Red Pottage, by Mary Cholmondeley

Chapter XLIX

The mouse fell from the ceiling, and the cat cried “Allah!”

Syrian Proverb.

THAT help should come through such a recognised channel as a Bishop could surprise no one, least of all Lady Newhaven, who had had the greatest faith in the clergy all her life, but, nevertheless, so overwhelmed was she by despair and its physical sensations, that she very nearly refused to see the Bishop when he called. Her faith even in lawn sleeves momentarily tottered. Who would show her any good? Poor Lady Newhaven was crushed into a state of prostration so frightful that we must not blame her if she felt that even an Archbishop would have been powerless to help her.

She had thought, after the engagement was announced, of rushing up to London and insisting on seeing Hugh; but always, after she had looked out the trains, her courage had shrunk back at the last moment. There had been a look on Hugh’s face during that last momentary meeting which she could not nerve herself to see again. She had been to London already once to see him without success.

She knew Rachel was at the Palace at Southminster nursing Hester, and twice she had ordered the carriage to drive over to her, and make a desperate appeal to her to give up Hugh. But she knew that she should fail. And Rachel would triumph over her. Women always did over a defeated rival. Lady Newhaven had not gone.

The frightful injustice of it all wrung Lady Newhaven’s heart to the point of agony. To see her own property deliberately stolen from her in the light of day, as it were in the very market place, before everybody, without being able to raise a finger to regain him! It was intolerable. For she loved Hugh as far as she was capable of loving anything. And her mind had grown round the idea that he was hers as entirely as a tree will grow round a nail fastened into it.

And now he was to marry Rachel, and soon.

Let no one think they know pain until they know jealousy.

But when the Bishop sent up a second time, asking to see her on business, she consented.

It was too soon to see callers, of course. But a Bishop was different. And how could she refuse to admit him when she had admitted that odious Captain Pratt only four days before. She hoped no one would become aware of that fact. It was as well for her that she could not hear the remarks of Selina and Ada Pratt, as they skated on the frozen meadows with half, not the better-half, of Middleshire.

“Poor Vi Newhaven. Yes, she won’t see a creature. She saw Algy for a few minutes last week, but then he is an old friend, and does not count. He said she was quite heartbroken. He was quite upset himself. He was so fond of Ted Newhaven.”

The Bishop would not even sit down. He said he was on the way to a confirmation, and added that he had been entrusted with a letter for her, and held it towards her.

“It is my husband’s handwriting,” she said, drawing back with instinctive fear.

“It is from your husband,” said the Bishop gently, softening somewhat at the sight of the ravages which despair had made in the lovely face since he had last seen it. “He asked me to give it into your own hand a month after his death.”

“Then he told you that —”

“He told me nothing, and I wish to hear nothing.”

“I should like to confess all to you, to feel myself absolved,” said Lady Newhaven in a low voice, the letter in her trembling hand.

He looked at her, and he saw that she would not say all. She would arrange details to suit herself, and would omit the main point altogether, whatever it might be, if, as was more than probable it told against herself. He would at least save her from the hypocrisy of a half-confession.

“If in a month’s time you wish to make a full confession to me,” he said, “I will hear it. But I solemnly charge you in the meanwhile to speak to no one of this difficulty between you and your husband. Whatever it may have been, it is past. If he sinned against you, he is dead, and the least you can do is to keep silence. If you wronged him”— Lady Newhaven shook her head vehemently —“If you wronged him,” repeated the Bishop, his face hardening, “be silent for the sake of the children. It is the only miserable reparation you can make him.”

“You don’t understand,” she said feebly.

“I know that he was a kindly, gentle-natured man, and that he died a hard and bitter one,” said the Bishop. “God knows what is in that letter, but your husband said it would be of the greatest comfort and assistance to you in a difficulty which he foresaw for you. I will leave you to read it.”

And he left the room.

The early December twilight was creeping over everything. Lady Newhaven took the letter to the window, and after several futile attempts succeeded in opening it.

It ran as follows:

“It is irreligious to mourn too long for the dead. ‘I shall to him, but he shall not return to me,’ II. Sam. xii. 23. In the meanwhile, until you rejoin me, I trust you will remember that it is my especial wish that you should allow one who is in every way worthy of you to console you for my loss, who will make you as happy as you both deserve to be. That I died by my own hand you and your so-called friend Miss West of course aware. That ‘the one love of your life’ drew short lighter you are perhaps not aware. I waited two days to see if he would fulfil the compact, and as he did not — I never thought he would — I retired in his place. I present to you this small piece of information as a wedding-present, which, if adroitly handled, may add to the harmony of domestic life. And if by any chance he should have conceived the dastardly, the immoral idea of deserting you in favour of some mercenary marriage — of which I rather suspect him — you will find this piece of information invaluable in restoring his allegiance at once. He is yours by every sacred tie, and no treacherous female friend must wrest him from you.

“Your late husband, “NEWHAVEN.”

Lady Newhaven put the letter in her pocket, and then fainted away, with her fair head on the window-ledge.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37