Charlotte's Inheritance, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 6

Beyond the Veil.

Diana and her husband did not linger long at Brighton; they went back to town in time to see the last of that old wayfarer whose troubled journey came to so peaceful an ending. It was a very calm haven in which this battered old privateer lay at anchor after life’s tempestuous course; but to the Captain himself it seemed a hard thing that he should not have been permitted one brief cruise upon that summer sea which danced so gaily beneath the keel of the Lenobles’ prosperous bark.

“We have shared adversity, my love,” he said sadly, when he talked with his daughter in the last few days; “but your prosperity I am to have no share in. Well, I suppose I have no right to complain. My life has been an erring one; but poverty is the most vicious companion that a man can consort with. If I had come into six or seven thousand a year, I might have been as starch in my notions as a bishop; but I have been obliged to live, Diana — that was the primary necessity, and I learnt to accommodate myself to it.”

That he had erred, the Captain was very ready to acknowledge. That he had sinned deeply, and had much need to repent himself of his iniquity, he was very slow to perceive. But sometimes, in the still watches of the night, when the faint lamplight on the shadowy wall was more gloomy than darkness, when the nurse, hired to assist his own man in these last days, dozed in her comfortable chair, the truth came hope to his shallow soul, and Horatio Paget knew that he had been indeed a sinner, and very vile among sinners. Then, for a moment, the veil of self-deception was lifted, and he saw his past life as it had really been — selfish, dishonourable, cruel beyond measure in reckless injury of others. For a moment the awful book was opened, and the sinner saw the fearful sum set against his name.

“What can wipe out the dread account?” he asked himself. “Is there such a thing as forgiveness for a selfish useless life — a life which is one long offence against God and man?”

In these long wakeful nights the dying man thought much of his wife. The sweet tender face came back to him, with its mournful wondering look. He knew, now, how his falsehoods and dishonours had wounded and oppressed that gentle soul. He remembered how often she had pleaded for the right, and how he had ridiculed her arguments, and set at naught her tender pleadings. He had fancied her in a manner inimical to himself when she urged the cause of some angry creditor or meek deluded landlady. Now, with the light that is not upon earth or sea shining on the picture of his past career, he could see and understand things as he had never seen or understood them before. He knew now that it was for his own sake that faithful and devoted wife had pleaded, his own interest that had been near to her pitying heart, as well as the interest of bakers and butchers, landladies and tailors.

“She might have made a good man of me, if I had let her have her way,” he thought to himself. “I know that she is in heaven. Will she plead for me, I wonder, at the foot of the Great Throne? I used to laugh at her bad English, or fly in a passion with her sometimes, poor soul, when I wanted her to pass for a lady, and she broke down outrageously. But there her voice will be heard when mine appeals in vain. Dear soul! I wonder who taught her to be so pure and unselfish, and trusting and faithful? She was a Christian without knowing it. ‘I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.’”

He thought of his wife’s lonely deathbed, and compared it with his own. For him there was luxury; by him watched a devoted and all-forgiving daughter, a generous friend and son-in-law. All that could be done to soothe the painful descent was done for him. For her there had been nothing but loneliness and sorrow.

“But she might be certain of a speedy welcome in a better home,” thought Horatio; “and I—? Ah, dear kind creature, there the difference was all in her favour.”

As the closing scene grew nearer, he thought more and more of his gentle low-born wife, whose hold upon him in life had been so slender, whose memory had occupied until now so insignificant a place in his mind. His daughter watched with him unceasingly in the last two days and nights. His mind wandered. On the day of his death he mistook Diana for that long-lost companion.

“I have not been a kind husband, Mary, my dear,” he faltered; “but the world has been hard upon me — debts — difficulties — crack regiment — expensive mess — set of gamblers — no pity on a young man without fortune — force of example — tied a millstone round my wretched neck before I was twenty-one years of age.”

Later, when the doctor had felt his pulse for the last time, he cried out suddenly, “I have made a statement of my affairs, the liabilities are numerous — the assets nil; but I rely on the clemency of this court.”

These were his last words. He sank into a kind of stupor betwixt sleeping and waking, and in this he died.

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