Charles Fairfield talked of sleeping. There was little chance of that. He placed the candle on one of the two old oak cupboards, as they were still called, which occupied corresponding niches in the wainscoted wall, opposite the fireplace, and he threw himself at his length on the sofa.
Tired enough for sleep he was; but who can stop the mill of anxious thought into which imagination pours continually its proper grist? In his tired head its wheels went turning, and its hammers beat with monotonous pulsation and whirl—weariest and most wasting of fevers!
He turned his face, like the men of old, in his anguish, to the wall. Then he tried the other side, wide awake, and literally staring, from point to point, in the fear and fatigue of his vain ruminations. Then up he sat, and flung his cloak on the floor, and then to the window he went, and, opening the shutter, looked out on the moonlight, and the peaceful trees that seemed bowed in slumber, and stood, hardly seeing it—hardly thinking in his confused misery.
One hand in his pocket, the other against the window-case, to which the stalworth good fellow, Harry, had leaned his shoulder in their unpleasant dialogue and altercation. Harry, his chief stay, his confidant and brother—dare he trust him now? If he might, where could he find him? Better do his own work—better do it indifferently than run a risk of treason. He did not quite know what to make of Harry.
So with desultory resolution he said to himself, “Now I’ll think in earnest, for I’ve got but two hours to decide in.” There was a pretty little German village, quite out of the ordinary route of tourists. He remembered its rocks and hills, its ruined castle and forest scenery, as if he had seen them but yesterday—the very place for Alice, with her simple tastes and real enjoyment of nature. On that point, though under present circumstances by short journeys, they should effect their retreat.
In three hours’ time he would himself leave the Grange. In the meantime he must define his plans exactly. He must write to Harry—he must write to Alice, for he was quite clear he would not see her; and, after all, he might have been making a great deal too much of this odious affair, which, rightly managed, might easily end in smoke.
Pen, ink, and paper he found, and now to clear his head and fix his attention. Luckily he had a hundred pounds in his pocket-book. Too hard that out of his miserable pittance, scarcely five hundred pounds a year, he should have to pay two hundred pounds to that woman, who never gave him an easy week, and who seemed bent on ruining him if she could. By the dull light of the mutton-fat with which Mildred had furnished him he wrote this note——
“My Darling Little Woman,—
“You must make Dulcibella pack up your things. Tom will have a chaise here at eleven o’clock. Drive to Wykeford and change horses there, and go on to Lonsdale, where I will meet you at last Then and there your own, poor, loving Ry will tell you all his plans and reasons for this sudden move. We must get away by easy stages, and baffle possible pursuit, and then a quiet and comparatively happy interval for my poor little fluttered bird. I live upon the hope of our meeting. Out of reach of all trouble we shall soon be, and your poor Ry happy, where only he can be happy, in your dear presence. I enclose ten pounds. Pay nothing and nobody at the Grange. Say I told you so. You will reach Lonsdale, if you leave Carwell not later than eleven, before five. Don’t delay to pack up any more than you actually want. Leave all in charge of old Mildred, and we can easily write in a day or two for anything we may want.
“Ever, my own idolized little woman,
“Your own poor adoring
So this was finished, and now for Harry:
“My dear Harry,—
“How you must hate the sight of my hand. I never write but to trouble you. But, as you will perceive, I am myself in trouble more than enough to warrant my asking you again to aid me if it should lie in your way. You will best judge if you can, and how you can. The fact is that what you apprehended turns out to be too true. That person who, however I may have been at one time to blame, has certainly no right to charge me with want of generosity or consideration, seems to have made up her mind to give me all the annoyance in her power. She is at this moment here at Carwell Grange. I was absent when she arrived, and received timely notice, and perhaps ought to have turned about, but I could not do that without ascertaining first exactly how matters stood at Carwell. So I am here, without any one’s being aware of it except old Mildred, who tells me that the person in question is under the impression that it is you—and not—who are married, and that it is your wife who is residing in the house. As you have been no party to this deception, pray let her continue to think so. I shall leave this before daybreak, my visit not having exceeded four hours. I leave a note for poor little Alice, telling her to follow me tomorrow—I should say this morning—to
Lonsdale, where I shall meet her; and thence we get on to London, and from London, my present idea is, to make our way to some quiet little place on the Continent, where I mean to stay quite concealed until circumstances alter for the better. What I want you, and beg of you to do for me at present, is just this—to sell everything at Carwell that is saleable—the horse, the mule, the two donkeys, the carts, plough, &c., &c., in fact everything out of doors; and let the farm to Mildred’s nephew, who wanted to take it last year. It is, including the garden, nineteen acres. I wish him to have it, provided he pays a fair rent, because I think he would be kind to his aunt, old Mildred. He must stipulate to give her her usual allowances of vegetables, milk, and all the rest from the farm; and she shall have her room, and the kitchen, and her 8l. a year as usual. Do like a good old fellow see to this, and try to turn all you can into money for me. I shall have miserably little to begin with, and anything you can get together will be a lift to me. If you write under cover to J. Dylke at the old place in Westminster, it will be sure to reach me. I don’t know whether all this is intelligible. You may guess how distracted I am and miserable. But there is no use in describing. I ought to beg your pardon a thousand times for asking you to take all the trouble involved in this request. But, dear Harry, you will ask yourself who else on earth has the poor devil to look to in an emergency but his brother? I know my good Harry will remember how urgent the case is. Any advice you can spare me in my solitary trouble will be most welcome. I think I have said everything—at least all I can think of in this miserable hurry—I feel so helpless. But you are a clever fellow, and always were—so much cleverer than I, and know how to manage things. God bless you, dear Harry, I know you won’t forget how pressed I am. You were always prompt in my behalf, and I never so needed a friend like you—for delay here might lead to the worst annoyances.
“Ever, dear Harry, your affectionate brother,
It was a relief to his mind when these letters were off it, and something like the rude outline of a plan formed.
Very tired was Charles Fairfield when he had folded and addressed his letters. No physical exertion exhausts like the monotonous pain of anxiety. For many nights he had had no sleep, but those wearying snatches of half-consciousness in which the same troublous current is still running through the brain, and the wasted nerves of endurance are still tasked. He sat now in his chair, the dim red light of the candle at his elbow, the window shutter open before him, and the cold serene light of the moon over the outer earth and sky.
Gazing on this, a weary sleep stole over his senses, and for a full hour the worn-out man slept profoundly.
Into this slumber slowly wound a dream, of which he could afterwards remember only that it was somehow horrible.
Dark and direful grew his slumber thus visited; and in a way that accorded well with its terrors, he was awakened.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57