Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 34

My Lady Tells the Truth.

“Is there any room in which I can talk to you alone?” Robert Audley asked, as he looked dubiously round the hall.

My lady only bowed her head in answer. She pushed open the door of the library, which had been left ajar. Sir Michael had gone to his dressing-room to prepare for dinner after a day of lazy enjoyment, perfectly legitimate for an invalid. The apartment was quite empty, only lighted by the blaze of the fire, as it had been upon the previous evening.

Lady Audley entered the room, followed by Robert, who closed the door behind him. The wretched, shivering woman went to the fireplace and knelt down before the blaze, as if any natural warmth, could have power to check that unnatural chill. The young man followed her, and stood beside her upon the hearth, with his arm resting upon the chimney-piece.

“Lady Audley,” he said, in a voice whose icy sternness held out no hope of any tenderness or compassion, “I spoke to you last-night very plainly, but you refused to listen to me. To-night I must speak to you still more plainly, and you must no longer refuse to listen to me.”

My lady, crouching before the fire with her face hidden in her hands, uttered a low, sobbing sound which was almost a moan, but made no other answer.

“There was a fire last night at Mount Stanning, Lady Audley,” the pitiless voice proceeded; “the Castle Inn, the house in which I slept, was burned to the ground. Do you know how I escaped perishing in that destruction?”

“No.”

“I escaped by a most providential circumstance which seems a very simple one. I did not sleep in the room which had been prepared for me. The place seemed wretchedly damp and chilly, the chimney smoked abominably when an attempt was made at lighting a fire, and I persuaded the servant to make me up a bed on the sofa in the small ground-floor sitting-room which I had occupied during the evening.”

He paused for a moment, watching the crouching figure. The only change in my lady’s attitude was that her head had fallen a little lower.

“Shall I tell you by whose agency the destruction of the Castle Inn was brought about, my lady?”

There was no answer.

“Shall I tell you?”

Still the same obstinate silence.

“My Lady Audley,” cried Robert, suddenly, “you are the incendiary. It was you whose murderous hand kindled those flames. It was you who thought by that thrice-horrible deed to rid yourself of me, your enemy and denouncer. What was it to you that other lives might be sacrificed? If by a second massacre of Saint Bartholomew you could have ridded yourself of me you would have sacrificed an army of victims. The day is past for tenderness and mercy. For you I can no longer know pity or compunction. So far as by sparing your shame I can spare others who must suffer by your shame, I will be merciful, but no further. If there were any secret tribunal before which you might be made to answer for your crimes, I would have little scruple in being your accuser, but I would spare that generous and high-born gentleman upon whose noble name your infamy would be reflected.”

His voice softened as he made this allusion, and for a moment he broke down, but he recovered himself by an effort and continued:

“No life was lost in the fire of last night. I slept lightly, my lady, for my mind was troubled, as it has been for a long time, by the misery which I knew was lowering upon this house. It was I who discovered the breaking out of the fire in time to give the alarm and to save the servant girl and the poor drunken wretch, who was very much burnt in spite of efforts, and who now lies in a precarious state at his mother’s cottage. It was from him and from his wife that I learned who had visited the Castle Inn in the dead of the night. The woman was almost distracted when she saw me, and from her I discovered the particulars of last night. Heaven knows what other secrets of yours she may hold, my lady, or how easily they might be extorted from her if I wanted her aid, which I do not. My path lies very straight before me. I have sworn to bring the murderer of George Talboys to justice, and I will keep my oath. I say that it was by your agency my friend met with his death. If I have wondered sometimes, as it was only natural I should, whether I was not the victim of some horrible hallucination, whether such an alternative was not more probable than that a young and lovely woman should be capable of so foul and treacherous a murder, all wonder is past. After last night’s deed of horror, there is no crime you could commit, however vast and unnatural, which could make me wonder. Henceforth you must seem to me no longer a woman, a guilty woman with a heart which in its worst wickedness has yet some latent power to suffer and feel; I look upon you henceforth as the demoniac incarnation of some evil principle. But you shall no longer pollute this place by your presence. Unless you will confess what you are and who you are in the presence of the man you have deceived so long, and accept from him and from me such mercy as we may be inclined to extend to you, I will gather together the witnesses who shall swear to your identity, and at peril of any shame to myself and those I love, I will bring upon you the just and awful punishment of your crime.”

The woman rose suddenly and stood before him erect and resolute, with her hair dashed away from her face and her eyes glittering.

“Bring Sir Michael!” she cried; “bring him here, and I will confess anything — everything. What do I care? God knows I have struggled hard enough against you, and fought the battle patiently enough; but you have conquered, Mr. Robert Audley. It is a great triumph, is it not — a wonderful victory? You have used your cool, calculating, frigid, luminous intellect to a noble purpose. You have conquered — a MAD WOMAN!”

“A mad woman!” cried Mr. Audley.

“Yes, a mad woman. When you say that I killed George Talboys, you say the truth. When you say that I murdered him treacherously and foully, you lie. I killed him because I AM MAD! because my intellect is a little way upon the wrong side of that narrow boundary-line between sanity and insanity; because, when George Talboys goaded me, as you have goaded me, and reproached me, and threatened me, my mind, never properly balanced, utterly lost its balance, and I was mad! Bring Sir Michael; and bring him quickly. If he is to be told one thing let him be told everything; let him hear the secret of my life!”

Robert Audley left the room to look for his uncle. He went in search of that honored kinsman with God knows how heavy a weight of anguish at his heart, for he knew he was about to shatter the day-dream of his uncle’s life; and he knew that our dreams are none the less terrible to lose, because they have never been the realities for which we have mistaken them. But even in the midst of his sorrow for Sir Michael, he could not help wondering at my lady’s last words —“the secret of my life.” He remembered those lines in the letter written by Helen Talboys upon the eve of her flight from Wildernsea, which had so puzzled him. He remembered those appealing sentences —“You should forgive me, for you know why I have been so. You know the secret of my life.”

He met Sir Michael in the hall. He made no attempt to prepare the way for the terrible revelation which the baronet was to hear. He only drew him into the fire-lit library, and there for the first time addressed him quietly thus: “Lady Audley has a confession to make to you, sir — a confession which I know will be a most cruel surprise, a most bitter grief. But it is necessary for your present honor, and for your future peace, that you should hear it. She has deceived you, I regret to say, most basely; but it is only right that you should hear from her own lips any excuses which she may have to offer for her wickedness. May God soften this blow for you!” sobbed the young man, suddenly breaking down; “I cannot!”

Sir Michael lifted his hand as if he would command his nephew to be silent, but that imperious hand dropped feeble and impotent at his side. He stood in the center of the fire-lit room rigid and immovable.

“Lucy!” he cried, in a voice whose anguish struck like a blow upon the jarred nerves of those who heard it, as the cry of a wounded animal pains the listener —“Lucy, tell me that this man is a madman! tell me so, my love, or I shall kill him!”

There was a sudden fury in his voice as he turned upon Robert, as if he could indeed have felled his wife’s accuser to the earth with the strength of his uplifted arm.

But my lady fell upon her knees at his feet, interposing herself between the baronet and his nephew, who stood leaning on the back of an easy-chair, with his face hidden by his hand.

“He has told you the truth,” said my lady, “and he is not mad! I have sent him for you that I may confess everything to you. I should be sorry for you if I could, for you have been very, very good to me, much better to me than I ever deserved; but I can’t, I can’t — I can feel nothing but my own misery. I told you long ago that I was selfish; I am selfish still — more selfish than ever in my misery. Happy, prosperous people may feel for others. I laugh at other people’s sufferings; they seem so small compared to my own.”

When first my lady had fallen on her knees, Sir Michael had attempted to raise her, and had remonstrated with her; but as she spoke he dropped into a chair close to the spot upon which she knelt, and with his hands clasped together, and with his head bent to catch every syllable of those horrible words, he listened as if his whole being had been resolved into that one sense of hearing.

“I must tell you the story of my life, in order to tell you why I have become the miserable wretch who has no better hope than to be allowed to run away and hide in some desolate corner of the earth. I must tell you the story of my life,” repeated my lady, “but you need not fear that I shall dwell long upon it. It has not been so pleasant to me that I should wish to remember it. When I was a very little child I remember asking a question which it was natural enough that I should ask, God help me! I asked where my mother was. I had a faint remembrance of a face, like what my own is now, looking at me when I was very little better than a baby; but I had missed the face suddenly, and had never seen it since. They told me that mother was away. I was not happy, for the woman who had charge of me was a disagreeable woman and the place in which we lived was a lonely place, a village upon the Hampshire coast, about seven miles from Portsmouth. My father, who was in the navy, only came now and then to see me; and I was left almost entirely to the charge of this woman, who was irregularly paid, and who vented her rage upon me when my father was behindhand in remitting her money. So you see that at a very early age I found out what it was to be poor.

“Perhaps it was more from being discontented with my dreary life than from any wonderful impulse of affection, that I asked very often the same question about my mother. I always received the same answer — she was away. When I asked where, I was told that that was a secret. When I grew old enough to understand the meaning of the word death, I asked if my mother was dead, and I was told —‘No, she was not dead; she was ill, and she was away.’ I asked how long she had been ill, and I was told that she had been so some years, ever since I was a baby.

“At last the secret came out. I worried my foster-mother with the old question one day when the remittances had fallen very much in arrear, and her temper had been unusually tried. She flew into a passion, and told me that my mother was a mad woman, and that she was in a madhouse forty miles away. She had scarcely said this when she repented, and told me that it was not the truth, and that I was not to believe it, or to say that she had told me such a thing. I discovered afterward that my father had made her promise most solemnly never to tell me the secret of my mother’s fate.

“I brooded horribly upon the thought of my mother’s madness. It haunted me by day and night. I was always picturing to myself this mad woman pacing up and down some prison cell, in a hideous garment that bound her tortured limbs. I had exaggerated ideas of the horror of her situation. I had no knowledge of the different degrees of madness, and the image that haunted me was that of a distraught and violent creature, who would fall upon me and kill me if I came within her reach. This idea grew upon me until I used to awake in the dead of night, screaming aloud in an agony of terror, from a dream in which I had felt my mother’s icy grasp upon my throat, and heard her ravings in my ear.

“When I was ten years old my father came to pay up the arrears due to my protectress, and to take me to school. He had left me in Hampshire longer than he had intended, from his inability to pay this money; so there again I felt the bitterness of poverty, and ran the risk of growing up an ignorant creature among coarse rustic children, because my father was poor.”

My lady paused for a moment, but only to take breath, for she had spoken rapidly, as if eager to tell this hated story, and to have done with it. She was still on her knees, but Sir Michael made no effort to raise her.

He sat silent and immovable. What was this story that he was listening to? Whose was it, and to what was it to lead? It could not be his wife’s; he had heard her simple account of her youth, and had believed it as he had believed in the Gospel. She had told him a very brief story of an early orphanage, and a long, quiet, colorless youth spent in the conventional seclusion of an English boarding-school.

“My father came at last, and I told him what I had discovered. He was very much affected when I spoke of my mother. He was not what the world generally calls a good man, but I learned afterward that he had loved his wife very dearly, and that he would have willingly sacrificed his life to her, and constituted himself her guardian, had he not been compelled to earn the daily bread of the mad woman and her child by the exercise of his profession. So here again I beheld what a bitter thing it is to be poor. My mother, who might have been tended by a devoted husband, was given over to the care of hired nurses.

“Before my father sent me to school at Torquay, he took me to see my mother. This visit served at least to dispel the idea which had so often terrified me. I saw no raving, straight-waist-coated maniac, guarded by zealous jailers, but a golden-haired, blue-eyed, girlish creature, who seemed as frivolous as a butterfly, and who skipped toward us with her yellow curls decorated with natural flowers, and saluted us with radiant smiles, and gay, ceaseless chatter.

“But she didn’t know us. She would have spoken in the same manner to any stranger who had entered the gates of the garden about her prison-house. Her madness was an hereditary disease transmitted to her from her mother, who had died mad. She, my mother, had been, or had appeared sane up to the hour of my birth, but from that hour her intellect had decayed, and she had become what I saw her.

“I went away with the knowledge of this, and with the knowledge that the only inheritance I had to expect from my mother was — insanity!

“I went away with this knowledge in my mind, and with something more — a secret to keep. I was a child of ten years only, but I felt all the weight of that burden. I was to keep the secret of my mother’s madness; for it was a secret that might affect me injuriously in after-life. I was to remember this.

“I did remember this; and it was, perhaps, this that made me selfish and heartless, for I suppose I am heartless. As I grew older I was told that I was pretty — beautiful — lovely — bewitching. I heard all these things at first indifferently, but by-and-by I listened to them greedily, and began to think that in spite of the secret of my life I might be more successful in the world’s great lottery than my companions. I had learnt that which in some indefinite manner or other every school-girl learns sooner or later — I learned that my ultimate fate in life depended upon my marriage, and I concluded that if I was indeed prettier than my schoolfellows, I ought to marry better than any one of them.

“I left school before I was seventeen years of age, with this thought in my mind, and I went to live at the other extremity of England with my father, who had retired upon his half-pay, and had established himself at Wildernsea, with the idea that the place was cheap and select.

“The place was indeed select. I had not been there a month before I discovered that even the prettiest girl might wait a long time for a rich husband. I wish to hurry over this part of my life. I dare say I was very despicable. You and your nephew, Sir Michael, have been rich all your lives, and can very well afford to despise me; but I knew how far poverty can affect a life, and I looked forward with a sickening dread to a life so affected. At last the rich suitor, the wandering prince came.”

She paused for a moment, and shuddered convulsively. It was impossible to see any of the changes in her countenance, for her face was obstinately bent toward the floor. Throughout her long confession she never lifted it; throughout her long confession her voice was never broken by a tear. What she had to tell she told in a cold, hard tone, very much the tone in which some criminal, dogged and sullen to the last, might have confessed to a jail chaplain.

“The wandering prince came,” she repeated; “he was called George Talboys.”

For the first time since his wife’s confession had begun, Sir Michael Audley started. He began to understand it all now. A crowd of unheeded words and forgotten circumstances that had seemed too insignificant for remark or recollection, flashed back upon him as vividly as if they had been the leading incidents of his past life.

“Mr. George Talboys was a cornet in a dragoon regiment. He was the only son of a rich country gentleman. He fell in love with me, and married me three months after my seventeenth birthday. I think I loved him as much as it was in my power to love anybody; not more than I have loved you, Sir Michael — not so much, for when you married me you elevated me to a position that he could never have given me.”

The dream was broken. Sir Michael Audley remembered that summer’s evening, nearly two years ago, when he had first declared his love for Mr. Dawson’s governess; he remembered the sick, half-shuddering sensation of regret and disappointment that had come over him then, and he felt as if it had in some manner dimly foreshadowed the agony of to-night.

But I do not believe that even in his misery he felt that entire and unmitigated surprise, that utter revulsion of feeling that is felt when a good woman wanders away from herself and becomes the lost creature whom her husband is bound in honor to abjure. I do not believe that Sir Michael Audley had ever really believed in his wife. He had loved her and admired her; he had been bewitched by her beauty and bewildered by her charms; but that sense of something wanting, that vague feeling of loss and disappointment which had come upon him on the summer’s night of his betrothal had been with him more or less distinctly ever since. I cannot believe that an honest man, however pure and single may be his mind, however simply trustful his nature, is ever really deceived by falsehood. There is beneath the voluntary confidence an involuntary distrust, not to be conquered by any effort of the will.

“We were married,” my lady continued, “and I loved him very well, quite well enough to be happy with him as long as his money lasted, and while we were on the Continent, traveling in the best style and always staying at the best hotels. But when we came back to Wildernsea and lived with papa, and all the money was gone, and George grew gloomy and wretched, and was always thinking of his troubles, and appeared to neglect me, I was very unhappy, and it seemed as if this fine marriage had only given me a twelvemonth’s gayety and extravagance after all. I begged George to appeal to his father, but he refused. I persuaded him to try and get employment, and he failed. My baby was born, and the crisis which had been fatal to my mother arose for me. I escaped, but I was more irritable perhaps after my recovery, less inclined to fight the hard battle of the world, more disposed to complain of poverty and neglect. I did complain one day, loudly and bitterly; I upbraided George Talboys for his cruelty in having allied a helpless girl to poverty and misery, and he flew into a passion with me and ran out of the house. When I awoke the next morning, I found a letter lying on the table by my bed, telling me that he was going to the antipodes to seek his fortune, and that he would never see me again until he was a rich man.

“I looked upon this as a desertion, and I resented it bitterly — resented it by hating the man who had left me with no protector but a weak, tipsy father, and with a child to support. I had to work hard for my living, and in every hour of labor — and what labor is more wearisome than the dull slavery of a governess? — I recognized a separate wrong done me by George Talboys. His father was rich, his sister was living in luxury and respectability, and I, his wife, and the mother of his son, was a slave allied to beggary and obscurity. People pitied me, and I hated them for their pity. I did not love the child, for he had been left a burden upon my hands. The hereditary taint that was in my blood had never until this time showed itself by any one sign or token; but at this time I became subject to fits of violence and despair. At this time I think my mind first lost its balance, and for the first time I crossed that invisible line which separates reason from madness. I have seen my father’s eyes fixed upon me in horror and alarm. I have known him soothe me as only mad people and children are soothed, and I have chafed against his petty devices, I have resented even his indulgence.

“At last these fits of desperation resolved themselves into a desperate purpose. I determined to run away from this wretched home which my slavery supported. I determined to desert this father who had more fear of me than love for me. I determined to go to London and lose myself in that great chaos of humanity.

“I had seen an advertisement in the Times while I was at Wildernsea, and I presented myself to Mrs. Vincent, the advertiser, under a feigned name. She accepted me, waiving all questions as to my antecedents. You know the rest. I came here, and you made me an offer, the acceptance of which would lift me at once into the sphere to which my ambition had pointed ever since I was a school-girl, and heard for the first time that I was pretty.

“Three years had passed, and I had received no token of my husband’s existence; for, I argued, that if he had returned to England, he would have succeeded in finding me under any name and in any place. I knew the energy of his character well enough to know this.

“I said ‘I have a right to think that he is dead, or that he wishes me to believe him dead, and his shadow shall not stand between me and prosperity.’ I said this, and I became your wife, Sir Michael, with every resolution to be as good a wife as it was in my nature to be. The common temptations that assail and shipwreck some women had no terror for me. I would have been your true and pure wife to the end of time, though I had been surrounded by a legion of tempters. The mad folly that the world calls love had never had any part in my madness, and here at least extremes met, and the vice of heartlessness became the virtue of constancy.

“I was very happy in the first triumph and grandeur of my new position, very grateful to the hand that had lifted me to it. In the sunshine of my own happiness I felt, for the first time in my life, for the miseries of others. I had been poor myself, and I was now rich, and could afford to pity and relieve the poverty of my neighbors. I took pleasure in acts of kindness and benevolence. I found out my father’s address and sent him large sums of money, anonymously, for I did not wish him to discover what had become of me. I availed myself to the full of the privilege your generosity afforded me. I dispensed happiness on every side. I saw myself loved as well as admired, and I think I might have been a good woman for the rest of my life, if fate would have allowed me to be so.

“I believe that at this time my mind regained its just balance. I had watched myself very closely since leaving Wildernsea; I had held a check upon myself. I had often wondered while sitting in the surgeon’s quiet family circle whether any suspicion of that invisible, hereditary taint had ever occurred to Mr. Dawson.

“Fate would not suffer me to be good. My destiny compelled me to be a wretch. Within a month of my marriage, I read in one of the Essex papers of the return of a certain Mr. Talboys, a fortunate gold-seeker, from Australia. The ship had sailed at the time I read the paragraph. What was to be done?

“I said just now that I knew the energy of George’s character. I knew that the man who had gone to the antipodes and won a fortune for his wife would leave no stone unturned in his efforts to find her. It was hopeless to think of hiding myself from him.

“Unless he could be induced to believe that I was dead, he would never cease in his search for me.

“My brain was dazed as I thought of my peril. Again the balance trembled, again the invisible boundary was passed, again I was mad.

“I went down to Southampton and found my father, who was living there with my child. You remember how Mrs. Vincent’s name was used as an excuse for this hurried journey, and how it was contrived I should go with no other escort than Phoebe Marks, whom I left at the hotel while I went to my father’s house.

“I confided to my father the whole secret of my peril. He was not very much shocked at what I had done, for poverty had perhaps blunted his sense of honor and principle. He was not very much shocked, but he was frightened, and he promised to do all in his power to assist me in my horrible emergency.

“He had received a letter addressed to me at Wildernsea, by George, and forwarded from there to my father. This letter had been written within a few days of the sailing of the Argus, and it announced the probable date of the ship’s arrival at Liverpool. This letter gave us, therefore, data upon which to act.

“We decided at once upon the first step. This was that on the date of the probable arrival of the Argus, or a few days later, an advertisement of my death should be inserted in the Times.

“But almost immediately after deciding upon this, we saw that there were fearful difficulties in the carrying out of such a simple plan. The date of the death, and the place in which I died, must be announced, as well as the death itself. George would immediately hurry to that place, however distant it might be, however comparatively inaccessible, and the shallow falsehood would be discovered.

“I knew enough of his sanguine temperament, his courage and determination, his readiness to hope against hope, to know that unless he saw the grave in which I was buried, and the register of my death, he would never believe that I was lost to him.

“My father was utterly dumfounded and helpless. He could only shed childish tears of despair and terror. He was of no use to me in this crisis.

“I was hopeless of any issue out of my difficulties. I began to think that I must trust to the chapter of accidents, and hope that among other obscure corners of the earth, Audley Court might be undreamt of by my husband.

“I sat with my father, drinking tea with him in his miserable hovel, and playing with the child, who was pleased with my dress and jewels, but quite unconscious that I was anything but a stranger to him. I had the boy in my arms, when a woman who attended him came to fetch him that she might make him more fit to be seen by the lady, as she said.

“I was anxious to know how the boy was treated, and I detained this woman in conversation with me while my father dozed over the tea-table.

“She was a pale-faced, sandy-haired woman of about five-and-forty and she seemed very glad to get the chance of talking to me as long as I pleased to allow her. She soon left off talking of the boy, however, to tell me of her own troubles. She was in very great trouble, she told me. Her eldest daughter had been obliged to leave her situation from ill-health; in fact, the doctor said the girl was in a decline; and it was a hard thing for a poor widow who had seen better days to have a sick daughter to support, as well as a family of young children.

“I let the woman run on for a long time in this manner, telling me the girl’s ailments, and the girl’s age, and the girl’s doctor’s stuff, and piety, and sufferings, and a great deal more. But I neither listened to her nor heeded her. I heard her, but only in a far-away manner, as I heard the traffic in the street, or the ripple of the stream at the bottom of it. What were this woman’s troubles to me? I had miseries of my own, and worse miseries than her coarse nature could ever have to endure. These sort of people always had sick husbands or sick children, and expected to be helped in their illness by the rich. It was nothing out of the common. I was thinking this, and I was just going to dismiss the woman with a sovereign for her sick daughter, when an idea flashed upon me with such painful suddenness that it sent the blood surging up to my brain, and set my heart beating, as it only beats when I am mad.

“I asked the woman her name. She was a Mrs. Plowson, and she kept a small general shop, she said, and only ran in now and then to look after Georgey, and to see that the little maid-of-all-work took care of him. Her daughter’s name was Matilda. I asked her several questions about this girl Matilda, and I ascertained that she was four-and-twenty, that she had always been consumptive, and that she was now, as the doctor said, going off in a rapid decline. He had declared that she could not last much more than a fortnight.

“It was in three weeks that the ship that carried George Talboys was expected to anchor in the Mersey.

“I need not dwell upon this business. I visited the sick girl. She was fair and slender. Her description, carelessly given, might tally nearly enough with my own, though she bore no shadow of resemblance to me, except in these two particulars. I was received by the girl as a rich lady who wished to do her a service. I bought the mother, who was poor and greedy, and who for a gift of money, more money than she had ever before received, consented to submit to anything I wished. Upon the second day after my introduction to this Mrs. Plowson, my father went over to Ventnor, and hired lodgings for his invalid daughter and her little boy. Early the next morning he carried over the dying girl and Georgey, who had been bribed to call her ‘mamma.’ She entered the house as Mrs. Talboys; she was attended by a Ventnor medical man as Mrs. Talboys; she died, and her death and burial were registered in that name.

“The advertisement was inserted in the Times, and upon the second day after its insertion George Talboys visited Ventnor, and ordered the tombstone which at this hour records the death of his wife, Helen Talboys.”

Sir Michael Audley rose slowly, and with a stiff, constrained action, as if every physical sense had been benumbed by that one sense of misery.

“I cannot hear any more,” he said, in a hoarse whisper; “if there is anything more to be told I cannot hear it. Robert, it is you who have brought about this discovery, as I understand. I want to know nothing more. Will you take upon yourself the duty of providing for the safety and comfort of this lady whom I have thought my wife? I need not ask you to remember in all you do, that I have loved her very dearly and truly. I cannot say farewell to her. I will not say it until I can think of her without bitterness — until I can pity her, as I now pray that God may pity her this night.”

Sir Michael walked slowly from the room. He did not trust himself to look at that crouching figure. He did not wish to see the creature whom he had cherished. He went straight to his dressing-room, rung for his valet, and ordered him to pack a portmanteau, and make all necessary arrangements for accompanying his master by the last up-train.

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