Man and Wife, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter the Fifth.

The Plan.

SHE took his hand, and began with all the art of persuasion that she possessed.

“One question, Geoffrey, before I say what I want to say. Lady Lundie has invited you to stay at Windygates. Do you accept her invitation? or do you go back to your brother’s in the evening?”

“I can’t go back in the evening — they’ve put a visitor into my room. I’m obliged to stay here. My brother has done it on purpose. Julius helps me when I’m hard up — and bullies me afterward. He has sent me here, on duty for the family. Somebody must be civil to Lady Lundie — and I’m the sacrifice.”

She took him up at his last word. “Don’t make the sacrifice,” she said. “Apologize to Lady Lundie, and say you are obliged to go back.”

“Why?”

“Because we must both leave this place to-day.”

There was a double objection to that. If he left Lady Lundie’s, he would fail to establish a future pecuniary claim on his brother’s indulgence. And if he left with Anne, the eyes of the world would see them, and the whispers of the world might come to his father’s ears.

“If we go away together,” he said, “good-by to my prospects, and yours too.”

“I don’t mean that we shall leave together,” she explained. “We will leave separately — and I will go first.”

“There will be a hue and cry after you, when you are missed.”

“There will be a dance when the croquet is over. I don’t dance — and I shall not be missed. There will be time, and opportunity to get to my own room. I shall leave a letter there for Lady Lundie, and a letter”— her voice trembled for a moment —“and a letter for Blanche. Don’t interrupt me! I have thought of this, as I have thought of every thing else. The confession I shall make will be the truth in a few hours, if it’s not the truth now. My letters will say I am privately married, and called away unexpectedly to join my husband. There will be a scandal in the house, I know. But there will be no excuse for sending after me, when I am under my husband’s protection. So far as you are personally concerned there are no discoveries to fear — and nothing which it is not perfectly safe and perfectly easy to do. Wait here an hour after I have gone to save appearances; and then follow me.”

“Follow you?” interposed Geoffrey. “Where?” She drew her chair nearer to him, and whispered the next words in his ear.

“To a lonely little mountain inn — four miles from this.”

“An inn!”

“Why not?”

“An inn is a public place.”

A movement of natural impatience escaped her — but she controlled herself, and went on as quietly as before:

“The place I mean is the loneliest place in the neighborhood. You have no prying eyes to dread there. I have picked it out expressly for that reason. It’s away from the railway; it’s away from the high-road: it’s kept by a decent, respectable Scotchwoman —”

“Decent, respectable Scotchwomen who keep inns,” interposed Geoffrey, “don’t cotton to young ladies who are traveling alone. The landlady won’t receive you.”

It was a well-aimed objection — but it missed the mark. A woman bent on her marriage is a woman who can meet the objections of the whole world, single-handed, and refute them all.

“I have provided for every thing,” she said, “and I have provided for that. I shall tell the landlady I am on my wedding-trip. I shall say my husband is sight-seeing, on foot, among the mountains in the neighborhood —”

“She is sure to believe that!” said Geoffrey.

“She is sure to disbelieve it, if you like. Let her! You have only to appear, and to ask for your wife — and there is my story proved to be true! She may be the most suspicious woman living, as long as I am alone with her. The moment you join me, you set her suspicions at rest. Leave me to do my part. My part is the hard one. Will you do yours?”

It was impossible to say No: she had fairly cut the ground from under his feet. He shifted his ground. Any thing rather than say Yes!

“I suppose you know how we are to be married?” he asked. “All I can say is —I don’t.”

“You do!” she retorted. “You know that we are in Scotland. You know that there are neither forms, ceremonies, nor delays in marriage, here. The plan I have proposed to you secures my being received at the inn, and makes it easy and natural for you to join me there afterward. The rest is in our own hands. A man and a woman who wish to be married (in Scotland) have only to secure the necessary witnesses and the thing is done. If the landlady chooses to resent the deception practiced on her, after that, the landlady may do as she pleases. We shall have gained our object in spite of her — and, what is more, we shall have gained it without risk to you.

“Don’t lay it all on my shoulders,” Geoffrey rejoined. “You women go headlong at every thing. Say we are married. We must separate afterward — or how are we to keep it a secret?”

“Certainly. You will go back, of course, to your brother’s house, as if nothing had happened.”

“And what is to become of you?

“I shall go to London.”

“What are you to do in London?”

“Haven’t I already told you that I have thought of every thing? When I get to London I shall apply to some of my mother’s old friends — friends of hers in the time when she was a musician. Every body tells me I have a voice — if I had only cultivated it. I will cultivate it! I can live, and live respectably, as a concert singer. I have saved money enough to support me, while I am learning — and my mother’s friends will help me, for her sake.”

So, in the new life that she was marking out, was she now unconsciously reflecting in herself the life of her mother before her. Here was the mother’s career as a public singer, chosen (in spite of all efforts to prevent it) by the child! Here (though with other motives, and under other circumstances) was the mother’s irregular marriage in Ireland, on the point of being followed by the daughter’s irregular marriage in Scotland! And here, stranger still, was the man who was answerable for it — the son of the man who had found the flaw in the Irish marriage, and had shown the way by which her mother was thrown on the world! “My Anne is my second self. She is not called by her father’s name; she is called by mine. She is Anne Silvester as I was. Will she end like Me?”— The answer to those words — the last words that had trembled on the dying mother’s lips — was coming fast. Through the chances and changes of many years, the future was pressing near — and Anne Silvester stood on the brink of it.

“Well?” she resumed. “Are you at the end of your objections? Can you give me a plain answer at last?”

No! He had another objection ready as the words passed her lips.

“Suppose the witnesses at the inn happen to know me?” he said. “Suppose it comes to my father’s ears in that way?”

“Suppose you drive me to my death?” she retorted, starting to her feet. “Your father shall know the truth, in that case — I swear it!”

He rose, on his side, and drew back from her. She followed him up. There was a clapping of hands, at the same moment, on the lawn. Somebody had evidently made a brilliant stroke which promised to decide the game. There was no security now that Blanche might not return again. There was every prospect, the game being over, that Lady Lundie would be free. Anne brought the interview to its crisis, without wasting a moment more.

“Mr. Geoffrey Delamayn,” she said. “You have bargained for a private marriage, and I have consented. Are you, or are you not, ready to marry me on your own terms?”

“Give me a minute to think!”

“Not an instant. Once for all, is it Yes, or No?”

He couldn’t say “Yes,” even then. But he said what was equivalent to it. He asked, savagely, “Where is the inn?”

She put her arm in his, and whispered, rapidly, “Pass the road on the right that leads to the railway. Follow the path over the moor, and the sheep-track up the hill. The first house you come to after that is the inn. You understand!”

He nodded his head, with a sullen frown, and took his pipe out of his pocket again.

“Let it alone this time,” he said, meeting her eye. “My mind’s upset. When a man’s mind’s upset, a man can’t smoke. What’s the name of the place?”

“Craig Fernie.”

“Who am I to ask for at the door?”

“For your wife.”

“Suppose they want you to give your name when you get there?”

“If I must give a name, I shall call myself Mrs., instead of Miss, Silvester. But I shall do my best to avoid giving any name. And you will do your best to avoid making a mistake, by only asking for me as your wife. Is there any thing else you want to know?”

“Yes.”

“Be quick about it! What is it?”

“How am I to know you have got away from here?”

“If you don’t hear from me in half an hour from the time when I have left you, you may be sure I have got away. Hush!”

Two voices, in conversation, were audible at the bottom of the steps — Lady Lundie’s voice and Sir Patrick’s. Anne pointed to the door in the back wall of the summer-house. She had just pulled it to again, after Geoffrey had passed through it, when Lady Lundie and Sir Patrick appeared at the top of the steps.

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