Man and Wife, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter the Forty-Ninth.

The Night.

ON leaving Lady Lundie’s house, Geoffrey called the first empty cab that passed him. He opened the door, and signed to Anne to enter the vehicle. She obeyed him mechanically. He placed himself on the seat opposite to her, and told the man to drive to Fulham.

The cab started on its journey; husband and wife preserving absolute silence. Anne laid her head back wearily, and closed her eyes. Her strength had broken down under the effort which had sustained her from the beginning to the end of the inquiry. Her power of thinking was gone. She felt nothing, knew nothing, feared nothing. Half in faintness, half in slumber, she had lost all sense of her own terrible position before the first five minutes of the journey to Fulham had come to an end.

Sitting opposite to her, savagely self-concentrated in his own thoughts, Geoffrey roused himself on a sudden. An idea had sprung to life in his sluggish brain. He put his head out of the window of the cab, and directed the driver to turn back, and go to an hotel near the Great Northern Railway.

Resuming his seat, he looked furtively at Anne. She neither moved nor opened her eyes — she was, to all appearance, unconscious of what had happened. He observed her attentively. Was she really ill? Was the time coming when he would be freed from her? He pondered over that question — watching her closely. Little by little the vile hope in him slowly died away, and a vile suspicion took its place. What, if this appearance of illness was a pretense? What, if she was waiting to throw him off his guard, and escape from him at the first opportunity? He put his head out of the window again, and gave another order to the driver. The cab diverged from the direct route, and stopped at a public house in Holborn, kept (under an assumed name) by Perry the trainer.

Geoffrey wrote a line in pencil on his card, and sent it into the house by the driver. After waiting some minutes, a lad appeared and touched his hat. Geoffrey spoke to him, out of the window, in an under-tone. The lad took his place on the box by the driver. The cab turned back, and took the road to the hotel near the Great Northern Railway.

Arrived at the place, Geoffrey posted the lad close at the door of the cab, and pointed to Anne, still reclining with closed eyes; still, as it seemed, too weary to lift her head, too faint to notice any thing that happened. “If she attempts to get out, stop her, and send for me.” With those parting directions he entered the hotel, and asked for Mr. Moy.

Mr. Moy was in the house; he had just returned from Portland Place. He rose, and bowed coldly, when Geoffrey was shown into his sitting-room.

“What is your business with me?” he asked.

“I’ve had a notion come into my head,” said Geoffrey. “And I want to speak to you about it directly.”

“I must request you to consult some one else. Consider me, if you please, as having withdrawn from all further connection with your affairs.”

Geoffrey looked at him in stolid surprise.

“Do you mean to say you’re going to leave me in the lurch?” he asked.

“I mean to say that I will take no fresh step in any business of yours,” answered Mr. Moy, firmly. “As to the future, I have ceased to be your legal adviser. As to the past, I shall carefully complete the formal duties toward you which remain to be done. Mrs. Inchbare and Bishopriggs are coming here by appointment, at six this evening, to receive the money due to them before they go back. I shall return to Scotland myself by the night mail. The persons referred to, in the matter of the promise of marriage, by Sir Patrick, are all in Scotland. I will take their evidence as to the handwriting, and as to the question of residence in the North — and I will send it to you in written form. That done, I shall have done all. I decline to advise you in any future step which you propose to take.”

After reflecting for a moment, Geoffrey put a last question.

“You said Bishopriggs and the woman would be here at six this evening.”

“Yes.”

“Where are they to be found before that?”

Mr. Moy wrote a few words on a slip of paper, and handed it to Geoffrey. “At their lodgings,” he said. “There is the address.”

Geoffrey took the address, and left the room. Lawyer and client parted without a word on either side.

Returning to the cab, Geoffrey found the lad steadily waiting at his post.

“Has any thing happened?”

“The lady hasn’t moved, Sir, since you left her.”

“Is Perry at the public house?”

“Not at this time, Sir.”

“I want a lawyer. Do you know who Perry’s lawyer is?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And where he is to be found?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Get up on the box, and tell the man where to drive to.”

The cab went on again along the Euston Road, and stopped at a house in a side-street, with a professional brass plate on the door. The lad got down, and came to the window.

“Here it is, Sir.”

“Knock at the door, and see if he is at home.”

He proved to be at home. Geoffrey entered the house, leaving his emissary once more on the watch. The lad noticed that the lady moved this time. She shivered as if she felt cold — opened her eyes for a moment wearily, and looked out through the window — sighed, and sank back again in the corner of the cab.

After an absence of more than half an hour Geoffrey came out again. His interview with Perry’s lawyer appeared to have relieved his mind of something that had oppressed it. He once more ordered the driver to go to Fulham — opened the door to get into the cab — then, as it seemed, suddenly recollected himself — and, calling the lad down from the box, ordered him to get inside, and took his place by the driver.

As the cab started he looked over his shoulder at Anne through the front window. “Well worth trying,” he said to himself. “It’s the way to be even with her. And it’s the way to be free.”

They arrived at the cottage. Possibly, repose had restored Anne’s strength. Possibly, the sight of the place had roused the instinct of self-preservation in her at last. To Geoffrey’s surprise, she left the cab without assistance. When he opened the wooden gate, with his own key, she recoiled from it, and looked at him for the first time.

He pointed to the entrance.

“Go in,” he said.

“On what terms?” she asked, without stirring a step.

Geoffrey dismissed the cab; and sent the lad in, to wait for further orders. These things done, he answered her loudly and brutally the moment they were alone:

“On any terms I please.”

“Nothing will induce me,” she said, firmly, “to live with you as your wife. You may kill me — but you will never bend me to that.”

He advanced a step — opened his lips — and suddenly checked himself. He waited a while, turning something over in his mind. When he spoke again, it was with marked deliberation and constraint — with the air of a man who was repeating words put into his lips, or words prepared beforehand.

“I have something to tell you in the presence of witnesses,” he said. “I don’t ask you, or wish you, to see me in the cottage alone.”

She started at the change in him. His sudden composure, and his sudden nicety in the choice of words, tried her courage far more severely than it had been tried by his violence of the moment before.

He waited her decision, still pointing through the gate. She trembled a little — steadied herself again — and went in. The lad, waiting in the front garden, followed her.

He threw open the drawing-room door, on the left-hand side of the passage. She entered the room. The servant-girl appeared. He said to her, “Fetch Mrs. Dethridge; and come back with her yourself.” Then he went into the room; the lad, by his own directions, following him in; and the door being left wide open.

Hester Dethridge came out from the kitchen with the girl behind her. At the sight of Anne, a faint and momentary change passed over the stony stillness of her face. A dull light glimmered in her eyes. She slowly nodded her head. A dumb sound, vaguely expressive of something like exultation or relief, escaped her lips.

Geoffrey spoke — once more, with marked deliberation and constraint; once more, with the air of repeating something which had been prepared beforehand. He pointed to Anne.

“This woman is my wife,” he said. “In the presence of you three, as witnesses, I tell her that I don’t forgive her. I have brought her here — having no other place in which I can trust her to be — to wait the issue of proceedings, undertaken in defense of my own honor and good name. While she stays here, she will live separate from me, in a room of her own. If it is necessary for me to communicate with her, I shall only see her in the presence of a third person. Do you all understand me?”

Hester Dethridge bowed her head. The other two answered, “Yes”— and turned to go out.

Anne rose. At a sign from Geoffrey, the servant and the lad waited in the room to hear what she had to say.

“I know nothing in my conduct,” she said, addressing herself to Geoffrey, “which justifies you in telling these people that you don’t forgive me. Those words applied by you to me are an insult. I am equally ignorant of what you mean when you speak of defending your good name. All I understand is, that we are separate persons in this house, and that I am to have a room of my own. I am grateful, whatever your motives may be, for the arrangement that you have proposed. Direct one of these two women to show me my room.”

Geoffrey turned to Hester Dethridge.

“Take her up stairs,” he said; “and let her pick which room she pleases. Give her what she wants to eat or drink. Bring down the address of the place where her luggage is. The lad here will go back by railway, and fetch it. That’s all. Be off.”

Hester went out. Anne followed her up the stairs. In the passage on the upper floor she stopped. The dull light flickered again for a moment in her eyes. She wrote on her slate, and held it up to Anne, with these words on it: “I knew you would come back. It’s not over yet between you and him.” Anne made no reply. She went on writing, with something faintly like a smile on her thin, colorless lips. “I know something of bad husbands. Yours is as bad a one as ever stood in shoes. He’ll try you.” Anne made an effort to stop her. “Don’t you see how tired I am?” she said, gently. Hester Dethridge dropped the slate — looked with a steady and uncompassionate attention in Anne’s face — nodded her head, as much as to say, “I see it now”— and led the way into one of the empty rooms.

It was the front bedroom, over the drawing-room. The first glance round showed it to be scrupulously clean, and solidly and tastelessly furnished. The hideous paper on the walls, the hideous carpet on the floor, were both of the best quality. The great heavy mahogany bedstead, with its curtains hanging from a hook in the ceiling, and with its clumsily carved head and foot on the same level, offered to the view the anomalous spectacle of French design overwhelmed by English execution. The most noticeable thing in the room was the extraordinary attention which had been given to the defense of the door. Besides the usual lock and key, it possessed two solid bolts, fastening inside at the top and the bottom. It had been one among the many eccentric sides of Reuben Limbrick’s character to live in perpetual dread of thieves breaking into his cottage at night. All the outer doors and all the window shutters were solidly sheathed with iron, and had alarm-bells attached to them on a new principle. Every one of the bedrooms possessed its two bolts on the inner side of the door. And, to crown all, on the roof of the cottage was a little belfry, containing a bell large enough to make itself heard at the Fulham police station. In Reuben Limbrick’s time the rope had communicated with his bedroom. It hung now against the wall, in the passage outside.

Looking from one to the other of the objects around her, Anne’s eyes rested on the partition wall which divided the room from the room next to it. The wall was not broken by a door of communication, it had nothing placed against it but a wash-hand-stand and two chairs.

“Who sleeps in the next room?” said Anne.

Hester Dethridge pointed down to the drawing-room in which they had left Geoffrey, Geoffrey slept in the room.

Anne led the way out again into the passage.

“Show me the second room,” she said.

The second room was also in front of the house. More ugliness (of first-rate quality) in the paper and the carpet. Another heavy mahogany bedstead; but, this time, a bedstead with a canopy attached to the head of it — supporting its own curtains. Anticipating Anne’s inquiry, on this occasion, Hester looked toward the next room, at the back of the cottage, and pointed to herself. Anne at once decided on choosing the second room; it was the farthest from Geoffrey. Hester waited while she wrote the address at which her luggage would be found (at the house of the musical agent), and then, having applied for, and received her directions as to the evening meal which she should send up stairs, quitted the room.

Left alone, Anne secured the door, and threw herself on the bed. Still too weary to exert her mind, still physically incapable of realizing the helplessness and the peril of her position, she opened a locket that hung from her neck, kissed the portrait of her mother and the portrait of Blanche placed opposite to each other inside it, and sank into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Meanwhile Geoffrey repeated his final orders to the lad, at the cottage gate.

“When you have got the luggage, you are to go to the lawyer. If he can come here to-night, you will show him the way. If he can’t come, you will bring me a letter from him. Make any mistake in this, and it will be the worst day’s work you ever did in your life. Away with you, and don’t lose the train.”

The lad ran off. Geoffrey waited, looking after him, and turning over in his mind what had been done up to that time.

“All right, so far,” he said to himself. “I didn’t ride in the cab with her. I told her before witnesses I didn’t forgive her, and why I had her in the house. I’ve put her in a room by herself. And if I must see her, I see her with Hester Dethridge for a witness. My part’s done — let the lawyer do his.”

He strolled round into the back garden, and lit his pipe. After a while, as the twilight faded, he saw a light in Hester’s sitting-room on the ground-floor. He went to the window. Hester and the servant-girl were both there at work. “Well?” he asked. “How about the woman up stairs?” Hester’s slate, aided by the girl’s tongue, told him all about “the woman” that was to be told. They had taken up to her room tea and an omelet; and they had been obliged to wake her from a sleep. She had eaten a little of the omelet, and had drunk eagerly of the tea. They had gone up again to take the tray down. She had returned to the bed. She was not asleep — only dull and heavy. Made no remark. Looked clean worn out. We left her a light; and we let her be. Such was the report. After listening to it, without making any remark, Geoffrey filled a second pipe, and resumed his walk. The time wore on. It began to feel chilly in the garden. The rising wind swept audibly over the open lands round the cottage; the stars twinkled their last; nothing was to be seen overhead but the black void of night. More rain coming. Geoffrey went indoors.

An evening newspaper was on the dining-room table. The candles were lit. He sat down, and tried to read. No! There was nothing in the newspaper that he cared about. The time for hearing from the lawyer was drawing nearer and nearer. Reading was of no use. Sitting still was of no use. He got up, and went out in the front of the cottage — strolled to the gate — opened it — and looked idly up and down the road.

But one living creature was visible by the light of the gas-lamp over the gate. The creature came nearer, and proved to be the postman going his last round, with the last delivery for the night. He came up to the gate with a letter in his hand.

“The Honorable Geoffrey Delamayn?”

“All right.”

He took the letter from the postman, and went back into the dining-room. Looking at the address by the light of the candles, he recognized the handwriting of Mrs. Glenarm. “To congratulate me on my marriage!” he said to himself, bitterly, and opened the letter.

Mrs. Glenarm’s congratulations were expressed in these terms:

“MY ADORED GEOFFREY— I have heard all. My beloved one! my own! you are sacrificed to the vilest wretch that walks the earth, and I have lost you! How is it that I live after hearing it? How is it that I can think, and write, with my brain on fire, and my heart broken! Oh, my angel, there is a purpose that supports me — pure, beautiful, worthy of us both. I live, Geoffrey — I live to dedicate myself to the adored idea of You. My hero! my first, last, love! I will marry no other man. I will live and die — I vow it solemnly on my bended knees — I will live and die true to You. I am your Spiritual Wife. My beloved Geoffrey! she can’t come between us, there —she can never rob you of my heart’s unalterable fidelity, of my soul’s unearthly devotion. I am your Spiritual Wife! Oh, the blameless luxury of writing those words! Write back to me, beloved one, and say you feel it too. Vow it, idol of my heart, as I have vowed it. Unalterable fidelity! unearthly devotion! Never, never will I be the wife of any other man! Never, never will I forgive the woman who has come between us! Yours ever and only; yours with the stainless passion that burns on the altar of the heart; yours, yours, yours — E. G.”

This outbreak of hysterical nonsense — in itself simply ridiculous — assumed a serious importance in its effect on Geoffrey. It associated the direct attainment of his own interests with the gratification of his vengeance on Anne. Ten thousand a year self-dedicated to him — and nothing to prevent his putting out his hand and taking it but the woman who had caught him in her trap, the woman up stairs who had fastened herself on him for life!

He put the letter into his pocket. “Wait till I hear from the lawyer,” he said to himself. “The easiest way out of it is that way. And it’s the law.”

He looked impatiently at his watch. As he put it back again in his pocket there was a ring at the bell. Was it the lad bringing the luggage? Yes. And, with it, the lawyer’s report? No. Better than that — the lawyer himself.

“Come in!” cried Geoffrey, meeting his visitor at the door.

The lawyer entered the dining-room. The candle-light revealed to view a corpulent, full-lipped, bright-eyed man — with a strain of negro blood in his yellow face, and with unmistakable traces in his look and manner of walking habitually in the dirtiest professional by-ways of the law.

“I’ve got a little place of my own in your neighborhood,” he said. “And I thought I would look in myself, Mr. Delamayn, on my way home.”

“Have you seen the witnesses?”

“I have examined them both, Sir. First, Mrs. Inchbare and Mr. Bishopriggs together. Next, Mrs. Inchbare and Mr. Bishopriggs separately.”

“Well?”

“Well, Sir, the result is unfavorable, I am sorry to say.”

“What do you mean?”

“Neither the one nor the other of them, Mr. Delamayn, can give the evidence we want. I have made sure of that.”

“Made sure of that? You have made an infernal mess of it! You don’t understand the case!”

The mulatto lawyer smiled. The rudeness of his client appeared only to amuse him.

“Don’t I?” he said. “Suppose you tell me where I am wrong about it? Here it is in outline only. On the fourteenth of August last your wife was at an inn in Scotland. A gentleman named Arnold Brinkworth joined her there. He represented himself to be her husband, and he staid with her till the next morning. Starting from those facts, the object you have in view is to sue for a Divorce from your wife. You make Mr. Arnold Brinkworth the co-respondent. And you produce in evidence the waiter and the landlady of the inn. Any thing wrong, Sir, so far?”

Nothing wrong. At one cowardly stroke to cast Anne disgraced on the world, and to set himself free — there, plainly and truly stated, was the scheme which he had devised, when he had turned back on the way to Fulham to consult Mr. Moy.

“So much for the case,” resumed the lawyer. “Now for what I have done on receiving your instructions. I have examined the witnesses; and I have had an interview (not a very pleasant one) with Mr. Moy. The result of those two proceedings is briefly this. First discovery: In assuming the character of the lady’s husband Mr. Brinkworth was acting under your directions — which tells dead against you. Second discovery: Not the slightest impropriety of conduct, not an approach even to harmless familiarity, was detected by either of the witnesses, while the lady and gentleman were together at the inn. There is literally no evidence to produce against them, except that they were together — in two rooms. How are you to assume a guilty purpose, when you can’t prove an approach to a guilty act? You can no more take such a case as that into Court than you can jump over the roof of this cottage.”

He looked hard at his client, expecting to receive a violent reply. His client agreeably disappointed him. A very strange impression appeared to have been produced on this reckless and headstrong man. He got up quietly; he spoke with perfect outward composure of face and manner when he said his next words.

“Have you given up the case?”

“As things are at present, Mr. Delamayn, there is no case.”

“And no hope of my getting divorced from her?”

“Wait a moment. Have your wife and Mr. Brinkworth met nowhere since they were together at the Scotch inn?”

“Nowhere.”

“As to the future, of course I can’t say. As to the past, there is no hope of your getting divorced from her.”

“Thank you. Good-night.”

“Good-night, Mr. Delamayn.”

Fastened to her for life — and the law powerless to cut the knot.

He pondered over that result until he had thoroughly realized it and fixed it in his mind. Then he took out Mrs. Glenarm’s letter, and read it through again, attentively, from beginning to end.

Nothing could shake her devotion to him. Nothing would induce her to marry another man. There she was — in her own words — dedicated to him: waiting, with her fortune at her own disposal, to be his wife. There also was his father, waiting (so far as he knew, in the absence of any tidings from Holchester House) to welcome Mrs. Glenarm as a daughter-in-law, and to give Mrs. Glenarm’s husband an income of his own. As fair a prospect, on all sides, as man could desire. And nothing in the way of it but the woman who had caught him in her trap — the woman up stairs who had fastened herself on him for life.

He went out in the garden in the darkness of the night.

There was open communication, on all sides, between the back garden and the front. He walked round and round the cottage — now appearing in a stream of light from a window; now disappearing again in the darkness. The wind blew refreshingly over his bare head. For some minutes he went round and round, faster and faster, without a pause. When he stopped at last, it was in front of the cottage. He lifted his head slowly, and looked up at the dim light in the window of Anne’s room.

“How?” he said to himself. “That’s the question. How?”

He went indoors again, and rang the bell. The servant-girl who answered it started back at the sight of him. His florid color was all gone. His eyes looked at her without appearing to see her. The perspiration was standing on his forehead in great heavy drops.

“Are you ill, Sir?” said the girl.

He told her, with an oath, to hold her tongue and bring the brandy. When she entered the room for the second time, he was standing with his back to her, looking out at the night. He never moved when she put the bottle on the table. She heard him muttering as if he was talking to himself.

The same difficulty which had been present to his mind in secret under Anne’s window was present to his mind still.

How? That was the problem to solve. How?

He turned to the brandy, and took counsel of that.

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