Perhaps there was never a quieter courtship than that which followed Olivia’s acceptance of John Marchmont’s offer. There had been no pretence of sentiment on either side; yet I doubt if John had been much more sentimental during his early love-making days, though he had very tenderly and truly loved his first wife. There were few sparks of the romantic or emotional fire in his placid nature. His love for his daughter, though it absorbed his whole being, was a silent and undemonstrative affection; a thoughtful and almost fearful devotion, which took the form of intense but hidden anxiety for his child’s future, rather than any outward show of tenderness.
Had his love been of a more impulsive and demonstrative character, he would scarcely have thought of taking such a step as that he now contemplated, without first ascertaining whether it would be agreeable to his daughter.
But he never for a moment dreamt of consulting Mary’s will upon this important matter. He looked with fearful glances towards the dim future, and saw his darling, a lonely figure upon a barren landscape, beset by enemies eager to devour her; and he snatched at this one chance of securing her a protectress, who would be bound to her by a legal as well as a moral tie; for John Marchmont meant to appoint his second wife the guardian of his child. He thought only of this; and he hurried on his suit at the Rectory, fearful lest death should come between him and his loveless bride, and thus deprive his darling of a second mother.
This was the history of John Marchmont’s marriage. It was not till a week before the day appointed for the wedding that he told his daughter what he was about to do. Edward Arundel knew the secret, but he had been warned not to reveal it to Mary.
The father and daughter sat together late one evening in the first week of December, in the great western drawing-room. Edward had gone to a party at Swampington, and was to sleep at the Rectory; so Mary and her father were alone.
It was nearly eleven o’clock; but Miss Marchmont had insisted upon sitting up until her father should retire to rest. She had always sat up in Oakley Street, she had remonstrated, though she was much younger then. She sat on a velvet-covered hassock at her father’s feet, with her loose hair falling over his knee, as her head lay there in loving abandonment. She was not talking to him; for neither John nor Mary were great talkers; but she was with him — that was quite enough.
Mr. Marchmont’s thin fingers twined themselves listlessly in and out of the fair curls upon his knee. Mary was thinking of Edward and the party at Swampington. Would he enjoy himself very, very much? Would he be sorry that she was not there? It was a grown-up party, and she wasn’t old enough for grown-up parties yet. Would the pretty girls in blue be there? and would he dance with them?
Her father’s face was clouded by a troubled expression, as he looked absently at the red embers in the low fireplace. He spoke presently, but his observation was a very commonplace one. The opening speeches of a tragedy are seldom remarkable for any ominous or solemn meaning. Two gentlemen meet each other in a street very near the footlights, and converse rather flippantly about the aspect of affairs in general; there is no hint of bloodshed and agony till we get deeper into the play.
So Mr. Marchmont, bent upon making rather an important communication to his daughter, and for the first time feeling very fearful as to how she would take it, began thus:
“You really ought to go to bed earlier, Polly dear; you’ve been looking very pale lately, and I know such hours as these must be bad for you.”
“Oh, no, papa dear,” cried the young lady; “I’m always pale; that’s natural to me. Sitting up late doesn’t hurt me, papa. It never did in Oakley Street, you know.”
John Marchmont shook his head sadly.
“I don’t know that,” he said. “My darling had to suffer many evils through her father’s poverty. If you had some one who loved you, dear, a lady, you know — for a man does not understand these sort of things — your health would be looked after more carefully, and — and — your education — and — in short, you would be altogether happier; wouldn’t you, Polly darling?”
He asked the question in an almost piteously appealing tone. A terrible fear was beginning to take possession of him. His daughter might be grieved at this second marriage. The very step which he had taken for her happiness might cause her loving nature pain and sorrow. In the utter cowardice of his affection he trembled at the thought of causing his darling any distress in the present, even for her own welfare — even for her future good; and he knew that the step he was about to take would secure that. Mary started from her reclining position, and looked up into her father’s face.
“You’re not going to engage a governess for me, papa?” she cried eagerly. “Oh, please don’t. We are so much better as it is. A governess would keep me away from you, papa; I know she would. The Miss Llandels, at Impley Grange, have a governess; and they only come down to dessert for half an hour, or go out for a drive sometimes, so that they very seldom see their papa. Lucy told me so; and they said they’d give the world to be always with their papa, as I am with you. Oh, pray, pray, papa darling, don’t let me have a governess.”
The tears were in her eyes as she pleaded to him. The sight of those tears made him terribly nervous.
“My own dear Polly,” he said, “I’m not going to engage a governess. I—; Polly, Polly dear, you must be reasonable. You mustn’t grieve your poor father. You are old enough to understand these things now, dear. You know what the doctors have said. I may die, Polly, and leave you alone in the world.”
She clung closely to her father, and looked up, pale and trembling, as she answered him.
“When you die, papa, I shall die too. I could never, never live without you.”
“Yes, yes, my darling, you would. You will live to lead a happy life, please God, and a safe one; but if I die, and leave you very young, very inexperienced, and innocent, as I may do, my dear, you must not be without a friend to watch over you, to advise, to protect you. I have thought of this long and earnestly, Polly; and I believe that what I am going to do is right.”
“What you are going to do!” Mary cried, repeating her father’s words, and looking at him in sudden terror. “What do you mean, papa? What are you going to do? Nothing that will part us! O papa, papa, you will never do anything to part us!”
“No, Polly darling,” answered Mr. Marchmont. “Whatever I do, I do for your sake, and for that alone. I’m going to be married, my dear.”
Mary burst into a low wail, more pitiful than any ordinary weeping.
“O papa, papa,” she cried, “you never will, you never will!”
The sound of that piteous voice for a few moments quite unmanned John Marchmont; but he armed himself with a desperate courage. He determined not to be influenced by this child to relinquish the purpose which he believed was to achieve her future welfare.
“Mary, Mary dear,” he said reproachfully, “this is very cruel of you. Do you think I haven’t consulted your happiness before my own? Do you think I shall love you less because I take this step for your sake? You are very cruel to me, Mary.”
The little girl rose from her kneeling attitude, and stood before her father, with the tears streaming down her white cheeks, but with a certain air of resolution about her. She had been a child for a few moments; a child, with no power to look beyond the sudden pang of that new sorrow which had come to her. She was a woman now, able to rise superior to her sorrow in the strength of her womanhood.
“I won’t be cruel, papa,” she said; “I was selfish and wicked to talk like that. If it will make you happy to have another wife, papa, I’ll not be sorry. No, I won’t be sorry, even if your new wife separates us — a little.”
“But, my darling,” John remonstrated, “I don’t mean that she should separate us at all. I wish you to have a second friend, Polly; some one who can understand you better than I do, who may love you perhaps almost as well.” Mary Marchmont shook her head; she could not realise this possibility. “Do you understand me, my dear?” her father continued earnestly. “I want you to have some one who will be a mother to you; and I hope — I am sure that Olivia —”
Mary interrupted him by a sudden exclamation, that was almost like a cry of pain.
“Not Miss Arundel!” she said. “O papa, it is not Miss Arundel you’re going to marry!”
Her father bent his head in assent.
“What is the matter with you, Mary?” he said, almost fretfully, as he saw the look of mingled grief and terror in his daughter’s face. “You are really quite unreasonable to-night. If I am to marry at all, who should I choose for a wife? Who could be better than Olivia Arundel? Everybody knows how good she is. Everybody talks of her goodness.”
In these two sentences Mr. Marchmont made confession of a fact he had never himself considered. It was not his own impulse, it was no instinctive belief in her goodness, that had led him to choose Olivia Arundel for his wife. He had been influenced solely by the reiterated opinions of other people.
“I know she is very good, papa,” Mary cried; “but, oh, why, why do you marry her? Do you love her so very, very much?”
“Love her!” exclaimed Mr. Marchmont naïvely; “no, Polly dear; you know I never loved any one but you.”
“Why do you marry her then?”
“For your sake, Polly; for your sake.”
“But don’t then, papa; oh, pray, pray don’t. I don’t want her. I don’t like her. I could never be happy with her.”
“Yes, I know it’s very wicked to say so, but it’s true, papa; I never, never, never could be happy with her. I know she is good, but I don’t like her. If I did anything wrong, I should never expect her to forgive me for it; I should never expect her to have mercy upon me. Don’t marry her, papa; pray, pray don’t marry her.”
“Mary,” said Mr. Marchmont resolutely, “this is very wrong of you. I have given my word, my dear, and I cannot recall it. I believe that I am acting for the best. You must not be childish now, Mary. You have been my comfort ever since you were a baby; you mustn’t make me unhappy now.”
Her father’s appeal went straight to her heart. Yes, she had been his help and comfort since her earliest infancy, and she was not unused to self-sacrifice: why should she fail him now? She had read of martyrs, patient and holy creatures, to whom suffering was glory; she would be a martyr, if need were, for his sake. She would stand steadfast amid the blazing fagots, or walk unflinchingly across the white-hot ploughshare, for his sake, for his sake.
“Papa, papa,” she cried, flinging herself upon her father’s neck, “I will not make you sorry. I will be good and obedient to Miss Arundel, if you wish it.”
Mr. Marchmont carried his little girl up to her comfortable bedchamber, close at hand to his own. She was very calm when she bade him good night, and she kissed him with a smile upon her face; but all through the long hours before the late winter morning Mary Marchmont lay awake, weeping silently and incessantly in her new sorrow; and all through the same weary hours the master of that noble Lincolnshire mansion slept a fitful and troubled slumber, rendered hideous by confused and horrible dreams, in which the black shadow that came between him and his child, and the cruel hand that thrust him for ever from his darling, were Olivia Arundel’s.
But the morning light brought relief to John Marchmont and his child. Mary arose with the determination to submit patiently to her father’s choice, and to conceal from him all traces of her foolish and unreasoning sorrow. John awoke from troubled dreams to believe in the wisdom of the step he had taken, and to take comfort from the thought that in the far-away future his daughter would have reason to thank and bless him for the choice he had made.
So the few days before the marriage passed away — miserably short days, that flitted by with terrible speed; and the last day of all was made still more dismal by the departure of Edward Arundel, who left Marchmont Towers to go to Dangerfield Park, whence he was most likely to start once more for India.
Mary felt that her narrow world of love was indeed crumbling away from her. Edward was lost, and to-morrow her father would belong to another. Mr. Marchmont dined at the Rectory upon that last evening; for there were settlements to be signed, and other matters to be arranged; and Mary was alone — quite alone — weeping over her lost happiness.
“This would never have happened,” she thought, “if we hadn’t come to Marchmont Towers. I wish papa had never had the fortune; we were so happy in Oakley Street — so very happy. I wouldn’t mind a bit being poor again, if I could be always with papa.”
Mr. Marchmont had not been able to make himself quite comfortable in his mind, after that unpleasant interview with his daughter in which he had broken to her the news of his approaching marriage. Argue with himself as he might upon the advisability of the step he was about to take, he could not argue away the fact that he had grieved the child he loved so intensely. He could not blot away from his memory the pitiful aspect of her terror-stricken face as she had turned it towards him when he uttered the name of Olivia Arundel.
No; he had grieved and distressed her. The future might reconcile her to that grief, perhaps, as a bygone sorrow which she had been allowed to suffer for her own ultimate advantage. But the future was a long way off: and in the meantime there was Mary’s altered face, calm and resigned, but bearing upon it a settled look of sorrow, very close at hand; and John Marchmont could not be otherwise than unhappy in the knowledge of his darling’s grief.
I do not believe that any man or woman is ever suffered to take a fatal step upon the roadway of life without receiving ample warning by the way. The stumbling-blocks are placed in the fatal path by a merciful hand; but we insist upon clambering over them, and surmounting them in our blind obstinacy, to reach that shadowy something beyond, which we have in our ignorance appointed to be our goal. A thousand ominous whispers in his own breast warned John Marchmont that the step he considered so wise was not a wise one: and yet, in spite of all these subtle warnings, in spite of the ever-present reproach of his daughter’s altered face, this man, who was too weak to trust blindly in his God, went on persistently upon his way, trusting, with a thousand times more fatal blindness, in his own wisdom.
He could not be content to confide his darling and her altered fortunes to the Providence which had watched over her in her poverty, and sheltered her from every harm. He could not trust his child to the mercy of God; but he cast her upon the love of Olivia Arundel.
A new life began for Mary Marchmont after the quiet wedding at Swampington Church. The bride and bridegroom went upon a brief honeymoon excursion far away amongst snow-clad Scottish mountains and frozen streams, upon whose bloomless margins poor John shivered dismally. I fear that Mr. Marchmont, having been, by the hard pressure of poverty, compelled to lead a Cockney life for the better half of his existence, had but slight relish for the grand and sublime in nature. I do not think he looked at the ruined walls which had once sheltered Macbeth and his strong-minded partner with all the enthusiasm which might have been expected of him. He had but one idea about Macbeth, and he was rather glad to get out of the neighbourhood associated with the warlike Thane; for his memories of the past presented King Duncan’s murderer as a very stern and uncompromising gentleman, who was utterly intolerant of banners held awry, or turned with the blank and ignoble side towards the audience, and who objected vehemently to a violent fit of coughing on the part of any one of his guests during the blank barmecide feast of pasteboard and Dutch metal with which he was wont to entertain them. No; John Marchmont had had quite enough of Macbeth, and rather wondered at the hot enthusiasm of other red-nosed tourists, apparently indifferent to the frosty weather.
I fear that the master of Marchmont Towers would have preferred Oakley Street, Lambeth, to Princes Street, Edinburgh; for the nipping and eager airs of the Modern Athens nearly blew him across the gulf between the new town and the old. A visit to the Calton Hill produced an attack of that chronic cough which had so severely tormented the weak-kneed supernumerary in the draughty corridors of Drury Lane. Melrose and Abbotsford fatigued this poor feeble tourist; he tried to be interested in the stereotyped round of associations beloved by other travellers, but he had a weary craving for rest, which was stronger than any hero-worship; and he discovered, before long, that he had done a very foolish thing in coming to Scotland in December and January, without having consulted his physician as to the propriety of such a step.
But above all personal inconvenience, above all personal suffering, there was one feeling ever present in his heart — a sick yearning for the little girl he had left behind him; a mournful longing to be back with his child. Already Mary’s sad forebodings had been in some way realised; already his new wife had separated him, unintentionally of course, from his daughter. The aches and pains he endured in the bleak Scottish atmosphere reminded him only too forcibly of the warnings he had received from his physicians. He was seized with a panic, almost, when he remembered his own imprudence. What if he had needlessly curtailed the short span of his life? What if he were to die soon — before Olivia had learned to love her stepdaughter; before Mary had grown affectionately familiar with her new guardian? Again and again he appealed to his wife, imploring her to be tender to the orphan child, if he should be snatched away suddenly.
“I know you will love her by-and-by, Olivia,” he said; “as much as I do, perhaps; for you will discover how good she is, how patient and unselfish. But just at first, and before you know her very well, you will be kind to her, won’t you, Olivia? She has been used to great indulgence; she has been spoiled, perhaps; but you’ll remember all that, and be very kind to her?”
“I will try and do my duty,” Mrs. Marchmont answered. “I pray that I never may do less.”
There was no tender yearning in Olivia Marchmont’s heart towards the motherless girl. She herself felt that such a sentiment was wanting, and comprehended that it should have been there. She would have loved her stepdaughter in those early days, if she could have done so; but she could not— she could not. All that was tender or womanly in her nature had been wasted upon her hopeless love for Edward Arundel. The utter wreck of that small freight of affection had left her nature warped and stunted, soured, disappointed, unwomanly.
How was she to love this child, this hazel-haired, dove-eyed girl, before whom woman’s life, with all its natural wealth of affection, stretched far away, a bright and fairy vista? How was she to love her — she, whose black future was unchequered by one ray of light; who stood, dissevered from the past, alone in the dismal, dreamless monotony of the present?
“No” she thought; “beggars and princes can never love one another. When this girl and I are equals — when she, like me, stands alone upon a barren rock, far out amid the waste of waters, with not one memory to hold her to the past, with not one hope to lure her onward to the future, with nothing but the black sky above and the black waters around — then we may grow fond of each other.”
But always more or less steadfast to the standard she had set up for herself, Olivia Marchmont intended to do her duty to her stepdaughter. She had not failed in other duties, though no glimmer of love had brightened them, no natural affection had made them pleasant. Why should she fail in this?
If this belief in her own power should appear to be somewhat arrogant, let it be remembered that she had set herself hard tasks before now, and had performed them. Would the new furnace through which she was to pass be more terrible than the old fires? She had gone to God’s altar with a man for whom she had no more love than she felt for the lowest or most insignificant of the miserable sinners in her father’s flock. She had sworn to honour and obey him, meaning at least faithfully to perform that portion of her vow; and on the night before her loveless bridal she had grovelled, white, writhing, mad, and desperate, upon the ground, and had plucked out of her lacerated heart her hopeless love for another man.
Yes; she had done this. Another woman might have spent that bridal eve in vain tears and lamentations, in feeble prayers, and such weak struggles as might have been evidenced by the destruction of a few letters, a tress of hair, some fragile foolish tokens of a wasted love. She would have burnt five out of six letters, perhaps, that helpless, ordinary sinner, and would have kept the sixth, to hoard away hidden among her matrimonial trousseau; she would have thrown away fifteen-sixteenths of that tress of hair, and would have kept the sixteenth portion — one delicate curl of gold, slender as the thread by which her shattered hopes had hung — to be wept over and kissed in the days that were to come. An ordinary woman would have played fast and loose with love and duty; and so would have been true to neither.
But Olivia Arundel did none of these things. She battled with her weakness as St George battled with the fiery dragon. She plucked the rooted serpent from her heart, reckless as to how much of that desperate heart was to be wrenched away with its roots. A cowardly woman would have killed herself, perhaps, rather than endure this mortal agony. Olivia Arundel killed more than herself; she killed the passion that had become stronger than herself.
“Alone she did it;” unaided by any human sympathy or compassion, unsupported by any human counsel, not upheld by her God; for the religion she had made for herself was a hard creed, and the many words of tender comfort which must have been familiar to her were unremembered in that long night of anguish.
It was the Roman’s stern endurance, rather than the meek faithfulness of the Christian, which upheld this unhappy girl under her torture. She did not do this thing because it pleased her to be obedient to her God. She did not do it because she believed in the mercy of Him who inflicted the suffering, and looked forward hopefully, even amid her passionate grief, to the day when she should better comprehend that which she now saw so darkly. No; she fought the terrible fight, and she came forth out of it a conqueror, by reason of her own indomitable power of suffering, by reason of her own extraordinary strength of will.
But she did conquer. If her weapon was the classic sword and not the Christian cross, she was nevertheless a conqueror. When she stood before the altar and gave her hand to John Marchmont, Edward Arundel was dead to her. The fatal habit of looking at him as the one centre of her narrow life was cured. In all her Scottish wanderings, her thoughts never once went back to him; though a hundred chance words and associations tempted her, though a thousand memories assailed her, though some trick of his face in the faces of other people, though some tone of his voice in the voices of strangers, perpetually offered to entrap her. No; she was steadfast.
Dutiful as a wife as she had been dutiful as a daughter, she bore with her husband when his feeble health made him a wearisome companion. She waited upon him when pain made him fretful, and her duties became little less arduous than those of a hospital nurse. When, at the bidding of the Scotch physician who had been called in at Edinburgh, John Marchmont turned homewards, travelling slowly and resting often on the way, his wife was more devoted to him than his experienced servant, more watchful than the best-trained sick-nurse. She recoiled from nothing, she neglected nothing; she gave him full measure of the honour and obedience which she had promised upon her wedding-day. And when she reached Marchmont Towers upon a dreary evening in January, she passed beneath the solemn portal of the western front, carrying in her heart the full determination to hold as steadfastly to the other half of her bargain, and to do her duty to her stepchild.
Mary ran out of the western drawing-room to welcome her father and his wife. She had cast off her black dresses in honour of Mr. Marchmont’s marriage, and she wore some soft, silken fabric, of a pale shimmering blue, which contrasted exquisitely with her soft, brown hair, and her fair, tender face. She uttered a cry of mingled alarm and sorrow when she saw her father, and perceived the change that had been made in his looks by the northern journey; but she checked herself at a warning glance from her stepmother, and bade that dear father welcome, clinging about him with an almost desperate fondness. She greeted Olivia gently and respectfully.
“I will try to be very good, mamma,” she said, as she took the passive hand of the lady who had come to rule at Marchmont Towers.
“I believe you will, my dear,” Olivia answered, kindly.
She had been startled a little as Mary addressed her by that endearing corruption of the holy word mother. The child had been so long motherless, that she felt little of that acute anguish which some orphans suffer when they have to look up in a strange face and say “mamma.” She had taught herself the lesson of resignation, and she was prepared to accept this stranger as her new mother, and to look up to her and obey her henceforward. No thought of her own future position, as sole owner of that great house and all appertaining to it, ever crossed Mary Marchmont’s mind, womanly as that mind had become in the sharp experiences of poverty. If her father had told her that he had cut off the entail, and settled Marchmont Towers upon his new wife, I think she would have submitted meekly to his will, and would have seen no injustice in the act. She loved him blindly and confidingly. Indeed, she could only love after one fashion. The organ of veneration must have been abnormally developed in Mary Marchmont’s head. To believe that any one she loved was otherwise than perfect, would have been, in her creed, an infidelity against love. Had any one told her that Edward Arundel was not eminently qualified for the post of General-in-Chief of the Army of the Indus; or that her father could by any possible chance be guilty of a fault or folly: she would have recoiled in horror from the treasonous slanderer.
A dangerous quality, perhaps, this quality of guilelessness which thinketh no evil, which cannot be induced to see the evil under its very nose. But surely, of all the beautiful and pure things upon this earth, such blind confidence is the purest and most beautiful. I knew a lady, dead and gone — alas for this world, which could ill afford to lose so good a Christian! — who carried this trustfulness of spirit, this utter incapacity to believe in wrong, through all the strife and turmoil of a troubled life, unsullied and unlessened, to her grave. She was cheated and imposed upon, robbed and lied to, by people who loved her, perhaps, while they wronged her — for to know her was to love her. She was robbed systematically by a confidential servant for years, and for years refused to believe those who told her of his delinquencies. She could not believe that people were wicked. To the day of her death she had faith in the scoundrels and scamps who had profited by her sweet compassion and untiring benevolence; and indignantly defended them against those who dared to say that they were anything more than “unfortunate.” To go to her was to go to a never-failing fountain of love and tenderness. To know her goodness was to understand the goodness of God; for her love approached the Infinite, and might have taught a sceptic the possibility of Divinity. Three-score years and ten of worldly experience left her an accomplished lady, a delightful companion; but in guilelessness a child.
So Mary Marchmont, trusting implicitly in those she loved, submitted to her father’s will, and prepared to obey her stepmother. The new life at the Towers began very peacefully; a perfect harmony reigned in the quiet household. Olivia took the reins of management with so little parade, that the old housekeeper, who had long been paramount in the Lincolnshire mansion, found herself superseded before she knew where she was. It was Olivia’s nature to govern. Her strength of will asserted itself almost unconsciously. She took possession of Mary Marchmont as she had taken possession of her school-children at Swampington, making her own laws for the government of their narrow intellects. She planned a routine of study that was actually terrible to the little girl, whose education had hitherto been conducted in a somewhat slip-slop manner by a weakly-indulgent father. She came between Mary and her one amusement — the reading of novels. The half-bound romances were snatched ruthlessly from this young devourer of light literature, and sent back to the shabby circulating library at Swampington. Even the gloomy old oak book-cases in the library at the Towers, and the Abbotsford edition of the Waverley Novels, were forbidden to poor Mary; for, though Sir Walter Scott’s morality is irreproachable, it will not do for a young lady to be weeping over Lucy Ashton or Amy Robsart when she should be consulting her terrestrial globe, and informing herself as to the latitude and longitude of the Fiji Islands.
So a round of dry and dreary lessons began for poor Miss Marchmont, and her brain grew almost dazed under that continuous and pelting shower of hard facts which many worthy people consider the one sovereign method of education. I have said that her mind was far in advance of her years; Olivia perceived this, and set her tasks in advance of her mind: in order that the perfection attained by a sort of steeple-chase of instruction might not be lost to her. If Mary learned difficult lessons with surprising rapidity, Mrs. Marchmont plied her with even yet more difficult lessons, thus keeping the spur perpetually in the side of this heavily-weighted racer on the road to learning. But it must not be thought that Olivia wilfully tormented or oppressed her stepdaughter. It was not so. In all this, John Marchmont’s second wife implicitly believed that she was doing her duty to the child committed to her care. She fully believed that this dreary routine of education was wise and right, and would be for Mary’s ultimate advantage. If she caused Miss Marchmont to get up at abnormal hours on bleak wintry mornings, for the purpose of wrestling with a difficult variation by Hertz or Schubert, she herself rose also, and sat shivering by the piano, counting the time of the music which her stepdaughter played.
Whatever pains and trouble she inflicted on Mary, she most unshrinkingly endured herself. She waded through the dismal slough of learning side by side with the younger sufferer: Roman emperors, medieval schisms, early British manufactures, Philippa of Hainault, Flemish woollen stuffs, Magna Charta, the sidereal heavens, Luther, Newton, Huss, Galileo, Calvin, Loyola, Sir Robert Walpole, Cardinal Wolsey, conchology, Arianism in the Early Church, trial by jury, Habeas Corpus, zoology, Mr. Pitt, the American war, Copernicus, Confucius, Mahomet, Harvey, Jenner, Lycurgus, and Catherine of Arragon; through a very diabolical dance of history, science, theology, philosophy, and instruction of all kinds, did this devoted priestess lead her hapless victim, struggling onward towards that distant altar at which Pallas Athenë waited, pale and inscrutable, to receive a new disciple.
But Olivia Marchmont did not mean to be unmerciful; she meant to be good to her stepdaughter. She did not love her; but, on the other hand, she did not dislike her. Her feelings were simply negative. Mary understood this, and the submissive obedience she rendered to her stepmother was untempered by affection. So for nearly two years these two people led a monotonous life, unbroken by any more important event than a dinner party at Marchmont Towers, or a brief visit to Harrowgate or Scarborough.
This monotonous existence was not to go on for ever. The fatal day, so horribly feared by John Marchmont, was creeping closer and closer. The sorrow which had been shadowed in every childish dream, in every childish prayer, came at last; and Mary Marchmont was left an orphan.
Poor John had never quite recovered the effects of his winter excursion to Scotland; neither his wife’s devoted nursing, nor his physician’s care, could avail for ever; and, late in the autumn of the second year of his marriage, he sank, slowly and peacefully enough as regards physical suffering, but not without bitter grief of mind.
In vain Hubert Arundel talked to him; in vain did he himself pray for faith and comfort in this dark hour of trial. He could not bear to leave his child alone in the world. In the foolishness of his love, he would have trusted in the strength of his own arm to shield her in the battle; yet he could not trust her hopefully to the arm of God. He prayed for her night and day during the last week of his illness; while she was praying passionately, almost madly, that he might be spared to her, or that she might die with him. Better for her, according to all mortal reasoning, if she had. Happier for her, a thousand times, if she could have died as she wished to die, clinging to her father’s breast.
The blow fell at last upon those two loving hearts. These were the awful shadows of death that shut his child’s face from John Marchmont’s fading sight. His feeble arms groped here and there for her in that dim and awful obscurity.
Yes, this was death. The narrow tract of yellow sand had little by little grown narrower and narrower. The dark and cruel waters were closing in; the feeble boat went down into the darkness: and Mary stood alone, with her dead father’s hand clasped in hers — the last feeble link which bound her to the Past — looking blankly forward to an unknown Future.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50