John Marchmont's Legacy, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 2

A New Protector.

Captain Arundel’s inquiries at the Kemberling station resulted in an immediate success. A young lady — a young woman, the railway official called her — dressed in black, wearing a crape veil over her face, and carrying a small carpet-bag in her hand, had taken a second-class ticket for London, by the 5.50., a parliamentary train, which stopped at almost every station on the line, and reached Euston Square at half-past twelve.

Edward looked at his watch. It was ten minutes to two o’clock. The express did not stop at Kemberling; but he would be able to catch it at Swampington at a quarter past three. Even then, however, he could scarcely hope to get to Berkshire that night.

“My darling girl will not discover how foolish her doubts have been until to-morrow,” he thought. “Silly child! has my love so little the aspect of truth that she can doubt me?”

He sprang on his horse again, flung a shilling to the railway porter who had held the bridle, and rode away along the Swampington road. The clocks in the gray old Norman turrets were striking three as the young man crossed the bridge, and paid his toll at the little toll-house by the stone archway.

The streets were as lonely as usual in the hot July afternoon; and the long line of sea beyond the dreary marshes was blue in the sunshine. Captain Arundel passed the two churches, and the low-roofed rectory, and rode away to the outskirts of the town, where the station glared in all the brilliancy of new red bricks, and dazzling stuccoed chimneys, athwart a desert of waste ground.

The express-train came tearing up to the quiet platform two minutes after Edward had taken his ticket; and in another minute the clanging bell pealed out its discordant signal, and the young man was borne, with a shriek and a whistle, away upon the first stage of his search for Mary Marchmont.

It was nearly seven o’clock when he reached Euston Square; and he only got to the Paddington station in time to hear that the last train for Marlingford had just started. There was no possibility of his reaching the little Berkshire village that night. No mail-train stopped within a reasonable distance of the obscure station. There was no help for it, therefore, Captain Arundel had nothing to do but to wait for the next morning.

He walked slowly away from the station, very much disheartened by this discovery.

“I’d better sleep at some hotel up this way,” he thought, as he strolled listlessly in the direction of Oxford Street, “so as to be on the spot to catch the first train to-morrow morning. What am I to do with myself all this night, racked with uncertainty about Mary?”

He remembered that one of his brother officers was staying at the hotel in Covent Garden where Edward himself stopped, when business detained him in London for a day or two.

“Shall I go and see Lucas?” Captain Arundel thought. “He’s a good fellow, and won’t bore me with a lot of questions, if he sees I’ve something on my mind. There may be some letters for me at E——‘s. Poor little Polly!”

He could never think of her without something of that pitiful tenderness which he might have felt for a young and helpless child, whom it was his duty and privilege to protect and succour. It may be that there was little of the lover’s fiery enthusiasm mingled with the purer and more tender feelings with which Edward Arundel regarded his dead friend’s orphan daughter; but in place of this there was a chivalrous devotion, such as woman rarely wins in these degenerate modern days.

The young soldier walked through the lamp-lit western streets thinking of the missing girl; now assuring himself that his instinct had not deceived him, and that Mary must have gone straight to the Berkshire farmer’s house, and in the next moment seized with a sudden terror that it might be otherwise: the helpless girl might have gone out into a world of which she was as ignorant as a child, determined to hide herself from all who had ever known her. If it should be thus: if, on going down to Marlingford, he obtained no tidings of his friend’s daughter, what was he to do? Where was he to look for her next?

He would put advertisements in the papers, calling upon his betrothed to trust him and return to him. Perhaps Mary Marchmont was, of all people in this world, the least likely to look into a newspaper; but at least it would be doing something to do this, and Edward Arundel determined upon going straight off to Printing–House Square, to draw up an appeal to the missing girl.

It was past ten o’clock when Captain Arundel came to this determination, and he had reached the neighbourhood of Covent Garden and of the theatres. The staring play-bills adorned almost every threshold, and fluttered against every door-post; and the young soldier, going into a tobacconist’s to fill his cigar-case, stared abstractedly at a gaudy blue-and-red announcement of the last dramatic attraction to be seen at Drury Lane. It was scarcely strange that the Captain’s thoughts wandered back to his boyhood, that shadowy time, far away behind his later days of Indian warfare and glory, and that he remembered the December night upon which he had sat with his cousin in a box at the great patent theatre, watching the consumptive supernumerary struggling under the weight of his banner. From the box at Drury Lane to the next morning’s breakfast in Oakley Street, was but a natural transition of thought; but with that recollection of the humble Lambeth lodging, with the picture of a little girl in a pinafore sitting demurely at her father’s table, and meekly waiting on his guest, an idea flashed across Edward Arundel’s mind, and brought the hot blood into his face.

What if Mary had gone to Oakley Street? Was not this even more likely than that she should seek refuge with her kinsfolk in Berkshire? She had lived in the Lambeth lodging for years, and had only left that plebeian shelter for the grandeur of Marchmont Towers. What more natural than that she should go back to the familiar habitation, dear to her by reason of a thousand associations with her dead father? What more likely than that she should turn instinctively, in the hour of her desolation, to the humble friends whom she had known in her childhood?

Edward Arundel was almost too impatient to wait while the smart young damsel behind the tobacconist’s counter handed him change for the half-sovereign which he had just tendered her. He darted out into the street, and shouted violently to the driver of a passing hansom — there are always loitering hansoms in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden — who was, after the manner of his kind, looking on any side rather than that upon which Providence had sent him a fare.

“Oakley Street, Lambeth,” the young man cried. “Double fare if you get there in ten minutes.”

The tall raw-boned horse rattled off at that peculiar pace common to his species, making as much noise upon the pavement as if he had been winning a metropolitan Derby, and at about twenty minutes past nine drew up, smoking and panting, before the dimly lighted windows of the Ladies’ Wardrobe, where a couple of flaring tallow-candles illuminated the splendour of a foreground of dirty artificial flowers, frayed satin shoes, and tarnished gilt combs; a middle distance of blue gauzy tissue, embroidered with beetles’ wings; and a background of greasy black silk. Edward Arundel flung back the doors of the hansom with a bang, and leaped out upon the pavement. The proprietress of the Ladies’ Wardrobe was lolling against the door-post, refreshing herself with the soft evening breezes from the roads of Westminster and Waterloo, and talking to her neighbour.

“Bless her pore dear innercent ‘art!” the woman was saying; “she’s cried herself to sleep at last. But you never hear any think so pitiful as she talked to me at fust, sweet love! — and the very picture of my own poor Eliza Jane, as she looked. You might have said it was Eliza Jane come back to life, only paler and more sickly like, and not that beautiful fresh colour, and ringlets curled all round in a crop, as Eliza Ja —”

Edward Arundel burst in upon the good woman’s talk, which rambled on in an unintermitting stream, unbroken by much punctuation.

“Miss Marchmont is here,” he said; “I know she is. Thank God, thank God! Let me see her please, directly. I am Captain Arundel, her father’s friend, and her affianced husband. You remember me, perhaps? I came here nine years ago to breakfast, one December morning. I can recollect you perfectly, and I know that you were always good to my poor friend’s daughter. To think that I should find her here! You shall be well rewarded for your kindness to her. But take me to her; pray take me to her at once!”

The proprietress of the wardrobe snatched up one of the candles that guttered in a brass flat-candlestick upon the counter, and led the way up the narrow staircase. She was a good lazy creature, and she was so completely borne down by Edward’s excitement, that she could only mutter disjointed sentences, to the effect that the gentleman had brought her heart into her mouth, and that her legs felt all of a jelly; and that her poor knees was a’most giving way under her, and other incoherent statements concerning the physical effect of the mental shocks she had that day received.

She opened the door of that shabby sitting-room upon the first-floor, in which the crippled eagle brooded over the convex mirror, and stood aside upon the threshold while Captain Arundel entered the room. A tallow candle was burning dimly upon the table, and a girlish form lay upon the narrow horsehair sofa, shrouded by a woollen shawl.

“She went to sleep about half-an-hour ago, sir,” the woman said, in a whisper; “and she cried herself to sleep, pore lamb, I think. I made her some tea, and got her a few creases and a French roll, with a bit of best fresh; but she wouldn’t touch nothin’, or only a few spoonfuls of the tea, just to please me. What is it that’s drove her away from her ‘ome, sir, and such a good ‘ome too? She showed me a diamont ring as her pore par gave her in his will. He left me twenty pound, pore gentleman — which he always acted like a gentleman bred and born; and Mr. Pollit, the lawyer, sent his clerk along with it and his compliments — though I’m sure I never looked for nothink, having always had my rent faithful to the very minute: and Miss Mary used to bring it down to me so pretty, and —”

But the whispering had grown louder by this time, and Mary Marchmont awoke from her feverish sleep, and lifted her weary head from the hard horsehair pillow and looked about her, half forgetful of where she was, and of what had happened within the last eighteen hours of her life. Her eyes wandered here and there, doubtful as to the reality of what they looked upon, until the girl saw her lover’s figure, tall and splendid in the humble apartment, a tender half-reproachful smile upon his face, and his handsome blue eyes beaming with love and truth. She saw him, and a faint shriek broke from her tremulous lips, as she rose and fell upon his breast.

“You love me, then, Edward,” she cried; “you do love me!”

“Yes, my darling, as truly and tenderly as ever woman was loved upon this earth.”

And then the soldier sat down upon the hard bristly sofa, and with Mary’s head still resting upon his breast, and his strong hand straying amongst her disordered hair, he reproached her for her foolishness, and comforted and soothed her; while the proprietress of the apartment stood, with the brass candlestick in her hand, watching the young lovers and weeping over their sorrows, as if she had been witnessing a scene in a play. Their innocent affection was unrestrained by the good woman’s presence; and when Mary had smiled upon her lover, and assured him that she would never, never, never doubt him again, Captain Arundel was fain to kiss the soft-hearted landlady in his enthusiasm, and to promise her the handsomest silk dress that had ever been seen in Oakley Street, amongst all the faded splendours of silk and satin that ladies’-maids brought for her consideration.

“And now my darling, my foolish run-away Polly, what is to be done with you?” asked the young soldier. “Will you go back to the Towers to-morrow morning?”

Mary Marchmont clasped her hands before her face, and began to tremble violently.

“Oh, no, no, no!” she cried; “don’t ask me to do that, don’t ask me to go back, Edward. I can never go back to that house again, while —”

She stopped suddenly, looking piteously at her lover.

“While my cousin Olivia Marchmont lives there,” Captain Arundel said with an angry frown. “God knows it’s a bitter thing for me to think that your troubles should come from any of my kith and kin, Polly. She has used you very badly, then, this woman? She has been very unkind to you?”

“No, no! never before last night. It seems so long ago; but it was only last night, was it? Until then she was always kind to me. I didn’t love her, you know, though I tried to do so for papa’s sake, and out of gratitude to her for taking such trouble with my education; but one can be grateful to people without loving them, and I never grew to love her. But last night — last night — she said such cruel things to me — such cruel things. O Edward, Edward!” the girl cried suddenly, clasping her hands and looking imploringly at Captain Arundel, “were the cruel things she said true? Did I do wrong when I offered to be your wife?”

How could the young man answer this question except by clasping his betrothed to his heart? So there was another little love-scene, over which Mrs. Pimpernel — the proprietress’s name was Pimpernel — wept fresh tears, murmuring that the Capting was the sweetest young man, sweeter than Mr. Macready in Claude Melnock; and that the scene altogether reminded her of that “cutting” episode where the proud mother went on against the pore young man, and Miss Faucit came out so beautiful. They are a playgoing population in Oakley Street, and compassionate and sentimental like all true playgoers.

“What shall I do with you, Miss Marchmont?” Edward Arundel asked gaily, when the little love-scene was concluded. “My mother and sister are away, at a German watering-place, trying some unpronounceable Spa for the benefit of poor Letty’s health. Reginald is with them, and my father’s alone at Dangerfield. So I can’t take you down there, as I might have done if my mother had been at home; I don’t much care for the Mostyns, or you might have stopped in Montague Square. There are no friendly friars nowadays who will marry Romeo and Juliet at half-an-hour’s notice. You must live a fortnight somewhere, Polly: where shall it be?”

“Oh, let me stay here, please,” Miss Marchmont pleaded; “I was always so happy here!”

“Lord love her precious heart!” exclaimed Mrs. Pimpernel, lifting up her hands in a rapture of admiration. “To think as she shouldn’t have a bit of pride, after all the money as her pore par come into! To think as she should wish to stay in her old lodgins, where everythink shall be done to make her comfortable; and the air back and front is very ‘ealthy, though you might not believe it, and the Blind School and Bedlam hard by, and Kennington Common only a pleasant walk, and beautiful and open this warm summer weather.”

“Yes, I should like to stop here, please,” Mary murmured. Even in the midst of her agitation, overwhelmed as she was by the emotions of the present, her thoughts went back to the past, and she remembered how delightful it would be to go and see the accommodating butcher, and the greengrocer’s daughter, the kind butterman who had called her “little lady,” and the disreputable gray parrot. How delightful it would be to see these humble friends, now that she was grown up, and had money wherewith to make them presents in token of her gratitude!

“Very well, then, Polly,” Captain Arundel said, “you’ll stay here. And Mrs. ——”

“Pimpernel,” the landlady suggested.

“Mrs. Pimpernel will take as good care of you as if you were Queen of England, and the welfare of the nation depended upon your safety. And I’ll stop at my hotel in Covent Garden; and I’ll see Richard Paulette — he’s my lawyer as well as yours, you know, Polly — and tell him something of what has happened, and make arrangements for our immediate marriage.”

“Our marriage!”

Mary Marchmont echoed her lover’s last words, and looked up at him almost with a bewildered air. She had never thought of an early marriage with Edward Arundel as the result of her flight from Lincolnshire. She had a vague notion that she would live in Oakley Street for years, and that in some remote time the soldier would come to claim her.

“Yes, Polly darling, Olivia Marchmont’s conduct has made me decide upon a very bold step. It is evident to me that my cousin hates you; for what reason, Heaven only knows, since you can have done nothing to provoke her hate. When your father was a poor man, it was to me he would have confided you. He changed his mind afterwards, very naturally, and chose another guardian for his orphan child. If my cousin had fulfilled this trust, Mary, I would have deferred to her authority, and would have held myself aloof until your minority was passed, rather than ask you to marry me without your stepmother’s consent. But Olivia Marchmont has forfeited her right to be consulted in this matter. She has tortured you and traduced me by her poisonous slander. If you believe in me, Mary, you will consent to be my wife. My justification lies in the future. You will not find that I shall sponge upon your fortune, my dear, or lead an idle life because my wife is a rich woman.”

Mary Marchmont looked up with shy tenderness at her lover.

“I would rather the fortune were yours than mine, Edward,” she said. “I will do whatever you wish; I will be guided by you in every thing.”

It was thus that John Marchmont’s daughter consented to become the wife of the man she loved, the man whose image she had associated since her childhood with all that was good and beautiful in mankind. She knew none of those pretty stereotyped phrases, by means of which well-bred young ladies can go through a graceful fencing-match of hesitation and equivocation, to the anguish of a doubtful and adoring suitor. She had no notion of that delusive negative, that bewitching feminine “no,” which is proverbially understood to mean “yes.” Weary courses of Roman Emperors, South–Sea Islands, Sidereal Heavens, Tertiary and Old Red Sandstone, had very ill-prepared this poor little girl for the stern realities of life.

“I will be guided by you, dear Edward,” she said; “my father wished me to be your wife; and if I did not love you, it would please me to obey him.”

It was eleven o’clock when Captain Arundel left Oakley Street. The hansom had been waiting all the time, and the driver, seeing that his fare was young, handsome, dashing, and what he called “milingtary-like,” demanded an enormous sum when he landed the soldier before the portico of the hotel in Covent Garden.

Edward took a hasty breakfast the next morning, and then hurried off to Lincoln’s-Inn Fields. But here a disappointment awaited him. Richard Paulette had started for Scotland upon a piscatorial excursion. The elder Paulette was an octogenarian, who lived in the south of France, and kept his name in the business as a fiction, by means of which elderly and obstinate country clients were deluded into the belief that the solicitor who conducted their affairs was the same legal practitioner who had done business for their fathers and grandfathers before them. Mathewson, a grim man, was away amongst the Yorkshire wolds, superintending the foreclosure of certain mortgages upon a bankrupt baronet’s estate. A confidential clerk, who received clients, and kept matters straight during the absence of his employers, was very anxious to be of use to Captain Arundel: but it was not likely that Edward could sit down and pour his secrets into the bosom of a clerk, however trustworthy a personage that employé might be.

The young man’s desire had been that his marriage with Mary Marchmont should take place at least with the knowledge and approbation of her dead father’s lawyer: but he was impatient to assume the only title by which he might have a right to be the orphan girl’s champion and protector; and he had therefore no inclination to wait until the long vacation was over, and Messrs. Paulette and Mathewson returned from their northern wanderings. Again, Mary Marchmont suffered from a continual dread that her stepmother would discover the secret of her humble retreat, and would follow her and reassume authority over her.

“Let me be your wife before I see her again, Edward,” the girl pleaded innocently, when this terror was uppermost in her mind. “She could not say cruel things to me if I were your wife. I know it is wicked to be so frightened of her; because she was always good to me until that night: but I cannot tell you how I tremble at the thought of being alone with her at Marchmont Towers. I dream sometimes that I am with her in the gloomy old house, and that we two are alone there, even the servants all gone, and you far away in India, Edward — at the other end of the world.”

It was as much as her lover could do to soothe and reassure the trembling girl when these thoughts took possession of her. Had he been less sanguine and impetuous, less careless in the buoyancy of his spirits, Captain Arundel might have seen that Mary’s nerves had been terribly shaken by the scene between her and Olivia, and all the anguish which had given rise to her flight from Marchmont Towers. The girl trembled at every sound. The shutting of a door, the noise of a cab stopping in the street below, the falling of a book from the table to the floor, startled her almost as much as if a gunpowder-magazine had exploded in the neighbourhood. The tears rose to her eyes at the slightest emotion. Her mind was tortured by vague fears, which she tried in vain to explain to her lover. Her sleep was broken by dismal dreams, foreboding visions of shadowy evil.

For a little more than a fortnight Edward Arundel visited his betrothed daily in the shabby first-floor in Oakley Street, and sat by her side while she worked at some fragile scrap of embroidery, and talked gaily to her of the happy future; to the intense admiration of Mrs. Pimpernel, who had no greater delight than to assist in the pretty little sentimental drama that was being enacted on her first-floor.

Thus it was that, on a cloudy and autumnal August morning, Edward Arundel and Mary Marchmont were married in a great empty-looking church in the parish of Lambeth, by an indifferent curate, who shuffled through the service at railroad speed, and with far less reverence for the solemn rite than he would have displayed had he known that the pale-faced girl kneeling before the altar-rails was undisputed mistress of eleven thousand a-year. Mrs. Pimpernel, the pew-opener, and the registrar who was in waiting in the vestry, and was beguiled thence to give away the bride, were the only witnesses to this strange wedding. It seemed a dreary ceremonial to Mrs. Pimpernel, who had been married at the same church five-and-twenty years before, in a cinnamon satin spencer, and a coal-scuttle bonnet, and with a young person in the dressmaking line in attendance upon her as bridesmaid.

It was rather a dreary wedding, no doubt. The drizzling rain dripped ceaselessly in the street without, and there was a smell of damp plaster in the great empty church. The melancholy street-cries sounded dismally from the outer world, while the curate was hurrying through those portentous words which were to unite Edward Arundel and Mary Marchmont until the final day of earthly separation. The girl clung shivering to her lover, her husband now, as they went into the vestry to sign their names in the marriage-register. Throughout the service she had expected to hear a footstep in the aisle behind her, and Olivia Marchmont’s cruel voice crying out to forbid the marriage.

“I am your wife now, Edward, am I not?” she said, when she had signed her name in the register.

“Yes, my darling, for ever and for ever.”

“And nothing can part us now?”

“Nothing but death, my dear.”

In the exuberance of his spirits, Edward Arundel spoke of the King of Terrors as if he had been a mere nobody, whose power to change or mar the fortunes of mankind was so trifling as to be scarcely worth mentioning.

The vehicle in waiting to carry the mistress of Marchmont Towers upon the first stage of her bridal tour was nothing better than a hack cab. The driver’s garments exhaled stale tobacco-smoke in the moist atmosphere, and in lieu of the flowers which are wont to bestrew the bridal path of an heiress, Miss Marchmont trod upon damp and mouldy straw. But she was happy — happy, with a fearful apprehension that her happiness could not be real — a vague terror of Olivia’s power to torture and oppress her, which even the presence of her lover-husband could not altogether drive away. She kissed Mrs. Pimpernel, who stood upon the edge of the pavement, crying bitterly, with the slippery white lining of a new silk dress, which Edward Arundel had given her for the wedding, gathered tightly round her.

“God bless you, my dear!” cried the honest dealer in frayed satins and tumbled gauzes; “I couldn’t take this more to heart if you was my own Eliza Jane going away with the young man as she was to have married, and as is now a widower with five children, two in arms, and the youngest brought up by hand. God bless your pretty face, my dear; and oh, pray take care of her, Captain Arundel, for she’s a tender flower, sir, and truly needs your care. And it’s but a trifle, my own sweet young missy, for the acceptance of such as you, but it’s given from a full heart, and given humbly.”

The latter part of Mrs. Pimpernel’s speech bore relation to a hard newspaper parcel, which she dropped into Mary’s lap. Mrs. Arundel opened the parcel presently, when she had kissed her humble friend for the last time, and the cab was driving towards Nine Elms, and found that Mrs. Pimpernel’s wedding-gift was a Scotch shepherdess in china, with a great deal of gilding about her tartan garments, very red legs, a hat and feathers, and a curly sheep. Edward put this article of virtù very carefully away in his carpet-bag; for his bride would not have the present treated with any show of disrespect.

“How good of her to give it me!” Mary said; “it used to stand upon the back-parlour chimney-piece when I was a little girl; and I was so fond of it. Of course I am not fond of Scotch shepherdesses now, you know, dear; but how should Mrs. Pimpernel know that? She thought it would please me to have this one.”

“And you’ll put it in the western drawing-room at the Towers, won’t you, Polly?” Captain Arundel asked, laughing.

“I won’t put it anywhere to be made fun of, sir,” the young bride answered, with some touch of wifely dignity; “but I’ll take care of it, and never have it broken or destroyed; and Mrs. Pimpernel shall see it, when she comes to the Towers — if I ever go back there,” she added, with a sudden change of manner.

If you ever go back there!” cried Edward. “Why, Polly, my dear, Marchmont Towers is your own house. My cousin Olivia is only there upon sufferance, and her own good sense will tell her she has no right to stay there, when she ceases to be your friend and protectress. She is a proud woman, and her pride will surely never suffer her to remain where she must feel she can be no longer welcome.”

The young wife’s face turned white with terror at her husband’s words.

“But I could never ask her to go, Edward,” she said. “I wouldn’t turn her out for the world. She may stay there for ever if she likes. I never have cared for the place since papa’s death; and I couldn’t go back while she is there, I’m so frightened of her, Edward, I’m so frightened of her.”

The vague apprehension burst forth in this childish cry. Edward Arundel clasped his wife to his breast, and bent over her, kissing her pale forehead, and murmuring soothing words, as he might have done to a child.

“My dear, my dear,” he said, “my darling Mary, this will never do; my own love, this is so very foolish.”

“I know, I know, Edward; but I can’t help it, I can’t indeed; I was frightened of her long ago; frightened of her even the first day I saw her, the day you took me to the Rectory. I was frightened of her when papa first told me he meant to marry her; and I am frightened of her now; even now that I am your wife, Edward, I’m frightened of her still.”

Captain Arundel kissed away the tears that trembled on his wife’s eyelids; but she had scarcely grown quite composed even when the cab stopped at the Nine Elms railway station. It was only when she was seated in the carriage with her husband, and the rain cleared away as they advanced farther into the heart of the pretty pastoral country, that the bride’s sense of happiness and safety in her husband’s protection, returned to her. But by that time she was able to smile in his face, and to look forward with delight to a brief sojourn in that pretty Hampshire village, which Edward had chosen for the scene of his honeymoon.

“Only a few days of quiet happiness, Polly,” he said; “a few days of utter forgetfulness of all the world except you; and then I must be a man of business again, and write to your stepmother and my father and mother, and Messrs. Paulette and Mathewson, and all the people who ought to know of our marriage.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50