Charlotte's Inheritance, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 5

Bohemian Independence.

Monsieur and Madame Lenoble went to Brighton for their honeymoon. A letter or a telegraphic message would bring them thence swiftly to the bedside of the dying Captain, should the last fatal change set in suddenly. Diana had wished to stay with her father, but Horatio insisted upon the honeymoon trip, and that everything should be done in a correct and gentlemanly manner.

“You can engage rooms at the Albion,” Captain Paget had said to his son-in-law a few days before the quiet wedding. “The house is extremely comfortable; and you will be received by a compatriot. The proprietor is a Frenchman, and a very gentlemanly person, I assure you; the cuisine irreproachable. I remember the old Steyne when Mrs. FitzHerbert lived close by, and received all the best people, in the days when the Cockney had not yet taken possession of Brighthelmstone, and the Chinese dragons and pagodas were bright and fresh in the Pavilion.”

To Brighton, therefore, the bride and bridegroom departed; Diana attended by a maid, an appanage which the Captain had insisted upon. Poor Diana was sorely puzzled as to what she should find for the maid to do when her hair had been dressed early in the morning, and her costume laid out in state for the day.

“I think I must buy some handkerchiefs for her to hem,” she said to Gustave; “it will be quite dreadful for her to have nothing to do all day long.”

The weather was warm and bright. The sea danced and sparkled under the windows. Gustave was always in the same happy frame of mind. An elegant landau had been secured for the period of their visit, and a pair of capital horses carried them out on long and pleasant expeditions to the pretty Sussex villages, or across the broad bare downs, beyond which the sea stretched blue and bright.

In the evening, when the lamp was lighted and the urn hissed gaily, Diana felt that she and her husband were at home. It was the first home she had known — the first time she had been sole mistress and centre of a household. She looked back at all the old desolation, the dreary shifting from lodging to lodging, the degradation, the self-abasement, the dull apathy of despair; and then she looked across at her husband as he lounged in his easy-chair, contemplating her with dreamy adoring eye, in a kind of lazy worship; and she knew that for this man she was the centre of the universe, the very keystone in the arch of life.

She stretched out her hand to him with a smile, and he pressed it fondly to his lips. There were twinkling jewels upon the slender fingers; for the prettiest shop in Brighton — the brightest shop in Brighton — had been ransacked that morning by the fond, frivolous, happy husband, as pleased to bedeck his wife as a child to dress her last new doll.

“How can I ever be worthy of so much affection, Gustave!” she exclaimed, as he kissed the twinkling fingers.

And it did indeed seem to her that for this free gift of love she could never render a sufficient recompense.

“Thou wilt make Côtenoir a home,” he said; “thou knowest not how I have sighed for a home. This room, with the lamplight shining on thy face, and thy white hands moving about the teacups, and thy sweet smile, which greets me every now and then when thou lookest by here — it is more of home than I have ever known since I left Beaubocage, that modest dwelling where lived those two angels of kindness, my aunt and my grandmother.”

In one of those long pleasant drives to a distant village nestling under the lee of a steep hill, the husband and wife had much serious talk about the position of the former with reference to the Haygarth estate. The result of that conversation was shown in a letter which Charlotte Hawkehurst received the next day from her friend Diana Lenoble.

“Albion Hotel, Brighton.

“EVER DEAR LOTTA— Gustave and I have discussed the Haygarth business with great satisfaction to ourselves, since it transpired in the course of our conversation that we are both of one mind in the matter. It is agreed between us that, as he is very well off already, and as he never hoped or expected to inherit a fortune from his maternal ancestor, it is only just that he should divide this unlooked-for wealth with his dear cousin, whose claim to that inheritance he recognizes as equal to his own; the mere fact of seniority making only a legal and not a moral difference in the degree of relationship to the Reverend John Haygarth. Do you understand, darling? —you are to have half this money. My husband will not step in between you and good fortune. I cannot tell you how happy this determination of Gustave’s has made me. I felt myself in a manner base and ungrateful when I thought I was to share wealth that might have been yours; but I ought to have better understood the justice of my husband’s mind. And now, dearest, all will be arranged very simply; Gustave will come to London and see his lawyers, and execute some kind of deed, and the whole affair will be settled.

“We have had some charming drive,” &c. &c.

Here the young wife branched off into a description of the simple pleasures of their honeymoon holiday.

This letter was answered by Valentine Hawkehurst in person. He came down to Brighton to thank his friends for their generous desire to enrich his wife, and to decline, on her part, any share in John Haygarth’s wealth.

It was in vain that Gustave and Diana argued the point, Mr. Hawkehurst was fixed as fate.

“Believe me, it is better as it is,” he said. “Charlotte and I have arrived at this conviction with all due thought and deliberation. We are both young, and the world is all before us. There is much in the past that I have to redeem, as Diana well knows. It is better that I should fight the battle of life unaided, and rise from the ranks by right of my merit as a soldier. If ever we have need of help — if ever I find myself breaking down — you may be sure that it is to you I shall come. By and by, if Providence gives me children to work for, I will refuse no bounty that you may bestow on them. Their future may be rendered secure by your generosity, if you please, Lenoble; they will be your kindred. But for an alien like myself there is no discipline so wholesome as honest hard work. I am as rich as John Milton when he set up a school in St. Bride’s Churchyard.”

To this resolution Mr. Hawkehurst adhered with a gentle firmness.

“Thou art chivalrous like Don Quixote,” said Gustave Lenoble; “but it shall be as thou wouldest. Touch there.”

He offered his hand, which the other grasped with all heartiness.

“I will be godfather to thy little first one, and I will settle on him ten thousand pounds before he cuts his first tooth,” said Gustave decisively.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31