One of the minor effects of any great shock, any revolution, natural or political, social or domestic, is a singular unconsciousness, or an exaggerated estimate, of the passage of time. Sometimes we fancy that the common functions of the universe have come to a dead stop during the tempest which has shaken our being to its remotest depths. Sometimes, on the other hand, it seems to us that, because we have endured an age of suffering, or half a lifetime of bewildered joy, the terrestrial globe has spun round in time to the quickened throbbing of our passionate hearts, and that all the clocks upon earth have been standing still.
When the sun sank upon the summer’s day that was to have been the day of Belinda’s bridal, Edward Arundel thought that it was still early in the morning. He wondered at the rosy light all over the western sky, and that great ball of molten gold dropping down below the horizon. He was fain to look at his watch, in order to convince himself that the low light was really the familiar sun, and not some unnatural appearance in the heavens.
And yet, although he wondered at the closing of the day, with a strange inconsistency his mind could scarcely grapple with the idea that only last night he had sat by Belinda Lawford’s side, her betrothed husband, and had pondered, Heaven only knows with what sorrowful regret, upon the unknown grave in which his dead wife lay.
“I only knew it this morning,” he thought; “I only knew this morning that my young wife still lives, and that I have a son.”
He was sitting by the open window in Hester Jobson’s best bedroom. He was sitting in an old-fashioned easy-chair, placed between the head of the bed and the open window — a pure cottage window, with diamond panes of thin greenish glass, and a broad painted ledge, with a great jug of homely garden-flowers standing on it. The young man was sitting by the side of the bed upon which his newly-found wife and son lay asleep; the child’s head nestled on his mother’s breast, one flushed cheek peeping out of a tangled confusion of hazel-brown and babyish flaxen hair.
The white dimity curtains overshadowed the loving sleepers. The pretty fluffy knotted fringe — neat Hester’s handiwork — made fantastical tracery upon the sunlit counterpane. Mary slept with one arm folded round her child, and with her face turned to her husband. She had fallen asleep with her hand clasped in his, after a succession of fainting-fits that had left her terribly prostrate.
Edward Arundel watched that tender picture with a smile of ineffable affection.
“I can understand now why Roman Catholics worship the Virgin Mary,” he thought. “I can comprehend the inspiration that guided Raphael’s hand when he painted the Madonna de la Chaise. In all the world there is no picture so beautiful. From all the universe he could have chosen no subject more sublime. O my darling wife, given back to me out of the grave, restored to me — and not alone restored! My little son! my baby-son! whose feeble voice I heard that dark October night. To think that I was so wretched a dupe! to think that my dull ears could hear that sound, and no instinct rise up in my heart to reveal the presence of my child! I was so near them, not once, but several times — so near, and I never knew — I never guessed!”
He clenched his fists involuntarily at the remembrance of those purposeless visits to the lonely boat-house. His young wife was restored to him. But nothing could wipe away the long interval of agony in which he and she had been the dupe of a villanous trickster and a jealous woman. Nothing could give back the first year of that baby’s life — that year which should have been one long holiday of love and rejoicing. Upon what a dreary world those innocent eyes had opened, when they should have looked only upon sunshine and flowers, and the tender light of a loving father’s smile!
“O my darling, my darling!” the young husband thought, as he looked at his wife’s wan face, upon which the evidence of all that past agony was only too painfully visible — “how bitterly we two have suffered! But how much more terrible must have been your suffering than mine, my poor gentle darling, my broken lily!”
In his rapture at finding the wife he had mourned as dead, the young man had for a time almost forgotten the villanous plotter who had kept her hidden from him. But now, as he sat quietly by the bed upon which Mary and her baby lay, he had leisure to think of Paul Marchmont.
What was he to do with that man? What vengeance could he wreak upon the head of that wretch who, for nearly two years, had condemned an innocent girl to cruel suffering and shame? To shame; for Edward knew now that one of the most bitter tortures which Paul Marchmont had inflicted upon his cousin had been his pretended disbelief in her marriage.
“What can I do to him?” the young man asked himself. “What can I do to him? There is no personal chastisement worse than that which he has endured already at my hands. The scoundrel! the heartless villain! the false, cold-blooded cur! What can I do to him? I can only repeat that shameful degradation, and I will repeat it. This time he shall howl under the lash like some beaten hound. This time I will drag him through the village-street, and let every idle gossip in Kemberling see how a scoundrel writhes under an honest man’s whip. I will —”
Edward Arundel’s wife woke while he was thinking what chastisement he should inflict upon her deadly foe; and the baby opened his round innocent blue eyes in the next moment, and sat up, staring at his new parent.
Mr. Arundel took the child in his arms, and held him very tenderly, though perhaps rather awkwardly. The baby’s round eyes opened wider at sight of those golden absurdities dangling at his father’s watch-chain, and the little pudgy hands began to play with the big man’s lockets and seals.
“He comes to me, you see, Mary!” Edward said, with naïve wonder.
And then he turned the baby’s face towards him, and tenderly contemplated the bright surprised blue eyes, the tiny dimples, the soft moulded chin. I don’t know whether fatherly vanity prompted the fancy, but Edward Arundel certainly did believe that he saw some faint reflection of his own features in that pink and white baby-face; a shadowy resemblance, like a tremulous image looking up out of a river. But while Edward was half-thinking this, half-wondering whether there could be any likeness to him in that infant countenance, Mary settled the question with womanly decision.
“Isn’t he like you, Edward?” she whispered. “It was only for his sake that I bore my life all through that miserable time; and I don’t think I could have lived even for him, if he hadn’t been so like you. I used to look at his face sometimes for hours and hours together, crying over him, and thinking of you. I don’t think I ever cried except when he was in my arms. Then something seemed to soften my heart, and the tears came to my eyes. I was very, very, very ill, for a long time before my baby was born; and I didn’t know how the time went, or where I was. I used to fancy sometimes I was back in Oakley Street, and that papa was alive again, and that we were quite happy together, except for some heavy hammer that was always beating, beating, beating upon both our heads, and the dreadful sound of the river rushing down the street under our windows. I heard Mr. Weston tell his wife that it was a miracle I lived through that time.”
Hester Jobson came in presently with a tea-tray, that made itself heard, by a jingling of teaspoons and rattling of cups and saucers, all the way up the narrow staircase.
The friendly carpenter’s wife had produced her best china and her silver teapot — an heirloom inherited from a wealthy maiden aunt of her husband’s. She had been busy all the afternoon, preparing that elegant little collation of cake and fruit which accompanied the tea-tray; and she spread the lavender-scented table-cloth, and arranged the cups and saucers, the plates and dishes, with mingled pride and delight.
But she had to endure a terrible disappointment by-and-by; for neither of her guests was in a condition to do justice to her hospitality. Mary got up and sat in the roomy easy-chair, propped up with pillows. Her pensive eyes kept a loving watch upon the face of her husband, turned towards her own, and slightly crimsoned by that rosy flush fading out in the western sky. She sat up and sipped a cup of tea; and in that lovely summer twilight, with the scent of the flowers blowing in through the open window, and a stupid moth doing his best to beat out his brains against one of the diamond panes in the lattice, the tortured heart, for the first time since the ruthless close of that brief honeymoon, felt the heavenly delight of repose.
“O Edward!” murmured the young wife, “how strange it seems to be happy!”
He was at her feet, half-kneeling, half-sitting on a hassock of Hester’s handiwork, with both his wife’s hands clasped in his, and his head leaning upon the arm of her chair. Hester Jobson had carried off the baby, and these two were quite alone, all in all to each other, with a cruel gap of two years to be bridged over by sorrowful memories, by tender words of consolation. They were alone, and they could talk quite freely now, without fear of interruption; for although in purity and beauty an infant is first cousin to the angels, and although I most heartily concur in all that Mr. Bennett and Mr. Buchanan can say or sing about the species, still it must be owned that a baby is rather a hindrance to conversation, and that a man’s eloquence does not flow quite so smoothly when he has to stop every now and then to rescue his infant son from the imminent peril of strangulation, caused by a futile attempt at swallowing one of his own fists.
Mary and Edward were alone; they were together once more, as they had been by the trout-stream in the Winchester meadows. A curtain had fallen upon all the wreck and ruin of the past, and they could hear the soft, mysterious music that was to be the prelude of a new act in life’s drama.
“I shall try to forget all that time,” Mary said presently; “I shall try to forget it, Edward. I think the very memory of it would kill me, if it was to come back perpetually in the midst of my joy, as it does now, even now, when I am so happy — so happy that I dare not speak of my happiness.”
She stopped, and her face drooped upon her husband’s clustering hair.
“You are crying, Mary!”
“Yes, dear. There is something painful in happiness when it comes after such suffering.”
The young man lifted his head, and looked in his wife’s face. How deathly pale it was, even in that shadowy twilight; how worn and haggard and wasted since it had smiled at him in his brief honeymoon. Yes, joy is painful when it comes after a long continuance of suffering; it is painful because we have become sceptical by reason of the endurance of such anguish. We have lost the power to believe in happiness. It comes, the bright stranger; but we shrink appalled from its beauty, lest, after all, it should be nothing but a phantom.
Heaven knows how anxiously Edward Arundel looked at his wife’s altered face. Her eyes shone upon him with the holy light of love. She smiled at him with a tender, reassuring smile; but it seemed to him that there was something almost supernal in the brightness of that white, wasted face; something that reminded him of the countenance of a martyr who has ceased to suffer the anguish of death in a foretaste of the joys of Heaven.
“Mary,” he said, presently, “tell me every cruelty that Paul Marchmont or his tools inflicted upon you; tell me everything, and I will never speak of our miserable separation again. I will only punish the cause of it,” he added, in an undertone. “Tell me, dear. It will be painful for you to speak of it; but it will be only once. There are some things I must know. Remember, darling, that you are in my arms now, and that nothing but death can ever again part us.”
The young man had his arms round his wife. He felt, rather than heard, a low plaintive sigh as he spoke those last words.
“Nothing but death, Edward; nothing but death,” Mary said, in a solemn whisper. “Death would not come to me when I was very miserable. I used to pray that I might die, and the baby too; for I could not have borne to leave him behind. I thought that we might both be buried with you, Edward. I have dreamt sometimes that I was lying by your side in a tomb, and I have stretched out my dead hand to clasp yours. I used to beg and entreat them to let me be buried with you when I died; for I believed that you were dead, Edward. I believed it most firmly. I had not even one lingering hope that you were alive. If I had felt such a hope, no power upon earth would have kept me prisoner.”
“The wretches!” muttered Edward between his set teeth; “the dastardly wretches! the foul liars!”
“Don’t, Edward; don’t, darling. There is a pain in my heart when I hear you speak like that. I know how wicked they have been; how cruel — how cruel. I look back at all my suffering as if it were some one else who suffered; for now that you are with me I cannot believe that miserable, lonely, despairing creature was really me, the same creature whose head now rests upon your shoulder, whose breath is mixed with yours. I look back and see all my past misery, and I cannot forgive them, Edward; I am very wicked, for I cannot forgive my cousin Paul and his sister — yet. But I don’t want you to speak of them; I only want you to love me; I only want you to smile at me, and tell me again and again and again that nothing can part us now — but death.”
She paused for a few moments, exhausted by having spoken so long. Her head lay upon her husband’s shoulder, and she clung a little closer to him, with a slight shiver.
“What is the matter, darling?”
“I feel as if it couldn’t be real.”
“The present — all this joy. Edward, is it real? Is it — is it? Or am I only dreaming? Shall I wake presently and feel the cold air blowing in at the window, and see the moonlight on the wainscot at Stony Stringford? Is it all real?”
“It is, my precious one. As real as the mercy of God, who will give you compensation for all you have suffered; as real as God’s vengeance, which will fall most heavily upon your persecutors. And now, darling, tell me — tell me all. I must know the story of these two miserable years during which I have mourned for my lost love.”
Mr. Arundel forgot to mention that during those two miserable years he had engaged himself to become the husband of another woman. But perhaps, even when he is best and truest, a man is always just a shade behind a woman in the matter of constancy.
“When you left me in Hampshire, Edward, I was very, very miserable,” Mary began, in a low voice; “but I knew that it was selfish and wicked of me to think only of myself. I tried to think of your poor father, who was ill and suffering; and I prayed for him, and hoped that he would recover, and that you would come back to me very soon. The people at the inn were very kind to me. I sat at the window from morning till night upon the day after you left me, and upon the day after that; for I was so foolish as to fancy, every time I heard the sound of horses’ hoofs or carriage-wheels upon the high-road, that you were coming back to me, and that all my grief was over. I sat at the window and watched the road till I knew the shape of every tree and housetop, every ragged branch of the hawthorn-bushes in the hedge. At last — it was the third day after you went away — I heard carriage-wheels, that slackened as they came to the inn. A fly stopped at the door, and oh, Edward, I did not wait to see who was in it — I never imagined the possibility of its bringing anybody but you. I ran down-stairs, with my heart beating so that I could hardly breathe; and I scarcely felt the stairs under my feet. But when I got to the door — O my love, my love! — I cannot bear to think of it; I cannot endure the recollection of it —”
She stopped, gasping for breath, and clinging to her husband; and then, with an effort, went on again:
“Yes; I will tell you, dear; I must tell you. My cousin Paul and my stepmother were standing in the little hall at the foot of the stairs. I think I fainted in my stepmother’s arms; and when my consciousness came back, I was in our sitting-room — the pretty rustic room, Edward, in which you and I had been so happy together.
“I must not stop to tell you everything. It would take me so long to speak of all that happened in that miserable time. I knew that something must be wrong, from my cousin Paul’s manner; but neither he nor my stepmother would tell me what it was. I asked them if you were dead; but they said, ‘No, you were not dead.’ Still I could see that something dreadful had happened. But by-and-by, by accident, I saw your name in a newspaper that was lying on the table with Paul’s hat and gloves. I saw the description of an accident on the railway, by which I knew you had travelled. My heart sank at once, and I think I guessed all that had happened. I read your name amongst those of the people who had been dangerously hurt. Paul shook his head when I asked him if there was any hope.
“They brought me back here. I scarcely know how I came, how I endured all that misery. I implored them to let me come to you, again and again, on my knees at their feet. But neither of them would listen to me. It was impossible, Paul said. He always seemed very, very kind to me; always spoke softly; always told me that he pitied me, and was sorry for me. But though my stepmother looked sternly at me, and spoke, as she always used to speak, in a harsh, cold voice, I sometimes think she might have given way at last and let me come to you, but for him — but for my cousin Paul. He could look at me with a smile upon his face when I was almost mad with my misery; and he never wavered; he never hesitated.
“So they took me back to the Towers. I let them take me; for I scarcely felt my sorrow any longer. I only felt tired; oh, so dreadfully tired; and I wanted to lie down upon the ground in some quiet place, where no one could come near me. I thought that I was dying. I believe I was very ill when we got back to the Towers. My stepmother and Barbara Simmons watched by my bedside, day after day, night after night. Sometimes I knew them; sometimes I had all sorts of fancies. And often — ah, how often, darling! — I thought that you were with me. My cousin Paul came every day, and stood by my bedside. I can’t tell you how hateful it was to me to have him there. He used to come into the room as silently as if he had been walking upon snow; but however noiselessly he came, however fast asleep I was when he entered the room, I always knew that he was there, standing by my bedside, smiling at me. I always woke with a shuddering horror thrilling through my veins, as if a rat had run across my face.
“By-and-by, when the delirium was quite gone, I felt ashamed of myself for this. It seemed so wicked to feel this unreasonable antipathy to my dear father’s cousin; but he had brought me bad news of you, Edward, and it was scarcely strange that I should hate him. One day he sat down by my bedside, when I was getting better, and was strong enough to talk. There was no one besides ourselves in the room, except my stepmother, and she was standing at the window, with her head turned away from us, looking out. My cousin Paul sat down by the bedside, and began to talk to me in that gentle, compassionate way that used to torture me and irritate me in spite of myself.
“He asked me what had happened to me after my leaving the Towers on the day after the ball.
“I told him everything, Edward — about your coming to me in Oakley Street; about our marriage. But, oh, my darling, my husband, he wouldn’t believe me; he wouldn’t believe. Nothing that I could say would make him believe me. Though I swore to him again and again — by my dead father in heaven, as I hoped for the mercy of my God — that I had spoken the truth, and the truth only, he wouldn’t believe me; he wouldn’t believe. He shook his head, and said he scarcely wondered I should try to deceive him; that it was a very sad story, a very miserable and shameful story, and my attempted falsehood was little more than natural.
“And then he spoke against you, Edward — against you. He talked of my childish ignorance, my confiding love, and your villany. O Edward, he said such shameful things; such shameful, horrible things! You had plotted to become master of my fortune; to get me into your power, because of my money; and you had not married me. You had not married me; he persisted in saying that.
“I was delirious again after this; almost mad, I think. All through the delirium I kept telling my cousin Paul of our marriage. Though he was very seldom in the room, I constantly thought that he was there, and told him the same thing — the same thing — till my brain was on fire. I don’t know how long it lasted. I know that, once in the middle of the night, I saw my stepmother lying upon the ground, sobbing aloud and crying out about her wickedness; crying out that God would never forgive her sin.
“I got better at last, and then I went downstairs; and I used to sit sometimes in poor papa’s study. The blind was always down, and none of the servants, except Barbara Simmons, ever came into the room. My cousin Paul did not live at the Towers; but he came there every day, and often stayed there all day. He seemed the master of the house. My stepmother obeyed him in everything, and consulted him about everything.
“Sometimes Mrs. Weston came. She was like her brother. She always smiled at me with a grave compassionate smile, just like his; and she always seemed to pity me. But she wouldn’t believe in my marriage. She spoke cruelly about you, Edward; cruelly, but in soft words, that seemed only spoken out of compassion for me. No one would believe in my marriage.
“No stranger was allowed to see me. I was never suffered to go out. They treated me as if I was some shameful creature, who must be hidden away from the sight of the world.
“One day I entreated my cousin Paul to go to London and see Mrs. Pimpernel. She would be able to tell him of our marriage. I had forgotten the name of the clergyman who married us, and the church at which we were married. And I could not tell Paul those; but I gave him Mrs. Pimpernel’s address. And I wrote to her, begging her to tell my cousin, all about my marriage; and I gave him the note unsealed.
“He went to London about a week afterwards; and when he came back, he brought me my note. He had been to Oakley Street, he said; but Mrs. Pimpernel had left the neighbourhood, and no one knew where she was gone.”
“A lie! a villanous lie!” muttered Edward Arundel. “Oh, the scoundrel! the infernal scoundrel!”
“No words would ever tell the misery of that time; the bitter anguish; the unendurable suspense. When I asked them about you, they would tell me nothing. Sometimes I thought that you had forgotten me; that you had only married me out of pity for my loneliness; and that you were glad to be freed from me. Oh, forgive me, Edward, for that wicked thought; but I was so very miserable, so utterly desolate. At other times I fancied that you were very ill, helpless, and unable to come to me. I dared not think that you were dead. I put away that thought from me with all my might; but it haunted me day and night. It was with me always like a ghost. I tried to shut it away from my sight; but I knew that it was there.
“The days were all alike — long, dreary, and desolate; so I scarcely know how the time went. My stepmother brought me religious books, and told me to read them; but they were hard, difficult books, and I couldn’t find one word of comfort in them. They must have been written to frighten very obstinate and wicked people, I think. The only book that ever gave me any comfort, was that dear Book I used to read to papa on a Sunday evening in Oakley Street. I read that, Edward, in those miserable days; I read the story of the widow’s only son who was raised up from the dead because his mother was so wretched without him. I read that sweet, tender story again and again, until I used to see the funeral train, the pale, still face upon the bier, the white, uplifted hand, and that sublime and lovely countenance, whose image always comes to us when we are most miserable, the tremulous light upon the golden hair, and in the distance the glimmering columns of white temples, the palm-trees standing out against the purple Eastern sky. I thought that He who raised up a miserable woman’s son chiefly because he was her only son, and she was desolate without him, would have more pity upon me than the God in Olivia’s books: and I prayed to Him, Edward, night and day, imploring Him to bring you back to me.
“I don’t know what day it was, except that it was autumn, and the dead leaves were blowing about in the quadrangle, when my stepmother sent for me one afternoon to my room, where I was sitting, not reading, not even thinking — only sitting with my head upon my hands, staring stupidly out at the drifting leaves and the gray, cold sky. My stepmother was in papa’s study; and I was to go to her there. I went, and found her standing there, with a letter crumpled up in her clenched hand, and a slip of newspaper lying on the table before her. She was as white as death, and she was trembling violently from head to foot.
“‘See,’ she said, pointing to the paper; ‘your lover is dead. But for you he would have received the letter that told him of his father’s illness upon an earlier day; he would have gone to Devonshire by a different train. It was by your doing that he travelled when he did. If this is true, and he is dead, his blood be upon your head; his blood be upon your head!’
“I think her cruel words were almost exactly those. I did not hope for a minute that those horrible lines in the newspaper were false. I thought they must be true, and I was mad, Edward — I was mad; for utter despair came to me with the knowledge of your death. I went to my own room, and put on my bonnet and shawl; and then I went out of the house, down into that dreary wood, and along the narrow pathway by the river-side. I wanted to drown myself; but the sight of the black water filled me with a shuddering horror. I was frightened, Edward; and I went on by the river, scarcely knowing where I was going, until it was quite dark; and I was tired, and sat down upon the damp ground by the brink of the river, all amongst the broad green flags and the wet rushes. I sat there for hours, and I saw the stars shining feebly in a dark sky. I think I was delirious, for sometimes I knew that I was there by the water side, and then the next minute I thought that I was in my bedroom at the Towers; sometimes I fancied that I was with you in the meadows near Winchester, and the sun was shining, and you were sitting by my side, and I could see your float dancing up and down in the sunlit water. At last, after I had been there a very, very long time, two people came with a lantern, a man and a woman; and I heard a startled voice say, ‘Here she is; here, lying on the ground!’ And then another voice, a woman’s voice, very low and frightened, said, ‘Alive!’ And then two people lifted me up; the man carried me in his arms, and the woman took the lantern. I couldn’t speak to them; but I knew that they were my cousin Paul and his sister, Mrs. Weston. I remember being carried some distance in Paul’s arms; and then I think I must have fainted away, for I can recollect nothing more until I woke up one day and found myself lying in a bed in the pavilion over the boat-house, with Mr. Weston watching by my bedside.
“I don’t know how the time passed; I only know that it seemed endless. I think my illness was rheumatic fever, caught by lying on the damp ground nearly all that night when I ran away from the Towers. A long time went by — there was frost and snow. I saw the river once out of the window when I was lifted out of bed for an hour or two, and it was frozen; and once at midnight I heard the Kemberling church-bells ringing in the New Year. I was very ill, but I had no doctor; and all that time I saw no one but my cousin Paul, and Lavinia Weston, and a servant called Betsy, a rough country girl, who took care of me when my cousins were away. They were kind to me, and took great care of me.”
“You did not see Olivia, then, all this time?” Edward asked eagerly.
“No; I did not see my stepmother till some time after the New Year began. She came in suddenly one evening, when Mrs. Weston was with me, and at first she seemed frightened at seeing me. She spoke to me kindly afterwards, but in a strange, terror-stricken voice; and she laid her head down upon the counterpane of the bed, and sobbed aloud; and then Paul took her away, and spoke to her cruelly, very cruelly — taunting her with her love for you. I never understood till then why she hated me: but I pitied her after that; yes, Edward, miserable as I was, I pitied her, because you had never loved her. In all my wretchedness I was happier than her; for you had loved me, Edward — you had loved me!”
Mary lifted her face to her husband’s lips, and those dear lips were pressed tenderly upon her pale forehead.
“O my love, my love!” the young man murmured; “my poor suffering angel! Can God ever forgive these people for their cruelty to you? But, my darling, why did you make no effort to escape?”
“I was too ill to move; I believed that I was dying.”
“But afterwards, darling, when you were better, stronger — did you make no effort then to escape from your persecutors?”
Mary shook her head mournfully.
“Why should I try to escape from them?” she said. “What was there for me beyond that place? It was as well for me to be there as anywhere else. I thought you were dead, Edward; I thought you were dead, and life held nothing more for me. I could do nothing but wait till He who raised the widow’s son should have pity upon me, and take me to the heaven where I thought you and papa had gone before me. I didn’t want to go away from those dreary rooms over the boat-house. What did it matter to me whether I was there or at Marchmont Towers? I thought you were dead, and all the glories and grandeurs of the world were nothing to me. Nobody ill-treated me; I was let alone. Mrs. Weston told me that it was for my own sake they kept me hidden from everybody about the Towers. I was a poor disgraced girl, she told me; and it was best for me to stop quietly in the pavilion till people had got tired of talking of me, and then my cousin Paul would take me away to the Continent, where no one would know who I was. She told me that the honour of my father’s name, and of my family altogether, would be saved by this means. I replied that I had brought no dishonour on my dear father’s name; but she only shook her head mournfully, and I was too weak to dispute with her. What did it matter? I thought you were dead, and that the world was finished for me. I sat day after day by the window; not looking out, for there was a Venetian blind that my cousin Paul had nailed down to the window-sill, and I could only see glimpses of the water through the long, narrow openings between the laths. I used to sit there listening to the moaning of the wind amongst the trees, or the sounds of horses’ feet upon the towing-path, or the rain dripping into the river upon wet days. I think that even in my deepest misery God was good to me, for my mind sank into a dull apathy, and I seemed to lose even the capacity of suffering.
“One day — one day in March, when the wind was howling, and the smoke blew down the narrow chimney and filled the room — Mrs. Weston brought her husband, and he talked to me a little, and then talked to his wife in whispers. He seemed terribly frightened, and he trembled all the time, and kept saying, ‘Poor thing; poor young woman!’ but his wife was cross to him, and wouldn’t let him stop long in the room. After that, Mr. Weston came very often, always with Lavinia, who seemed cleverer than he was, even as a doctor; for she dictated to him, and ordered him about in everything. Then, by-and-by, when the birds were singing, and the warm sunshine came into the room, my baby was born, Edward; my baby was born. I thought that God, who raised the widow’s son, had heard my prayer, and had raised you up from the dead; for the baby’s eyes were like yours, and I used to think sometimes that your soul was looking out of them and comforting me.
“Do you remember that poor foolish German woman who believed that the spirit of a dead king came to her in the shape of a blackbird? She was not a good woman, I know, dear; but she must have loved the king very truly, or she never could have believed anything so foolish. I don’t believe in people’s love when they love ‘wisely,’ Edward: the truest love is that which loves ‘too well.’
“From the time of my baby’s birth everything was changed. I was more miserable, perhaps, because that dull, dead apathy cleared away, and my memory came back, and I thought of you, dear, and cried over my little angel’s face as he slept. But I wasn’t alone any longer. The world seemed narrowed into the little circle round my darling’s cradle. I don’t think he is like other babies, Edward. I think he has known of my sorrow from the very first, and has tried in his mute way to comfort me. The God who worked so many miracles, all separate tokens of His love and tenderness and pity for the sorrows of mankind, could easily make my baby different from other children, for a wretched mother’s consolation.
“In the autumn after my darling’s birth, Paul and his sister came for me one night, and took me away from the pavilion by the water to a deserted farmhouse, where there was a woman to wait upon me and take care of me. She was not unkind to me, but she was rather neglectful of me. I did not mind that, for I wanted nothing except to be alone with my precious boy — your son, Edward; your son. The woman let me walk in the garden sometimes. It was a neglected garden, but there were bright flowers growing wild, and when the spring came again my pet used to lie on the grass and play with the buttercups and daisies that I threw into his lap; and I think we were both of us happier and better than we had been in those two close rooms over the boat-house.
“I have told you all now, Edward, all except what happened this morning, when my stepmother and Hester Jobson came into my room in the early daybreak, and told me that I had been deceived, and that you were alive. My stepmother threw herself upon her knees at my feet, and asked me to forgive her, for she was a miserable sinner, she said, who had been abandoned by God; and I forgave her, Edward, and kissed her; and you must forgive her too, dear, for I know that she has been very, very wretched. And she took the baby in her arms, and kissed him — oh, so passionately! — and cried over him. And then they brought me here in Mr. Jobson’s cart, for Mr. Jobson was with them, and Hester held me in her arms all the time. And then, darling, then after a long time you came to me.”
Edward put his arms round his wife, and kissed her once more. “We will never speak of this again, darling,” he said. “I know all now; I understand it all. I will never again distress you by speaking of your cruel wrongs.”
“And you will forgive Olivia, dear?”
“Yes, my pet, I will forgive — Olivia.”
He said no more, for there was a footstep on the stair, and a glimmer of light shone through the crevices of the door. Hester Jobson came into the room with a pair of lighted wax-candles, in white crockery-ware candlesticks. But Hester was not alone; close behind her came a lady in a rustling silk gown, a tall matronly lady, who cried out —
“Where is she, Edward? Where is she? Let me see this poor ill-used child.”
It was Mrs. Arundel, who had come to Kemberling to see her newly-found daughter-in-law.
“Oh, my dear mother,” cried the young man, “how good of you to come! Now, Mary, you need never again know what it is to want a protector, a tender womanly protector, who will shelter you from every harm.”
Mary got up and went to Mrs. Arundel, who opened her arms to receive her son’s young wife. But before she folded Mary to her friendly breast, she took the girl’s two hands in hers, and looked earnestly at her pale, wasted face.
She gave a long sigh as she contemplated those wan features, the shining light in the eyes, that looked unnaturally large by reason of the girl’s hollow cheeks.
“Oh, my dear,” cried Mrs. Arundel, “my poor long-suffering child, how cruelly they have treated you!”
Edward looked at his mother, frightened by the earnestness of her manner; but she smiled at him with a bright, reassuring look.
“I shall take you home to Dangerfield with me, my poor love,” she said to Mary; “and I shall nurse you, and make you as plump as a partridge, my poor wasted pet. And I’ll be a mother to you, my motherless child. Oh, to think that there should be any wretch vile enough to — But I won’t agitate you, my dear. I’ll take you away from this bleak horrid county by the first train to-morrow morning, and you shall sleep to-morrow night in the blue bedroom at Dangerfield, with the roses and myrtles waving against your window; and Edward shall go with us, and you shan’t come back here till you are well and strong; and you’ll try and love me, won’t you, dear? And, oh, Edward, I’ve seen the boy! and he’s a superb creature, the very image of what you were at a twelvemonth old; and he came to me, and smiled at me, almost as if he knew I was his grandmother; and he has got FIVE teeth, but I’m sorry to tell you he’s cutting them crossways, the top first instead of the bottom, Hester says.”
“And Belinda, mother dear?” Edward said presently, in a grave undertone.
“Belinda is an angel,” Mrs. Arundel answered, quite as gravely. “She has been in her own room all day, and no one has seen her but her mother; but she came down to the hall as I was leaving the house this evening, and said to me, ‘Dear Mrs. Arundel, tell him that he must not think I am so selfish as to be sorry for what has happened. Tell him that I am very glad to think his young wife has been saved.’ She put her hand up to my lips to stop my speaking, and then went back again to her room; and if that isn’t acting like an angel, I don’t know what is.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05