Man and Wife, by Wilkie Collins

Fourth Scene. — Windygates.

Chapter the Seventeenth

Near it.

THE Library at Windygates was the largest and the handsomest room in the house. The two grand divisions under which Literature is usually arranged in these days occupied the customary places in it. On the shelves which ran round the walls were the books which humanity in general respects — and does not read. On the tables distributed over the floor were the books which humanity in general reads — and does not respect. In the first class, the works of the wise ancients; and the Histories, Biographies, and Essays of writers of more modern times — otherwise the Solid Literature, which is universally respected, and occasionally read. In the second class, the Novels of our own day — otherwise the Light Literature, which is universally read, and occasionally respected. At Windygates, as elsewhere, we believed History to be high literature, because it assumed to be true to Authorities (of which we knew little)— and Fiction to be low literature, because it attempted to be true to Nature (of which we knew less). At Windygates as elsewhere, we were always more or less satisfied with ourselves, if we were publicly discovered consulting our History — and more or less ashamed of ourselves, if we were publicly discovered devouring our Fiction. An architectural peculiarity in the original arrangement of the library favored the development of this common and curious form of human stupidity. While a row of luxurious arm-chairs, in the main thoroughfare of the room, invited the reader of solid literature to reveal himself in the act of cultivating a virtue, a row of snug little curtained recesses, opening at intervals out of one of the walls, enabled the reader of light literature to conceal himself in the act of indulging a vice. For the rest, all the minor accessories of this spacious and tranquil place were as plentiful and as well chosen as the heart could desire. And solid literature and light literature, and great writers and small, were all bounteously illuminated alike by a fine broad flow of the light of heaven, pouring into the room through windows that opened to the floor.

It was the fourth day from the day of Lady Lundie’s garden-party, and it wanted an hour or more of the time at which the luncheon-bell usually rang.

The guests at Windygates were most of them in the garden, enjoying the morning sunshine, after a prevalent mist and rain for some days past. Two gentlemen (exceptions to the general rule) were alone in the library. They were the two last gentlemen in the would who could possibly be supposed to have any legitimate motive for meeting each other in a place of literary seclusion. One was Arnold Brinkworth, and the other was Geoffrey Delamayn.

They had arrived together at Windygates that morning. Geoffrey had traveled from London with his brother by the train of the previous night. Arnold, delayed in getting away at his own time, from his own property, by ceremonies incidental to his position which were not to be abridged without giving offense to many worthy people — had caught the passing train early that morning at the station nearest to him, and had returned to Lady Lundie’s, as he had left Lady Lundie’s, in company with his friend.

After a short preliminary interview with Blanche, Arnold had rejoined Geoffrey in the safe retirement of the library, to say what was still left to be said between them on the subject of Anne. Having completed his report of events at Craig Fernie, he was now naturally waiting to hear what Geoffrey had to say on his side. To Arnold’s astonishment, Geoffrey coolly turned away to leave the library without uttering a word.

Arnold stopped him without ceremony.

“Not quite so fast, Geoffrey,” he said. “I have an interest in Miss Silvester’s welfare as well as in yours. Now you are back again in Scotland, what are you going to do?”

If Geoffrey had told the truth, he must have stated his position much as follows:

He had necessarily decided on deserting Anne when he had decided on joining his brother on the journey back. But he had advanced no farther than this. How he was to abandon the woman who had trusted him, without seeing his own dastardly conduct dragged into the light of day, was more than he yet knew. A vague idea of at once pacifying and deluding Anne, by a marriage which should be no marriage at all, had crossed his mind on the journey. He had asked himself whether a trap of that sort might not be easily set in a country notorious for the looseness of its marriage laws — if a man only knew how? And he had thought it likely that his well-informed brother, who lived in Scotland, might be tricked into innocently telling him what he wanted to know. He had turned the conversation to the subject of Scotch marriages in general by way of trying the experiment. Julius had not studied the question; Julius knew nothing about it; and there the experiment had come to an end. As the necessary result of the check thus encountered, he was now in Scotland with absolutely nothing to trust to as a means of effecting his release but the chapter of accidents, aided by his own resolution to marry Mrs. Glenarm. Such was his position, and such should have been the substance of his reply when he was confronted by Arnold’s question, and plainly asked what he meant to do.

“The right thing,” he answered, unblushingly. “And no mistake about it.”

“I’m glad to hear you see your way so plainly,” returned Arnold. “In your place, I should have been all abroad. I was wondering, only the other day, whether you would end, as I should have ended, in consulting Sir Patrick.”

Geoffrey eyed him sharply.

“Consult Sir Patrick?” he repeated. “Why would you have done that?”

I shouldn’t have known how to set about marrying her,” replied Arnold. “And — being in Scotland — I should have applied to Sir Patrick (without mentioning names, of course), because he would be sure to know all about it.”

“Suppose I don’t see my way quite so plainly as you think,” said Geoffrey. “Would you advise me —”

“To consult Sir Patrick? Certainly! He has passed his life in the practice of the Scotch law. Didn’t you know that?”

“No.”

“Then take my advice — and consult him. You needn’t mention names. You can say it’s the case of a friend.”

The idea was a new one and a good one. Geoffrey looked longingly toward the door. Eager to make Sir Patrick his innocent accomplice on the spot, he made a second attempt to leave the library; and made it for the second time in vain. Arnold had more unwelcome inquiries to make, and more advice to give unasked.

“How have you arranged about meeting Miss Silvester?” he went on. “You can’t go to the hotel in the character of her husband. I have prevented that. Where else are you to meet her? She is all alone; she must be weary of waiting, poor thing. Can you manage matters so as to see her to-day?”

After staring hard at Arnold while he was speaking, Geoffrey burst out laughing when he had done. A disinterested anxiety for the welfare of another person was one of those refinements of feeling which a muscular education had not fitted him to understand.

“I say, old boy,” he burst out, “you seem to take an extraordinary interest in Miss Silvester! You haven’t fallen in love with her yourself — have you?”

“Come! come!” said Arnold, seriously. “Neither she nor I deserve to be sneered at, in that way. I have made a sacrifice to your interests, Geoffrey — and so has she.”

Geoffrey’s face became serious again. His secret was in Arnold’s hands; and his estimate of Arnold’s character was founded, unconsciously, on his experience of himself. “All right,” he said, by way of timely apology and concession. “I was only joking.”

“As much joking as you please, when you have married her,” replied Arnold. “It seems serious enough, to my mind, till then.” He stopped — considered — and laid his hand very earnestly on Geoffrey’s arm. “Mind!” he resumed. “You are not to breathe a word to any living soul, of my having been near the inn!”

“I’ve promised to hold my tongue, once already. What do you want more?”

“I am anxious, Geoffrey. I was at Craig Fernie, remember, when Blanche came there! She has been telling me all that happened, poor darling, in the firm persuasion that I was miles off at the time. I swear I couldn’t look her in the face! What would she think of me, if she knew the truth? Pray be careful! pray be careful!”

Geoffrey’s patience began to fail him.

“We had all this out,” he said, “on the way here from the station. What’s the good of going over the ground again?”

“You’re quite right,” said Arnold, good-humoredly. “The fact is — I’m out of sorts, this morning. My mind misgives me — I don’t know why.”

“Mind?” repeated Geoffrey, in high contempt. “It’s flesh — that’s what’s the matter with you. You’re nigh on a stone over your right weight. Mind he hanged! A man in healthy training don’t know that he has got a mind. Take a turn with the dumb-bells, and a run up hill with a great-coat on. Sweat it off, Arnold! Sweat it off!”

With that excellent advice, he turned to leave the room for the third time. Fate appeared to have determined to keep him imprisoned in the library, that morning. On this occasion, it was a servant who got in the way — a servant, with a letter and a message. “The man waits for answer.”

Geoffrey looked at the letter. It was in his brother’s handwriting. He had left Julius at the junction about three hours since. What could Julius possibly have to say to him now?

He opened the letter. Julius had to announce that Fortune was favoring them already. He had heard news of Mrs. Glenarm, as soon as he reached home. She had called on his wife, during his absence in London — she had been inv ited to the house — and she had promised to accept the invitation early in the week. “Early in the week,” Julius wrote, “may mean to-morrow. Make your apologies to Lady Lundie; and take care not to offend her. Say that family reasons, which you hope soon to have the pleasure of confiding to her, oblige you to appeal once more to her indulgence — and come to-morrow, and help us to receive Mrs. Glenarm.”

Even Geoffrey was startled, when he found himself met by a sudden necessity for acting on his own decision. Anne knew where his brother lived. Suppose Anne (not knowing where else to find him) appeared at his brother’s house, and claimed him in the presence of Mrs. Glenarm? He gave orders to have the messenger kept waiting, and said he would send back a written reply.

“From Craig Fernie?” asked Arnold, pointing to the letter in his friend’s hand.

Geoffrey looked up with a frown. He had just opened his lips to answer that ill-timed reference to Anne, in no very friendly terms, when a voice, calling to Arnold from the lawn outside, announced the appearance of a third person in the library, and warned the two gentlemen that their private interview was at an end.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30