That evening was very long and very sad to the three ladies assembled in the drawing-room at Bragton Park, but it was probably more so to Lady Augustus than the other two. She hardly spoke to either of them; nor did they to her; while a certain amount of conversation in a low tone was carried on between Lady Ushant and Miss Trefoil. When Arabella came down to dinner she received a message from the sick man. He sent his love, and would so willingly have seen her instantly — only that the doctor would not allow it. But he was so glad — so very glad that she had come! This Lady Ushant said to her in a whisper, and seemed to say it as though she had heard nothing of that frightful story which had been told to her not much more than an hour ago. Arabella did not utter a word in reply, but put out her hand, secretly as it were, and grasped that of the old lady to whom she had told the tale of her later intrigues. The dinner did not keep them long, but it was very grievous to them all. Lady Ushant might have made some effort to be at least a complaisant hostess to Lady Augustus had she not heard this story — had she not been told that the woman, knowing her daughter to be engaged to John Morton, had wanted her to marry Lord Rufford. The story having come from the lips of the girl herself had moved some pity in the old woman’s breast in regard to her; but for Lady Augustus she could feel nothing but horror.
In the evening Lady Augustus sat alone, not even pretending to open a book or to employ her fingers. She seated herself on one side of the fire with a screen in her hand, turning over such thoughts in her mind as were perhaps customary to her. Would there ever come a period to her misery, an hour of release in which she might be in comfort ere she died? Hitherto from one year to another, from one decade to the following, it had all been struggle and misery, contumely and contempt. She thought that she had done her duty by her child, and her child hated and despised her. It was but the other day that Arabella had openly declared that in the event of her marriage she would not have her mother as a guest in her own house. There could be no longer hope for triumph and glory; — but how might she find peace so that she might no longer be driven hither and thither by this ungrateful tyrant child? Oh, how hard she had worked in the world, and how little the world had given her in return!
Lady Ushant and Arabella sat at the other side of the fire, at some distance from it, on a sofa, and carried on a fitful conversation in whispers, of which a word would now and then reach the ears of the wretched mother. It consisted chiefly of a description of the man’s illness, and of the different sayings which had come from the doctors who had attended him. It was marvellous to Lady Augustus, as she sat there listening, that her daughter should condescend to take an interest in such details. What could it be to her now how the fever had taken him, or why or when? On the very next day, the very morning on which she would go and sit — ah so uselessly — by the dying man’s bedside, her father was to meet Lord Rufford at the ducal mansion in Piccadilly to see if anything could be dome in that quarter! It was impossible that she should really care whether John Morton’s lease of life was to be computed at a week’s purchase or at that of a month! And yet Arabella sat there asking sick-room questions and listening to sickroom replies as though her very nature had been changed. Lady Augustus heard her daughter inquire what food the sick man took, and then Lady Ushant at great length gave the list of his nourishment. What sickening hypocrisy! thought Lady Augustus.
Lady Augustus must have known her daughter well; and yet if was not hypocrisy. The girl’s nature, which had become thoroughly evil from the treatment it had received, was not altered. Such sudden changes do not occur more frequently than other miracles. But zealously as she had practised her arts she had not as yet practised them long enough not to be cowed by certain outward circumstances. There were moments when she still heard in her imagination the sound of that horse’s foot as it struck the skull of the unfortunate fallen rider; — and now the prospect of the death of this man whom she had known so intimately and who had behaved so well to her, to whom her own conduct had been so foully false — for a time brought her back to humanity. But Lady Augustus had got beyond that and could not at all understand it.
By nine they had all retired for the night. It was necessary that Lady Ushant should again visit her nephew, and the mother and daughter went to their own rooms. “I cannot in the least make out what you are doing,” said Lady Augustus in her most severe voice.
“I dare say not, mamma.”
“I have been brought here, at a terrible sacrifice —”
“Sacrifice! What sacrifice? You are as well here as anywhere else.”
“I say I have been brought here at a terrible sacrifice for no purpose whatever. What use is it to be? And then you pretend to care what this poor man is eating and drinking and what physic he is taking when, the last time you were in his company, you wouldn’t so much as look at him for fear you should make another man jealous.”
“He was not dying then.”
“Oh yes. I know all that. I do feel a little ashamed of myself when I am almost crying for him,”
“As if you loved him!”
“Dear mamma, I do own that it is foolish. Having listened to you on these subjects for a dozen years at least I ought to have got rid of all that. I don’t suppose I do love him. Two or three weeks ago I almost thought I loved Lord Rufford, and now I am quite sure that I hate him. But if I heard tomorrow that he had broken his neck out hunting, I ain’t sure but what I should feel something. But he would not send for me as this man has done.”
“It was very impertinent”
“Perhaps it was ill-bred, as he must have suspected something as to Lord Rufford. However we are here now.”
“I will never allow you to drag me anywhere again.”
“It will be for yourself to judge of that. If I want to go anywhere, I shall go. What’s the good of quarrelling? You know that I mean to have my way.”
The next morning neither Lady Augustus nor Miss Trefoil came down to breakfast, but at ten o’clock Arabella was ready, as appointed, to be taken into the sick man’s bedroom. She was still dressed in black but had taken some trouble with her face and hair. She followed Lady Ushant in, and silently standing by the bedside put her hand upon that of John Morton which was laying outside on the bed. “I will leave you now, John,” said Lady Ushant retiring, “and come again in half an hour,”
“When I ring,” he said.
“You mustn’t let him talk for more than that,” said the old lady to Arabella as she went.
It was more than an hour afterwards when Arabella crept into her mother’s room, during which time Lady Ushant had twice knocked at her nephew’s door and had twice been sent away. “It is all over, mamma!” she said.
Lady Augustus looked into her daughter’s eyes and saw that she had really been weeping. “All over!”
“I mean for me — and you. We have only got to go away.”
“Will he die?”
“It will make no matter though he should live for ever. I have told him everything. I did not mean to do it because I thought that he would be weak; but he has been strong enough for that”
“What have you told him?”
“Just everything — about you and Lord Rufford and myself — and what an escape he had had not to marry me. He understands it all now.”
“It is a great deal more than I do.”
“He knows that Lord Rufford has been engaged to me.” She clung to this statement so vehemently that she had really taught herself to believe that it was so.
“And he knows also how his lordship is behaving to me. Of course he thinks that I have deserved it. Of course I have deserved it. We have nothing to do now but to go back to London.”
“You have brought me here all the way for that”
“Only for that! As the man was dying I thought that I would be honest just for once. Now. that I have told him I don’t believe that he will die. He does not look to be so very ill.”
“And you have thrown away that chance!”
“Altogether. You didn’t like Bragton you know, and therefore it can’t matter to you.”
“To be sure you would have got rid of me had I gone to Patagonia. But he will not go to Patagonia now even if he gets well; and so there was nothing to be gained. The carriage is to be here at two to take us to the station and you may as well let Judith come and put the things up.”
Just before they took their departure Lady Ushant came to Arabella saying that Mr. Morton wanted to speak one other word to her before she went. So she returned to the room and was again left alone at the man’s bedside. “Arabella,” he said, “I thought that I would tell you that I have forgiven everything.”
“How can you have forgiven me? There are things which a man cannot forgive.”
“Give me your hand,”’ he said — and she gave him her hand. “I do forgive it all. Even should I live it would be impossible that we should be man and wife.”
“But nevertheless I love you. Try — try to be true to some one.”
“There is no truth left in me, Mr. Morton. I should not dishonour my husband if I had one, but still I should be a curse to him. I shall marry some day I suppose, and I know it will be so. I wish I could change with you — and die.”
“You are unhappy now.”
“Indeed I am. I am always unhappy. I do not think you can tell what it is to be so wretched. But I am glad that you have forgiven me.” Then she stooped down and kissed his hand. As she did so he touched her brow with his hot lips, and then she left him again. Lady Ushant was waiting outside the door. “He knows it all,” said Arabella. “You need not trouble yourself with the message I gave you. The carriage is at the door. Good-bye. You need not come down. Mamma will not expect it.” Lady Ushant, hardly knowing how she ought to behave, did not go down. Lady Augustus and her daughter got into Mr. Runciman’s carriage without any farewells, and were driven back from the park to the Dillsborough Station. To poor Lady Ushant the whole thing had been very terrible. She sat silent and unoccupied the whole of that evening wondering at the horror of such a history. This girl had absolutely dared to tell the dying man all her own disgrace — and had travelled down from London to Bragton with the purpose of doing so! When next she crept into the sick-room she almost expected that her nephew would speak to her on the subject; but he only asked whether that sound of wheels which he heard beneath his window had come from the carriage which had taken them away, and then did not say a further word of either Lady Augustus or her daughter.
“And what do you mean to do now?” said Lady Augustus as the train approached the London terminus.
“You have given up Lord Rufford?”
“Indeed I have not”
“Your journey to Bragton will hardly help you much with him.”
“I don’t want it to help me at all. What have I done that Lord Rufford can complain of? I have not abandoned Lord Rufford for the sake of Mr. Morton. Lord Rufford ought only to be too proud if he knew it all.”
“Of course he could make use of such an escapade as this?”
“Let him try. I have not done with Lord Rufford yet, and so I can tell him. I shall be at the Duke’s in Piccadilly to-morrow morning.”
“That will be impossible, Arabella.”
“They shall see whether it is impossible. I have got beyond caring very much what people say now. I know the kind of way papa would be thrown over if there is no one there to back him. I shall be there and I will ask Lord Rufford to his face whether we did not become engaged when we were at Mistletoe.”
“They won’t let you in.”
“I’ll find a way to make my way in. I shall never be his wife. I don’t know that I want it. After all what’s the good of living with a man if you hate each other — or living apart like you and papa?”
“He has income enough for anything!” exclaimed Lady Augustus, shocked at her daughter’s apparent blindness.
“It isn’t that I’m thinking of, but I’ll have my revenge on him. Liar! To write and say that I had made a mistake! He had not the courage to get out of it when we were together; but when he had run away in the night, like a thief, and got into his own house, then he could write and say that I had made a mistake! I have sometimes pitied men when I have seen girls hunting them down, but upon my word they deserve it!” This renewal of spirit did something to comfort Lady Augustus. She had begun to fear that her daughter, in her despair, would abandon altogether the one pursuit of her life; — but it now seemed that there was still some courage left for the battle.
That night nothing more was said, but Arabella applied all her mind to the present condition of her circumstances. Should she or should she not go to the House in Piccadilly on the following morning? At last she determined that she would not do so, believing that should her father fail she might make a better opportunity for herself afterwards. At her uncle’s house she would hardly have known where or how to wait for the proper moment of her appearance. “So you are not going to Piccadilly,” said her mother on the following morning.
“It appears not,” said Arabella.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01