In spite of her troubles, as she sat by the fire, looking out through the window, fatigue overcame Mildred, and she nodded. But her brain being troubled, and her attitude uneasy, she awoke suddenly from a sinister dream, and as still unconscious where she was, her eyes opened upon the same melancholy foliage and moonlit sky and the dim enclosure of the yard, the scenery on which they had closed. She saw a pale face staring in upon her through the window. The fingers were tapping gently on the glass.
Old Mildred blinked and shook her head to get rid of what seemed to her a painful illusion.
It was Charles Fairfield who stood at the window, looking wild and miserably ill.
Mildred stood up, and he beckoned. She signed toward the door, which she went forthwith and opened.
“Come in, sir,” she said.
His saddle, by the stirrup-leather, and his bridle were in his hand. Thus he entered the kitchen, and dropped them on the tiled floor. She looked in his face, he looked in hers. There was a silence. It was not Mildred’s business to open the disagreeable subject
“Would you please like anything?”
“No, no supper, thanks. Give me a drink of water, I’m thirsty. I’m tired, and—we’re quite to ourselves?”
“Yes, sir; but wouldn’t ye better have beer?” answered she.
And he drank a deep draught.
“Where’s the horse, sir?” she asked after a glance at the saddle which lay on its side on the floor.
“In the field, the poplar field, all right—well!’
“Tom told you my message, sir,” she asked, averting her eyes a little.
“Yes—where is she—asleep?”
“The mistress is in her bed, asleep I do suppose.”
“Yes, yes, and quite well, Tom says. And where is the—the—you sent me word there was some one here. I know whom you mean. Where is she?”
“In the front bedroom—the old room—it will be over the hall-door, you know—she’s in bed, and asleep, I’m thinkin’; but best not make any stir—some folks sleep so light, ye know.”
“It’s late,” he said, taking out his watch, but forgetting to consult it, “and I dare say she is—she came tonight, yes—and she’s tired, or ought to be—a long way.”
He walked to the window, and was looking, with the instinct which leads us always, in dark places, to look toward the light, above the dusky trees to the thin luminous cloud that streaked the sky.
“Pretty well tired myself, Mr. Charles; you may guess the night I’ve put in; I was a’most sleepin’ myself when ye came to the window. Tom said ye wern’t a comin’; ’tis a mercy the yard door wasn’t locked; five minutes more and I’d have locked it.”
“It would not have mattered much, Mildred.”
“Ye’d a climbed, and pushed up the window, mayhap.”
“No; I’d have walked on; a feather would have turned me from the door as it was.”
He turned about and looked at her dreamily.
“On where?” she inquired.
“On, anywhere; on into the glen. If you are tired, Mildred, so am I.”
“You need a good sleep. Master Charles.”
“A long sleep, Mildred. I’m tired. I had a mind as it was to walk on and trouble you here no more.”
“Walk on—hoot! nonsense, Mr. Charles; ’tisn’t come to that; giving up your house to a one like her.”
“I wish I was dead, Mildred. I don’t know whether it was a good or an evil angel that turned me in here. I’d have been easier by this time if I had gone on, and had my leap from the scaur to the bottom of the glen.”
“None o’ that nonsense, man!” said Mildred, sternly; “ye ha’ brought that poor young lady into a doubtful pass, and ye must stand by her, Charles. You’re come of no cowardly stock, and ye shan’t gi’e her up, and your babe that’s comin’, poor little thing to shame and want for lack of a man’s heart under your ribs. I say, I know nout o’ the rights of it; but God will judge ye if ye leave her now.”
High was Mrs. Tarnley’s head, and very grim she looked as with her hand on his shoulder she shook up “Master Charles” from the drowse of death.
“I won’t, old Tarnley,” he said at last. “You’re right—poor little Alice, the loving little thing!”
He turned suddenly again to the window and wept in silence strange tears of agony.
Old Tarnley looked at him sternly askance. I don’t think she had much pity for him; she was in nowise given to the melting mood, and hardly knew what that sort of whimpering meant.
“I say,” she broke out, “I don’t know the rights of it, how should I? but this I believe, if you thought you were truly married to that woman that’s come tonight, you’d never a found it in your heart to act such a villain’s part by the poor, young, foolish creature up stairs, and make a sham wife o’ her.”
“Never, never, by heaven. I’m no more that wretched woman’s husband than I’m married to you.”
“Mildred knew better than marry anyone; there’s little I see but tears and wrinkles, and oftentimes rags and hunger comes of it; but ’twill be done, marryin’ and givin’ in marriage, says the Scriptures, ’tis so now, ’twas so when Noah went into the ark, and ’twill be so when the day of judgment breaks over us.”
“Yes,” said Charles Fairfield, abstractedly; “of course that miserable woman sticks at no assertion; her idea is simply to bully her way to her object. It doesn’t matter what she says, and it never surprised me. I always knew if she lived she’d give me trouble one day; but that’s all; just trouble, but no more; not the slightest chance of succeeding—not the smallest; she knows it; I know it. The only thing that vexes me is that people who know all about it as well as I do, and people who, of all others, should feel for me, and feel with me, should talk as if they had doubts upon the subject now.”
“I didn’t say so. Master Charles,” said Mildred.
“I didn’t mean you, I meant others, quite a different person; I’m utterly miserable; at a more unlucky moment all this could not have happened by any possibility.”
“Well, I’m sure I never said it; I never thought but one thing of her; the foul-tongued wicked beast.”
“Don’t you talk that way of her,” said Charles, savagely. “Whatever she is she has suffered, she has been cruelly used, and I am to blame for all. I did not mean it, but it is all my fault.”
Mrs. Tarnley sneered, but said nothing, and a silence followed.
“I know,” he said, in a changed way, “you mean kindly to me.”
“Be kind to yourself. I hold it’s the best way in this bleak world, Mr. Charles. I never was thanked for kindness yet.”
“You have always been true to me, Mildred, in your own way—in your own way, mind, but always true, and I’ll show you yet, if I’m spared, that I can be grateful. You know how I am now—no power to serve anyone—no power to show my regard.”
“I don’t complain o’ nothing,” said Mildred.
“Has my brother been here, Mildred,” he asked.
“No letters for me?” asked he.
“You never get a lift when you want it —— never,” said Charles, with a bitter groan; “never was a fellow driven harder to the wall—never a fellow nearer his wits’ ends. I’m very glad, Mildred, I have some one to talk to—one old friend. I don’t know what to do—I can’t make up my mind to anything, and if I hadn’t you just now, I think I should go distracted. I have a great deal to ask you. That lady, you say, has been in her room some time—did she talk loud—was she angry—was there any noise?”
“Who saw her?”
“No one but myself, and the man as drove her.”
“Thank God for that. Does she know about my—did she hear that your mistress is in the house?”
“I said she was Master Harry’s wife, and told her, Lord forgive me, that he was here continually, and you hardly ever, and then only for a few hours at a time.”
“That’s very good—she believed it?”
“Every word, so far as I could see. I a’ told a deal o’ lies.”
“Well, well, and what more?”
“And the beginning of sin is like the coming in of waters, and ’twill soon make an o’er wide gap for itself, and lay all under.”
“Yes—and—and—you really think she believed all you said?”
“Ay, I do,” answered she.
“Thank God, again?” said he, with a deep sigh. “Oh, Mildred, I wish I could think what’s best to be done. There are ever so many things in my head.”
She felt a trembling she thought in the hand he laid upon her arm.
“Take a drink o’ beer, you’re tired, sir.” said she.
“No, no—not much—never mind, I’m better as I am. How has your mistress been?”
“Well, midlin’— pretty well.”
“I wish she was quite well, Mildred—it’s very unlucky. If the poor little thing were only quite well, it would make everything easy; but I daren’t frighten her—I daren’t tell her—it might be her death. Oh, Mildred, isn’t all this terrible?”
“Bad enough—I can’t deny.”
“Would it be better to run that risk and tell her everything?” he said.
“Well, it is a risk, an’ a great one, and it might be the same as puttin’ a pistol to her head and killin’ her; ’tis a tryin’ time with her, poor child, and a dangerous bed, and mind ye this, if there’s any talk like that, and the crying and laughing fits mayhap that comes with it, don’t ye think but the old cat will hear it, and then in the wild talk a’s out in no time, and the fat in the fire; no, if she’s to hear it, it can’t be helped, and the will o’ God be done; but if I was her husband, I’d sooner die than tell her, being as she is.”
“No, of course, no—she must not be told; I’m sure you’re right, Mildred. I wish Harry was here, he thinks of things sometimes, that don’t strike me. I wish Harry would come, he might think of something—he would, I dare say—he would, I’m certain.”
“I wish that woman was back again where she came from,” said Mildred, from whose mind the puce gros de Nuples was fading, for she had a profound distrust of her veracity, and the pelisse looked very like a puce-coloured lie.
“Don’t Mildred—don’t, like a good creature—you won’t for my sake, speak harshly of that unhappy person,” he said gently this time, and laying his hand on her shoulder. “I’m glad you are here, Mildred—I’m very glad; I remember you as long as I can remember anything—you were always kind to me, Mildred—always the same—true as steel.”
He was speaking with the friendliness of distress. It is in pain that sympathy grows precious, and with the yearning for it, returns something of the gentleness and affection of childhood.
“She’s come for no good,” said Mildred, “she’s sly, and she’s savage, and if you don’t mind me saying so, I often thought she was a bit mad—folk as has them fits, ye know, they does get sometimes queerish.”
“We can talk of her by-and-by,” said he; “what was in my mind was about a different thing. For a thousand reasons I should hate a fracas—I mean a row with that person at present; you know yourself how it might affect the poor little thing up stairs. Oh, my darling, my darling, what have I brought you into?”
“Well, well, no help for spilled milk,” said Mildred. “What was you a-thinking of?”
“Oh, yes, thank you, Mildred—I was thinkings—yes—if your mistress was well enough for a journey, I’d take her away from this—I’d take her away immediately—I’d take her quite out of the reach of that—that restless person. I ought to have done so at once, but I was so miserably poor, and this place here to receive us, and who could have fancied she’d have dreamed, in her state of health, and with her affliction—her sight, you know—of coming down here again; but I’m the unluckiest fellow on earth; I never, by any chance, leave a blot that isn’t hit. Don’t you think, Mildred, I had better not wake your mistress tonight to talk over plans?”
“Don’t you go near her; a sight of your face would tell her all wasn’t right.”
“I had better not see her, you think?”
“Don’t see her. So soon as you know yourself what you’re going to do with her, and if you make up your mind tonight so much the better—write you to tell her what she’s to do, and give me the letter and I’ll give it to her as if it came by a messenger; and take you my counsel—don’t you stop here a minute longer than you can. Leave before daybreak, you’re no use here, and if she finds you ’twill but make bad worse. When will ye lie down—you’ll not be good for nothin’ tomorrow if ye don’t sleep a bit—he down on the sofa in the parlour, and your cloak is hangin’ in the passage, and be you out o’ the house by daybreak, and I’ll have a bit o’ breakfast ready before ye go.”
“And there’s Lady Wyndale, I didn’t tell you, offered to take care of Alice, your mistress, and she need only go there for the present; but that might be too near, and I was thinking it might not do.”
“Best out o’ reach altogether when ye go-about it,” said Mildred. “Sit here if you like it, or lie down, as I said, in the parlour, and if you settle your mind on any plan just knock at my door, and I’ll have my clothes about me and be ready at call, and Tom’s in his old crib under the stair, if you want him to get the saddle on the horse, and I won’t take down the fire, I’ll have it handy for your breakfast, and now I can’t stop talkin’ no longer, for Mildred’s wore off her feet—will ye take a candle, or will ye stop here?”
“Yes, give me a candle, Mildred—thanks—and don’t mind the cloak. I’ll get it myself, I will lie down a little, and try to sleep—I wish I could—and if you waken shake me up in an hour or two, something must be settled before I leave this, something shall be settled, and that poor little creature out of reach of trouble and insult. Don’t forget. Good night, Mildred, and God bless you, Mildred, God for ever bless you.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57