The village to which Edward Arundel took his bride was within a few miles of Winchester. The young soldier had become familiar with the place in his early boyhood, when he had gone to spend a part of one bright midsummer holiday at the house of a schoolfellow; and had ever since cherished a friendly remembrance of the winding trout-streams, the rich verdure of the valleys, and the sheltering hills that shut in the pleasant little cluster of thatched cottages, the pretty white-walled villas, and the grey old church.
But to Mary, whose experiences of town and country were limited to the dingy purlieus of Oakley Street and the fenny flats of Lincolnshire, this Hampshire village seemed a rustic paradise, which neither trouble nor sorrow could ever approach. She had trembled at the thought of Olivia’s coming in Oakley Street; but here she seemed to lose all terror of her stern stepmother — here, sheltered and protected by her young husband’s love, she fancied that she might live her life out happy and secure.
She told Edward this one sunny morning, as they sat by the young man’s favourite trout-stream. Captain Arundel’s fishing-tackle lay idle on the turf at his side, for he had been beguiled into forgetfulness of a ponderous trout he had been watching and finessing with for upwards of an hour, and had flung himself at full length upon the mossy margin of the water, with his uncovered head lying in Mary’s lap.
The childish bride would have been content to sit for ever thus in that rural solitude, with her fingers twisted in her husband’s chestnut curls, and her soft eyes keeping timid watch upon his handsome face — so candid and unclouded in its careless repose. The undulating meadow-land lay half-hidden in a golden haze, only broken here and there by the glitter of the brighter sunlight that lit up the waters of the wandering streams that intersected the low pastures. The massive towers of the cathedral, the grey walls of St. Cross, loomed dimly in the distance; the bubbling plash of a mill-stream sounded like some monotonous lullaby in the drowsy summer atmosphere. Mary looked from the face she loved to the fair landscape about her, and a tender solemnity crept into her mind — a reverent love and admiration for this beautiful earth, which was almost akin to awe.
“How pretty this place is, Edward!” she said. “I had no idea there were such places in all the wide world. Do you know, I think I would rather be a cottage-girl here than an heiress in Lincolnshire. Edward, if I ask you a favour, will you grant it?”
She spoke very earnestly, looking down at her husband’s upturned face; but Captain Arundel only laughed at her question, without even caring to lift the drowsy eyelids that drooped over his blue eyes.
“Well, my pet, if you want anything short of the moon, I suppose your devoted husband is scarcely likely to refuse it. Our honeymoon is not a fortnight old yet, Polly dear; you wouldn’t have me turn tyrant quite as soon as this. Speak out, Mrs. Arundel, and assert your dignity as a British matron. What is the favour I am to grant?”
“I want you to live here always, Edward darling,” pleaded the girlish voice. “Not for a fortnight or a month, but for ever and ever. I have never been happy at Marchmont Towers. Papa died there, you know, and I cannot forget that. Perhaps that ought to have made the place sacred to me, and so it has; but it is sacred like papa’s tomb in Kemberling Church, and it seems like profanation to be happy in it, or to forget my dead father even for a moment. Don’t let us go back there, Edward. Let my stepmother live there all her life. It would seem selfish and cruel to turn her out of the house she has so long been mistress of. Mr. Gormby will go on collecting the rents, you know, and can send us as much money as we want; and we can take that pretty house we saw to let on the other side of Milldale — the house with the rookery, and the dovecotes, and the sloping lawn leading down to the water. You know you don’t like Lincolnshire, Edward, any more than I do, and there’s scarcely any trout-fishing near the Towers.”
Captain Arundel opened his eyes, and lifted himself out of his reclining position before he answered his wife.
“My own precious Polly,” he said, smiling fondly at the gentle childish face turned in such earnestness towards his own; “my runaway little wife, rich people have their duties to perform as well as poor people; and I am afraid it would never do for you to hide in this out-of-the-way Hampshire village, and play absentee from stately Marchmont and all its dependencies. I love that pretty, infantine, unworldly spirit of yours, my darling; and I sometimes wish we were two grown-up babes in the wood, and could wander about gathering wild flowers, and eating blackberries and hazel-nuts, until the shades of evening closed in, and the friendly robins came to bury us. Don’t fancy I am tired of our honeymoon, Polly, or that I care for Marchmont Towers any more than you do; but I fear the non-residence plan would never answer. The world would call my little wife eccentric, if she ran away from her grandeur; and Paul Marchmont the artist — of whom your poor father had rather a bad opinion, by the way — would be taking out a statute of lunacy against you.”
“Paul Marchmont!” repeated Mary. “Did papa dislike Mr. Paul Marchmont?”
“Well, poor John had a sort of a prejudice against the man, I believe; but it was only a prejudice, for he freely confessed that he could assign no reason for it. But whatever Mr. Paul Marchmont may be, you must live at the Towers, Mary, and be Lady Bountiful-in-chief in your neighbourhood, and look after your property, and have long interviews with Mr. Gormby, and become altogether a woman of business; so that when I go back to India ——”
Mary interrupted him with a little cry:
“Go back to India!” she exclaimed. “What do you mean, Edward?”
“I mean, my darling, that my business in life is to fight for my Queen and country, and not to spunge upon my wife’s fortune. You don’t suppose I’m going to lay down my sword at seven-and-twenty years of age, and retire upon my pension? No, Polly; you remember what Lord Nelson said on the deck of the Victory at Trafalgar. That saying can never be so hackneyed as to lose its force. I must do my duty, Polly — I must do my duty, even if duty and love pull different ways, and I have to leave my darling, in the service of my country.”
Mary clasped her hands in despair, and looked piteously at her lover-husband, with the tears streaming down her pale cheeks.
“O Edward,” she cried, “how cruel you are; how very, very cruel you are to me! What is the use of my fortune if you won’t share it with me, if you won’t take it all; for it is yours, my dearest — it is all yours? I remember the words in the Marriage Service, ‘with all my goods I thee endow.’ I have given you Marchmont Towers, Edward; nobody in the world can take it away from you. You never, never, never could be so cruel as to leave me! I know how brave and good you are, and I am proud to think of your noble courage and all the brave deeds you did in India. But you have fought for your country, Edward; you have done your duty. Nobody can expect more of you; nobody shall take you from me. O my darling, my husband, you promised to shelter and defend me while our lives last! You won’t leave me — you won’t leave me, will you?”
Edward Arundel kissed the tears away from his wife’s pale face, and drew her head upon his bosom.
“My love,” he said tenderly, “you cannot tell how much pain it gives me to hear you talk like this. What can I do? To give up my profession would be to make myself next kin to a pauper. What would the world say of me, Mary? Think of that. This runaway marriage would be a dreadful dishonour to me, if it were followed by a life of lazy dependence on my wife’s fortune. Nobody can dare to slander the soldier who spends the brightest years of his life in the service of his country. You would not surely have me be less than true to myself, Mary darling? For my honour’s sake, I must leave you.”
“O no, no, no!” cried the girl, in a low wailing voice. Unselfish and devoted as she had been in every other crisis of her young life, she could not be reasonable or self-denying here; she was seized with despair at the thought of parting with her husband. No, not even for his honour’s sake could she let him go. Better that they should both die now, in this early noontide of their happiness.
“Edward, Edward,” she sobbed, clinging convulsively about the young man’s neck, “don’t leave me — don’t leave me!”
“Will you go with me to India, then, Mary?”
She lifted her head suddenly, and looked her husband in the face, with the gladness in her eyes shining through her tears, like an April sun through a watery sky.
“I would go to the end of the world with you, my own darling,” she said; “the burning sands and the dreadful jungles would have no terrors for me, if I were with you, Edward.”
Captain Arundel smiled at her earnestness.
“I won’t take you into the jungle, my love,” he answered, playfully; “or if I do, your palki shall be well guarded, and all ravenous beasts kept at a respectful distance from my little wife. A great many ladies go to India with their husbands, Polly, and come back very little the worse for the climate or the voyage; and except your money, there is no reason you should not go with me.”
“Oh, never mind my money; let anybody have that.”
“Polly,” cried the soldier, very seriously, “we must consult Richard Paulette as to the future. I don’t think I did right in marrying you during his absence; and I have delayed writing to him too long, Polly. Those letters must be written this afternoon.”
“The letter to Mr. Paulette and to your father?”
“Yes; and the letter to my cousin Olivia.”
Mary’s face grew sorrowful again, as Captain Arundel said this.
“Must you tell my stepmother of our marriage?” she said.
“Most assuredly, my dear. Why should we keep her in ignorance of it? Your father’s will gave her the privilege of advising you, but not the power to interfere with your choice, whatever that choice might be. You were your own mistress, Mary, when you married me. What reason have you to fear my cousin Olivia?”
“No reason, perhaps,” the girl answered, sadly; “but I do fear her. I know I am very foolish, Edward, and you have reason to despise me — you who are so brave. But I could never tell you how I tremble at the thought of being once more in my stepmother’s power. She said cruel things to me, Edward. Every word she spoke seemed to stab me to the heart; but it isn’t that only. There’s something more than that; something that I can’t describe, that I can’t understand; something which tells me that she hates me.”
“Hates you, darling?”
“Yes, Edward; yes, she hates me. It wasn’t always so, you know. She used to be only cold and reserved, but lately her manner has changed. I thought that she was ill, perhaps, and that my presence worried her. People often wish to be alone, I know, when they are ill. O Edward, I have seen her shrink from me, and shudder if her dress brushed against mine, as if I had been some horrible creature. What have I done, Edward, that she should hate me?”
Captain Arundel knitted his brows, and set himself to work out this womanly problem, but he could make nothing of it. Yes, what Mary had said was perfectly true: Olivia hated her. The young man had seen that upon the morning of the girl’s flight from Marchmont Towers; he had seen vengeful fury and vindictive passion raging in the dark face of John Marchmont’s widow. But what reason could the woman have for her hatred of this innocent girl? Again and again Olivia’s cousin asked himself this question; and he was so far away from the truth at last, that he could only answer it by imagining the lowest motive for the widow’s bad feeling. “She envies my poor little girl her fortune and position,” he thought.
“But you won’t leave me alone with my stepmother, will you, Edward?” Mary said, recurring to her old prayer. “I am not afraid of her, nor of anybody or anything in the world, while you are with me — how should I be? — but I think if I were to be alone with her again, I should die. She would speak to me again as she spoke upon the night of the ball, and her bitter taunts would kill me. I could not bear to be in her power again, Edward.”
“And you shall not, my darling,” answered the young man, enfolding the slender, trembling figure in his strong arms. “My own childish pet, you shall never be exposed to any woman’s insolence or tyranny. You shall be sheltered and protected, and hedged in on every side by your husband’s love. And when I go to India, you shall sail with me, my pearl. Mary, look up and smile at me, and let’s have no more talk of cruel stepmothers. How strange it seems to me, Polly dear, that you should have been so womanly when you were a child, and yet are so childlike now you are a woman!”
The mistress of Marchmont Towers looked doubtfully at her husband, as if she feared her childishness might be displeasing to him.
“You don’t love me any the less because of that, do you, Edward?” she asked timidly.
“Because of what, my treasure?”
“Because I am so — childish?”
“Polly,” cried the young man, “do you think Jupiter liked Hebe any the less because she was as fresh and innocent as the nectar she served out to him? If he had, my dear, he’d have sent for Clotho, or Atropos, or some one or other of the elderly maiden ladies of Hades, to wait upon him as cupbearer. I wouldn’t have you otherwise than you are, Polly, by so much as one thought.”
The girl looked up at her husband in a rapture of innocent affection.
“I am too happy, Edward,” she said, in a low awe-stricken whisper —“I am too happy! So much happiness can never last.”
Alas! the orphan girl’s experience of this life had early taught her the lesson which some people learn so late. She had learnt to distrust the equal blue of a summer sky, the glorious splendour of the blazing sunlight. She was accustomed to sorrow; but these brief glimpses of perfect happiness filled her with a dim sense of terror. She felt like some earthly wanderer who had strayed across the threshold of Paradise. In the midst of her delight and admiration, she trembled for the moment in which the ruthless angels, bearing flaming swords, should drive her from the celestial gates.
“It can’t last, Edward,” she murmured.
“Can’t last, Polly!” cried the young man; “why, my dove is transformed all at once into a raven. We have outlived our troubles, Polly, like the hero and heroine in one of your novels; and what is to prevent our living happy ever afterwards, like them? If you remember, my dear, no sorrows or trials ever fall to the lot of people after marriage. The persecutions, the separations, the estrangements, are all ante-nuptial. When once your true novelist gets his hero and heroine up to the altar-rails in real earnest — he gets them into the church sometimes, and then forbids the banns, or brings a former wife, or a rightful husband, pale and denouncing, from behind a pillar, and drives the wretched pair out again, to persecute them through three hundred pages more before he lets them get back again — but when once the important words are spoken and the knot tied, the story’s done, and the happy couple get forty or fifty years’ wedded bliss, as a set-off against the miseries they have endured in the troubled course of a twelvemonth’s courtship. That’s the sort of thing, isn’t it, Polly?”
The clock of St. Cross, sounding faintly athwart the meadows, struck three as the young man finished speaking.
“Three o’clock, Polly!” he cried; “we must go home, my pet. I mean to be businesslike to-day.”
Upon each day in that happy honeymoon holiday Captain Arundel had made some such declaration with regard to his intention of being businesslike; that is to say, setting himself deliberately to the task of writing those letters which should announce and explain his marriage to the people who had a right to hear of it. But the soldier had a dislike to all letter-writing, and a special horror of any epistolary communication which could come under the denomination of a business-letter; so the easy summer days slipped by — the delicious drowsy noontides, the soft and dreamy twilight, the tender moonlit nights — and the Captain put off the task for which he had no fancy, from after breakfast until after dinner, and from after dinner until after breakfast; always beguiled away from his open travelling-desk by a word from Mary, who called him to the window to look at a pretty child on the village green before the inn, or at the blacksmith’s dog, or the tinker’s donkey, or a tired Italian organ-boy who had strayed into that out-of-the-way nook, or at the smart butcher from Winchester, who rattled over in a pony-cart twice a week to take orders from the gentry round about, and to insult and defy the local purveyor, whose stock-in-trade generally seemed to consist of one leg of mutton and a dish of pig’s fry.
The young couple walked slowly through the meadows, crossing rustic wooden bridges that spanned the winding stream, loitering to look down into the clear water at the fish which Captain Arundel pointed out, but which Mary could never see; — that young lady always fixing her eyes upon some long trailing weed afloat in the transparent water, while the silvery trout indicated by her husband glided quietly away to the sedgy bottom of the stream. They lingered by the water-mill, beneath whose shadow some children were fishing; they seized upon every pretext for lengthening that sunny homeward walk, and only reached the inn as the village clocks were striking four, at which hour Captain Arundel had ordered dinner.
But after the simple little repast, mild and artless in its nature as the fair young spirit of the bride herself; after the landlord, sympathetic yet respectful, had in his own person attended upon his two guests; after the pretty rustic chamber had been cleared of all evidence of the meal that had been eaten, Edward Arundel began seriously to consider the business in hand.
“The letters must be written, Polly,” he said, seating himself at a table near the open window. Trailing branches of jasmine and honeysuckle made a framework round the diamond-paned casement; the perfumed blossoms blew into the room with every breath of the warm August breeze, and hung trembling in the folds of the chintz curtains. Mr. Arundel’s gaze wandered dreamily away through this open window to the primitive picture without — the scattered cottages upon the other side of the green, the cattle standing in the pond, the cackling geese hurrying homeward across the purple ridge of common, the village gossips loitering beneath the faded sign that hung before the low white tavern at the angle of the road. He looked at all these things as he flung his leathern desk upon the table, and made a great parade of unlocking and opening it.
“The letters must be written,” he repeated, with a smothered sigh. “Did you ever notice a peculiar property in stationery, Polly?”
Mrs. Edward Arundel only opened her brown eyes to their widest extent, and stared at her husband.
“No, I see you haven’t,” said the young man. “How should you, you fortunate Polly? You’ve never had to write any business-letters yet, though you are an heiress. The peculiarity of all stationery, my dear, is, that it is possessed of an intuitive knowledge of the object for which it is to be used. If one has to write an unpleasant letter, Polly, it might go a little smoother, you know; one might round one’s paragraphs, and spell the difficult words — the ‘believes’ and ‘receives,’ the ‘tills’ and ‘untils,’ and all that sort of thing — better with a pleasant pen, an easy-going, jolly, soft-nibbed quill, that would seem to say, ‘Cheer up, old fellow! I’ll carry you through it; we’ll get to “your very obedient servant” before you know where you are,’ and so on. But, bless your heart, Polly! let a poor unbusinesslike fellow try to write a business-letter, and everything goes against him. The pen knows what he’s at, and jibs, and stumbles, and shies about the paper, like a broken-down screw; the ink turns thick and lumpy; the paper gets as greasy as a London pavement after a fall of snow, till a poor fellow gives up, and knocks under to the force of circumstances. You see if my pen doesn’t splutter, Polly, the moment I address Richard Paulette.”
Captain Arundel was very careful in the adjustment of his sheet of paper, and began his letter with an air of resolution.
“White Hart Inn, Milldale, near Winchester, “August 14th.
“MY DEAR SIR,”
He wrote as much as this with great promptitude, and then, with his elbow on the table, fell to staring at his pretty young wife and drumming his fingers on his chin. Mary was sitting opposite her husband at the open window, working, or making a pretence of being occupied with some impossible fragment of Berlin wool-work, while she watched her husband.
“How pretty you look in that white frock, Polly!” said the soldier; “you call those things frocks, don’t you? And that blue sash, too — you ought always to wear white, Mary, like your namesakes abroad who are vouée au blanc by their faithful mothers, and who are a blessing to the laundresses for the first seven or fourteen years of their lives. What shall I say to Paulette? He’s such a jolly fellow, there oughtn’t to be much difficulty about the matter. ‘My dear sir,’ seems absurdly stiff; ‘my dear Paulette,’— that’s better — ‘I write this to inform you that your client, Miss Mary March ——’ What’s that, Polly?”
It was the postman, a youth upon a pony, with the afternoon letters from London. Captain Arundel flung down his pen and went to the window. He had some interest in this young man’s arrival, as he had left orders that such letters as were addressed to him at the hotel in Covent Garden should be forwarded to him at Milldale.
“I daresay there’s a letter from Germany, Polly,” he said eagerly. “My mother and Letitia are capital correspondents; I’ll wager anything there’s a letter, and I can answer it in the one I’m going to write this evening, and that’ll be killing two birds with one stone. I’ll run down to the postman, Polly.”
Captain Arundel had good reason to go after his letters, for there seemed little chance of those missives being brought to him. The youthful postman was standing in the porch drinking ale out of a ponderous earthenware mug, and talking to the landlord, when Edward went down.
“Any letters for me, Dick?” the Captain asked. He knew the Christian name of almost every visitor or hanger-on at the little inn, though he had not stayed there an entire fortnight, and was as popular and admired as if he had been some free-spoken young squire to whom all the land round about belonged.
“‘Ees, sir,” the young man answered, shuffling off his cap; “there be two letters for ye.”
He handed the two packets to Captain Arundel, who looked doubtfully at the address of the uppermost, which, like the other, had been re-directed by the people at the London hotel. The original address of this letter was in a handwriting that was strange to him; but it bore the postmark of the village from which the Dangerfield letters were sent.
The back of the inn looked into an orchard, and through an open door opposite to the porch Edward Arundel saw the low branches of the trees, and the ripening fruit red and golden in the afternoon sunlight. He went out into this orchard to read his letters, his mind a little disturbed by the strange handwriting upon the Dangerfield epistle.
The letter was from his father’s housekeeper, imploring him most earnestly to go down to the Park without delay. Squire Arundel had been stricken with paralysis, and was declared to be in imminent danger. Mrs. and Miss Arundel and Mr. Reginald were away in Germany. The faithful old servant implored the younger son to lose no time in hurrying home, if he wished to see his father alive.
The soldier leaned against the gnarled grey trunk of an old apple-tree, and stared at this letter with a white awe-stricken face.
What was he to do? He must go to his father, of course. He must go without a moment’s delay. He must catch the first train that would carry him westward from Southampton. There could be no question as to his duty. He must go; he must leave his young wife.
His heart sank with a sharp thrill of pain, and with perhaps some faint shuddering sense of an unknown terror, as he thought of this.
“It was lucky I didn’t write the letters,” he reflected; “no one will guess the secret of my darling’s retreat. She can stay here till I come back to her. God knows I shall hurry back the moment my duty sets me free. These people will take care of her. No one will know where to look for her. I’m very glad I didn’t write to Olivia. We were so happy this morning! Who could think that sorrow would come between us so soon?”
Captain Arundel looked at his watch. It was a quarter to six o’clock, and he knew that an express left Southampton for the west at eight. There would be time for him to catch that train with the help of a sturdy pony belonging to the landlord of the White Hart, which would rattle him over to the station in an hour and a half. There would be time for him to catch the train; but, oh! how little time to comfort his darling — how little time to reconcile his young wife to the temporary separation!
He hurried back to the porch, briefly explained to the landlord what had happened, ordered the pony and gig to be got ready immediately, and then went very, very slowly upstairs, to the room in which his young wife sat by the open window waiting for his return.
Mary looked up at his face as he entered the room, and that one glance told her of some new sorrow.
“Edward,” she cried, starting up from her chair with a look of terror, “my stepmother has come.”
Even in his trouble the young man smiled at his foolish wife’s all-absorbing fear of Olivia Marchmont.
“No, my darling,” he said; “I wish to heaven our worst trouble were the chance of your father’s widow breaking in upon us. Something has happened, Mary; something very sorrowful, very serious for me. My father is ill, Polly dear, dangerously ill, and I must go to him.”
Mary Arundel drew a long breath. Her face had grown very white, and the hands that were linked tightly round her husband’s arm trembled a little.
“I will try to bear it,” she said; “I will try to bear it.”
“God bless you, my darling!” the soldier answered fervently, clasping his young wife to his breast. “I know you will. It will be a very short parting, Mary dearest. I will come back to you directly I have seen my father. If he is worse, there will be little need for me to stop at Dangerfield; if he is better, I can take you back there with me. My own darling love, it is very bitter for us to be parted thus; but I know that you will bear it like a heroine. Won’t you, Polly?”
“I will try to bear it, dear.”
She said very little more than this, but clung about her husband, not with any desperate force, not with any clamorous and tumultuous grief, but with a half-despondent resignation; as a drowning man, whose strength is well-nigh exhausted, may cling, in his hopelessness, to a spar, which he knows he must presently abandon.
Mary Arundel followed her husband hither and thither while he made his brief and hurried preparations for the sudden journey; but although she was powerless to assist him — for her trembling hands let fall everything she tried to hold, and there was a mist before her eyes, which distorted and blotted the outline of every object she looked at — she hindered him by no noisy lamentations, she distressed him by no tears. She suffered, as it was her habit to suffer, quietly and uncomplainingly.
The sun was sinking when she went with Edward downstairs to the porch, before which the landlord’s pony and gig were in waiting, in custody of a smart lad who was to accompany Mr. Arundel to Southampton. There was no time for any protracted farewell. It was better so, perhaps, Edward thought. He would be back so soon, that the grief he felt in this parting — and it may be that his suffering was scarcely less than Mary’s — seemed wasted anguish, to which it would have been sheer cowardice to give way. But for all this the soldier very nearly broke down when he saw his childish wife’s piteous face, white in the evening sunlight, turned to him in mute appeal, as if the quivering lips would fain have entreated him to abandon all and to remain. He lifted the fragile figure in his arms — alas! it had never seemed so fragile as now — and covered the pale face with passionate kisses and fast-dropping tears.
“God bless and defend you, Mary! God keep ——”
He was ashamed of the huskiness of his voice, and putting his wife suddenly away from him, he sprang into the gig, snatched the reins from the boy’s hand, and drove away at the pony’s best speed. The old-fashioned vehicle disappeared in a cloud of dust; and Mary, looking after her husband with eyes that were as yet tearless, saw nothing but glaring light and confusion, and a pastoral landscape that reeled and heaved like a stormy sea.
It seemed to her, as she went slowly back to her room, and sat down amidst the disorder of open portmanteaus and overturned hatboxes, which the young man had thrown here and there in his hurried selection of the few things necessary for him to take on his hasty journey — it seemed as if the greatest calamity of her life had now befallen her. As hopelessly as she had thought of her father’s death, she now thought of Edward Arundel’s departure. She could not see beyond the acute anguish of this separation. She could not realise to herself that there was no cause for all this terrible sorrow; that the parting was only a temporary one; and that her husband would return to her in a few days at the furthest. Now that she was alone, now that the necessity for heroism was past, she abandoned herself utterly to the despair that had held possession of her soul from the moment in which Captain Arundel had told her of his father’s illness.
The sun went down behind the purple hills that sheltered the western side of the little village. The tree-tops in the orchard below the open window of Mrs. Arundel’s bedroom grew dim in the grey twilight. Little by little the sound of voices in the rooms below died away into stillness. The fresh rosy-cheeked country girl who had waited upon the young husband and wife, came into the sitting-room with a pair of wax-candles in old-fashioned silver candlesticks, and lingered in the room for a little time, expecting to receive some order from the lonely watcher. But Mary had locked the door of her bedchamber, and sat with her head upon the sill of the open window, looking out into the dim orchard. It was only when the stars glimmered in the tranquil sky that the girl’s blank despair gave way before a sudden burst of tears, and she flung herself down beside the white-curtained bed to pray for her young husband. She prayed for him in an ecstatic fervour of love and faith, carried away by the new hopefulness that arose out of her ardent supplications, and picturing him going triumphant on his course, to find his father out of danger — restored to health, perhaps — and to return to her before the stars glimmered through the darkness of another summer’s night. She prayed for him, hoping and believing everything; though at the hour in which she knelt, with the faint starlight shimmering upon her upturned face and clasped hands, Edward Arundel was lying, maimed and senseless, in the wretched waiting-room of a little railway-station in Dorsetshire, watched over by an obscure country surgeon, while the frightened officials scudded here and there in search of some vehicle in which the young man might be conveyed to the nearest town.
There had been one of those accidents which seem terribly common on every line of railway, however well managed. A signalman had mistaken one train for another; a flag had been dropped too soon; and the down-express had run into a heavy luggage-train blundering up from Exeter with farm-produce for the London markets. Two men had been killed, and a great many passengers hurt; some very seriously. Edward Arundel’s case was perhaps one of the most serious amongst these.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05