Paul Marchmont did not leave Stony–Stringford Farmhouse till dusk upon that bright summer’s day; and the friendly twilight is slow to come in the early days of July, however a man may loathe the sunshine. Paul Marchmont stopped at the deserted farmhouse, wandering in and out of the empty rooms, strolling listlessly about the neglected garden, or coming to a dead stop sometimes, and standing stock-still for ten minutes at a time, staring at the wall before him, and counting the slimy traces of the snails upon the branches of a plum-tree, or the flies in a spider’s web. Paul Marchmont was afraid to leave that lonely farmhouse. He was afraid as yet. He scarcely knew what he feared, for a kind of stupor had succeeded the violent emotions of the past few hours; and the time slipped by him, and his brain grew bewildered when he tried to realise his position.
It was very difficult for him to do this. The calamity that had come upon him was a calamity that he had never anticipated. He was a clever man, and he had put his trust in his own cleverness. He had never expected to be found out.
Until this hour everything had been in his favour. His dupes and victims had played into his hands. Mary’s grief, which had rendered her a passive creature, utterly indifferent to her own fate — her peculiar education, which had taught her everything except knowledge of the world in which she was to live — had enabled Paul Marchmont to carry out a scheme so infamous and daring that it was beyond the suspicion of honest men, almost too base for the comprehension of ordinary villains.
He had never expected to be found out. All his plans had been deliberately and carefully prepared. Immediately after Edward’s marriage and safe departure for the Continent, Paul had intended to convey Mary and the child, with the grim attendant whom he had engaged for them, far away, to one of the remotest villages in Wales.
Alone he would have done this; travelling by night, and trusting no one; for the hired attendant knew nothing of Mary’s real position. She had been told that the girl was a poor relation of Paul’s, and that her story was a very sorrowful one. If the poor creature had strange fancies and delusions, it was no more than might be expected; for she had suffered enough to turn a stronger brain than her own. Everything had been arranged, and so cleverly arranged, that Mary and the child would disappear after dusk one summer’s evening, and not even Lavinia Weston would be told whither they had gone.
Paul had never expected to be found out. But he had least of all expected betrayal from the quarter whence it had come. He had made Olivia his tool; but he had acted cautiously even with her. He had confided nothing to her; and although she had suspected some foul play in the matter of Mary’s disappearance, she had been certain of nothing. She had uttered no falsehood when she swore to Edward Arundel that she did not know where his wife was. But for her accidental discovery of the secret of the pavilion, she would never have known of Mary’s existence after that October afternoon on which the girl left Marchmont Towers.
But here Paul had been betrayed by the carelessness of the hired girl who acted as Mary Arundel’s gaoler and attendant. It was Olivia’s habit to wander often in that dreary wood by the water during the winter in which Mary was kept prisoner in the pavilion over the boat-house. Lavinia Weston and Paul Marchmont spent each of them a great deal of their time in the pavilion; but they could not be always on guard there. There was the world to be hoodwinked; and the surgeon’s wife had to perform all her duties as a matron before the face of Kemberling, and had to give some plausible account of her frequent visits to the boat-house. Paul liked the place for his painting, Mrs. Weston informed her friends; and he was so enthusiastic in his love of art, that it was really a pleasure to participate in his enthusiasm; so she liked to sit with him, and talk to him or read to him while he painted. This explanation was quite enough for Kemberling; and Mrs. Weston went to the pavilion at Marchmont Towers three or four times a week without causing any scandal thereby.
But however well you may manage things yourself, it is not always easy to secure the careful co-operation of the people you employ. Betsy Murrel was a stupid, narrow-minded young person, who was very safe so far as regarded the possibility of any sympathy with, or compassion for, Mary Arundel arising in her stolid nature; but the stupid stolidity which made her safe in one way rendered her dangerous in another. One day, while Mrs. Weston was with the hapless young prisoner, Miss Murrel went out upon the water-side to converse with a good-looking young bargeman, who was a connexion of her family, and perhaps an admirer of the young lady herself; and the door of the painting-room being left wide open, Olivia Marchmont wandered listlessly into the pavilion — there was a dismal fascination for her in that spot, on which she had heard Edward Arundel declare his love for John Marchmont’s daughter — and heard Mary’s voice in the chamber at the top of the stone steps.
This was how Olivia had surprised Paul’s secret; and from that hour it had been the artist’s business to rule this woman by the only weapon which he possessed against her — her own secret, her own weak folly, her mad love of Edward Arundel and jealous hatred of the woman whom he had loved. This weapon was a very powerful one, and Paul used it unsparingly.
When the woman who, for seven-and-twenty years of her life, had lived without sin; who from the hour in which she had been old enough to know right from wrong, until Edward Arundel’s second return from India, had sternly done her duty — when this woman, who little by little had slipped away from her high standing-point and sunk down into a morass of sin; when this woman remonstrated with Mr. Marchmont, he turned upon her and lashed her with the scourge of her own folly.
“You come and upbraid me,” he said, “and you call me villain and arch-traitor, and say that you cannot abide this, your sin; and that your guilt, in keeping our secret, cries to you in the dead hours of the night; and you call upon me to undo what I have done, and to restore Mary Marchmont to her rights. Do you remember what her highest right is? Do you remember that which I must restore to her when I give her back this house and the income that goes along with it? If I restore Marchmont Towers, I must restore to her Edward Arundel’s love! You have forgotten that, perhaps. If she ever re-enters this house, she will come back to it leaning on his arm. You will see them together — you will hear of their happiness; and do you think that he will ever forgive you for your part of the conspiracy? Yes, it is a conspiracy, if you like; if you are not afraid to call it by a hard name, why should I fear to do so? Will he ever forgive you, do you think, when he knows that his young wife has been the victim of a senseless, vicious love? Yes, Olivia Marchmont; any love is vicious which is given unsought, and is so strong a passion, so blind and unreasoning a folly, that honour, mercy, truth, and Christianity are trampled down before it. How will you endure Edward Arundel’s contempt for you? How will you tolerate his love for Mary, multiplied twentyfold by all this romantic business of separation and persecution?
“You talk to me of my sin. Who was it who first sinned? Who was it who drove Mary Marchmont from this house — not once only, but twice, by her cruelty? Who was it who persecuted her and tortured her day by day and hour by hour, not openly, not with an uplifted hand or blows that could be warded off, but by cruel hints and inuendoes, by unwomanly sneers and hellish taunts? Look into your heart, Olivia Marchmont; and when you make atonement for your sin, I will make restitution for mine. In the meantime, if this business is painful to you, the way lies open before you: go and take Edward Arundel to the pavilion yonder, and give him back his wife; give the lie to all your past life, and restore these devoted young lovers to each other’s arms.”
This weapon never failed in its effect. Olivia Marchmont might loathe herself, and her sin, and her life, which was made hideous to her because of her sin; but she could not bring herself to restore Mary to her lover-husband; she could not tolerate the idea of their happiness. Every night she grovelled on her knees, and swore to her offended God that she would do this thing, she would render this sacrifice of atonement; but every morning, when her weary eyes opened on the hateful sunlight, she cried, “Not to-day — not to-day.”
Again and again, during Edward Arundel’s residence at Kemberling Retreat, she had set out from Marchmont Towers with the intention of revealing to him the place where his young wife was hidden; but, again and again, she had turned back and left her work undone. She could not — she could not. In the dead of the night, under pouring rain, with the bleak winds of winter blowing in her face, she had set out upon that unfinished journey, only to stop midway, and cry out, “No, no, no — not to-night; I cannot endure it yet!”
It was only when another and a fiercer jealousy was awakened in this woman’s breast, that she arose all at once, strong, resolute, and undaunted, to do the work she had so miserably deferred. As one poison is said to neutralise the evil power of another, so Olivia Marchmont’s jealousy of Belinda seemed to blot out and extinguish her hatred of Mary. Better anything than that Edward Arundel should have a new, and perhaps a fairer, bride. The jealous woman had always looked upon Mary Marchmont as a despicable rival. Better that Edward should be tied to this girl, than that he should rejoice in the smiles of a lovelier woman, worthier of his affection. This was the feeling paramount in Olivia’s breast, although she was herself half unconscious how entirely this was the motive power which had given her new strength and resolution. She tried to think that it was the awakening of her conscience that had made her strong enough to do this one good work; but in the semi-darkness of her own mind there was still a feeble glimmer of the light of truth, and it was this that had prompted her to cry out on her knees before the altar in Hillingsworth church, and declare the sinfulness of her nature.
Paul Marchmont stopped several times before the ragged, untrimmed fruit-trees in his purposeless wanderings in the neglected garden at Stony Stringford, before the vaporous confusion cleared away from his brain, and he was able to understand what had happened to him.
His first reasonable action was to take out his watch; but even then he stood for some moments staring at the dial before he remembered why he had taken the watch from his pocket, or what it was that he wanted to know. By Mr. Marchmont’s chronometer it was ten minutes past seven o’clock; but the watch had been unwound upon the previous night, and had run down. Paul put it back in his waistcoat-pocket, and then walked slowly along the weedy pathway to that low latticed window in which he had often seen Mary Arundel standing with her child in her arms. He went to this window and looked in, with his face against the glass. The room was neat and orderly now; for the woman whom Mr. Marchmont had hired had gone about her work as usual, and was in the act of filling a little brown earthenware teapot from a kettle on the hob when Paul stared in at her.
She looked up as Mr. Marchmont’s figure came between her and the light, and nearly dropped the little brown teapot in her terror of her offended employer.
But Paul pulled open the window, and spoke to her very quietly. “Stop where you are,” he said; “I want to speak to you. I’ll come in.”
He went into the house by a door, that had once been the front and principal entrance, which opened into a low wainscoted hall. From this room he went into the parlour, which had been Mary Arundel’s apartment, and in which the hired nurse was now preparing her breakfast. “I thought I might as well get a cup of tea, sir, whiles I waited for your orders,” the woman murmured, apologetically; “for bein’ knocked up so early this morning, you see, sir, has made my head that bad, I could scarcely bear myself; and ——”
Paul lifted his hand to stop the woman’s talk, as he had done before. He had no consciousness of what she was saying, but the sound of her voice pained him. His eyebrows contracted with a spasmodic action, as if something had hurt his head.
There was a Dutch clock in the corner of the room, with a long pendulum swinging against the wall. By this clock it was half-past eight.
“Is your clock right?” Paul asked.
“Yes, sir. Leastways, it may be five minutes too slow, but not more.”
Mr. Marchmont took out his watch, wound it up, and regulated it by the Dutch clock.
“Now,” he said, “perhaps you can tell me clearly what happened. I want no excuses, remember; I only want to know what occurred, and what was said — word for word, remember.”
He sat down but got up again directly, and walked to the window; then he paced up and down the room two or three times, and then went back to the fireplace and sat down again. He was like a man who, in the racking torture of some physical pain, finds a miserable relief in his own restlessness.
“Come,” he said; “I am waiting.”
“Yes, sir; which, begging your parding, if you wouldn’t mind sitting still like, while I’m a-telling of you, which it do remind me of the wild beastes in the Zoological, sir, to that degree, that the boil, to which I am subjeck, sir, and have been from a child, might prevent me bein’ as truthful as I should wish. Mrs. Marchmont, sir, she come before it was light, in a cart, sir, which it was a shaycart, and made comfortable with cushions and straw, and suchlike, or I should not have let the young lady go away in it; and she bring with her a respectable, homely-looking young person, which she call Hester Jobling or Gobson, or somethink of that sound like, which my memory is treechrous, and I don’t wish to tell a story on no account; and Mrs. Marchmont she go straight up to my young lady, and she shakes her by the shoulder; and then the young woman called Hester, she wakes up my young lady quite gentle like, and kisses her and cries over her; and a man as drove the cart, which looked a small tradesman well-to-do, brings his trap round to the front-door — you may see the trax of the wheels upon the gravel now, sir, if you disbelieve me. And Mrs. Marchmont and the young woman called Hester, between ’em they gets my young lady up, and dresses her, and dresses the child; and does it all so quick, and overrides me to such a degree, that I hadn’t no power to prevent ’em; but I say to Mrs. Marchmont, I say: ‘Is it Mr. Marchmont’s orders as his cousin should be took away this morning?’ and she stare at me hard, and say, ‘Yes;’ and she have allus an abrumpt way, but was abrumpter than ordinary this morning. And, oh sir, bein’ a poor lone woman, what was I to do?”
“Have you nothing more to tell me?”
“Nothing, sir; leastways, except as they lifted my young lady into the cart, and the man got in after ’em, and drove away as fast as his horse would go; and they had been gone two minutes when I began to feel all in a tremble like, for fear as I might have done wrong in lettin’ of ’em go.”
“You have done wrong,” Paul answered, sternly; “but no matter. If these officious friends of my poor weak-witted cousin choose to take her away, so much the better for me, who have been burdened with her long enough. Since your charge has gone, your services are no longer wanted. I shan’t act illiberally to you, though I am very much annoyed by your folly and stupidity. Is there anything due to you?”
Mrs. Brown hesitated for a moment, and then replied, in a very insinuating tone —
“Not wages, sir; there ain’t no wages doo to me — which you paid me a quarter in advance last Saturday was a week, and took a receipt, sir, for the amount. But I have done my dooty, sir, and had but little sleep and rest, which my ‘ealth ain’t what it was when I answered your advertisement, requirin’ a respectable motherly person, to take charge of a invalid lady, not objectin’ to the country — which I freely tell you, sir, if I’d known that the country was a rheumatic old place like this, with rats enough to scare away a regyment of soldiers, I would not have undertook the situation; so any present as you might think sootable, considerin’ all things, and ——”
“That will do,” said Paul Marchmont, taking a handful of loose money from his waistcoat pocket; “I suppose a ten-pound note would satisfy you?”
“Indeed it would, sir, and very liberal of you too ——”
“Very well. I’ve got a five-pound note here, and five sovereigns. The best thing you can do is to get back to London at once; there’s a train leaves Milsome Station at eleven o’clock — Milsome’s not more than a mile and a half from here. You can get your things together; there’s a boy about the place who will carry them for you, I suppose?”
“Yes, sir; there’s a boy by the name of William.”
“He can go with you, then; and if you look sharp, you can catch the eleven-o’clock train.”
“Yes, sir; and thank you kindly, sir.”
“I don’t want any thanks. See that you don’t miss the train; that’s all you have to take care of.”
Mr. Marchmont went out into the garden again. He had done something, at any rate; he had arranged for getting this woman out of the way.
If — if by any remote chance there might be yet a possibility of keeping the secret of Mary’s existence, here was one witness already got rid of.
But was there any chance? Mr. Marchmont sat down on a rickety old garden-seat, and tried to think — tried to take a deliberate survey of his position.
No; there was no hope for him. Look which way he could, there was not one ray of light. With George Weston and Olivia, Betsy Murrel the servant-girl, and Hester Jobson to bear witness against him, what could he hope?
The surgeon would be able to declare that the child was Mary’s son, her legitimate son, sole heir to that estate of which Paul had taken possession.
There was no hope. There was no possibility that Olivia should waver in her purpose; for had she not brought with her two witnesses — Hester Jobson and her husband?
From that moment the case was taken out of her hands. The honest carpenter and his wife would see that Mary had her rights.
“It will be a glorious speculation for them,” thought Paul Marchmont, who naturally measured other people’s characters by a standard derived from an accurate knowledge of his own.
Yes, his ruin was complete. Destruction had come upon him, swift and sudden as the caprice of a madwoman — or — the thunderbolt of an offended Providence. What should he do? Run away, sneak away by back-lanes and narrow footpaths to the nearest railway-station, hide himself in a third-class carriage going Londonwards, and from London get away to Liverpool, to creep on board some emigrant vessel bound for New York?
He could not even do this, for he was without the means of getting so much as the railway-ticket that should carry him on the first stage of his flight. After having given ten pounds to Mrs. Brown, he had only a few shillings in his waistcoat-pocket. He had only one article of any great value about him, and that was his watch, which had cost fifty pounds. But the Marchmont arms were emblazoned on the outside of the case; and Paul’s name in full, and the address of Marchmont Towers, were ostentatiously engraved inside, so that any attempt to dispose of the watch must inevitably lead to the identification of the owner.
Paul Marchmont had made no provision for this evil day. Supreme in the consciousness of his own talents, he had never imagined discovery and destruction. His plans had been so well arranged. On the very day after Edward’s second marriage, Mary and her child would have been conveyed away to the remotest district in Wales; and the artist would have laughed at the idea of danger. The shallowest schemer might have been able to manage this poor broken-hearted girl, whose many sorrows had brought her to look upon life as a thing which was never meant to be joyful, and which was only to be endured patiently, like some slow disease that would be surely cured in the grave. It had been so easy to deal with this ignorant and gentle victim that Paul had grown bold and confident, and had ignored the possibility of such ruin as had now come down upon him.
What was he to do? What was the nature of his crime, and what penalty had he incurred? He tried to answer these questions; but as his offence was of no common kind, he knew of no common law which could apply to it. Was it a felony, this appropriation of another person’s property, this concealment of another person’s existence; or was it only a conspiracy, amenable to no criminal law; and would he be called upon merely to make restitution of that which he had spent and wasted? What did it matter? Either way, there was nothing for him but ruin — irretrievable ruin.
There are some men who can survive discovery and defeat, and begin a new life in a new world, and succeed in a new career. But Paul Marchmont was not one of these. He could not stick a hunting-knife and a brace of revolvers in his leathern belt, sling a game-bag across his shoulders, take up his breech-loading rifle, and go out into the backwoods of an uncivilised country, to turn sheep-breeder, and hold his own against a race of agricultural savages. He was a Cockney, and for him there was only one world — a world in which men wore varnished boots and enamelled shirt-studs with portraits of La Montespan or La Dubarry, and lived in chambers in the Albany, and treated each other to little dinners at Greenwich and Richmond, or cut a grand figure at a country-house, and collected a gallery of art and a museum of bric à brac. This was the world upon the outer edge of which Paul Marchmont had lived so long, looking in at the brilliant inhabitants with hungry, yearning eyes through all the days of his poverty and obscurity. This was the world into which he had pushed himself at last by means of a crime.
He was forty years of age; and in all his life he had never had but one ambition — and that was to be master of Marchmont Towers. The remote chance of that inheritance had hung before him ever since his boyhood, a glittering prize, far away in the distance, but so brilliant as to blind him to the brightness of all nearer chances. Why should he slave at his easel, and toil to become a great painter? When would art earn him eleven thousand a year? The greatest painter of Mr. Marchmont’s time lived in a miserable lodging at Chelsea. It was before the days of the “Railway Station” and the “Derby Day;” or perhaps Paul might have made an effort to become that which Heaven never meant him to be — a great painter. No; art was only a means of living with this man. He painted, and sold his pictures to his few patrons, who beat him down unmercifully, giving him a small profit upon his canvas and colours, for the encouragement of native art; but he only painted to live.
He was waiting. From the time when he could scarcely speak plain, Marchmont Towers had been a familiar word in his ears and on his lips. He knew the number of lives that stood between his father and the estate, and had learned to say, naïvely enough then —
“O pa, don’t you wish that Uncle Philip and Uncle Marmaduke and Cousin John would die soon?”
He was two-and-twenty years of age when his father died; and he felt a faint thrill of satisfaction, even in the midst of his sorrow, at the thought that there was one life the less between him and the end of his hopes. But other lives had sprung up in the interim. There was young Arthur, and little Mary; and Marchmont Towers was like a caravanserai in the desert, which seems to be farther and farther away as the weary traveller strives to reach it.
Still Paul hoped, and watched, and waited. He had all the instincts of a sybarite, and he fancied, therefore, that he was destined to be a rich man. He watched, and waited, and hoped, and cheered his mother and sister when they were downcast with the hope of better days. When the chance came, he seized upon it, and plotted, and succeeded, and revelled in his brief success.
But now ruin had come to him, what was he to do? He tried to make some plan for his own conduct; but he could not. His brain reeled with the effort which he made to realise his own position.
He walked up and down one of the pathways in the garden until a quarter to ten o’clock; then he went into the house, and waited till Mrs. Brown had departed from Stony–Stringford Farm, attended by the boy, who carried two bundles, a bandbox, and a carpet-bag.
“Come back here when you have taken those things to the station,” Paul said; “I shall want you.”
He watched the dilapidated five-barred gate swing to after the departure of Mrs. Brown and her attendant, and then went to look at his horse. The patient animal had been standing in a shed all this time, and had had neither food nor water. Paul searched amongst the empty barns and outhouses, and found a few handfuls of fodder. He took this to the animal, and then went back again to the garden — to that quiet garden, where the bees were buzzing about in the sunshine with a drowsy, booming sound, and where a great tabby-cat was sleeping stretched flat upon its side, on one of the flower-beds.
Paul Marchmont waited here very impatiently till the boy came back.
“I must see Lavinia,” he thought. “I dare not leave this place till I have seen Lavinia. I don’t know what may be happening at Hillingsworth or Kemberling. These things are taken up sometimes by the populace. They may make a party against me; they may —”
He stood still, gnawing the edges of his nails, and staring down at the gravel-walk.
He was thinking of things that he had read in the newspapers — cases in which some cruel mother who had illused her child, or some suspected assassin who, in all human probability, had poisoned his wife, had been well-nigh torn piecemeal by an infuriated mob, and had been glad to cling for protection to the officers of justice, or to beg leave to stay in prison after acquittal, for safe shelter from honest men and women’s indignation.
He remembered one special case in which the populace, unable to get at a man’s person, tore down his house, and vented their fury upon unsentient bricks and mortar.
Mr. Marchmont took out a little memorandum book, and scrawled a few lines in pencil:
“I am here, at Stony–Stringford Farmhouse,” he wrote. “For God’s sake, come to me, Lavinia, and at once; you can drive here yourself. I want to know what has happened at Kemberling and at Hillingsworth. Find out everything for me, and come. P. M.”
It was nearly twelve o’clock when the boy returned. Paul gave him this letter, and told the lad to get on his own horse, and ride to Kemberling as fast as he could go. He was to leave the horse at Kemberling, in Mr. Weston’s stable, and was to come back to Stony–Stringford with Mrs. Weston. This order Paul particularly impressed upon the boy, lest he should stop in Kemberling, and reveal the secret of Paul’s hiding-place.
Mr. Paul Marchmont was afraid. A terrible sickening dread had taken possession of him, and what little manliness there had ever been in his nature seemed to have deserted him to-day.
Oh, the long dreary hours of that miserable day! the hideous sunshine, that scorched Mr. Marchmont’s bare head, as he loitered about the garden! — he had left his hat in the house; but he did not even know that he was bareheaded. Oh, the misery of that long day of suspense and anguish! The sick consciousness of utter defeat, the thought of the things that he might have done, the purse that he might have made with the money that he had lavished on pictures, and decorations, and improvements, and the profligate extravagance of splendid entertainments. This is what he thought of, and these were the thoughts that tortured him. But in all that miserable day he never felt one pang of remorse for the agonies that he had inflicted upon his innocent victim; on the contrary, he hated her because of this discovery, and gnashed his teeth as he thought how she and her young husband would enjoy all the grandeur of Marchmont Towers — all that noble revenue which he had hoped to hold till his dying day.
It was growing dusk when Mr. Marchmont heard the sound of wheels in the dusty lane outside the garden-wall. He went through the house, and into the farmyard, in time to receive his sister Lavinia at the gate. It was the wheels of her pony-carriage he had heard. She drove a pair of ponies, which Paul had given her. He was angry with himself as he remembered that this was another piece of extravagance — another sum of money recklessly squandered, when it might have gone towards the making of a rich provision for this evil day.
Mrs. Weston was very pale; and her brother could see by her face that she brought him no good news. She left her ponies to the care of the boy, and went into the garden with her brother.
“Well, Paul, it is a dreadful business,” Mrs. Weston said, in a low voice.
“It’s all George’s doing! It’s all the work of that infernal scoundrel!” cried Paul, passionately. “But he shall pay bitterly for ——”
“Don’t let us talk of him, Paul; no good can come of that. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I sent for you because I wanted your help and advice. What’s the good of your coming if you bring me no help?”
“Don’t be cruel, Paul. Heaven knows, I’ll do my best. But I can’t see what’s to be done — except for you to get away, Paul. Everything’s known. Olivia stopped the marriage publicly in Hillingsworth Church; and all the Hillingsworth people followed Edward Arundel’s carriage to Kemberling. The report spread like wildfire; and, oh Paul, the Kemberling people have taken it up, and our windows have been broken, and there’s been a crowd all day upon the terrace before the Towers, and they’ve tried to get into the house, declaring that they know you’re hiding somewhere. Paul, Paul, what are we to do? The people hooted after me as I drove away from the High Street, and the boys threw stones at the ponies. Almost all the servants have left the Towers. The constables have been up there trying to get the crowd off the terrace. But what are we to do, Paul? what are we to do?”
“Kill ourselves,” answered the artist savagely. “What else should we do? What have we to live for? You have a little money, I suppose; I have none. Do you think I can go back to the old life? Do you think I can go back, and live in that shabby house in Charlotte Street, and paint the same rocks and boulders, the same long stretch of sea, the same low lurid streaks of light — all the old subjects over again — for the same starvation prices? Do you think I can ever tolerate shabby clothes again, or miserable make-shift dinners — hashed mutton, with ill-cut hunks of lukewarm meat floating about in greasy slop called gravy, and washed down with flat porter fetched half an hour too soon from a public-house — do you think I can go back to that? No; I have tasted the wine of life: I have lived; and I’ll never go back to the living death called poverty. Do you think I can stand in that passage in Charlotte Street again, Lavinia, to be bullied by an illiterate tax-gatherer, or insulted by an infuriated baker? No, Lavinia; I have made my venture, and I have failed.”
“But what will you do, Paul?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, moodily.
This was a lie. He knew well enough what he meant to do: he would kill himself.
That resolution inspired him with a desperate kind of courage. He would escape from the mob; he would get away somewhere or other quietly and there kill himself. He didn’t know how, as yet; but he would deliberate upon that point at his leisure, and choose the death that was supposed to be least painful.
“Where are my mother and Clarissa?” he asked presently.
“They are at our house; they came to me directly they heard the rumour of what had happened. I don’t know how they heard it; but every one heard of it, simultaneously, as it seemed. My mother is in a dreadful state. I dared not tell her that I had known it all along.”
“Oh, of course not,” answered Paul, with a sneer; “let me bear the burden of my guilt alone. What did my mother say?”
“She kept saying again and again, ‘I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that he could do anything cruel; he has been such a good son.’”
“I was not cruel,” Paul cried vehemently; “the girl had every comfort. I never grudged money for her comfort. She was a miserable, apathetic creature, to whom fortune was almost a burden rather than an advantage. If I separated her from her husband — bah! — was that such a cruelty? She was no worse off than if Edward Arundel had been killed in that railway accident; and it might have been so.”
He didn’t waste much time by reasoning on this point. He thought of his mother and sisters. From first to last he had been a good son and a good brother.
“What money have you, Lavinia?”
“A good deal; you have been very generous to me, Paul; and you shall have it all back again, if you want it. I have got upwards of two thousand pounds altogether; for I have been very careful of the money you have given me.”
“You have been wise. Now listen to me, Lavinia. I have been a good son, and I have borne my burdens uncomplainingly. It is your turn now to bear yours. I must get back to Marchmont Towers, if I can, and gather together whatever personal property I have there. It isn’t much — only a few trinkets, and suchlike. You must send me some one you can trust to fetch those to-night; for I shall not stay an hour in the place. I may not even be admitted into it; for Edward Arundel may have already taken possession in his wife’s name. Then you will have to decide where you are to go. You can’t stay in this part of the country. Weston must be liable to some penalty or other for his share in the business, unless he’s bought over as a witness to testify to the identity of Mary’s child. I haven’t time to think of all this. I want you to promise me that you will take care of your mother and your invalid sister.”
“I will, Paul; I will indeed. But tell me what you are going to do yourself, and where you are going?”
“I don’t know,” Paul Marchmont answered, in the same tone as before; “but whatever I do, I want you to give me your solemn promise that you will be good to my mother and sister.”
“I will, Paul; I promise you to do as you have done.”
“You had better leave Kemberling by the first train to-morrow morning; take my mother and Clarissa with you; take everything that is worth taking, and leave Weston behind you to bear the brunt of this business. You can get a lodging in the old neighbourhood, and no one will molest you when you once get away from this place. But remember one thing, Lavinia: if Mary Arundel’s child should die, and Mary herself should die childless, Clarissa will inherit Marchmont Towers. Don’t forget that. There’s a chance yet for you: it’s far away, and unlikely enough; but it is a chance.”
“But you are more likely to outlive Mary and her child than Clarissa is,” Mrs. Weston answered, with a feeble attempt at hopefulness; “try and think of that, Paul, and let the hope cheer you.”
“Hope!” cried Mr. Marchmont, with a discordant laugh. “Yes; I’m forty years old, and for five-and-thirty of those years I’ve hoped and waited for Marchmont Towers. I can’t hope any longer, or wait any longer. I give it up; I’ve fought hard, but I’m beaten.”
It was nearly dark by this time, the shadowy darkness of a midsummer’s evening; and there were stars shining faintly out of the sky.
“You can drive me back to the Towers,” Paul Marchmont said. “I don’t want to lose any time in getting there; I may be locked out by Mr. Edward Arundel if I don’t take care.”
Mrs. Weston and her brother went back to the farmyard. It was sixteen miles from Kemberling to Stony Stringford; and the ponies were steaming, for Lavinia had come at a good rate. But it was no time for the consideration of horseflesh. Paul took a rug from the empty seat, and wrapped himself in it. He would not be likely to be recognised in the darkness, sitting back in the low seat, and made bulky by the ponderous covering in which he had enveloped himself. Mrs. Weston took the whip from the boy, gathered up the reins, and drove off. Paul had left no orders about the custody of the old farmhouse. The boy went home to his master, at the other end of the farm; and the night-winds wandered wherever they listed through the deserted habitation.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05