John Marchmont's Legacy, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 11

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 frequents 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.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/braddon/mary_elizabeth/john_marchmont_s_legacy/v2.11.html

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