Run to Earth, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 30

Found Wanting.

Reginald Eversleigh was in complete ignorance of Victor Carrington’s proceedings, when he received the letter summoning him to an interview with his friend at a stated time. Carrington’s estimate of Reginald’s character was quite correct. All this time his vanity had been chafing under Paulina’s silence and apparent oblivion of him.

He had not received any letter from Paulina, fond as she had been of writing to him long, half-despairing letters, full of complaint against destiny, and breathing in every line that hopeless love which the beautiful Austrian woman had so long wasted on the egotist and coward, whose baseness she had half suspected even while she still clung to him.

Sir Reginald had been in the habit of receiving these letters as coolly as if they had been but the fitting tribute to his transcendant merits.

“Poor Paulina!” he murmured sometimes, as he folded the perfumed pages, after running his eyes carelessly over their contents; “poor Paulina! how devotedly she loves me. And what a pity she hasn’t a penny she can call her own. If she were a great heiress, now, what could be more delightful than this devotion? But, under existing circumstances, it is nothing but an embarrassment — a bore. Unfortunately, I cannot be brutal enough to tell her this plainly: and so matters go on. And I fear, in spite of all my hints, she may believe in the possibility of my ultimately making a sacrifice of my prospects For her sake.”

This was how Reginald Eversleigh felt, while Paulina was scattering at his feet the treasures of a disinterested affection.

He had been vain and selfish from boyhood, and his vices grew stronger with increasing years. His nature was hardened, and not chastened, by the trials and disappointments which had befallen him.

In the hour of his poverty and degradation it had been a triumph for him to win the devotion of a woman whom many men — men better than himself — had loved in vain.

It was a rich tribute to the graces of him who had once been the irresistible Reginald Eversleigh, the favourite of fashionable drawing~rooms.

Thus it was that, when Paulina’s letters suddenly ceased, Sir Reginald was at once mortified and indignant. He had made up his mind to obey Victor’s suggestion, or rather, command, by abstaining from either visiting or writing to Paulina; but he had not been prepared for a similar line of proceeding on her part, and it hurt his vanity much. She had ceased to write. Could she have ceased to care for him? Could any one else, richer — more disinterested — have usurped his place in her heart?

The baronet remembered what Victor Carrington had said about Douglas Dale; but he could not for one moment believe that his cousin — a man whom he considered infinitely beneath him — had the power to win Paulina Durski’s affection.

“She may perhaps encourage him,” he said to himself, “especially now that his income is doubled. She might even accept him as a husband — women are so mercenary. But her heart will never cease to be mine.”

Sir Reginald waited a week, a fortnight, but there came no letter from Paulina. He called on Carrington, according to appointment, but his friend had changed his mind, or his tactics, and gave him no explanation.

Victor had been a daily visitor at Hilton House during the week which had intervened since the day he had dined there and been introduced to Douglas Dale. His observation had enabled him to decide upon accelerating the progress of his designs. The hold which Paulina had obtained upon Douglas Dale’s affection was secure; he had proposed to her much sooner than Victor had anticipated; the perfect understanding and confidence subsisting between them rendered the cautious game which he had intended to play unnecessary, and he did not now care how soon a final rupture between Paulina and Reginald should take place. Indeed, for two of his purposes — the establishment of an avowed quarrel between Douglas Dale and his cousin, Sir Reginald, and the infliction of ever~growing injury on Paulina’s reputation — the sooner such a rupture could be brought about the better. Therefore Victor Carrington assumed a tone of reserve and mystery, which did not fail to exasperate Sir Reginald.

“Do not question me, Reginald,” he said. “You are afflicted with a lack of moral courage, and your want of nerve would only enfeeble my hand. Know nothing — expect nothing. Those who are at work for you know how to do their work quietly. Oh, by the way, I want you to sign a little document — very much the style of thing you gave me at Raynham Castle.”

Nothing could be more careless than the Frenchman’s tone and manner as he said this; but the document in question was a deed of gift, by which Reginald Eversleigh bestowed upon Victor Carrington the clear half of whatever income should arise to him, from real or personal property, from the date of the first day of June following.

“I am to give you half my income?”

“Yes, my dear Reginald, after the first of next June. You know that I am working laboriously to bring about good fortune for you. You cannot suppose that I am working for nothing. If you do not choose to sign this document, neither do I choose to devote myself any longer to your interest.”

“And what if you fail?”

“If I fail, the document in question is so much waste paper, since you have no income at present, nor are likely to have any income between this and next June, unless by my agency.”

The result was the same as usual. Reginald signed the deed, without even taking the trouble to study its full bearing.

“Have you seen Paulina lately?” he asked, afterwards.

“Not very lately.”

“I don’t know what’s amiss with her,” exclaimed Reginald, peevishly; “she has not written to me to ask explanation of my absence and silence.”

“Perhaps she grew tired of writing to a person who valued her letters so lightly.”

“I was glad enough to hear from her,” answered Reginald; “but I could not be expected to find time to answer all her letters. Women have nothing better to do than to scribble long epistles.”

“Perhaps Madame Durski has found some one who will take the trouble to answer her letters,” said Victor.

After this, the two men parted, and Reginald Eversleigh called a cab, in which he drove down to Hilton House.

He might have stayed away much longer, in self-interested obedience to Carrington, had he been sure of Paulina’s unabated devotion; but he was piqued by her silence, and he wanted to discover whether there was a rival in the field.

He knew Madame Durski’s habits, and that it was not till late in the afternoon that she was to be seen.

It was nearly six o’clock when he drove up to the door of Hilton House. Carlo Toas admitted him, and favoured him with a searching and somewhat severe scrutiny, as he led the way to the drawing-room in which Paulina was wont to receive her guests.

Here Sir Reginald felt some little surprise, and a touch of mortification, on beholding the aspect of things. He had expected to find Paulina pensive, unhappy, perhaps ill. He had expected to see her agitated at his coming. He had pondered much upon the cessation of her letters; and he had told himself that she had ceased to write because she was angry with him — with that anger which exists only where there is love.

To his surprise, he found her brilliant, radiant, dressed in her most charming style.

Never had he seen her looking more beautiful or more happy.

He pressed the widow’s hand tenderly, and contemplated her for some moments in silence.

“My dear Paulina,” he said at last, “I never saw you looking more lovely than to-night. And yet to-night I almost feared to find you ill.”

“Indeed; and why so?” she asked. Her tone was the ordinary tone of society, from which it was impossible to draw any inference.

“Because it is so long since I heard from you.”

“I have grown tired of writing letters that were rarely honoured by your notice.”

“So, so,” thought the baronet; “I was right. She is offended.”

“To what do I owe this visit?” asked Madame Durski.

“She is desperately angry,” thought the baronet. “My dear Paulina,” he said, aloud, “can you imagine that your letters were indifferent to me? I have been busy, and, as you know, I have been away from London.”

“Yes,” she said; “you spent your Christmas very agreeably, I believe.”

“Not at all, I assure you. A bachelors’ party in a country parsonage is one of the dullest things possible, to say nothing of the tragical event which ended my visit,” added Reginald, his cheek paling as he spoke.

“A bachelors’ party!” repeated Paulina; “there were no ladies, then, at your cousin’s house?”

“None.”

“Indeed!”

Paulina Durski’s lip curled contemptuously, but she did not openly convict Sir Reginald of the deliberate falsehood he had uttered.

“I am very glad you have come to me,” she said, presently, “because I have urgent need of your help.”

“My dear Paulina, believe me —” began the baronet

“Do not make your protest till you have heard what I have to ask,” said Madame Durski. “You know how troublesome my creditors had become before Christmas. The time has arrived when they must be paid, or when I—”

She stopped, and looked searchingly at the face of her companion.

“When you — what?” he asked. “What is the alternative, Paulina?”

“I think you ought to know as well as I,” she answered. “I must either pay those debts or fly from this place, and from this country, disgraced. I appeal to you in this bitter hour of need. Can you not help me — you, who have professed to love me?”

“Surely, Paulina, you cannot doubt my love,” replied Sir Reginald; “unhappily, there is no magical process by which the truest and purest love can transform itself into money. I have not a twenty-pound note in the world.”

“Indeed; and the four hundred and fifty pounds you won from Lord Caversham just before Christmas — is that money gone?”

“Every shilling of it,” answered Reginald, coolly.

He had notes to the amount of nearly two hundred pounds in his desk; but he was the last man in Christendom to sacrifice money which he himself required, and his luxurious habits kept him always deeply in debt.

“You must have disposed of it very speedily. Surely, it is not all gone, Reginald. I think a hundred would satisfy my creditors, for a time at least.”

“I tell you it is gone, Paulina. I gave you a considerable sum at the time I won the money — you should remember.”

“Yes, I remember perfectly. You gave me fifty pounds — fifty pounds for the support of the house which enabled you to entrap your dupes, while I was the bait to lure them to their ruin. Oh, you have been very generous, very noble; and now that your dupes are tired of being cheated — now that your cat’s paw has become useless to you — I am to leave the country, because you will not sacrifice one selfish desire to save me from disgrace.”

“This is absurd, Paulina,” exclaimed the baronet, impatiently; “you talk the usual nonsense women indulge in when they can’t have everything their own way. It is not in my power to help you to pay your creditors, and you had much better slip quietly away while you are free to do so, and before they contrive to get you into prison. You know what Sheridan said about frittering away his money in paying his debts. There’s no knowing where to leave off if you once begin that sort of thing.”

“You would have me steal away in secret, like what you English call a swindler!”

“You needn’t dwell upon unpleasant names. Some of the best people in England have been obliged to cross the water for the same reasons that render your residence here unpleasant. There’s nothing to be gained by sentimental talk about the business, my dear Paulina. My friends at the clubs have begun to grow suspicious of this house, and I don’t think there’s a chance of my ever winning another sovereign in these rooms. Why, then, should you remain to be tormented by your creditors? Return to Paris, where you have twice as many devoted slaves and admirers as in this detestable straight-laced land of ours. I will slip across as soon as ever I can settle my affairs here some way or other, and once more you may be queen of a brilliant salon, while I—”

“While you may find a convenient cat’s paw for getting hold of new plunder,” cried Paulina, with unmitigated scorn. Then, with a sudden burst of passion, she exclaimed, “Oh, Sir Reginald Eversleigh, I thank Providence for this interview. At last — at last, I understand you completely. I have been testing you, Sir Reginald — I have been sounding your character. I have stooped to beg for help from you, in order that I might know the broken reed on which I have leaned. And now I can laugh at you, and despise you. Go, Sir Reginald Eversleigh; this house is mine — my home — no longer a private gambling-house — no longer a snare for the delusion of your rich friends. I am no longer friendless. My debts have been paid — paid by one who, if he had owned but one sixpence, would have given it to me, content to be penniless himself for my sake. I have no need of your help. I am not obliged to creep away in the night like a felon, from the house that has sheltered me. I can now dare to call myself mistress of this house, unfettered by debt, untrammelled by the shameful secrets that made my life odious to me; and my first act as mistress of this house shall be to forbid its doors to you.”

“Indeed, Madame Durski!” cried Reginald, with a sneer; “this is a wonderful change.”

“You thought, perhaps, there were no limits to a woman’s folly,” said Paulina; “but you see you were wrong. There is an end even to that. And now, Sir Reginald Eversleigh, I will wish you good evening, and farewell.”

“Is this a farce, Paulina?” asked the baronet, in a voice that was almost stifled by rage.

“No, Sir Reginald, it is a stern reality,” answered Madame Durski, laying her hand on the bell.

Her summons was speedily answered by Carlo Toas.

“Carlo, the door,” she said, quietly.

The baronet gave her one look — a dark and threatening glance — and then left the room, followed by the Spaniard, who conducted him to his cab with every token of grave respect.

“Curse her!” muttered Sir Reginald, between his set teeth, as he drove away from Hilton House. “It must be Douglas Dale who has given her the power to insult me thus, and he shall pay for her insolence. But why did Victor bring those two together? An alliance between them can only result in mischief to me. I must and will fathom his motive for conduct that seems so incomprehensible.”

Sir Reginald and his fatal ally, Carrington, met on the following day, and the former angrily related the scene which had been enacted at Hilton House.

“Your influence has been at work there,” he exclaimed. “You have brought about an alliance between this woman and Douglas Dale.”

“I have,” answered Victor, coolly. “Mr. Dale has offered her his hand and fortune, as well as his heart, and has been accepted.”

“You are going to play me false, Victor Carrington!”

“Indeed!”

“Yes, or else why take such pains to bring about this marriage?”

“You are a fool, Reginald Eversleigh, and an obstinate fool, or you would not harp upon this subject after what I have said. I have told you that the marriage which you fear will never take place.”

“How will you prevent it?”

“As easily as I could bring it about, did I choose to do so. Pshaw! my dear boy, the simple, honest people in this world are so many puppets, and it needs but the master-mind to pull the strings.”

“If this marriage is not intended to take place, why have you brought about an engagement between Paulina and Douglas?” asked the baronet, in nowise convinced by what his ally had said. “I have my reasons, and good ones, though you are too dull of brain to perceive them,” replied Victor, impatiently. “You and your cousin, Douglas Dale, have been fast friends, have you not?”

“We have.”

“Listen to me, then. If he were to die without direct heirs you are the only person who would profit by his death; and if he, a young; man, powerful of frame, in robust health, no likely subject for disease, were to die, leaving you owner of ten thousand a year, and were to die while in the habit of holding daily intercourse with you, known to be your friend and companion, is it not just possible that malevolent and suspicious people might drop strange hints as to the cause of his death? They might harp upon your motives for wishing him out of the way. They might dwell upon the fact that you were so much together, and that you had such opportunities — mark me, Reginald, opportunities— for tampering with the one solitary life which stood between you and fortune. They might say all this, might they not?”

“Yes,” replied Reginald, in his gloomiest tone, “they might.”

“Very well, then, if you take my advice, you will cut your cousin’s acquaintance from this time. You will take care to let your friends of the clubs know that he has supplanted you in the affections of the woman you loved, and that you and he are no longer on speaking terms. You will cut him publicly at one of your clubs; so that the fact of the coldness between you may become sufficiently notorious. And when you have done this, you will start for the Continent.”

“Go abroad? But why?”

“That is my secret. Remember, you have promised to obey me blindly,” answered Victor. “You will go abroad; you will let the world know that you and Douglas Dale are divided by the width of the Channel; you will leave him free to devote himself to the woman he has chosen for his wife; and if, while engaged to her, an untimely fate should overtake this young man — if he, like his elder brother, should be removed from your pathway, the most malicious scandal-monger that ever lived could scarcely say that you had any hand in his fate.”

“I understand,” murmured Reginald, in a low voice; “I understand.”

He said no more. He had grown white to the very lips; and those pale lips were dry and feverish. But the conversation changed abruptly, and Douglas Dale’s name was not again mentioned.

In the meantime, the betrothed lovers had been very happy and this interview, which she had always dreaded but felt she could not avoid, having passed over, Paulina was more at liberty to realize her changed position, and dwell on her future prospects. She was really happy, but in her happiness there was some touch of fever, something too much of nervous excitement. It was not the calm happiness which makes the crowning joy of an untroubled life. A long career of artificial excitement, of alternate fears and hopes, the mad delight and madder despair which makes the gambler’s fever, had unfitted Paulina for the quiet peace of a spirit at rest. She yearned for rest, but the angel of rest had been scared away by the long nights of dissipation, and would not answer to her call.

Victor Carrington had fathomed the mystery of her feverish gaiety — her intervals of dull apathy that was almost despair. In the depth of her misery she had lulled herself to a false repose by the use of opium; and even now, when the old miseries were no more, she could not exist without the poisonous anodyne.

“Douglas Dale must be blinded by his infatuation, or he would have found out the state of the case by this time,” Victor said to himself. “Circumstances could not be more favourable to my plans. A man who is blind and deaf, and utterly idiotic under the influence of an absurd infatuation, one woman whose brains are intoxicated by opium, and another who would sell her soul for money.”

These incidents, which have occupied so much space in the telling, in reality did not fill up much time. Only a month had elapsed since Lionel Dale’s death, when Reginald Eversleigh and Paulina had the interview described above. And now it seemed as though Fate itself were conspiring with the conspirators, for the watch kept upon them by Andrew Larkspur was perforce delayed, and Lady Eversleigh’s designs of retributive punishment were suspended. A few days after the return of Mr. Larkspur to town, that gentleman was seized with serious illness, and for three weeks was unable to leave his bed. Mr. Andrew lay ill with acute bronchitis, in the lodging-house in Percy Street, and Mrs. Eden was compelled to wait his convalescence with what patience she might.

Sir Reginald Eversleigh and Douglas Dale met at the Phoenix Club soon after Reginald’s interview with Madame Durski.

Douglas met his cousin with a quiet and courteous manner, in which there was no trace of unfriendly feeling: a manner that expressed so little of any feeling whatever as to be almost negative.

It was not so, however, with Sir Reginald. He remembered Victor Carrington’s advice as to the wisdom of a palpable estrangement between himself and his cousin, and he took good care to act upon that counsel.

This course was, indeed, the only one that would have been at all agreeable to him.

He hated Douglas Dale with all the force of his evil nature, as the innocent instrument of Sir Oswald’s retribution upon the destroyer of Mary Goodwin.

He envied the young man the advantages which his own bad conduct had forfeited; and he now had learned to hate him with redoubled intensity, as the man who had supplanted him in the affections of Paulina Durski.

The two men met in the smoking-room of the club at the most fashionable hour of the day.

Nothing could have been more conspicuous than the haughty insolence of the spendthrift baronet as he saluted his wealthy cousin.

“How is it I have not seen you at my chambers in the Temple, Eversleigh?” asked Douglas, in that calm tone of studied courtesy which expresses so little.

“Because I had no particular reason for calling on you; and because, if I had wished to see you, I should scarcely have expected to find you in your Temple chambers,” answered Sir Reginald. “If report does not belie you, you spend the greater part of your existence at a certain villa at Fulham.”

There was that in Sir Reginald Eversleigh’s tone which attracted the attention of the men within hearing — almost all of whom were well acquainted with the careers of the two cousins, and many of whom knew them personally.

Though the club loungers were too well-bred to listen, it was nevertheless obvious that the attention of all had been more or less aroused by the baronet’s tone and manner.

Douglas Dale answered, in accents as audible, and a tone as haughty as the accents and tone of his cousin.

“Report is not likely to belie me,” he said, “since there is no mystery in my life to afford food for gossip. If by a certain villa at Fulham you mean Hilton House, you are not mistaken. I have the honour to be a frequent guest at that house.”

“It is an honour which many of us have enjoyed,” answered Reginald, with a sneer.

“An honour which I used to find deuced expensive, by Jove!” exclaimed Viscount Caversham, who was standing near Douglas Dale.

“That was at the time when Sir Reginald Eversleigh usurped the position of host in Madame Durski’s house,” replied Douglas. “You would find things much changed there now, Caversham, were the lady to favour you by an invitation. When Madame Durski first came to England she was so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of evil counsellors. She has learned since to know her friends from her enemies.”

“She is a very charming woman,” drawled the viscount, laughingly; “but if you want to keep a balance at your banker’s, Dale, I should strongly advise you to refuse her hospitality.”

“Madame Durski will shortly be my wife,” replied Douglas, in a voice loud enough to be heard by the bystanders; “and the smallest word calculated to cast a slur on her fair fame will be an insult to me — an insult which I shall know how to resent.”

This announcement fell like a thunderbolt in the assembly of fashionable idlers. All knew the history of the house at Fulham. They knew of Paulina Durski only as a beautiful, but dangerous, syren, whose fatal smiles lured men to their ruin. That Douglas Dale should unite himself to such a woman seemed to them little short of absolute madness.

Love must be strong indeed which will face the ridicule of mankind unflinchingly. Douglas Dale knew that, in redeeming Paulina from her miserable situation, in elevating her to a position that many blameless and well-born Englishwomen would have gladly accepted, he was making a sacrifice which the men amongst whom he lived would condemn as the act of a fool. But he was willing to endure this, painful though it was to him, for the sake of the woman he loved.

“Better that I should have the scorn of shallow-brained worldlings than that the blight on her life should continue,” he said to himself. “When she is my wife, no man will dare to question her honour — no woman will dare to frown upon her when she enters society leaning on my arm.”

This is what Douglas Dale repeated to himself very often during his courtship of Paulina Durski. This is what he thought as he stood erect and defiant in the crowded room of the Pall Mall club, facing the curious looks of his acquaintances.

After the first shock there was a dead silence; no voice murmured the common-place phrases of congratulation which might naturally have followed such an announcement. If Douglas Dale had just announced that some dire misfortune had befallen him, the faces of the men around him could not have been more serious. No one smiled; no one applauded his choice; not one voice congratulated him on having won for himself so fair a bride.

That ominous silence told Douglas Dale how terrible was the stigma which the world had set upon her he so fondly loved. The anguish which rent his heart during those few moments is not to be expressed by words. After that most painful silence, he walked to the table at which it was his habit to sit, and began to read a newspaper. Sir Reginald watched him furtively for a few moments in silence, and then left the room.

After this the two cousins met frequently; but they never spoke. They passed each other with the coldest and most ceremonious salutation. The idlers of the club perceived this, and commented on the fact.

“Douglas Dale and his cousin are not on speaking terms,” they said: “they have quarrelled about that beautiful Austrian widow, at whose house there used to be such high play.”

In Paulina’s society, Douglas tried to forget the cruel shadow which darkened, and which, in all likelihood, would for ever darken, her name; and while in her society he contrived to banish from his mind all bitter thought of the world’s harsh verdict and cruel condemnation.

But away from Paulina he was tortured by the recollection of that scene at the Phoenix Club; tormented by the thought that, let him make what sacrifice he might, he could never wipe out the stain which those midnight assemblies of gamesters had left on his future wife’s reputation.

“We will leave England for ever after the marriage,” he said to himself sometimes. “We will make our home in some fair Italian city, where my Paulina will be respected and admired as if she were a queen, as well as the loveliest and sweetest of women.”

If he asked Paulina where their future life was to be spent she always replied to him in the same manner.

“Wherever you take me I shall be content,” she said. “I can never be grateful enough for your goodness; I can never repay the debt I owe you. Let our future be your planning, not mine.”

“And you have no wish, no fancy, that I can realize, Paulina?”

“None. Prom my earliest girlhood I have sighed for only one blessing — peace! You have given me that. What more can I ask at your hands? Ah! Douglas, I fear my love has already cost you too dearly. The world will never forgive you for your choice; you, who might make so brilliant a marriage!”

Her generous feelings once aroused, Paulina could be almost as noble as her lover. Again and again she implored him to withdraw his promise — to leave, and to forget her.

“Believe me, Douglas, our engagement is a mistake,” she said. “Consider this before it is too late. You are a proud man where honour is concerned, and the past life of her whom you marry should be without spot or blemish. It is not so with me. If I have not sinned as other women have sinned, I have stooped to be the companion of gamblers and roués; I have allowed my house to become the haunt of reckless and dissipated men. Society revenges itself cruelly upon those who break its laws. Society will neither forget nor forgive my offence.”

“I do not live for society, but for you, Paulina,” replied Douglas, passionately; “you are all the world to me. Let me never hear these arguments again, unless you would have me think that you are weary of me, and that you only want an excuse for getting rid of me.”

“Weary of you!” exclaimed Paulina; “my friend, my benefactor. How can I ever prove my gratitude for your goodness — your devotion?”

“By learning to love me a little,” answered Douglas, tenderly.

“The lesson ought not to be difficult,” Paulina murmured.

Could she do less than love this noble friend, this pure-minded and unselfish adorer?

He came to her one day, accompanied by a solicitor; but before introducing the man of law, he asked for a private interview with Paulina, and in this interview gave her a new proof of his devotion.

“In thinking much of our position, dearest, I have been struck with a sudden terror of the uncertainty of life. What would be your fate, Paulina, if anything were to happen — if — well, if I were to die suddenly, as men so often die in this high-pressure age, before marriage had united our interests? What would be your fate, alone and helpless, assailed once more by all the perplexities of poverty, and, perhaps, subject to the mean spite of my cousin, Reginald Eversleigh, who does not forgive me for having robbed him of his place in your heart, little as he was worthy of your love?”

“Oh, Douglas!” exclaimed Paulina, “why do you imagine such things? Why should death assail you?”

“Why, indeed, dearest,” returned Douglas, with a smile. “Do not think that I anticipate so sad a close to our engagement. But it is the duty of a man to look sharply out for every danger in the pathway of the woman he is bound to protect. I am a lawyer, remember, Paulina, and I contemplate the future with the eye of a lawyer. So far as I can secure you from even the possibility of misfortune, I will do it. I have brought a solicitor here to-day, in order that he may read you a will which I have this morning executed in your favour.”

“A will!” repeated Madame Durski; “you are only too good to me. But there is something horrible to my mind in these legal formalities.”

“That is only a woman’s prejudice. It is the feminine idea that a man must needs be at the point of death when he makes his will. And now let me explain the nature of this will,” continued Douglas. “I have told you that if I should happen to die without direct heirs, the estate left me by Sir Oswald Eversleigh will go to my cousin Reginald. That estate, from which is derived my income, I have no power to alienate; I am a tenant for life only. But my income has been double, and sometimes treble, my expenditure, for my habits have been very simple, and my life only that of a student in the Temple. My sole extravagance, indeed, has been the collection of a library. I have, therefore, been able to save twelve thousand pounds, and this sum is my own to bequeath. I have made a will, leaving this amount to you, Paulina — charged only with a small annuity to a faithful old servant — together with my personal property, consisting only of a few good Italian pictures, a library of rare old books, and the carvings and decorations of my roams — all valuable in their way. This is all the law allows me to give you, Paulina; but it will, at least, secure you from want.”

Madame Durski tried to speak; but she was too deeply affected by this new proof of her lover’s generosity. Tears choked her utterance; she took Douglas Dale’s hand in both her own, and lifted it to her lips; and this silent expression of gratitude touched his heart more than the most eloquent speech could have affected it.

He led her into the room where the attorney awaited her.

“This gentleman is Mr. Horley,” he said, “a friend and adviser in whom you may place unbounded confidence. My will is to remain in his possession; and should any untimely fate overtake me, he will protect your interests. And now, Mr. Horley, will you be good enough to read the document to Madame Durski, in order that she may understand what her position would be in case of the worst?”

Mr. Horley read the will. It was as simple and concise as the law allows any legal document to be; and it made Paulina Durski mistress of twelve thousand pounds, and property equal to two or three thousand more, in the event of Douglas Dale’s death.

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