John Marchmont's Legacy, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 9

“Going to Be Married!”

Paul Marchmont was still strolling hither and thither about the room, admiring his pictures, and smiling to himself at the recollection of the easy manner in which he had obtained George Weston’s consent to the Australian arrangement. For in his sober moments the surgeon was ready to submit to anything his wife and brother-in-law imposed upon him; it was only under the influence of pineapple rum that his manhood asserted itself. Paul was still contemplating his pictures when Olivia burst into the room; but Mrs. Marchmont and her invalid daughter had retired for the night, and the artist was alone — alone with his own thoughts, which were rather of a triumphal and agreeable character just now; for Edward’s marriage and Mr. Weston’s departure were equally pleasant to him.

He was startled a little by Olivia’s abrupt entrance, for it was not her habit to intrude upon him or any member of that household; on the contrary, she had shown an obstinate determination to shut herself up in her own room, and to avoid every living creature except her servant Barbara Simmons.

Paul turned and confronted her very deliberately, and with the smile that was almost habitual to him upon his thin pale lips. Her sudden appearance had blanched his face a little; but beyond this he betrayed no sign of agitation.

“My dear Mrs. Marchmont, you quite startle me. It is so very unusual to see you here, and at this hour especially.”

It did not seem as if she had heard his voice. She went sternly up to him, with her thin listless arms hanging at her side, and her haggard eyes fixed upon his face.

“Is this true?” she asked.

He started a little, in spite of himself; for he understood in a moment what she meant. Some one, it scarcely mattered who, had told her of the coming marriage.

“Is what true, my dear Mrs. John?” he said carelessly.

“Is this true that George Weston tells me?” she cried, laying her thin hand upon his shoulder. Her wasted fingers closed involuntarily upon the collar of his coat, her lips contracted into a ghastly smile, and a sudden fire kindled in her eyes. A strange sensation awoke in the tips of those tightening fingers, and thrilled through every vein of the woman’s body — such a horrible thrill as vibrates along the nerves of a monomaniac, when the sight of a dreadful terror in his victim’s face first arouses the murderous impulse in his breast.

Paul’s face whitened as he felt the thin finger-points tightening upon his neck. He was afraid of Olivia.

“My dear Mrs. John, what is it you want of me?” he said hastily. “Pray do not be violent.”

“I am not violent.”

She dropped her hand from his breast. It was true, she was not violent. Her voice was low; her hand fell loosely by her side. But Paul was frightened of her, nevertheless; for he saw that if she was not violent, she was something worse — she was dangerous.

“Did George Weston tell me the truth just now?” she said.

Paul bit his nether-lip savagely. George Weston had tricked him, then, after all, and had communicated with this woman. But what of that? She would scarcely be likely to trouble herself about this business of Edward Arundel’s marriage. She must be past any such folly as that. She would not dare to interfere in the matter. She could not.

“Is it true?” she said; “is it? Is it true that Edward Arundel is going to be married to-morrow?”

She waited, looking with fixed, widely-opened eyes at Paul’s face.

“My dear Mrs. John, you take me so completely by surprise, that I——”

“That you have not got a lying answer ready for me,” said Olivia, interrupting him. “You need not trouble yourself to invent one. I see that George Weston told me the truth. There was reality in his words. There is nothing but falsehood in yours.”

Paul stood looking at her, but not listening to her. Let her abuse and upbraid him to her heart’s content; it gave him leisure to reflect, and plan his course of action; and perhaps these bitter words might exhaust the fire within her, and leave her malleable to his skilful hands once more. He had time to think this, and to settle his own line of conduct while Olivia was speaking to him. It was useless to deny the marriage. She had heard of it from George Weston, and she might hear of it from any one else whom she chose to interrogate. It was useless to try to stifle this fact.

“Yes, Mrs. John,” he said, “it is quite true. Your cousin, Mr. Arundel, is going to marry Belinda Lawford; a very lucky thing for us, believe me, as it will put an end to all questioning and watching and suspicion, and place us beyond all danger.”

Olivia looked at him, with her bosom heaving, her breath growing shorter and louder with every word he spoke.

“You mean to let this be, then?” she said, when he had finished speaking.

“To let what be?”

“This marriage. You will let it take place?”

“Most certainly. Why should I prevent it?”

“Why should you prevent it?” she cried fiercely; and then, in an altered voice, in tones of anguish that were like a wail of despair, she exclaimed, “O my God! my God! what a dupe I have been; what a miserable tool in this man’s hands! O my offended God! why didst Thou so abandon me, when I turned away from Thee, and made Edward Arundel the idol of my wicked heart?”

Paul sank into the nearest chair, with a faint sigh of relief.

“She will wear herself out,” he thought, “and then I shall be able to do what I like with her.”

But Olivia turned to him again while he was thinking this.

“Do you imagine that I will let this marriage take place?” she asked.

“I do not think that you will be so mad as to prevent it. That little mystery which you and I have arranged between us is not exactly child’s play, Mrs. John. We can neither of us afford to betray the other. Let Edward Arundel marry, and work for his wife, and be happy; nothing could be better for us than his marriage. Indeed, we have every reason to be thankful to Providence for the turn that affairs have taken,” Mr. Marchmont concluded, piously.

“Indeed!” said Olivia; “and Edward Arundel is to have another bride. He is to be happy with another wife; and I am to hear of their happiness, to see him some day, perhaps, sitting by her side and smiling at her, as I have seen him smile at Mary Marchmont. He is to be happy, and I am to know of his happiness. Another baby-faced girl is to glory in the knowledge of his love; and I am to be quiet — I am to be quiet. Is it for this that I have sold my soul to you, Paul Marchmont? Is it for this I have shared your guilty secrets? Is it for this I have heard her feeble wailing sounding in my wretched feverish slumbers, as I have heard it every night, since the day she left this house? Do you remember what you said to me? Do you remember how you tempted me? Do you remember how you played upon my misery, and traded on the tortures of my jealous heart? ‘He has despised your love,’ you said: ‘will you consent to see him happy with another woman?’ That was your argument, Paul Marchmont. You allied yourself with the devil that held possession of my breast, and together you were too strong for me. I was set apart to be damned, and you were the chosen instrument of my damnation. You bought my soul, Paul Marchmont. You shall not cheat me of the price for which I sold it. You shall hinder this marriage!”

“You are a madwoman, Mrs. John Marchmont, or you would not propose any such thing.”

“Go,” she said, pointing to the door; “go to Edward Arundel, and do something, no matter what, to prevent this marriage.”

“I shall do nothing of the kind.”

He had heard that a monomaniac was always to be subdued by indomitable resolution, and he looked at Olivia, thinking to tame her by his unfaltering glance. He might as well have tried to look the raging sea into calmness.

“I am not a fool, Mrs. John Marchmont,” he said, “and I shall do nothing of the kind.”

He had risen, and stood by the lamp-lit table, trifling rather nervously with its elegant litter of delicately-bound books, jewel-handled paper-knives, newly-cut periodicals, and pretty fantastical toys collected by the women of the household.

The faces of the two were nearly upon a level as they stood opposite to each other, with only the table between them.

“Then I will prevent it!” Olivia cried, turning towards the door.

Paul Marchmont saw the resolution stamped upon her face. She would do what she threatened. He ran to the door and had his hand upon the lock before she could reach it.

“No, Mrs. John,” he said, standing at the door, with his back turned to Olivia, and his fingers busy with the bolts and key. In spite of himself, this woman had made him a little nervous, and it was as much as he could do to find the handle of the key. “No, no, my dear Mrs. John; you shall not leave this house, nor this room, in your present state of mind. If you choose to be violent and unmanageable, we will give you the full benefit of your violence, and we will give you a better sphere of action. A padded room will be more suitable to your present temper, my dear madam. If you favour us with this sort of conduct, we will find people more fitted to restrain you.”

He said all this in a sneering tone that had a trifling tremulousness in it, while he locked the door and assured himself that it was safely secured. Then he turned, prepared to fight out the battle somehow or other.

At the very moment of his turning there was a sudden crash, a shiver of broken glass, and the cold night-wind blew into the room. One of the long French windows was wide open, and Olivia Marchmont was gone.

He was out upon the terrace in the next moment; but even then he was too late, for he could not see her right or left of him upon the long stone platform. There were three separate flights of steps, three different paths, widely diverging across the broad grassy flat before Marchmont Towers. How could he tell which of these ways Olivia might have chosen? There was the great porch, and there were all manner of stone abutments along the grim façade of the house. She might have concealed herself behind any one of them. The night was hopelessly dark. A pair of ponderous bronze lamps, which Paul had placed before the principal doorway, only made two spots of light in the gloom. He ran along the terrace, looking into every nook and corner which might have served as a hiding-place; but he did not find Olivia.

She had left the house with the avowed intention of doing something to prevent the marriage. What would she do? What course would this desperate woman take in her jealous rage? Would she go straight to Edward Arundel and tell him ——?

Yes, this was most likely; for how else could she hope to prevent the marriage?

Paul stood quite still upon the terrace for a few minutes, thinking. There was only one course for him. To try and find Olivia would be next to hopeless. There were half-a-dozen outlets from the park. There were ever so many different pathways through the woody labyrinth at the back of the Towers. This woman might have taken any one of them. To waste the night in searching for her would be worse than useless.

There was only one thing to be done. He must countercheck this desperate creature’s movements.

He went back to the drawing-room, shut the window, and then rang the bell.

There were not many of the old servants who had waited upon John Marchmont at the Towers now. The man who answered the bell was a person whom Paul had brought down from London.

“Get the chesnut saddled for me, Peterson,” said Mr. Marchmont. “My poor cousin’s widow has left the house, and I am going after her. She has given me very great alarm to-night by her conduct. I tell you this in confidence; but you can say as much to Mrs. Simmons, who knows more about her mistress than I do. See that there’s no time lost in saddling the chesnut. I want to overtake this unhappy woman, if I can. Go and give the order, and then bring me my hat.”

The man went away to obey his master. Paul walked to the chimneypiece and looked at the clock.

“They’ll be gone to bed at the Grange,” he thought to himself. “Will she go there and knock them up, I wonder? Does she know that Edward’s there? I doubt that; and yet Weston may have told her. At any rate, I can be there before her. It would take her a long time to get there on foot. I think I did the right thing in saying what I said to Peterson. I must have the report of her madness spread everywhere. I must face it out. But how — but how? So long as she was quiet, I could manage everything. But with her against me, and George Weston — oh, the cur, the white-hearted villain, after all that I’ve done for him and Lavinia! But what can a man expect when he’s obliged to put his trust in a fool?”

He went to the window, and stood there looking out until he saw the groom coming along the gravel roadway below the terrace, leading a horse by the bridle. Then he put on the hat that the servant had brought him, ran down the steps, and got into the saddle.

“All right, Jeffreys,” he said; “tell them not to expect me back till to-morrow morning. Let Mrs. Simmons sit up for her mistress. Mrs. John may return at any hour in the night.”

He galloped away along the smooth carriage-drive. At the lodge he stopped to inquire if any one had been through that way. No, the woman said; she had opened the gates for no one. Paul had expected no other answer. There was a footpath that led to a little wicket-gate opening on the high-road; and of course Olivia had chosen that way, which was a good deal shorter than the carriage-drive.

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