Little now remains to be told of this tale of crime and retribution, of suffering and compensation. Miss Brewer told her dreadful story, as far as she knew it, with perfect truth; and her evidence, together with the evidence of the chemist who had supplied Madame Durski from time to time with the fatal consoler of all her pains and sorrows, made it clear that the luckless woman, lying quietly in the darkened room at Hilton House, had died from an over-dose of opium.
Douglas Dale could not attend that inquest. He was stricken down with fever; the fate of the woman he had so loved, so unjustly suspected, nearly cost him his life, and when he recovered sufficiently, he left England, not to return for three years. Before his departure he saw Lady Eversleigh and her mother, and established with them a bond of friendship as close as that of their kin. He provided liberally for Miss Brewer, but her rescue from poverty brought her no happiness: she was a broken-hearted woman.
Victor Carrington’s mother retired into a convent, and was probably as happy as she had ever been. She had loved him but little, whose only virtue was that he had loved her much.
Captain Copplestone’s rapture knew no bounds when he clasped little Gertrude in his arms once more. He was almost jealous of Rosamond Jernam, when he found how great a hold she had obtained on the heart of her charge; but his jealousy was mingled with gratitude, and he joined Lady Eversleigh in testifying his friendship for the tender-hearted woman who had protected and cherished the heiress of Raynham in the hour of her desolation.
It is not to be supposed that the world remained long in ignorance of this romantic episode in the common-place story of every-day life.
Paragraphs found their way into the newspapers, no one knew how, and society marvelled at the good fortune of Sir Oswald’s widow.
“That woman’s wealth must be boundless,” exclaimed aristocratic dowagers, for whom the grip of poverty’s bony fingers had been tight and cruel. “Her husband left her magnificent estates, and an enormous amount of funded property; and now a mother drops down from the skies for her benefit — a mother who is reported to be almost as rich as herself.”
Amongst those who envied Lady Eversleigh’s good fortune, there was none whose envy was so bitter as that of her husband’s disappointed nephew, Sir Reginald.
This woman had stood between him and fortune, and it would have been happiness to him to see her grovelling in the dust, a beggar and an outcast. Instead of this, he heard of her exaltation, and he hated her with an intense hatred which was almost childish in its purposeless fury.
He speedily found, however, that life was miserable without his evil counsellor. The Frenchman’s unabating confidence in ultimate success had sustained the penniless idler in the darkest day of misfortune. But now he found himself quite alone; and there was no voice to promise future triumph. He knew that the game of life had been played to the last card, and that it was lost.
His feeble character was not equal to support the burden of poverty and despair.
He dared not show his face at any of the clubs where he had once been so distinguished a member; for he knew that the voice of society was against him.
Thus hopeless, friendless, and abandoned by his kind, Sir Reginald Eversleigh had recourse to the commonest form of consolation. He fled from a country in which his name had become odious, and took up his abode in Paris, where he found a miserable lodging in one of the narrowest alleys in the neighbourhood of the Luxembourg, which was then a labyrinth of narrow streets and lanes.
Here he could afford to buy brandy, for at that date brandy was much cheaper in France than it is now. Here he could indulge his growing propensity for strong drink to the uttermost extent of his means, and could drown his sorrows, and drink destruction to his enemies, in fiery draughts of cognac.
For some years he inhabited the same dirty garret, keeping the key of his wretched chamber, going up and down the crumbling old staircase uncared for and unnoticed. Few who had known him in the past would have recognized the once elegant young man in this latter stage of his existence. Form and features, complexion and expression, were alike degraded. The garments worn by him, who had once been the boasted patron of crack West-end tailors, were now shapeless and hideous. The dandy of the clubs had become a perambulating mass of rags.
Every day when the sun shone he buttoned his greasy, threadbare overcoat across his breast, and crawled to the public garden of the Luxembourg, where he might be seen shuffling slipshod along the sunniest walk, an object of contempt and aversion in the eyes of nursery-maids and grisettes— a butt for the dare-devil students of the quarter.
Had he any consciousness of his degradation?
Yes; that was the undying vulture which preyed upon his entrails — the consuming fire that was never quenched.
During the brief interval of each day in which he was sober, Sir Reginald Eversleigh was wont to reflect upon the past. He knew himself to be the wretch and outcast he was; and, looking back at his start in life, he could but remember how different his career might have been had he so chosen.
In those hours the slow tears made furrows in his haggard cheeks — the tears of remorse, vain repentance, that came too late for earth; but not, perhaps, utterly too late for heaven, since, even for this last and worst of sinners, there might be mercy.
Thus his life passed — a changeless routine, unbroken by one bright interval, one friendly visit, one sign or token to show that there was any link between this lonely wretch and the rest of humanity.
One day the porter, who lived in a little den at the bottom of the lodging-house staircase, suddenly missed the familiar figure which had gone by his rabbit-hutch every day for the last six years; the besotted face that had stared at him morning and evening with the blank, unseeing gaze of the habitual drunkard.
“What has become of the old toper who lives up yonder among the chimney-pots?” cried the porter, suddenly, to the wife of his bosom. “I have not seen him to-day nor yesterday, nor for many days. He must be ill. I will go upstairs and make inquiries by-and-by, when I have leisure.”
The porter waited for a leisure half-hour after dark, and then tramped wearily up the steep old staircase with a lighted candle to see after the missing lodger. He might have waited even longer without detriment to Sir Reginald Eversleigh.
The baronet had been dead many days, suffocated by the fumes of his poor little charcoal stove. A trap-door in the roof, which he had been accustomed to open for the ventilation of his garret, had been closed by the wind, and the baronet had passed unconsciously from sleep to death.
He had died, and no one had been aware of his death. The people of the house did not know either his name or his country. His burial was that of an unknown pauper; and the bones of the last male scion of the house of Eversleigh were mingled with the bones of Parisian paupers in the cemetery of Père la Chaise.
While Sir Reginald Eversleigh dragged out the wretched remnant of his existence in a dingy Parisian alley, there was perfect peace and tranquil happiness for the woman against whose fair fame he and Victor Carrington had so basely conspired.
Yes, Anna was at peace; surrounded by friends; delighted day by day to watch the budding loveliness, the sportive grace of Gertrude Eversleigh, the idolized heiress of Raynham. As Lady Eversleigh paced the terraces of an Italian garden, her mother by her side, with Gertrude clinging to her side; as she looked out over the vast domain which owned her as mistress — it might seem that fortune had lavished her fairest gifts into the lap of her who had been once a friendless stranger, singing in the taverns of Wapping.
Wonderful indeed had been the transitions which had befallen her; but even now, when the horizon seemed so fair before her, there were dark shadows upon the past which, in some measure, clouded the brightness of the present, and dimmed the radiance of the future.
She could not forget her night of agony in the house amongst the marshes beyond Ratcliff Highway; she could not cease to lament the loss of that noble friend who had rescued her in the hour of her despair.
The world wondered at the prolonged widowhood of the mistress of Raynham. People were surprised to find that a woman in the golden prime of womanhood and beauty could be constant to the memory of a husband old enough to have been her father. But in due time society learned to accept the fact as a matter of course, and Lady Eversleigh was no longer the subject of hopes and speculations.
Her constant gratitude and friendship for the Jernams suffered no diminution as time went on. The difference in their social position made no difference to her; and no more frequent or more welcome guests were seen at Raynham than Captain Duncombe, his daughter and son-inlaw, and honest Joyce Harker. Lady Eversleigh had a particular regard for the man who had so true and faithful a heart, and she would often talk to him; but she never mentioned the subject of that miserable night on which he had seen her down at Wapping. That subject was tacitly avoided by both. There was a pain too intense, a memory too dark, associated with the events of that period.
And so the story ends. There is no sound of pleasant wedding bells to close my record with their merry, jangling chorus. Is it not the fate of the innocent to suffer in this life for the sins of the wicked? Lady Eversleigh’s widowhood, Douglas Dale’s lonely life, are the work of Victor Carrington — a work not to be undone upon this earth. If he has failed in all else, he has succeeded at least in this: he has ruined the happiness of two lives. For both his victims time brings peace — a sober gladness that is not without its charm. For one a child’s affection — a child’s growing grace of mind and form, bring a happiness on, clouded at intervals by the dark shadows of past sorrow. But in the heart of Douglas Dale there is an empty place which can never be filled upon earth.
“Will the Eternal and all-seeing One forgive her for her reckless, useless life, and shall I meet her among the blest in heaven?” he asks himself sometimes, and then he remembers the holy words of comfort unspeakable: “Come unto me, ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Had not Paulina been “weary, and heavy laden,” bowed down by the burden of a false accusation, friendless, hopeless, from her very cradle?
He thought of the illimitable Mercy, and he dared to hope for the day in which he should meet her he loved “Beyond the Veil.”
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05