On the very day of the trial Mr. Emilius travelled from London to Kilmarnock. The trial took place on a Monday, so that he had at his command an entire week before he would be required to appear again in his church. He had watched the case against Benjamin and Smiler very closely, and had known beforehand, almost with accuracy, what witnesses would appear and what would not at the great coming event at the Old Bailey. When he first heard of Lady Eustace’s illness he wrote to her a most affectionately pastoral letter, strongly adjuring her to think of her health before all things, and assuring her that in his opinion and in that of all his friends she was quite right not to come up to London. She wrote him a very short but very gracious answer, thanking him for his solicitude and explaining to him that her condition made it quite impossible that she should leave Portray. “I don’t suppose anybody knows how ill I am; but it does not matter. When I am gone, they will know what they have done.” Then Mr. Emilius resolved that he would go down to Scotland. Perhaps Lady Eustace was not as ill as she thought; but it might be that the trial and the hard things lately said of her, and her loneliness and the feeling that she needed protection, might, at such a moment as this, soften her heart. She should know at least that one tender friend did not desert her because of the evil things which men said of her.
He went to Kilmarnock, thinking it better to make his approaches by degrees. Were he to present himself at once at the castle and be refused admittance, he would hardly know how to repeat his application or to force himself upon her presence. From Kilmarnock he wrote to her, saying that business connected with his ministrations during the coming autumn had brought him into her beautiful neighbourhood, and that he could not leave it without paying his respects to her in person. With her permission he would call upon her on the Thursday at about noon. He trusted that the state of her health would not prevent her from seeing him, and reminded her that a clergyman was often as welcome a visitor at the bedside of the invalid, as the doctor or the nurse. He gave her no address, as he rather wished to hinder her from answering him, but at the appointed hour he knocked at the castle door.
Need it be said that Lizzie’s state of health was not such as to preclude her from seeing so intimate a friend as Mr. Emilius. That she was right to avoid by any effort the castigation which was to have fallen upon her from the tongue of the learned sergeant, the reader who is not straight-laced will be disposed to admit. A lone woman, very young, and delicately organised! How could she have stood up against such treatment as was in store for her? And is it not the case that false pretexts against public demands are always held to be justifiable by the female mind? What lady will ever scruple to avoid her taxes? What woman ever understood her duty to the State? And this duty which was required of her was so terrible that it might well have reduced to falsehood a stouter heart than her own. It can hardly be reckoned among Lizzie’s great sins that she did not make that journey up to London; An appearance of sickness she did maintain, even with her own domestics. To do as much as that was due even to the doctor whom she had cajoled out of the certificate, and who was afterwards frightened into maintaining it. But Mr. Emilius was her clergyman — her own clergyman, as she took care to say to her maid — her own clergyman, who had come all the way from London to be present with her in her sickness; and of course she would see him.
Lizzie did not think much of the coming autumnal ministration at Kilmarnock. She knew very well why Mr. Emilius had undertaken the expense of a journey into Scotland in the middle of the London season. She had been maimed fearfully in her late contests with the world, and was now lame and soiled and impotent. The boy with none of the equipments of the skilled sportsman can make himself master of a wounded bird. Mr. Emilius was seeking her in the moment of her weakness, fearing that all chance of success might be over for him should she ever again recover the full use of her wings. All this Lizzie understood, and was able to measure Mr. Emilius at his own value of himself; but then, again, she was forced to ask herself what was her value. She had been terribly mauled by the fowlers. She had been hit, so to say, on both wings, and hardly knew whether she would ever again be able to attempt a flight in public. She could not live alone in Portray Castle for the rest of her days. Ianthe’s soul and the Corsair were not, in truth, able to console her for the loss of society. She must have somebody to depend upon — ah, some one whom, if it were possible, she might love. She saw no reason why she should not love Mr. Emilius. She had been shockingly ill-treated by Lord Fawn and the Corsair and Frank Greystock. No woman had ever been so knocked about in her affections. She pitied herself with an exceeding pity when she thought of all the hardships which she had endured. Left an early widow, persecuted by her husband’s family, twice robbed, spied upon by her own servants, unappreciated by the world at large, ill-used by three lovers, victimised by her selected friend, Mrs. Carbuncle, and now driven out of society because she had lost her diamonds, was she not more cruelly treated than any woman of whom she had ever read or heard? But she was not going to give up the battle, even now. She still had her income, and she had great faith in income. And though she knew that she had been grievously wounded by the fowlers, she believed that time would heal her wounds. The world would not continue to turn its back altogether upon a woman with four thousand pounds a year, because she had told a fib about her necklace. She weighed all this; but the conviction strongest upon her mind was the necessity that she should have a husband. She felt that a woman by herself in the world can do nothing, and that an unmarried woman’s strength lies only in the expectation that she may soon be married. To her it was essentially necessary that she should have the protection of a husband who might endure on her behalf some portion of those buffetings to which she seemed to be especially doomed. Could she do better with herself than to take Mr. Emilius?
Might she have chosen from all the world, Mr. Emilius was not, perhaps, the man whom she would have selected. There were, indeed, attributes in the man, very objectionable in the sight of some people, which to her were not specially disagreeable. She thought him rather good-looking than otherwise, in spite of a slight defect in his left eye. His coal-black, glossy hair commanded and obtained her admiration, and she found his hooky nose to be handsome. She did not think much of the ancestral blood of which he had boasted, and hardly believed that he would ever become a bishop. But he was popular, and with a rich, titled wife, might become more so. Mr. Emilius and Lady Eustace would, she thought, sound very well, and would surely make their way in society. The man had a grasping ambition about him, and a capacity, too, which, combined, would enable him to preach himself into notoriety. And then in marrying Mr. Emilius, should she determine to do so, she might be sure, almost sure, of dictating her own terms as to settlement. With Lord Fawn, with Lord George, or even with her cousin Frank, there would have been much difficulty. She thought that with Mr. Emilius she might obtain the undisputed command of her own income. But she did not quite make up her mind. She would see him and hear what he had to say. Her income was her own, and should she refuse Mr. Emilius, other suitors would no doubt come.
She dressed herself with considerable care — having first thought of receiving him in bed; but as the trial had now gone on without her, it would be convenient that her recovery should be commenced. So she had herself dressed in a white morning wrapper with pink bows, and allowed the curl to be made fit to hang over her shoulder. And she put on a pair of pretty slippers, with gilt bindings, and took a laced handkerchief and a volume of Shelley — and so prepared herself to receive Mr. Emilius. Lizzie, since the reader first knew her, had begun to use a little colouring in the arrangement of her face, and now, in honour of her sickness, she was very pale indeed; but still, through the paleness, there was the faintest possible tinge of pink colour shining through the translucent pearl powder. Any one who knew Lizzie would be sure that when she did paint she would paint well.
The conversation at first was, of course, confined to the lady’s health. She thought that she was, perhaps, getting better, though, as the doctor had told her, the reassuring symptoms might probably prove only too fallacious. She could eat nothing — literally nothing. A few grapes out of the hot-house had supported her for the last week. This statement was foolish on Lizzie’s part, as Mr. Emilius was a man of an inquiring nature, and there was not a grape in the garden. Her only delight was in reading and in her child’s society. Sometimes she thought that she would pass away with the boy in her arms and her favourite volume of Shelley in her hand. Mr. Emilius expressed a hope that she would not pass away yet, for ever so many years.
“Oh, my friend,” said Lizzie, “what is life, that one should desire it?” Mr. Emilius of course reminded her that, though her life might be nothing to herself, it was very much indeed to those who loved her. “Yes — to my boy,” said Lizzie. Mr. Emilius informed her, with confidence, that it was not only her boy that loved her. There were others — or, at any rate, one other. She might be sure of one faithful heart, if she cared for that. Lizzie only smiled and threw from her taper fingers a little paper pellet into the middle of the room — probably with the view of showing at what value she prized the heart of which Mr. Emilius was speaking.
The trial had occupied two days, Monday and Tuesday, and this was now the Wednesday. The result had been telegraphed to Mr. Emilius, of course without any record of the sergeant’s bitter speech, and the suitor now gave the news to his ladylove. Those two horrid men had at last been found guilty, and punished with all the severity of the law. “Poor fellows,” said Lady Eustace, “poor Mr. Benjamin! Those ill-starred jewels have been almost as unkind to him as to me.”
“He’ll never come back alive, of course,” said Mr. Emilius. “It’ll kill him.”
“And it will kill me too,” said Lizzie. “I have a something here which tells me that I shall never recover. Nobody will ever believe what I have suffered about those paltry diamonds. But he coveted them. I never coveted them, Mr. Emilius; though I clung to them because they were my darling husband’s last gift to me.” Mr. Emilius assured her that he quite understood the facts, and appreciated all her feelings.
And now, as he thought, had come the time for pressing his suit. With widows, he had been told, the wooing should be brisk. He had already once asked her to be his wife, and of course she knew the motive of his journey down to Scotland. “Dearest Lady Eustace,” he said suddenly, “may I be allowed to renew the petition which I was once bold enough to make to you in London?”
“Petition?” exclaimed Lizzie.
“Ah, yes: I can well understand that your indifference should enable you to forget it. Lady Eustace, I did venture to tell you — that — I loved you.”
“Mr. Emilius, so many men have told me that.”
“I can well believe it. Some have told you so, perhaps, from base, mercenary motives.”
“You are very complimentary, sir.”
“I shall never pay you any compliments, Lady Eustace. Whatever may be our future intercourse in life, you will only hear words of truth from my lips. Some have told you so from mercenary motives.” Mr. Emilius repeated the words with severity, and then paused to hear whether she would dare to argue with him. As she was silent, he changed his voice, and went on with that sweet, oily tone which had made his fortune for him. “Some, no doubt, have spoken from the inner depths of their hearts; but none, Lady Eustace, have spoken with such adamantine truth, with so intense an anxiety, with so personal a solicitude for your welfare in this world and the next, as that, or I should rather say those, which glow within this bosom.” Lizzie was certainly pleased by the manner in which he addressed her. She thought that a man ought to dare to speak out, and that on such an occasion as this he should venture to do so with some enthusiasm and some poetry. She considered that men generally were afraid of expressing themselves, and were as dumb as dogs from the want of becoming spirit. Mr. Emilius gesticulated, and struck his breast, and brought out his words as though he meant them.
“It is easy to say all that, Mr. Emilius,” she replied.
“The saying of it is hard enough, Lady Eustace. You can never know how hard, it is to speak from a, full heart. But to feel it, I will not say is easy; only to me; not to feel it is impossible. Lady Eustace, my heart is devoted to your heart, and seeks its comrade. It is sick with love, and will not be stayed. It forces from me words, words which will return upon me with all the bitterness of gall, if they be not accepted by you as faithful, ay and of great value.”
“I know well the value of such a heart as yours, Mr. Emilius.”
“Accept it then, dearest one.”
“Love will not always go by command, Mr. Emilius.”
“No, indeed; nor at command will it stay away. Do you think I have not tried that? Do you believe that for a man it can be pleasant to be rebuffed; that for one who up to this day has always walked on, triumphant over every obstacle, who has conquered every nay that has obstructed his path, it can have less of bitterness than the bitterness of death to encounter a no from the lips of a woman?”
“A poor woman’s no should be nothing to you, Mr. Emilius.”
“It is everything to me, death, destruction, annihilation, unless I can overcome it. Darling of my heart, queen of my soul, empress presiding over the very spirit of my being, say, shall I overcome it now?”
She had never been made love to after this fashion before. She knew, or half knew, that the man was a scheming hypocrite, craving her money, and following her in the hour of her troubles, because he might then have the best chance of success. She had no belief whatever in his love; and yet she liked it, and approved his proceedings. She liked lies, thinking them to be more beautiful than truth. To lie readily and cleverly, recklessly and yet successfully, was, according to the lessons which she had learned, a necessity in woman and an added grace in man. There was that wretched Macnulty, who would never lie; and what was the result? She was unfit even for the poor condition of life which she pretended to fill. When poor Macnulty had heard that Mr. Emilius was coming to the castle, and had not even mentioned her name, and again, when he had been announced on this very morning, the unfortunate woman had been unable to control her absurd disappointment.
“Mr. Emilius,” Lizzie said, throwing herself back upon her couch, “you press me very hard.”
“I would press you harder still to gain the glory I covet.” And he made a motion with arms as though he had already got her tight within his grasp.
“You take advantage of my illness.”
“In attacking a fortress do not the besiegers take all advantages? Dear Lady Eustace, allow me to return to London with the right of protecting your name at this moment, in which the false and the thoughtless are attacking it. You need a defender now.”
“I can defend myself, sir, from all attacks. I do not know that any one can hurt me.”
“God forbid that you should be hurt. Heaven forbid that even the winds of Heaven should blow too harshly on my beloved. But my beloved is subject to the malice of the world. My beloved is a flower all beautiful within and without, but one whose stalk is weak, whose petals are too delicate, whose soft bloom is evanescent. Let me be the strong staff against which my beloved may blow in safety.”
A vague idea came across Lizzie’s mind that this glowing language had a taste of the Bible about it, and that, therefore, it was in some degree impersonal and intended to be pious. She did not relish piety at such a crisis as this, and was therefore for a moment inclined to be cold; but she liked being called a flower, and was not quite sure whether she remembered her Bible rightly. The words which struck her ear as familiar might have come from Juan and Haidee, and if so, nothing could be more opportune.
“Do you expect me to give you an answer now, Mr. Emilius?”
“Yes, now.” And he stood before her in calm dignity, with his arms crossed upon his breast.
She did give him his answer then and there, but first she turned her face to the wall, or rather to the back of the sofa, and burst into a flood of tears. It was a delicious moment to her, that in which she was weeping. She sobbed forth something about her child, something about her sorrows, something as to the wretchedness of her lot in life, something of her widowed heart, something also of that duty to others which would compel her to keep her income in her own hands; and then she yielded herself to his entreaties.
That evening she thought it proper to tell Miss Macnulty what had occurred. “He is a great preacher of the gospel,” she said, “and I know no position in the world more worthy of a woman’s fondest admiration.” Miss Macnulty was unable to answer a word. She could not congratulate her successful rival, even though her bread depended on it. She crept slowly out of the room, and went up-stairs and wept.
Early in the month of June, Lady Eustace was led to the hymeneal altar by her clerical bridegroom. The wedding took place at the Episcopal Church at Ayr, far from the eyes of curious Londoners. It need only be further said that Mr. Emilius could be persuaded to agree to no settlements prejudicial to that marital supremacy which should be attached to the husband; and that Lizzie, when the moment came, knowing that her betrothal had been made public to all the world, did not dare to recede from another engagement. It may be that Mr. Emilius will suit her as well as any husband that she could find, unless it shall be found that his previous career has been too adventurous. After a certain fashion he will, perhaps, be tender to her; but he will have his own way in everything, and be no whit afraid when she is about to die in an agony of tears before his eyes. The writer of the present story may, however, declare that the future fate of this lady shall not be left altogether in obscurity.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01