The castle was gay with the presence of many guests. The baronet was proud to gather old friends and acquaintances round him, in order that he might show them the fair young wife he had chosen to be the solace of his declining years. A man of fifty who marries a girl of nineteen is always subject to the ridicule of scandalous lips, the ironical jests of pitiless tongues. Sir Oswald Eversleigh knew this, and he wanted to show the world that he was happy — supremely happy — in the choice that he had made.
Amongst those who came to Raynham Castle this autumn was one trusted friend of Sir Oswald, a gruff old soldier, Captain Copplestone, a man who had never won advancement in the service; but who was known to have nobly earned the promotion which had never been awarded him.
This man was on brotherly terms with Sir Oswald, and was about the only creature who had ever dared to utter disagreeable truths to the baronet. He was very poor; but had never accepted the smallest favour from the hands of his wealthy friend. Sir Oswald was devoutly attached to him, and would have gladly opened his purse to him as to a brother; but he dared not offend the stern old soldier’s pride by even hinting at such a desire.
Captain Copplestone came to Raynham prepared to remonstrate with his friend on the folly of his marriage. He arrived when the reception-room was crowded with other visitors, and be stood by, looking on in grim disdain, while the newly arrived guests were pressing their felicitations on Sir Oswald.
By and bye the guests departed to their rooms, and the friends were left alone.
“Well, old friend,” cried the baronet, stretching out both his hands to grasp those of the captain in a warmer salutation than that of his first welcome, “am I to have no word of congratulation from you?”
“What word do you want?” growled Copplestone. “If I tell you the truth, you won’t like it; and if I were to try to tell you a lie, egad! I think the syllables would choke me. It has been hard enough for me to keep patience while all those idiots have been babbling their unmeaning compliments; and now that they’ve gone away to laugh at you behind your back, you’d better let me follow their example, and not risk the chance of a quarrel with an old friend by speaking my mind.”
“You think me a fool, then, Copplestone?”
“Why, what else can I think of you? If a man of fifty must needs go and marry a girl of nineteen, he can’t expect to be thought a Solon.”
“Ah, Copplestone, when you have seen my wife, you will think differently.”
“Not a bit of it. The prettier she is, the more fool I shall think you; for there’ll be so much the more certainty that she’ll make your life miserable.”
“Here she comes!” said the baronet; “look at her before you judge her too severely, old friend, and let her face answer for her truth.”
The room in which the two men were standing opened into another and larger apartment, and through the open folding-doors Captain Copplestone saw Lady Eversleigh approaching. She was dressed in white — that pure, transparent muslin in which her husband loved best to see her — and one large natural rose was fastened amidst her dark hair. As she drew nearer to the baronet and his friend, the bluff old soldier’s face softened.
The introduction was made by Sir Oswald, and Honoria held out her hand with her brightest and most bewitching smile.
“My husband has spoken of you very often, Captain Copplestone,” she said; “and I feel as if we were old friends rather than strangers. I have pleasure in bidding welcome to all Sir Oswald’s guests; but not such pleasure as I feel in welcoming you.”
The soldier extended his bronzed hand, and grasped the soft white fingers in a pressure that was something like that of an iron vice. He looked at Lady Eversleigh with a serio-comic expression of bewilderment, and looked from her to the baronet.
“Well?” asked Sir Oswald, presently, when Honoria had left them.
“Well, Oswald, if the truth must be told, I think you had some excuse for your folly. She is a beautiful creature; and if there is any faith to be put in the human countenance, she is as good as she is beautiful.”
The baronet grasped his friend’s hand with a pressure that was more eloquent than words. He believed implicitly in the captain’s powers of penetration, and this favourable judgment of the wife he adored filled him with gratitude. It was not that the faintest shadow of doubt obscured his own mind. He trusted her fully and unreservedly; but he wanted others to trust her also.
While Sir Oswald and his friend were enjoying a brief interval of confidential intercourse, Reginald Eversleigh and Victor Carrington lounged in a pleasant little sitting-room, smoking their cigars, and leaning on the stone sill of the wide Gothic window.
They were talking, and talking very earnestly.
“You are a very clever fellow, I know, my dear Carrington,” said Reginald; “but it is slow work, very slow work, and I don’t see my way through it.”
“Because you are as impatient as a child who has set his heart on a new toy,” answered the surgeon, disdainfully. “You complain that the game is slow, and yet you see one move after another made upon the board — and made successfully. A month ago you did not believe in the possibility of a reconciliation between your uncle and yourself; and yet that reconciliation has come about. A fortnight ago you would have laughed at the idea of my being here at Raynham, an invited guest; and yet here I am. Do you think there has been no patient thought necessary to work out this much of our scheme? Do you suppose that I was on Thorpe Hill by accident that afternoon?”
“And you hope that something may come of your visit here?”
“I hope that much may come of it. I have already dared to drop hints at injustice done to you. That idea of injustice will rankle in your uncle’s mind. I have my plans, Reginald, and you have only to be patient, and to trust in me.”
“But why should you refuse to tell me the nature of your plans?”
“Because my plans are as yet but half formed. I may soon be able to speak more plainly. Do you see those two figures yonder, walking in the pleasaunce?”
“Yes, I see them — my uncle and his wife,” answered Reginald, with a gesture of impatience.
“They are very happy — are they not? It is quite an Arcadian picture. I beg you to contemplate it earnestly.”
“What a fool you are, Carrington!” cried the young man, flinging away his cigar. “If my uncle chooses to make an idiot of himself, that is no reason why I should watch the evidence of his folly!”
“But there is another reason,” answered Victor, with a sinister look in his glittering black eyes. “Look at the picture while you may, Reginald, for you will not have the chance of seeing it very often.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that the day is near at hand when Lady Eversleigh will fall from her high estate. I mean that an elevation as sudden as hers is often the forerunner of a sudden disgrace. The hour will come when Sir Oswald will mourn his fatal marriage as the one irrevocable mistake of his life; and when, in his despair, he will restore you, the disgraced nephew, to your place, as his acknowledged heir; because you will at least seem to him more worthy than his disgraced wife.”
“And who is to bring this about?” asked Reginald, gazing at his friend in complete bewilderment.
“I am,” answered the surgeon; “but before I do so I must have some understanding as to the price of my services. If the cat who pulled the chestnuts out of the fire for the benefit of the monkey had made an agreement beforehand as to how much of the plunder he was to receive for his pains, the name of the animal would not have become a bye-word with posterity. When I have worked to win your fortune, I must have my reward, my dear Reginald.”
“Do you suppose I should be ungrateful?”
“Of course not. But, you see, I don’t ask for your gratitude — I want a good round sum down on the nail — hard cash. Your uncle’s fortune, if you get two-thirds of it, will be worth thirty thousand a year; and for such a fortune you can very well afford to pay me twenty thousand in ready money within two years of your accession to the inheritance.”
“Yes; if you think the sum too much, we will say no more about it. The business is a very difficult one, and I scarcely care to engage in it.”
“My dear Victor, you bewilder me. I cannot bring myself to believe that you can bring about my restoration to my old place in my uncle’s will; but if you do, the twenty thousand shall be yours.”
“Good!” answered the surgeon, in his coolest and most business-like manner; “I must have it in black and white. You will give me two promissory notes; one for ten thousand, to fall due a year hence — the other for the same sum, to fall due in two years.”
“But if I do not get the fortune — and I am not likely to get it within that time; my uncle’s life is a good one, and —”
“Never mind your uncle’s life. I will give you an undertaking to cancel those notes of hand if you have not succeeded to the Raynham estates. And now here are stamps. You may as well fill in the body of the notes, and sign them at once, and so close the transaction.”
“You are prepared with the stamps?”
“Yes; I am a man of business, although a man of science.”
“Victor,” said Reginald Eversleigh; “you sometimes make me shudder, There is something almost diabolical about you.”
“But if I drag yonder fair lady down from her high, estate, you would scarcely care if I were the foul fiend in person,” said Carrington, looking at his friend with a sardonic smile. “Oh, I think I know you, Reginald Eversleigh, better than you know me.”
Amongst the guests who had arrived at the castle within the last few days was Lydia Graham, the young lady of whom the baronet had spoken to his nephew. She was a fascinating girl, with a bold, handsome face, brilliant gray eyes, an aquiline nose, and a profusion of dark, waving hair. She was a woman who knew how to make the most of every charm with which nature had endowed her. She dressed superbly; but with an extravagance far beyond the limits of her means. She was, for this reason, deeply in debt, and her only chance of extrication from her difficulties lay in a brilliant marriage.
For nearly nine years she had been trying to make this brilliant marriage. She had “come out,” as the phrase goes, at seventeen, and she was now nine-and-twenty.
During that period she had been wooed and flattered by troops of admirers. She had revelled in flirtations; she had triumphed in the power of her beauty; but she had known more than one disappointment of her fairest hopes, and she had not won the prize in the great lottery of fashionable life — a wealthy and patrician husband.
Her nine-and-twentieth birthday had passed; and contemplating herself earnestly in her glass, she was fain to confess that something of the brilliancy of her beauty had faded.
“I am getting wan and sallow,” she said to herself; “what is to become of me if I do not marry?”
The prospect was indeed a sorry one.
Lydia Graham possessed an income of two hundred a year, inherited from her mother: but such an income was the merest pittance for a young lady with Miss Graham’s tastes. Her brother was a captain of an expensive regiment, selfish and extravagant, and by no means inclined to open his purse for his sister’s benefit.
She had no home; but lived sometimes with one wealthy relation, sometimes with another — always admired, always elegantly dressed; but not always happy.
Amidst all Miss Graham’s matrimonial disappointments, she had endured none more bitter than that which she had felt when she read the announcement of Sir Oswald Eversleigh’s marriage in the “Times” newspaper.
She had met the rich baronet very frequently in society. She had visited at Raynham with her brother. Sir Oswald had, to all appearance, admired her beauty and accomplishments; and she had imagined that time and opportunity alone were wanting to transform that admiration into a warmer feeling. In plain words, Lydia Graham had hoped with a little good management, to become Lady Eversleigh of Raynham; and no words can fully describe her mortification when she learnt that the baronet had bestowed his name and fortune on a woman of whom the fashionable world knew nothing, except that she was utterly unknown.
Lydia Graham came to Raynham Castle with poisonous feelings rankling in her heart, but she wore her brightest smiles as well as her most elegant dresses. She congratulated the baronet in honeyed words, and offered warmest friendship to the lovely mistress of the mansion.
“I am sure we shall suit each other delightfully, dear Lady Eversleigh,” she said; “and we shall be fast friends henceforward-shall we not?”
Honoria’s disposition was naturally reserved. She revolted against frivolous and unmeaning sentimentality. She responded politely to Miss Graham’s proffers of friendship; but not with corresponding warmth.
Lydia Graham perceived the coldness of her manner, and bitterly resented it. She felt that she had reason to hate this woman, who had caused the disappointment of her dearest hopes, whose beauty was infinitely superior to her own; and who was several years younger than herself.
There was one person at Raynham whose scrutinizing eyes perceived the animosity of feeling lurking beneath Lydia Graham’s smooth manner. That penetrating observer was Victor Carrington. He saw that the fashionable beauty hated Lady Eversleigh, and he resolved to make use of her hatred for the furtherance of his schemes.
“I fancy Miss Graham has at some time of her life cherished an idea that she might become mistress of this place, eh, Reginald?” he said one morning, as the two men lounged together on the terrace.
“How did you know that?” said Reginald, questioning and replying at once.
“By no diabolical power of divination, I assure you, my dear Reginald. I have only used my eyes. But it seems, from your exclamation, that I am right. Miss Graham did once hope to become Lady Eversleigh.”
“Well, I believe she tried her uttermost to win my uncle for a husband. I have watched her manoeuvres — when she was here two years ago; but they did not give me much uneasiness, for I thought Sir Oswald was a confirmed bachelor. She used to vary her amusements by flirting with me. I was the acknowledged heir in those days, you know, and I have no doubt she would have married me if I had given her the opportunity. But she is too clever a woman for my taste; and with all her brilliancy, I never admired her.”
“You are wise, for once in the way, my dear Reginald. Miss Graham is a dangerous woman. She has a very beautiful smile; but she is the sort of woman who can smile and murder while she smiles. But she may be made a very useful tool, notwithstanding.”
“Yes; a good workman takes his tools wherever he finds them. I may be in want of just such a tool as Lydia Graham.”
All went merry as a marriage-bell at Raynham Castle during the bright August weather. The baronet was unspeakably happy. Honoria, too, was happy in the novelty of her position; happy in the knowledge of her husband’s love. His noble nature had won the reward such natures should win. He was beloved by his young wife as few men are beloved in the heyday of their youth. Her affection was reverential, profound, and pure. To her mind, Oswald Eversleigh was the perfection of all that is noble in mankind, and she was proud of his devotion, grateful of his love.
No guest at the castle was more popular than Victor Carrington, the surgeon. His accomplishments were of so varied a nature as to make him invaluable in a large party, and he was always ready to devote himself to the amusement of others. Sir Oswald was astonished at the versatility of his nephew’s friend. As a linguist, an artist, a musician, Victor alike shone pre-eminent; but in music he was triumphant. Professing only to be an amateur, he exhibited a scientific knowledge, a mechanical proficiency, as rare as they were admirable.
“A poor man is obliged to study many arts,” he said, carelessly, when Sir Oswald complimented him on his musical powers. “My life has been one of laborious industry; and the cultivation of music has been almost the only relaxation I have allowed myself. I am not, like Lady Eversleigh, a musical genius. I only pretend to be a patient student of the great masters.”
The baronet was delighted with the musical talents of his guest because they assisted much in the display of Lady Eversleigh’s exceptional power. Victor Carrington’s brilliant playing set off the magnificent singing of Honoria. With him as her accompanyist, she sang as she could not sing without his aid. Every evening there was an impromptu concert in the long drawing-room; every evening Lady Eversleigh sang to Victor Carrington’s accompaniment.
One evening, in the summer dusk, when she had been singing even more superbly than usual, Lydia Graham happened to be seated near Sir Oswald, in one of the broad open windows.
“Lady Eversleigh is indeed a genius,” said Miss Graham, at the close of a superb bravura; “but how delightful for her to have that accomplished Mr. Carrington to accompany her — though some people prefer to play their own accompaniments. I do, for instance; but when one has a relative who plays so well, it is, of course, a different thing.”
“A relative! I don’t understand you, my dear Miss Graham.”
“I mean that it is very nice for Lady Eversleigh to have a cousin who is so accomplished a musician.”
“Yes. Mr. Carrington is Lady Eversleigh’s cousin — is he not? Or, I beg your pardon, perhaps he is her brother. I don’t know your wife’s maiden name.”
“My wife’s maiden name was Milford,” answered the baronet, with some displeasure in his tone. “And Mr. Carrington is neither her brother nor her cousin; he is no relation whatever to her.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Miss Graham.
There was a strange significance in that word “indeed”; and after having uttered it, the young lady seemed seized with a sudden sense of embarrassment.
Sir Oswald looked at her sharply; but her face was half averted from him, as if she had turned away in confusion. “You seem surprised,” he said, haughtily, “and yet I do not see anything surprising in the fact that my wife and Mr. Carrington are not related to each other.”
“Oh, dear no, Sir Oswald; of course not,” replied Lydia, with a light laugh, which had the artificial sound of a laugh intended to disguise some painful embarrassment. “Of course not. It was very absurd of me to appear surprised, if I did really appear so; but I was not aware of it. You see, it was scarcely strange if I thought Lady Eversleigh and Mr. Carrington were nearly related; for, when people are very old friends, they seem like relations: it is only in name that there is any difference.”
“You seemed determined to make mistakes this evening, Miss Graham,” answered the baronet, with icy sternness. “Lady Eversleigh and Mr. Carrington are by no means old friends. Neither my wife nor I have known the gentleman more than a fortnight. He happens to be a very accomplished musician, and is good enough to make himself useful in accompanying Lady Eversleigh when she sings. That is the only claim which he has on her friendship; and it is one of only a few days’ standing.”
“Indeed!” said Miss Graham, repeating the exclamation which had sounded so disagreeable to Sir Oswald. “I certainly should have mistaken them for old friends; but then dear Lady Eversleigh is of Italian extraction, and there is always a warmth of manner, an absence of reserve, in the southern temperament which is foreign to our colder natures.”
Lady Eversleigh rose from her seat just at this moment, in compliance with the entreaties of the circle about her.
She approached the grand piano, where Victor Carrington was still sitting, turning over the leaves of some music, and at the same moment Sir Oswald rose also, and hurried towards her.
“Do not sing any more to-night, Honoria,” he said; “you will fatigue yourself.”
There was some lack of politeness in this speech, as Lady Eversleigh was about to sing in compliance with the entreaties of her guests. She turned to her husband with a smile —
“I am not in the least tired, my dear Oswald,” she said; “and if our friends really wish for another song, I am quite ready to sing one. That is to say, if Mr. Carrington is not tired of accompanying me.”
Victor Carrington declared that nothing gave him greater pleasure than to play Lady Eversleigh’s accompaniments.
“Mr. Carrington is very good,” answered the baronet, coldly, “but I do not wish you to tire yourself by singing all the evening; and I beg that you will not sing again to-night, Honoria.”
Never before had the baronet addressed his wife with such cold decision of manner. There was something almost severe in his tone, and Honoria looked at him with wondering eyes.
“I have no greater pleasure than in obeying you,” she said, gently, as she withdrew from the piano.
She seated herself by one of the tables, and opened a portfolio of sketches. Her head drooped over the book, and she seemed absorbed in the contemplation of the drawings. Glancing at her furtively, Sir Oswald could see that she was wounded; and yet he — the adoring husband, the devoted lover — did not approach her. His mind was disturbed — his thoughts confused. He passed through one of the open windows, and went out upon the terrace. There all was calm and tranquil; but the tranquil loveliness of the scene had no soothing influence on Sir Oswald. His brain was on fire. An intense affection can scarcely exist without a lurking tendency to jealousy. Until to-night every jealous feeling had been lulled to rest by the confiding trust of the happy husband; but to-night a few words — spoken in apparent carelessness — spoken by one who could have, as Sir Oswald thought, no motive for malice — had aroused the sleeping passion, and peace had fled from his heart.
As Sir Oswald passed the window by which he had left Lydia Graham, he heard that young lady talking to some one.
“It is positively disgraceful,” she said; “her flirtation with that Mr. Carrington is really too obvious, though Sir Oswald is so blind as not to perceive it. I thought they were cousins until to-night. Imagine my surprise when I found that they were not even distantly related; that they have actually only known each other for a fortnight. The woman must be a shameless flirt, and the man is evidently an adventurer.”
The poisoned arrow shot to its mark. Sir Oswald believed that these words had never been intended to reach his ears. He did not for a moment suspect that Lydia Graham had recognized his approaching figure on the moonlit terrace, and had uttered these words to her friend on purpose that they should reach his ears.
How should a true-hearted man suspect a woman’s malice? How should he fathom the black depths of wickedness to which a really false and heartless woman can descend?
He did not know that Lydia Graham had ever hoped to be mistress of his home. He did not know that she was inspired by fury against himself — by passionate envy of his wife. To him her words seemed only the careless slander of society, and experience had shown him that in such slanders there lurked generally some leaven of truth.
“I will not doubt her,” he thought, as he walked onward in the moonlight, too proud and too honourable to linger in order to hear anything more that Miss Graham might have to say. “I will not doubt the wife I love so fondly, because idle tongues are already busy with her fair fame. Already! We have not been married two months, and already evil tongues drop the poison of doubt into my ear. It seems too cruel! But I will watch her with this man. Her ignorance of the world may have caused her to be more familiar with him than the rigid usages of society would permit. And yet she is generally so dignified, so reserved — apt to err on the side of coldness rather than of warmth. I must watch! — I must watch!”
Never before had Sir Oswald known the anguish of distrust. But his was an impulsive nature, easily swayed by the force of any absorbing passion. Blindly, unquestionably, as he had abandoned himself to his love for Honoria Milford, so now he abandoned himself to the jealous doubts inspired by a malicious woman’s lying tongue.
That night his slumbers were broken and feverish. The next day he set himself to watch his wife and Victor Carrington.
The mind, imbued with suspicion, contemplates everything in a distorted light. Victor Carrington was especially attentive to the mistress of the castle. It was not that he talked to her, or usurped more of her society than his position warranted; but he devoted himself to her service with a slavish watchfulness which was foreign to the manner of an ordinary guest.
Wherever Lady Eversleigh went, Carrington’s eyes followed her; every wish of hers seemed to be divined by him. If she lingered for a few moments by an open window, Mr. Carrington was at hand with her shawl. If she was reading, and the leaves of her book required to be cut open, the surgeon had procured her a paper-knife before she could suffer inconvenience or delay. If she went to the piano, he was at the instrument before her, ready to adjust her chair, to arrange her music. In another man these attentions might have appeared very common-place, but so quiet of foot, so subdued of voice, was Victor Carrington, that there seemed something stealthy, something secret in his devotion; something which had no right to exist. One long day of patient watchfulness revealed all this to Sir Oswald Eversleigh; and with the revelation came a new and terrible agony.
How far was his wife to blame for all that was exceptional in the surgeon’s manner? Was she aware of his devotion? Did she encourage this silent and stealthy worship? She did not, at any rate, discourage it, since she permitted it.
The baronet wondered whether Victor Carrington’s manner impressed others as it impressed himself. One person had, he knew, been scandalized by the surgeon’s devotion to Lady Eversleigh; and had spoken of it in the plainest terms. But did other eyes see as Lydia Graham and he himself had seen?
He determined on questioning his nephew as to the character of the gentlemanly and accomplished surgeon, whom an impulse of kindness had prompted him to welcome under his roof — an impulse which he now bitterly regretted.
“Your friend, Mr. Carrington, is very attentive to Lady Eversleigh,” said Sir Oswald to Reginald, with a pitiable attempt at indifference of manner; “is he generally so devoted in his attention to ladies?”
“On the contrary, my dear uncle,” answered Reginald, with an appearance of carelessness which was as well assumed as that of his kinsman was awkward and constrained; “Victor Carrington generally entertains the most profound contempt for the fair sex. He is devoted to the science of chemistry, you know, and in London passes the best part of his life in his laboratory. But then Lady Eversleigh is such a superior person — it is no wonder he admires her.”
“He admires her very much, then?”
“Amazingly — if I can judge by what he said when first he became acquainted with her. He has grown more reserved lately.”
“Oh, indeed. He has grown more reserved lately, has he?” asked the baronet, whose suspicions were fed by every word his nephew uttered.
“Yes. I suppose he thinks I might take objection to his enthusiastic admiration of Lady Eversleigh. Very absurd of him, is it not? For, of course, my dear uncle, you cannot feel otherwise than proud when you see your beautiful young wife surrounded by worshippers; and one devotee more or less at the shrine can make little difference.”
These words, carelessly spoken, galled Sir Oswald to the quick; but he tried to conceal his pain, and parted from his nephew with affected gaiety of spirit.
Alone in his own study, he pondered long and moodily over the events of the day. He shrank from the society of his wife. Her tender words irritated him; he began to think those soft and loving accents were false. More than once he answered Honoria’s anxious questions as to the cause of his gloom with a harshness that terrified her. She saw that her husband was changed, and knew not whence the change arose. And this vagrant’s nature was a proud one. Her own manner changed to the man who had elevated her from the very mire to a position of splendour and honour. She, too, became reserved, and a cruel breach yawned between the husband and wife who, a few short days before, had been so happily united.
Truly, Victor Carrington’s schemes prospered. Reginald Eversleigh looked on in silent wonder — too base to oppose himself to the foul plot which was being concocted under his eyes. Whatever the schemer bade him do, he did without shame or scruple. Before him glittered the dazzling vision of future fortune.
A week elapsed — a weary week for Sir Oswald Eversleigh, for every day and every hour seemed to widen the gulf between himself and his wife. Conscious of her innocence of the smallest offence against the man she truly and honestly loved, Honoria was too proud to sue for an explanation of that mysterious change which had banished all happiness and peace from her breast. More than once she had asked the cause of her husband’s gloom of manner; more than once she had been coldly, almost rudely, repulsed. She sought, therefore, to question him no further; but held herself aloof from him with proud reserve. The cruel estrangement cost her dear; but she waited for Sir Oswald to break the ice — she waited for him to explain the meaning of his altered conduct.
In the meantime, she performed all her duties as mistress of the mansion with the same calm grace which had distinguished her from the first hour of her elevation to her new position. But the struggle was a painful one, and left its traces on her beautiful face. Sir Oswald perceived the change in that lovely countenance, and his jealousy distorted this change into a damning evidence against her.
“This man’s devotion has touched her heart,” he thought. “It is of him she is thinking when she is silent and pensive. She loves me no longer. Fool that I am, she never loved me! She saw in me a dupe ready to lift her from obscurity into the place she longed to occupy; and now that place is hers, she need no longer care to blindfold the eyes of her dupe; she may please herself, and enjoy the attentions of more agreeable adorers.”
Then, in the next moment, remorse took possession of the baronet’s heart, and for awhile he fancied that he had wronged his wife.
“Is she to blame because this man loves her?” he asked himself. “She may not even be aware of his love, though my watchful eyes have penetrated the secret. Oh, if I could only take her away from Raynham without delay — this very moment — or if I could clear the castle of all this frivolous, selfish, heartless gang — what happiness it would be! But I can do neither. I have invited these people, and I must play my part to the end. Even this Victor Carrington I dare not send out of my house; for, in so doing, I should confirm the suspicions of Lydia Graham, and all who think like her.”
Thus mused Sir Oswald as he paced the broad terrace-walk alone, while his guests were enjoying themselves in different parts of the castle and grounds; and while Lady Eversleigh spent the summer afternoon in her own apartments, brooding sadly on her husband’s unkindness.
There was one person to whom, in any ordinary trouble of mind, Sir Oswald Eversleigh would have most certainly turned for consolation; and that person was his old and tried friend, Captain Copplestone. But the jealous doubts which racked his brain were not to be revealed, even to this faithful friend. There was bitter humiliation in the thought of opening those bleeding wounds which had so newly lacerated his heart.
If Captain Copplestone had been near his friend in the hour of his trouble, he might, perhaps, have wrung the baronet’s secret from him in some unguarded moment; but within the last week the Captain had been confined to his own apartments by a violent attack of gout; and except a brief daily visit of inquiry, Sir Oswald had seen nothing of him.
He was very carefully tended, however, in his hours of suffering. Even her own anxiety of mind did not render Lady Eversleigh forgetful of her husband’s invalid friend. Every day, and many times a day, the Captain received some new evidence of her thoughtful care. It pleased her to do this — apart from her natural inclination to be kind to the suffering and friendless; for the soldier was her husband’s valued friend, and in testifying her respect for him, it seemed to her as if she were in some manner proving her devotion to the husband from whom she had become so mysteriously estranged.
Amongst the many plans which had been set on foot for the amusement of the guests at Raynham, there was one on which all the visitors, male and female, had especially set their hearts. This much-talked-of entertainment was a pic-nic, to take place at a celebrated spot, whose picturesque loveliness was supposed to be unrivalled in the county, and scarcely exceeded by any scene in all the expanse of fair England.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05