielding nature, have so banished her again.

Or these two, Paul and Olivia, might both hate the defenceless girl,
and might have between them plotted a wrong against her.

"Who will tell me the truth about my lost darling?" cried Edward
Arundel. "Who will help me to look for my missing love?"

His lost darling; his missing love. It was thus that the young man
spoke of his wife. That dark thought which had been suggested to him by
the words of Olivia, by the mute evidence of the little bronze slipper
picked up near the river-brink, had never taken root, or held even a
temporary place in his breast. He would not--nay, more, he could
not--think that his wife was dead. In all his confused and miserable
dreams that dreary November night, no dream had ever shown him _that_.
No image of death had mingled itself with the distorted shadows that
had tormented his sleep. No still white face had looked up at him
through a veil of murky waters. No moaning sob of a rushing stream had
mixed its dismal sound with the many voices of his slumbers. No; he
feared all manner of unknown sorrows; he looked vaguely forward to a
sea of difficulty, to be waded across in blindness and bewilderment
before he could clasp his rescued wife in his arms; but he never
thought that she was dead.

Presently the idea came to him that it was outside Marchmont
Towers,--away, beyond the walls of this grim, enchanted castle, where
evil spirits seemed to hold possession,--that he should seek for the
clue to his wife's hiding-place.

"There is Hester, that girl who was fond of Mary," he thought; "she may
be able to tell me something, perhaps. I will go to her."

He went out into the hall to look for his servant, the faithful
Morrison, who had been eating a very substantial breakfast with the
domestics of the Towers--"the sauce to meat" being a prolonged
discussion of the facts connected with Mary Marchmont's disappearance
and her relations with Edward Arundel--and who came, radiant and greasy
from the enjoyment of hot buttered cakes and Lincolnshire bacon, at the
sound of his master's voice.

"I want you to get me some vehicle, and a lad who will drive me a few
miles, Morrison," the young soldier said; "or you can drive me
yourself, perhaps?"

"Certainly, Master Edward; I have driven your pa often, when we was
travellin' together. I'll go and see if there's a phee-aton or a shay
that will suit you, sir; something that goes easy on its springs."

"Get anything," muttered Captain Arundel, "so long as you can get it
without loss of time."

All fuss and anxiety upon the subject of his health worried the young
man. He felt his head dizzied with weakness and excitement; his
arm--that muscular right arm, which had done him good service two years
before in an encounter with a tigress--was weaker than the jewel-bound
wrist of a woman. But he chafed against anything like consideration of
his weakness; he rebelled against anything that seemed likely to hinder
him in that one object upon which all the powers of his mind were bent.

Mr. Morrison went away with some show of briskness, but dropped into a
very leisurely pace as soon as he was fairly out of his master's sight.
He went straight to the stables, where he had a pleasant gossip with
the grooms and hangers-on, and amused himself further by inspecting
every bit of horseflesh in the Marchmont stables, prior to selecting a
quiet grey cob which he felt himself capable of driving, and an
old-fashioned gig with a yellow body and black and yellow wheels,
bearing a strong resemblance to a monstrous wooden wasp.

While the faithful attendant to whom Mrs. Arundel had delegated the
care of her son was thus employed, the soldier stood in the stone hall,
looking out at the dreary wintry landscape, and pining to hurry away
across the dismal swamps to the village in which he hoped to hear
tidings of her he sought. He was lounging in a deep oaken window-seat,
looking hopelessly at that barren prospect, that monotonous expanse of
flat morass and leaden sky, when he heard a footstep behind him; and
turning round saw Olivia's confidential servant, Barbara Simmons, the
woman who had watched by his wife's sick-bed,--the woman whom he had
compared to a ghoule.

She was walking slowly across the hall towards Olivia's room, whither a
bell had just summoned her. Mrs. Marchmont had lately grown fretful and
capricious, and did not care to be waited upon by any one except this
woman, who had known her from her childhood, and was no stranger to her
darkest moods.

Edward Arundel had determined to appeal to every living creature who
was likely to know anything of his wife's disappearance, and he
snatched the first opportunity of questioning this woman.

"Stop, Mrs. Simmons," he said, moving away from the window; "I want to
speak to you; I want to talk to you about my wife."

The woman turned to him with a blank face, whose expressionless stare
might mean either genuine surprise or an obstinate determination not to
understand anything that might be said to her.

"Your wife, Captain Arundel!" she said, in cold measured tones, but
with an accent of astonishment.

"Yes; my wife. Mary Marchmont, my lawfully-wedded wife. Look here,
woman," cried Edward Arundel; "if you cannot accept the word of a
soldier, and an honourable man, you can perhaps believe the evidence of
your eyes."

He took a morocco memorandum-book from his breast-pocket. It was full
of letters, cards, bank-notes, and miscellaneous scraps of paper
carelessly stuffed into it, and amongst them Captain Arundel found the
certificate of his marriage, which he had put away at random upon his
wedding morning, and which had lain unheeded in his pocket-book ever
since.

"Look here," he cried, spreading the document before the
waiting-woman's eyes, and pointing, with a shaking hand, to the lines.
"You believe that, I suppose?"

"O yes, sir," Barbara Simmons answered, after deliberately reading the
certificate. "I have no reason to disbelieve it; no wish to disbelieve
it."

"No; I suppose not," muttered Edward Arundel, "unless you too are
leagued with Paul Marchmont."

The woman did not flinch at this hinted accusation, but answered the
young man in that slow and emotionless manner which no change of
circumstance seemed to have power to alter.

"I am leagued with no one, sir," she said, coldly. "I serve no one
except my mistress, Miss Olivia--I mean Mrs. Marchmont."

The study-bell rang for the second time while she was speaking.

"I must go to my mistress now, sir," she said. "You heard her ringing
for me."

"Go, then, and let me see you as you come back. I tell you I must and
will speak to you. Everybody in this house tries to avoid me. It seems
as if I was not to get a straight answer from any one of you. But I
_will_ know all that is to be known about my lost wife. Do you hear,
woman? I will know!"

"I will come back to you directly, sir," Barbara Simmons answered
quietly.

The leaden calmness of this woman's manner irritated Edward Arundel
beyond all power of expression. Before his cousin Olivia's gloomy
coldness he had been flung back upon himself as before an iceberg; but
every now and then some sudden glow of fiery emotion had shot up amid
that frigid mass, lurid and blazing, and the iceberg had been
transformed into an angry and passionate woman, who might, in that
moment of fierce emotion, betray the dark secrets of her soul. But
_this_ woman's manner presented a passive barrier, athwart which the
young soldier was as powerless to penetrate as he would have been to
walk through a block of solid stone.

Olivia was like some black and stony castle, whose barred windows bade
defiance to the besieger, but behind whose narrow casements transient
flashes of light gleamed fitfully upon the watchers without, hinting at
the mysteries that were hidden within the citadel.

Barbara Simmons resembled a blank stone wall, grimly confronting the
eager traveller, and giving no indication whatever of the unknown
country on the other side.

She came back almost immediately, after being only a few moments in
Olivia's room,--certainly not long enough to consult with her mistress
as to what she was to say or to leave unsaid,--and presented herself
before Captain Arundel.

"If you have any questions to ask, sir, about Miss Marchmont--about
your wife--I shall be happy to answer them," she said.

"I have a hundred questions to ask," exclaimed the young man; "but
first answer me this one plainly and truthfully--Where do you think my
wife has gone? What do you think has become of her?"

The woman was silent for a few moments, and then answered very
gravely,--

"I would rather not say what I think, sir."

"Why not?"

"Because I might say that which would make you unhappy."

"Can anything be more miserable to me than the prevarication which I
meet with on every side?" cried Edward Arundel. "If you or any one else
will be straightforward with me--remembering that I come to this place
like a man who has risen from the grave, depending wholly on the word
of others for the knowledge of that which is more vital to me than
anything upon this earth--that person will be the best friend I have
found since I rose from my sick-bed to come hither. You can have had no
motive--if you are not in Paul Marchmont's pay--for being cruel to my
poor girl. Tell me the truth, then; speak, and speak fearlessly."

"I have no reason to fear, sir," answered Barbara Simmons, lifting her
faded eyes to the young man's eager face, with a gaze that seemed to
say, "I have done no wrong, and I do not shrink from justifying
myself." "I have no reason to fear, sir; I was piously brought up, and
have done my best always to do my duty in the state of life in which
Providence has been pleased to place me. I have not had a particularly
happy life, sir; for thirty years ago I lost all that made me happy, in
them that loved me, and had a claim to love me. I have attached myself
to my mistress; but it isn't for me to expect a lady like her would
stoop to make me more to her or nearer to her than I have a right to be
as a servant."

There was no accent of hypocrisy or cant in any one of these
deliberately-spoken words. It seemed as if in this speech the woman had
told the history of her life; a brief, unvarnished history of a barren
life, out of which all love and sunlight had been early swept away,
leaving behind a desolate blank, that was not destined to be filled up
by any affection from the young mistress so long and patiently served.

"I am faithful to my mistress, sir," Barbara Simmons added, presently;
"and I try my best to do my duty to her. I owe no duty to any one
else."

"You owe a duty to humanity," answered Edward Arundel. "Woman, do you
think duty is a thing to be measured by line and rule? Christ came to
save the lost sheep of the children of Israel; but was He less pitiful
to the Canaanitish woman when she carried her sorrows to His feet? You
and your mistress have made hard precepts for yourselves, and have
tried to live by them. You try to circumscribe the area of your
Christian charity, and to do good within given limits. The traveller
who fell among thieves would have died of his wounds, for any help he
might have had from you, if he had lain beyond your radius. Have you
yet to learn that Christianity is cosmopolitan, illimitable,
inexhaustible, subject to no laws of time or space? The duty you owe to
your mistress is a duty that she buys and pays for--a matter of sordid
barter, to be settled when you take your wages; the duty you owe to
every miserable creature in your pathway is a sacred debt, to be
accounted for to God."

As the young soldier spoke thus, carried away by his passionate
agitation, suddenly eloquent by reason of the intensity of his feeling,
a change came over Barbara's face. There was no very palpable evidence
of emotion in that stolid countenance; but across the wooden blankness
of the woman's face flitted a transient shadow, which was like the
shadow of fear.

"I tried to do my duty to Miss Marchmont as well as to my mistress,"
she said. "I waited on her faithfully while she was ill. I sat up with
her six nights running; I didn't take my clothes off for a week. There
are folks in the house who can tell you as much."

"God knows I am grateful to you, and will reward you for any pity you
may have shown my poor darling," the young man answered, in a more
subdued tone; "only, if you pity me, and wish to help me, speak out,
and speak plainly. What do you think has become of my lost girl?"

"I cannot tell you, sir. As God looks down upon me and judges me, I
declare to you that I know no more than you know. But I think----"

"You think what?"

"That you will never see Miss Marchmont again."

Edward Arundel started as violently as if, of all sentences, this was
the last he had expected to hear pronounced. His sanguine temperament,
fresh in its vigorous and untainted youth, could not grasp the thought
of despair. He could be mad with passionate anger against the obstacles
that separated him from his wife; but he could not believe those
obstacles to be insurmountable. He could not doubt the power of his own
devotion and courage to bring him back his lost love.

"Never--see her--again!"

He repeated these words as if they had belonged to a strange language,
and he were trying to make out their meaning.

"You think," he gasped hoarsely, after a long pause,--"you
think--that--she is--dead?"

"I think that she went out of this house in a desperate state of mind.
She was seen--not by me, for I should have thought it my duty to stop
her if I had seen her so--she was seen by one of the servants crying
and sobbing awfully as she went away upon that last afternoon."

"And she was never seen again?"

"Never by me."

"And--you--you think she went out of this house with the intention
of--of--destroying herself?"

The words died away in a hoarse whisper, and it was by the motion of
his white lips that Barbara Simmons perceived what the young man meant.

"I do, sir."

"Have you any--particular reason for thinking so?"

"No reason beyond what I have told you, sir."

Edward Arundel bent his head, and walked away to hide his blanched
face. He tried instinctively to conceal this mental suffering, as he
had sometimes hidden physical torture in an Indian hospital, prompted
by the involuntary impulse of a brave man. But though the woman's words
had come upon him like a thunderbolt, he had no belief in the opinion
they expressed. No; his young spirit wrestled against and rejected the
awful conclusion. Other people might think what they chose; but he knew
better than they. His wife was _not_ dead. His life had been so smooth,
so happy, so prosperous, so unclouded and successful, that it was
scarcely strange he should be sceptical of calamity,--that his mind
should be incapable of grasping the idea of a catastrophe so terrible
as Mary's suicide.

"She was intrusted to me by her father," he thought. "She gave her
faith to me before God's altar. She _cannot_ have perished body and
soul; she _cannot_ have gone down to destruction for want of my arm
outstretched to save her. God is too good to permit such misery."

The young soldier's piety was of the simplest and most unquestioning
order, and involved an implicit belief that a right cause must always
be ultimately victorious. With the same blind faith in which he had
often muttered a hurried prayer before plunging in amidst the mad havoc
of an Indian battle-field, confident that the justice of Heaven would
never permit heathenish Affghans to triumph over Christian British
gentlemen, he now believed that, in the darkest hour of Mary
Marchmont's life, God's arm had held her back from the dread
horror--the unatonable offence--of self-destruction.

"I thank you for having spoken frankly to me," he said to Barbara
Simmons; "I believe that you have spoken in good faith. But I do not
think my darling is for ever lost to me. I anticipate trouble and
anxiety, disappointment, defeat for a time,--for a long time, perhaps;
but I _know_ that I shall find her in the end. The business of my life
henceforth is to look for her."

Barbara's dull eyes held earnest watch upon the young man's countenance
as he spoke. Anxiety and even fear were in that gaze, palpable to those
who knew how to read the faint indications of the woman's stolid face.



CHAPTER X.

THE PARAGRAPH IN THE NEWSPAPER.


Mr. Morrison brought the gig and pony to the western porch while
Captain Arundel was talking to his cousin's servant, and presently the
invalid was being driven across the flat between the Towers and the
high-road to Kemberling.

Mary's old favourite, Farmer Pollard's daughter, came out of a low
rustic shop as the gig drew up before her husband's door. This
good-natured, tender-hearted Hester, advanced to matronly dignity under
the name of Mrs. Jobson, carried a baby in her arms, and wore a white
dimity hood, that made a penthouse over her simple rosy face. But at
the sight of Captain Arundel nearly all the rosy colour disappeared
from the country-woman's plump cheeks, and she stared aghast at the
unlooked-for visitor, almost ready to believe that, if anything so
substantial as a pony and gig could belong to the spiritual world, it
was the phantom only of the soldier that she looked upon.

"O sir!" she said; "O Captain Arundel, is it really you?"

Edward alighted before Hester could recover from the surprise
occasioned by his appearance.

"Yes, Mrs. Jobson," he said. "May I come into your house? I wish to
speak to you."

Hester curtseyed, and stood aside to allow her visitor to pass her. Her
manner was coldly respectful, and she looked at the young officer with
a grave, reproachful face, which was strange to him. She ushered her
guest into a parlour at the back of the shop; a prim apartment,
splendid with varnished mahogany, shell-work boxes--bought during
Hester's honeymoon-trip to a Lincolnshire watering-place--and
voluminous achievements in the way of crochet-work; a gorgeous and
Sabbath-day chamber, looking across a stand of geraniums into a garden
that was orderly and trimly kept even in this dull November weather.

Mrs. Jobson drew forward an uneasy easy-chair, covered with horsehair,
and veiled by a crochet-work representation of a peacock embowered
among roses. She offered this luxurious seat to Captain Arundel, who,
in his weakness, was well content to sit down upon the slippery
cushions.

"I have come here to ask you to help me in my search for my wife,
Hester," Edward Arundel said, in a scarcely audible voice.

It is not given to the bravest mind to be utterly independent and
defiant of the body; and the soldier was beginning to feel that he had
very nearly run the length of his tether, and must soon submit himself
to be prostrated by sheer physical weakness.

"Your wife!" cried Hester eagerly. "O sir, is that true?"

"Is what true?"

"That poor Miss Mary was your lawful wedded wife?"

"She was," replied Edward Arundel sternly, "my true and lawful wife.
What else should she have been, Mrs. Jobson?"

The farmer's daughter burst into tears.

"O sir," she said, sobbing violently as she spoke,--"O sir, the things
that was said against that poor dear in this place and all about the
Towers! The things that was said! It makes my heart bleed to think of
them; it makes my heart ready to break when I think what my poor sweet
young lady must have suffered. And it set me against you, sir; and I
thought you was a bad and cruel-hearted man!"

"What did they say?" cried Edward. "What did they dare to say against
her or against me?"

"They said that you had enticed her away from her home, sir, and
that--that--there had been no marriage; and that you had deluded that
poor innocent dear to run away with you; and that you'd deserted her
afterwards, and the railway accident had come upon you as a punishment
like; and that Mrs. Marchmont had found poor Miss Mary all alone at a
country inn, and had brought her back to the Towers."

"But what if people did say this?" exclaimed Captain Arundel. "You
could have contradicted their foul slanders; you could have spoken in
defence of my poor helpless girl."

"Me, sir!"

"Yes. You must have heard the truth from my wife's own lips."

Hester Jobson burst into a new flood of tears as Edward Arundel said
this.

"O no, sir," she sobbed; "that was the most cruel thing of all. I never
could get to see Miss Mary; they wouldn't let me see her."

"Who wouldn't let you?"

"Mrs. Marchmont and Mr. Paul Marchmont. I was laid up, sir, when the
report first spread about that Miss Mary had come home. Things was kept
very secret, and it was said that Mrs. Marchmont was dreadfully cut up
by the disgrace that had come upon her stepdaughter. My baby was born
about that time, sir; but as soon as ever I could get about, I went up
to the Towers, in the hope of seeing my poor dear miss. But Mrs.
Simmons, Mrs. Marchmont's own maid, told me that Miss Mary was ill,
very ill, and that no one was allowed to see her except those that
waited upon her and that she was used to. And I begged and prayed that
I might be allowed to see her, sir, with the tears in my eyes; for my
heart bled for her, poor darling dear, when I thought of the cruel
things that was said against her, and thought that, with all her riches
and her learning, folks could dare to talk of her as they wouldn't dare
talk of a poor man's wife like me. And I went again and again, sir; but
it was no good; and, the last time I went, Mrs. Marchmont came out into
the hall to me, and told me that I was intrusive and impertinent, and
that it was me, and such as me, as had set all manner of scandal afloat
about her stepdaughter. But I went again, sir, even after that; and I
saw Mr. Paul Marchmont, and he was very kind to me, and frank and
free-spoken,--almost like you, sir; and he told me that Mrs. Marchmont
was rather stern and unforgiving towards the poor young lady,--he spoke
very kind and pitiful of poor Miss Mary,--and that he would stand my
friend, and he'd contrive that I should see my poor dear as soon as
ever she picked up her spirits a bit, and was more fit to see me; and I
was to come again in a week's time, he said."

"Well; and when you went----?"

"When I went, sir," sobbed the carpenter's wife, "it was the 18th of
October, and Miss Mary had run away upon the day before, and every body
at the Towers was being sent right and left to look for her. I saw Mrs.
Marchmont for a minute that afternoon; and she was as white as a sheet,
and all of a tremble from head to foot, and she walked about the place
as if she was out of her mind like."

"Guilt," thought the young soldier; "guilt of some sort. God only knows
what that guilt has been!"

He covered his face with his hands, and waited to hear what more Hester
Jobson had to tell him. There was no need of questioning here--no
reservation or prevarication. With almost as tender regret as he
himself could have felt, the carpenter's wife told him all that she
knew of the sad story of Mary's disappearance.

"Nobody took much notice of me, sir, in the confusion of the place,"
Mrs. Jobson continued; "and there is a parlour-maid at the Towers
called Susan Rose, that had been a schoolfellow with me ten years
before, and I got her to tell me all about it. And she said that poor
dear Miss Mary had been weak and ailing ever since she had recovered
from the brain-fever, and that she had shut herself up in her room, and
had seen no one except Mrs. Marchmont, and Mr. Paul, and Barbara
Simmons; but on the 17th Mrs. Marchmont sent for her, asking her to
come to the study. And the poor young lady went; and then Susan Rose
thinks that there was high words between Mrs. Marchmont and her
stepdaughter; for as Susan was crossing the hall poor Miss came out of
the study, and her face was all smothered in tears, and she cried out,
as she came into the hall, 'I can't bear it any longer. My life is too
miserable; my fate is too wretched!' And then she ran upstairs, and
Susan Rose followed up to her room and listened outside the door; and
she heard the poor dear sobbing and crying out again and again, 'O
papa, papa! If you knew what I suffer! O papa, papa, papa!'--so
pitiful, that if Susan Rose had dared she would have gone in to try and
comfort her; but Miss Mary had always been very reserved to all the
servants, and Susan didn't dare intrude upon her. It was late that
evening when my poor young lady was missed, and the servants sent out
to look for her."

"And you, Hester,--you knew my wife better than any of these
people,--where do you think she went?"

Hester Jobson looked piteously at the questioner.

"O sir!" she cried; "O Captain Arundel, don't ask me; pray, pray don't
ask me."

"You think like these other people,--you think that she went away to
destroy herself?"

"O sir, what can I think, what can I think except that? She was last
seen down by the water-side, and one of her shoes was picked up amongst
the rushes; and for all there's been such a search made after her, and
a reward offered, and advertisements in the papers, and everything done
that mortal could do to find her, there's been no news of her,
sir,--not a trace to tell of her being living; not a creature to come
forward and speak to her being seen by them after that day. What can I
think, sir, what can I think, except--"

"Except that she threw herself into the river behind Marchmont Towers."

"I've tried to think different, sir; I've tried to hope I should see
that poor sweet lamb again; but I can't, I can't. I've worn mourning
for these three last Sundays, sir; for I seemed to feel as if it was a
sin and a disrespectfulness towards her to wear colours, and sit in the
church where I have seen her so often, looking so meek and beautiful,
Sunday after Sunday."

Edward Arundel bowed his head upon his hands and wept silently. This
woman's belief in Mary's death afflicted him more than he dared confess
to himself. He had defied Olivia and Paul Marchmont, as enemies, who
tried to force a false conviction upon him; but he could neither doubt
nor defy this honest, warm-hearted creature, who wept aloud over the
memory of his wife's sorrows. He could not doubt her sincerity; but he
still refused to accept the belief which on every side was pressed upon
him. He still refused to think that his wife was dead.

"The river was dragged for more than a week," he said, presently, "and
my wife's body was never found."

Hester Jobson shook her head mournfully.

"That's a poor sign, sir," she answered; "the river's full of holes,
I've heard say. My husband had a fellow-'prentice who drowned himself
in that river seven year ago, and _his_ body was never found."

Edward Arundel rose and walked towards the door.

"I do not believe that my wife is dead," he cried. He held out his hand
to the carpenter's wife. "God bless you!" he said. "I thank you from my
heart for your tender feeling towards my lost girl."

He went out to the gig, in which Mr. Morrison waited for him, rather
tired of his morning's work.

"There is an inn a little way farther along the street, Morrison,"
Captain Arundel said. "I shall stop there."

The man stared at his master.

"And not go back to Marchmont Towers, Mr. Edward?"

"No."

Edward Arundel had held Nature in abeyance for more than
four-and-twenty hours, and this outraged Nature now took her revenge by
flinging the young man prostrate and powerless upon his bed at the
simple Kemberling hostelry, and holding him prisoner there for three
dreary days; three miserable days, with long, dark interminable
evenings, during which the invalid had no better employment than to lie
brooding over his sorrows, while Mr. Morrison read the "Times"
newspaper in a monotonous and droning voice, for his sick master's
entertainment.

How that helpless and prostrate prisoner, bound hand and foot in the
stern grasp of retaliative Nature, loathed the leading-articles, the
foreign correspondence, in the leviathan journal! How he sickened at
the fiery English of Printing-House Square, as expounded by Mr.
Morrison! The sound of the valet's voice was like the unbroken flow of
a dull river. The great names that surged up every now and then upon
that sluggish tide of oratory made no impression upon the sick man's
mind. What was it to him if the glory of England were in danger, the
freedom of a mighty people wavering in the balance? What was it to him
if famine-stricken Ireland were perishing, and the far-away Indian
possessions menaced by contumacious and treacherous Sikhs? What was it
to him if the heavens were shrivelled like a blazing scroll, and the
earth reeling on its shaken foundations? What had he to do with any
catastrophe except that which had fallen upon his innocent young wife?

"O my broken trust!" he muttered sometimes, to the alarm of the
confidential servant; "O my broken trust!"

But during the three days in which Captain Arundel lay in the best
chamber at the Black Bull--the chief inn of Kemberling, and a very
splendid place of public entertainment long ago, when all the
northward-bound coaches had passed through that quiet Lincolnshire
village--he was not without a medical attendant to give him some feeble
help in the way of drugs and doctor's stuff, in the battle which he was
fighting with offended Nature. I don't know but that the help, however
well intended, may have gone rather to strengthen the hand of the
enemy; for in those days--the year '48 is very long ago when we take
the measure of time by science--country practitioners were apt to place
themselves upon the side of the disease rather than of the patient, and
to assist grim Death in his siege, by lending the professional aid of
purgatives and phlebotomy.

On this principle Mr. George Weston, the surgeon of Kemberling, and the
submissive and well-tutored husband of Paul Marchmont's sister, would
fain have set to work with the prostrate soldier, on the plea that the
patient's skin was hot and dry, and his white lips parched with fever.
But Captain Arundel protested vehemently against any such treatment.

"You shall not take an ounce of blood out of my veins," he said, "or
give me one drop of medicine that will weaken me. What I want is
strength; strength to get up and leave this intolerable room, and go
about the business that I have to do. As to fever," he added
scornfully, "as long as I have to lie here and am hindered from going
about the business of my life, every drop of my blood will boil with a
fever that all the drugs in Apothecaries' Hall would have no power to
subdue. Give me something to strengthen me. Patch me up somehow or
other, Mr. Weston, if you can. But I warn you that, if you keep me long
here, I shall leave this place either a corpse or a madman."

The surgeon, drinking tea with his wife and brother-in-law half an hour
afterwards, related the conversation that had taken place between
himself and his patient, breaking up his narrative with a great many "I
said's" and "said he's," and with a good deal of rambling commentary
upon the text.

Lavinia Weston looked at her brother while the surgeon told his story.

"He is very desperate about his wife, then, this dashing young
captain?" Mr. Marchmont said, presently.

"Awful," answered the surgeon; "regular awful. I never saw anything
like it. Really it was enough to cut a man up to hear him go on so. He
asked me all sorts of questions about the time when she was ill and I
attended upon her, and what did she say to me, and did she seem very
unhappy, and all that sort of thing. Upon my word, you know, Mr.
Paul,--of course I am very glad to think of your coming into the
fortune, and I'm very much obliged to you for the kind promises you've
made to me and Lavinia; but I almost felt as if I could have wished the
poor young lady hadn't drowned herself."

Mrs. Weston shrugged her shoulders, and looked at her brother.

"_Imbecile!_" she muttered.

She was accustomed to talk to her brother very freely in rather
school-girl French before her husband, to whom that language was as the
most recondite of tongues, and who heartily admired her for superior
knowledge.

He sat staring at her now, and eating bread-and-butter with a simple
relish, which in itself was enough to mark him out as a man to be
trampled upon.

 * * * * *

On the fourth day after his interview with Hester, Edward Arundel was
strong enough to leave his chamber at the Black Bull.

"I shall go to London by to-night's mail, Morrison," he said to his
servant; "but before I leave Lincolnshire, I must pay another visit to
Marchmont Towers. You can stop here, and pack my portmanteau while I
go."

A rumbling old fly--looked upon as a splendid equipage by the
inhabitants of Kemberling--was furnished for Captain Arundel's
accommodation by the proprietor of the Black Bull; and once more the
soldier approached that ill-omened dwelling-place which had been the
home of his wife.

He was ushered without any delay to the study in which Olivia spent the
greater part of her time.

The dusky afternoon was already closing in. A low fire burned in the
old-fashioned grate, and one lighted wax-candle stood upon an open
davenport, before which the widow sat amid a confusion of torn papers,
cast upon the ground about her.

The open drawers of the davenport, the littered scraps of paper and
loosely-tied documents, thrust, without any show of order, into the
different compartments of the desk, bore testimony to that state of
mental distraction which had been common to Olivia Marchmont for some
time past. She herself, the gloomy tenant of the Towers, sat with her
elbow resting on her desk, looking hopelessly and absently at the
confusion before her.

"I am very tired," she said, with a sigh, as she motioned her cousin to
a chair. "I have been trying to sort my papers, and to look for bills
that have to be paid, and receipts. They come to me about everything. I
am very tired."

Her manner was changed from that stern defiance with which she had last
confronted her kinsman to an air of almost piteous feebleness. She
rested her head on her hand, repeating, in a low voice,

"Yes, I am very tired."

Edward Arundel looked earnestly at her faded face, so faded from that
which he remembered it in its proud young beauty, that, in spite of his
doubt of this woman, he could scarcely refrain from some touch of pity
for her.

"You are ill, Olivia," he said.

"Yes, I am ill; I am worn out; I am tired of my life. Why does not God
have pity upon me, and take the bitter burden away? I have carried it
too long."

She said this not so much to her cousin as to herself. She was like Job
in his despair, and cried aloud to the Supreme Himself in a gloomy
protest against her anguish.

"Olivia," said Edward Arundel very earnestly, "what is it that makes
you unhappy? Is the burden that you carry a burden on your conscience?
Is the black shadow upon your life a guilty secret? Is the cause of
your unhappiness that which I suspect it to be? Is it that, in some
hour of passion, you consented to league yourself with Paul Marchmont
against my poor innocent girl? For pity's sake, speak, and undo what
you have done. You cannot have been guilty of a crime. There has been
some foul play, some conspiracy, some suppression; and my darling has
been lured away by the machinations of this man. But he could not have
got her into his power without your help. You hated her,--Heaven alone
knows for what reason,--and in an evil hour you helped him, and now you
are sorry for what you have done. But it is not too late, Olivia;
Olivia, it is surely not too late. Speak, speak, woman, and undo what
you have done. As you hope for mercy and forgiveness from God, undo
what you have done. I will exact no atonement from you. Paul Marchmont,
this smooth traitor, this frank man of the world, who defied me with a
smile,--he only shall be called upon to answer for the wrong done
against my darling. Speak, Olivia, for pity's sake," cried the young
man, casting himself upon his knees at his cousin's feet. "You are of
my own blood; you must have some spark of regard for me; have
compassion upon me, then, or have compassion upon your own guilty soul,
which must perish everlastingly if you withhold the truth. Have pity,
Olivia, and speak!"

The widow had risen to her feet, recoiling from the soldier as he knelt
before her, and looking at him with an awful light in the eyes that
alone gave life to her corpse-like face.

Suddenly she flung her arms up above her head, stretching her wasted
hands towards the ceiling.

"By the God who has renounced and abandoned me," she cried, "I have no
more knowledge than you have of Mary Marchmont's fate. From the hour in
which she left this house, upon the 17th of October, until this present
moment, I have neither seen her nor heard of her. If I have lied to
you, Edward Arundel," she added, dropping her extended arms, and
turning quietly to her cousin,--"if I have lied to you in saying this,
may the tortures which I suffer be doubled to me,--if in the infinite
of suffering there is any anguish worse than that I now endure."

Edward Arundel paused for a little while, brooding over this strange
reply to his appeal. Could he disbelieve his cousin?

It is common to some people to make forcible and impious asseverations
of an untruth shamelessly, in the very face of an insulted Heaven. But
Olivia Marchmont was a woman who, in the very darkest hour of her
despair, knew no wavering from her faith in the God she had offended.

"I cannot refuse to believe you, Olivia," Captain Arundel said
presently. "I do believe in your solemn protestations, and I no longer
look for help from you in my search for my lost love. I absolve you
from all suspicion of being aware of her fate _after_ she left this
house. But so long as she remained beneath this roof she was in your
care, and I hold you responsible for the ills that may have then
befallen her. You, Olivia, must have had some hand in driving that
unhappy girl away from her home."

The widow had resumed her seat by the open davenport. She sat with her
head bent, her brows contracted, her mouth fixed and rigid, her left
hand trifling absently with the scattered papers before her.

"You accused me of this once before, when Mary Marchmont left this
house," she said sullenly.

"And you were guilty then," answered Edward.

"I cannot hold myself answerable for the actions of others. Mary
Marchmont left this time, as she left before, of her own free will."

"Driven away by your cruel words."

"She must have been very weak," answered Olivia, with a sneer, "if a
few harsh words were enough to drive her away from her own house."

"You deny, then, that you were guilty of causing this poor deluded
child's flight from this house?"

Olivia Marchmont sat for some moments in moody silence; then suddenly
raising her head, she looked her cousin full in the face.

"I do," she exclaimed; "if any one except herself is guilty of an act
which was her own, I am not that person."

"I understand," said Edward Arundel; "it was Paul Marchmont's hand that
drove her out upon the dreary world. It was Paul Marchmont's brain that
plotted against her. You were only a minor instrument; a willing tool,
in the hands of a subtle villain. But he shall answer; he shall
answer!"

The soldier spoke the last words between his clenched teeth. Then with
his chin upon his breast, he sat thinking over what he had just heard.

"How was it?" he muttered; "how was it? He is too consummate a villain
to use violence. His manner the other morning told me that the law was
on his side. He had done nothing to put himself into my power, and he
defied me. How was it, then? By what means did he drive my darling to
her despairing flight?"

As Captain Arundel sat thinking of these things, his cousin's idle
fingers still trifled with the papers on the desk; while, with her chin
resting on her other hand, and her eyes fixed upon the wall before her,
she stared blankly at the reflection of the flame of the candle on the
polished oaken panel. Her idle fingers, following no design, strayed
here and there among the scattered papers, until a few that lay nearest
the edge of the desk slid off the smooth morocco, and fluttered to the
ground.

Edward Arundel, as absent-minded as his cousin, stooped involuntarily
to pick up the papers. The uppermost of those that had fallen was a
slip cut from a country newspaper, to which was pinned an open letter,
a few lines only. The paragraph in the newspaper slip was marked by
double ink-lines, drawn round it by a neat penman. Again almost
involuntarily, Edward Arundel looked at this marked paragraph. It was
very brief:

"We regret to be called upon to state that another of the sufferers in
the accident which occurred last August on the South-Western Railway
has expired from injuries received upon that occasion. Captain Arundel,
of the H.E.I.C.S., died on Friday night at Dangerfield Park, Devon, the
seat of his elder brother."

The letter was almost as brief as the paragraph:

"Kemberling, October 17th.

"MY DEAR MRS. MARCHMONT,--The enclosed has just come to hand. Let us
hope it is not true. But, in case of the worst, it should be shown to
Miss Marchmont _immediately_. Better that she should hear the news from
you than from a stranger.

"Yours sincerely,

"PAUL MARCHMONT."

"I understand everything now," said Edward Arundel, laying these two
papers before his cousin; "it was with this printed lie that you and
Paul Marchmont drove my wife to despair--perhaps to death. My darling,
my darling," cried the young man, in a burst of uncontrollable agony,
"I refused to believe that you were dead; I refused to believe that you
were lost to me. I can believe it now; I can believe it now."



CHAPTER XI.

EDWARD ARUNDEL'S DESPAIR.


Yes; Edward Arundel could believe the worst now. He could believe now
that his young wife, on hearing tidings of his death, had rushed madly
to her own destruction; too desolate, too utterly unfriended and
miserable, to live under the burden of her sorrows.

Mary had talked to her husband in the happy, loving confidence of her
bright honeymoon; she had talked to him of her father's death, and the
horrible grief she had felt; the heart-sickness, the eager yearning to
be carried to the same grave, to rest in the same silent sleep.

"I think I tried to throw myself from the window upon the night before
papa's funeral," she had said; "but I fainted away. I know it was very
wicked of me. But I was mad. My wretchedness had driven me mad."

He remembered this. Might not this girl, this helpless child, in the
first desperation of her grief, have hurried down to that dismal river,
to hide her sorrows for ever under its slow and murky tide?

Henceforward it was with a new feeling that Edward Arundel looked for
his missing wife. The young and hopeful spirit which had wrestled
against conviction, which had stubbornly preserved its own sanguine
fancies against the gloomy forebodings of others, had broken down
before the evidence of that false paragraph in the country newspaper.
That paragraph was the key to the sad mystery of Mary Arundel's
disappearance. Her husband could understand now why she ran away, why
she despaired; and how, in that desperation and despair, she might have
hastily ended her short life.

It was with altered feelings, therefore, that he went forth to look for
her. He was no longer passionate and impatient, for he no longer
believed that his young wife lived to yearn for his coming, and to
suffer for the want of his protection; he no longer thought of her as a
lonely and helpless wanderer driven from her rightful home, and in her
childish ignorance straying farther and farther away from him who had
the right to succour and to comfort her. No; he thought of her now with
sullen despair at his heart; he thought of her now in utter
hopelessness; he thought of her with a bitter and agonising regret,
which we only feel for the dead.

But this grief was not the only feeling that held possession of the
young soldier's breast. Stronger even than his sorrow was his eager
yearning for vengeance, his savage desire for retaliation.

"I look upon Paul Marchmont as the murderer of my wife," he said to
Olivia, on that November evening on which he saw the paragraph in the
newspaper; "I look upon that man as the deliberate destroyer of a
helpless girl; and he shall answer to me for her life. He shall answer
to me for every pang she suffered, for every tear she shed. God have
mercy upon her poor erring soul, and help me to my vengeance upon her
destroyer."

He lifted his eyes to heaven as he spoke, and a solemn shadow
overspread his pale face, like a dark cloud upon a winter landscape.

I have said that Edward Arundel no longer felt a frantic impatience to
discover his wife's fate. The sorrowful conviction which at last had
forced itself upon him left no room for impatience. The pale face he
had loved was lying hidden somewhere beneath those dismal waters. He
had no doubt of that. There was no need of any other solution to the
mystery of his wife's disappearance. That which he had to seek for was
the evidence of Paul Marchmont's guilt.

The outspoken young soldier, whose nature was as transparent as the
stainless soul of a child, had to enter into the lists with a man who
was so different from himself, that it was almost difficult to believe
the two individuals belonged to the same species.

Captain Arundel went back to London, and betook himself forthwith to
the office of Messrs. Paulette, Paulette, and Mathewson. He had the
idea, common to many of his class, that all lawyers, whatever claims
they might have to respectability, are in a manner past-masters in
every villanous art; and, as such, the proper people to deal with a
villain.

"Richard Paulette will be able to help me," thought the young man;
"Richard Paulette saw through Paul Marchmont, I dare say."

But Richard Paulette had very little to say about the matter. He had
known Edward Arundel's father, and he had known the young soldier from
his early boyhood, and he seemed deeply grieved to witness his client's
distress; but he had nothing to say against Paul Marchmont.

"I cannot see what right you have to suspect Mr. Marchmont of any
guilty share in your wife's disappearance," he said. "Do not think I
defend him because he is our client. You know that we are rich enough,
and honourable enough, to refuse the business of any man whom we
thought a villain. When I was in Lincolnshire, Mr. Marchmont did
everything that a man could do to testify his anxiety to find his
cousin."

"Oh, yes," Edward Arundel answered bitterly; "that is only consistent
with the man's diabolical artifice; _that_ was a part of his scheme. He
wished to testify that anxiety, and he wanted you as a witness to his
conscientious search after my--poor--lost girl." His voice and manner
changed for a moment as he spoke of Mary.

Richard Paulette shook his head.

"Prejudice, prejudice, my dear Arundel," he said; "this is all
prejudice upon your part, I assure you. Mr. Marchmont behaved with
perfect honesty and candour. 'I won't tell you that I'm sorry to
inherit this fortune,' he said, 'because if I did you wouldn't believe
me--what man in his senses _could_ believe that a poor devil of a
landscape painter would regret coming into eleven thousand a year?--but
I am very sorry for this poor little girl's unhappy fate.' And I
believe," added Mr. Paulette, decisively, "that the man was heartily
sorry."

Edward Arundel groaned aloud.

"O God! this is too terrible," he muttered. "Everybody will believe in
this man rather than in me. How am I to be avenged upon the wretch who
caused my darling's death?"

He talked for a long time to the lawyer, but with no result. Richard
Paulette considered the young man's hatred of Paul Marchmont only a
natural consequence of his grief for Mary's death.

"I can't wonder that you are prejudiced against Mr. Marchmont," he
said; "it's natural; it's only natural; but, believe me, you are wrong.
Nothing could be more straightforward, and even delicate, than his
conduct. He refuses to take possession of the estate, or to touch a
farthing of the rents. 'No,' he said, when I suggested to him that he
had a right to enter in possession,--'no; we will not shut the door
against hope. My cousin may be hiding herself somewhere; she may return
by-and-by. Let us wait a twelvemonth. If at the end of that time, she
does not return, and if in the interim we receive no tidings from her,
no evidence of her existence, we may reasonably conclude that she is
dead; and I may fairly consider myself the rightful owner of Marchmont
Towers. In the mean time, you will act as if you were still Mary
Marchmont's agent, holding all moneys as in trust for her, but to be
delivered up to me at the expiration of a year from the day on which
she disappeared.' I do not think anything could be more straightforward
than that," added Richard Paulette, in conclusion.

"No," Edward answered, with a sigh; "it _seems_ very straightforward.
But the man who could strike at a helpless girl by means of a lying
paragraph in a newspaper--"

"Mr. Marchmont may have believed in that paragraph."

Edward Arundel rose, with a gesture of impatience.

"I came to you for help, Mr. Paulette," he said; "but I see you don't
mean to help me. Good day."

He left the office before the lawyer could remonstrate with him. He
walked away, with passionate anger against all the world raging in his
breast.

"Why, what a smooth-spoken, false-tongued world it is!" he thought.
"Let a man succeed in the vilest scheme, and no living creature will
care to ask by what foul means he may have won his success. What
weapons can I use against this Paul Marchmont, who twists truth and
honesty to his own ends, and masks his basest treachery under an
appearance of candour?"

From Lincoln's Inn Fields Captain Arundel drove over Waterloo Bridge to
Oakley Street. He went to Mrs. Pimpernel's establishment, without any
hope of the glad surprise that had met him there a few months before.
He believed implicitly that his wife was dead, and wherever he went in
search of her he went in utter hopelessness, only prompted by the
desire to leave no part of his duty undone.

The honest-hearted dealer in cast-off apparel wept bitterly when she
heard how sadly the Captain's honeymoon had ended. She would have been
content to detain the young soldier all day, while she bemoaned the
misfortunes that had come upon him; and now, for the first time, Edward
heard of dismal forebodings, and horrible dreams, and unaccountable
presentiments of evil, with which this honest woman had been afflicted
on and before his wedding-day, and of which she had made special
mention at the time to divers friends and acquaintances.

"I never shall forget how shivery-like I felt as the cab drove off,
with that pore dear a-lookin' and smilin' at me out of the winder. I
says to Mrs. Polson, as her husband is in the shoemakin' line, two
doors further down,--I says, 'I do hope Capting Harungdell's lady will
get safe to the end of her journey.' I felt the cold shivers a-creepin'
up my back just azackly like I did a fortnight before my pore Jane
died, and I couldn't get it off my mind as somethink was goin' to
happen."

From London Captain Arundel went to Winchester, much to the disgust of
his valet, who was accustomed to a luxuriously idle life at Dangerfield
Park, and who did not by any means relish this desultory wandering from
place to place. Perhaps there was some faint ray of hope in the young
man's mind, as he drew near to that little village-inn beneath whose
shelter he had been so happy with his childish bride. If she had _not_
committed suicide; if she had indeed wandered away, to try and bear her
sorrows in gentle Christian resignation; if she had sought some retreat
where she might be safe from her tormentors,--would not every instinct
of her loving heart have led her here?--here, amid these low meadows
and winding streams, guarded and surrounded by the pleasant shelter of
grassy hill-tops, crowned by waving trees?--here, where she had been so
happy with the husband of her choice?

But, alas! that newly-born hope, which had made the soldier's heart
beat and his cheek flush, was as delusive as many other hopes that lure
men and women onward in their weary wanderings upon this earth. The
landlord of the White Hart Inn answered Edward Arundel's question with
stolid indifference.

No; the young lady had gone away with her ma, and a gentleman who came
with her ma. She had cried a deal, poor thing, and had seemed very much
cut up. (It was from the chamber-maid Edward heard this.) But her ma
and the gentleman had seemed in a great hurry to take her away. The
gentleman said that a village inn wasn't the place for her, and he said
he was very much shocked to find her there; and he had a fly got ready,
and took the two ladies away in it to the George, at Winchester, and
they were to go from there to London; and the young lady was crying
when she went away, and was as pale as death, poor dear.

This was all that Captain Arundel gained by his journey to Milldale. He
went across country to the farming people near Reading, his wife's poor
relations. But they had heard nothing of her. They had wondered,
indeed, at having no letters from her, for she had been very kind to
them. They were terribly distressed when they were told of her
disappearance.

This was the forlorn hope. It was all over now. Edward Arundel could no
longer struggle against the cruel truth. He could do nothing now but
avenge his wife's sorrows. He went down to Devonshire, saw his mother,
and told her the sad story of Mary's flight. But he could not rest at
Dangerfield, though Mrs. Arundel implored him to stay long enough to
recruit his shattered health. He hurried back to London, made
arrangements with his agent for being bought out of his regiment by his
brother officers, and then, turning his back upon the career that had
been far dearer to him than his life, he went down to Lincolnshire once
more, in the dreary winter weather, to watch and wait patiently, if
need were, for the day of retribution.

There was a detached cottage, a lonely place enough, between Kemberling
and Marchmont Towers, that had been to let for a long time, being very
much out of repair, and by no means inviting in appearance. Edward
Arundel took this cottage. All necessary repairs and alterations were
executed under the direction of Mr. Morrison, who was to remain
permanently in the young man's service. Captain Arundel had a couple of
horses brought down to his new stable, and hired a country lad, who was
to act as groom under the eye of the factotum. Mr. Morrison and this
lad, with one female servant, formed Edward's establishment.

Paul Marchmont lifted his auburn eyebrows when he heard of the new
tenant of Kemberling Retreat. The lonely cottage had been christened
Kemberling Retreat by a sentimental tenant; who had ultimately
levanted, leaving his rent three quarters in arrear. The artist
exhibited a gentlemanly surprise at this new vagary of Edward
Arundel's, and publicly expressed his pity for the foolish young man.

"I am so sorry that the poor fellow should sacrifice himself to a
romantic grief for my unfortunate cousin," Mr. Marchmont said, in the
parlour of the Black Bull, where he condescended to drop in now and
then with his brother-in-law, and to make himself popular amongst the
magnates of Kemberling, and the tenant-farmers, who looked to him as
their future, if not their actual, landlord. "I am really sorry for the
poor lad. He's a handsome, high-spirited fellow, and I'm sorry he's
been so weak as to ruin his prospects in the Company's service. Yes; I
am heartily sorry for him."

Mr. Marchmont discussed the matter very lightly in the parlour of the
Black Bull, but he kept silence as he walked home with the surgeon; and
Mr. George Weston, looking askance at his brother-in-law's face, saw
that something was wrong, and thought it advisable to hold his peace.

Paul Marchmont sat up late that night talking to Lavinia after the
surgeon had gone to bed. The brother and sister conversed in subdued
murmurs as they stood close together before the expiring fire, and the
faces of both were very grave, indeed, almost apprehensive.

"He must be terribly in earnest," Paul Marchmont said, "or he would
never have sacrificed his position. He has planted himself here, close
upon us, with a determination of watching us. We shall have to be very
careful."

 * * * * *

It was early in the new year that Edward Arundel completed all his
arrangements, and took possession of Kemberling Retreat. He knew that,
in retiring from the East India Company's service, he had sacrificed
the prospect of a brilliant and glorious career, under some of the
finest soldiers who ever fought for their country. But he had made this
sacrifice willingly--as an offering to the memory of his lost love; as
an atonement for his broken trust. For it was one of his most bitter
miseries to remember that his own want of prudence had been the first
cause of all Mary's sorrows. Had he confided in his mother,--had he
induced her to return from Germany to be present at his marriage, and
to accept the orphan girl as a daughter,--Mary need never again have
fallen into the power of Olivia Marchmont. His own imprudence, his own
rashness, had flung this poor child, helpless and friendless, into the
hands of the very man against whom John Marchmont had written a solemn
warning,--a warning that it should have been Edward's duty to remember.
But who could have calculated upon the railway accident; and who could
have foreseen a separation in the first blush of the honeymoon? Edward
Arundel had trusted in his own power to protect his bride from every
ill that might assail her. In the pride of his youth and strength he
had forgotten that he was not immortal, and the last idea that could
have entered his mind was the thought that he should be stricken down
by a sudden calamity, and rendered even more helpless than the girl he
had sworn to shield and succour.

The bleak winter crept slowly past, and the shrill March winds were
loud amidst the leafless trees in the wood behind Marchmont Towers.
This wood was open to any foot-passenger who might choose to wander
that way; and Edward Arundel often walked upon the bank of the slow
river, and past the boat-house, beneath whose shadow he had wooed his
young wife in the bright summer that was gone. The place had a mournful
attraction for the young man, by reason of the memory of the past, and
a different and far keener fascination in the fact of Paul Marchmont's
frequent occupation of his roughly-built painting-room.

In a purposeless and unsettled frame of mind, Edward Arundel kept watch
upon the man he hated, scarcely knowing why he watched, or for what he
hoped, but with a vague belief that something would be discovered; that
some accident might come to pass which would enable him to say to Paul
Marchmont,

"It was by your treachery my wife perished; and it is you who must
answer to me for her death."

Edward Arundel had seen nothing of his cousin Olivia during that dismal
winter. He had held himself aloof from the Towers,--that is to say, he
had never presented himself there as a guest, though he had been often
on horseback and on foot in the wood by the river. He had not seen
Olivia, but he had heard of her through his valet, Mr. Morrison, who
insisted on repeating the gossip of Kemberling for the benefit of his
listless and indifferent master.

"They do say as Mr. Paul Marchmont is going to marry Mrs. John
Marchmont, sir," Mr. Morrison said, delighted at the importance of his
information. "They say as Mr. Paul is always up at the Towers visitin'
Mrs. John, and that she takes his advice about everything as she does,
and that she's quite wrapped up in him like."

Edward Arundel looked at his attendant with unmitigated surprise.

"My cousin Olivia marry Paul Marchmont!" he exclaimed. "You should be
wiser than to listen to such foolish gossip, Morrison. You know what
country people are, and you know they can't keep their tongues quiet."

Mr. Morrison took this reproach as a compliment to his superior
intelligence.

"It ain't oftentimes as I listens to their talk, sir," he said; "but if
I've heard this said once, I've heard it twenty times; and I've heard
it at the Black Bull, too, Mr. Edward, where Mr. Marchmont fre_quents_
sometimes with his sister's husband; and the landlord told me as it had
been spoken of once before his face, and he didn't deny it."

Edward Arundel pondered gravely over this gossip of the Kemberling
people. It was not so very improbable, perhaps, after all. Olivia only
held Marchmont Towers on sufferance. It might be that, rather than be
turned out of her stately home, she would accept the hand of its
rightful owner. She would marry Paul Marchmont, perhaps, as she had
married his brother,--for the sake of a fortune and a position. She had
grudged Mary her wealth, and now she sought to become a sharer in that
wealth.

"Oh, the villany, the villany!" cried the soldier. "It is all one base
fabric of treachery and wrong. A marriage between these two will be
only a part of the scheme. Between them they have driven my darling to
her death, and they will now divide the profits of their guilty work."

The young man determined to discover whether there had been any
foundation for the Kemberling gossip. He had not seen his cousin since
the day of his discovery of the paragraph in the newspaper, and he went
forthwith to the Towers, bent on asking Olivia the straight question as
to the truth of the reports that had reached his ears.

He walked over to the dreary mansion. He had regained his strength by
this time, and he had recovered his good looks; but something of the
brightness of his youth was gone; something of the golden glory of his
beauty had faded. He was no longer the young Apollo, fresh and radiant
with the divinity of the skies. He had suffered; and suffering had left
its traces on his countenance. That smiling hopefulness, that supreme
confidence in a bright future, which is the virginity of beauty, had
perished beneath the withering influence of affliction.

Mrs. Marchmont was not to be seen at the Towers. She had gone down to
the boat-house with Mr. Paul Marchmont and Mrs. Weston, the servant
said.

"I will see them together," Edward Arundel thought. "I will see if my
cousin dares to tell me that she means to marry this man."

He walked through the wood to the lonely building by the river. The
March winds were blowing among the leafless trees, ruffling the black
pools of water that the rain had left in every hollow; the smoke from
the chimney of Paul Marchmont's painting-room struggled hopelessly
against the wind, and was beaten back upon the roof from which it tried
to rise. Everything succumbed before that pitiless north-easter.

Edward Arundel knocked at the door of the wooden edifice erected by his
foe. He scarcely waited for the answer to his summons, but lifted the
latch, and walked across the threshold, uninvited, unwelcome.

There were four people in the painting-room. Two or three seemed to
have been talking together when Edward knocked at the door; but the
speakers had stopped simultaneously and abruptly, and there was a dead
silence when he entered.

Olivia Marchmont was standing under the broad northern window; the
artist was sitting upon one of the steps leading up to the pavilion;
and a few paces from him, in an old cane-chair near the easel, sat
George Weston, the surgeon, with his wife leaning over the back of his
chair. It was at this man that Edward Arundel looked longest, riveted
by the strange expression of his face. The traces of intense agitation
have a peculiar force when seen in a usually stolid countenance. Your
mobile faces are apt to give an exaggerated record of emotion. We grow
accustomed to their changeful expression, their vivid betrayal of every
passing sensation. But this man's was one of those faces which are only
changed from their apathetic stillness by some moral earthquake, whose
shock arouses the most impenetrable dullard from his stupid
imperturbability. Such a shock had lately affected George Weston, the
quiet surgeon of Kemberling, the submissive husband of Paul Marchmont's
sister. His face was as white as death; a slow trembling shook his
ponderous frame; with one of his big fat hands he pulled a cotton
handkerchief from his pocket, and tremulously wiped the perspiration
from his bald forehead. His wife bent over him, and whispered a few
words in his ear; but he shook his head with a piteous gesture, as if
to testify his inability to comprehend her. It was impossible for a man
to betray more obvious signs of violent agitation than this man
betrayed.

"It's no use, Lavinia," he murmured hopelessly, as his wife whispered
to him for the second time; "it's no use, my dear; I can't get over
it."

Mrs. Weston cast one rapid, half-despairing, half-appealing glance at
her brother, and in the next moment recovered herself, by an effort
only such as great women, or wicked women, are capable of.

"Oh, you men!" she cried, in her liveliest voice; "oh, you men! What
big silly babies, what nervous creatures you are! Come, George, I won't
have you giving way to this foolish nonsense, just because an extra
glass or so of Mrs. Marchmont's very fine old port has happened to
disagree with you. You must not think we are a drunkard, Mr. Arundel,"
added the lady, turning playfully to Edward, and patting her husband's
clumsy shoulder as she spoke; "we are only a poor village surgeon, with
a limited income, and a very weak head, and quite unaccustomed to old
light port. Come, Mr. George Weston, walk out into the open air, sir,
and let us see if the March wind will bring you back your senses."

And without another word Lavinia Weston hustled her husband, who walked
like a man in a dream, out of the painting-room, and closed the door
behind her.

Paul Marchmont laughed as the door shut upon his brother-in-law.

"Poor George!" he said, carelessly; "I thought he helped himself to the
port a little too liberally. He never could stand a glass of wine; and
he's the most stupid creature when he is drunk."

Excellent as all this by-play was, Edward Arundel was not deceived by
it.

"The man was not drunk," he thought; "he was frightened. What could
have happened to throw him into that state? What mystery are these
people hiding amongst themselves; and what should _he_ have to do with
it?"

"Good evening, Captain Arundel," Paul Marchmont said. "I congratulate
you on the change in your appearance since you were last in this place.
You seem to have quite recovered the effects of that terrible railway
accident."

Edward Arundel drew himself up stiffly as the artist spoke to him.

"We cannot meet except as enemies, Mr. Marchmont," he said. "My cousin
has no doubt told you what I said of you when I discovered the lying
paragraph which you caused to be shown to my wife."

"I only did what any one else would have done under the circumstances,"
Paul Marchmont answered quietly. "I was deceived by a penny-a-liner's
false report. How should I know the effect that report would have upon
my unhappy cousin?"

"I cannot discuss this matter with you," cried Edward Arundel, his
voice tremulous with passion; "I am almost mad when I think of it. I am
not safe; I dare not trust myself. I look upon you as the deliberate
assassin of a helpless girl; but so skilful an assassin, that nothing
less than the vengeance of God can touch you. I cry aloud to Him night
and day, in the hope that He will hear me and avenge my wife's death. I
cannot look to any earthly law for help: but I trust in God; I put my
trust in God."

There are very few positive and consistent atheists in this world. Mr.
Paul Marchmont was a philosopher of the infidel school, a student of
Voltaire and the brotherhood of the Encyclopedia, and a believer in
those liberal days before the Reign of Terror, when Frenchmen, in
coffee-houses, discussed the Supreme under the soubriquet of Mons.
l'Etre; but he grew a little paler as Edward Arundel, with kindling
eyes and uplifted hand, declared his faith in a Divine Avenger.

The sceptical artist may have thought,

"What if there should be some reality in the creed so many weak fools
confide in? What if there _is_ a God who cannot abide iniquity?"

"I came here to look for you, Olivia," Edward Arundel said presently.
"I want to ask you a question. Will you come into the wood with me?"

"Yes, if you wish it," Mrs. Marchmont answered quietly.

The cousins went out of the painting-room together, leaving Paul
Marchmont alone. They walked on for a few yards in silence.

"What is the question you came here to ask me?" Olivia asked abruptly.

"The Kemberling people have raised a report about you which I should
fancy would be scarcely agreeable to yourself," answered Edward. "You
would hardly wish to benefit by Mary's death, would you, Olivia?"

He looked at her searchingly as he spoke. Her face was at all times so
expressive of hidden cares, of cruel mental tortures, that there was
little room in her countenance for any new emotion. Her cousin looked
in vain for any change in it now.

"Benefit by her death!" she exclaimed. "How should I benefit by her
death?"

"By marrying the man who inherits this estate. They say you are going
to marry Paul Marchmont."

Olivia looked at him with an expression of surprise.

"Do they say that of me?" she asked. "Do people say that?"

"They do. Is it true, Olivia?"

The widow turned upon him almost fiercely.

"What does it matter to you whether it is true or not? What do you care
whom I marry, or what becomes of me?"

"I care this much," Edward Arundel answered, "that I would not have
your reputation lied away by the gossips of Kemberling. I should
despise you if you married this man. But if you do not mean to marry
him, you have no right to encourage his visits; you are trifling with
your own good name. You should leave this place, and by that means give
the lie to any false reports that have arisen about you."

"Leave this place!" cried Olivia Marchmont, with a bitter laugh. "Leave
this place! O my God, if I could; if I could go away and bury myself
somewhere at the other end of the world, and forget,--and forget!" She
said this as if to herself; as if it had been a cry of despair wrung
from her in despite of herself; then, turning to Edward Arundel, she
added, in a quieter voice, "I can never leave this place till I leave
it in my coffin. I am a prisoner here for life."

She turned from him, and walked slowly away, with her face towards the
dying sunlight in the low western sky.



CHAPTER XII.

EDWARD'S VISITORS.


Perhaps no greater sacrifice had ever been made by an English gentleman
than that which Edward Arundel willingly offered up as an atonement for
his broken trust, as a tribute to his lost wife. Brave, ardent,
generous, and sanguine, this young soldier saw before him a brilliant
career in the profession which he loved. He saw glory and distinction
beckoning to him from afar, and turned his back upon those shining
sirens. He gave up all, in the vague hope of, sooner or later, avenging
Mary's wrongs upon Paul Marchmont.

He made no boast, even to himself, of that which he had done. Again and
again memory brought back to him the day upon which he breakfasted in
Oakley Street, and walked across Waterloo Bridge with the Drury Lane
supernumerary. Every word that John Marchmont had spoken; every look of
the meek and trusting eyes, the pale and thoughtful face; every
pressure of the thin hand which had grasped his in grateful affection,
in friendly confidence,--came back to Edward Arundel after an interval
of nearly ten years, and brought with it a bitter sense of
self-reproach.

"He trusted his daughter to me," the young man thought. "Those last
words in the poor fellow's letter are always in my mind: 'The only
bequest which I can leave to the only friend I have is the legacy of a
child's helplessness.' And I have slighted his solemn warning: and I
have been false to my trust."

In his scrupulous sense of honour, the soldier reproached himself as
bitterly for that imprudence, out of which so much evil had arisen, as
another man might have done after a wilful betrayal of his trust. He
could not forgive himself. He was for ever and ever repeating in his
own mind that one brief phase which is the universal chorus of erring
men's regret: "If I had acted differently, if I had done otherwise,
this or that would not have come to pass." We are perpetually wandering
amid the hopeless deviations of a maze, finding pitfalls and
precipices, quicksands and morasses, at every turn in the painful way;
and we look back at the end of our journey to discover a straight and
pleasant roadway by which, had we been wise enough to choose it, we
might have travelled safely and comfortably to our destination.

But Wisdom waits for us at the goal instead of accompanying us upon our
journey. She is a divinity whom we meet very late in life; when we are
too near the end of our troublesome march to derive much profit from
her counsels. We can only retail them to our juniors, who, not getting
them from the fountain-head, have very small appreciation of their
value.

The young captain of East Indian cavalry suffered very cruelly from the
sacrifice which he had made. Day after day, day after day, the slow,
dreary, changeless, eventless, and unbroken life dragged itself out;
and nothing happened to bring him any nearer to the purpose of this
monotonous existence; no promise of even ultimate success rewarded his
heroic self-devotion. Afar, he heard of the rush and clamour of war, of
dangers and terror, of conquest and glory. His own regiment was in the
thick of the strife, his brothers in arms were doing wonders. Every
mail brought some new record of triumph and glory.

The soldier's heart sickened as he read the story of each new
encounter; his heart sickened with that terrible yearning,--that
yearning which seems physically palpable in its perpetual pain; the
yearning with which a child at a hard school, lying broad awake in the
long, gloomy, rush-lit bedchamber in the dead of the silent night,
remembers the soft resting-place of his mother's bosom; the yearning
with which a faithful husband far away from home sighs for the presence
of the wife he loves. Even with such a heart-sickness as this Edward
Arundel pined to be amongst the familiar faces yonder in the East,--to
hear the triumphant yell of his men as they swarmed after him through
the breach in an Affghan wall,--to see the dark heathens blanch under
the terror of Christian swords.

He read the records of the war again and again, again and again, till
every scene arose before him,--a picture, flaming and lurid, grandly
beautiful, horribly sublime. The very words of those newspaper reports
seemed to blaze upon the paper on which they were written, so palpable
were the images which they evoked in the soldier's mind. He was frantic
in his eager impatience for the arrival of every mail, for the coming
of every new record of that Indian warfare. He was like a devourer of
romances, who reads a thrilling story link by link, and who is
impatient for every new chapter of the fiction. His dreams were of
nothing but battle and victory, danger, triumph, and death; and he
often woke in the morning exhausted by the excitement of those
visionary struggles, those phantom terrors.

His sabre hung over the chimney-piece in his simple bedchamber. He took
it down sometimes, and drew it from the sheath. He could have almost
wept aloud over that idle sword. He raised his arm, and the weapon
vibrated with a whirring noise as he swept the glittering steel in a
wide circle through the empty air. An infidel's head should have been
swept from his vile carcass in that rapid circle of the keen-edged
blade. The soldier's arm was as strong as ever, his wrist as supple,
his muscular force unwasted by mental suffering. Thank Heaven for that!
But after that brief thanksgiving his arm dropped inertly, and the idle
sword fell out of his relaxing grasp.

"I seem a craven to myself," he cried; "I have no right to be here--I
have no right to be here while those other fellows are fighting for
their lives out yonder. O God, have mercy upon me! My brain gets dazed
sometimes; and I begin to wonder whether I am most bound to remain here
and watch Paul Marchmont, or to go yonder and fight for my country and
my Queen."

There were many phases in this mental fever. At one time the young man
was seized with a savage jealousy of the officer who had succeeded to
his captaincy. He watched this man's name, and every record of his
movements, and was constantly taking objection to his conduct. He was
grudgingly envious of this particular officer's triumphs, however
small. He could not feel generously towards this happy successor, in
the bitterness of his own enforced idleness.

"What opportunities this man has!" he thought; "_I_ never had such
chances."

It is almost impossible for me to faithfully describe the tortures
which this monotonous existence inflicted upon the impetuous young man.
It is the speciality of a soldier's career that it unfits most men for
any other life. They cannot throw off the old habitudes. They cannot
turn from the noisy stir of war to the tame quiet of every-day life;
and even when they fancy themselves wearied and worn out, and willingly
retire from service, their souls are stirred by every sound of the
distant contest, as the war-steed is aroused by the blast of a trumpet.
But Edward Arundel's career had been cut suddenly short at the very
hour in which it was brightest with the promise of future glory. It was
as if a torrent rushing madly down a mountain-side had been dammed up,
and its waters bidden to stagnate upon a level plain. The rebellious
waters boiled and foamed in a sullen fury. The soldier could not submit
himself contentedly to his fate. He might strip off his uniform, and
accept sordid coin as the price of the epaulettes he had won so dearly;
but he was at heart a soldier still. When he received the sum which had
been raised amongst his juniors as the price of his captaincy, it
seemed to him almost as if he had sold his brother's blood.

It was summer-time now. Ten months had elapsed since his marriage with
Mary Marchmont, and no new light had been thrown upon the disappearance
of his young wife. No one could feel a moment's doubt as to her fate.
She had perished in that lonely river which flowed behind Marchmont
Towers, and far away down to the sea.

The artist had kept his word, and had as yet taken no step towards
entering into possession of the estate which he inherited by his
cousin's death. But Mr. Paul Marchmont spent a great deal of time at
the Towers, and a great deal more time in the painting-room by the
river-side, sometimes accompanied by his sister, sometimes alone.

The Kemberling gossips had grown by no means less talkative upon the
subject of Olivia and the new owner of Marchmont Towers. On the
contrary, the voices that discussed Mrs. Marchmont's conduct were a
great deal more numerous than heretofore; in other words, John
Marchmont's widow was "talked about." Everything is said in this
phrase. It was scarcely that people said bad things of her; it was
rather that they talked more about her than any woman can suffer to be
talked of with safety to her fair fame. They began by saying that she
was going to marry Paul Marchmont; they went on to wonder _whether_ she
was going to marry him; then they wondered _why_ she didn't marry him.
From this they changed the venue, and began to wonder whether Paul
Marchmont meant to marry her,--there was an essential difference in
this new wonderment,--and next, why Paul Marchmont didn't marry her.
And by this time Olivia's reputation was overshadowed by a terrible
cloud, which had arisen no bigger than a man's hand, in the first
conjecturings of a few ignorant villagers.

People made it their business first to wonder about Mrs. Marchmont, and
then to set up their own theories about her; to which theories they
clung with a stupid persistence, forgetting, as people generally do
forget, that there might be some hidden clue, some secret key, to the
widow's conduct, for want of which the cleverest reasoning respecting
her was only so much groping in the dark.

Edward Arundel heard of the cloud which shadowed his cousin's name. Her
father heard of it, and went to remonstrate with her, imploring her to
come to him at Swampington, and to leave Marchmont Towers to the new
lord of the mansion. But she only answered him with gloomy, obstinate
reiteration, and almost in the same terms as she had answered Edward
Arundel; declaring that she would stay at the Towers till her death;
that she would never leave the place till she was carried thence in her
coffin.

Hubert Arundel, always afraid of his daughter, was more than ever
afraid of her now; and he was as powerless to contend against her
sullen determination as he would have been to float up the stream of a
rushing river.

So Olivia was talked about. She had scared away all visitors, after the
ball at the Towers, by the strangeness of her manner and the settled
gloom in her face; and she lived unvisited and alone in the gaunt stony
mansion; and people said that Paul Marchmont was almost perpetually
with her, and that she went to meet him in the painting-room by the
river.

Edward Arundel sickened of his wearisome life, and no one helped him to
endure his sufferings. His mother wrote to him imploring him to resign
himself to the loss of his young wife, to return to Dangerfield, to
begin a new existence, and to blot out the memory of the past.

"You have done all that the most devoted affection could prompt you to
do," Mrs. Arundel wrote. "Come back to me, my dearest boy. I gave you
up to the service of your country because it was my duty to resign you
then. But I cannot afford to lose you now; I cannot bear to see you
sacrificing yourself to a chimera. Return to me; and let me see you
make a new and happier choice. Let me see my son the father of little
children who will gather round my knees when I grow old and feeble."

"A new and happier choice!" Edward Arundel repeated the words with a
melancholy bitterness. "No, my poor lost girl; no, my blighted wife; I
will not be false to you. The smiles of happy women can have no
sunlight for me while I cherish the memory of the sad eyes that watched
me when I drove away from Milldale, the sweet sorrowful face that I was
never to look upon again."

The dull empty days succeeded each other, and _did_ resemble each
other, with a wearisome similitude that well-nigh exhausted the
patience of the impetuous young man. His fiery nature chafed against
this miserable delay. It was so hard to have to wait for his vengeance.
Sometimes he could scarcely refrain from planting himself somewhere in
Paul Marchmont's way, with the idea of a hand-to-hand struggle in which
either he or his enemy must perish.

Once he wrote the artist a desperate letter, denouncing him as an
arch-plotter and villain; calling upon him, if his evil nature was
redeemed by one spark of manliness, to fight as men had been in the
habit of fighting only a few years before, with a hundred times less
reason than these two men had for their quarrel.

"I have called you a villain and traitor; in India we fellows would
kill each other for smaller words than those," wrote the soldier. "But
I have no wish to take any advantage of my military experience. I may
be a better shot than you. Let us have only one pistol, and draw lots
for it. Let us fire at each other across a dinner-table. Let us do
anything; so that we bring this miserable business to an end."

Mr. Marchmont read this letter slowly and thoughtfully, more than once;
smiling as he read.

"He's getting tired," thought the artist. "Poor young man, I thought he
would be the first to grow tired of this sort of work."

He wrote Edward Arundel a long letter; a friendly but rather facetious
letter; such as he might have written to a child who had asked him to
jump over the moon. He ridiculed the idea of a duel, as something
utterly Quixotic and absurd.

"I am fifteen years older than you, my dear Mr. Arundel," he wrote,
"and a great deal too old to have any inclination to fight with
windmills; or to represent the windmill which a high-spirited young
Quixote may choose to mistake for a villanous knight, and run his hot
head against in that delusion. I am not offended with you for calling
me bad names, and I take your anger merely as a kind of romantic manner
you have of showing your love for my poor cousin. We are not enemies,
and we never shall be enemies; for I will never suffer myself to be so
foolish as to get into a passion with a brave and generous-hearted
young soldier, whose only error is an unfortunate hallucination with
regard to

"Your very humble servant,

"PAUL MARCHMONT."

Edward ground his teeth with savage fury as he read this letter.

"Is there no making this man answer for his infamy?" he muttered. "Is
there no way of making him suffer?"

 * * * * *

June was nearly over, and the year was wearing round to the anniversary
of Edward's wedding-day, the anniversaries of those bright days which
the young bride and bridegroom had loitered away by the trout-streams
in the Hampshire meadows, when some most unlooked-for visitors made
their appearance at Kemberling Retreat.

The cottage lay back behind a pleasant garden, and was hidden from the
dusty high road by a hedge of lilacs and laburnums which grew within
the wooden fence. It was Edward's habit, in this hot summer-time, to
spend a great deal of his time in the garden; walking up and down the
neglected paths, with a cigar in his mouth; or lolling in an easy chair
on the lawn reading the papers. Perhaps the garden was almost prettier,
by reason of the long neglect which it had suffered, than it would have
been if kept in the trimmest order by the industrious hands of a
skilful gardener. Everything grew in a wild and wanton luxuriance, that
was very beautiful in this summer-time, when the earth was gorgeous
with all manner of blossoms. Trailing branches from the espaliered
apple-trees hung across the pathways, intermingled with roses that had
run wild; and made "bits" that a landscape-painter might have delighted
to copy. Even the weeds, which a gardener would have looked upon with
horror, were beautiful. The wild convolvulus flung its tendrils into
fantastic wreaths about the bushes of sweetbrier; the honeysuckle,
untutored by the pruning-knife, mixed its tall branches with seringa
and clematis; the jasmine that crept about the house had mounted to the
very chimney-pots, and strayed in through the open windows; even the
stable-roof was half hidden by hardy monthly roses that had clambered
up to the thatch. But the young soldier took very little interest in
this disorderly garden. He pined to be far away in the thick jungle, or
on the burning plain. He hated the quiet and repose of an existence
which seemed little better than the living death of a cloister.

The sun was low in the west at the close of a long midsummer day, when
Mr. Arundel strolled up and down the neglected pathways, backwards and
forwards amid the long tangled grass of the lawn, smoking a cigar, and
brooding over his sorrows.

He was beginning to despair. He had defied Paul Marchmont, and no good
had come of his defiance. He had watched him, and there had been no
result of his watching. Day after day he had wandered down to the
lonely pathway by the river side; again and again he had reconnoitered
the boat-house, only to hear Paul Marchmont's treble voice singing
scraps out of modern operas as he worked at his easel; or on one or two
occasions to see Mr. George Weston, the surgeon, or Lavinia his wife,
emerge from the artist's painting-room.

Upon one of these occasions Edward Arundel had accosted the surgeon of
Kemberling, and had tried to enter into conversation with him. But Mr.
Weston had exhibited such utterly hopeless stupidity, mingled with a
very evident terror of his brother-in-law's foe, that Edward had been
fain to abandon all hope of any assistance from this quarter.

"I'm sure I'm very sorry for you, Mr. Arundel," the surgeon said,
looking, not at Edward, but about and around him, in a hopeless,
wandering manner, like some hunted animal that looks far and near for a
means of escape from his pursuer,--"I'm very sorry for you--and for all
your trouble--and I was when I attended you at the Black Bull--and you
were the first patient I ever had there--and it led to my having many
more--as I may say--though that's neither here nor there. And I'm very
sorry for you, and for the poor young woman too--particularly for the
poor young woman--and I always tell Paul so--and--and Paul--"

And at this juncture Mr. Weston stopped abruptly, as if appalled by the
hopeless entanglement of his own ideas, and with a brief "Good evening,
Mr. Arundel," shot off in the direction of the Towers, leaving Edward
at a loss to understand his manner.

So, on this midsummer evening, the soldier walked up and down the
neglected grass-plat, thinking of the men who had been his comrades,
and of the career which he had abandoned for the love of his lost wife.

He was aroused from his gloomy reverie by the sound of a fresh girlish
voice calling to him by his name.

"Edward! Edward!"

Who could there be in Lincolnshire with the right to call to him thus
by his Christian name? He was not long left in doubt. While he was
asking himself the question, the same feminine voice cried out again.

"Edward! Edward! Will you come and open the gate for me, please? Or do
you mean to keep me out here for ever?"

This time Mr. Arundel had no difficulty in recognising the familiar
tones of his sister Letitia, whom he had believed, until that moment,
to be safe under the maternal wing at Dangerfield. And lo, here she
was, on horseback at his own gate; with a cavalier hat and feathers
overshadowing her girlish face; and with another young Amazon on a
thorough-bred chestnut, and an elderly groom on a thorough-bred bay, in
the background.

Edward Arundel, utterly confounded by the advent of such visitors,
flung away his cigar, and went to the low wooden gate beyond which his
sister's steed was pawing the dusty road, impatient of this stupid
delay, and eager to be cantering stablewards through the scented summer
air.

"Why, Letitia!" cried the young man, "what, in mercy's name, has
brought you here?"

Miss Arundel laughed aloud at her brother's look of surprise.

"You didn't know I was in Lincolnshire, did you?" she asked; and then
answered her own question in the same breath: "Of course you didn't,
because I wouldn't let mamma tell you I was coming; for I wanted to
surprise you, you know. And I think I have surprised you, haven't I? I
never saw such a scared-looking creature in all my life. If I were a
ghost coming here in the gloaming, you couldn't look more frightened
than you did just now. I only came the day before yesterday--and I'm
staying at Major Lawford's, twelve miles away from here--and this is
Miss Lawford, who was at school with me at Bath. You've heard me talk
of Belinda Lawford, my dearest, dearest friend? Miss Lawford, my
brother; my brother, Miss Lawford. Are you going to open the gate and
let us in, or do you mean to keep your citadel closed upon us
altogether, Mr. Edward Arundel?"

At this juncture the young lady in the background drew a little nearer
to her friend, and murmured a remonstrance to the effect that it was
very late, and that they were expected home before dark; but Miss
Arundel refused to hear the voice of wisdom.

"Why, we've only an hour's ride back," she cried; "and if it should be
dark, which I don't think it will be, for it's scarcely dark all night
through at this time of year, we've got Hoskins with us, and Hoskins
will take care of us. Won't you, Hoskins?" demanded the young lady,
turning to the elderly groom.

Of course Hoskins declared that he was ready to achieve all that man
could do or dare in the defence of his liege ladies, or something
pretty nearly to that effect; but delivered in a vile Lincolnshire
patois, not easily rendered in printer's ink.

Miss Arundel waited for no further discussion, but gave her hand to her
brother, and vaulted lightly from her saddle.

Then, of course, Edward Arundel offered his services to his sister's
companion, and then for the first time he looked in Belinda Lawford's
face, and even in that one first glance saw that she was a good and
beautiful creature, and that her hair, of which she had a great
quantity, was of the colour of her horse's chestnut coat; that her eyes
were the bluest he had ever seen, and that her cheeks were like the
neglected roses in his garden. He held out his hand to her. She took it
with a frank smile, and dismounted, and came in amongst the grass-grown
pathways, amid the confusion of trailing branches and bright
garden-flowers growing wild.

 * * * * *

In that moment began the second volume of Edward Arundel's life. The
first volume had begun upon the Christmas night on which the boy of
seventeen went to see the pantomime at Drury Lane Theatre. The old
story had been a long, sad story, fall of tenderness and pathos, but
with a cruel and dismal ending. The new story began to-night, in this
fading western sunshine, in this atmosphere of balmy perfume, amidst
these dew-laden garden-flowers growing wild.

 * * * * *

But, as I think I observed before at the outset of this story, we are
rarely ourselves aware of the commencement of any new section in our
lives. It is only after the fact that we recognise the awful importance
which actions, in themselves most trivial, assume by reason of their
consequences; and when the action, in itself so unimportant, in its
consequences so fatal, has been in any way a deviation from the right,
how bitterly we reproach ourselves for that false step!

"I am so _glad_ to see you, Edward!" Miss Arundel exclaimed, as she
looked about her, criticising her brother's domain; "but you don't seem
a bit glad to see me, you poor gloomy old dear. And how much better you
look than you did when you left Dangerfield! only a little careworn,
you know, still. And to think of your coming and burying yourself here,
away from all the people who love you, you silly old darling! And
Belinda knows the story, and she's so sorry for you. Ain't you, Linda?
I call her Linda for short, and because it's prettier than _Be_-linda,"
added the young lady aside to her brother, and with a contemptuous
emphasis upon the first syllable of her friend's name.

Miss Lawford, thus abruptly appealed to, blushed, and said nothing.

If Edward Arundel had been told that any other young lady was
acquainted with the sad story of his married life, I think he would
have been inclined to revolt against the very idea of her pity. But
although he had only looked once at Belinda Lawford, that one look
seemed to have told him a great deal. He felt instinctively that she
was as good as she was beautiful, and that her pity must be a most
genuine and tender emotion, not to be despised by the proudest man upon
earth.

The two ladies seated themselves upon a dilapidated rustic bench amid
the long grass, and Mr. Arundel sat in the low basket-chair in which he
was wont to lounge a great deal of his time away.

"Why don't you have a gardener, Ned?" Letitia Arundel asked, after
looking rather contemptuously at the flowery luxuriance around her.

Her brother shrugged his shoulders with a despondent gesture.

"Why should I take any care of the place?" he said. "I only took it
because it was near the spot where--where my poor girl--where I wanted
to be. I have no object in beautifying it. I wish to Heaven I could
leave it, and go back to India."

He turned his face eastward as he spoke, and the two girls saw that
half-eager, half-despairing yearning that was always visible in his
face when he looked to the east. It was over yonder, the scene of
strife, the red field of glory, only separated from him by a patch of
purple ocean and a strip of yellow sand. It was yonder. He could almost
feel the hot blast of the burning air. He could almost hear the shouts
of victory. And he was a prisoner here, bound by a sacred duty,--by a
duty which he owed to the dead.

"Major Lawford--Major Lawford is Belinda's papa; 33rd Foot--Major
Lawford knew that we were coming here, and he begged me to ask you to
dinner; but I said you wouldn't come, for I knew you had shut yourself
out of all society--though the Major's the dearest creature, and the
Grange is a most delightful place to stay at. I was down here in the
midsummer holidays once, you know, while you were in India. But I give
the message as the Major gave it to me; and you are to come to dinner
whenever you like."

Edward Arundel murmured a few polite words of refusal. No; he saw no
society; he was in Lincolnshire to achieve a certain object; he should
remain there no longer than was necessary in order for him to do so.

"And you don't even say that you're glad to see me!" exclaimed Miss
Arundel, with an offended air, "though it's six months since you were
last at Dangerfield! Upon my word, you're a nice brother for an
unfortunate girl to waste her affections upon!"

Edward smiled faintly at his sister's complaint.

"I am very glad to see you, Letitia," he said; "very, very glad."

And indeed the young hermit could not but confess to himself that those
two innocent young faces seemed to bring light and brightness with
them, and to shed a certain transitory glimmer of sunshine upon the
horrible gloom of his life. Mr. Morrison had come out to offer his duty
to the young lady--whom he had been intimate with from a very early
period of her existence, and had carried upon his shoulder some fifteen
years before--under the pretence of bringing wine for the visitors; and
the stable-lad had been sent to a distant corner of the garden to
search for strawberries for their refreshment. Even the solitary
maid-servant had crept into the parlour fronting the lawn, and had
shrouded herself behind the window-curtains, whence she could peep out
at the two Amazons, and gladden her eyes with the sight of something
that was happy and beautiful.

But the young ladies would not stop to drink any wine, though Mr.
Morrison informed Letitia that the sherry was from the Dangerfield
cellar, and had been sent to Master Edward by his ma; nor to eat any
strawberries, though the stable-boy, who made the air odorous with the
scent of hay and oats, brought a little heap of freshly-gathered fruit
piled upon a cabbage-leaf, and surmounted by a rampant caterpillar of
the woolly species. They could not stay any longer, they both declared,
lest there should be terror at Lawford Grange because of their absence.
So they went back to the gate, escorted by Edward and his confidential
servant; and after Letitia had given her brother a kiss, which
resounded almost like the report of a pistol through the still evening
air, the two ladies mounted their horses, and cantered away in the
twilight.

"I shall come and see you again, Ned," Miss Arundel cried, as she shook
the reins upon her horse's neck; "and so will Belinda--won't you,
Belinda?"

Miss Lawford's reply, if she spoke at all, was quite inaudible amidst
the clattering of the horses' hoofs upon the hard highroad.



CHAPTER XIII.

ONE MORE SACRIFICE.


Letitia Arundel kept her word, and came very often to Kemberling
Retreat; sometimes on horseback, sometimes in a little pony-carriage;
sometimes accompanied by Belinda Lawford, sometimes accompanied by a
younger sister of Belinda's, as chestnut-haired and blue-eyed as
Belinda herself, but at the school-room and bread-and-butter period of
life, and not particularly interesting. Major Lawford came one day with
his daughter and her friend, and Edward and the half-pay officer walked
together up and down the grass-plat, smoking and talking of the Indian
war, while the two girls roamed about the garden amidst the roses and
butterflies, tearing the skirts of their riding-habits every now and
then amongst the briers and gooseberry-bushes. It was scarcely strange
after this visit that Edward Arundel should consent to accept Major
Lawford's invitation to name a day for dining at the Grange; he could
not, with a very good grace, have refused. And yet--and yet--it seemed
to him almost a treason against his lost love, his poor pensive
Mary,--whose face, with the very look it had worn upon that last day,
was ever present with him,--to mix with happy people who had never
known sorrow. But he went to the Grange nevertheless, and grew more and
more friendly with the Major, and walked in the gardens--which were
very large and old-fashioned, but most beautifully kept--with his
sister and Belinda Lawford; with Belinda Lawford, who knew his story
and was sorry for him. He always remembered _that_ as he looked at her
bright face, whose varying expression gave perpetual evidence of a
compassionate and sympathetic nature.

"If my poor darling had had this girl for a friend," he thought
sometimes, "how much happier she might have been!"

I dare say there have been many lovelier women in this world than
Belinda Lawford; many women whose faces, considered artistically, came
nearer perfection; many noses more exquisitely chiselled, and scores of
mouths bearing a closer affinity to Cupid's bow; but I doubt if any
face was ever more pleasant to look upon than the face of this blooming
English maiden. She had a beauty that is sometimes wanting in perfect
faces, and, lacking which, the most splendid loveliness will pall at
last upon eyes that have grown weary of admiring; she had a charm for
want of which the most rigidly classical profiles, the most exquisitely
statuesque faces, have seemed colder and harder than the marble it was
their highest merit to resemble. She had the beauty of goodness, and to
admire her was to do homage to the purest and brightest attributes of
womanhood. It was not only that her pretty little nose was straight and
well-shaped, that her lips were rosy red, that her eyes were bluer than
the summer heavens, and her chestnut hair tinged with the golden light
of a setting sun; above and beyond such commonplace beauties as these,
the beauties of tenderness, truth, faith, earnestness, hope and
charity, were enthroned upon her broad white brow, and crowned her
queen by right divine of womanly perfection. A loving and devoted
daughter, an affectionate sister, a true and faithful friend, an
untiring benefactress to the poor, a gentle mistress, a well-bred
Christian lady; in every duty and in every position she bore out and
sustained the impression which her beauty made on the minds of those
who looked upon her. She was only nineteen years of age, and no sorrow
had ever altered the brightness of her nature. She lived a happy life
with a father who was proud of her, and with a mother who resembled her
in almost every attribute. She led a happy but a busy life, and did her
duty to the poor about her as scrupulously as even Olivia had done in
the old days at Swampington Rectory; but in such a genial and cheerful
spirit as to win, not cold thankfulness, but heartfelt love and
devotion from all who partook of her benefits.

Upon the Egyptian darkness of Edward Arundel's life this girl arose as
a star, and by-and-by all the horizon brightened under her influence.
The soldier had been very little in the society of women. His mother,
his sister Letitia, his cousin Olivia, and John Marchmont's gentle
daughter were the only women whom he had ever known in the familiar
freedom of domestic intercourse; and he trusted himself in the presence
of this beautiful and noble-minded girl in utter ignorance of any
danger to his own peace of mind. He suffered himself to be happy at
Lawford Grange; and in those quiet hours which he spent there he put
away his old life, and forgot the stern purpose that alone held him a
prisoner in England.

But when he went back to his lonely dwelling-place, he reproached
himself bitterly for that which he considered a treason against his
love.

"What right have I to be happy amongst these people?" he thought; "what
right have I to take life easily, even for an hour, while my darling
lies in her unhallowed grave, and the man who drove her to her death
remains unpunished? I will never go to Lawford Grange again."

It seemed, however, as if everybody, except Belinda, was in a plot
against this idle soldier; for sometimes Letitia coaxed him to ride
back with her after one of her visits to Kemberling Retreat, and very
often the Major himself insisted, in a hearty military fashion, upon
the young man's taking the empty seat in his dog-cart, to be driven
over to the Grange. Edward Arundel had never once mentioned Mary's name
to any member of this hospitable and friendly family. They were very
good to him, and were prepared, he knew, to sympathise with him; but he
could not bring himself to talk of his lost wife. The thought of that
rash and desperate act which had ended her short life was too cruel to
him. He would not speak of her, because he would have had to plead
excuses for that one guilty act; and her image to him was so stainless
and pure, that he could not bear to plead for her as for a sinner who
had need of men's pity, rather than a claim to their reverence.

"Her life had been so sinless," he cried sometimes; "and to think that
it should have ended in sin! If I could forgive Paul Marchmont for all
the rest--if I could forgive him for my loss of her, I would never
forgive him for that."

The young widower kept silence, therefore, upon the subject which
occupied so large a share of his thoughts, which was every day and
every night the theme of his most earnest prayers; and Mary's name was
never spoken in his presence at Lawford Grange.

But in Edward Arundel's absence the two girls sometimes talked of the
sad story.

"Do you really think, Letitia, that your brother's wife committed
suicide?" Belinda asked her friend.

"Oh, as for that, there can't be any doubt about it, dear," answered
Miss Arundel, who was of a lively, not to say a flippant, disposition,
and had no very great reverence for solemn things; "the poor dear
creature drowned herself. I think she must have been a little wrong in
her head. I don't say so to Edward, you know; at least, I did say so
once when he was at Dangerfield, and he flew into an awful passion, and
called me hard-hearted and cruel, and all sorts of shocking things; so,
of course, I have never said so since. But really, the poor dear
thing's goings-on were so eccentric: first she ran away from her
stepmother and went and hid herself in a horrid lodging; and then she
married Edward at a nasty church in Lambeth, without so much as a
wedding-dress, or a creature to give her away, or a cake, or cards, or
anything Christian-like; and then she ran away again; and as her father
had been a super--what's its name?--a man who carries banners in
pantomimes, and all that--I dare say she'd seen Mr. Macready as Hamlet,
and had Ophelia's death in her head when she ran down to the river-side
and drowned herself. I'm sure it's a very sad story; and, of course,
I'm awfully sorry for Edward."

The young lady said no more than this; but Belinda brooded over the
story of that early marriage,--the stolen honeymoon, the sudden
parting. How dearly they must have loved each other, the young bride
and bridegroom, absorbed in their own happiness, and forgetful of all
the outer world! She pictured Edward Arundel's face as it must have
been before care and sorrow had blotted out the brightest attribute of
his beauty. She thought of him, and pitied him, with such tender
sympathy, that by-and-by the thought of this young man's sorrow seemed
to shut almost every idea out of her mind. She went about all her
duties still, cheerfully and pleasantly, as it was her nature to do
everything; but the zest with which she had performed every loving
office--every act of sweet benevolence, seemed lost to her now.

Remember that she was a simple country damsel, leading a quiet life,
whose peaceful course was almost as calm and eventless as the existence
of a cloister; a life so quiet that a decently-written romance from the
Swampington book-club was a thing to be looked forward to with
impatience, to read with breathless excitement, and to brood upon
afterwards for months. Was it strange, then, that this romance in real
life--this sweet story of love and devotion, with its sad climax,--this
story, the scene of which lay within a few miles of her home, the hero
of which was her father's constant guest,--was it strange that this
story, whose saddest charm was its truth, should make a strong
impression upon the mind of an innocent and unworldly woman, and that
day by day and hour by hour she should, all unconsciously to herself,
feel a stronger interest in the hero of the tale?

She was interested in him. Alas! the truth must be set down, even if it
has to be in the plain old commonplace words. _She fell in love with
him_. But love in this innocent and womanly nature was so different a
sentiment to that which had raged in Olivia's stormy breast, that even
she who felt it was unconscious of its gradual birth. It was not "an
Adam at its birth," by-the-by. It did not leap, Minerva-like, from the
brain; for I believe that love is born of the brain oftener than of the
heart, being a strange compound of ideality, benevolence, and
veneration. It came rather like the gradual dawning of a summer's
day,--first a little patch of light far away in the east, very faint
and feeble; then a slow widening of the rosy brightness; and at last a
great blaze of splendour over all the width of the vast heavens. And
then Miss Lawford grew more reserved in her intercourse with her
friend's brother. Her frank good-nature gave place to a timid,
shrinking bashfulness, that made her ten times more fascinating than
she had been before. She was so very young, and had mixed so little
with the world, that she had yet to learn the comedy of life. She had
yet to learn to smile when she was sorry, or to look sorrowful when she
was pleased, as prudence might dictate--to blush at will, or to grow
pale when it was politic to sport the lily tint. She was a natural,
artless, spontaneous creature; and she was utterly powerless to conceal
her emotions, or to pretend a sentiment she did not feel. She blushed
rosy red when Edward Arundel spoke to her suddenly. She betrayed
herself by a hundred signs; mutely confessing her love almost as
artlessly as Mary had revealed her affection a twelvemonth before. But
if Edward saw this, he gave no sign of having made the discovery. His
voice, perhaps, grew a little lower and softer in its tone when he
spoke to Belinda; but there was a sad cadence in that low voice, which
was too mournful for the accent of a lover. Sometimes, when his eyes
rested for a moment on the girl's blushing face, a shadow would darken
his own, and a faint quiver of emotion stir his lower lip; but it is
impossible to say what this emotion may have been. Belinda hoped
nothing, expected nothing. I repeat, that she was unconscious of the
nature of her own feeling; and she had never for a moment thought of
Edward otherwise than as a man who would go to his grave faithful to
that sad love-story which had blighted the promise of his youth. She
never thought of him otherwise than as Mary's constant mourner; she
never hoped that time would alter his feelings or wear out his
constancy; yet she loved him, notwithstanding.

All through July and August the young man visited at the Grange, and at
the beginning of September Letitia Arundel went back to Dangerfield.
But even then Edward was still a frequent guest at Major Lawford's; for
his enthusiasm upon all military matters had made him a favourite with
the old officer. But towards the end of September Mr. Arundel's visits
suddenly were restricted to an occasional call upon the Major; he left
off dining at the Grange; his evening rambles in the gardens with Mrs.
Lawford and her blooming daughters--Belinda had no less than four
blue-eyed sisters, all more or less resembling herself--ceased
altogether, to the wonderment of every one in the old-fashioned
country-house.

Edward Arundel shut out the new light which had dawned upon his life,
and withdrew into the darkness. He went back to the stagnant monotony,
the hopeless despondency, the bitter regret of his old existence.

"While my sister was at the Grange, I had an excuse for going there,"
he said to himself sternly. "I have no excuse now."

But the old monotonous life was somehow or other a great deal more
difficult to bear than it had been before. Nothing seemed to interest
the young man now. Even the records of Indian victories were "flat,
stale, and unprofitable." He wondered as he remembered with what eager
impatience he had once pined for the coming of the newspapers, with
what frantic haste he had devoured every syllable of the Indian news.
All his old feelings seemed to have gone away, leaving nothing in his
mind but a blank waste, a weary sickness of life and all belonging to
it. Leaving nothing else--positively nothing? "No!" he answered, in
reply to these mute questionings of his own spirit,--"no," he repeated
doggedly, "nothing."

It was strange to find what a blank was left in his life by reason of
his abandonment of the Grange. It seemed as if he had suddenly retired
from an existence full of pleasure and delight into the gloomy solitude
of La Trappe. And yet what was it that he had lost, after all? A quiet
dinner at a country-house, and an evening spent half in the leafy
silence of an old-fashioned garden, half in a pleasant drawing-room
amongst a group of well-bred girls, and only enlivened by simple
English ballads, or pensive melodies by Mendelssohn. It was not much to
forego, surely. And yet Edward Arundel felt, in sacrificing these new
acquaintances at the Grange to the stern purpose of his life, almost as
if he had resigned a second captaincy for Mary's sake.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE CHILD'S VOICE IN THE PAVILION BY THE WATER.


The year wore slowly on. Letitia Arundel wrote very long letters to her
friend and confidante, Belinda Lawford, and in each letter demanded
particular intelligence of her brother's doings. Had he been to the
Grange? how had he looked? what had he talked about? &c., &c. But to
these questions Miss Lawford could only return one monotonous reply:
Mr. Arundel had not been to the Grange; or Mr. Arundel had called on
papa one morning, but had only stayed a quarter of an hour, and had not
been seen by any female member of the family.

The year wore slowly on. Edward endured his self-appointed solitude,
and waited, waited, with a vengeful hatred for ever brooding in his
breast, for the day of retribution. The year wore on, and the
anniversary of the day upon which Mary ran away from the Towers, the
17th of October, came at last.

Paul Marchmont had declared his intention of taking possession of the
Towers upon the day following this. The twelvemonth's probation which
he had imposed upon himself had expired; every voice was loud in praise
of his conscientious and honourable conduct. He had grown very popular
during his residence at Kemberling. Tenant farmers looked forward to
halcyon days under his dominion; to leases renewed on favourable terms;
to repairs liberally executed; to everything that is delightful between
landlord and tenant. Edward Arundel heard all this through his faithful
servitor, Mr. Morrison, and chafed bitterly at the news. This traitor
was to be happy and prosperous, and to have the good word of honest
men; while Mary lay in her unhallowed grave, and people shrugged their
shoulders, half compassionately, half contemptuously, as they spoke of
the mad heiress who had committed suicide.

Mr. Morrison brought his master tidings of all Paul Marchmont's doings
about this time. He was to take possession of the Towers on the 19th.
He had already made several alterations in the arrangement of the
different rooms. He had ordered new furniture from
Swampington,--another man would have ordered it from London; but Mr.
Marchmont was bent upon being popular, and did not despise even the
good opinion of a local tradesman,--and by several other acts,
insignificant enough in themselves, had asserted his ownership of the
mansion which had been the airy castle of Mary Marchmont's day-dreams
ten years before.

The coming-in of the new master of Marchmont Towers was to be, take it
altogether, a very grand affair. The Chorley-Castle foxhounds were to
meet at eleven o'clock, upon the great grass-flat, or lawn, as it was
popularly called, before the western front. The county gentry from far
and near had been invited to a hunting breakfast. Open house was to be
kept all day for rich and poor. Every male inhabitant of the district
who could muster anything in the way of a mount was likely to join the
friendly gathering. Poor Reynard is decidedly England's most powerful
leveller. All differences of rank and station, all distinctions which
Mammon raises in every other quarter, melt away before the friendly
contact of the hunting-field. The man who rides best is the best man;
and the young butcher who makes light of sunk fences, and skims,
bird-like, over bullfinches and timber, may hold his own with the dandy
heir to half the country-side. The cook at Marchmont Towers had enough
to do to prepare for this great day. It was the first meet of the
season, and in itself a solemn festival. Paul Marchmont knew this; and
though the Cockney artist of Fitzroy Square knew about as much of
fox-hunting as he did of the source of the Nile, he seized upon the
opportunity of making himself popular, and determined to give such a
hunting-breakfast as had never been given within the walls of Marchmont
Towers since the time of a certain rackety Hugh Marchmont, who had
drunk himself to death early in the reign of George III. He spent the
morning of the 17th in the steward's room, looking through the
cellar-book with the old butler, selecting the wines that were to be
drunk the following day, and planning the arrangements for the mass of
visitors, who were to be entertained in the great stone entrance-hall,
in the kitchens, in the housekeeper's room, in the servants' hall, in
almost every chamber that afforded accommodation for a guest.

"You will take care that people get placed according to their rank,"
Paul said to the grey-haired servant. "You know everybody about here, I
dare say, and will be able to manage so that we may give no offence."

The gentry were to breakfast in the long dining-room and in the western
drawing-room. Sparkling hocks and Burgundies, fragrant Moselles,
champagnes of choicest brand and rarest bouquet, were to flow like
water for the benefit of the country gentlemen who should come to do
honour to Paul Marchmont's installation. Great cases of comestibles had
been sent by rail from Fortnum and Mason's; and the science of the cook
at the Towers had been taxed to the utmost, in the struggles which she
made to prove herself equal to the occasion. Twenty-one casks of ale,
every cask containing twenty-one gallons, had been brewed long ago, at
the birth of Arthur Marchmont, and had been laid in the cellar ever
since, waiting for the majority of the young heir who was never to come
of age. This very ale, with a certain sense of triumph, Paul Marchmont
ordered to be brought forth for the refreshment of the commoners.

"Poor young Arthur!" he thought, after he had given this order. "I saw
him once when he was a pretty boy with fair ringlets, dressed in a suit
of black velvet. His father brought him to my studio one day, when he
came to patronise me and buy a picture of me,--out of sheer charity, of
course, for he cared as much for pictures as I care for foxhounds. _I_
was a poor relation then, and never thought to see the inside of
Marchmont Towers. It was a lucky September morning that swept that
bright-faced boy out of my pathway, and left only sickly John Marchmont
and his daughter between me and fortune."

Yes; Mr. Paul Marchmont's year of probation was past. He had asserted
himself to Messrs. Paulette, Paulette, and Mathewson, and before the
face of all Lincolnshire, in the character of an honourable and
high-minded man; slow to seize upon the fortune that had fallen to him,
conscientious, punctilious, generous, and unselfish. He had done all
this; and now the trial was over, and the day of triumph had come.

There has been a race of villains of late years very popular with the
novel-writer and the dramatist, but not, I think, quite indigenous to
this honest British soil; a race of pale-faced, dark-eyed, and
all-accomplished scoundrels, whose chiefest attribute is
imperturbability. The imperturbable villain has been guilty of every
iniquity in the black catalogue of crimes; but he has never been guilty
of an emotion. He wins a million of money at _trente et quarante_, to
the terror and astonishment of all Homburg; and by not so much as one
twinkle of his eye or one quiver of his lip does that imperturbable
creature betray a sentiment of satisfaction. Ruin or glory, shame or
triumph, defeat, disgrace, or death,--all are alike to the callous
ruffian of the Anglo-Gallic novel. He smiles, and murders while he
smiles, and smiles while he murders. He kills his adversary, unfairly,
in a duel, and wipes his sword on a cambric handkerchief; and withal he
is so elegant, so fascinating, and so handsome, that the young hero of
the novel has a very poor chance against him; and the reader can
scarcely help being sorry when retribution comes with the last chapter,
and some crushing catastrophe annihilates the well-bred scoundrel.

Paul Marchmont was not this sort of man. He was a hypocrite when it was
essential to his own safety to practice hypocrisy; but he did not
accept life as a drama, in which he was for ever to be acting a part.
Life would scarcely be worth the having to any man upon such terms. It
is all very well to wear heavy plate armour, and a casque that weighs
fourteen pounds or so, when we go into the thick of the fight. But to
wear the armour always, to live in it, to sleep in it, to carry the
ponderous protection about us for ever and ever! Safety would be too
dear if purchased by such a sacrifice of all personal ease. Paul
Marchmont, therefore, being a selfish and self-indulgent man, only wore
his armour of hypocrisy occasionally, and when it was vitally necessary
for his preservation. He had imposed upon himself a penance, and acted
a part in holding back for a year from the enjoyment of a splendid
fortune; and he had made this one great sacrifice in order to give the
lie to Edward Arundel's vague accusations, which might have had an
awkward effect upon the minds of other people, had the artist grasped
too eagerly at his missing cousin's wealth. Paul Marchmont had made
this sacrifice; but he did not intend to act a part all his life. He
meant to enjoy himself, and to get the fullest possible benefit out of
his good fortune. He meant to do this; and upon the 17th of October he
made no effort to restrain his spirits, but laughed and talked joyously
with whoever came in his way, winning golden opinions from all sorts of
men; for happiness is contagious, and everybody likes happy people.

Forty years of poverty is a long apprenticeship to the very hardest of
masters,--an apprenticeship calculated to give the keenest possible
zest to newly-acquired wealth. Paul Marchmont rejoiced in his wealth
with an almost delirious sense of delight. It was his at last. At last!
He had waited, and waited patiently; and at last, while his powers of
enjoyment were still in their zenith, it had come. How often he had
dreamed of this; how often he had dreamed of that which was to take
place to-morrow! How often in his dreams he had seen the stone-built
mansion, and heard the voices of the crowd doing him honour. He had
felt all the pride and delight of possession, to awake suddenly in the
midst of his triumph, and gnash his teeth at the remembrance of his
poverty. And now the poverty was a thing to be dreamt about, and the
wealth was his. He had always been a good son and a kind brother; and
his mother and sister were to arrive upon the eve of his installation,
and were to witness his triumph. The rooms that had been altered were
those chosen by Paul for his mother and maiden sister, and the new
furniture had been ordered for their comfort. It was one of his many
pleasures upon this day to inspect these apartments, to see that all
his directions had been faithfully carried out, and to speculate upon
the effect which these spacious and luxurious chambers would have upon
the minds of Mrs. Marchmont and her daughter, newly come from shabby
lodgings in Charlotte Street.

"My poor mother!" thought the artist, as he looked round the pretty
sitting-room. This sitting-room opened into a noble bedchamber, beyond
which there was a dressing-room. "My poor mother!" he thought; "she has
suffered a long time, and she has been patient. She has never ceased to
believe in me; and she will see now that there was some reason for that
belief. I told her long ago, when our fortunes were at the lowest ebb,
when I was painting landscapes for the furniture-brokers at a pound
a-piece,--I told her I was meant for something better than a
tradesman's hack; and I have proved it--I have proved it."

He walked about the room, arranging the furniture with his own hands;
walking a few paces backwards now and then to contemplate such and such
an effect from an artistic point of view; flinging the rich stuff of
the curtains into graceful folds; admiring and examining everything,
always with a smile on his face. He seemed thoroughly happy. If he had
done any wrong; if by any act of treachery he had hastened Mary
Arundel's death, no recollection of that foul work arose in his breast
to disturb the pleasant current of his thoughts. Selfish and
self-indulgent, only attached to those who were necessary to his own
happiness, his thoughts rarely wandered beyond the narrow circle of his
own cares or his own pleasures. He was thoroughly selfish. He could
have sat at a Lord Mayor's feast with a famine-stricken population
clamouring at the door of the banquet-chamber. He believed in himself
as his mother and sister had believed; and he considered that he had a
right to be happy and prosperous, whosoever suffered sorrow or
adversity.

Upon this 17th of October Olivia Marchmont sat in the little study
looking out upon the quadrangle, while the household was busied with
the preparations for the festival of the following day. She was to
remain at Marchmont Towers as a guest of the new master of the mansion.
She would be protected from all scandal, Paul had said, by the presence
of his mother and sister. She could retain the apartments she had been
accustomed to occupy; she could pursue her old mode of life. He himself
was not likely to be very much at the Towers. He was going to travel
and to enjoy life now that he was a rich man.

These were the arguments which Mr. Marchmont used when openly
discussing the widow's residence in his house. But in a private
conversation between Olivia and himself he had only said a very few
words upon the subject.

"You _must_ remain," he said; and Olivia submitted, obeying him with a
sullen indifference that was almost like the mechanical submission of
an irresponsible being.

John Marchmont's widow seemed entirely under the dominion of the new
master of the Towers. It was as if the stormy passions which had arisen
out of a slighted love had worn out this woman's mind, and had left her
helpless to stand against the force of Paul Marchmont's keen and
vigorous intellect. A remarkable change had come over Olivia's
character. A dull apathy had succeeded that fiery energy of soul which
had enfeebled and well-nigh worn out her body. There were no outbursts
of passion now. She bore the miserable monotony of her life
uncomplainingly. Day after day, week after week, month after month,
idle and apathetic, she sat in her lonely room, or wandered slowly in
the grounds about the Towers. She very rarely went beyond those
grounds. She was seldom seen now in her old pew at Kemberling Church;
and when her father went to her and remonstrated with her for her
non-attendance, she told him sullenly that she was too ill to go. She
_was_ ill. George Weston attended her constantly; but he found it very
difficult to administer to such a sickness as hers, and he could only
shake his head despondently when he felt her feeble pulse, or listened
to the slow beating of her heart. Sometimes she would shut herself up
in her room for a month at a time, and see no one but her faithful
servant Barbara, and Mr. Weston--whom, in her utter indifference, she
seemed to regard as a kind of domestic animal, whose going or coming
were alike unimportant.

This stolid, silent Barbara waited upon her mistress with untiring
patience. She bore with every change of Olivia's gloomy temper; she was
a perpetual shield and protection to her. Even upon this day of
preparation and disorder Mrs. Simmons kept guard over the passage
leading to the study, and took care that no one intruded upon her
mistress. At about four o'clock all Paul Marchmont's orders had been
given, and the new master of the house dined for the first time by
himself at the head of the long carved-oak dining-table, waited upon in
solemn state by the old butler. His mother and sister were to arrive by
a train that would reach Swampington at ten o'clock, and one of the
carriages from the Towers was to meet them at the station. The artist
had leisure in the meantime for any other business he might have to
transact.

He ate his dinner slowly, thinking deeply all the time. He did not stop
to drink any wine after dinner; but, as soon as the cloth was removed,
rose from the table, and went straight to Olivia's room.

"I am going down to the painting-room," he said. "Will you come there
presently? I want very much to say a few words to you."

Olivia was sitting near the window, with her hands lying idle in her
lap. She rarely opened a book now, rarely wrote a letter, or occupied
herself in any manner. She scarcely raised her eyes as she answered
him.

"Yes," she said; "I will come."

"Don't be long, then. It will be dark very soon. I am not going down
there to paint; I am going to fetch a landscape that I want to hang in
my mother's room, and to say a few words about--"

He closed the door without stopping to finish the sentence, and went
out into the quadrangle.

Ten minutes afterwards Olivia Marchmont rose, and taking a heavy
woollen shawl from a chair near her, wrapped it loosely about her head
and shoulders.

"I am his slave and his prisoner," she muttered to herself. "I must do
as he bids me."

A cold wind was blowing in the quadrangle, and the stone pavement was
wet with a drizzling rain. The sun had just gone down, and the dull
autumn sky was darkening. The fallen leaves in the wood were sodden
with damp, and rotted slowly on the swampy ground.

Olivia took her way mechanically along the narrow pathway leading to
the river. Half-way between Marchmont Towers and the boat-house she
came suddenly upon the figure of a man walking towards her through the
dusk. This man was Edward Arundel.

The two cousins had not met since the March evening upon which Edward
had gone to seek the widow in Paul Marchmont's painting-room. Olivia's
pale face grew whiter as she recognised the soldier.

"I was coming to the house to speak to you, Mrs. Marchmont," Edward
said sternly. "I am lucky in meeting you here, for I don't want any one
to overhear what I've got to say."

He had turned in the direction in which Olivia had been walking; but
she made a dead stop, and stood looking at him.

"You were going to the boat-house," he said. "I will go there with
you."

She looked at him for a moment, as if doubtful what to do, and then
said,

"Very well. You can say what you have to say to me, and then leave me.
There is no sympathy between us, there is no regard between us; we are
only antagonists."

"I hope not, Olivia. I hope there is some spark of regard still, in
spite of all. I separate you in my own mind from Paul Marchmont. I pity
you; for I believe you to be his tool."

"Is this what you have to say to me?"

"No; I came here, as your kinsman, to ask you what you mean to do now
that Paul Marchmont has taken possession of the Towers?"

"I mean to stay there."

"In spite of the gossip that your remaining will give rise to amongst
these country-people!"

"In spite of everything. Mr. Marchmont wishes me to stay. It suits me
to stay. What does it matter what people say of me? What do I care for
any one's opinion--now?"

"Olivia," cried the young man, "are you mad?"

"Perhaps I am," she answered, coldly.

"Why is it that you shut yourself from the sympathy of those who have a
right to care for you? What is the mystery of your life?"

His cousin laughed bitterly.

"Would you like to know, Edward Arundel?" she said. "You _shall_ know,
perhaps, some day. You have despised me all my life; you will despise
me more then."

They had reached Paul Marchmont's painting-room by this time. Olivia
opened the door and walked in, followed by Edward. Paul was not there.
There was a picture covered with green-baize upon the easel, and the
artist's hat stood upon the table amidst the litter of brushes and
palettes; but the room was empty. The door at the top of the stone
steps leading to the pavilion was ajar.

"Have you anything more to say to me?" Olivia asked, turning upon her
cousin as if she would have demanded why he had followed her.

"Only this: I want to know your determination; whether you will be
advised by me--and by your father,--I saw my uncle Hubert this morning,
and his opinion exactly coincides with mine,--or whether you mean
obstinately to take your own course in defiance of everybody?"

"I do," Olivia answered. "I shall take my own course. I defy everybody.
I have not been gifted with the power of winning people's affection.
Other women possess that power, and trifle with it, and turn it to bad
account. I have prayed, Edward Arundel,--yes, I have prayed upon my
knees to the God who made me, that He would give me some poor measure
of that gift which Nature has lavished upon other women; but He would
not hear me, He would not hear me! I was not made to be loved. Why,
then, should I make myself a slave for the sake of winning people's
esteem? If they have despised me, I can despise them."

"Who has despised you, Olivia?" Edward asked, perplexed by his cousin's
manner.

"YOU HAVE!" she cried, with flashing eyes; "you have! From first to
last--from first to last!" She turned away from him impatiently. "Go,"
she said; "why should we keep up a mockery of friendliness and
cousinship? We are nothing to each other."

Edward walked towards the door; but he paused upon the threshold, with
his hat in his hand, undecided as to what he ought to do.

As he stood thus, perplexed and irresolute, a cry, the feeble cry of a
child, sounded within the pavilion.

The young man started, and looked at his cousin. Even in the dusk he
could see that her face had suddenly grown livid.

"There is a child in that place," he said pointing to the door at the
top of the steps.

The cry was repeated as he spoke,--the low, complaining wail of a
child. There was no other voice to be heard,--no mother's voice
soothing a helpless little one. The cry of the child was followed by a
dead silence.

"There is a child in that pavilion," Edward Arundel repeated.

"There is," Olivia answered.

"Whose child?"

"What does it matter to you?"

"Whose child?"

"I cannot tell you, Edward Arundel."

The soldier strode towards the steps, but before he could reach them,
Olivia flung herself across his pathway.

"I will see whose child is hidden in that place," he said. "Scandalous
things have been said of you, Olivia. I will know the reason of your
visits to this place."

She clung about his knees, and hindered him from moving; half kneeling,
half crouching on the lowest of the stone steps, she blocked his
pathway, and prevented him from reaching the door of the pavilion. It
had been ajar a few minutes ago; it was shut now. But Edward had not
noticed this.

"No, no, no!" shrieked Olivia; "you shall trample me to death before
you enter that place. You shall walk over my corpse before you cross
that threshold."

The young man struggled with her for a few moments; then he suddenly
flung her from him; not violently, but with a contemptuous gesture.

"You are a wicked woman, Olivia Marchmont," he said; "and it matters
very little to me what you do, or what becomes of you. I know now the
secret of the mystery between you and Paul Marchmont. I can guess your
motive for perpetually haunting this place."

He left the solitary building by the river, and walked slowly back
through the wood.

His mind--predisposed to think ill of Olivia by the dark rumours he had
heard through his servant, and which had had a certain amount of
influence upon him, as all scandals have, however baseless--could
imagine only one solution to the mystery of a child's presence in the
lonely building by the river. Outraged and indignant at the discovery
he had made, he turned his back upon Marchmont Towers.

"I will stay in this hateful place no longer," he thought, as he went
back to his solitary home; "but before I leave Lincolnshire the whole
county shall know what I think of Paul Marchmont."



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
n