John Marchmont's Legacy, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Volume iii.

Chapter 1

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!”

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