John Marchmont's Legacy, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 3

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.”

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