So far as a man not very resolute can be said to have made up his mind to anything, Charles Fairfield had quite made up his, driven thus fairly into a comer, to fight his battle now, and decisively. He would hold no terms and offer no compromise. Let her do her worst. She had found out his secret. Oh! brother Harry, had you played him false? And she had quoted your opinion against him. Had you been inflaming this insane enemy with an impracticable confidence?
Well, no matter, now; all the better, perhaps. There was already an end of concealment between that enemy and himself, and soon would be of suspense.
“God help me! at the eve of what an abyss I stand. That wretched woman, poor as she is, and nearly mad, in a place like London shell be certain to find lawyers only too glad to take up her case, and force me to a trial—first, a trial to prove a marriage and make costs of me, and then. Heaven knows what more; and the publicity, and the miserable uncertainty; and Alice, poor little Alice. Merciful Heaven! what had she done to merit this long agony and possible ruin?”
He peeped into the dining-room as he passed, but all was there as he had left it. Alice had not been in it. So at the kitchen door he knocked.
“Who’s there? Is anyone there?”
Encouraged by his voice old Dulcibella answered from within. The door was opened, and he entered.
A few moments’ silence, except for Alice’s murmured and sobbing welcome, a trembling, close embrace, and he said, with a gentle look, in a faint tone—
“Alice, darling, I have no good news to tell. Everything has gone wrong with me, and we must leave this. Let Dulcibella go up and get such things as are necessary to take with you; but, Dulcibella, mind you tell nobody your mistress is leaving this. And, Alice, you’ll come with me. We’ll go where they can neither follow nor trace us; and let fate do its worst. We may be happier yet in our exile than ever we were at home. And when they have banished me they have done their worst.”
His tenderness for Alice, frozen for a time, had returned. As she clung to him, her large, soft gray eyes looking up in his face so piteously moved him. He had intended a different sort of speech—colder, dryer—and under the spell of that look had come this sudden gush of a better feeling—the fond clasp of his arm, and the hurried kiss he pressed upon her cheek.
“I said, Alice, happier, happier, darling, a thousandfold. For the present I speak in riddles. You have seen how miserable I am. I’ll tell you everything by-and-by. A conspiracy, I do believe, an unnatural conspiracy, that has worn out my miserable brain and spirits, and harassed me to death. I’ll tell you all time enough, and you’ll say it is a miracle I have borne it as I do. Don’t look so frightened, you poor little thing. We are perfectly safe; I’m in no real danger, but harassed incessantly—only harassed, and that, thank God, shall end.”
He kissed her again very tenderly, and again; and he said—
“You and Dulcibella shall go on. Clinton will drive you to Hatherton, and there you’ll get horses and post on to Cranswell, and I will overtake you there. I must go now and give him his directions, and I may as well leave you this note. I wrote it yesterday. You must have some money—there is some in it, and the names of the places, and we’ll be there tonight. And what is it, darling?
You look as if you wished to ask me something.”
I—I was going to ask—but I thought perhaps I ought not until you can tell me everything—but you spoke of a conspiracy, and I was going to ask whether that dreadful woman who got into my room has anything to do with it.”
“Nonsense, child, that is a miserable mad woman; “he laughed dismally. “Just wait a little, and you shall know all I know myself.”
“She’s not to stay here, I mean, of course, if anything should prevent our leaving this today.”
“Why should you fancy that?” he asked, a little enigmatically.
“Mrs. Tarnley said she was going to the madhouse.”
“We’ll see time enough, you shall see her no more,” he said, and away he went, and she saw him pass by the window and out of the yard. And now she had leisure to think how ill he was looking, or rather to remember how it had struck her when he had appeared at the door. Yes, indeed, worn out and harassed to death. Thank God, he was now to escape from that misery, and to secure the repose which it was only too obvious he needed.
Dulcibella returned with such things as she thought indispensable, and she and her mistress were soon in more animated discussion than they had engaged in since the scenes of the past night.—
Charles Fairfield had to make a call at farmer Chubb’s to persuade him to lend his horse, about which he made a difficulty. It was not far up the glen towards Church Carwell, but when he came back he found the Grange again in a new confusion.
When Charles Fairfield, ascending the steep and narrow road which under tall trees darkly mounts from the Glen of Carwell to the plateau under the grey walls of the Grange, had reached that sylvan platform, he saw there, looking in the direction of Cressley Common, in that dim, religious light, Tom Clinton, in his fustian jacket, scratching his head and looking, it seemed, with interest, after some receding object. A little behind him, similarly engrossed, stood old Mildred Tarnley, with her hand above her eyes, though there was little need of artificial shade in that solemn grove, and again, a little to her rear, peeped broad-shouldered Lilly Dogger, standing close to the threshold of the yard door.
Tom Clinton was first to turn about, and sauntering slowly toward the house, he spoke something to Mrs. Tarnley, who, waiting till he reached her, turned about in the same direction, and talking gravely, and looking over their shoulders, as people sometimes do in the direction in which a runaway horse has disappeared, they came to a standstill at the door, under the great ash-tree, whose columnar stem is mantled with thick ivy, and there again looking back, the little girl leaning and listening, unheeded, against the door-post, the group remained in conference.
Had Charles Fairfield been in his usual state of mind his curiosity would have been piqued by an appearance of activity so unusual in his drowsy household. As it was, he cared not, but approached, looking down upon the road with his hands in his pockets listlessly.
Mrs. Tarnley whispered something to Tom and jogged him in the ribs, looking all the time at the approaching figure of Charles Fairfield.
The master of the Orange approached, looked up, and saw Tom standing near, with the air of one who had something to say. Mrs. Tarnley had drawn back, a little doubtful possibly, of the effect on his nerves.
“Well, Tom Chubbs will lend the horse,” said Charles. “We’ll go round to the stable, I’ve a word to say.”
Tom touched his hat, still looking in his face with an inquiring and ominous expression.
“Do you want to say anything particular, Tom?” asked his master, with a sudden foreboding of some new ill.
“Nothing, sir, but Squire Rodney of Wrydell, has come over from Wykeford.”
“He’s here—is he?” asked Charles, paler on a sudden.
“He’s gone, sir, please.”
“Gone, is he? Well, well, there’s not much in that.”
“’Twas only, sir, that he brought two men wi’ him.”
“Do you mean?—you don’t mean—what men did he bring?”
“Well, they was constable folk, I believe, they must a’ bin, for they made an arrest.”
“A what? do you mean?”
“He made out a writin’, and he ’ad me in, and questioned me, but I’d nout to tell, sir, and he asked where you was, and I told him, as you ordered I was to say, you was gone. and he took the mistress’s her story, and made her make oath on’t, and the same wi’ the others—Mrs. Tarnley, and the little girl, and the blind woman, she be took up for murder, or I don’t know for what, only he said he could not take no bail for her, so they made her sure, and has took her off, I do suppose, to Wykeford pris’n.”
“Of course, that’s right, I suppose, all right, eh?” Charles looked as if he was going to drop to the earth, so leaden was his hue, and so meaningless the stare with which he looked in Tom’s face.
“But—but—who sent for him? I didn’t. D—you, who sent for him? ’Twasn’t I. And—and who’s master here? Who the devil sent for that meddling rascal from Wykeford?”
Charles’s voice had risen to a roar as he shook Tom furiously by the collar.
Springing back a bit, Tom answered, with his hand grasping his collar where the squire had just clutched him.
“I don’t know, I didn’t, and I don’t believe no one did. It’s a smart run from here across the common. I don’t believe no one sent from the Grange—I’m sure no one went from this—not a bit, not a toe, not a soul, I’m sure and certain.”
“What’s this, what’s this, what the devil’s all this, Tom?” said the squire, stamping, and shaking his fist in the air, like a man distracted.
“Why did you let her go—why did you let them take her—damn you? I’ve a mind to pitch you over that cliff and smash you.”
“Well, sir,” said Tom, making another step or two back, and himself pale and stern now, with his open hand raised, partly in deprecation, “where’s the good o’ blamin’ me? what could I do wi’ the law again me, and how could I tell what you’d think, and ’twarn’t no one from this sent for him, not one, but news travels a-pace, and who’s he can stop it?—not me, nor yaw,” said Tom, sturdily, “and he just come over of his own head, and nabbed her.”
“My God! It’s done. I thought you would not have allowed me to be trampled on, and the place insulted; I took ye for a man, Tom. Where’s my horse—by heaven, I’ll have him. I’ll make it a day’s work he’ll remember. That damn Rodney, coming down to my house with his catchpoles, to pay off old scores, and insult me.”
With his fist clenched and raised, Charles Fairfield ran furiously round to the stable yard, followed cautiously by Tom Clinton.
Last updated Monday, March 30, 2015 at 21:19