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Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: A Lost Life
eBook No.: 1100461h.html
Date first posted: June 2023
Most recent update: June 2023
This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy and Colin Choat
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THE twenty-first of December was an eventful night. In the fashionable part of the town of Brightstone, in a house opposite the corner house of Brunswick Terrace, and just two doors from the Catholic chapel, sat two ladies, one about forty-five, the other a young girl of some fifteen years.
"It is late, Arabella," said the older lady; "we had better go to bed. Cuthbert will not arrive to-night."
"Very well, Aunt Alice," replied Arabella.
"But hark!—what is that noise in the street opposite?" Just as the clock of the Catholic chapel was striking 12 there rose on the still night air a fearful cry—"Murder! murder!"—and Lady Alice St. John, tearing aside the curtain, looked from the window. Lights were flashing in the corner house, and a crowd was fast gathering; and she could see one man in the grasp of a policeman, "Oh, heavens!" she said, "what has happened? What is the matter?" she cried aloud to a man hurrying past.
"Murder!" he answered with a face of horror. "There has been murder done there to-night."
"Who—who?" said Lady Alice. "I know the family—in pity speak."
"It is the foreign lady, Lady Egerton; they've taken the murderer under her window; he's an Italian," said the man, and mingled with the crowd.
A few days after this event, the following paragraph appeared in the local paper:
"A terrible murder has been committed at Brightstone, on the night of the 21st instant. The murdered lady was the Lady Egerton, and the deed was perpetrated in the most cruel and deliberate manner, the unfortunate lady having been first stabbed and then shot with a pistol. The guilty party was arrested under the very window, one pistol in his hand, and its fellow on his person. He is a foreigner, and gave his name Giulio Doria, strongly protesting his innocence, and said he saw a man run round the corner; but though he had none of the quantity of missing jewels (the supposed temptation to the deed) on his person, he was at once secured and taken before the magistrates. The most singular part of the affair is, that Sir Angelo Egerton, the murdered lady's son, is reluctant to prosecute, asserting his belief in the prisoner's innocence; and a little girl, his ward, who was in the bedroom at the moment of the fearful deed, maintains that the man was not its perpetrator, but her tender age, only six years, renders her evidence, especially at a time of such terror and agitation, of comparatively little weight. The Bench thought there was strong presumptive evidence against the prisoner, and fully committed him for trial."
Some weeks after another paragraph appeared in the same journal on the subject. It ran thus:—
"A most daring escape was made last night from Brightstone goal, by Giulio Doria, who was awaiting his trial for the murder of Lady Jesuita Maria Egerton. The night previous a woman, a foreigner, calling herself his mother, was allowed to visit him, and it is supposed that she supplied him with means of escape. He was located in a cell on the third story of the prison, the base of which was about twenty-five feet from the ground, the window protected by stout iron bars. He got hold of a rope fifty feet long, and a kind of drag similar to a butcher's hook, and this he fastened in the centre of the rope, which was sufficiently long for him to reach the ground from his cell by its aid. In order to get out of his cell he had, however, to remove one of the iron bars, which, by some means or other, he managed to do by cutting it at the bottom clean through with a knife, probably also obtained from his mother. Once outside, he wended his way noiselessly to the west front of the building; but there an obstruction to his progress presented itself in the shape of a boundary wall, twenty-five feet high. Getting on to a coal heap, about four feet from the ground, he doubled his rope, the hook before mentioned being in the centre, and threw it over the top of the wall, working it about until the drag got fast underneath the stone coping, which projects some two or three inches from the bricks. He then drew himself up to the top, and slid down outside, pulling the rope after him. After that he got over a wall about ten feet high, and was once more at liberty. It is supposed that Doria had some accomplice, as not the remotest trace of him has been found."
* * *
The blue waters of the English Channel dance and ripple in the joyous sunlight round the bows of a vessel that bears an exile from his native shore. He leans over the rail, and, as he gazes on the distant white cliffs, the tears that fall into the murmuring waves are tears wrung from on almost broken heart. Vain to try and forget; vain to try and flee from one's own thoughts!
* * *
It was a beautiful room, evidently belonging to a man of taste and cultivation. It was handsomely but simply furnished; no light modern tables or chairs that would bear no weight, were to be seen. Indeed the furniture was rather of a past age than the present, and suggested the idea that the room belonged to a family mansion, which was in fact the truth.
Here and there, on brackets or a side table, were statues, evidently the work of master hands, of a Bramante, Canova, or Chantrey; one or two exquisite silver cups of Benvenuto Cellini's stood on the marble mantlepiece, while in the centre was a most beautiful antique vase, which some eighteen hundred years before may have adorned the antrium of some high-born Pompeian noble.
There was a handsome book-case in a recess, and its contents showed a high and cultivated mind. There you would have seen a tribute from almost every country, ancient and modern—Greek, Latin, French, Italian, and German; nor were even Spanish works wanting, in a collection which ranged from the most solid literature, history, polities, and metaphysics, to the lightest, or nearly the lightest. There were only four large pictures in the room, but those were masterpieces of art; and the most prominent was one of Michael Angelo's grand scripture pieces. There was a St. Catherine by Rafaelle, and one of Ruben's gorgeously colored pictures. Opposite the mantlepiece hung an immense picture, a Landseer, representing, life size, a gigantic Spanish bloodhound, a beautiful, noble looking animal, and so to the life that, like Paul Potter's famous bull, you almost expected to see it start out of the frame. And on the rug, asleep before the fire, lay the original of the picture. How a Spanish bloodhound came to be in an English gentleman's house we shall see presently.
Seated at the other end of the rug was a slight, noble-looking man, of stately height and commanding mien, with one of those faces which once seen are not easily forgotten—unusually handsome in its stern, statue-like beauty, and singular in the rare intellect on the noble, grave brow, and in the dark eyes, whose calm, searching gaze few could stand long. He was very dark, with something almost Spanish in his complexion. But perhaps the fault of his face—if it had one—was its grave severity, and the utter absence of any color to relieve its darkness, rendered yet deeper by the wavy masses of coal black hair, and the slight mustache which shaded the proud, sternly chiselled mouth. In years he was thirty two, but there were marked lines drawn across the high, broad brow, which gave evidence of deep thought and heavy cares that had left their traces on the proud, ambitious man, and deep in the grave, wondrously beautiful eyes lay an inexpressible mournfulness, a shadow, that perhaps gave them such a strange beauty and fascination.
In one hand he hold a volume of Machiavelli's 'Prince,' and the other rested on a singularly beautiful child of ten years, whom at a glance you would pronounce a Spaniard, and as she leaned against his breast you could see his likeness markedly reflected in her face, strangely grave and thoughtful for so very young a face. It had the same deep, almost regretfully mournful expression in the dark eyes that his had, it had much the some cast of beauty; and now, in perfect repose, had something of his sternness and proud severity, softened immeasurably, but still there. Was she his daughter? See the likeness between them, and the tender, almost clinging way his arm encircles her, and now and then, as he bends downwards, presses her head closer to his breast. A cloud seems to hang heavily on them both, and link the man and the child closer together. But she is not his daughter, for hear what she says—"Angelo, it is four years to-day—four years since that fearful night."
He drew a long, shivering breath, and bowed his head a little, a very little lower, till his coal-black hair mingled with hers. He made no answer, but he dropped the book to wind that arm about her too, as if he feared she would fade from his clasp like a dream or vision.
There was a long silence. Then the child said softly, "Angelo, the grass is green over her grave, and the ivy has crept round it, but she is in heaven, and looks down from above on the son she has left alone in the world."
"Not alone. Oh, Inez, you are all I have to love!" said Angelo, suddenly, and passionately straining the child to his heart. "Man's mind and intellect may love and worship at the shrine of ambition, but his heart must have a gentler love to fill its aching void, and it is thy pure child-like image that hath grown into my love and filled my heart."
The Castilian nestled her head against him with an action that spoke volumes, and a bright tear fell on the hand she twined her little finger round.
He spoke again presently in low subdued tones, and his was one of those rare strange voices that seem rather the reverberation of some soft music on every heart-string than audible by the outward ear.
"And yet the day may come when I must lose my Spanish flower, when my little one will leave me."
Was he testing the child? If so, the passionate energy of her answer absolutely startled him.
"Never! never, while I have life! never while I live on earth, or hope for life in heaven. Where you go, there will I go. If you die I will lay my head on your silent heart and die too. You are all I have to love or hope in; my very ambition centres in you alone, who are all to me—a stranger in your land, a homeless stranger, but for the love and shelter of your hand. Oh, Angelo! you are all to me! Never send me from you, let me be near you all my life, for in you is all I care for in life!"
The words were not those of a child; unconsciously to herself she uttered words far beyond her years, words of deeper meaning than she knew, though in the inmost recesses of her pure soul—a child's, yet a woman's—she felt them indefinitely, vaguely, but how deeply, let the loving heart of any true woman say.
Angelo Egerton clasped the slight form of the child to him, whispering, "My own Inez! my little one! never, never leave me, darling; for my heart would be dead indeed, and my life dark, without my beautiful Inez."
Long, long they remained so; neither moving, neither speaking—her eyes gazing into the fire as she rested against him, his fixed on the grave, dark young face which lay with such trusting, confiding love upon his breast, reading the very depths of the young heart which knew not itself, but which that night had unconsciously laid itself bare to him like an open book, in which he read all its wealth of a child's innocent affection, and woman's trusting, pure love—a book in which, as the Chaldaeans of old read the stars of Heaven, he read her future, his future; that an indissoluble chain bound them together; that she must be his only in life or in death. He released her presently, and took up Machiavelli again; but for that night, at least, the living love, and the memory of the sad past had softened the stern, severe man, and the subtle, ambitious politician was the feeling, dreaming man—dreaming dreams that were perhaps too bright ever to be fulfilled. His dark eyes wandered from the child, who had sunk down at his feet, and laid her head on Leon, the bloodhound, and he threw the 'Prince' aside.
As the volume fell on the table the door opened, admitting an old, white-haired servant, who had carried his master as an infant, and had known his father before him.
"Mr. Everard, sir, has sent for your pistols, as you desired."
"Who has he sent, Burns?"
"A boy, sir, but he says he can take any orders."
"Let him come up here, then, Burns, and then go and bring me the pistols. I think they are in their usual place."
Burns retired, and Inez de Caldara rose. The next moment the door again opened, giving admittance to a handsome, intelligent-looking boy of fifteen, with something about him that immediately struck Egerton—the man accustomed to read and study human nature—as superior to his position; neither had the boy that awkwardness so common to his class. He closed the door gently, and his whole manner and speech had the innate grace of a gentleman.
"I have come from Mr. Everard, sir," he said, and the bright hazel eye went straight and boldly to Egerton, "about some pistols."
"My servant has gone for them; and meanwhile," said Egerton, with that gentle courtesy which is inborn in the gentleman, and which the proud descendant of the Egertons, if cold and haughty to his equals, ever showed his inferiors, "meanwhile sit down and rest."
The boy obeyed; but Egerton, who stood quietly watching him, saw the bright eyes wander round the room, and dilate suddenly as they rested on the sublime 'St. Catherine' of Rafaelle, and a half-smothered exclamation of enraptured admiration escaped him.
Angelo half smiled and said, "Go and look at it as closely as you like."
The boy rose directly, then hesitated, and coloring deeply, said, "I hope, sir, I have not offended you. Indeed, I couldn't help the exclamation."
Egerton merely shook his head, and a slight smile crossed his lips as he said, "Enthusiasm is natural to the young. Examine all the pictures."
Unconscious of the calm, dark eyes that were so keenly watching him, forgetting where he was, the boy gazed entranced and wrapt on them; but Angelo noticed that he left Michael Angelo's grand piece and the gorgeous Rubens to return to the St. Catherine.
"He abandons our favorite for Rafaelle, Inez," said Egerton.
The child looked up, and glancing from the picture to the boy, said, "Perhaps the Michael Angelo is too sublime for him to appreciate."
It was a strange remark for a child of ten years to make, but she had not been trained as most children are, and in many things there was a precocity about her which sometimes gave Angelo a deeper pang of pain than he would have ever acknowledged. Even now a shade crossed his face, and he smothered a sigh, as he said to the boy, "Are you fond of paintings?"
"I am passionately fond of paintings, sir," answered the boy, with a flush on his cheek and a flash in his eye.
"Have you ever seen pictures like these before?" said Angelo.
"Ah, no, sir, never!" he replied.
"Have you ever heard the name of Rafaelle?" asked Egerton.
"Yes, sir, I have read about him."
"That picture you evidently admire the most, the St. Catherine, was painted by him," said Egerton.
"What, sir, that actual picture?" exclaimed the boy.
"Yes, it is an original," said Egerton.
"Ah, sir! he must have been a great artist; I wish I could paint."
"Don't you like being an errand-boy?" said the child, suddenly.
The boy turned sharply, and a dark flush mounted to his brow, as he replied proudly, "No, miss; I must do that, or starve; but though my dead mother was only a poor artist, she was a lady, and my father a gentleman."
The Spaniard looked at Angelo, and her eyes filled as she said pityingly, "Have you no father or mother?"
"No, miss," he replied, "both are dead."
"What is your name?" asked Egerton.
"Walter Hargrave, sir."
"That is not your real name—your father's?" said Egerton, bending forwards.
"No, but it's good enough for an errand boy," said the boy, bitterly. Then he added hastily, "I beg your pardon, sir. I have taken great liberties, but I shall never forgot the pictures."
Here Burns entered with the pistols, and the boy retired. But Angelo leaned against the mantelpiece, and sank into a deep reverie. He was passionately fond of the arts, and of art and talent wherever he found it. He had been struck with the whole appearance and manners of the errand boy, more especially the admiration he had evidently felt and showed for the pictures, and Egerton determined to learn a little more of the boy, and if he found him what he expected, he was equally determined to take him by the hand, and with a generous spirit like Angelo's, that meant to start him in life. Consequently, it was at an early hour the next morning that Sir Angelo Egerton, M.P. for Cambridge University, walked into the shop of Mr. John Everard, Old Bond-street, a good, old-fashioned, unpretending-looking place, that had been established more than half a century, and had been owned by the father and grandfather of its present master.
Mr. John Everard himself was none of your flashy modern tradesmen, who put on long coats, peg-top trousers, and parson-like "guillotins," and drive out in dog-carts under the delusion that they will be mistaken for gentlemen or fashionable 'men about town.' No; John Everard came of an old country yeomanry family. He was proud of it, he was proud of being the head of so old an establishment as Everard and Co (the Co. had been defunct twenty or thirty years since); he respected himself as such, and did not wish to be taken for anything above his position; he would have rather felt insulted if he had been. He was just one of those people you would call the 'old gentleman;' he belonged rather to the last age—there was just a dash of seventeen hundred and odd about him, for he clung to the dress of his youth. He wore a blue coat with silver buttons, and knee breeches and black silk hose, with large silver buckles to his shoes. He wore large massive old fashioned gold spectacles, which his bright blue eyes, almost as keen as in youth, scarcely needed, and in consequence the old gentleman almost always looked over or under them, and if excited, or particularly pleased or angry, he would take them off in order to see better. You will not be surprised to hear that he was a Conservative, so high as to have a tinge of the old Tory school, to which in his youth he had belonged, and that he still revered Blackwood's Magazine, and retained all his old antipathy to the Wigs and the New Monthly.
Such he was, as Egerton now saw him, with his gray hair, silvered by sixty years, shading his forehead and temples, peering over the gold spectacles at each one who entered.
"Why, Sir Angelo!" he exclaimed, as the tall graceful figure of Egerton appeared, "I am glad indeed to see you, sir. I haven't had that pleasure for I don't know how long."
"Very long, Mr. Everard," said Egerton, "and now I want to speak privately with you if you are at leisure."
"At your service, Sir Angelo; walk in here," said Mr. Everard, throwing open his parlor door. "Come in, sir. How is your little one, Miss de Caldara?"
"The same as ever, Mr. Everard—never ill or ailing."
"My boy brought the pistols," Mr. Everard said. "You shall have them soon."
"It is about that boy I am here to day," said Egerton. "What sort of a boy is he, Mr. Everard?"
"A very good one, Sir Angelo; as good a boy as any one need want," said the old gentleman. "I believe he has known better days, poor child; but he never grumbles nor is too fine to work; and he is true and honest as gold."
"Is he fond of reading, at all?" asked Egerton.
"Indeed, sir, he is; read, whenever he can consistently with his duties—he never shirks them a bit, I lent him a few books, and I assure you, sir, considering all, he is very tolerably read and educated. I have my eye on him."
"So have I, Mr. Everard. Do you know if he has ever tried to draw?"
"Oh yes, sir," said Mr. Everard. "Why, you see, his mother was an artist. I knew them first two years ago, when she came to me, poor thing, asking me to buy some water color drawings she had done. They were really beautiful, sir; why they would have sold for fifteen shillings and a guinea. She had brought her boy with her, and had once or twice sent him on messages. Then she died suddenly, poor lady!—for she was a lady, sir, every inch, born and bred—and this boy came to me in great distress, entreating me to lend him five pounds to bury his mother, promising to pay me back in time. I gave it him, sir, for he was a right good lad, and then I took him as my errand boy. Well, Sir Angelo, early and late that boy worked. In the hours that I didn't want him he would go and carry parcels or messages for other people, and would you believe it, the Christmas after his mother's death he brought me the five pounds in a beautiful little purse. Well, you know, sir, it would have been like robbing the orphan to take it. I couldn't, and I didn't; I told him I'd keep the purse, but the money I had always meant to give him, and he had shown himself more deserving of it by the efforts he had made to repay it."
"You don't know anything of his history, then, or who his parents were?" said Egerton.
"No, I don't, sir," replied Everard; "except that his mother once said her husband had been a colonel in the army."
"You said he drew," continued Egerton; "have you any drawings that he has done?"
"I think I have, sir," was the ready reply.
The old man opened a drawer, and after some search gave Egerton a sketch. It was a pencil sketch—a woman standing by a stream, with an old church in the background, and the moonlight falling on them. Sir Angelo was a connoisseur, and though the drawing was very defective, and devoid of art, there was a vigor and beauty about it, a life in it that instantly struck him and told that the hand of an inborn artist had done it.
"This boy," he said, "is an innate artist. This sketch is really beautiful, defective and devoid of art though it is."
"The woman's face, sir, is his mother's over again," said Everard.
"Ah! indeed," said Egerton. "Have you any objection to let me have this?"
"None, sir," replied Everard; "you're heartily welcome."
"Thank you," said Egerton. "And now, Mr. Everard to the point. I mean to rob you of this boy, and bring him up as an artist instead of a gunmaker."
"Then, indeed, Sir Angelo, it's very kind of you, and just like you," exclaimed the old gentleman, "for he seems very fond of the art."
"I am going to speak to him this evening," said Egerton; "and if he likes my offer, I shall take him away at once."
"How can any boy in his senses refuse such an offer from a gentleman of your rank and position, sir?" said Everard. "Why, his fortune is made."
"No, Mr. Everard, he must do that himself. I will give him the means, but he must make his own name," said Angelo, as he took his leave. "Good day, Mr. Everard."
In the fair town of Florence, in an apartment elegantly furnished, but simple for all that, sat a young man by the open window, enjoying the soft April air which fanned and stirred his dark—almost golden—brown hair. He was quite a young man, probably not more than two-and-twenty, and most strikingly handsome. He had finely, classically cut features, with a broad, imaginative, yet intellectual forehead, and a bold, prominent, well defined brow, from beneath which looked a pair of large beautiful blue eyes, deep, dark, and brilliant, yet with a softness in their clear depths which gave them a peculiar beauty. But on his brow there was a shade—
Not sorrow, but a shadow—nothing more—which should never have been known to two-and-twenty years, and was painful to see on so young a face, though it was only there when the face was in perfect repose as now. The instant he spoke, or smiled, the shadow vanished, and the whole countenance lighted up.
The young man was sitting with his back to the door, which was ajar, and he was so wrapped in a dreamy reverie—dreaming, it might be, of the distant shores of his native England, from which he was an exile—that he did not hear steps—light, almost noiseless they were certainly—enter the apartment, but a low spoken "Julian!" uttered in a voice he well knew, instantly caught his ear, and, with an exclamation of joyous surprise, he sprang to his feet.
"Angelo! you here, old friend!" and the hands of the two Englishmen met in a clasp that none but Englishmen give, for a moment in silence; and then Angelo drew forward a slight and childish figure we know, saying:
"I have brought Inez with me, Julian."
"I am very glad. I often think of my little favorite," said Julian, bending down and tenderly kissing the child; "why, pretty one, how tall you have grown, just like the flowers in the garden."
She smiled, and asked if she might get some.
"As many as you can, fairy," replied Julian; "only don't let Leon trample on them."
His eyes followed the little slender form as she bounded away with the gigantic Spanish bloodhound, and he turned to Angelo.
"She is very tall for ten years," said he, "and very slight, very fragile. Is she in health?"
A sudden pang went to Egerton's heart that for a second held him silent; then he answered, quietly, "She is very strong, physically and constitutionally. She never is ill, she has an iron constitution."
"She is remarkably like you, Angelo, both in feature and expression," said Julian, "but she has too grave a brow and sad an eye for ten years. She has none of a child's joyousness. She used, five years ago, to be different."
"Ay," said Angelo, bitterly, "but that is dead. That fatal night, four years ago—that fatal tragedy—quite changed her. It has given her gray hairs at ten years old. And you—oh, Julian! it is very bitter that you must suffer so for that night's work. I must find that man."
"How? there is not a clue," said Julian Rothesay, sadly. "No, Angelo, we must watch and wait. But let that pass. How is my beautiful mother—Marion? I have not seen her since then."
"I saw her privately before I came," replied Egerton; "and I am the bearer of a long letter from her. I will go to Inez while you read it. Call me when you want me."
"Thank you, Angelo," said Julian. "But, by the way, tell that fairy she must call me Julian, as she used to do when quite little, not Mr. Rothesay, as she did just now."
Egerton stepped out of the window, and called Inez to him. "Come here, Inez," said he. "I have a command for you."
She came; and it was beautiful to see how her mournful dark eyes and grave little face lighted up at the mere sound of his voice.
"What is it, Angelo?" she asked.
"Julian is very angry with you, Inez."
"I see your lips smile," said the child, shaking her head. "You are not in earnest."
"No, of course not," replied Egerton. "He says you are to call him by his Christian name, not his surname."
"It would seem wrong, Angelo, and disrespectful," said the child.
"Why, pretty one, you call me 'Angelo,' and I am two-and-twenty instead of twelve years older than you."
"Ah, you—" said the child, and she paused. Angelo Egerton almost involuntarily bent down and kissed the child's brow as he said. "But he loves you and wishes it, and so do I, because he does. Won't you remember and call him Julian always, now and when you are grown up?"
"Yes, I will remember, Angelo," she replied, "and if it won't be wrong, I like calling him best by the old familiar name."
"Angelo! Inez! come in," called Julian. He had read the letter and put it away.
"Now tell me what you are doing, Julian," said Egerton. "How are you getting on?"
"As well as I could hope, being so young," he replied. "I have got some name here and beyond here, I am told. It is important to get known. I have several splendid private galleries at my service, and plenty of pupils. Yes, I am getting on, certainly."
"Mark my words, Julian—in three or four years you will 'wake one day and find yourself famous.' Such talent as yours will make itself known."
"Ah, Angelo, I wish I could think as well of myself as you do."
"Well, well, it is best as it is," said Egerton; "but remember my words. I have another pupil for you; a young friend, a ward of my own."
"Angelo, you are very kind," said Julian.
"Stay a minute, you don't know what I am going to ask of you," said Angelo. "First, give me your opinion of this," and he drew forth the drawing Mr. Everard had given him.
Julian took it, and examined it carefully. "The artist of this is untaught," said he, "or, at least nearly so, but he has talent."
"You have exactly hit it," said Egerton. "This youth is now only fifteen. He was only a short time ago errand-boy to Everard of Bond-street. He is a gentleman, and the son of a colonel in the Indian army, at whose death his widow and child came to England, and lived in great poverty. The mother died a year and a half ago, and the son went to Mr. Everard's. A little while ago I came across the boy, and finding evidence of talent as an artist, I resolved to bring him up as one, and to place him with you, not as your usual pupils are, who have homes near. His home must be with you, for I am going to take my little one to travel for two, three, or perhaps four years; so that he will be always under your charge, though, of course, you shall always know where I am. For all his expenses, in every way, I provide of course."
"Angelo, stop, now hear me out, and don't let your pride speak. Let me in some way return to you the kindnesses you have heaped upon me for years. I shall never be able to repay them all. Give me the pleasure, for once, of serving you. I will teach your ward for nothing; from you I will take no fee. Angelo, you must grant me this."
"As you will, my dear Julian. I perfectly understand you," said Egerton, grasping the artist's hand. "Have your way on that point."
"Why didn't you bring him here?" said Julian; "and, by the way, what is his name?"
"Walter Surrey," was the reply. "I left him at the hotel; but you must come up and spend the evening with me, and I will present your future pupil to you."
"I shall be delighted," said Julian. "I hope, Angelo, you are not going to fly at once?"
"No," said Egerton, "we have plenty of time, and shall stay at Florence two or three months. Inez shall travel as I did."
"How do you manage to leave England for three or four years, Mr. Statesman?" asked Julian.
Inez had glided away the moment Egerton mentioned business matters, and he answered, with an anxious glance at the slight figure moving amongst the flowers. "She needs a thorough and lengthened change. Her spirits have never recovered the shock of that night. I am afraid they never will; but I will try what two or three years' travelling will do. Longer than that I cannot possibly be away, and even that, not very well; but still, better now than any time hence."
"Are you sure of your re-election for Cambridge University?" asked Julian.
"Yes," was the reply; "not much fear of losing that."
"The Conservatives, I see, went out in March, Angelo—turned out by a regular Whig trick. You were in the Conservative ministry?"
"Yes; but we shall be in again before three years are out," said Egerton, quietly, as he rose; "but we must leave you now. Ah, here is Inez. Come early, Julian."
"I will be with you at 7. So adieu till then," said the artist.
"Till then adieu," returned Egerton.
Four years ago, at the time of Lady Egerton's murder, there was living at Brightstone, in the little street by St. Catherine's church, an honest greengrocer named Samuel Warren; but his house was empty now, for Sam had found that other and larger greengrocers, who had capital, carried off his little business, and Sam wisely cast in his mind the utility of removing to some place where there was less competition. The first thing was to find such a place, and one morning Sam said to his next door neighbor, a working clock-maker and jeweller, "Brown, I'm going to leave Brightstone."
"What for?" said Brown, withdrawing his pipe. "I am sorry, for you're a jolly neighbor. Says I to my old woman, 'Nancy,' says I, 'Sam Warren's the nicest chap I've knowed this long while.'"
"Thank ye," said Sam. "You see I must go, or the lean wolf, as they say, will be at my door. There's too many in my line set up here—flashy chaps, who've got more tin to go upon; and as 'a shilling always beats a groat,' you know, Brown, I must go to some place where there's less people in my line."
"And have you heard tell o' such a place yet?" asked Brown.
"No," replied Sam. "I must look about."
"Well, why don't you try Falcontower, up on the north coast, where that 'ere old castle is as belongs to the Egertons," said Brown. "I'm a Falcontower man, you know."
"Are you?" said Sam. "But it's quite a town, isn't it?"
"Yes, praps rather larger than will suit your ticket," replied Brown. "Try Forest Moor. I was there a short while, and it's a very decent little sort o' place, and there ain't any regular greengrocer in it."
"Well, but look here, Joe," said Sam, sticking his hands in his pockets, "at t'other place there's a castle—now if I could get the custom there—"
"Ay, but you can't," said Brown, "'cause as how there's orchards and kitchen gardens, and all so that everything's grow'd in the grounds. Why, the head gardener there has a tidy berth, I promise you. No—Forest Moor's the best though the people at The Grange didn't used to keep any company, or live handsome like. But you see it's one o' those quiet, pretty little country places where old ladies come who've got nothing to do but buy things and spend their tin. Now ye see at t'other place—Falcontower—it's a sea-side place, and to be sure lots go there, but then they're tip-top ones, who like fine shops."
"Forest Moor for me then," said Sam Warren. "I'll go there and find a shop."
Sam turned into his house, but a fortnight after he turned out, and when we again see him he is 'located' in a nice shop near the railway bridge at Forest Moor, of which place we shall hear more.
As a new arrival, of course Sam knew nothing of the place or its inhabitants, and therefore it is we find his wife standing one evening at the door, gossiping with a laundress who lived near them, and who was rejoicing at having some one to tell all the news to.
"Well, ye see," she was saying, "this warn't much of a place till twenty years, when the man as has got The Grange up yonder, made the railway people build a station here in some way, and then other people saw as it was a nice place, they built more, and now it's quite a large village."
"Is that it?" asked Mrs. Warren. "But who owns The Grange, then?"
"That's it," was the reply, "on the other side of the river, not far off o' the new bridge. I've lived here, girl and woman, this forty year come next Christmas, and I remember The Grange when the old family had it. Ah, it was different then. The Surreys wor a fine set, but this Mr.—"
"Ain't this gentleman one of them, then?" asked Mrs. Warren.
"Lawks, Missis Warren, he ain't a real gentleman, this chap ain't. He ain't never got a civil word for us poor folks, and the good old squire, Mr. Herbet Surrey, always had a kind word for all; but he wor very hard on his son—his only one, too. It's more'n thirty years back now when young Mr. Armitage (that wor his mother's name) came of age, and then he must needs marry a village girl who warn't noways his equal; and his father tuk it bad, as well he might, and this Stanfeld was the family lawyer, and I always says that he made mischief. Says I to my son—he's a sodger, my son is—'Yes, Bill,' says I, 'you may take my word for it that Stanfeld's made mischief a' purpose.' The young squire tuk his wife. She was good enough, but she stuck up to be above her class; and though I allers sticks up for my own class, I says, keep yerself to yer class. Some wor born to be high and rich, and some on us poor and humble. The good Book says so; and so I telled Mary Mason (that was the girl he married), but she wouldn't hear me; though, for all her fine airs, she couldn't make herself a drop o' real high blood. Well, they went off to Injee, so I've hearn tell, but nobody ever hearn nothink of 'em again, and they said he and her both died there. May be though as how Stanfeld could tell more o' that if he chosed too. The old squire died soon arter, and then somehow this lawyer, Stanfeld, got hold o' The Grange, and many years ago he come to live here."
"Dear—how sad!" said Mrs. Warren; "and has he any children?"
"Yes; two of his own and a niece. His wife died four years back in London. His oldest daughter is eighteen, and his second is sixteen. She and his niece be at school far off here, but Miss Eveline nearly two years ago was married here to a Mr. Arthur Vivian, the wickedest looking man as I ever set eyes on. She lives at The Grange still, but he's hardly ever there. Them's a bad set, them two is at least—Stanfeld and Mr. Vivian—but Lor! don't the little un, the niece, give it to her uncle. Forde, the groom, says she's as perky to him as can be; so is the youngest girl, Miss Theresa, t'other one. Mrs. Vivian was allas like her mother, pretty, quiet, timid thing, quite cowed between her father and husband, and since her babby was born, and died (it only lived ten minutes, for I nursed her), she's never held up her head."
Here Mrs. Warren drew her apron across her eyes. "I lost a baby once," she said, turning away and entering her shop.
The woman looked after her, and a tear rolled down her own rough cheeks, for she, too, had known losses, and not one, but many, for out of eight children only three were living.
"Time and tide wait for no man," says the adage. Eight years have passed since the death of Lady Egerton, four years from the time we saw Egerton and his ward starting on their travels. Angelo's political prediction had been verified, for before the three years had fairly passed, he received from his fellow member for the University the following pithy letter:—
"DEAR EGERTON,—Come home directly. The
Whigs have had a defeat, have dissolved, and the writs are out for
next week.—Yours truly,
This was received at Bruges, and in less than eight-and-forty hours Angelo and Inez were in England. He was again, and unanimously, returned for Cambridge; but the Whigs did not long save themselves, for another defeat compelled them to resign, and a Conservative Ministry came into office, and with them, though not in the cabinet, Angelo came in again. And this ministry was still in power when we have to introduce the reader to the home of Marion Rochester in Seymour-street.
It was about 4 o'clock of a January afternoon—a dull, miserable afternoon, with the dusk already beginning to fall. But, by the fire, drooping forwards, sat a fair woman. She was, in reality, thirty-two or thirty-three, but she looked barely seven-and-twenty, partly perhaps from the youthful grace and roundness of her fine form. She was a handsome woman, and no one could look at her without being attracted by her striking beauty and the gentle, firm, and noble face; rich dark chestnut hair shaded a forehead on which truth and purity had set the golden mark of their beauty; but, with all that, it was the eyes that were the most beautiful—dark hazel, bright and clear as truth itself, and with unutterable depths of love and tenderness, but now and then a shade, as of sorrow, would sadden them, as if some painful thought or memory had passed like a cloud through her mind and heart; much the same mournful expression that was habitual and lay so deep in the dark gray eyes of Angelo and the black orbs of the young Inez. Very heavy was their sorrow that had fallen on her; very heavy was her sorrow that fell on them only through her.
Marion sat alone; for only the day before her daughter, or rather step-daughter, had gone back to school. She had sat alone for a long time, but she heard a well known knock below, a well known step without, and as the door opened she rose to meet with outstretched hands an old friend, to whom strange and strong ties bound her—Angelo Egerton.
"This is very kind, Angelo, to spare me some of your busy time," said Marion.
"Are you all alone, dear Marion?" he asked. "Where is Isbel?"
"She went back to school yesterday," was the reply. "Austin's daughter is gone."
"Austin's daughter!" he exclaimed; "is she not your's too?"
"Ah, Angelo, yes," she replied; "but I love to call her his child—it binds me closer to him."
"Marion, he has almost broken your heart," said Angelo. "You have not seen his face for many, many years; you know not even if he is alive."
She bent lower, covering her face.
"My sweet sister Marion," he added, "while there is life there is hope. I have seen him—he is alive."
"Seen him!" she exclaimed. "Oh, Angelo, where—when?"
"A short time ago I took Inez to see some of the Rotterdam boats going. I was talking to a man when she called my attention to a boat just about to start, by saying, 'Angelo, look at that gentleman leaning over the taffrail. I'm sure it's Austin Rochester.' And it was he. He saw me, too, for he bowed."
"Thank God!" murmured the deserted wife, and she was silent for some minutes; then lifting her face, she said, "How could that child remember him? She was only five years old when she saw him."
"Listen, Marion," said Angelo. "She was barely five when I brought her from Spain; yet two years ago, when we were in Madrid, she called me to the window one day, by exclaiming, 'Angelo, look at that priest in the street. It is Padre d'Alvarez. I saw his face.' He had been her father's confessor. So don't wonder at her remembering Austin any more."
"Speak to me now, Angelo, of yourself and yours," said Marion. "I saw my cousin, William Courtenay, the other day, and he was telling me of some bill you are filing against a Mr. Stanfeld, on behalf of that boy you took up four years ago. Tell me about it," she said, with the restlessness of a mind trying to escape thought, and Angelo yielded to it.
"It is a long story," he said. "I am filing a bill against a trustee on behalf of Surrey—who is still under age—to get the Court to remove this trustee, who has been guilty of a gross breach of trust, which should in fact be felony. Nearly forty years ago the grandfather of my ward, a Mr. Herbert Surrey, owned an estate called Forest Moor, which is worth about thirty thousand pounds, and he had one son, Armitage. He had also a friend, his solicitor, rejoicing in the name of Stephen Stanfeld, whose subsequent conduct shows him to be a deep villain. Just after coming of age, Armitage Surrey committed a most foolish, mad-brained act, which has entailed all this on his child; he fell in love—as the cant phrase goes—with a village maid, one of those infatuations that generally end in misery, and it did in her case. He married this girl, upon which his father, the squire, sent him just one thousand pounds, and from that time disowned him—utterly and entirely, refusing all communication to or from his son."
"What did he do then?" asked Marion.
"Well, he had been intended for the Indian army," said Angelo, "and when his father disowned him, he took his wife and sailed at once for India, entering the army. But he seems to have been as proud and haughty as the squire, and he never made the slightest attempt at reconciliation—never wrote a single line, or even mentioned to anyone in India whose son he was. Nor did the death of his wife, five years after, make any difference in his conduct. He trusted to the friend and solicitor, Stanfeld, to inform him if his father died, utterly neglecting to make any enquiries himself, and thus neglected his affairs up till the time of his death. Twenty years ago he married again, a lady, by name Gertrude Norman, by whom he had one son, Walter Norman, my ward; but Armitage died at the age of forty-seven, twenty-six years after leaving England. Meanwhile, in England, the old squire lived only five years and a half, leaving a will by which he devised the estate to Stanfeld and another in trust, for his son for life, and after his death to his heirs male. Stanfeld and his co-trustee proved the will, but, almost immediately after, the latter died. Stanfeld took possession of the estate, but he never wrote to India, and though it was easy to do so, he never made the slightest attempt to find Armitage or to communicate with him."
"But how do you know that?" asked Marion.
"Well, my dear Marion, because if he had, Armitage must have heard from him in some way or other; but that wasn't Stanfeld's game; he took possession of Forest Moor, and twenty clear years passed without any claim being made on the estate or him. Seymour, my solicitor, finds on enquiry, that many years ago he went openly to live at Forest Moor."
"What became of Armitage's widow and son?" asked Marion.
"Well, when Armitage died, his child was only six years old," replied Egerton; "but Mrs. Surrey assigned nearly all her pension to trustees to pay the debts her husband had left, and came to England with her child, where, as an artist, she managed to support herself and him in great penury. About six years ago she died, and four years back I came across her son as errand boy to Everard of Bond-street."
"And he a gentleman's son!" said Marion.
"Yes," said Egerton; "the rest you know. And now I file the bill to remove Stanfeld for breach of trust, and to have myself appointed guardian and trustee; and, moreover, to ask for an account for all those thirty-three years, during which our very honest opponent has been enjoying his stolen goods. He ought to refund some forty thousand pounds."
"You will never get it," said Marion.
"No," said Egerton; "but he will have to give up what he has, and pass through the Insolvent Court; and probably the very estate is neglected. So much for Colonel Surrey's culpable behaviour."
"What sort of a boy is his son?" asked Marion.
"At present all I could wish," replied Angelo; "but he has as yet hardly been tried. I must in another year put him to the test, and throw him into the London world."
"Angelo, you are a severe man," said Marion, "Have a care, for the ordeal is a trying one; and few can pass it scathless, as you and Julian did. Tom was put through the ordeal, and fell."
"Walter will never fall as Tom did," said Angelo; "and Walter will have my watchful eye and ready hand. He must stand his trial, and learn his lesson as others do; for if he cannot rely on himself entirely, he can never go through life. I am looking further for him than he looks for himself." And Marion felt that Angelo was right.
Inez de Caldara was a singular being. From the ago of five years she had been under the care of Angelo Egerton. Her father was a Castilian count, with a pedigree reaching direct to the Cid, but without any property to leave to his child, his estates being entailed on heirs male, and his heir happened to be a fourth or fifth cousin. He had only another relation, a first cousin Jesuita Maria de Caldara, who had very young married an English baronet of birth and rank, Sir Reginald Egerton of Falcontower Castle. Inez had early lost her own mother, and when she was but five years of age her father died, enjoining his confessor to send Inez to England to her cousin Jesuita, who at that time was a widow with one child, who had been called after her own father, Angelo. The confessor wrote to Lady Egerton, and in consequence, Angelo, then seven and twenty, went over to Spain, and brought the little child away with him to England.
Jesuita was one of those noble-hearted, high-minded beings who inspire in those intimately and constantly about them a love that is devotion. By her son she was almost worshipped and reverenced as some superior being, and the little Inez soon learned to love her almost as much as she did Angelo—not quite, for his image was first in her child's heart, or rather her love for the two was different. To Jesuita she gave a child's love, for the gentle lady was a mother to her; but Angelo was to her some superior, higher being, almost worshipped, idolised with a love whose depth and strength and force were scarcely even known to herself; it was vague, dreamy, undefined, but not the less deep and strong.
She had always been a strange child, keenly observing and thoughtful, coming out at times with remarks so far beyond her years as to startle those who heard her, and yet, too, she was a joyous, merry child, full of fun and high spirits. So she was till the age of six years; but then one dark terrible night changed all—a fearful scene of horror and bloodshed which she alone witnessed—and when Angelo, almost broken-hearted, lifted the insensible child from the corpse of his ill-fated mother, and bore her away, there were gray hairs in the heavy black tresses which swept over his breast.
From that time she was completely changed—all the beautiful brightness and joyousness of childhood was gone, and she became what we have seen her at ten years old and see her at fourteen—silent, still, and grave; proud and reserved she was by inborn nature: she seemed outwardly cold and almost passionless, but in reality, from the day of the murder watchfully and steadfastly bending every power and force of her mind to one end—that was never for a moment lost sight of—never for one moment swerved from.
Neither had she been brought up like other girls. From the very first Angelo had undertaken the entire charge of teaching her and bringing her up; nor would he bear the notion of parting with her. Even Mrs. Rochester could not move him—and the tie between them was no common one either.
"No, Marion," he had answered, gently but firmly, "I had always intended to keep her and train her myself; and now, more than ever, I adhere to it. To send her now amongst strangers would kill her."
And Marion felt that he was right, and ceased to urge it. Deeply engaged as he was in politics, Egerton always found time to attend to his little charge. He taught her Latin, Italian, and French, the two last principally as the Russians do—by talking to her in those languages, in which, as we have seen, he perfected her by taking her to the countries themselves. All the sterner studies and reading he gave; and in the gifted and high intellect of the child he had rich ground to work upon. He did more than teach her—he trained that fine intellect and nature to an almost masculine strength and self-control—a task made easy by the effects of his mother's fearful death; for the terrible shock and grief which had sown gray hairs in her 'youth's bright locks,' and cast down from its temple her childish joyousness and impetuosity, had put in their place premature years, and gravity, and thought, and the one steady purpose of her life, that had been so from that night, made her for that end train and school every impulse and feeling, mental and physical, under the iron hand of her strong will. Thus, even at fourteen, her intellect and character had a sternness, strength, and power, almost masculine, and rarely found in women—not always in men. She was a child in some things, in others far beyond her years.
Let it not be thought, however, that Egerton had neglected the accomplishments, for the child had talents that were not to be hidden under a bushel. Himself an amateur musician of a high order, and a passionate lover of music and its sister arts, he had early found that the child was, like himself, a lover of all that was beautiful, and for those arts he gave her the best masters.
When she was fourteen, Marion Rochester again ventured to interfere, on the strength of a friendship which dated back many years, for her first husband had been a close friend of Egerton's.
"Angelo," she said, "you are bringing up your child strangely."
"My dear Marion, is she not all I could wish?" he answered, with his grave, almost sad smile.
"To you, who are a man, and a stern one—yes; to me, a woman, no. I do not like to see fourteen years so grave and reserved, caring nothing for the amusement most girls of her age like. Here she has nothing but the society of men older than herself, which she likes best, but is it quite good for her? Throw her more amongst young people, girls."
"Dear Marion," said Egerton, "how am I to do that? You send your Isbel to school, but you know schools are my horror."
"Send her, if only for six months, to one," pleaded Marion. "Indeed, Angelo, you are wrong. Nothing can harm her, and if I find a good school—"
"I don't think the one exists where I would send her," said Egerton.
"I have heard of one, where I mean to place Isbel after Christmas," said Marion; "will you see the lady, and if it pleases you, send Inez?"
"I will think over what you have said, dear Marion." It was all she could get from him; but he did think over it. He saw Mrs. Ashton, and resolved that the child should be placed there for six mouths if the lady would receive her on his own terms—that is, the freedom he should stipulate for. "He was willing to pay anything she liked," he said, but he told her plainly "that his ward was not like other girls of her age; that very painful circumstances in early childhood had had a very sad effect, and that as he sent her principally for companionship, he wished her to have more the freedom of a parlor boarder than a regular pupil, though she was to be thrown amongst the girls; he did not want her 'favored' in the slightest degree. All he meant was that in play hours, for instance, she might go out riding with her groom, a man who had been long in his family, and other such liberties not usually accorded to the girls." Mrs. Ashton agreed, and so Inez went to the school, and the old groom, John Wylde, who, like Burns, had grown gray in the Egerton family, went to the village hard by.
* * *
A greater contrast there could not well be than the Spanish Inez and the English Isbel. See them standing together by the shrubbery gate, the rays of the winter sun falling full on them; and say if, personally, they are not a direct contrast. Isbel with her fair complexion and golden tresses, Inez with her dark face and raven locks, though amongst them the sunlight has found some stray gray hairs here and there, which it plays along like rays of silver light.
Isbel was just seventeen, but not so tall by some inches as the Castilian, though she was slight and graceful, and her beauty was enhanced by the quick, sometimes fiery impetuosity of look and gesture, natural and pleasing in youth, and which, unfortunately had been replaced in Inez by a gravity and calmness unnatural and even painful to see in so young a girl. Isbel's skin had in childhood been dazzlingly fair, but 'The sun with ardent frown, Had slightly tinged her cheek with brown.'
In plain English she was a little bit tanned, as you could see by lifting her rich hair, golden in the light, deep brown in the shade, and exposing her white temples. Her face was one which, for beauty of feature alone, would have pleased any sculptor or painter, and for beauty of expression would have made you look again and again at her with irresistible fascination, for there was a whole world of thought and feeling in the deep dark blue eyes, and intellect on the broad noble brow, that charm about the whole face, which immediately attracted.
She was speaking as she leant over the gate to pull a leaf of laurel.
"So you don't think you shall like school, Inez?" she said.
"A month is hardly enough to judge in," said the Spaniard.
"I wish you would speak out, you tiresome child," said Isbel. "How do you like Mrs. Ashton and the girls, then?"
"Well enough at present," was the guarded answer, from a habit of so speaking.
"There you are again," said Isbel.
"A word is enough to the wise," said Inez, half smiling.
"Proverb for proverb, senora," said Isbel, gaily. "'Beware of the silent man, and of the dog that does not bark.' Really and seriously, Inez, how do you like them? What think you of Theresa Stanfeld?"
"Very well, I like her very much," replied Inez. "She is sharp and intelligent, and has such warm feelings; but she is hasty and passionate, and unless she learns to control her impetuous temper, it will be her bane in life!"
"And Margaret Arundel?" said Isbel.
"Better still," replied Inez; "she is more stable and self-controlled, but there seems a cloud over her which I cannot understand in such a young girl."
"Inez, you are a strange creature," said Isbel, dropping the leaf she had plucked; "did it ever strike yourself how queer and odd you often talk, as if you numbered thirty instead of fourteen years? What do you know of the world and life?"
"Does length of years always make up the sum of life?" said Inez, with a grave smile that was the very same as Egerton's. "There are many who live twenty years in ten; griefs and troubles add years and bitter knowledge to a life faster than any reckoned days and weeks and months can do, Isbel."
She raised her dark, mournful eyes as she spoke, and Isbel said, almost passionately:
"Inez, how can you have known such bitter teaching troubles? You, so beloved, with rank, wealth, and beauty, with all that makes life happy and dear!"
"Is all gold that glitters, Isbel?"
Tears filled Isbel's tender, earnest blue eyes, but she lifted the heavy braids of the Castilian's hair, and said gently, "Inez, lift your heart upward and find peace and hope; for as silver hairs have found their way amongst the darkness of your hair, so will silver light find its way into the darkness of your sorrow."
Inez made no reply, but her head drooped a little lower, and a heavy tear fell on her companion's hand.
There was a long silence. Inez's eyes were fixed dreamingly on the far-off distance, but looming as in a vision through a distance of time, for with a mournful cadence to her heart—Other days came back to her with recollected music.
"Inez, where are your thoughts?" whispered Isbel, softly.
"Far, far away in years that can never be recalled—that can never, never return," answered the child drearily.
There was another long silence, but broken this time by other voices; the bushes near were pushed aside, and Theresa Stanfeld and Margaret Arundel stood before Isbel and the Castilian.
"Oh, here you are!" exclaimed the impetuous Theresa, bounding forwards. "We want your opinion. Don't you like the preaching of the new curate of Yellowfield, the Rev. Cuthbert St. John?"
"No," said Isbel Rochester.
"I don't like him or anything about him," said Inez de Caldara, decidedly.
"I am sure his sermon was splendid," remarked Margaret.
"Fine oratory—yes," returned the Castilian, drily.
"And do you think that a fault?" exclaimed Theresa, warmly; "do you think all the good oratory should be kept for the House of Commons?"
"Mere oratory is better there than in the pulpit," returned Inez, in her quiet way, and by no means moved by the other's impetuosity.
"I'll tell you what, Sonora Inez, you are excessively impudent," said Theresa, laughing; "but it's anything but warm here, and—"
"There is the dinner-bell ringing," added Margaret Arundel.
"And there is the postman going up the carriage drive," said Inez de Caldara, and the next moment she had sprung across the intervening grass, clearing at a flying leap several bushes in the way, and stood before the postman.
"Any for me, postman?" she asked.
"Well, miss, I don't know but what there is," said the old man; "let's see; are you Miss de Caldara?"
"Yes," she replied.
"Then here you are, miss," said the postman, "and here's a heap of others, too."
"I'll deliver them all; good morning," said Inez. And, taking the letters, she sprang over a holly-bush and disappeared. Her own letter she saw was from Angelo Egerton.
The Rev. Cuthbert St. John, to whom allusion has been made, was a brother of Colonel St. John, an old friend of Egerton's, and son of the Lady Alice already mentioned. The brothers were necessarily much separated by their professions; and the sudden arrival of the gallant officer at the parsonage was an equally agreeable and sudden surprise to the rather straight-laced High Church clergyman. His errand was partly to attend a grand ball given by a Mrs. Melville, an old friend of more than one of the families playing important parts in this history, on her son's coming of age; and he was, moreover, charged by Sir Angelo with a mission to his fair ward, and niece Isbel, who were also invited to the ball; and he had no sooner exchanged brotherly greetings with Cuthbert and taken some refreshment than he set out for Mrs. Ashton's to perform his errand.
It was half-past 5 when Colonel St. John jumped out of the fly he had taken on his way, and rang at the bell of Ashton House. To his enquiry whether Mrs. Ashton was at home, he was told yes, and shown into the same apartment that Margaret had been, where he was left alone while the servant took his card up.
In a few minutes Mrs. Ashton entered the apartment and advanced, but Colonel St. John spoke first.
"Have I the honor, madam, of addressing Mrs. Ashton?"
"I am Mrs. Ashton, sir," she returned, in her quiet, graceful manner; "but I believe the name of St. John is unknown to me."
"Allow me, then," he said, smiling, "to introduce myself as the brother of your new incumbent at Yellowfield, and here now as the messenger of Mrs. Rochester and Sir Angelo Egerton, commissioned to carry away two of your charges. This will explain it." And he handed her a letter.
"Thank you. Will you excuse me?" And she broke it open.
It was from Marion Rochester, simply saying that she and Sir Angelo Egerton would esteem it a great favor if she would allow her daughter Isbel and Inez de Caldara to return with Colonel St. John to the manor house, there to remain the following day and night for a ball to be given there. She added certain feminine details relative to ball-dresses, &c., which not being likely to interest the reader, we will mercifully leave out.
Mrs. Ashton laid down the letter and said, "I shall be most happy to comply with the request by placing the young ladies immediately in your care."
"I am an old friend, you know, Mrs. Ashton," said the colonel. "I have seen Miss Rochester three or four times, and little Inez I have many a time carried in my arms. But I have not seen her now for four years. Would you allow me to see her before we leave, as I have a packet to deliver to her from her guardian, but only say a gentleman wishes to see her."
"I will send her directly," answered the lady, inwardly smiling as she retired at the idea of 'little Inez,' it being evident that the colonel expected to find the little child he had left. He heard no footfall without, but presently the door opened softly, and a tall dark slender form stood there.
"It's Louis St. John!" burst in joyful surprise from her lips, and in a second she had sprung forwards and clasped his hand in both hers.
"Is it possible!" began the astonished Louis. "Is this really Inez. Why, I left a child, and I find a tall girl."
"The same Inez in heart," she said smiling.
"I am glad to see my favorite again. I am very glad to see you again, Inez!" he said, with strange earnestness; "let me look at your face."
He laid his hands on her shoulders, and turned her towards the light, gazing into the dark tender eyes, which met his with such truthful childlike innocence and affection. When he had quitted England four years before, he had left a child of ten years, and when he bade her farewell, he had drawn her to his breast and held her in his arms, and kissed her lips and eyes. Why could not he do so now—was it merely that she had grown so tall, or that her silk dress swept the ground? No, it was something that lay deeper than that, something that, man of the world as he was, he could not define, scarcely even feel as a distinctive feeling, but rather as an instinctive impulse; it was not that she seemed to him a woman or 'grown up,' for she did not, but she was not the little child he had left—it was a strange vague indefinite feeling that had shot through his breast when his eye met hers. He bent down and gravely kissed the broad high brow.
"You are changed, Inez," said he, "and yet withal—Thou art still the same, and the same heart I can see. But here is a packet from Egerton."
"From Angelo?" she exclaimed.
It was strange to see how eye and lip lighted up at his very name and shed a beauty over that young face that was almost more than earthly; it was—
The light of love, the purity of grace,
The Mind, the Music breathing o'er her face.
"I stand on no ceremony with you, Senor Don Louis," she said, smiling, as she opened the packet, which contained a smaller one and a letter. It was short, and was as follows, for Angelo rarely wrote long letters:—
"Dear Inez,—St. John will explain to you
all about this ball at Mrs. Melville's. You remember him dining
with me last autumn. Not being able to leave town myself, I told
St. John (if you don't dislike it) to take you there as my
substitute. So remember to make all excuses for me. I have sent you
a little present, lest amid so gay a crowd my darling should
"ANGELO R. EGERTON."
"He wishes me to go with you," she said, "and says you will explain all."
He did so, and then she opened the little parcel. It was a small jewel-box, and in it reposed a beautiful bracelet, made of coal-black hair, with a gold clasp set with diamonds, and engraved on the inside with Angelo's crest and motto, a cross and sword bound with cypress and palm, and underneath in small characters the words, "Faithful to the death." It was his hair she knew, and a bright smile crossed her face as she showed it to Louis, and then replaced it.
"I must go and dress," she said, "and fetch Isbel."
She was gone before he could look round, and for some minutes he was alone. Then Mrs. Ashton and the two girls entered ready dressed, and with a carpet bag. Isbel Rochester met Colonel St. John with a graceful ease and ready recognition of him, which, though full of kindness, was of course very different from Inez's affectionate and childlike greeting; but Isbel was seventeen, and, in fact, 'grown up,' besides having only seen him three or four times before, while Inez was but fourteen, and had known him from almost the first moment she set foot in England.
"Good-bye, my dears," said Mrs. Ashton, as the colonel placed them in a fly, and stepped in himself. "I hope you'll like the ball; and mind, you naughty Inez," she added, smiling, "don't keep that grave little face—dance and be gay."
A shade crossed the child's face, but Colonel St. John said, gaily, "Trust me, Mrs. Ashton. She is under my charge, you know, and I'll take care of her." And, as we shall see, he kept his word.
It was near half past 6 when they reached the manor house, and Mrs. Rochester's maid, Nelly Warren, Sam's daughter, was lying in wait for them, and carried off the two girls to be dressed for dinner, which that day had been put off to 7 o'clock.
Nelly conducted them up to an immense bedroom, containing two large beds, strewed with dresses and millinery.
There were two ladies in the room—one was their hostess, Mrs. Melville, a fine looking matron of forty; the other was Marion Rochester.
"Ah, here they are—welcome, and thrice welcome, my dears!" exclaimed Mrs. Melville, warmly, and Marion, springing up, threw her arms first round her step-daughter, and then round Inez, whom she loved as well at least.
"I am so glad to see your dear faces," she said; "here, Nelly, be quick, and help them to dress for dinner."
"We are ready," said Isbel, as Nelly divested them of their hats and mantles. "We dressed before we started. Is my cousin Tom here, mamma?"
"To be sure," she replied; "Mrs. Melville, I am at your service."
"Thank you," said Mrs. Melville; "come along into my room. You two girls run down to the drawing-room, there's nobody down yet. Nelly, show the young ladies the way."
Mrs. Melville was wrong in supposing the drawing-room empty, for when Isbel opened the door she saw a handsome, jovial looking man, who might have been anywhere between five and eight and twenty, standing before the fire.
"Why, by Jove, if it isn't Isbel and the senorita," he exclaimed, reaching them in two strides. Mr. Thomas Courtenay (yclept "Tom," for short) gave his cousin a warm embrace, and shook the Castilian's hand as if he meant to shake it off—in fact, Isbel mildly suggested that possibility, whereupon Tom threw himself in an attitude, exclaiming, "Most noble senora, has thy slave offended in nearly wringing off that fair hand?"
Neither of the girls could help laughing, but Isbel said, "Tom, behave yourself; you are a walking personification of nonsense."
"Much obliged, coz," said Tom. "I hope such is not your opinion, Miss de Caldara."
"Pretty nearly," replied Inez, smiling; "but why do you 'Miss,' and 'Senora' me? It used to be Inez when we met four years ago, and before that."
"Why, by Joye, I don't know," said Tom, pushing up his curly hair as if taken aback, "except that you've sprung up so tall. I can remember you as high as that," holding his hand about four feet from the floor, "and in short skirts, and now, i'faith you top Isbel and Marion by a good bit. Do you remember," he added, more seriously, "what a favorite you were with poor Julian D'Arcy?"
The child turned suddenly away with a quivering lip; and deeply pained at having so inadvertently wounded her, Tom Courtenay glanced at Isbel in mute appeal. But Inez's emotion was only for a second, her self-control had now grown too habitual, and her strong will too all powerful, to enable anything to unnerve her for long, and the next moment she turned her face, with its habitual quiet expression, and said in a voice resolutely calm, "Do not let my foolish weakness pain you. It is past now, but I loved Julian, and his death—"
"Hush!" said Isbel, hastily; "I hear mamma coming, and she, too, can hardly bear the mention of her son's name."
As the ladies came in, Tom muttered, "She's a most uncommon step-mother," and then addressed them in his usual gay, rattling manner, under which lay deeper feelings and a higher nature than many gave him credit for.
In anticipation of the late to-morrow night, the family and guests retired early, but Marion was still seated at her toilette table, while Nelly brushed out her hair, when the door opened almost noiselessly, and Inez stood by her side.
"Child, how you startled me!" exclaimed Marion, starting.
"Send your maid away," said the girl, in Italian.
"Nelly, you may go to bed," said her mistress, "I can easily undress myself."
Nelly gladly retired, for travelling and bustling about had tired her. Inez walked to the door, listened, bolted it, and returned.
"I wanted to see you alone," she said. "Angelo has so little chance of doing so that he sent this to me in the packet Colonel Louis brought me." She held out a letter.
Marion looked at her, and the name of "Julian!" burst from her lips, as she grasped the letter. It was long, and once or twice she passed her hand over her eyes. As she reached the end her breast heaved, and suddenly clasping her hands on her brow, she cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, "Oh! Julian—oh, my son, my son! are we never more to meet till we meet beyond the grave? Is thy beautiful head to be for ever crushed beneath the frightful doom of another's fell deed?"
"Look at me!" said the low thrilling voice of the Spanish girl; and as if under a spell, Marion looked up. Inez stood before her with such a light in her strange steadfast eyes as startled Marion. "When you hear me," said the child steadily, "do not look on me as a wild-brained visionist, or think I do not know what I say; but by the love I bore the dead, by the love I bear the living; I will find the man for whose dark deed Julian is an exile, and Julian shall be restored to his name and rights. It is the one purpose of my life, and I will do it!"
There was no haste or passion in her words or manner—no quivering of the lip or wavering in the deep low voice—nothing but a strong, deliberate purpose in treading the path to that end. A determination to reach it, unalterable as the laws of the Medes and Persians. Nothing could make her pause or swerve in her purpose; and Marion gazed on her as if she looked on one inspired, whispering low and almost fearfully, "Inez, Inez, how you look! How is it possible for you to do this thing?"
A sudden light shone in the Spaniard's dark eyes, as if a ray from heaven had fallen on her face, as she said, simply, and almost in the words of Scripture, "Angelo loves Julian as he loves his own soul, and I will do it."
"Heaven grant it," said Marion, bowing her head; "but I fear for us all. What can you do, my little one? How can you do anything?"
"Love conquers all," replied Inez, smiling gently. "The motto of my forefathers is mine, and shall be proved at last."
When Marion looked up the child was gone, as silently as she had entered, and Marion knelt and prayed earnestly that heaven would indeed help the child. So that night passed away in the dim vista of time, and the morning dawned, and with a strange and new-born feeling of hope at her heart, Marion Rochester awoke from her dreamless sleep.
The first train brought down those guests who were to sleep that night at the manor house; but we pass over the day to the ball in the evening, to which young and old had been asked; and as Mr. Melville and his wife were regular hospitable country people, and young Melville a jovial, jolly sort of a follow, it promised to go off well. From far and near the gentry of the surrounding country came, and about 8 o'clock carriages began to set down the guests, and as they came more punctually than people do in fashionable London assemblies, by 9 o'clock almost every one had arrived, and the rooms were well filled, and about 9, therefore, we will enter the saloons.
The Reverend Cuthbert St. John entered about that time, looking particularly grand and good, and entering just as the opening dance had ended, one of the first people he saw was his brother with a tall dark girl leaning on his arm. Beautiful indeed Inez de Caldara looked in her floating white lace robe, unjewelled, save for the rich bracelet—Angelo's present—which circled her arm, and the slender chain of diamonds which confined her hair, and gleamed amidst it like stars in a dark night.
"Oh, Cuthbert, you are late!" said Louis St. John.
"More serious duties detained me," said the Reverend Cuthbert with a sweet smoothness that implied reproof; but at the same time giving a glance at the Castilian, which plainly said, "Introduce me." So Louis read it, but yet somehow or other it was with an indefinable dislike he did so, and did it shortly—"My brother Cuthbert—the Senora Inez de Caldara."
Inez bowed in the cold haughty manner long habitual to her with strangers; Cuthbert, intending to be as haughty, only bowed stiffly, and passed on, his admiration of the beautiful Spaniard somewhat chilled.
"Look, Isbel!" whispered Tom Courtenay. "By Jove, there's Noah himself risen from his grave."
"Take care!" said Isbel, smothering a laugh in her handkerchief. "It is our incumbent, Colonel Louis's brother."
"Whew! sits the wind that way?" muttered Tom. "Well, I must have some fun out of him. Isbel, you know him then?"
"I certainly do," she replied; "that is, I've met him four or five times at the house of his mother, Lady Alice, and seen him at church."
"Oh, I'll take the shine out of him," said Tom. "Come along, and introduce me, and keep my arm, and we'll have a lark. If you won't St. John will."
He drew her forwards to where the clergyman was standing; and Isbel, who had a piece of Tom's mischief in her, said, "How do you do, Mr. St. John? Allow me to introduce my cousin, Mr. Thomas Courtenay."
"Happy to make your acquaintance, Mr. St. John," said Tom, his black eyes dancing with mischief. "Having long known your warlike brother, I was anxious to be introduced to you. Strange we should never have met at my cousin Courtenay's house, eh! isn't it?"
"I presume, sir, you are not often there?" said the Reverend Cuthbert, stiffly. "And I have been away from London."
"Ah, indeed! and while for three years I've been idling it away abroad, you have been laboring to bring back these heathens to the pale of the church. When I look back on the precious time I have wasted, sir," said Tom, with a sanctimonious look, which nearly unmanned (or unwomaned) his cousin's gravity, "and on the many idle hours I have flung away, and reflect that time never returns, it makes me sad; it does, indeed, now."
Cuthbert looked at him, at first a little uncertain whether he was being laughed at or not, but Tom's gravity deceived him, and he answered as became a clergyman, that "Time and tide wait for no man; and hours misspent and past can never be recalled," which was such a platitude that Tom's mouth gave way slightly at the corners, but he said, "You are right. By-the-way, I hear that party spirit runs high here between Low Church and Puseyite."
"Anglo-Catholic; I presume you mean, Mr. Courtenay," said the Reverend Cuthbert, drawing himself up, deeply offended at being called Puseyite.
"I beg your pardon," exclaimed Tom, intensely delighted at having what he internally denominated 'riled the parson.' "I wasn't aware your party had a new name. I have been abroad, you see, where there are only Catholics and heretics; but—"
Whatever he was going to say to further 'rile the parson' was fated never to be uttered, for young Melville came up, exclaiming, "Tom Courtenay, you are usurping your cousin; Miss Rochester, do graciously accord me the honor of your hand."
And the next moment Isbel whirled away in a rapid waltz, which Tom hastened to join with Inez, whom he took from Colonel St. John as unceremoniously as he had himself been robbed of Isbel.
We will not bore the reader with a description of the remainder of that gay evening. Dancing was varied by admirably acted characters, in which Inez took a prominent part, and by music at intervals; and when at an early hour on the following morning the party broke up, there were few of the younger guests who did not feel that, late as it was, the hour of separation had come all too soon, so bright and so keen had been their enjoyment of its hours.
Marion Courtenay, when very young, barely seventeen, had been married by her father to a certain Colonel Cyril D'Arcy, a gallant officer who had served with great distinction in India; and Marion, young and inexperienced, mistook respect and admiration for love, when, in fact, her affection for him was more that of a child to a father. He was many years her senior, and at that time was a widower with one son, Julian, a boy about eleven, who up till then had been under the care of Sir Reginald Egerton. Marion's first acquaintance with Angelo was on her wedding day. Only the day before Mr. Courtenay was attacked with illness, but he would not postpone the marriage.
Cyril D'Arcy and Reginald Egerton had been schoolboys together, and when the latter died, Cyril had continued the friendship to his old friend's son as closely as the quiet reserve of Angelo would allow him, and now it was Angelo who was asked to give away Miss Courtenay, which he did.
Marion D'Arcy was happy in her husband's affection, and in the deep love she soon learned to bear her step-son. If the child had been her own she could not have loved him with more entire devotion, and he returned it fully. It has been said that the tie between Marion and Angelo Egerton was no common one, nor was it, for that tie was this very boy Julian; it had grown out of him, and centered absorbedly in him through sad and strange circumstances to be told hereafter.
What Inez had said was true—that "Angelo loved Julian as his own soul."
As a little child, while his father was in India, Julian had been left under the care of Sir Reginald and his wife Jesuita, whose gentle heart warmed to the motherless child. But Angelo, like most young men, and like himself in particular, had a dislike to young children; they were for the women; he knew nothing about them, and cared still less, and when at home he rarely if ever noticed the child; but when he did, there was an irresistible fascination in his voice and manner—a winning power of which he was even himself scarcely conscious, but which won the child, as by some invisible force, even while he half feared him.
But Egerton knew it not, and might perhaps never have known till years after what a rich wealth of love and noble nature he was throwing away, but for one of those fine threads on which a whole lifetime often turns, and which the world calls 'chance,' but which the thinking brain and heart with deep reverence ascribes to an ever watchful Providence.
It was one hot autumn day at Falcontower Castle when Julian was about eight years old and Angelo eighteen, that, the latter having ridden hard that day, for he was a wild, reckless rider as far as he himself was concerned, on his return, had thrown himself on the grass, on the park-side of a stream which divided the flower gardens from the park, and the long grass completely hid his prostrate form until you came close. He had fallen into a deep reverie—a dream of ambition and power, in which the face of his idolised mother was strangely mingled, when his quick ear caught the sound of little footsteps, and the pattering steps of a dog crossing the footbridge near him; but he did not move, recognising little Julian's steps.
He heard the child sit down by the stream, for a long time silent and motionless; then the gentle, child-like voice murmured some words to the dog, at first too low to be caught, till, seemingly answering some caressing movement of his canine companion, the boy said, sadly, "Ah, poor Tyrol, you are not afraid of Angelo, for he speaks to you often, not seldom—oh so seldom, as he does to me—and when he does, he makes me love him. I am a child, and he doesn't like children; but oh, I wish he would love me just a little bit, Tyrol," and the child drew a deep heavy sigh.
Those simple words—that sigh—cut Angelo to the very heart's core with a bitter, remorseful pang, whose sharp pain he had never thought to feel; he saw in a moment how wrong, how cruel he had been in suffering his dislike to very young children to blind his usual acuteness, and overlook with careless, almost cold indifference, the pure affection of a little child—that holy thing which, alas! is too often cast aside with ruthless haste or neglect, and which is surely one of the few gifts that remain of paradise.
But Angelo's mistake had been that of youth more than character, and the moment he saw how wrong he had been, that moment he determined to repair the evil before it was too late.
He raised himself, and said quietly, "Julian, come here."
The child started violently, but came instantly, saying hurriedly, "I didn't know you were here, Angelo. Did we wake you?"
"I wasn't asleep," he replied, "sit down by me."
The child obeyed; but his look of timid wonder struck like cold steel to Egerton's inmost soul, and even his iron will could not make his voice quite so steady as usual, as he said, "Why are you afraid of me, Julian?"
The boy hesitated, colored deeply, and his blue eyes drooped.
"Nay, my boy, do not be afraid to answer me," said Angelo, kindly.
"Because," half whispered the child, with quivering lips, "you don't like children."
"And children don't like me," said Egerton; but his voice trembled.
Julian looked up quickly; there were tears, bitter, remorseful tears in Angelo's eyes; and the child, with a sudden impulse, hid his face on Angelo's breast, saying passionately, "I love you! Oh! Angelo, love me a little!"
Angelo clasped the child to him, murmuring low, as he bent over him, "God forgive me; for I have been greviously wrong all these years!"
From that day there sprang up between these two a love, that grew every hour and day of the nineteen years that had passed since that moment, which had been in their lives the turning point on which so much had hung.
Then came Sir Reginald's death and Colonel D'Arcy's return, and a year after that his marriage with Marion Courtenay; but in two years he died, leaving his son and property, Friars Lea, to the sole guardianship of Angelo Egerton. Marion was left even wealthy.
And now Tom Courtenay's name first appears as a link in this strange chain, for Tom and Julian were at Eton together, and became great friends; later Tom had been not only rather, but very wild; and Julian in attempting to rescue him from the dire consequences of it, had entailed upon himself misery he little dreamed of, but of which Tom was totally ignorant, supposing him, in common with the rest of the world, to be dead.
But we must go back.
It is not here that we have space to tell how Marion D'Arcy met Austin Rochester, suffice it that she did. She learned what it was to love with all the faith and strength of her strong faithful heart. She loved his motherless little child for his sake; she believed she was loved, and they were married. A few short clouded months, barely a year, and she was awake from her dream. One dark day he left her and his child, and from that time she had never seen him or heard of him. At the same time Marion married, Inez arrived in England, and a year after that came Lady Egerton's terrible death, and then vague news that young Julian D'Arcy (who had left England very suddenly just then) had fallen over a precipice in travelling to Switzerland and been killed. In reality Julian, under the name of Rothesay, Angelo's second Christian name, fled from England, accompanied by Egerton, who took him to Florence, and placed him with an eminent artist. Only three people in the world knew the whole from beginning to end—Egerton, Marion, and the child, Inez.
When the report of Julian D'Arcy's death reached home, some distant relations of course sprang up and claimed Friars Lea; but Angelo refused to give it up, on the ground that Julian's death could not be proved, and therefore he as trustee would hold it. The distant relation applied to the Court of Chancery to have Julian declared dead, but Angelo opposed this, and there being no proof adduced, the application was refused.
Colonel St. John, as we have said, had been at Eton with Angelo, and knew only what the world knew, and that was little enough, and far enough from the real truth.
Louis St. John had been induced by Cuthbert to remain with him over the Sunday; but as on the Saturday afternoon Cuthbert would be engaged, Louis said he should see if Mrs. Ashton would allow him to take out Inez and Miss Rochester for a ride, and walked up to the school to make the request.
Mrs. Ashton heard him, and then said with a half apologetic smile, "Inez may go with you, Colonel St. John, but you will easily understand that I cannot permit Miss Rochester to do the same. She is no longer a child; and you will excuse me, I hope, sir. It would never do to so infringe the rule, and have one of the pupils seen riding out with a gentleman alone, and especially a military officer."
"I quite understand that, Mrs. Ashton," said Louis; "but pardon me, will not that apply to Inez?"
"Firstly, colonel, Inez is, after all, still a child; and then I am peculiarly placed with regard to her. Her guardian placed her here only on the agreement that she was to have great freedom, and especially as much free air and exercise as she chose. If she were precisely on the same footing here as the other girls, I should not allow her to go; but as, personally, I see no harm in it, and as I know Sir Angelo, if here, would wish it, you are welcome to take her, only do not be late."
"And what time shall I order the horses, Mrs. Ashton?"
"At half past 2 punctually," she replied, "but I will ask her." She left the room, but soon returned, saying, "At that hour she will be ready, and she begged me to offer you the use of her groom's horse. It is a noble animal, and far superior to any you could hire here."
"I am much obliged to her," said Louis; "and will be here at the time. Where are the horses kept?"
"At the Manor Arms," said Mrs. Ashton, "just this side of the village."
Louis thanked her and departed.
Precisely at half-past 2 he reached Ashton House; but old John Wylde was already there with El Hasseneh and Greysteel, and Inez was waiting on the steps, looking so beautiful in her riding habit that St. John started. But he recovered himself, and as he lifted her to her saddle, said gaily, "Senorita, to be before time is as unpunctual as to be after it."
"A fault on the right side, though," she answered, as they passed the lodge-gates, and struck in a northerly direction.
It was a beautiful country, hilly and wooded, and though now it was winter, and the ground hard and frozen, it was still beautiful in its very bleak desolation. For some distance neither spoke, but as they were walking their horses down the slope of a hill, Louis said, "Have you seen that masterly painting of Horatius Cocles defending the bridge? It is by a young artist who is rising to fame. Julian Rothesay is his name."
"I have seen it, and it is certainly splendid," replied Inez. "If one of the old masters had done it, the world would have gone mad about it."
"I am afraid your sarcasm is true," said Louis; "but I fancied that in the face of the brave Roman I could trace some resemblance to Egerton."
"It is very likely," said Inez, quietly; "we knew the painter when we were in Florence, and he took Angelo's portrait."
"Indeed!" said Louis; "I must see it. Is it a good likeness?"
"To the life—masterly," she replied; "it hangs now in the gallery at Falcontower, but it is so fine a one that when it came over, Angelo, at the request of his friends, threw open his gallery in town for three days."
She did not say that nothing would have made him allow his own portrait to be shown save for his love for its painter, which made him do anything to give him fame and renown.
"I must see it," said St. John; "but is this artist any relation of Egerton's?"
She looked up in surprise, and replied, "No! what a strange question! What made you think that?"
There was a restless anxiety in her eye as she spoke, and a curious expression about the mouth, which would have told Angelo—and Angelo only—that she was prepared to "lie unmitigatedly to preserve the secret entrusted to her care."
Louis saw neither, but replied, "Your guardian's name is Angelo Rothesay Egerton, and this painter's is Rothesay."
"Angelo was so christened after his father's mother," said Inez. "It was her surname."
"Well, and perhaps this Signor Giulio is of the same family," said Louis.
"No, he is no relation at all," said Inez. "But look, Colonel Louis, do you see that deep ravine in the vale below?"
In the vale, between two lines of hills, was a gorge about twelve feet across, by ten deep, but with sloping sides, so that a horse with a careful rider could cross it easily.
"It looks," said St. John, "as if it had once been the bed of a river."
"So it has," said Inez; "it runs for miles like that, and in heavy rains is often full, and a heavy fall of snow with wind makes it a snowdrift—a dangerous one, too."
"Is it passable now?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, Wylde and I have crossed it often," replied Inez. "Greysteel and El Hasseneh know exactly how to step down."
As they reached the ravine, Colonel St. John glanced upward, and said, "I hope, then, no rain or snow will fall, for there are some 'ugly' gray clouds hanging over us."
"Never mind them," said Inez. "Now," said she, as they reached the other side, "let's race to the top of this hill as the crow flies—the road winds."
"Inez, stop!" he exclaimed. "There are hedges in the way—you will be thrown."
"Oh, no; Angelo taught me riding," she returned. "I shall get there first, for El Hasseneh goes like the wind."
"A wilfu' woman maun hae her wa'," said the colonel, resignedly. "Now, one, two, three—away!"
Both started; Inez saying quickly, "Don't fear for me at leaping, but mind Greysteel."
Up to and over the first hedge the gallant gray kept neck and neck with the black descendant of the prophet's steed, but soon the extreme fleetness of the Arabian, and the feather-weight she bore, begun to tell, and she shot ahead of her rival, took the next hedge with graceful and ladylike ease, and kept steadily on, reaching the brow of the hill several lengths before Greysteel; and suddenly, as Inez pulled her up, the well trained animal stopped immediately as motionless as a statue, and her silky coat hardly even stirred by her run.
"I didn't know you were such a rider," exclaimed the colonel, laughingly; "but you had me at a disadvantage."
"Oh, yes, I know," said Inez; "I only wanted a good gallop. I'll be good now."
St. John looked at her, and muttered inwardly, "Anything to make that dear face look less grave, and more like a child's. Deuce take it!" he exclaimed, suddenly. "Greysteel has cast a shoe. I hope there is a farrier over there."
Dismounting, he led the horse, and walked; but in this way it took a quarter of an hour to reach the hamlet, and by this time it was really getting dark, and the snow was falling faster every minute, sweeping before the wind in what promised to be a heavy drift.
St. John went straight to the village inn, and asked if there was a farrier, but the host said no; he did jobs of that sort. There was nothing to do but to have the horse shoed and both horses fed, and then Louis asked how far they were from Yellowfield, and what time it was.
"Nigh on 5, sir," was the reply; "and even across country and through the ravine, it's seventeen mile."
"That is the way we came and must return," said St. John.
"Lor, sir, it will be dark before you can reach the ravine," said the landlord, "and by that time it will be a snow drift. See how heavy it falls, and how the wind drives it before it."
"We must reach it and cross it," said Inez, looking at St. John.
"Why, miss, the hardest riding would hardly reach it in time," said the landlord. "It will be dark in half an hour, sir."
"Do not mind what he says. We lose time," said the Spaniard, impatiently.
"My friend, we must go," said the colonel, decidedly; "so good evening."
They turned their horses' heads, and at a hand-gallop rode away, Inez's dark eyes sparkling with delight at the adventure, Louis' full of anxiety for his precious charge.
The air was perfectly white with snow, which the now wild blast swept right in their faces. Presently St. John said, "Are these horses good for a long, mad race?"
"Yes; they are thorough-bred, and used to mad riding," replied Inez.
"How bleak and desolate the hills look!" said Louis. "And how dark it is growing! Inez, can you really keep your seat when Hasseneh is at her full speed?"
"Yes, of course," she replied.
"Then, my dear child, there is nothing for it but that," said Louis. "Now start."
The next moment they were off—at first with some moderation, but as the high-mettled animals warmed to their work they broke into a mad gallop, that made them seem literally to fly through the air like the wild steeds and wilder riders of German legends. The miles flew by them like phantoms, and though the driving snow and howling blast swept wildly past them, neither steeds nor riders heeded it, but bending almost to their saddle-bows, they kept on as if the race were one for life and death, the foam flying from the horses' mouths as they dashed on through the fast deepening snow. And so they approached the dreaded ravine. But the little hand that grasped Hasseneh's rein was growing nerveless, every fibre in the child's slight frame was quivering. She drew her breath in quick, labored gasps; and as the brave horses slackened, partly to descend the last slope, partly impeded by the snow, she drooped forward in her saddle till her black hair mingled with the flowing mane of the Arabian.
"Inez! Great heaven! she is fainting!" exclaimed St. John.
"No, no," said the child, raising herself with a strong effort of her strong will, "it is only the wind takes my breath away."
"My darling child, I have ridden you too hard," said St. John.
"No," said Inez, recovering herself with the minute's pause, and firmly grasping the reins. "I am all right again. Dear Louis, indeed I am."
"It is so dark I cannot see your face very clearly," said Louis. "Are you really all right again?"
"Indeed yes," she replied. "Ride on, ride on, or we shall be too late."
A few moments more brought them to where the ravine had been. It was one sheet of white snow from one side of the valley to the other, and the ravine between was filled and hidden by the snow stretching away on all sides. It was one vast drift—to attempt to cross which would be certain death.
"Good Heavens—we are too late!" said Colonel St. John.
There was a moment's dead silence; then Inez said, "What is there to fear if we don't cross it? I know you are only fearing the night and the snow-storm for me; but I don't fear either with you."
"Thank you for your affectionate trust, dear Inez," he returned; "but listen. Every moment the snow is deepening, and before long will be up to our saddle girths, and it may continue all night. These roads here between hedge rows will soon be snow drifts, and then heaven help us, for man could not. Do you know of any road skirting the ravine?"
"No—none," she replied. "But look, look!—there is a light gleaming in the darkness."
Louis' eye followed her hand. On the top of what must have been a hill, about half a mile or so off, a light faintly gleamed.
"What can it be, Inez?" he asked; "we passed no house or building in sight when we crossed the ravine."
"No, but it certainly comes from one," she replied. "Colonel Louis, so far from being afraid, I feel intense enjoyment of such an adventure and real peril in these prosaic days."
"Brave girl! it is no joke though," answered St. John, gravely, though greatly relieved to find he had so fearless a companion. "We must try and reach this building and get shelter for to-night. One thing is certain: in the darkness we have lost our way entirely, and struck the ravine many a long mile from where we crossed it."
"But Mrs. Ashton?" said Inez; "she will be so frightened."
"She will probably guess that we have taken shelter, and if not, she must be frightened," returned Louis, coolly. "Come, there is no time to be lost."
Keeping the light in view, they turned back, and once more set off at a quick walk. The light drew nearer and nearer, but the snow had deepened dangerously before a dark mass of building rose ahead, and they reached some gates with a lodge. To St. John's cool enquiry of the woman who came out, whether her master or mistress were at home, she answered yes, and let them in.
Another minute brought them to the house, whose size outside it was too dark to see, but it was the hall lamp that had guided them. Louis dismounted, gave his reins to Inez, and rang the bell. The door was opened by a respectable man servant, who stared rather hard at the strangers.
"Is your master at home?" asked St. John.
"Mr. Aubrey is, sir," replied the man.
"Tell him a gentleman wishes to see him," said St. John.
Without actually leaving the hall, the servant opened a door near, and said something, and the next moment a gentleman—a young man—came quickly out. Addressing him at once, Colonel St. John explained exactly what had happened, and with many apologies for the liberty he was taking, asked shelter for the young lady and himself, as to go on was only courting death.
"The young lady and yourself are warmly welcome," said the young man, cordially; "I am only thankful you found your way out of such peril. James, take these two horses to the stables, and see that every care is taken of them. Pray bring the lady in, sir."
Colonel St. John lifted Inez in his arms and fairly carried her into the hall, and for a moment she clung to his arm, giddy from the sudden transition from darkness to light, but in a minute she recovered, and shook the snow from her dress, hair, and hat.
"Now come in here," said the stranger, opening the door of a comfortable sitting room with a huge fire; "you are both cold and wet, and probably hungry too."
He rang the bell, which was answered by a respectable looking old matron of sixty or so.
"Mrs. Martinger," said he, "this lady and gentleman have been overtaken and nearly lost in the snow, and will do us the pleasure of remaining the night, so now take the young lady up stairs and attend to her, and get a couple of rooms ready."
"Lawks ha' mercy!" cried the old lady, "the puir dear's quite wet. Come along, ye pretty bird."
While the old lady bore off Inez, their host took St. John upstairs, but as he had a great coat on, he had only to take that off; and fortunately Inez always wore a thin black silk dress under her habit, so that she had only to take off her wet habit, and she came out like a silkworm from its chrysalis.
In the meantime an ample repast had been prepared, and unromantic as it may appear, both our travellers did it full justice. As they sat by the cheerful blaze after its removal, the two gentlemen enjoying their cigars, while Inez sat very quiet on a low stool at Louis' feet, she had time to scan their host. He was a young man—that is, about five or six and twenty—not above the middle height, but well formed, and with a handsome, frank, pleasant face; but now and then there was a curious flicker in the bright brown eyes, which perhaps only so close and watchful an observer as Inez de Caldara would have noticed, and it made her a little undecided whether to like him decidedly, or give him a qualified favor.
But for a long time she had sat looking into the fire, not seeing that the keen brown eyes were gazing on her very fixedly.
"You will pardon me for asking, colonel," said their host, suddenly, "but this young lady is scarcely your daughter or sister? Or your wife?" he added, doubtingly.
For half a second Louis St. John paused, then he replied, smiling, "Oh, no, none of the three; only the ward of an old friend, and I have known her from childhood."
Inez looked up with a smile, saying, "I'm not enough like him, sir, for a daughter or sister."
"No," said the young man; "and pardon me again, are you English?"
"Not at all, sir," she replied. "I am Spanish—a Castilian."
"I thought you looked foreign," said he.
"But you speak English quite purely."
"I have been brought up in England since I was five years old," replied Inez.
"Do you know any Spanish songs?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, sir, many," she replied.
"Would it be too much to ask you to sing one or two?" he enquired; "my own mother was for many years in Spain, and used to sing their songs."
"I am glad I can oblige you, sir," said Inez, who had not the smallest bit of affectation about her, and rising at once she opened the piano, struck a few chords, and sang one or two plaintive airs in a rich, mellow voice, which, already exquisitely beautiful, gave promise of rare perfection.
The evening passed pleasantly, and in the morning, when they both took leave, Louis told Roland Aubrey that when he came to London, he should hope to see him and return his hospitality.
Thus it was that Inez de Caldara first met Roland Aubrey.
Mrs. Ashton had, as Louis said, guessed that they had taken shelter, and had not therefore been very anxious.
In an elegantly-furnished drawing room in Seymour-street, sit two ladies. One was a gentle looking lady of middle age; the other a young and pretty woman of twenty-three, but with more imagination than intellect in her face. The elder was Lady Alice St. John, the mother of Louis and Cuthbert; the younger, her husband's niece, Arabella St. John, whom, early left an orphan, the gentle mother of Louis had completely brought up as her own daughter.
Lady Alice is like Louis, or rather he is like her, though her face is softened into an eminently womanly one. She had the same golden hair, the same somewhat Grecian nose, and clear, trustful eyes, and the same expression of face, and in youth she had been pre-eminently beautiful, even now she was undeniably still a lovely woman, and at fifty-three looked barely forty-five.
Both ladies were evidently waiting for some arrival; for Arabella kept going to the window, and even Lady Alice did not read very steadily.
It was shortly after Easter, and the truth was they were expecting a young lady whom Lady Alice had engaged as a companion to her niece, and that young lady was Theresa Stanfeld, who had left school at Easter, and immediately put in force the intention Margaret had mentioned, of separating herself from her father, and a home that was a wretched one.
She had heard of Lady Alice's wanting a companion for her niece simply enough; for the lady had mentioned it to Marion Rochester, and she in one of her letters to Inez passingly repeated it, and Inez immediately thought of Theresa.
That was the way it had come about; and now they were hourly expecting her arrival; Arabella with the greatest curiosity, for she had been absent when her aunt saw and engaged Theresa.
"What is she like?" she asked for the dozenth time, and still Alice St. John answered, "Wait and see."
At length wheels stopped, and presently Miss Stanfeld was announced, and Miss Stanfeld appeared—no school-girl awkwardness about her; easy self-possession characterised her now, a perfect lady. Arabella was decidedly satisfied with the result of her survey. Theresa was decidedly lovely, though: 'Not like a nymph or goddess of old.'
You could not have chiselled a statue from her, as you could from Inez's classic face and head, but you could have made a glowing painting of her. She had a broad, observant-looking forehead and an arch mouth, though the restlessness of the clear, full hazel eye, and quick quiver of the red lips betrayed the hasty impetuosity of temper which Inez had spoken of. Her figure was pretty and elegant, so that, looking at her, with her brilliantly fair skin and sunny brown hair, you only thought how very lovely she was, and forgot that her beauties were not statue-like.
Yes, Arabella was decidedly pleased. She liked pretty people, and, with all her faults—and they were many—she had no petty jealousy of a prettier face than her own. She received her new friend warmly, as a friend, with almost childlike cordiality; for in all but actual numerical years she was seventeen, and Lady Alice was pleased.
Arabella herself conducted Theresa to her room, and assisted her to remove her walking dress.
"I'm sure I shall like you," she said, with a frank, girlish laugh. "I always like or dislike a face at first sight."
"Then I hope, Miss St. John, that you like mine at first sight," said Theresa.
"I assure you I do," replied Arabella. "Oh, dear," she added, "there's the dressing bell for dinner. I must run and dress, but I'll send my maid to you."
"No, pray do not," said Theresa. "I am accustomed to do everything for myself."
It was not till after dinner, and they were seated round the drawing-room fire, that Lady Alice would permit any questions to be addressed to Theresa, and then she herself said, "Did you come up from Forest Moor all alone, my dear?"
"No, Lady Alice," she replied; "my father's groom, who has been some years with us, came with me to your door."
"That was well," said Lady Alice. "You are very recently from school, are you not?"
"Yes, madam," was the reply; "and both Miss Rochester and Inez de Caldara send you their love."
"Ah, they are old friends of mine," said Lady Alice, "My son Louis was at Eton with Inez's guardian."
"Didn't you hate school?" said Arabella. "I used to do so."
"No, I was very happy at Mrs. Ashton's," replied Theresa. "It is a school, I think, that is one in a thousand."
"So Mrs. Rochester told me," said Lady Alice. "I wish I had known of it in Arabella's school-days."
"I wish you had, aunt," said Arabella. "I should have escaped many a task and ache of mind and body. Is Yellowfield pretty? Does my cousin like it?" she added, to Theresa.
"My son," explained Lady Alice, "how does he like his incumbency?"
"I really cannot say, Lady Alice, for we principally attended the vicar's church," she replied, "but, frankly, Lady Alice, the village is in two parties—the Puseyites and Low Church. The first party like your son; the second like the vicar; I didn't; and Inez, Isbel, and some others used to go to St. Mary Grace, for there they had good singing at least, and better sermons than the vicar gave. He was a Pharisee."
"You are fond of music, then?" said Alice St John.
"Very," was the reply. "I wish I was such a musician as some I know."
"Have you ever heard Castelnau, the French singer?" asked Lady Alice.
"No, ma'am," replied Theresa; "I have never been in London till now."
"Indeed," said Lady Alice; "you have much, indeed, to see. We must take you sightseeing, and Castelnau, you must hear him; he sings the day after to-morrow, the first opera night, and brings out his daughter for the first time in England, in 'Les Huguenots.' I will write this minute, and ask Sir Angelo Egerton for the loan of his box. Arabella, give me my desk."
The note was written and despatched by a servant to St. James' Square. In an hour the messenger brought back a note, which Lady Alice glanced through and read aloud—
"Dear Lady Alice,—I am going to-morrow to fetch Inez for a couple of days, in order to take her to witness the debut of Castelnau's daughter; and I shall be most happy if you will join us. We will call for you and your young friends at 1 o'clock on Thursday—Yours truly,
"ANGELO R. EGERTON."
"There," said the lady, with a smile, "that's gentlemanly, to escort us as well. He knows Castelnau, too; we may get introduced to him."
"Art is long, and time is fleeting," and the days and months flew by swiftly. And the statesman sat in his cabinet, and schemed, and planned, and dreamed in his aspiring soul of ambition and power yet to be grasped. And the exile artist, in the fair and far off land of his exile, saw in the vision of his mind his distinct native hills, and dreamed of fame and his noble art—
'But alas! his fair ideal
Vanish'd, and escaped him still.'
And the child, who had never been a child, sat wakeful and watchful in the still midnight, and dreamed of the man whom, unconsciously to her own heart, she so deeply loved, and of the end to which she was so steadfastly treading for his sake.
Thus winter had given place to spring, and spring had vanished into summer, and the hot June sun streamed into the schoolroom windows of Ashton House; but it was a Wednesday afternoon, and the rooms were deserted, save for one solitary form bending over one of the tables.
It was Inez de Caldara, a sheet of drawing-paper before her, a pencil in her slender fingers, a box of crayons near her, and there was a curious expression about her face as the work grew rapidly beneath her skilled hand, which told that it was one that had interested something deeper than her artist's eye—something on her brow of haughty triumph—something of almost dark joy in the black eyes and compressed lips, that was not wont to be there.
The pencil sketch is done, she takes up a crayon, and still works on, as if life and death hung on its execution. Hours passed; the shadows grew longer and longer; her hand grew wearied, and her chest ached from stooping so long; but she heeded nothing, felt nothing, till the last touch was put, and then she held it off to look at it. A man's head and figure to the shoulders. A dark, evil face, that might have been a fiend's, for any redeeming point it might have had in it; and the youthful artist laid it down with a heavily-drawn sigh, such as one heaves when some intolerable weight is removed.
But at that moment a light form sprang in through the French window, and ere even Inez's quickness could cover the crayon, Margaret Arundel was there, her hand on the paper, her gaze on the picture.
"Merciful heaven!" she exclaimed, recoiling suddenly; "where did you see him?"
For a moment there was an almost wild light in the Spaniard's black eyes, but her habitual self-control did not fail her, and she said quietly, "I don't know why you are so startled. I saw a face like that years, long years ago, and now I draw it. Is that strange?"
"No, no," said Margaret, "but where did you know him? Do you know who it is?"
"I would give the best years of my life to know," replied Inez, with a passionate energy that was startling to see in one Margaret had only seen till now calm, cold, and passionless.
"Dear Inez, don't look like that," said Margaret, almost tearfully. "It is only so like—so exactly like my uncle's nephew, Arthur Vivian."
Inez moved her hand slowly, and pressed it tightly to her heart, and a dark smile crossed her lips and gleamed in her eyes as she murmured, in her own language, "Found at last—found at last!"
"Margaret," she said, abruptly, "do you like this cousin?"
"He is no cousin of mine," said Margaret, shuddering, "nor his uncle either. I hate and fear both him and old Stephen Stanfeld."
"Is that your uncle's name?" asked the Castilian, laying her hand on Margaret's shoulder.
"That's his name," she replied; "but he's not my uncle, and any girl but you would have known exactly who I was by this time."
"I don't care to enquire into other people's affairs unless I find they have something to do with me," said Inez; "now I find that your affairs have much to do with me. I could tell you more about Stanfeld and Vivian than you dream of. Margaret, can you keep a quiet tongue?"
"Yes, Inez, if you wish it," she replied.
"I do wish it," said Inez. "Say nothing of this drawing or of what we have said, but get up at 5 to-morrow and come with me in the grounds; or, stay, you sleep alone in that little room at the end of the passage, don't you?"
"Yes," she replied.
"Keep awake, and I will come to you when they are all in bed," said Inez.
She turned away, looked the crayon in her desk, and glided from the room.
It may well be conceived with what feelings Margaret retired to her solitary chamber. The bright full moonlight streamed broadly in, and she lay awake counting the minutes, each of which seemed an hour; she heard half-past 10 strike, then 11, then half-past 11—all was silent, so still that the silence grew so intense that it hummed in her ears—'Like the humming of many bees;' and then 12 began striking. Would it never have done? The strokes died away in the intensity of the silence, and then broke forth again with a loud startling sound.
As the last stroke died away the door softly opened, and Inez glided silently in, her feet bare, and a white Cashmere morning robe over her night dress. She bolted the door, and then sat down upon the edge of the bed.
"Stay where you are," said she, "and speak very low."
"Inez," said Margaret, "how very white you are; you look ghastly, or is it only the cold moonlight?"
"Never mind what it is," she replied. "You wondered to-day that I had never asked anything about you or your antecedents; but now you will do me a favor by telling everything about yourself and those people."
"Strange and incomprehensible being?" said Margaret. "Are you in earnest?"
"Look at me and see," said Inez, sternly. "I do not come here at this hour for a jest."
"It is a long story," said Margaret. "Shall we have time?"
"Yes," was the reply. "Tell it shortly; don't mind being abrupt."
Margaret settled herself back and began, "My mother died in giving me birth. I had a sister, four years older than me; and my father, shortly after my mother's death, became acquainted (how I don't know) with a gentleman named Stephen Stanfeld, who owned a great property called Forest Moor. From that evil day my father went wrong; he had never been very strong in character, and fell easily under this man's sway. My grandfather had been a merchant in South America, and had died intestate, leaving my father absolute possessor of fifty thousand pounds, which my father had vested in houses. Well, this Stanfeld got my father into racing habits, and got him to play. Inez, spare me details—the old sad story followed. My father kept a racing stud, became a confirmed gambler, betted high—lost. Stanfeld lent him money on the houses; so it went on till the awful night my father staked everything in a gambling house—and lost. He appealed once more to Stanfeld, but he tauntingly told my father he hadn't a penny or a house to mortgage. My father rushed from the gambling house, and flung himself into the river. Oh! Inez, surely his death lies at Stanfeld's door."
Inez bent down and kissed her forehead, but spoke no word; and Margaret went on to tell how she had lost her sister—how she must have perished, for Stanfeld would do nothing to find her; and Margaret wept awhile. Then she continued: "I was then but eight years old, friendless and penniless. Stanfeld had some feeling left, or rather I believe his wife persuaded him, and he brought me up and sent me to school. Personally, he is harsh to me, as to all else. Have I not some right to hate the man who drove my father to wrong and suicide, and who has robbed me and mine of everything? It is but a poor recompense to educate me—"
The Spaniard raised her hand warningly, and Margaret continued: "You wish to know more of Stanfeld. How he became possessed of Forest Moor I don't know, but probably by some roguery; for it had, I believe, belonged to a family named Surrey."
"You spoke of his wife?" said Inez.
"Poor thing!—she paid dearly for her wrongdoing," answered Margaret. "She was the daughter, the only child of Everard, of Bond-street. But Stanfeld crossed her path—his handsome face took her fancy, and her gold took his; but old Everard wouldn't hear of it, so she fled, and married Stanfeld; for he made sure the old man would then forgive his daughter, and give her a dower; and so he did, but so tied up that Stanfeld couldn't touch a penny in any way. And then he treated his wife cruelly. She had only two children, Eveline, and Theresa, but they were still children when their mother died broken hearted. We were kept like recluses at Forest Moor till six years ago, when Theresa and I were sent to school, and Eveline married."
"But Vivian," said Inez; "what of him?"
Margaret shuddered, as she answered; "I never saw him till about six years ago, when Stanfeld brought him down to Forest Moor, and introduced him as his nephew. Somehow or other, he fascinated and infatuated Eveline, and shortly after I came here they married her to him."
"Father of Mercy!" said the Spaniard, in an accent of such horror that Margaret said, in alarm, "What is the matter? Oh, Inez, tell me!"
"Is he living at the Moor, Margaret?"
"Eveline is always there, but Arthur is only there on and off."
"Will he be there during the holidays—after we leave school, Margaret?"
"Yes," she replied. "I wish to heaven he wasn't!"
"I thank a just God that he is!" said Inez, almost solemnly.
Deeply awed, Margaret gazed on her, and then said, fearfully, "Inez, in pity tell me what you know of this man—what awful crime is on his head?"
Inez de Caldara bent forward, and the one word she uttered sounded awful in the ghastly stillness of that lonely midnight hour—"MURDER!"
"Inez, oh, Inez!" said Margaret.
"Hush!" said Inez. "I can tell you no more now; and by all you hold sacred, you must be as secret and silent as the grave. Promise me that."
"I solemnly promise it," said Margaret.
"And now listen to me," said Inez. She bent down and whispered long and earnestly, and then said aloud, "Will you do this, Margaret?"
"I will! Heart and soul, I will!" said Margaret Arundel, firmly. "God help you, Inez, in your purpose."
Inez, who had moved to the door, turned her weird-like face on her, and raised her white hand upward. The next moment she was gone, like some phantom of the night. And the mournful night winds wailed their ceaseless "Never more—never more!" and another night sank and dwindled into the irrevocable past.
"Walter, my boy, come down and hear this!" called the rich voice of Julian Rothesay from the hall, intending to summon his pupil from the painting-room upstairs, and in a minute a handsome, manly youth of nineteen or twenty appeared, in whom, though much changed, we may recognise the same boy who, four years and a half before, had gazed with such wondering admiration on the masterpieces of Art in the library of the high-born Egerton.
"What is it?" he asked, following Julian into the sitting-room.
"A letter from Angelo Egerton," was the reply. "Listen."
"Dear Julian,—Expect me in about a
fortnight, for Parliament rises in ten days or so, and I can
contrive a flying visit then—for I must see you. How does
your pupil Walter get on? Remember me to him, and tell him that I
think he will be wanted after Christmas.—Yours
A. R. EGERTON."
"I am very glad he is coming," said Walter; "we have not seen him for so long—more than a year."
"Not since his party came into office," replied Julian. "I called you because I thought you would like to know."
"I hope he will bring the Senorita Inez," said Walter.
"He says nothing of it," replied Julian; "but now I must see that my studio is in order; for I think it is to-day that the Sonora Genevra della Scala is to come for her first sitting." And the artist left the room.
The fortnight passed slowly, but returning one morning from a walk with young Surrey, Julian was met in the entrance hall by Leon, the Spanish hound, and exclaiming, "By Jove! they are here," he flung wide the half open door, to see Egerton leaning against the bookcase, and Inez leisurely reclining amongst the cushions of a fauteuil.
"Angelo, old boy, a thousand welcomes!" exclaimed Julian, as he grasped the hand of his old friend.
In silence Angelo closed his strong right hand on Julian's, and then the latter turned towards Inez, who had risen. He took both her little hands in his, and said, smiling—his beautiful winning smile—"I suppose I musn't kiss you now!"
"Not unless you like, Julian," said Inez, with an answering smile.
"I do like it. Ah, light of mine eyes!" And bending down he kissed her brow and lips, for he had known her from childhood and loved her only next to Egerton, and the same ties that bound him to Angelo bound him to her.
Surrey had remained in the hall, but now he entered, and met Egerton and Inez with the warmth and pleasure he felt, and could not if he would conceal it.
"And now how long can you give us, Angelo?" asked the artist.
"Not four-and-twenty hours," was the reply. "I was able to obtain leave for a few days, as my business was important; but you are aware that it is—and rightly—against all custom for any of the ministry to cross seas, and leave is only given in an urgent case. So we are off again by to-morrow."
"How tiresome!" said Julian. "Well, we must make the most of you. You don't go to the hotel this time, I promise you."
Egerton smiled, and turning to Surrey, said, "My dear Walter, are you still of the same mind as to the painting?"
"I am as fond of it as ever," said the young man, raising his bright hazel eyes to Egerton's; "but I will do exactly as you wish about it."
"Then you will continue it, even when you are of age and in possession of your property," said Egerton. "Idleness is the worst possible school for a young man, especially a young man of property and position. If you do not think you shall like painting as an occupation, you can go to the bar; I could push you there; only I tell you frankly, I don't think your talent lies either in that way or in politics."
"Oh, I love my beautiful art as much, Sir Angelo, as you love your ambition and power," said Surrey, with all his bright young enthusiasm sparkling in his eyes and face. "I almost wish I was still poor and friendless, that I might make my own name as Julian is doing. I could—I would do it."
The man of the world looked at the youth, and said with his grave half-sad smile, "My dear Walter, never imagine that wealth and position are to be laughed at, or despised—neither things to be prized too much. They are God's gifts; and, with reverence to Him, a strict account must be rendered. The powerful have a heavy responsibility."
There was a short silence, and then Julian said, "How does his lawsuit get on?"
"Well," replied Egerton, "it will come on after the vacation, I think; and then Walter must come over, for we mean to have parol evidence. Stanfeld actually put in an answer, denying that the young man I brought forward was the son of Colonel Surrey, old Herbert Surrey's son, who he declares died in India shortly after his arrival; but his game is evidently to make every delay, and gain as much time as possible."
So they passed the time till dinner, and after dinner Walter left them, saying that he had a picture he must finish; and the three, whom circumstances had so strangely bound together, were alone.
Inez, knowing what Angelo had to tell, rose to go away; but Julian said, "Do not go on my account, Inez," and she remained.
"Julian," said Egerton, bending forward, "the day we have watched and waited for till heart and brain grew sick, has come at last. At last that black villain, for whose crime you have suffered so many weary years, is found."
Julian started—his lip quivered—and turning abruptly aside, he covered his face with his hands, totally unable to master his emotion completely, though self-control had been taught him in the bitter, harsh school of adversity. But there are moments when the most iron self-command and pride must give way. It was only for a minute or two, and then he raised his face, and said in a low, unsteady voice, "Thank heaven for its great mercy! Tell me all, Angelo."
"Inez shall speak, for she found him," he replied. "It is she who will be the sole means of bringing it home to him."
"God bless you, Inez!" said Julian, clasping her hand, "for your dear face has been a constant blessing since the hour you came among us."
Then she told him all the reader knows of the sketch—of Margaret's recognition, and her own sad story; and then she told him her whole plan for completely convicting Arthur Vivian—a plan so daring, and so fraught with danger, that Julian exclaimed, "Angelo, this must not be—not for me. Evil will come to her. You must not allow it."
"It is too late," said Egerton; "I have passed her my sacred word to let her have her way."
Inez glanced at him, and a look of pain crossed her face, as she said, earnestly, "Indeed, indeed there is no danger to me. I am a match for him, and Heaven will help me," and she bent her head reverently. "Do you think I have watched so long for this hour to fling all away when the weapon is in my hands! No, I have too much of Egerton's nature in me for that. Was that man's face so buried into my memory for nothing? Hard, indeed, was it to make Angelo yield, but he did at last, and he cannot retract."
"Angelo, look at this girl!" said Julian. "She is your breathing likeness now, more than ever I saw her before. I oppose you no more, my guardian angel; the result is in higher hands than ours."
"Look at the sketch," said Egerton, laying the crayon on the table; but now underneath it was written:—
"This was drawn by me on the 27th June, 18—, from memory, never having seen the original for eight years and a half.
"INEZ JESUITA MARIA DE CALDARA."
"I saw this sketch drawn, June 27th, 18—.
Julian Rothesay gazed long on the drawing, and shuddered as he laid it down, saying, "It is a face more evil than I could have believed existed."
"It is," said Egerton. "And I want you, Julian, to paint it life-size, in oils; introduce it in any manner you like. Such a portrait as shall make your name famous."
"But, Angelo, what a strange idea!" said Julian; "a portrait of—"
"Hush!" said Egerton, "if I tell you, do not deem me a mere mystic, a dreamer, and laugh at me; for as I am a living man, Julian, I saw my mother on the blue waves as we crossed to Holland. Open your blue eyes if you will, and think my superstitious southern blood was running reddest in my veins; but it is true—true as Heaven itself, that as I stood leaning on the rail, looking out over the expanse of sea, I saw her form in the silver path the moonlight made, and that, as plainly as ever I heard it in life, I heard her voice, like some far off music. 'My son, let his portrait be where thousands of mortals may see it, that the living and the dead may be justified, and Heaven's truth made manifest.' Julian, you may think that some strange presentiment in mind made me fancy it all, as a dream or vision; but I believe from my soul that I saw and heard my spirit-mother, superstitiously imaginative as you may deem it."
"I do not, Angelo; I do believe it; for 'with Heaven all things are possible,'" was the artist's answer, "and I will work ceaselessly till the portrait is done. But if Inez was to go to Forest Moor, when she left school, how is it she went home?"
"It was no use my going," said the Spaniard, "till Vivian was there; and when Margaret got home she found him absent, and wrote to me that he would not be there till the 15th of August, this mouth; so she will get me invited to go on the 19th to have a long stay."
"Can you trust her?" asked Julian.
"She is true as gold," replied Inez. "I should not have trusted her, probably, if I had not found out her own hatred to them all. It is my guarantee."
"Inez, Inez," said Julian, gently, "that speech would have come better from Angelo's lips than yours."
Inez turned aside with starting tears and trembling lips, and, gentle as his reproof was, true though it might be, Julian's heart smote him for uttering any reproach to one who loved him so well, and bending down he pressed a soft kiss of peace on her brow that called back the smile to her lips.
"Does my mother know all this?" asked Julian, presently.
"Certainly," replied Angelo. "I saw her and told her. Here is one of her long letters," and so saying he laid it on the table.
It was about an hour before they were to leave the following morning that, as they were together, Julian's Italian servant opened the door, and announced "La Signora Genevra della Scala."
Angelo Egerton was standing by the open window, and as the lady entered, he stepped through it on to the terrace.
Another of those narrow threads on which the weal or woe of a lifetime often hangs; if he had remained only a second longer, if he had only half turned his head, untold misery would have been spared a young and trusting being. But it was not to be—stern fate had written otherwise in the sibyline book of the future. Inez, who was sitting near Julian, saw the young Italian lady—a beautiful girl of some eighteen summers, with a soft Madonna-like face, large sentimental Southern eyes, an arch mouth, and that rich red golden hair with which the old Italian painters loved to shade the gentle face of the Virgin, and, indeed, this fair girl looked not unlike "some Madonna of pure Italian art."
Julian, who had totally forgotten that it was one of her mornings, rose quickly, exclaiming, "Oh! signora, a thousand pardons. If I had not culpably forgotten that this was a painting morning, I would have sent to beg you not to trouble yourself to come to-day; for I have some old friends who leave me today whom I had not seen for a long time."
"Old friends! most ungallant signor," said Genevra, glancing at Inez with a smile. "Well, then, Lucetta and I must go."
"Signora, may I trust to your kindness to pardon me?" said Julian.
"Readily, signor," she replied, and the fair Genevra extended her hand, which Julian raised to his lips, and then gracefully bowed her out.
It was long, very long before the Spanish girl and the Italian maiden met again; and then how differently was it—how very, very differently.
Tom Courtenay knew everything and everybody; and everything and everybody knew Tom Courtenay. He could tell you who were the men most listened to in the House, and what place everyone was member for, almost as well as our ministerial friend himself, who had been fifteen years in Parliament, and knew everything by heart. He could tell you who were the heavy speakers, who were the brilliant ones, who the jaunty ones, such as a certain noble lord who makes the House laugh, and gets what he asks. Yes, Tom, from the 'Strangers' Gallery,' would listen to a heavy debate with the gravity of a judge, and would remember everything as if he were a walking Times. He knew all the on dits and reports afloat; could tell you all the points of the winner of the Derby, and what dancer was the 'favorite,' whistle the popular opera airs, and was a first-rate judge of wine, could take a hand at whist, or point a billiard cue. In fact, Tom Courtenay was invaluable, and no picnic or ball, or merry-making, young or old, was properly complete without him, he was a sort of person whom every one called 'Tom Courtenay,' and even the young ladies only 'mistered' him to his face.
Tom and Marion were first cousins; William Courtenay the second cousin of both. The grandfather of the two first had two sons and a brother, George, who was the father of William. The elder of the two sons was Marion's father, the younger was the progenitor of Tom. William went to the Bar, and now, at forty-five, was a Queen's Counsellor in large practice; we have but little to do with him. The two brothers invested their few thousands in neck-or-nothing speculations; the elder, Richard, made a competency, the younger, Thomas, realised a fortune. The former died shortly after his daughter's first marriage; the latter some years before him, leaving his son a fortune. Tom had no inclination for an occupation, and unfortunately, had no need of any; and, further, the great difference in age between him and his cousin, and various things which had parted them, had made their paths in life diverge widely, and William only knew that in his early youth Tom had been rather wild, and had run through a considerable portion of his father's thousands, but he did not know or even suspect that, save for the helping hands of Julian D'Arcy and Angelo Egerton, Tom had been a lost man. Had Tom himself known what only Angelo, Inez, and Marion knew, that Julian's kindness to him had been the means of blasting his own young life, even Tom's buoyant spirits must have failed him, and made him turn from the world, a remorseful, perhaps a broken-hearted man. But even as it was, he learned a bitter lesson, made more bitter by the supposed death of Julian, and young Courtenay arose from his dream and bed of sickness a wiser and a better man.
It was one morning, about a mouth after we saw Egerton and Inez in Florence, that Tom Courtenay walked into St. James's Square, and, ascending the steps of Egerton's house, knocked at the door, and, when it was opened, he enquired in his brisk way, "Is Sir Angelo at home? or has he, too, gone out of town?"
"He is still at home, Mr. Tom," replied the servant, and it may here be remarked that all Egerton's servants had been years with him, and knew Tom well enough, and distinguished him as "Mr. Tom," from his more important cousin the Mr. Courtenay par excellence.
"Walk in, sir," and he added to Burns, who was crossing the hall, "where is Sir Angelo?"
"In the library," he replied. "Good morning, Mr. Tom; if you will step upstairs, I will see if he is at liberty."
Burns preceded him upstairs, and knocked at a door.
"Come in," said Egerton's low deep voice, and dismissing Burns with a nod, Tom opened the library door and walked in.
Angelo was sitting at a table writing, while Leon lay beside him; but the former threw down his pen to give his hand to Tom, and his contracted brow relaxed as he said, "Glad to see you, Tom. I thought you were out of town a month ago."
"Town's quite empty," he replied, "and I've been meaning to go every day, but couldn't make up my mind where to go to. I've been everywhere, that's the truth."
"I'm an older man than you, Tom; but I don't find I've been everywhere," said Egerton, with a quiet smile, "though I think I have seen more places than you have."
"You take a fellow up too hard, Egerton," said Tom. "Where are you going?"
"I do not at present intend to leave town," he replied.
Tom's keen eye noticed the hand close more quickly on the papers, and he said, "Ministerial business, I suppose. Well, all of you can't be away; but I'm hanged, Egerton, if I'd make such a slave of myself; not even for Her Most Gracious Majesty. I never had any ambition."
"Well for you if you had, Tom," said Egerton.
"What!" exclaimed Tom, "to make me slave and work like you do, and get deep lines on my forehead, and gray hairs, as you have. Positively, Egerton, you have a few gray hairs, and more lines than you had eight or even six years ago. No, thank ye, Mr. Statesman, I'll have none of it."
Egerton drew a little back, so that the shadow of the drawn window-curtain fell across him; but Tom did not notice the slight movement, for his eye had caught something else, and he sprang up, exclaiming, "By Jove, the mysteries of Udolpho in the town house of an honorable member. What the deuce have you got there, Egerton?"
He pointed to the upper end of the room, which a few days before had been blank wall. It was now filled by an immense picture in an oak frame, but a heavy black velvet curtain completely veiled the painting itself, and this fact had elicited Tom's exclamation.
Egerton rose quickly, and there was a strange, stern look in his dark eyes as he hesitated for a moment; then he raised his hand, and drew back the curtain suddenly. A low exclamation escaped Courtenay's lips, and he stood gazing in breathless silence on the portrait revealed.
It was a life-size figure, that seemed half man, half devil. He stood on the edge of a cliff, mountains towering around and behind him in gloomy, sullen grandeur, black storm-clouds rolled above, while, from a lowering mass of gloom a line of forked lightning seemed actually shooting forth, and cast a lurid light on the grandly terrible scene; it threw out the black figure in the foreground, and cast a wild glare on its face, on which the whole wonderful art and talent of the painter had been concentrated—a face so breathing in its living likeness that it might have been indeed a human countenance for all its fearful look—a face never to be forgotten, so passingly handsome, so awful in its dark, fiendish beauty, such a ruthless intensity of evil passions in the lurid black eyes, half upraised towards something above with a world of fierce defiance in them, and yet through all with a sort of agonised remorse in their depths that was at strange variance with the black fiendishness of the face and horrible sneer of the lips, as that upward glance glared on the mass of gloomy darkness, amidst which, shadowy and indistinct, was visible a face and a hand holding forth a scroll—all else lost in gloom—looking as faces look in a dream, misty; but the strange, phantom-like eyes gazed down on him with a steady, avengeful watchfulness, and the finger pointed sternly to the one word that seemed bound on the scroll in letters of fire—"Tekel!"
("Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting "—Daniel v., 27.)
Such is the first part of the history of a portrait. Long did Courtenay stand gazing on the wonderful work of art, entranced, fascinated as by a spell; but when at length, with a deep drawn sigh, as if he was waking from a nightmare, he turned from it, it was to see Angelo standing with folded arms, watching him intently.
"Your face has been a study," he said; and somehow his low thrilling voice fell strangely on Tom's ear.
"Egerton," said he, "I never in all my life saw so strange, so wonderful a picture. If I lived a thousand years I could never forget that awful face. What master hand portrayed it?—what human brain conceived it? Surely some German one?"
"None," said Egerton. "No human brain imagined the face."
"Egerton!" exclaimed Tom, "what do you mean?"
"Nothing, and everything," was the enigmatical and guarded reply. "Keep your own counsel as to what I have said, and as to having seen it at all."
"If you wish it," said Tom. "Who painted that master-piece?"
"The same who took my portrait," answered Egerton, drawing the curtain again—"Julian Rothesay."
"That accounts for it," said Tom. "Have you noticed the eyes of the misty being who holds the scroll? They are Inez's eyes to the life—just her queer, watchful look."
"Nothing strange in that," answered Egerton, carelessly, "seeing that he has seen her in Italy often enough."
"If it is not impertinent to ask, Egerton, what might you have given for this?"
"No impertinence, Tom," he replied. "I gave six hundred guineas for it."
"You are not going to hide it under a bushel," said Tom. "Why, it would make the fame of this Rothesay."
"It shall," said Egerton. "I intend to send it to the National Gallery. The trustees of it will be only too glad of such a loan for a few months. Then it goes to Falcontower Castle."
"Well," said Tom, rising to leave, "I called here to have a chat with you, but I little expected such a rare treat as I have had, and thank you and Rothesay for it."
Tom Courtenay took his departure, little imagining why Inez de Caldara's face had been depicted in that of the dream-like avenging spirit; and still less imagined the terrible history connected, and yet more in the future fated to be connected, with that portrait.
It must be remembered that we are now somewhat retracing our steps as to time, inasmuch as we find ourselves at Forest Moor on the 17th of August. Margaret Arundel had persuaded both Stephen Stanfeld and Eveline to invite her school friend, Jesuita de Castro (for that was the name the Castilian had assumed), to spend a long time with her. Well had Margaret carried out the tale and plan given her by Inez, and with a natural manner and self-possession few would have given her credit for. She told them that her friend was a Spaniard from Rio de Janeiro, where her father, the Count de Castro, lived, and that, for family reasons, she had been recently sent to England to complete her education, being placed under the care of a London solicitor, Mr. Seymour, who really existed, being Sir Angelo Egerton's solicitor, so that on the 17th of August it was Mr. Henry Seymour who took the young Spaniard 'from Rio' to Forest Moor station, and put her in the brougham which Mrs. Vivian had sent to meet her.
It was evening, and in the drawing-room of Forest Moor Grange sat three people. By the window, seated in an arm-chair, doing nothing, was a man; sixty years had passed over his head, but they had not softened his face, nor given it the venerable beauty with which Time crowns the work of years; very handsome he had once been, aye, and still was, but he was a gloomy, down-looking man, with cold dreary gray eyes that had a snake-like glitter now and then, which belied the outward apathy of his manner.
At some distance sat Margaret Arundel by a lady, whose age might have been two or three and twenty; but the face, though very pretty, looked worn and sad, and her whole manner and look told a tale of a cowed and intimidated being.
The two latter were employing their fingers in some light work, but all had sat silent for a a long time, till Stephen Stanfeld, suddenly addressing his daughter, asked, "Where is Arthur?"
She started, and answered hurriedly, "I don't know, papa, but I think—"
"You think," said he—"you ought to know. Has he gone in the brougham to meet Margaret's South American friend?"
Margaret had not the least fear of Stanfeld, and answered him with a quiet, pert impudence. "No, he hasn't," she replied; "and I don't see how Eveline should know his movements better than you do. He only said he would be in before 9."
Stanfeld raised his eyes, and glanced at her a moment, but he made no answer, and turned aside, as if he disliked to look at her.
There was another long silence, broken again by Stanfeld, and in the same abrupt manner.
"Margaret, does this girl speak only her own lingo?"
"She speaks French and Italian like a native, and English tolerably well, though with a foreign accent," said Margaret.
As she spoke, the long-expected brougham drove up to the door, and, springing up, Margaret ran down into the hall.
Stanfeld rose muttering, "As I've allowed this foreigner to be invited, I must be civil, and not let her think we English inhospitable."
When Margaret entered with the stranger, Stanfeld received her with a courtesy neither the Castilian nor her agent had expected, and introduced her himself to his daughter, Mrs. Vivian; for though he would not acknowledge it, the tall figure, stately carriage, and quiet self-possession of the Spaniard had rather 'taken him aback;' for he had expected a diffident, awkward school-girl of fourteen, and was in nowise prepared for the reality.
"What a very handsome girl," he remarked to his daughter, when Margaret had borne off her guest to take off her hat and mantle.
"Very," said Eveline, adding timidly, "but she has such a grand air about her."
"Haughty as a Don," said Stanfeld; "ring for tea, child—we cannot wait for Arthur."
As she obeyed him, Margaret and Inez reentered, and Stanfeld immediately offered the latter a chair near his own, saying with a smile, "I suppose you find our summer rather different to Rio, Miss de Castro?"
"It is not so hot as our summers, senor, but it is very beautiful," replied Inez, and Margaret, who knew how purely she really spoke English, was astonished at the admirable manner in which she threw such a strong accent into the softly uttered words.
"You have not been very long in England, I think," said Eveline.
"Four or five months," replied Inez.
As she spoke, there was a sharp, imperative knock at the hall door, which rang through the hall with a clang, then steps ascended the stairs, paused, and a voice said, "Arrived, has she?—then give me a light." And then the steps passed on.
A few moments more, and a young man of about eight or nine and twenty entered the room.
"My nephew, Arthur Vivian—Miss de Castro," said Stanfeld at once.
As she slightly returned his low inclination, she lifted her dark eyes to his. She stood face to face with him, the assassin of Angelo's mother, and for one second her very life-blood seemed to stand still. All the fierce, wild emotions of years' vengeance were crowded into that brief moment, and her heart turned sick and her brain dizzy; but Egerton's stern training stood her in good stead now, and the iron hand of self-control held its own.
Yes, there he stood before her, the living, breathing original of the portrait we have seen! The same exquisitely handsome features, and dark fiendish beauty; the same ruthless lurid black eyes, with all their world of passion and evil; there was the same wicked sneer about the lips, and the same strange burnished, glittering hair, that looked as if the gorgeous light of a setting sun had shed its blaze of burning rays on it, and tinged each dark brown hair with burnished gold. But he could banish the sneer and wreathe his lips with a smile which showed fatal powers of fascination—at any rate to some—that was a fearful gift in such hands as his, and Inez, seeing that, understood how Eveline had been infatuated.
That evening Arthur Vivian took his uncle's cue, and seemed determined to pay every attention to the guest. As soon as the tea-tray was removed he asked her if she played or sang; and as Inez's whole game was to please in every way, she answered "Yes."
"At sight, Miss de Castro? Would you favor us?" he asked, with quick eagerness.
"I will do my best, Mr. Vivian," she replied, rising with an air half careless, half ready, and opened the piano.
Vivian brought a music folio, and choosing a song, placed it before her. It was that beautiful song, "The Slave."
"I am very fond of this song," he said; "but neither my wife or Margaret can sing it properly, and with the German words."
"I know but very little of German, senor, then; only what I picked up in a tour through Germany," said Inez.
"Indeed!" said Vivian, "but you can still sing the rich German words."
She made no reply, save to strike the first chords of the prelude and commence the song; and as the wild mournful melody, so touching, so expressive in its appealing, wailing melancholy met his ears, he drew back a little, and a softer shade stole over his face. He bent over her as the last soft cadences died away, and said, "Thank you for that song, it is beautiful."
Something in his voice that seemed like the faint echo of something better; of a day when perhaps he had stood an innocent child at his mother's knee, made Inez half turn and look up full in his face, her searching steady eyes gazing direct into his. Something there was, for one brief second, as if a better angel had in passing cast the shadow of its wings on his face. It passed, however, in half a second, and then every line hardened again; and if for that moment her heart might have softened, the light touch of her hand—that hand red with the blood of Angelo's mother—steeled her whole soul to sternness. The voice of Stanfeld, addressing her, made her look towards him.
"Will you sing this, Miss de Castro?" he asked.
"With pleasure, senor," she replied; "what is it?"
"A quaint, strange song of Kingsley's," he replied—"'Three Fishers Went Sailing.' The music is Hullah's. I am not generally fond of music, but this song took even my fancy. Eveline, bring it."
Mrs. Vivian rose, fetched the music, and placed it before Inez, who, though she had never seen it before, sang it through correctly and unhesitatingly.
"I like that song very much," she said, rising as she concluded; "it has such a quaint beauty about it."
She moved to the table, sat down by Margaret, and began turning over a book of very choice prints. Arthur watched her a moment, and then, leaning over the back of her chair, said, "Do you draw at all, Miss de Castro?"
"Oh, yes!" exclaimed Margaret, eagerly; "beautifully."
"I take the answer from the lady herself," said Vivian, quietly.
"I have learned drawing, and I am fond of it," replied Inez, coldly.
"Have you any drawings with you?" he asked; "may I see them?"
"I have none with me," she replied. "Look at this, Mr. Vivian! you must come round; you cannot see it there."
He sat down by her. It was Lady Macbeth, just when she, the murderess, stands gazing on her blood-stained hands.
Inez's watchful glance saw Vivian start as he saw it, and a black look crossed his face as he pushed the book away, saying hastily, "I don't like that picture."
"I do," said the Spaniard; "it is so life-like. You can picture—fancy the horror and terror of the murderess—as she sees the blood on her hands. I like the engraving."
"Curse that girl!" muttered Vivian, turning away, but not so low as to prevent Inez's quick ear from catching the words; and when she and Margaret retired to their room that night she said, "He won't like me now; but he shall fear me before long. To-morrow I begin; and do not be surprised if I encourage the attention and courtesy he seems inclined at present to show me."
Nothing but the fearful interests at stake could have upheld Inez de Caldara in the path which now lay before her. None but such a nature as hers, nothing but such masculine strength of purpose and will, could have gone through it at all; but in all and through all, the love she bore to Angelo sustained and upheld her like some magic talisman. And was it not a talisman indeed, planted by the hand of God in her heart, to bear a flower that should scatter its seeds to heaven?
It was after breakfast the next morning that Arthur Vivian came up to her, and said, "Miss de Castro, I suppose you ride?"
"Yes," she replied. "It is the principal mode of moving about at Rio."
"There are some fine views in our neighborhood," said he; "but I'm afraid we have not a lady's horse in the stable. Eveline only rides a quiet pony, and mine and my uncle's horses are perhaps more wild than you like."
"I am used to half-tamed animals, senor," she replied, "and I should like very much to see the scenery about here."
"Would you?" said Arthur; "then come round with me to the stables and see which horse you will like to ride; and while they saddle the horses, I will show you the grounds."
"If you like," said Inez, in her usual quiet way, that showed neither pleasure nor dissent. "But call Margaret—or stay; I will do so, and put on my riding habit."
He bit his lip; but, without seeming to notice it, the Castilian left the room.
Stanfeld, who was in the room, turned suddenly round, and said, "Arthur, what are you up to in that quarter?"
Vivian met his gaze unmoved, and replied coolly, "It is always wise to be civil and courteous to the wealthy. This beautiful Spaniard is an heiress, and in England friendless. Now do you see?"
"Yes," returned the other, curtly, "I do."
Meanwhile Inez de Caldara made her way to Margaret, and told her where she was going, adding, "Come with me, Margaret."
"I will, round the gardens, dear Inez," she replied, "but I'm no rider, and I'm afraid of the horses."
"Mrs. Vivian's pony," suggested Inez.
"No, old Stanfeld don't like me taking it," said Margaret; "besides, it couldn't keep pace with you. Inez, are you not afraid of going out alone with Vivian?"
"No," said Inez, "why should I?"
"Oh, Inez, be careful," said Margaret. "I tell you, if he has any suspicion, he will murder you."
"No," said the other, quietly, "he may try, but he will not succeed. He will try as soon as he begins to fear me, but I am more than his match. He would not dare sudden poison, and I am too much on my guard for slow poisons to succeed."
"Inez," said Margaret, "it is horrible to hear you so coolly calculate your own chances of life and death."
"Is it?" said Inez, and a sad smile flitted over her grave face. "I have seen death in too horrible a form to have much fear of it for itself."
"But, Inez, are you forgetting how desperate any suspicion of the truth will make that devil incarnate; that he will as soon use a knife or pistol as poison."
"I have forgotten nothing, Margaret. I have calculated to a hair's breadth all the heavy chances against me, and the light ones for me. I know that my life may be in hourly danger, but whatever means he may try, I shall not come by my death till I have placed in Angelo's hands the means of bringing home to Vivian's head his deadly crime. Now I am ready. Come."
Margaret followed her to the hall, where Vivian was waiting for them. He first led the way to the stables, which contained four horses, the carriage one, Eveline's pony, and Arthur and Stanfeld's own horses. The coachman and groom were in the stable yard as they entered, and Vivian ordered them to lead out 'Cassy' and 'Piers Gaveston' for the lady to see.
The men obeyed, and led out from their stalls two horses, a brown and a bay, both fine looking animals, but, as Inez at once saw, skittish and "skeerish," if not vicious; for the instant she approached the bay one, Cassy, it laid back its delicate ears, rolled its eyes, and tried to run back, an attempt the groom foiled.
"Come, Cass, no tricks," said Vivian; "hold her steady, Forde. Which will you ride, Miss de Castro?"
The groom started, and exclaimed, "Mr. Arthur, you ain't going to put that young lady on either o' these animals, surely. Look how skeery they are; and—"
"Hold your tongue till you're asked to speak," said Vivian, flushing with passion.
"Let him speak," said Inez, almost imperiously; "finish your speech, Forde, if you please."
For one moment there was a perfectly fiendish glare in Arthur's eye, and he muttered inwardly, "I'll give her a fright for this," as Forde said, "I was only a going to say, miss, that such a little hand as yours won't be able to hold in these ere hosses. Don't mount either of 'em, miss."
"Thank you for your care, my friend," said Inez, "but I am used to a high-spirited horse, and can, I don't doubt, hold in Cassy. Is she vicious?"
"No, miss, I don't think she ain't; but she's full o' tricks."
"Perhaps," said Vivian, with something like a sneer, "you had better not ride her at all."
"I should not be laughed into doing so, if I thought her really vicious," said the Castilian quietly; "but I think I will take her. Is she yours?"
"No, my uncle's," replied Vivian. "Saddle them, Forde, and bring them round."
Giving his arm to Inez, he left the stable-yard; but a sign from the groom made Margaret linger and remain.
"What is it, Forde?" she asked.
"For heaven's sake, Miss Margaret, don't let the young lady go out alone with Mr. Arthur on Cass. Go and get your uncle to say he wants the horse, or that she mayn't go out—anything."
"It's no use, Forde," she replied. "You know of old its no use any of us trying to outdo Mr. Vivian."
"Then speak to the young lady, miss," said Forde.
But Margaret knew that Inez had a purpose even in this ride—she must know the country well, and she replied, "She has said she will go, and she will; and, indeed, Forde, if Cass isn't vicious, there's not much fear; my friend is a capital rider. Why are you so apprehensive?"
"Why, you see, Mr. Arthur's most sure to take her round by the river and over the railway bridge; and if a train comes up, Cassy's quite safe to start tricks,—rearing or bolting as she did with Mr. Roland Aubrey three years back, when she throwed him; and, besides, miss, you'll pardon me, miss, for what I'm going to say, but Mr. Arthur had an ugly look when the young lady told me to speak. I'm a' most sure Miss Margaret, that he wants to get young miss out on that hoss. Mr. Arthur's got as vicious a temper as our old 'White Jake' used to," said the groom, lowering his voice confidentially.
"Forde, you frighten me for her," said Margaret. "Can't you mount the brougham horse, and go with them?"
"No use, miss; Mr. Arthur wouldn't hear on it."
"We can only hope no harm will happen. Thank you, Forde, for your warning," and she left the yard to follow the other two, and get a chance of warning Inez, but she could not do so until they returned to the house; and then, while Vivian went in to fetch his whip, Margaret hastily repeated what the groom had said.
"I can't help it now," said Inez, quite unmoved, "if I refuse now, he will see it is him, not the horse, that I am afraid of; and listen, Margaret: if once I let him see I fear him, I lose the whole game; he is my master instead of me being his; at present, I have the mastery, and must keep it at all hazards. I shall go this ride, and take my chance of everything."
"For heaven's sake, dear Inez, take care of Cassy," said Margaret.
"Hush! here they come!" interrupted the Castilian; and as Forde led up the two horses, Arthur appeared.
"Hold her head tight, Forde," said Vivian.
"Take care, Jesuita," said Margaret; "she'll run back the moment you mount."
Without speaking a word, Arthur Vivian lifted Inez in his strong arms, swung her to the saddle, and in a moment had her foot in the stirrup, and the reins in her hand, before Cassy had time to know anything about it; but as Arthur mounted, and Forde let go her head, Madam Cassy backed some paces, and reared a little. In a moment Vivian's hand was on the bridle; but Inez's whip across the ears had already brought her down.
"Pardon me, senor," said the Spaniard, "if I ask you to leave me to manage her; if she gets beyond me, I will ask assistance from you."
He bowed, and the groom said admiringly to Margaret, "Young miss knows how to ride, and I'm thinking after all, that Cass won't throw her; and I'm sure by the look of her, Miss Margaret, that Mr. Arthur won't succeed in frightening her. She'll be too much for him."
Margaret made no reply until the riders had passed the lodge at the gates, then she said, "Why do you think he wants to frighten Miss de Castro, Forde?"
The groom gave her a shrewd glance, as he replied, "'Cause, miss, he just gave her in the stable-yard, one of his real devilish looks, just like a vicious horse gives when he means to throw you. Mr. Arthur's very spiteful like, and he won't easily forget how she put him down. Miss Margaret, is that furrin missy going to stop here long?"
"I think so, Forde," she replied. "Why?"
The man glanced round, bent down, and whispered earnestly, "Then, miss, don't let her make an enemy of Mr. Arthur. He's got the very devil in him, if ever man had."
Margaret turned deadly pale, and such a sudden, dire presentiment of evil came over her, that she laid her hand on the groom's arm, and said, "Forde, you have been here a long time. If anything happens, stand our friend. Let us be able to depend upon you."
"That you may, miss, every bit, bless your pretty face!" said the groom. "I don't wonder at your disliking master and Mr. Arthur. I do, I know, and I shouldn't have stayed so long but for yours and Mrs. Arthur's sake. You've always spoke kind-like to me. Grooms has feelings, miss; and somehow I can't find it in me to leave you two young helpless doves alone with such bad 'uns as master and Mr. Arthur."
"Thank you—thank you from my heart, Forde," said the girl, deeply touched at the honest, simple affection of his words; then, turning away, she hurried into the house, while Forde betook himself to the stables, and told Miles, the coachman, "that Miss Margaret was the dearest and best young lady he ever set eyes on."
Meanwhile the Spaniard and her companion turned into the high road, and after going a little distance he led her to the top of a high mound which he said commanded an extensive view; and he was right. To the south, about a mile distant, lay Forest Moor Grange, with its wild grounds running wild with the rank grass growing all over the paths and lawns; and the old wandering house, with its gable ends and turrets, thrown out in fine relief by the dark rookery behind it. Beyond the grounds, farms dotted the country for miles; green meadows, tracts of land with waving corn, and rich wooding. About a quarter of a mile north of the Grange boundary:
'A river, like a stream of haze,
Drew its slow length, until 'twas lost in woods.'
A wide river, navigable for boats, it was that wound along, gleaming like silver in the sun. On the south side, Forest Moore itself stretched along its banks; and far away south, on the opposite bank, about north-east by east from the Grange, lay the pretty village of Forest Moor, flanked by the romantic and somewhat extensive woods, which, once a forest, had not only retained that name, but given it also to the moor, the village, and the grange. Crossing the river close to the village, and reaching the south bank not half a mile from the Grange, was a very pretty iron bridge, whose only fault was its modernness. The railway skirted the moor, and went over the bridge, which was built wide enough to allow a broad foot passenger roadway to cross it too, being separated from the line by a strong high iron railing. The high road crossed the old stone bridge about a quarter of a mile up the river, and consequently the foot-road over the railway bridge was the nearest way to the village and station for those coming from the Grange or that direction.
"And generally," said Vivian, "my uncle and I use it, even on horseback."
"Don't the station people stop you?" asked Inez.
"The station don't command the bridge," said Vivian. "And there is a short-cut from the Grange to the bridge. Do you see that field and wood which lie between the palings of the Grange and Forest Moor Bridge—that's it name?"
"Yes," replied Inez.
"Can you see a path crossing the field?" he asked.
"Plainly," she replied. "It enters the wood."
"Now turn to the river," said Vivian; "there is the path coming out on its path, just by the bridge, under the very shadow of the last arch. You have nothing to do but to get up the bank, and you are on the bridge. The village isn't ten minutes' walk that way."
"And is it safe?" she asked. "Could Maggie or I go that way alone?"
"Any time you like," he replied; "the path is a private one, and the river banks are very lonely."
A stern smile crossed Inez's dark face. That path would one day be useful to her.
"Which way shall we turn?" she asked.
"We had better ride across the moor," he replied. "It is very pretty, and a fine space for a gallop. Then we can cross the river at a bridge six miles off, come along the north bank, ride through the village, and cross the iron bridge home."
"Very well," she replied, without the least sign of fear at the latter idea.
They rode on again, Cassy behaving very well till the fresh breeze, sweeping over the wide moor, met her nostrils, when she threw up her head, tugged at her bridle, till her rider could hardly hold her in; but, finding such firm resistance to her pranks, she gave a few plunges and attempted to rear, in the vain attempt to throw her rider. But Inez was too sharp, for she threw her whip heavily over her ears, and brought Cassy down.
"Senor," she said quickly, "keep pace with me. I see I must take a bit of the wildness out of Cassy before she'll behave properly."
With the word she gave the mare the rein, touched her lightly, and away flew Cassy like a shot, Arthur's horse, however, keeping well up with her.
Neither rider spoke, it was impossible; but Inez never for a moment lost the command of the animal she rode, and when Cassy was pretty well winded she drew rein, and said coolly, "I never let a horse conquer me. She has some vice in her, but she will be quiet for a time now."
Arthur could not help admiring his beautiful and determined companion; but he was disappointed and annoyed that she had shown no alarm, and in his evil, vengeful heart, he vowed to make her acknowledge herself frightened before he had done with her. He had a double motive—pique was one, the other was that he wanted to place her in some dangerous predicament, from which he should rescue her, and thus place her at the outset under a deep obligation to him. Already, in his base heart, and fiendish mind, had he conceived an end for which even now he had begun to play a deep game; but he was playing it against one far his superior in intellect, subtlety, and power—one who, girl as she was, could and did detect each move he made, and defeat it.
It was long past midday when they reached the village, a pretty, rural-looking one, which elicited from Inez the exclamation, "What a pretty village!"
As they reached the bridge, an express train appeared in sight and hearing, and Cassy pricked up her ears, glared wildly round, and to Vivian's delight, sprang forward to the middle of the bridge as the train dashed past. That the horse was frightened of trains Arthur well knew, but even he had not expected or wished for the result of his own revengeful manoeuvre. The moment the train passed, the animal, wild with terror, began plunging with a fury that threatened to fling her rider over the low parapet into the river. Arthur attempted to grasp the bridle, for he saw a down train approaching; but Cassy ran back, reared till she stood upright, pawing the air with her forefeet, and as the down train passed she uttered a wild shriek of mad terror, and leaped clear over into the river.
From what had passed in the stable-yard, the sharp-sighted groom, Forde, had his suspicions, and very strong ones, that Vivian would try and vent his petty revenge on Inez, by giving her a fright at the bridge, because he knew that trains never failed to half madden Cassy. Forde had therefore gone quietly out, and ensconced himself under the bridge that he might watch; but the heat made him fall asleep, and the first thing that woke him was the horse's shriek, and he was on his feet in a moment. He saw Cassy leap with her rider still on her back, saw both steed and rider sink, and the next moment saw Inez rise to the surface, and strike out strongly. Forde saw that she could swim, and though the blow of the water had so stunned Cassy, Inez was unhurt; but he also saw that in a minute, indeed already, that her long riding dress must drag her down, and to fling off his coat, shoes, and hat, and plunge in was the work of a moment.
Just as the horrified Vivian gained the bank, Forde reached the already sinking girl, and flung his powerful arm round her, bidding her lie still, and not cling to him.
Her white, firm face was his answer, and his strong strokes soon brought them both to land, almost at the same time as the poor mare gained it a few yards further down.
"Are you hurt?" exclaimed Vivian, with remorseful anxiety. "Are you unharmed, Miss de Castro?"
"Thanks to Forde's timely help, I am safe," she said, rising her eyes to the groom's with an expression that fully repaid him, "I am only wet, and so is Forde. I will ride Cassy home."
"Are you not afraid?" he asked.
She looked at him steadily, and replied, "I was not afraid all through." Again too much for him, again defeated. He turned away, caught Cassy, and lifted Inez, drenched as she was, to the saddle.
To ask Vivian to resign his horse to the groom Inez knew was hopeless, so she said, "Run home quickly, Forde; if harm come to you, I should never forgive myself."
It was after dark that evening, that as Forde was locking up the stables the tall figure of Inez stood before him.
"Forde," she said, and her voice trembled with emotion, "I could not speak my deep gratitude before the man who purposely got the horse there when he saw the train coming. I shall never forget you, and whenever you look at this, remember, it is a token of the gratitude of Jesuita de Castro."
She took off the gold watch she herself wore, and threw the chain round his neck; then, suddenly bending down, she clasped his rough hand in hers and pressed her lips on it, and there were tears on it when she was gone.
"God bless her?" muttered the groom, brushing his hand over his eyes.
We must now turn to some interesting memoirs by Margaret Arundel, written from notes made at the time; hence she speaks in the past tense. After giving some girlish reminiscences of her first arrival at the school of Mrs. Ashton at Yellowfield, and her subsequent introduction to Inez de Caldara and Isbel Rochester, the former of whom peculiarly excited her attention and interest, she thus proceeds with her own early life:—
When I look back through the distance of years to that wretched time at Forest Moor, it seems like some horrible dream. I marvel how I bore it, and, oh! I wonder to this day how Inez went through it all, though it was not more than a few months. I watched with wonder the way she held her mastery over Vivian; it is only a few words relative to that which I write down here. After that day she conquered him about the mare Cassy he did not behave to her so very ultra-civilly; he would speak with a sneer, but she answered his sneer with cutting, bitter sarcasms, cold and hard as steel, but so veiled that he could not lay hold of them, though I have seen him writhe under her irony as if an asp had stung him.
She used to sit apparently reading or writing, but whenever I looked up suddenly I saw those strange dark eyes of hers fixed on Vivian. She seemed to watch him more closely every day and week that passed, and at last he began to grow nervous and fidgetty whenever she was present, and not merely that, but when she was not in the room—for she moved so swiftly and silently that one minute she would be in the garden, and the next, as if by magic, she was at our side, with those eyes, that seemed to read one through, on Vivian. She has made even me nervous at night, sometimes, with the sudden way she came upon me from heaven knows where, always so still and silent; she rarely spoke, always with her black eyes on me, looking as if they read every thought, as I'm sure they did. It made me nervous, in the same way that a black cat gazing at me in the dark does; because it is horrible to me to see such a keenly searching look in the eyes of any silent creature that comes upon one suddenly and silently as a cat does at night—as she did. But Arthur grew more nervous every day and hour, till he came to distrust and dread and fear that child. He was uneasy and restless if she was present; he was the same if she was absent, because of the constant dread of her coming, and yet he couldn't help glancing at her; and though she always drooped her eyes when he looked towards her, he knew that the moment he turned his own away, those black orbs would be fixed upon his face, reading every change and expression. One night he turned sharply away, as if wrenching himself from some fascination, and I heard him mutter, "I hate that child's dark face! I hate her to look at me with her evil eyes!"
Heaven knows, he had reason to fear any one who watched him so steadily—her, more than any living being; but I did not sympathise with him. I had always feared and disliked him, and the more he grew to distrust and dread Inez, the more I grew to dislike and fear and hate him, and gradually there grew into my dislike and hatred of him a distrust and suspicion—idea, fancy, if you will—that he would some day do the child a mischief.
One day when she was out he began looking through some drawers he kept locked, but she came in meanwhile. Closing the last drawer, he turned to meet the steady gaze of Inez, as she stood in the doorway, and as he pushed past her I heard him mutter, fiercely, "Curses on that dark-faced child."
From that day my suspicion and distrust grew upon me, day by day, and hour by hour, till I could not bear to have both Vivian and Inez out of my sight together. I reached that point when she had been six weeks with us. I marvelled if she felt any of the dread of him which she had inspired him with. I asked her one day, "Inez, are you not afraid of Vivian? Have you no fear of him?"
"Do I look as if I was afraid?" she said, turning her dark grave face full towards me. "Do I ever show any fear? Do I act as if I was afraid of him?"
"Certainly not," I replied.
"No; he is afraid of me," said Inez; "his very soul trembles with dread and fear when I watch him; and he shall have cause to fear me," she said with a fierce flash in her black eyes, and setting her foot down as if she were crushing some reptile under her heel, "he shall learn one dark bitter day that his fear of me had foundation in his own guilty conscience."
"But, Inez, I wish you would not ride with him alone," said I. "If you feel no fear of him I do; and I am as certain as that I stand here that he will do you evil. Can you, who have learned to read men so closely, tell me why it is that he doesn't either get Stanfeld to send you away, or go away himself? It's a riddle I cannot read."
"I think I can read it for you," she replied. "For the first he knows that even Stanfeld could not be so utterly rude as to give me a hint. For the second, there are mixed motives. In the very nature of his indefinite nightmare, nervous dread of me, there is a fascination, which detains him and forces him to stay; if that dread could assume a defined form or shape, he would murder me or fly; but the very vagueness of the phantom-like, nameless thing of horror he fears, has a weird fascination that, like a thing of magic, makes him stay. Moreover there lurks in his mind, in the same undefined way, a feeling that he will not be scared from his home by a child. But neither feeling, as I said, has form or shape; the instant the chaos assumes a clear form he will fly, or, more likely, try to murder me."
"Inez!" I exclaimed, "you know that and go on! Merciful heaven, what mighty motive can influence you to peril so much?"
"The stake at hazard is more than life and death," was her reply; "and having once put my hand to the plough, I would not, if I could, look back. From the moment I set foot in this house, it has been 'Strike lest you be struck.' I must strike him to the ground, crush him under my foot, or he will crush me."
She moved away, but when she had gone a few paces she paused, and for a minute turned her strange, grave face to me, so steadfast, so calm, but one with such a look on it, that as she glided away I involuntarily stretched my arms towards the retreating form, and from my very soul burst the bitter cry, "So young and fair! Oh, merciful Father, save her! save her!"
* * *
It was that very evening that, as we sat in the drawing-room before the candles came in, Vivian, who had been pacing restlessly to and fro, stopped suddenly before Inez de Caldara and asked her to sing something—he didn't care what. She rose instantly, and glided to the piano. He stood by with folded arms, looking down on her with that evil face of his, till I shuddered for her.
Inez had a wonderful memory, and knew by heart a quantity of choice music, and now the first thing I heard was her rich mellow voice, singing that beautiful prayer in 'Oberon.' I don't know what it was, whether it was her music or some deep vein of melancholy in her voice, but if she sang anything of a plaintive or mournful character, it rarely failed to move him; if ever so little, it was only a slight softening of the lines of his face and of his eyes that indicated anything; but I think if Eveline could have sang or played as Inez did, he might have been a better man, not so lost a being. I don't know. I am most likely mistaken; for looking at his face, it is such an incarnation of inborn devilry that I don't think there is as much good in him as a fly would hold.
Inez wandered on from one thing to another, till I heard her singing something, I don't recollect what, from 'La Somnambula.' As she struck the last chord she dropped her hands suddenly, and fixing her black eyes on Vivian, said abruptly, "I am a somnambulist."
I saw him start and shiver. "Ugh!" said he, "I don't like somnambulism. I've heard of sleep-walkers committing—"
"Murder," added Inez, quietly, and with her steady gaze on him. "Yes, I have heard of such things. I nearly killed one of our slaves at Rio about eight or nine years ago; but fortunately I only wounded him."
Vivian shivered again, and the hand, which rested on the back of a chair, grasped it almost convulsively; but she added, "There are more crimes committed by wide awake people than by all the somnambulists put together."
He turned abruptly away, and left the room.
I knew Inez had been telling a falsehood, and I wondered what her motive could be. That she had one I was convinced, for nothing she did in that house was without some deep motive.
When we went up to bed I said, "Inez, what on earth made you tell such tales to Vivian? You are not a somnambulist."
"Of course not," she replied, coolly; "but a mind like his has a superstitious fear of somnambulists; and besides, if he should meet me at night wandering about the house, I shall be able to play that game with him."
"Child," said I, "you are a living riddle! Why should you wander about at night?"
I was sitting in a low chair as I spoke, and she turned from the glass, knelt at my feet, and laying her arms on my lap, said, "Perhaps I should have told you this much before—I do so now. When Angelo's mother was murdered, there were jewels stolen—"
She paused. It was an effort to speak so calmly and steadily as she did; but in a moment she mastered herself, and went on.
"The jewels were stolen, and he has them even now."
"Stay," said I. "How can you tell me that, Inez? He has probably sold them long ago."
"No, has not," said Inez, in her decided way. "He would not have dared to let any human being know he had them, for they are so marked that they could be traced directly. There is one bracelet at least that he would sooner have flung into the sea than pass it. No, he has them, and I must have them. I have watched and searched, but as yet I have found no trace or hint of their concealment. They are not in his private places, for I have tried them with the keys I brought with me."
"Oh, Inez, you haven't looked?" I exclaimed.
Her lips paled a little, but she said steadily, "When I came here, Margaret, I took into my heart the Jesuit doctrine that 'the end sanctifies the means,' and I have followed that out. All that is repugnant to my very soul I have done, and do, and will unhesitatingly do. If, to gain that end, lying and deceiving is necessary—and it is—I will lie, and bend, and stoop to all I abhor as dishonorable. Do you think," she said, rising and confronting me with that passionate face I had seen once, and but once before—"do you think that it costs me nothing to act so? Do you think that my pride, my whole nature does not revolt under it? Do you think that because I am so outwardly cold, and passionless, and calm, that I have no feelings?"
"Dear Inez," I interrupted eagerly, "I meant no reproach, indeed I did not. I never meant to pain you."
I threw my arms round her, but for the first time I felt that she had passions of strength and depth—almost fierceness, which even I had never suspected had existence; and for the first time, also, I appreciated to its full value, her complete and wonderful mastery over herself, partly the result of her own nature, partly of the training she had received.
"You have searched," I said, returning to the former subject, "everywhere, and can find no trace. Can you got no hint from him?"
"No," she replied. "I have assured myself that he has them in his possession, and I must find them. All is useless without the jewels. Once in my hands, they are a proof against him. They are a clue in themselves. Now, listen. I have taken all this time to search this house through from top to bottom. While you and all else slept, I have been searching like a French detective, his room, Stanfeld's, even the servants' rooms; greenhouses, stables, and lofts have not escaped me. In every place where I suspected a concealment I have searched, and I have completely satisfied myself that what I seek is not anywhere in the house or out-buildings; but now, having last night got to the end of all these, I have to-day looked about and discovered another and last place where it may be, and if it is not there, heaven help me, for my last resource will be exhausted!"
"What place do you mean?" I asked.
"You know," she said, "at the west wing of the old ruined chapel—"
"Inez!" I exclaimed, "they cannot be there—the chapel is a mere bit of wall."
"No—not there, Margaret," she replied; "but in the lower cloisters, the vaults beneath it, where all the Surreys lie buried. To-night I shall take full rest, and to-morrow night I commence."
"Inez—oh, Inez! you cannot," I cried. "You will never be able to go there alone at midnight."
"I see you do not know me yet," said Inez. "I, who do not fear this living fiend I am contending with, am not likely to fear the dead who sleep and are at rest."
"Let me go with you," I said.
"Not for anything," she replied. "The danger and risk are mine. I know and trust myself. Keep up the tale I commenced to-day. Good-night now, Margaret," she said; and we laid down and slept.
It was near midnight, that mystic hour of shades and shadows, when a tall, slight figure, closely cloaked, glided from the Grange and struck boldly amongst the lofty trees of the rookery, which bent and moved as the night wind swept amongst them with a low, mournful sound like the plaintive wailing of some mourning spirit. The wanderer paused a moment to listen and glance back, but all was still, and the straight moonbeams which now and then struggled through the dark clouds revealed nothing but an old house, and Inez glided swiftly on towards the west side of the mansion. There had once been a chapel there in the old time, when the chanting of the priests in the rich service of the mass had risen from its sacred walls, or the soft vesper hymn had been wont to steal gently on the calm evening air; but rude and desecrating hands had dismantled it in the civil wars, and it had gradually fallen utterly to decay, so that nothing but a portion of the walls stood; rank grass and woods grew wild and tangled where the font had been, and the poisonous hemlock and deadly nightshade trailed their leaves where once had stood the sacred altar. A portion of the open cloisters still stood, and in them was the entrance to the lower cloisters, which ran for a good way under the ground.
Setting down the dark lantern she carried under her mantle, the Spaniard by a great exertion of strength, and she was unromantically strong, raised the slab of pavement which formed the entrance, and laying it right back she took up the lantern, opened the bull's eye, and descended the steep stone steps it disclosed. At the bottom of this dark stairway was an iron gate, rusty with damp and age, but it was locked. Inez, nowise daunted, threw back her mantle, and the light flashed on a thick belt, profusely garnished with the various implements stuck in it—a fine file, such as runs through iron almost as quickly as a saw walks through wood, a coarser one, a stout handled hammer, a chisel, a gimblet, and a large strong clasp knife with a patent catch. This our daring adventurer now drew, inserted it deliberately between the lock and the gate, and in a moment the old rusty lock yielded to the pressure; she pushed back the gate, entered, and setting down her lantern on the steps of a massive column near the gate, she looked round her. Behind her was the gateway she had entered by; before her were a pair of tall iron gates, such as are seen in burial vaults, and behind these were, dimly discernible in the deep gloom, the white pillars and the tombs where rested many a Surrey who had lived and died long ago. Within four or five feet of Inez was a simple slab of stone, a grave so old that the inscription was almost effaced, and the tall cross at its heads, loosened by age and damp from its hold in the ground, leaned a little, as if bending sadly over the lonely grave of one whom tradition whispered had died very young—the old mournful story—a young heart broken, and an early grave.
Strange and gloomy and dreary was the place, with its mournful graves and its muttering echoes dying sadly away among the frowning arches, which seemed to disappear in gloom and darkness; with the owl hooting drearily from its perch amongst the lofty columns, and looking with its ghostly eyes through the tall iron gates, while the 'midnight raven found a perch' on the cross of some grave, and the bat flapped its ominous wings against the iron bars, or swept them past the old gray columns, and the snake crept hissing away amongst the white rank grass which sprang up out of the green dampness of the place; there were mouldering bones and grinning skulls within those iron gates that the coffins could no longer hold, and had burst asunder, casting their ghastly burden forth; there was death everywhere—in every grave and mouldering bone, in the very stones and close, vault-like, deathly air; and even Inez's bold, fearless spirit, that would unflinchingly have faced physical danger, now quailed before the imaginary terrors which the hour and gloomy horror of the place awoke in her vivid imagination, and perhaps in the innate shade of natural superstition which runs like a fine vein through imaginative minds.
It required more stern control and iron exercise of will than anything had yet called forth to make her stand firm, and collect and bend her faculties to that which was the purpose of her life, but even in the creeping horror that was crawling over her, she did not wish for Margaret. "No," she murmured, "if this place of death can unnerve me, I am glad indeed I refused her. Out upon my cowardly heart, that it has not more of Angelo's spirit!"
The muttering echo answered back, as if a ghostly voice had spoken, "More of Angelo's spirit," and the child started violently, but the very name of Angelo had a power that sent the brave blood of her fathers through her veins; and once more taking up the lantern, she advanced to the lofty gates, satisfied from her knowledge of Vivian's mind that he would have concealed the jewels in some remote corner; for he had not, she knew, the depth of subtlety which would step out of the ordinary line and place the jewels in such a public place that no one in a thousand would ever look for them there. She had taken pains to find out the calibre and cast of his mind before she searched anywhere, and, finding it cunning without subtlety, she directed her movements accordingly.
Now therefore, she examined the gates; tight-locked, chained, so that to force either lock or chain was hopeless; but examining the padlock and chain closely, she observed that neither were very old—certainly not so old as the rest. Moreover, she detected one or two small things that did not look as if a workman's hand had been there; and as she saw this her very heart throbbed, for she felt sure that what she sought was within those gates.
How to get past them. The bars, which were old and rusty, were close together; but by removing one of them, there would be an aperture not quite a foot wide, still wide enough for her slight form to force itself through.
She drew the fine file from her belt, knelt down, totally heedless of the loathsome reptiles and relics of the dead around, and began her work; and the bats and owls and ravens flew in alarm about the vaults as the sharp, steady whir-whir of the file re-echoed through the cloisters. So old and rust-eaten was the metal that it was not long before the bar was filed through at the bottom; and then, placing the file breast high, she commenced again, and in ten minutes about five foot of the bar lay at her feet, and she had squeezed through the opening.
So far all had gone well with Inez. After having gained access to the dismal vault, the next question was, where would Vivian have been likely to conceal the casket? Not in any excavation under the pavement, for the damp would destroy the contents, and not inside any of the coffins, for with his hands yet red with blood he would not have dared, she was sure, to open a coffin; for no reverence, she was equally sure, for the human dust within would have restrained him. She stood for some minutes revolving in her mind the probabilities and likelihoods of the question; and she decided that he would have made some excavation in a column, and she therefore began, one after another, examining the pillars, knowing that she should detect anything like a mark; but the first, second, and third row had clearly not been touched. Again she paused, and began a course of mental reasoning from her knowledge of Arthur.
"He will not have singled a column by chance, or taken the first that offered or took his eye," she reasoned, "he will have had some reason for his choice. In the state of mind he was in so shortly after the murder, the most likely thing to actuate him will have been an indefinite, to himself almost unconscious feeling of superstition, that would make him catch at any straw of safety, however absurd. The first thing that such a frame and direction of superstition would do would be to recall to his mind the traditions of lucky numbers, and in choosing his pillar, he will unconsciously have been guided by that. At any rate, I will for the present assume such to have been his course, and draw my own from it. I have already examined the third row without any result. He has most likely, then, chosen the seventh row, and either the third, seventh, or twenty first column; probably the last, as containing three times seven, he will in that mood have held it three times as lucky; therefore I shall first try that column."
She arrived at this conclusion in an infinitely shorter time than it takes to write or read it, and advancing towards the twenty-first column in the seventh row of pillars, she closely examined it, all superstitious fear and terror gone. She first noticed that at about two feet and a half high a piece of mortar had been picked away, and the stone scraped away some two inches deep and three in the circumference of the pillar; and raising the light she saw that the slab of stone above it was the same, and so up as high as she could see, and as she saw this a new idea flashed like lightning across her quick, ready mind. He had climbed up the column by means of these and a piece of rope, as the Africans climb the palm trees.
In one of the green-houses close to the chapel she remembered seeing the gardener throw some rope, and to leave the vault, make her way to the green-house, get the rope, and now fearlessly return, was the work of a few minutes. She tied her lantern to her waist, passed the rope round the column and herself, and made a running noose, so that as she advanced she could slip the rope up and support herself with it.
Agile, light, and strong, used by Angelo to sports girls are rarely allowed to strengthen their limbs in, it was not very difficult for Inez in this way to climb the column. Up, up, as long as she found the mortar scraped away, up to the very roof, which was arched. She could go no further, and firmly fixing herself in her elevated perch, she raised the lantern, and examined the capital of the column and the roof near. In the roof close by she noticed that the mortar round one of the stones, which was a square foot in size, was not so dirty or old-looking as the rest; and with a hand that actually trembled, she fastened her lantern to the rope, releasing her right hand, and drawing her knife, she began scraping away the mortar that looked the least dirty. This stone, be it understood, was close above the column, and therefore in that part of the roof which was almost as upright as the pillar itself.
This operation took nearly a quarter of an hour, and then she gave the stone a rap. It gave back a hollow sound. Still calmly, though she could almost hear her heart beating, she inserted the chisel in the interstice where the mortar had been, and forced it in, then pressed it back, and the stone fell to the ground with a dull sullen noise.
Inez listened a moment, but all was again silent, and she lifted the lantern—the stone had covered a cavity, and in the cavity lay a mahogany box.
The box that held the jewelled casket—the box she knew so well—it was in her hand, belted close to her, and she had descended the column and fled through the cloisters, and up the stone steps, before she clearly recollected anything. The fresh air soon restored her to herself and to calmness. She closed down the entrance, shut her lantern, and wrapping her mantle round her, struck into the plantation, circling that way round to the back way she had come out by. 2 o'clock struck as she glided noiselessly to the room where she and Margaret slept. But Margaret was awake, and she sprang to Inez, exclaiming in an eager whisper, "Oh, I am so thankful you are back! But how haggard and deathly pale you look, and your eyes burn like coals!"
"I have got them," said the Castilian, flinging back her cloak.
"How?—where?—in what way?" asked Margaret.
"Hush! and listen," said Inez.
Margaret sat down and listened in silence to Inez's story. "And now, Margaret," she added, "you must see them, and remember the day I took them, for you will have to identify both one day."
She opened the box, and took out a beautiful jewel casket, the lock of which, like the box, had been broken open. In the casket were three trinkets, a bracelet, a large gold cross and chain, and a necklace, all so marked and curious that Margaret understood how the murderer had not dared to let any living being know he had them.
The bracelet was one which had been in the Egerton family for generations, and was of antique workmanship. The ring was of massive gold, set round with diamonds so as to form the words, "Faithful to the death," their motto. The large clasp, set in gold, was a shield bearing the arms of the family, each quartering being a large ruby; the supporters were made of diamonds, and the crest over the shield (a sword and cross bound with cypress and palm) was composed of pearls and emeralds.
The second was a gold chain and large jewelled gold cross—a present of Angelo's to his mother. It opened at the back; but instead of relics appeared his own hair, formed into the motto of her house, "Love conquers all," and on it the "I.H.S." in the same raven locks.
The third was a costly necklace of curious and antique Moorish workmanship; and Inez said, "This has been in the Caldara family for many generations, all, you see, are too marked for any one to mistake them, and this bracelet has more even—there, you see,—look on the clasp—the back."
Margaret did so, and read in old English characters the words, "To ye Ladye Isabel, wife of Syr Walter de Egerton. From Philippa ye Quene, 1337."
Inez took back the jewels, locked them up, and said, "To-morrow these go to town, and then—"
Ah, then! little they guessed the dark deed that 'to-morrow' would witness.
* * *
Again turn we to Margaret Arundel's memoirs:
It was early the next morning when I awoke. Inez de Caldara was not in the room, and missing her hat and mantle, I guessed where she had gone. She come back before Vivian, Eveline, or Stanfeld were up. She only said, with a curious look of triumph in her calm face, "I have sent Forde with the casket to Egerton. By the evening he will be here."
That day passed in torture; every hour seemed ten. I longed for, and yet dreaded that horrible evening, when Inez's long-suffering patience would reap its fruits, and the murderer be seized. I don't think I fully realised till that day all that child's proud, chivalrously honorable nature had suffered and borne in the part she had acted. I could see it in the deathly pallor of her face, in the lines of suffering which now lightly crossed her brow, in the worn, at times almost haggard look, that should never have been known to one who scarcely yet numbered fifteen years.
So the hours dragged heavily on till dusk, and just at the gloaming I missed both her and Arthur. I had been upstairs with Eveline, and did not know how long they had been absent. I was going to search for them, when, pausing at a staircase window, I saw Vivian come from the chapel.
I turned so sick with apprehension that I was obliged to lean against the wall for support. Why did he go to the cloisters that day of all days? I was sure he had been there; but before I could move he came up and demanded, "Where is Jesuita de Castro?"
"I don't know, Arthur," I replied.
There was a look in his face that made me shiver and shrink back as he passed me—that made my distrust and suspicion suddenly rise before me in a fearfully defined shape—a terrible thing of horror, and murder, and death; yes, murder was the awful word that rang in my ears, that grew out of the silence of the old house, that the very wind in its sighing whispered, that the tall trees outside had in the ghostly rustic of their leaves—yes, it was that horrible conviction that made me creep in shivering dread to an east window which overlooked the river, and a short cut to the bridge. I saw him, dusk though it was, walk across the garden. I saw him hide something that flashed brightly in his breast, and then stop and look at his hands, just as Lady Macbeth did. There was murder in his face, there was murder in that action. And then he pushed open the private gate, and I saw him turning across the field and disappear in the wood. I stood for some moments literally paralysed, till the one absorbing idea that I must get help and follow him fell upon me. I caught up my hat, and ran in search of the coachman, for Stanfeld had been absent all day, and Forde, I knew was away. I couldn't find Miles anywhere, but it was impossible for me to remain quiet after what had passed; and though I generally feared that field and wood after dark, I now dashed open the gate and set off running along the footpath.
Turning again from the memoirs of Margaret Arundel, we retrace our steps a little. Despite all Inez had gone through in the night, it was barely 5 o'clock the next morning when she left her room equipped for walking, and carrying a small heavy parcel, directed to Egerton. The groom Forde she knew would be about, and stealing out of the house, she made her way round to the stables, where, sure enough, was Forde cleaning the brougham.
"Good morning, miss, you're early," was the cheerful salutation.
"Forde," said the Spaniard, speaking very low, "is Miles up yet?"
"No, miss," was the reply.
"That's well," said Inez. "I have come to ask you a great favor. I want you to go to London for me on a message that will keep you all day, but not a creature must know it. Can you be secret?"
"Certainly, miss, and ready to do your bidding," said Forde.
"You are doing me and others more service than you imagine," said Inez, "The message is of the last importance. Go first and put on a plain dress—not your livery—be quick!"
It was not many minutes before Forde returned in his Sunday's best.
"Come," said Inez, "we shall just catch the train by the short cut. I will tell you what I want at the station."
They set off at a rapid pace across the field, and as they entered the wood, she paused, and giving him the packet said, "Can you read my writing there plainly? Is it plain?"
"Very, miss," he replied. "This is directed to Sir Angelo R. Egerton, St. James' Square, London."
"Yes, that is it," said Inez. "Take this packet straight to Sir Angelo Egerton, and never let it leave your hands until you place it in his. Remain till he opens it, for you will probably have to wait and come down here with him by an evening train. Now let us hurry on again. Here is my purse, and you will find in it all you require."
It was five-and twenty minutes past five when they reached the station. They were in time. The train came up, and only waiting to see it off, Inez rapidly retraced her steps to the Grange unseen.
In restless anxiety that was almost unendurable she passed the day. Egerton could not, she knew, be down before evening; for he would have to get a warrant from a magistrate for Vivian's arrest, and then come with a detective officer. As soon as it began to grow dusk, she took her hat and wandered out with the intention of going to Forest New Bridge, and watching there till Angelo should come, feeling sure that Forde would bring him that way. It was still tolerably light when she reached the bridge, but little caring for being out alone at that hour, she crossed over and went into the station.
"When will the next train from London stop?" she said to the clerk.
"In half-an-hour, ma'am," was the reply. "It's due at 8.35."
She turned back and slowly recrossed the bridge, pausing awhile at the spot where Cassy had taken her mad leap; then she went down on to the strand, and sat down under the shadow of the arch. All around was very still and silent. The river rippled quietly at her feet, the growing darkness crept stealthily over the sky, and the shadow of the bridge grew deeper in the calm deep water, whilst the lights of the village on the other side began to twinkle in the distance. It was a very lonely spot, not a living being in sight or hearing, but the thoughts of the watcher were too far away to notice anything around her; it seemed such a long weary time since she had seen Angelo or heard the low musical tones of his voice. All that had passed since then seemed like a dark dream, the shadow of which still hung over her, and she rose up to shake it off.
At that moment a step struck on the strand, a shadow indeed fell across her, and Arthur Vivian stood before her.
For the first time Margaret's forebodings rushed across her, and a deathly chill ran to the child's very heart as she found herself alone in that lonely place with a desperate man. He had discovered his loss, she could see that in the look of his livid black eyes, in every line of his fiendishly beautiful face, as he confronted her.
"What are you doing here at this hour?" he said, with an intonation that made her shiver inwardly, though outwardly she maintained her cool self-possession, knowing that if she lost that she was a lost being. If she could keep him at bay for ten minutes the train would arrive.
"I wandered out," she replied, "while it was light; the time has passed quickly. This scene is really beautiful in this dim gloaming."
He glanced for half a moment at the scene. If she could have passed him, she would have sprung up the bank and fled across the bridge, but she was under the arch, and he stood so that to pass him was impossible without his detecting her motive. She stood quiet, though she knew the hour had come which she had foreseen in the words, "The instant the chaos assumes a clear form he will try to murder me." She maintained her calmness and coolness, and yet never had the love of life been so strong in her. She spoke again.
"It will look better from the bridge; let us go up there and see."
He turned upon her now. "No," he said; "stand where you are, girl. Ha! the reckoning has come at last, and I am your master now."
She knew now that all was over; she gave up all for lost; gave up her life as doomed. She knew she was utterly in his power. If she called out, or sprang into the river, a pistol bullet would end all. She knew no mercy or fear for himself would check him, for it was a toss up. If he let her escape, he was letting free the evidence against him. He could not be worse off by her murder. He was utterly desperate and would act desperately. But, with that conviction, there came over her a feeling of fierce triumph and a reckless determination to answer him in the words which rose uppermost. At the same time a narrow chance of escape offered itself. If she could, with taunting words, rouse him to mad passion and throw him off his guard, she might try at least to match her strength or agility against his; fling him, as he stood by the brink, into the river, and thus gain a moment in which to fly.
A drowning person clings to a straw, and Inez de Caldara, in her awful peril, with a desperate man to contend against, clung to this straw.
"You my master!" she said, with that taunting sneer which no one can so well assume as a woman. "You—I am yours. Even now you fear me, as you have from that day you failed in frightening me!"
"Listen," said Vivian, speaking hard and fiercely; "you have stolen a box from the cloisters. Denial is useless. Silence, and listen. I see all your game now—mad not to have seen it before. You came to the Grange in treachery, false, base treachery, with lies on your lips and in your heart, the very name you call yourself is not your own, I believe; creeping like a snake to our hearth, to betray it, ever base and false, a whited sepulchre-innocence without, but iniquity within."
"No, but with a serpent's cunning," returned Inez, with a mocking smile. "Now hear me, Arthur Vivian. I know you better than you think. I did come to the Grange with a false name, with a false story on my lips, with my very accent feigned, creeping, if you will, like a snake to your hearth; but for an end which justified the means. The time you saw me was not the first I saw you—I saw you nine years ago. Murderer, I know you!" said the Spaniard, confronting him with a face far more fearless than his own; and as the last word passed her lips, she took one step forward, and, with desperate resolution and force, struck him on the chest with her closed hand.
So strong was the blow that Vivian staggered; but in that moment he drew a long stiletto, and grasped her hand as she sprang forward to fly. There was a flash—a gleam of descending steel—and the Spaniard lay at his feet motionless—weltering in her blood!
For one moment Vivian stood gazing on the lifeless form, and in his lurid eyes there was mingled with it that fiendish triumph, that strange look of agonised remorse that marked the Portrait. Then the instinct of self-preservation came over him, and he sprang into the river, and struck out for the other side.
The wind amidst the tall trees whispered sadly, and the weeping willows dipped their leaves in the rippling waters of the river as it flowed calmly onwards, and the watchful eyes of the night saw the deed that was done, and the evening star seemed to fall with a more mournful light on the face of the child as if a tear had dimmed its brilliancy.
* * *
At thirty-five minutes past 8 the down train stopped at Forest Moor station. Only three passengers got out—a tall, dark man, with an immense bloodhound, a man servant, and an almost gentlemanly looking man, dressed in black. In the two first we recognise Egerton and Leon; in the second, Dick Forde; and in the third, we introduce Mr. Robert Harding, detective officer, who now bore in his pocket a warrant for the arrest of Arthur Vivian, on a charge of murder.
Forde led the way by the bridge; but when Leon came to the spot where Inez had stood, he suddenly ran wildly round, and then, with a loud baying, dashed forwards, with his nose to the the ground. At the little foot-track which led to the river bank he paused; but the moment the rest came up he crept under the rail, ran down, and vanished under the arch of the bridge. In a moment Egerton was over the rail, and on the strand. There, almost at his feet, lay the lifeless form of Inez, the blood trickling from a wound in her breast, in which the stiletto still quivered.
A cry of horror burst from Forde and the detective, but no word passed Angelo's lips; the blow had gone too deep for words, anguish had gone too straight to the heart, and numbed it with agony. He raised the motionless form in his arms, but only the keen eye of the detective saw the livid, compressed lips, and the speaking anguish in the dark eyes.
At that moment Margaret appeared, breathless, to see her worst fears realised, and with a wild cry she sprang forward.
"Oh, Inez! oh, Inez! this is Vivian's work."
"Silence! She is dead," said Angelo, sternly; "and if you are Margaret Arundel, follow me."
It was all he said. He staunched the flowing blood with his handkerchief, and wrapping her mantle about her, rapidly retraced his steps over the bridge.
"Sir, take her to Warren, the greengrocer, by the station," said Forde, eagerly.
"Show the way," said Egerton.
Forde obeyed, and a few moments brought them to Warren's neat shop.
"Fetch a surgeon, Forde," said Harding, passing before Angelo, and opening the shop door.
Inside was Mrs. Warren, but at the entrance of the stranger she started forward, exclaiming, "Who is this? What has happened?"
"A lady who is dying, if not dead," said the detective, shortly. "Your house was the nearest."
"Bring her in here, sir. Merciful heaven!" exclaimed Mrs. Warren, as the light flashed on the face lying on Angelo's breast, "it is the young foreign lady from the Grange, and Miss Arundel, too! Bring her in here, sir," she said, opening a door from the parlor which led into a small bedroom, and here Egerton laid down his precious burden.
"Will the surgeon never come?" he said.
"He is here, sir," said a quiet voice, and a grave gentlemanly man entered. "Let me see the lady."
Angelo drew back, and the doctor laid his hand on Inez's chest.
"I can relieve you of immediate fear, sir," he said. "Her heart beats, though feebly."
"Thank heaven!" murmured Egerton, covering his face a moment in almost uncontrollable emotion; and then, without a word, he left the room, resigning her to the surgeon and the women.
In the parlor without were the groom, Sam Warren, and the detective, and the latter immediately said, "Sir Angelo, here is the weapon with which the young lady was stabbed. You see it's a weapon rarely found in the hands of an Englishman. It is an Italian stiletto, with the mark of a maker at Pistoia on it, you see."
Egerton started. His mother had been first stabbed with a stiletto—so the physician had judged from the wound—and then had been shot.
"I lingered to examine the bank, too," continued the detective. "There was a pool of blood where the young lady had fallen, and footprints going to the water. The murderer has swum the river, and escaped for the present; but I shall track him and find him."
"Spare no expense in the pursuit," said Egerton. "Cost what it may, that man shall be taken."
Harding bowed, and soon after the surgeon and Mrs. Warren entered.
"I will not confuse you with scientific terms, sir," said the doctor, addressing Egerton, "but simply tell you that the very fineness of the weapon has saved your charge; for it has passed between the vital parts without injuring them, and she was insensible from loss of blood, which has been great. The wound is dressed, and in a few weeks will have healed. She is much weakened, and must not be moved until I permit it, but she has recovered consciousness and asked for you."
The first word indeed that Inez had faintly uttered had been the name of Angelo, and then Margaret whispered that he had found her, and should come, and stole out after the other two.
The next moment Angelo, the worshipped being for whom she had nearly lost her life, stood by the bedside, and had clasped her with bitter, passionate remorse to his breast.
"Oh, Inez, my own little one," said Egerton, "how could I have been so mad as to place you in that man's power?"
She nestled clingingly to him, as she had used to when a little child, and whispered in faint, low accents, "Hush! oh, hush, Angelo. I can bear anything but to see you sorrow for me. And now I am with you again."
"Never more to leave me," said Angelo; "never more to leave me, my darling, my own Inez."
"I have won," she said; "but oh, Angelo, it has been such a long dark dream, such a fearful time. I was so weary and worn out. I'm not so now."
"As he gently laid her back, and tenderly kissed her, there was an expression of perfect peace and rest on the soft beautiful young face that it had not known for a long, long time. She spoke again, but so low that he bent over her to catch her words.
"Angelo," she said, "we must take care of Margaret now. She can never return to the Grange."
"Trust all to me, dearest," he replied. "At present she will stay and nurse you. Try and sleep, little one."
He re-entered the outer room, and the detective, after whispering something to Egerton, went away, and the doctor, leaving some directions for the patient's treatment, followed, promising to come in early next day.
Angelo then drew Margaret aside, and after talking some time with her in a low tone, she sat down, wrote a letter to Stanfeld, and gave it him to read.
"It will do," he said. "Now, Forde, take this over to Forest Moor, and await an answer, part of which will be to turn you away directly, but you know my promise."
Forde touched his hat and went out, and Egerton made his arrangements with Sam Warren and his wife for the accommodation of Margaret and Inez, he himself taking up his quarters at the inn until his 'darter,' as the good dame called Inez, was well enough to be removed to town.
When Forde returned, it was with a fierce message from Stanfeld, "that he was glad to get rid of Margaret Arundel for ever. Jesuita de Castro and her guardian might take her to South America if they chose."
All that Margaret (by Egerton's wish) had written, was that Vivian had for some reason tried to murder Jesuita de Castro; that her guardian had accidentally rescued her; that he had fled, and that she, Margaret, did not intend to return again to the Grange.
* * *
While Inez de Caldera lay in the humble home of Sam Warren, where was her assassin?—for in intention he was so, and believed himself so. He was sitting in the very same old country house, where long before Inez and Colonel St. John had taken shelter, and on the other side of the fireplace sat Roland Aubrey. He was speaking, but there was a dark shade on his face, and a curious flicker in his eyes.
"You have got yourself into a regular scrape now, Vivian," said Aubrey. "How came you to be such a fool?"
"She had got a secret of mine," said Arthur, without moving. "It was a gloomy, lonely place, and she taunted me as she only could taunt. Curses on her dark face! She maddened me—she struck me, and I stabbed her."
"And left your knife sticking in her," said Aubrey.
"A malediction on it!" exclaimed Vivian. "It was not an ordinary knife, but an Italian stiletto."
"Whew!" said Aubrey, "such a marked thing. What and who was she?"
"She was an olive-skinned Spaniard," replied Vivian, "false as proud. She called herself Jesuita de Castro."
"What was she like?" asked Aubrey.
"She was tall and slight," said Vivian, "with horrid queer black eyes that looked through you—"
"Ha!" interrupted Roland, starting. "Weird looking eyes, and a quiet grave brow—isn't that she?"
"Where did you see her?" exclaimed Vivian. "Who is she?"
"I think I know," said Aubrey. "She is the ward of Egerton, the member for Cambridge University. Of course you know who he is, and her real name is Inez de Caldara."
Vivian started violently at the name of Egerton, but he only said, "How do you know that?"
In reply Roland told him of Inez and St. John having taken shelter there, concluding with "Your description of her eyes, coupled with her being Spanish, struck me. She was very beautiful. Oh, Arthur, Arthur! how could you stab a mere girl, even in the heat of passion? I knew that you were bad, that you have been and are dissipated; that you live almost by gambling—that you have fierce passions; but I never thought that even you would let the devil in you make your hand red with blood."
"You speak plainly," said Vivian, with a fierce gesture and an oath. "Are you going to shelter me or betray me?"
"When you fled here this morning, and threw yourself on the honor of me, your old companion and ally, I promised to shelter you," said Aubrey. "I abide by that; but you must fly to-night; for you cannot tell but that to-morrow morning the gentlemen in blue may be on your track, and your description out at every seaport and police station."
"Impossible!" exclaimed Vivian. "No one will know who did it."
"You forget the stiletto," said Aubrey, "that will cry aloud. No, you must take a couple of hours' rest, and then we'll set off for the coast."
Rest, talk of rest to him who could not keep quiet even now. No, he glanced restlessly and uneasily about; he started if a door shut, or a rat or mouse ran behind the wainscoating. If he turned towards the wall, there he saw Inez's watchful eyes looking at him out of the gloom, as they used to do in life; he saw her dark face on the shadow of the curtains, and heard her light footstep in every falling leaf, or creaking of the old furniture; turn where he would he saw her weird face. If he closed his eyes he saw the murdered form lying on the strand, crimson with blood, the calm dead face upturned, as it had looked when he left it lying there! Moving or still, sleeping or waking, to his guilty eyes and ears there was murder in everything. The mournful moaning of the wind whispered murder; the rustling leaves of the tall trees had it in their sighing; the very falling of the summer rain outside had a voice that muttered it. He could not bear it, he could not sleep or rest a moment, and he sprang from the couch on which he had thrown himself dressed. He had told Aubrey a false tale; he had said that he accidentally met Inez by the river; that she had told him that she knew a secret of his, and would use it; that she had taunted and goaded him to madness; and that, in the wild heat of passion, hardly knowing what he did, he had struck her with the weapon which an evil fate had chanced to make him have on him. That was his story. That night he fled, and in safety reached a foreign shore; and for a time his pursuers were baffled.
IT was late in the autumn when Egerton took Inez from Forest Moor to town for a few days, during which he could make such arrangement with his child as would enable him to take her for a month to the seaside. Margaret Arundel came with them as their guest; and now behold the three in the drawing-room, Leon lying, as of old, on the rug before the fire. It yet wanted some time to the hour of retiring, and Egerton was reading over a short bill which he was to bring into Parliament next year. Margaret was working at some embroidery, and Inez sat on a low seat near Angelo, with Bulwer's 'Last of the Barons' on her lap, but her dark eyes fixed dreamily on the page, saw no word, or at least the mental vision took in nothing of what the physical eye read. Margaret had been right; the young face did look more worn and wan; there were lines of care, and pain, and suffering drawn across the brow—lightly, but still there, where they should not have been, and the pale soft olive of the thin checks was perfectly colorless. She looked like a person who had suffered much, mentally and physically, and in truth all she had gone through had shaken even her more than she knew, and bitterly did Egerton reproach himself that he had let her go, when he remembered the danger, and how nearly he had lost his darling; but how could he refuse her when she had clung to him, and with passionate eloquence appealed to his love for Julian? All these thoughts were passing through his mind now instead of the schedules of the bill, and suddenly throwing it aside, he said, "We seem as far off as ever from the end. Vivian has escaped."
"But isn't that detective clever?" asked Margaret.
"Yes," said Egerton; "but so is Vivian clever, and he may permanently escape."
"No," said Inez, with a vehemence unusual in her; "it may be months, it may be years before he is taken; but it will come at last, as surely as there is justice in heaven."
"I must, I will believe it, child," said Egerton, softly smoothing her silky black hair. "Justice must be done."
"Inez," said Margaret, "what do you think made Arthur go to the vault that evening of all others?"
"Because, probably, he was in the habit of going at intervals to see if the casket was safe," replied Inez; "or more likely some fine instinct or presentiment of coming danger made him go there, and the instant he found it gone he would at once connect its loss with me."
"Yes," said Margaret, "but what made him take the short cut? In fact, what made him think you had gone, and gone that way?"
"The first day I rode with him I asked about that path," replied Inez.
"Why, Miss Arundel," said Egerton, smiling, "you appear to expect Inez to know every idea and motive of this man."
"So she did, sir, know every turn and thought of his mind. She watched him and studied him systematically. She has a turn that way, I think."
A slight shudder passed over Inez's frame, and perhaps to turn the conversation, she said, "The Rochesters are out of town, of course, Angelo?"
"All of them," he replied. "I had a letter this morning from Marion. They are gone to Scarborough with the St. Johns, Lady Alice and Arabella included."
"But, Angelo, I thought Cuthbert was at Yellowfield," said Inez.
"He was," replied Angelo; "but he got himself in a row there by attempting the confessional. He nearly got mobbed in the marketplace, and so was obliged to leave, and his friend Courtenay is trying to get him installed somewhere else."
"Is Mr. Courtenay a Puseyite, then?" asked Margaret.
"No," replied Egerton, "he doesn't care one way or the other much; but they are friends of long standing, despite their different years. And there is much in old ties."
"Who knows that so well as me?" murmured the Castilian.
"We will have them all at Falcontower this Christmas, Inez—all," said Egerton, and she knew he meant Julian.
After a pause Egerton suddenly rose, and leaning against the mantel-piece, said, "Miss Arundel, as I shall be engaged to-morrow, I must speak what I have to speak to-night, and pardon me if I speak plainly. What are your plans for your future life?"
"The same as they ever were, sir, and as they were even at school—to leave Stanfeld and go out us a governess. I still intend to do so."
Angelo and the Castilian exchanged a quiet smile.
"I am twenty years your senior," said Egerton, "almost old enough to be your father. You have done an incalculable service to me through Inez, and in consequence have been thrown afterwards utterly friendless on my care, at seventeen, too young to struggle with a hard world; and in right of these three things I claimed some right to control you and your actions. Before I say any more I will ask you a simple question. Who do you think would take a girl of sixteen or seventeen as governess? This child of mine would stand an almost better chance. Moreover, you are far too pretty for any lady who has grown up sons and daughters to take; you are too sensible, I know, to misconstrue or take offence at my words. Finally, as far as I have any power to influence you and any right to control you, I put my positive and unqualified vote upon your plan. Instead I offer you two courses. You can, if you please, return to Stanfeld's, or to your old governess, Mrs. Ashton, and I will make you independent in either case; save you from any mortification or privation, by a yearly allowance, sufficient for your personal wants."
"Sir," said Margaret, "will you tell me the other course?"
"I will. You have decided as I know you would," said Egerton, with a pleased smile. "The other course is to remain with us as Inez's companion. Do not be afraid I am making the situation for you, and so fret yourself. I had before intended to engage you for her. She needs a companion of your age, and who so fitting a one as the friend who has won her love and gratitude? You will earn your right to be here—you have earned it already by what you have done for us; and tell her, Inez," he added, smiling, "that two hundred a year is not more than she will want, living as we do. Margaret, I await your answer."
Margaret burst into tears and hid her face on Inez's breast.
"Oh, Inez," she said, "it is too kind! I don't want anything better than to stay always with you."
"It is done," said Egerton; "she has chosen her course. Good night, Margaret, you have chosen as I knew you would—independence."
He held her hand for a moment in his, then tenderly kissed Inez's brow, and the two girls left the room together.
And where all these months had been the fair golden haired Isbel Rochester?—sunning herself through the gay summer with bright enjoyment of a heart that had as yet known but little of the reality of life. They were now at Scarborough with the St. John's for the autumn.
It was morning, so early before breakfast that as yet the beach was almost deserted, when Tom Courtenay and his young cousin sauntered slowly along the sands.
"I wish," said Isbel, "that Inez de Caldara was with us, I have not seen her since we left school."
"She hasn't been at home; I rather think she has been staying with some friends," said Tom. "Do you know where you are going to spend the Christmas?"
"Who, momma and I?" she asked. "I don't know; perhaps at Cousin William Courtenay's."
"I think not," said Tom; "for when I saw Egerton in town some time ago, he said something about having us all at Falcontower."
"Did he! Oh, how capital!" exclaimed Isbel. "I hope he will ask us to that beautiful old place; only I hope"—and she lowered her voice—"that the Reverend Cuthbert will not be there."
Tom fairly burst out laughing at this very confidential whisper. "Why not, child?" said he. "What is your intense dislike to our Puseyite article? I'm sure we have many a laugh over him."
"Yes. Really, Tom, we are too bad; we tease him dreadfully."
"I've been searching for you, daughter mine," said Marion, coming up with a letter in her hand. "The post has just come in, and there is a letter from Angelo Egerton. He and Inez are at the sea side with Miss Arundel, who was at Ashton School."
"What, Margaret Arundel?" exclaimed Isbel.
"Yes," replied Marion. "She has left her uncle, and was going out as a governess, but Angelo took her as a companion to Inez. But that is not what I wanted to tell you. He asks us all to Falcontower for Christmas—us and the St. Johns, and how many more I don't know; but he writes that his ward—that young Surrey—is coming over in November."
She did not tell them that he had written that which was new life to the heart which ached and yearned for her son, and yet to any stranger his words contained little enough:—"The result, dear Marion, of Inez's visit to Forest Moor makes it more safe for Julian to venture here. He is therefore coming in November, and will remain quietly at Falcontower till we all go down at Christmas."
"How nice it will be," said Isbel, "but, mamma dear, is our Puseyite friend asked too?"
"You naughty girl!" replied Marion, "I know what that means. Yes, he is going. Angelo couldn't ask his brother and mother very well without asking him."
Isbel and Tom exchanged such a look that Marion instantly said, "You two are hatching some mischief between you. Now, just come into breakfast, and let Mr. St. John alone."
"I hope there will be a good lot of people," said Isbel. "I wonder how Inez will play hostess; she is only fifteen."
"In actual years," muttered Marion, with a heavy sigh; "older by far in bitter experience. I wonder what she is doing at this moment."
At that moment, though Marion know it not, the Castilian was standing on the beach on the south coast, leaning on the arm of the stately Angelo Egerton; and now she, who when alone had stood so firm and steady in a position of danger and trouble, leaned clingingly on the strong man, instinctively, with woman's devotion, resting on and trusting implicitly in the strength and protection of one whom she felt to be her superior physically and mentally, and whom her deep love idolised and deified into a being utmost to be worshipped.
"Where are your thoughts, Angelo?" she said, softly—"far away, over the wide seas?"
His glance came back to her, and rested tenderly on the young face.
"No, Inez, nearer home. My thoughts were of you. Ah! little one, if ever I should lose you, life would be very dark—very, very dark!"
She clasped her right hand on the one which rested on his arm, and that simple action spoke volumes.
"I wish Julian were with us now," she said, after a long silence.
"He will land at Dover in November," replied Egerton; "and you and I will go and meet him, and take him in safety to Falcontower."
"But, Angelo," she said, "will not Tom know him again."
"No," replied Egerton, "he has been dead to him nine years. Remember also how changed Julian is from the youth Tom knew; and even if any faint resemblance crosses him, it will never strike him that Rothesay the painter and Julian D'Arcy are the same. But come, now, we had better return, for Margaret will be up by this time, and waiting for us."
They moved slowly away, loathe even then to leave the sea.
Eveline Vivian for many days knew nothing but what her father chose to tell her, and that was wide of the truth. He told her that Jesuita and Margaret had run away, and that Arthur had gone on sudden business to London. She did not believe him, but she dared not say so; and then she heard rumors of the murder of Miss de Castro, and her discovery by a gentleman who called himself her guardian, but whose name was unknown in the village, and both she and Stanfeld not unnaturally imagined him to be the same gentleman who had brought Jesuita to the station. But somehow or other Eveline's mind instantly connected the attempted murder with her husband. She struggled against it, but in vain; and she grew nervous and fearful. Why didn't Arthur write? If he was in danger she would go to him, though he had so rudely crushed her love. "Where was he?" she asked her father, but he knew no more than she did now.
"Where, then, was Margaret?—she could write to her."
He answered her angrily, "He didn't know or care where she was, and she could know nothing of it."
And so, in restless anxiety and miserable uncertainty, a month passed by. She could gather nothing in the village, or even at Mrs. Warren's; she could only tell her that the young foreign lady and Miss Arundel had been ten days at her house, and then the gentleman had taken them both away. She didn't know his name, but he was a tall dark gentleman, with very black hair and mustaches, and very like the young lady. She knew nothing of who had stabbed her, the young lady would not say, but she (Mrs. Warren) thought that a detective was searching for him. No one in the village had even a suspicion as to who the murderer might be.
It was one night about six weeks after the attempted murder that poor Eveline sat by her chamber window. Her lamp was on the table, but she did not undress; she had seated herself there, listening half unconsciously to the autumn night wind, which rustled the leaves of the vine which climbed up the trellis outside, with her thoughts and heart far away, poor thing, with the man who so little deserved her. Twelve o'clock had just struck, when a small stone was thrown up against the glass. Strangely the idea instantly crossed her that it was her husband, and, gently opening the window, she leant out.
"Arthur—husband!" she said, softly.
"Hush! open the window, Evie, wide; I am coming up."
She saw a figure below climb easily up the trellis, and the next moment Arthur Vivian stood in the room. He walked to the door and locked it, then put-to the shutters, while she stood watching him with parted lips and clasped hands, and something of almost terror in her aspect.
"What are you looking so frightened at?" demanded Vivian, roughly.
"Oh, Arthur!" said his wife, "why do you come here this way, stealing in as if you feared the day."
"I do fear the day—I am hunted like a felon!" said Arthur, fiercely. "I come here to you because your evidence against me isn't legal, and because you are fool enough to care for me still."
"Oh, Arthur, Arthur! how can you?" she cried, with bitter grief. "Are you not content with breaking my heart, and must you crush it under your heel?"
There was such anguish in her tone as for a moment touched even him, and his face softened with something of remorse as he said, "Can you love me still—even now?"
"I do—I do!" she cried. "Oh, Arthur, let me lay my head on your breast, and feel once more that I am the wife you used to love!"
"Eveline!" he said, keeping her back with his hand, "would you rest your head on the breast of a murderer—touch the hand that is red with blood? My hand is red with the blood of Jesuita de Castro."
"It is not!" she said, vehemently, "It is stainless. Jesuita de Castro lives still."
Arthur lifted his hands suddenly upward, and cried, "Oh, God!—if there is a God—am I to be thankful or not?"
His wife stood in horror-struck surprise. "Arthur," said she, "can you doubt which to be?"
"Yes, I do doubt," he replied. "If there is a God, I call down his heaviest curses on the head of that false Spaniard! Don't touch me, Eveline; for though I never loved you, you are my wife, and my hand is not as stainless as yours."
"I will touch you, stainless or not. You are my husband," she said, throwing her arms round him; "let me be with you—let me share your danger and flight."
"And get me taken. No," said Vivian, flinging her off. "I came here to get some of my property, not to cumber myself with a wife. I am going away; but whenever I want money I shall come to you. And now listen, and say if you want to go with me. I was a murderer when I married you! I stabbed that Spaniard because she knows it."
Eveline cowered on the floor, but still tried to clasp his hand. With a fierce oath he flung her back, and she sank senseless on the ground.
When she recovered, she was alone, lying on the bed; and turning her face to the wall, the poor thing wept as if she would weep out her broken heart there; and then she lay still and quiet from the very exhaustion of grief.
The wife of a murderer! The word rang in in her ears like a knell—the very silence of night rang with it—and then all her broken love rushed back on her heart, and died there. If he had uttered one kind word, or given her one kind look, she would still have clung to him, notwithstanding the wreck he had made her love; but he had not done so. He had trampled on her in every way, he had spurned her, crushed her, flung her away, and avowed, with a sort of fierce, taunting cruelty, that he had wedded her with a red hand; and it was more than even woman's love could bear, and her love died though it broke her heart in doing so. She was startled by a knocking at the door, and a harsh voice crying, "Open—open the door, Eveline."
Trembling every limb, the poor girl arose, and, opening the door, faced her father.
"I heard a man's voice here," he said roughly. "Don't lie, girl. Who was it? Who was it, I say?"
She dared not refuse to say, yet she feared to betray her husband by replying; but he grasped her arm, and with an oath bade her answer.
"It was Arthur!" she faltered; "only Arthur."
"Ha! the villain, was it!" exclaimed Stanfeld. "I have him at last."
He was springing away, but she flung her arms round him, and detained him, "Father, father!" she cried; "you shall not leave here to—"
He was a passionate, vindictive man; and flinging off her arms with a fiercely passionate oath, he struck her,—yes, struck his own daughter, the child of the dead wife whose heart he had broken.
"Oh, father! oh, father!" So she moaned, and wrung her hands when he was gone. So she moaned in her despair and misery for many a long hour; but when the morning came she was gone, and there was only the following letter, which the servant gave to Stanfeld:—
"The last tie is broken between you and me. You
have always been harsh, always held me an incumbrance; and now that
my husband has left me, the only link that bound me to Forest Moor
is gone, and your own hand has snapped the last link that bound me
to you. If ever we meet again, it must be your seeking, not that
There were tear stains on this letter, but not a line to give a trace of her; probably she had followed her recreant husband. Dashing down the letter, Stanfeld put his foot on it, exclaiming, "Let her go! I hated her mother, and I hate her and her sister! All are well rid of—all are dead to me for ever!"
And the echo of the old deserted room answered back "for ever!" as if it saw beyond them the grave and uttered the words of prophecy.
* * *
In the neat comfortable little parlor at the back of his shop sat John Everard, looking hardly altered from what he had been five years ago, save that his hair might have thinned a little, and perhaps he had some need now of the gold spectacles; but in appearance he was the same as ever—kind, hearty, and warm-hearted. And yet he had had sorrows—who has not? He had, early in life, lost his wife; and his daughter, round whom every fibre of his heart had twined, had, as we have seen, left him and fled—with a man he knew to be a villain. That was nearly four-and-twenty years ago, and since then he had been alone; he had never seen her again, and though he knew she had had a daughter (of Theresa's birth he knew nothing), he had never seen the child, and knew not even if she was alive until about seven years before, when he had seen the announcement of her marriage with Arthur Vivian Esq., in the papers, and it was then he made a will, so tying up to her and hers his property.
Somehow or other his thoughts were even now going back to the memory of other days when little feet had pattered about the old London house, and a child's little face had peered above the counter, and the old man's heart ached for the child he had lost, and warmly indeed would he have welcomed that child's unknown daughter. So he sat in that old dark panelled room, thinking, when his foreman opened the door and came in contrary to his usual custom; for though he had been there thirty years, he rarely entered his master's private room without knocking. But now he did, and said in a whisper, "Mr. Everard, there's a lady asking for you; and, lawks, sir, just to see her! So like Miss Evie, that it might be just her come home again."
The old man took off his spectacles, and rose, trembling and holding by his chair. "Ask her," said he—"ask her her name."
The foreman went back, and then the old gunsmith heard a voice that thrilled through him, say, "Mrs. Arthur Vivian," and the name of Eveline burst from his lips. She heard it, and the next minute she was kneeling at the old man's feet. "Grandfather, grandfather!" she cried.
So like—oh, so like the child he had loved and lost that the long years vanished, and he saw only in the kneeling form his daughter coming to him again for the love and shelter she had found nowhere else; and clasping his trembling arms about her, he let her weep her very heart out on his breast, while his own tears fell thick and fast on the poor weary head that at last found rest.
"My daughter—my Evie!" said he. "Come at last—home at last!"
She lifted her face, then seeing what he thought, she said touchingly, "Not she—her child! Oh, grandfather, love me a little for my dead mother's sake, for I am fatherless, and worse than widowed."
And the old man, as he held her to his heart, and heard her sad tale, felt that he had recovered more than his lost daughter; and that in her stricken child she lived again, refined, purified by the heavy hand of sorrow and suffering. Perhaps heaven, in its mercy and goodness, had so chastened her.
The long vacation—and a very long one it is—came to an end at last; the Lord Chancellor opened the courts again; and Parliament met to be prorogued till February; and business men again returned to London.
Julian had written that he and Surrey would land at Dover on the 10th of November by the earliest boat from Calais; and therefore, the night before, Egerton and Inez went down to Dover, so that they were ready to meet the boat. There, sure enough, were the two travellers; and as they stepped ashore, they were met by Sir Angelo and Inez. No one, to see them meet, and bravely shake hands, would have guessed the deep emotion in the heart of each; for none could see the iron strength of that apparently cold clasp. Julian could not, if he would, have spoken; for the crowd of memories that welled up in the heart of the exile, as he once more stood on English soil, was too much for speech; but it was not till they reached the hotel, and were alone—for Inez and Walter purposely left them—not till Angelo grasped both his hands and in his native tongue bade him welcome to home and old England, that the long controlled emotions of the exile's heart gave way; and the strong man bowed his head and wept like a child.
But both were calm when Walter and Inez de Caldara returned, and only her tender woman's eye, with the quickness of deep affection, detected traces of emotion which did manhood no shame.
"Have you brought home everything," she said, as she too bade him welcome, "so that you will never go away again?"
"Everything, dear Inez, pictures included," he replied.
"And," said Egerton, "I will leave Inez to take care of you while Walter and I go and see about getting your property through the Custom-house. It will take two or three days; but I'll leave Burns to see to it, for we must reach Falcontower to-night."
That evening the ancient gates of Falcontower Castle rolled back to receive the exile to the home of his childhood.
For one day only Egerton and his ward remained, and on the following morning they left the north, and returned to London.
In the meantime the case of Egerton v. Stanfeld came on to be heard. The court was pretty well filled; and as the evidence was principally to be taken in person, Walter and Egerton were there with their solicitor, Mr. Seymour, and Stephen Stanfeld came in with his attorney, a certain Mr. George Verney. The defence made was that Walter Surrey was not the son of Colonel Surrey; it being asserted by Stanfeld, and he held to it, that he had information of the said colonel's death without children. But such a defence had not a leg to stand upon. It was proved that Colonel Surrey had a son; and the letter was produced, written to Miss Norman after his engagement, telling her who and what he was. The certificate of his marriage with Gertrude Norman was produced, with the certificate of their child's birth, and a certified copy of the register of the colonel's death, which had occurred at Calcutta.
Not to weary with details—the evidence was so clear for the plaintiff that the Vice-chancellor decided against the defendant, and made the order removing him from the trust, with some very strong remarks on his conduct. Stephen Stanfeld left the court a ruined man, and if it had taken place a few years later, he would have been sent across the seas under the Fraudulent Trustees Act. As it was, he was of course utterly unable to refund the immense sum he was liable for, and he was obliged to pass through the Insolvent Court; while Egerton took possession of Forest Moor for his ward, intending in the spring to have the whole estate thoroughly looked after, from the Grange to the laborer's cottage.
Willingly would Theresa have gone to her father; but he wrote to her, commanding her to keep away. He was henceforth dead to her and Eveline, who he said had "gone abroad with Arthur—curse them!" And this was not contradicted, for Eveline said to her grandfather, "She is happy where she is. Better without such a sister as I am—better that the murderer's wife should be dead to her. She could not be happy with you or me."
And so Theresa was left standing alone. Yes, alone; her home, such as it was, gone, crumbled away into dust, as a skeleton, long enclosed, does when exposed to light and air. She learned—and learned through the public papers—that her father was a swindler, an insolvent, a ruined man alike in name and estate; and then came his letter ignoring her from that day, her and her sister; "they were best without him, as he was without them." The letter concluded:
"I hated your mother, and I never loved her
children. For you—you chose your own course, and must abide
by it. For Eveline—she fled one night that Arthur came, and
where she is I neither know nor care. She may have gone after
him—it is most likely. Forest Moor is wrested from me; you
and Eveline have seen me for the last time—you now hear from
me for the last time; henceforth to you I am dead. This is the last
With a perfectly white face, the friendless girl went straight to Lady Alice St. John, showed her the letter, and told her her whole story, with hard, dry eyes, and hard, unchanging manner. Alice St. John saw into the child's heart as plainly as if it had been an open book, and she held out her arms.
"My poor child," she said; "oh, my poor child."
Theresa knelt at Alice's feet—laid her head on her lap, and wept as if her heart would break.
So for a few moments Alice let her weep, and then the sweet pitying face bent over the homeless girl, and a soft pitying kiss fell on her brow.
"My darling," said Lady Alice, "look up. My dear child, you know that neither I nor mine will value you the less for this."
Theresa rose calm now, and taking the letter, tore it in half and flung it in the fire.
"So I wipe out all ties that once bound me to him," she cried. "So I sweep away all memory of a home that never was a home, and a father who never was a father, whose very name shall be mine no more. Call me henceforth Theresa Herbert."
"My child," said Lady Alice, "would you destroy the memory of your sister?"
"No, oh no," she replied; "but I do not think she has gone after or with her husband. She has more likely fled to our Grandfather, Mr. Everard, the gunsmith."
"If so, would she not have written to you?" asked Lady Alice.
"I don't know—I can't tell," said Theresa. "Arthur Vivian may have forbidden her; there never was any love lost between him and me. If you will spare me for a couple of hours, Lady Alice, I will go to Bond-street; for though my grandfather never saw me, I must hear something of Eveline."
"Go, my dear, and God speed you, for we leave here shortly for Falcontower. Take the carriage," and Lady Alice rang the bell, and ordered the carriage.
Thus it came about that a brougham stopped before John Everard's shop, and a lady, closely veiled, stepped out, and entering the shop, addressed the ancient foreman, "Is Mr. Everard within?"
"No, ma'am, he is out," was the reply.
"Is there a young lady living here?" she asked, "a Mrs. Vivian?"
"Yes, ma'am, there is my master's grand-daughter," said the foreman. "Mrs. Vivian is now at home."
"I must see her—and at once," said Theresa. The foreman bowed, rang a little bell, and a maid-servant appeared, who conducted Theresa up stairs to a very pretty drawing-room.
"Tell Mrs. Vivian that Miss Herbert wishes to see her," said Theresa.
The girl left the room, and Theresa threw up her veil and stood waiting. A slow faltering step came along outside, and Arthur Vivian's forsaken wife entered.
"Theresa!" she cried. One spring, and poor Eveline was in her sister's arms. And then they told their griefs to each other, for Eveline, ever weak and clinging, must lean on something, and Theresa must have sympathy, and so in mutual confidence they found mutual relief and comfort.
John Everard came in shortly afterwards, and the dear good old man welcomed the second grandchild almost as he had done the first, and wanted her to live with him also; but Theresa knew well that it was better for all parties that she should not; besides, she could not honorably leave her situation; so she said she would remain there. All she asked was a place in her grandfather's heart, and a corner of his hearth as a home.
Thus once more the light shone on her path, and thus Theresa Herbert was not left standing alone.
It was a fine frosty morning of a bright sunny day in December that the carriage which was bearing Mrs. Rochester and her daughter and Cousin Tom to Falcontower neared its destination. Isbel had never been there before, and everything had an interest for her.
"Oh, mamma!" she exclaimed, as they entered the quaint old town of Falcontower, "do look at that dear old inn, the Egerton Arms," pointing to a wandering old inn facing the sea, and which had stood for ages.
"Ah," said Marion, "the walls of that inn concealed a lord of Falcontower once, when soldiers were searching his own castle for him in vain."
"Who was that, mamma?" asked Isbel.
"Angelo's great grandfather," replied her mother. "Sir James Egerton was out in the 'forty-five' you know, and after the Pretender fled back to France, he came here, and was actually in that inn while the royal soldiers were searching the castle. You will see his picture up yonder."
Here the carriage stopped at the gates of the Park, of which on this side there was about a mile to traverse. They were obliged to go slowly, for all the way the road was a steep ascent on the right, far below rolled the sea, and they could hear the sullen measured roar of the breakers as they crashed on the rocks and beach beneath, while to the left, as far as the eye could reach, it rested enchanted on forest-clad heights with giant oaks, and waving pines, and and wooded valleys, and deep and rocky gorges. It was indeed a noble domain, and right noble too was the stately old castle which now burst upon their view.
"Why," said Isbel, when she could speak, "it has all its fortifications, just as in:—
'That golden antique time
When knights and nobles for a lady's love
Would spear the dragon.'"
"Yes," said her mother; "though it has stood nearly eight centuries, and many a siege, its successive owners have cared so well for it, that there's little or nothing of ruin about it. Look at its lofty stern old donjon, with the proud banner of a proud house waving over it."
"What an impregnable fortress!" said Isbel.
Marion smiled, and Tom said, "Strong as it looks, a smart cannonading of modern artillery would soon make a ruin of that grand old baronial pile."
Isbel said no more, but as the carriage rolled under the massive gateway, and she glanced at the grim walls and frowning towers and battlements that rose up on all sides, she could not help saying, "I shouldn't like to be a prisoner here, though."
The carriage passed through another gateway into an immense quadrangle, and drew up before the magnificent entrance, where instead of mail-clad knights, Inez and Egerton received them, and gave them "welcome to old Falcontower," and Inez herself took Marion to her room, and as she left her at the door, whispered, "I must go to receive the other guests who have arrived, and are in their rooms; but when you are ready go to Angelo's private study (you know your way), Julian is there."
Knew the way—of course she did, and through the ups and downs of dark galleries and stairways gained the door.
Julian was in that study; at last she was to meet the son she had parted from nine years before, and now that moment had arrived, she stopped, trembling, almost fearing to enter the room; it was only a moment, and then she went in. There he stood; changed as he was, she knew him, and the emotion of years seemed crowded into the single moment she paused, ere she sprang forwards to the arms that held her so close.
"Julian! my boy, my son! my worshipped boy!"
All the anguish of that long, weary separation was forgotten, and in that moment she knew, felt only that she once more clasped her son, her idolised boy, to her mother's heart; for the very mother who bore him could not have loved him with a greater love than his step-mother did. He let her weep the happy tears that might at last flow, and his own breast heaved, but then he held her off.
"My beautiful mother, my own sweet mother," he said, in a low voice; "it seemed as if we were never again to meet on this side of the grave, and now it must be by stealth as if it were wrong."
"But, oh, Julian," she said, "for my sake, if not for your own, remember that in public we are nothing but strangers."
"That is the hardest to bear," said Julian, bitterly; "to be compelled to treat you, and Angelo, and Inez as comparative strangers."
"Dear Julian, my dear son," said his mother, again winding her arms round him, "hope and trust that all will come right; it is begun, if it had not, you could not now be here; and though the murderer has escaped, he will surely be taken."
"Look at me, mother, and tell me if I am so changed that no one will recognise me, not even Tom Courtenay?"
Tom had known a beardless youth of eighteen, with a fair complexion and golden hair. Now, in his place there stood a tall, strong man of seven-and-twenty, with a bronzed complexion, a dark mustache on the lip, and hair which, if it had retained any of its golden light, had deepened into a rich dark brown, totally different to the sunny locks of the youth. The eyes were the same; but the very features had changed. They had grown sterner, more defined; and care and sorrow had not left scathless the once smooth brow. The very smile was sadder, and his voice had deepened and mellowed. And as Marion gazed on the face of her son, she felt that none would recognise in the somewhat foreign-looking Julian Rothesay the Julian D'Arcy they had known as a boy and youth.
"You are so changed, my darling boy," she said, "that even Tom will not know you."
The door opened softly, and Inez glided in. "Angelo sent me," she said, with a gentle smile. "Isbel has missed you, aunt Marion; go back, and you, Julian, come with me another way. We must enter the drawing-room by the boudoir." She pushed Marion gently from the room, and came back to Julian, "Now, you'll remember that I must 'Mr. Rothesay' you."
"And must I 'miss' you?" said Julian.
"No," said she; "because Angelo and I were so intimate with you abroad when I was quite a child."
"So, as you are not yet grown up, I may still 'Inez' you," added Julian, smiling.
"Yes, and I'll tell you this," said Inez, "no one here understands Italian but you, I, Angelo, and Marion; even Isbel doesn't, for she learnt German instead, and, as you have been so long in Italy, it will not be counted rude now and then to speak to you in Italian, but rather a courtesy to you."
"Thank you for the hint," said Julian. "Now come."
They reached the drawing-room soon after Mrs. Rochester, and then Angelo introduced Julian to his guests, of whom as yet there were none but whom we know: Lady Alice St. John, and her sons and niece, with Theresa, the Rochesters, Walter Surrey, and Roland Aubrey, whom, having met in town at Louis St. John's, Egerton had asked to Falcontower as a return for his courtesy to his ward.
"What a false, lying girl this Inez is!" it may be said. "It's not right or moral; no good can ever come of lying and deceit."
Now, we are afraid that this is a point where, as the old lady said, "Paul and I differ," and we must perforce defend our heroine. This is not a perfect world, and in this world there is no way of meeting deceit but by deceit; it is one of the necessary evils which sin entails on the earth. A murder had been committed by one man, that another—an innocent man—was suffering under the conviction of, an exile, a fugitive for it; and the only way to meet such an artful villain as Vivian, who had so long defied justice, was by an art and subtlety superior to his own. Which was the most monstrous wrong—that an innocent man should so suffer, or that Inez should act as she did?
Margaret Arundel had thought of it often, and of the share she had had in the systematic deception of her Spanish friend. She spoke of it the morning of Christmas Eve as she and Inez stood on the ramparts which looked down on the sea.
"Inez," said she, "I could never have done what you have done."
The Castilian was leaning against a partially ruined battlement, looking gloomily out into the blue expanse of ocean. At Margaret's words, she said, "What do you mean—that I was wrong?"
"No, not that exactly, Inez," was the reply; "for though, in strict morality, I suppose it was wrong, somehow I can't help thinking it right."
"Right or wrong, I don't care," said Inez, recklessly. "The wrong is all my own, and I'll take that chance."
"Would you go through it all again?" said Margaret.
"Yes, a thousandfold," replied Inez.
"What!" said Margaret; "again through that night in the cloisters; more than all, through that horrible ten minutes on the river's strand, when you knew Vivian meant to murder you."
"Let justice be done, though the heavens should fall," said Inez de Caldara; "it is a sentiment worthy of a Roman."
There was a short silence, Isbel now joined them, saying, "Might I ask you to show us the picture-gallery? We have heard so much of it."
"With pleasure," was the reply. "Ah! here is Walter Surrey."
Surrey approached, smiled, and offered her his arm, and taking it Inez led the way to the magnificent picture gallery—a perfect gallery of art; sculptures and painting, ancient and modern; master-pieces of all ages were here gathered together. There seemed scarce a painter or sculptor, from ancient Greece to the present day, but had contributed some gem of art to it, and while Walter was bending over a classic vase, Isbel was standing entranced before an exquisite painting of Sir Thomas Lawrence's, representing a beautiful woman in early youth.
"Who is this?" almost whispered Isbel.
"It is Helen Rothesay, Lady Egerton, Sir Reginald's mother. She died young. This was painted from a crayon of her."
"Poor thing! And who are those two—in this one large frame? What a beautiful couple!"
She might well say so. It was a picture of a handsome man in a Highland bonnet and plaid of the Stewart tartan, and leaning on his arm was a young and most beautiful Italian lady, with one of those faces that, like Charles the First's, seemed to have a heavy doom written in them.
"Who are these?" she next enquired.
"That is Sir James Egerton," said Inez. "He was out in the 'forty-five,' and died abroad in the service of Prince Charles, while his son was secretly brought up at the castle."
"And this fair Italian—"
"Was his wife, Leonora D'Este. She was following her husband into exile, but the vessel was wrecked on the French coast. Her corpse was found and secretly brought here and buried in the cloisters. There is a broken column on her tomb."
"How comes Sir James in that dress?" asked Isbel.
"His mother was the daughter of a Sir Archibald Stewart, who had lands in Blair Athole. That is how it is."
"I should have told Sir James's for an Egerton face," observed Walter. "I observe in all those portraits a strong family likeness, from that grim old knight of Norman William's to Sir Angelo; they have all the same full gray eye and somewhat Roman cast of face; they have been a dark race and a handsome one."
"Ay," said the Castilian, passing slowly on, "and an unquiet one; few of them have died in their beds."
"Indeed!" said Isbel; "but is there no portrait of Sir Angelo?"
"Yes, just near," was the reply.
A step more, and they stood before Julian's masterly portrait of Egerton, which was hanging next that of his beautiful and ill-fated Spanish mother. On the other side of his there was a blank space. Walter Surrey stood for a long time looking at both, then glanced several times from the portraits to Inez, and then said, "Miss Rochester, look at these three faces; how alike they are. Surely, Miss de Caldara, this dark lady was some relation to you and your guardian!"
Inez dropped her eyes from Jesuita's picture, and said, "Certainly. She was his mother, and my second cousin. Her name was Caldara."
She passed on as she spoke, but the sunlight from a window gleamed for a moment on a few gray hairs amidst Inez's raven tresses, and Walter, as he saw them, remembered with a pain of self-reproach what before he had forgotten—that he had heard that Lady Egerton had come darkly by her death.
Stephen Stanfeld left the Insolvent Court a ruined, childless, homeless man. One child had fled from him—he neither knew nor cared where, and the other he had deliberately flung away, less friendless in the wide world without than with him. He turned his back on the mighty city, a man whose own hand had made him at sixty utterly alone and friendless in the world. Not even a memory of a being who had loved him, and whom he had loved. Where did the man whose whole life had been a tissue of wrong pass that Christmas night? Wandering like a ghost about the desolate, deserted mansion that for nearly forty years had been his—not even a single light there now. Every window was shut up and barred; the weeds grew more rank, the hemlock more tall and straggling; the few flowers Arthur's wife had been used to train and tend were dead now, and nothing but desolation reigned in the lonely old Grange, where some fifty years before old Herbert Surrey had kept open house, and, later, banished his only son from—all dead; and now the old place had passed once more into the hands of the Surreys, represented by the son of Armitage Surrey; and as Stephen Stanfeld stood beneath the tall trees and gazed on all he had lost, he lifted his hand and cursed aloud the name of Angelo Egerton, the man who had wrested so fair a domain from his hands.
"Ay, curse away!" said a voice. "Curses, they say, recoil on them as speak them." And a tall, portly man stood before him. "What are you doing on these grounds, eh?"
"What I choose!" replied Stanfeld. "Who are you, fellow?"
"Maybe an honester man than Stephen Stanfeld," was the reply. "My name's Sam Warren, and I'm left in charge here by the gentleman you so liberally provide with a warm place in eternity. You're trespassing here, sir, and must leave."
"Do you know, fellow, that I was master here?" said Stanfeld, fiercely.
"Certainly, sir, you were; but Sir Angelo Egerton is master here now, and he has placed me in charge, so be kind enough to walk away, sir. I don't wish to be rude, but duty is duty."
Stanfeld turned on his heel, and walked away—a homeless wanderer—made so by his own hand alone.
Where that snowy winter's night was Arthur Vivian? While the good old yule log blazed in the immense hall of the keep at Falcontower Castle—while a gay and happy crowd merrily danced the 'Sir Roger de Coverley'—while the sad face of Jesuita de Caldara looked mournfully down on the many bright young faces, her assassin was standing before John Everard's door, closely wrapped in a heavy mantle, and with his hat slouched low, but still worn with a certain jaunty air, as if he knew—as he did—that he was handsome. He stood there hesitating whether to knock boldly, or watch an opportunity of finding out if his wife were there. He wanted money, and he knew he could get it from her, if she had it. He knocked at last at the private door, which was opened by a middle-aged woman.
"Does a lady live here of the name of Vivian?" he said—"Mrs. Vivian?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Everard's grand-daughter."
"Will you be kind enough to tell her that a gentleman—an old friend—wishes to see her at once, and privately?"
"Step into this room, sir. What name shall I say?"
"None—merely what I said."
The woman retired, and in a few minutes his wife stood before him, looking very ill, but firmer than he had ever yet seen her.
"Do you know," she said, putting out her hands to keep him back, "that there is a price on your head—that you are pursued? Do you court death, that you venture here? No, keep back—do not touch me."
"Evie, Evie!" he said. "Is it my wife who speaks? You used to love me. Are you not still Arthur Vivian's wife?"
"That dark night," she said, still keeping him back, "when you told me you never loved me—when you told me you had wedded me with a red hand—when you flung me from your bosom with fierce oaths, my love died. Your wife—yes, I am Arthur Vision's wife; but I am not to be brutally flung away one day and wooed back at his pleasure. Arthur Vivian, I know you now."
"Eveline, hear me, hear me!" he implored. "I am a wanderer on the earth, an exile, a proscribed man, hunted from city to city, from land to land; houseless in the dark dreadful night, without the means to evade present want, or live from day to day. Eveline, will you let your husband be taken for want of means to leave the country for ever?"
"Swear to me that you will never let me see your face again," said Eveline; "that the few months I have to live shall be passed in peace, and I will give you the means to fly."
"I swear it," he replied.
His wife threw a heavy purse on the table; he took it up, moved towards the door, and then paused. "What do you mean by the few months you have to live?" he asked.
"Look at me, Arthur Vivian," said his wife. "I am dying! One kind word from you that night would have saved me."
"Eveline, Eveline! have I not enough blood on my head, but you must lay yours on me, too!"
"Arthur, farewell," said Eveline. "Oh, God have mercy on you!"
"God!" he murmured, as he stood once more in the darkness and falling snow, and raised that face of dark and agonised beauty upward. "I dare not believe in God—it were to drag me into hell. My only hope is that 'after death is nothingness.'"
"AND now, ladies and gentlemen," said Angelo Egerton, the morning after Christmas Day, "how do you propose to spend to-day? It is fine and frosty for those who like to go out, and for those who don't, there is plenty indoors."
"Put it to the House," said Tom Courtenay. "I move that the speaker do order out the horses for a general gallop over the heights. Come, ladies and gentlemen, those who second me, up hands."
All hands were held up save those of Lady Alice St. John, Julian Rothesay, and Egerton, and the latter said, "Well, I see the vote is general. I must beg you all to excuse me, for I have business to attend to; but Inez will go with you as guide. She knows the district as well as I do."
"Am I to order your horse, Julian?" asked Inez, with her hand on the door.
"No, I remain with Angelo," he replied.
"Are any of the ladies particular about what horses they ride?" added the young hostess.
"Mine are, my dear," said Lady Alice; "Arabella and Theresa are timid riders, if you have any quiet horses."
"Oh, yes, they shall have the phaeton ponies," said Inez; "They are swift, but perfectly gentle."
She left the room to order the horses, and the ladies betook themselves to don their riding habits. Inez was down in less than ten minutes, and went off to the great quadrangle, where the gentlemen and horses were waiting.
"Where are you going to take us, Inez?" said Louis St. John; "east, west, north, or south?"
"North, I think," she replied.
"Take them round by the Devil's Rock, Inez," said Egerton. "Ah, here are the ladies."
The whole party were soon mounted, the castle gates were flung wide, and with Inez at their head, they swept through, and descended the steep hill on which the castle stood, taking their way along the cliffs. Egerton and Julian ascended to the wall and sauntered round to the north rampart.
"Look!" said Angelo, throwing his arm over Julian's shoulder as they stood side by side; "Inez has set them in a canter already."
"Ay," said Julian; "and Walter and Miss Herbert are last."
"How's that?" said Egerton, uneasily, "I mounted him well."
"He probably likes the lady's company," observed the artist, glancing at Angelo's dark face.
"Too much, I thought, last night," said Egerton, with a half laugh; "but it may be a mere boyish fancy for almost the first pretty English face he has seen much of."
"Are you afraid of his seriously caring for her? Don't you want it?"
"No," said Egerton, very decidedly. "You know who she really is?"
"Yes," replied Julian. "Stephen Stanfeld's daughter."
"His child, and sister-in-law to a murderer," said Egerton; "her sister is Vivian's wife. A nice connection truly for the son of Armitage Surrey," he added, with a strong emphasis.
"But she seems a very sweet girl, though," said Julian. "If Walter should really care for her, you will not stand between them?"
"If he was any relation of mine, I very decidedly should," replied Egerton.
"And as it is?" said Julian.
"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," said Egerton. "Will he be much of a painter?"
"Yes, a most talented amateur," replied Julian. "If, instead of having property, he had to live by it, he would have been a very superior artist."
"How is it, old follow, that you haven't brought home an Italian wife?" said Angelo, smiling.
"No, no; my exile only makes me cling closer to everything English," said Julian. "I might ask you, rather, why you don't present me to Lady Egerton."
Angelo half smiled, but the smile was a sad one. "Julian," said he, "I am thirty-seven, there are lines on my brow, and there is gray in my hair; it will be hard to make any fair young girl love me now."
"Dear Angelo, I am sorry to find so eminent a politician talking nonsense. You might; and might still choose any girl you liked."
"Julian, have you yet found your ideal?" asked Angelo.
"The ideal, if found, is often beyond reach," said Julian, evasively.
Angelo's dark eyes turned on him with a keen, penetrating glance, that it was well Julian did not meet. He answered quietly, "It is often nearer to us than we imagine, Julian."
"Have you yet found your ideal of woman, Angelo, or have you placed it so high that mortal being cannot approach it?"
Egerton recoiled a little, but answered, "I did not create my own ideal; I can no more help placing it high than I can help worshipping all that is grand and beautiful."
"A Jesuitical answer," said Julian, smiling. Then he said, perhaps because he intuitively felt the subject a painful one to his companion, or it might be that the very depth of the love he bore him made him see through Angelo's veil of proud reserve, "I heard Walter Surrey speaking of the portrait. 'Tekel' is the name it seems known by. Does he know whose portrait it is?"
"Yes," replied Egerton. "Yesterday he and I were in the chapel cloisters, standing by my mother's tomb; he said he had seen the picture at the National Gallery, and was expressing his wonder how any imagination could conceive such faces as those of the man and the phantom who holds the scroll.
"'Rothesay didn't imagine them,' said I. 'Have you never seen a face like the phantom?'
"'Yes,' he said; 'it was like my ward; but he knew that the painter knew her.'
"'Well,' I said, 'and the picture is the portrait of a living man.'
"'Ah! is it possible?' he cried, holding up his hand 'What a horrible countenance! Do you know him?'
"'My mother's murderer,' said I, quietly. 'I had it painted; and it will finally be brought to the gallery here.' I believe he thought me half mad," added Egerton, with his low, soft laugh. "But now, Julian, I must go to my study, and attend to my business. Where is Lady Alice?"
"I am going to find her," he replied.
Each went a different way—Egerton to the library, Julian to the drawing-room.
* * *
Where meanwhile was the riding party? Watch that lofty crag, rising black and sharp from the sea, it is higher than the other cliffs, and at the commencement of its ascent the road branches into two, one continuing over the summit, the other, only about ten feet broad, winding round it, with the rocks towering above it, and the sea surging far below. As the party came up to the fork road they halted, their guide was behind talking to Roland Aubrey, but as she came up they exclaimed, "Miss de Caldara, you are not going to jeopardise our lives by taking us round this road, are you?"
"Those who don't like to venture," said the Spaniard, smiling, "can keep the cliff road, and we shall meet them half a mile on. This is the Devil's Rock, and this the Devil's Pass. Who will take it with me?" she added, stepping Hasseneh on to the Pass.
Cuthbert St. John, who was next her, would rather have gone over the cliff, but as the gentlemen all volunteered (saving the rector, who, having passed it before, concluded to escort the ladies) he could do no less than go too, the more so that Isbel, Mrs. Rochester, and Margaret Arundel also took the Pass; so, in single file, with the Castilian in the van, they set off. Tom, who immediately followed the Reverend Cuthbert, was not long before he devised means of a joke at the expense of the priest, which had almost ended fatally.
"Inez," he called out, "does his Satanic Majesty still haunt this place? because if so our reverend friend might exorcise him."
"Tom, be quiet, and don't talk nonsense!" she turned to speak as he meant she should, and catching her eye, he folded his hands, and pulled his face into a long lugubrious look—such a caricature of Cuthbert that even her grave Spanish nature could not resist it, and Inez's irresistible and half suppressed laugh made Cuthbert turn sharply.
Now it happened that Cuthbert was already rendered somewhat giddy by the dizzy height, and his sudden and passionate start round completed his giddiness. He lost his saddle, reeled for a minute on the edge of the precipice, and then, as he lost his footing, flung his arms wildly out, catching at something. It was Inez's ready hand that saved him—for in the moment he staggered, she backed Hasseneh, and, bending over, stretched out her right arm; it was her hand which the falling man grasped, and but for the noble Arabian standing so firm, his weight must have dragged horse and rider over. The strain on Inez was fearful, and a cry burst from her lips—no thought then for titles—"Oh, Louis, Louis!"
All had passed in less than a minute. St. John and Tom had flung themselves from their horses and hauled up Cuthbert quite unhurt. Louis' arm was thrown round Inez, as her arms fell nerveless at her side. "He is safe; but you, my child, you are hurt?" Her face was very white, for the agony had been intense as it was short.
"No," she said, "it is only numbed; it is going off, Colonel Louis. Your brother—Mr. St. John, are you unhurt?"
"Perfectly, thanks to your courage," replied Cuthbert, as he remounted, and Tom, for the time quite sobered, fell back, and was very good until they left the Devil's Pass, and rejoined the others; and then he told the story (minus his own mimicry) in his own droll manner, for, after all, there had been something very ridiculous in the accident, despite its being so nearly fatal. But he was not to come off so easily, for a few miles on, Inez contrived to get him alone, and spoke, as she could, when really angry.
"Tom," she said, "it's all very well for you to make a laughable story out of that, and turn it into ridicule, but it was no laughing matter; Cuthbert St. John was as near eternity as ever he will be, and if you had faced death as I have, you would not jest about it as you have done. And now, Tom, I tell you once for all, that you must control your mischievous tendency to tease and joke while you are my guest; for, whatever there is ridiculous about him, he is my guest too, and I cannot permit him to be made a butt for your wit. There, now you have had your scolding," she added; "so let us be friends again, and let the rest come up."
Tom was very good and very civil to Cuthbert all that day. "For, by Jove!" he whispered to Isbel, "I don't want another of our senorita's stern rebukes."
It was long past noon when our party returned; but before Inez could dismount, Cuthbert had sprung to the ground, and was at her side. He clasped in his own the little hand that had saved him. "Inez de Caldara, you have saved my life. I shall never forget it," he said, simply, and lifted her to the ground; but he also never forgot Tom Courtenay.
Did the incident, apparently so slight, end its influence there? No. Look at Louis St. John that evening, when all are in the drawing-room; he is standing a little apart, unseen but seeing—his eyes fixed on Inez, to whom Roland Aubrey is devoting himself with an assiduity that Angelo has noticed with an inward smile, and St. John now sees without any fear of rivalry. Yes, he knows now that he loves her; no use to say to himself, "She is a child; no use to call it folly, a fancy—nonsense."
'His heart was darken'd with her shadow.'
Till that day, man of the world as he was, he had not realised it; but on that Pass his first thought had not been for Cuthbert, but for her, and his eyes were opened to know his own heart, and that heart beat faster as it remembered that his name had been the first she called upon for help. "Louis, Louis!" was her cry; and fatally misconstruing that—mistaking her simple, open, child-like affection for him—he madly dreamed that her love was his—that he read her heart—that proud, sensitive, reserved woman's heart of hers, that even Angelo knew not thoroughly. Yet deeply as St. John loved her, he did not love her as Angelo did. It will break that strong stern heart to lose the child-love it has twined every fibre round—
'As the vine weaves her tendrils;'
but to lose her will only bruise and crush St. John's, for, it may be for years, but it will not be for ever. To a man like St. John, the honorable course was to at once speak to her guardian, and obtain his sanction. Why not that night? He knew that Egerton always went to his library after the rest had retired; and so, when all had left the drawing-room, he walked to the library, and, with a slight knock, entered.
Egerton was in the great old gloomy room, sitting in an easy chair by the fire, with a table at his side, and several ministerial-looking papers on it; but the master, whose hand was to bring them into form, was himself doing nothing.
"Egerton," said Louis, "can you give me ten minutes?"
"As long as you like, Louis. Sit down," said Angelo, rousing himself from a reverie.
St. John sat down, with the air of a man who has made up his mind to go through with a disagreeable thing; so much so that Angelo noticed it with a half smile, and said, "You have something to say, Louis, that you don't know how to begin—what our Western neighbors call 'a fix.' Plunge boldly in."
"Angelo," said Louis, "you are keen. What I have to say relates to Inez, and on that point most important in all men's lives."
Egerton knew now what was coming, and he stretched out his arm very quietly, and moved the lamp a little back, throwing himself in shade.
"Angelo," continued St. John, "think me mad—foolish—what you will, but I love her—love her as perhaps a stern, ambitious man like you, who lives only in public life, cannot understand."
Egerton lifted his eyes and looked at him. Did he know him so little after all those years—he who had loved her since she was a little child in his arms, nestling to his breast in all her childish troubles and ailments?
"But you are her guardian," said Louis, "and I deemed it the honorable course first to ask your sanction to win her. I have hope—a fair hope—"
"Do you think Inez loves you otherwise than as an old friend?" asked Egerton.
"Can any man say he knows a girl's heart?" said Louis. "I think—I hope she does. Have I your sanction to my suit—your permission to ask her?"
"Yes," replied Egerton.
Heaven only knows what it cost him to say that word. But for the innate nobility of the soul, but for the stern pride of the man, he could not have resigned her so calmly. The word had passed the firm lips—the handsome face was still and marble like—set, and cold, and calm as a beautiful statue. It might have been some classic statue for any warmth that face had, saving the dark eyes, and they were fixed on St. John, who now rose.
"Then, plainly, I have your free sanction," he said, smiling, "to rob you of your sweet ward? You will miss her at first, Egerton."
"I am a stern, ambitious man, who lives only in public life. No," said the minister, moving a little more into the shade.
"Well, good night, Angelo," said Louis. "Your gift is inestimable."
"Good night, Louis," he responded.
"It is late already, Egerton," said Louis. "Have all those papers to be attended to tonight?"
"They must be in town to-morrow," said Egerton, wearily; "I must take them myself."
"Shall you return to-morrow?" asked Louis.
"No, the day after," he replied. "I may be detained. Write and tell me of your success."
"I will," said Louis. "Once more, good night."
"Good night, Louis," was the reply, in the same tone as before. The door closed, and Angelo Egerton was alone.
How very dark the library was—how the gloom had deepened into black night—and how very silent it was, as if something had died there that night. How very, very dreary and still it was, but not more still than the silent, motionless figure sitting there, with the arms resting on the table, the head bowed on them—hearing nothing, seeing nothing, feeling nothing, but the heavy weariness of agony that had stricken the strong heart to the earth. He had thought he knew her inmost heart; he had once dreamed she might love him, but that was past; it seemed long years ago now; the 'dead past must bury its dead'—that proud, ambitious man, would have given all his long line of ancestors now—all his hard won honors to have back his lost child-love—but it was too late, and the weary sense that something had died there that night grew deeper and heavier.
So the hours that seemed years wore on, and each hour sank and vanished into the dim vista of time, but that bowed form never moved; the lamp burned down and went out—he knew it not; the fire dwindled lower and lower, and grew fiery red, throwing the black shadow of the bars on the opposite wall—still that silent figure remained motionless; the coals grew black and turned to ashes, and the gloomy old library grew cold and chill—he heeded it not, felt it not; the black night gave place to the dull cold gray dawn of the winter's morning, and gradually the first rays of the December sun streamed aslant through the fog into the room—but still that silent, tearless mourner for what had died that night, never moved, felt not the cold, heard not the step outside, nor the door open and close, till a hand, lightly and tenderly as a woman's, was laid on his shoulder, and Egerton raised his ghastly face to see Julian bending over him.
"Angelo—oh, Angelo," said Julian, "what has happened?"
"Nothing," he replied, in a hard, dry tone, and putting Julian aside with his hand; but Julian clasped it in his own.
"Twenty years ago," he said, "when I was a child, this right hand of yours drew me to your heart, and I will not now be put away with this cold hand—with that hard 'nothing.' Proud man, you may case your haughty soul in adamant chains of stern reserve to all others, but you shall not, cannot place your pride between us two, 'Nothing!' What, do you think I cannot see below the stormy surface—do you think I cannot read your ghastly face, or see that you have never left this room all night? Oh, Angelo, do not all the ties that knit our souls together give me a right to your confidence?"
The statue-like face softened, and he said gently, trying to release his hand from the firm grasp that would not release it, "Why should I burden your young head with my sorrows? I am weary—weary—Julian, that is all; let me attend to these papers."
"You shall not," said Julian. "You were yourself when we parted last night."
Last night! How many years ago it seemed! and the words came unconsciously from his lips, "Only hours—it seems a life-time—weary years. Julian, I lost something last night."
"Angelo, I know all now," said Julian. "I saw St. John come here."
Pride gave way now, the proud man broke down, and he bowed his face on the hands that still clasped his. "Oh, Julian, Julian!" said he; "she was all I had!"
For a long time Julian did not speak. He could not, for he had never before seen a strong man weep; never before witnessed such deep, passionate anguish. Then at last his soft voice said, "Angelo, old friend, he cannot—does not love her as you do. He has mistaken her simple, frank affection for him for love. If I know anything of woman's heart, she will never be his wife. Hope! You have not lost your child-love."
"I have," said Egerton, rising. "What man ever yet really knew a woman's heart? Is not her affection for me, too, as frankly shown, as unconcealed? I dreamed once that she might have loved me—I was mad—mad to think that I, twenty-two years older than her, could ever be more to her than a guardian. Leave me now, dear Julian. Excuse me to them. I am going to take these papers to town, and I shall return to-morrow night late. Sit up for me, but do not let her do so. Henceforth I will be what he believes me—a stern, ambitious man, who lives only in public life," he said, with a bitter smile.
"Does he know so little of you—you?" said Julian.
"Hold him excused, Julian. He has seen but little of Angelo. It is Egerton he knows. May he love her as I do—as I should have done."
"He cannot—it is not in him!" said Julian. "Ah, Angelo, you are a noble, generous spirit to resign her so calmly. Heaven knows how well I love you, but never so well as now."
"It is all left me," said Angelo, turning aside. Then he wrung Julian's hand in silence, for he could not speak; and taking up the ministerial papers, he went out of the gloomy old library.
* * *
All is told. Louis St. John had found Inez in that old library, and with earnest, impassioned language, he has poured out his love—laid his heart at her feet.
"Oh, Inez, do not send me from you!" he said. "Do not tell me you do not—cannot love me."
Startled, almost frightened, overborne by the passionate eloquence with which he had spoken, she had stood till now like a statue, hearing, understanding, yet hardly realising his words, hearing him with the dark grave face turned to him, and wondering half frightened glance. But now, when she most needed it, her self-possession failed her, and suddenly covering her face, she wept passionately—wept for herself, that her affection had been so misconstrued; wept for him, that his wild dream was broken; wept, as all sensitive true-hearted women must, that she had wittingly caused such misery to the man who had laid his very soul at her feet. It was only for a minute, and then she dropped her hands, and turned the sweet sad face to his.
"Forgive me! Oh, Colonel Louis, forgive me!" said Inez. "I never dreamed this. I am so young. My affection was so different—its very frankness should have warned you. I do not love you—I never should. I can never be your wife. Think of me, if you can, only as the child you have known. Forgot the woman you have loved!" She held out her hand, and said, "For your own sake, as much as for mine, do not leave till the afternoon, and part with me calmly. May heaven restore you to peace and happiness, Louis St. John."
He held the little hand for a minute, and bent low over it. "God bless you, Inez!" he murmured, hoarsely, and left the room.
Julian came into the library some time after, and found the Castilian on the floor, weeping with a passionate bitterness of grief that seemed to rack every fibre of her slender frame. He raised her, saying in his gentle, tender way, "Dry the tears, little one. It is his first love and first dream. Both are broken. Have we not all dreamed, and been rudely awakened to the stern reality? A few years hence, perhaps, and he will forget his dream, and it may be, find happiness in another's love."
He wiped away the tears, and bending down, kissed her forehead, and then, with the thought and delicate tact of a woman for both her and St. John, he took her quietly away for a long walk over the hills through the fog and mist—what mattered that? And when she returned, hours after, Margaret met her, and told her that Colonel St. John had been suddenly called to London to see an old companion in arms who was dangerously ill, and she was just in time to bid him good-bye.
But Inez's habitual self control had resumed its sway, and when she parted from St. John no one could have guessed that anything painful had passed between them. Only Julian, and Louis' gentle mother—to whom her son had told everything—could see that his lips quivered, and that the dark eyes of the Spaniard drooped. She crept away to the summit of a lofty watchtower facing the south, and stood watching the carriage that bore him away, till the trees hid it, and then she turned away, murmuring, "I could never have been his wife—I could never have loved him," And unconsciously her hand stole to the cross on her heart, and clasped it close and clingingly.
It was long before she met Louis St. John again.
And where was Angelo Egerton? At the time St. John was leaving Falcontower Castle, he was bending over those papers in the Foreign-office. He had not, and did not intend to go near St. James' Square. He could not bear to go there, where everything would seem to remind him of what he had lost. There he was again the next morning early, looking over papers, reading and answering letters with the calmness and coolness which had always marked him, concentrating his mind and energies on what for the time being demanded his attention; and no one, to see that dark severe face, would have found out any change, save, perhaps, if he paused for a moment, a very close observer might have noticed a weary look about the mouth and in the eyes, and a heavier weight of care on the grave, stern brow; but that was all to betray the anguish the proud man was crushing back so ruthlessly on a breaking heart.
It was long after noon, and Egerton was about to leave his hotel for King's Cross to return to the north, when a note was put into his hands. He turned back into the room and opened it:—
"Dear Egerton,—My dream was too bright to last. She never loved me, save as a friend. I am going abroad, and when my furlough is up, back to my regiment in Canada. God bless you, old friend. It will be long before we meet, if ever. LOUIS ST. JOHN."
The first thought of Angelo's generous heart is sorrow for Louis' grief; his second, deep joy, for he knows that St. John may love again, that the blow will only crush his heart, for his love is like the sapling of a year's growth, that can bow to the gale, and spring up again stronger than before; but Angelo's love has grown with years, and his heart is like the strong oak that the blast cannot bend, but breaks for ever, and he murmurs low to himself, "Mine only now, my life, my little one—mine only."
It was late at night when he reached Falcontower station, and there, walking up and down in the moonlight, ever faithful, was Julian watching for him, with Leon, the Spanish bloodhound, at his side.
"Julian, my dear follow," said the well-known loved voice, and Julian turned to meet Angelo, while their hands clasped in an iron grasp that spoke more than any language could have done.
It was not till they reached the castle, till they found themselves once more in the dear, gloomy old library, that either spoke; then Julian laid his hand on Egerton's shoulder, and with his tender blue eyes looking deep into his dark gray orbs, with their still regretful shadow, said softly, "Angelo, was I not right, when that night I said to you, 'You have not lost your child-love?'"
"Dear Julian, right and wrong," said Egerton.
"I only know that she has refused him; but how do I know that she loves, or ever can love me?"
"Ask her," said the artist, simply, and his beautiful eyes smiled.
"No, not yet, Julian," said Egerton; "not till she is old enough to marry at once or leave me, for either way she must do that. It is but another six months' patience—anxious patience, Julian. Do you not think me right?"
"You know best," said Julian.
"He wrote to me this morning," said Egerton; "it is as well I did not meet her then or to-night. To-morrow morning I can meet her as usual."
"Rest well to-night, Angelo," said Julian, "or she will detect that all has not been well; and you look weary, oh, so weary."
"Can even the strongest battle through a fierce tempest and not be weary?" said Angelo. "Good night, dear Julian. God bless you, faithful friend!"
Christmas has passed, and the party at Falcontower Castle has broken up, but there have been seeds sown that will grow up and cannot be uprooted. Parliament is sitting, and Angelo Egerton has opened the campaign with a speech that the papers are full of, and even those who do not like his politics are bound to admire and to bow to the intellect that dictates it. He is there now, listening calmly, sometimes with a quiet smile, to the attacks made on him and his party and the ministry, by those who were clamoring for 'reform' or what they were pleased to call reform—those who had spent the previous autumn in vainly endeavoring to stir up the people to be discontented with what existed, and failing to rouse them up, intended to force a certain measure on the ministry in order to oppose it. And while Sir Angelo sits in that busy arena, his 'child-love' sits alone by the hearth in that library in the house in St. James' Square, with the noble pictures of the grand old masters looking down on her.
Margaret is absent at Lady Alice St John's, and so Inez sits alone, bending forwards, and now and then a slight look of pain crosses the grave quiet brow, and she moves her hand for a second to her chest; to her dying day she will at times feel that stiletto wound—to her dying day she will bear that mark of Vivian's handiwork. It changes the current of her thoughts to him and his deeds, and her face darkens, and she lifts her eyes to the mantelpiece, where stands a small photograph of the portrait; her eyes have not lost that mournful shadow, nor their watchful, sleepless look, nor will they ever utterly lose it, for the iron has entered so deeply into her soul that even when the barb is withdrawn, the rust will remain. But now a softer expression steals over the young face, for her thoughts have wandered to Angelo Egerton. She can almost hear him speaking. She knows so well:—
'That style, so stately, sweet, and strong
That tamely read had all the charm of song.'
A step came along the gallery outside—not Sir Angelo's firm, light, almost noiseless step, but that of the old servant Burns.
"Miss Inez," said he, "there is a person just called wanting to see Sir Angelo. I told him he was down at the House, and then he said he must see the young Spanish lady, Miss de Caldara."
"Did he give any name? But show him up; I will see him whoever he is," said Inez, leaning back in her arm-chair.
"His name is Harding, Miss Inez."
"Harding—I thought so. Show him up," said the Castilian, drawing a deep breath.
In a few moments Mr. Robert Harding, the detective, entered, a gentlemanly, intelligent, keenly sharp-looking man, between thirty and forty.
"How do you do, ma'am; I hope I see you well," he said, with a low bow.
"Quite well, thank you, Mr. Harding. Take a seat." Her eye went keen and straight to his as she added, bending forwards, "Have you come to tell me that Vivian has escaped you?"
"Yes, ma'am," he replied.
She fell back again, and that sharp, momentary spasm crossed her face. The detective noticed it.
"Are you in pain, Miss de Caldara?" he enquired. "Are you ill?"
"It is nothing," she replied; "only that stiletto wound. At distant intervals it pains me a little. Go on; tell me what you have to tell."
"Well, ma'am, you must know that when I last wrote, two months ago, I was sharp on his trail."
"Yes," said Inez, "you had tracked him to Baden Baden."
"Ay, right into Baden, ma'am," said Harding. "It was long before I found any trace, and then at last I found a clue at the passport-office in Paris. You know I had a colored photograph of him from that portrait. I showed it, and they told me a man with just such burnished gold looking hair (they remembered only that) had passed through a week before for Lyons. I travelled night and day, and entered that city a few hours after my chase. But you were right in telling me he was cunning as a fox, and slippery as an eel. He was gone—doubled upon me somehow, and reached Baden. That was shortly before Christmas, and I suspect he must have come over here; for at Baden I lost every trace of him, and was quite at sea until a month ago, and then I received information of him through an Englishman."
"An Englishman!" said Inez.
"Yes, ma'am; a man with cold, sinister, snakey gray eyes, and a down, evil look—he might have been sixty, and had been handsome. I booked him as a villain."
"Do you know his name?" said Inez, quickly.
"Only what he said, ma'am, and that was Reynolds."
"It is Stephen Stanfeld," said Inez; "you know of him."
"Oh, yes, ma'am, though I never saw him till then. But I suspected who he was from what he said."
"Tell me about it," said Inez.
The detective glanced at the quiet face with its deep, steady eyes, and brow of calm power, and went on.
"It was at a casino in Strasbourg that I met my informant. It has always been my plan to get into conversation with any one and every one. I noticed the Englishman at once, and soon addressed him while he was playing. I lent him money for play, and in that manner I won my may. Then I found out how long he had left England—he had only recently left it. I asked him carelessly if he had ever heard of the attempt last autumn, near a place near Forest Moor, to murder a South American lady named Jesuita de Castro. I saw directly by his face that he knew, before he answered fiercely, 'Yes, by a man named Vivian—curse him!' Oh, thought I, you hate him, my friend; very good, you may be useful. I won't trouble you with details, ma'am. Suffice it that I found from him that Vivian had robbed him about a month after his attempt to murder you; that he did hate him, and would like nothing better than to see him punished. I said I had some business to transact with him if I could find him, which, perhaps, might not be pleasant to him, and this man then told me that he knew Vivian had gone to Hamburg; so to Hamburg I went, Miss de Caldara. I saw him enter a gambling house; he gave a password, and I knew it would be useless to go to the police there, for they play into the hands of those who keep these hells—you'll pardon the word, ma'am; to attempt to go in would have been worse, and so I waited and watched. He came out late at night with a number of his companions, and I followed him and marked the house he entered; but when later I called there he was gone; whether he had seen me I don't know, but he had fled and escaped me, and from that time to this I have utterly lost him. I have also exhausted my funds, and have returned for instructions—the chase seems almost hopeless. I came so late, because, if I am to continue, I could catch the first Calais or Rotterdam boat in the morning."
"Have you literally no clue?" asked Inez.
"Not the finest thread," he replied; "it is almost hopeless. It seems to me, ma'am, merely flinging away Sir Angelo's money."
"It must be flung away, then," said the Castilian, rising; "he would not have it given up if it costs a fortune. You did right to come tonight."
The detective departed, and the Rotterdam boat next morning bore him away to Holland.
We must again return to Falcontower; not to the lordly castle of the Egertons, but to the gaunt wandering old rectory, which three centuries before had been the residence of the Catholic parish priest; so you see it did not want age; for at the Reformation it had been standing some two centuries, while the parish church, which it nearly adjoined, was even older. Let us enter the rectory, and pass into the rector's little study, which is a corner room with two windows, one facing the sea, the other the north; from this there was a splendid view of the castle, with its lofty falcon tower rising on the western or sea side, from which it was said a secret way led to the beach, by which the dungeon's beneath the castle could be flooded. The dungeons and this tower had been first built on the sight of a Roman camp by Ingleharde de Egerton, in the reign of William the Norman, and it was this falcon tower that had given its name, first to the castle and its lands, and then to the town which very early began to grow there on the cliff.
Hugh Bertram, the rector of Falcontower, sat looking out towards the castle, thinking, perhaps, that there was as grim a skeleton within its stately walls as there was in his quiet rectory. He was a man not yet past his prime, for he was barely fifty, and a fine looking, stately man for even that, despite the deep lines on his forehead, and the grayness of his still luxuriant hair, the work of a sorrow that had well nigh broken his heart—a sorrow that must have done so but for the deep inborn religion and faith with which he laid his grief at the foot of the cross, and turned in child-like faith to Him who said, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." And he found rest and resignation.
Mr. Bertram was not long alone in his study; a light figure that had grown familiar there since it had come to Falcontower, passed up the garden, through the front door, only locked at night, and entered the half open door of the study.
"Ah, my dear Walter, I am glad to see you," said the rector. "Where have you left your friend Rothesay?"
"Busy in his studio, painting," replied Walter.
"Have you heard lately from your guardian?" asked the rector.
"Oh, yes, it is in consequence of that I came," said Walter. "Julian and I want you to come up and spend a farewell evening with us."
"What," said Mr. Bertram, "are you going abroad again?"
"No, oh no, to town. Julian is to stay with Egerton."
"And you?" interrupted Mr. Bertram.
"He had decided on sending me to college. Look, here is the letter. Short, you see, as usual," said Surrey, giving him a letter in the firm, graceful hand of Sir Angelo. And short it was.
"My DEAR WALTER,—I have written to Julian.
He is to stay with me. You will go to Cambridge. Come up with
Julian as I wish to see you. Do not be later than a
A. R. EGERTON."
"Very like the man," said Mr. Bertram, returning the letter. "Not a superfluous word in it. So you are to go to college then?"
"Yes, and I am very glad of it," said Walter. "I want to see more of the world, more of its phases. In his letter to Julian he says that he wishes and purposely intends to throw me into the world."
"It is a trying test and a dangerous ordeal," said the rector; "few young men come through it quite scatheless. I know one who was thrown on the world and he fell."
"I do not think I shall, sir," said Walter.
"Ay, Walter, Walter, be not too trustful," said the rector. "Listen to a few words of advice from an old man who has passed through it. You are going as a young man of means, without any profession. You will be surrounded by temptations the most dangerous; and if you should get into trouble, let no consideration prevent you from applying to your guardian, Sir Angelo. He is a man of the highest and most chivalrous honor; I grant you he is a stern, severe man; but do not let the dread of his stern reproof or severity prevent you going to him. Better that than sinking deeper. Above all, remember the duty you owe to God."
Those were the parting words of the gentle pastor. Listen to those the calm lips the man of the world and the gentleman uttered—"Walter, you are launching into many temptations. Study for a high degree. Have no idle time—it is mischievous; never play—it is dishonorable; never bet—it is ungentlemanly. Remember in all you do that you are a gentleman of England, and the descendant of a line of gentlemen; and do nothing that will cast a shadow on your unstained name."
Those were Sir Angelo's parting words to his ward—whether he remembered them entirely, we shall see.
IT was a fine day in March. Under a huge elm, opposite to Rotten Row, stood a man, in reality about forty, though the lightness of his fine erect form made him look at least four years younger than that. He was a handsome man, a very handsome man, there was no denying that, for every feature was finely and delicately cut, and the forehead was broad and well developed, but about the mouth there was a marked expression of recklessness and bitter cynicism, and in every line of the face you could see written strong, fierce, imperious passions, that the sorrows and storms of forty years could not tame or eradicate, hardly even teach them control. He was standing a little back, so that he could see without being seen from the drive, and gazed dreamily into the distance, unheeding the few passers-by.
Both park and drive were empty, yet, nevertheless, the roll of wheels struck the stranger's ear coming from one side, and the sound of horse's feet galloping from the other. He started as he saw a low park phaeton, containing two ladies, almost opposite to him, and at the same moment a lady on horseback galloped up, and wheeling suddenly, reined up her spirited Arabian.
"I thought I knew you, even at a distance," said the young rider, bending down, and shaking hands with the occupant of the phaeton. "Dear Aunt Marion, it is some time since I have seen you and Isbel."
The unseen stranger bent forwards. Surely, though so changed, he knew that dark Spanish face; he had seen a face like it—yes, he knew now who she was by her likeness to that dark man's face he remembered—Angelo Egerton's. Listen, that very name from Mrs. Rochester's lips arrests his attention, and his passionate lip quivers.
"Where is Angelo?" she asked. "Are you alone, Inez?"
"No," she replied. "Angelo is at the Foreign-office, and then to the House. Tonight, you know, that bill comes on for the second reading."
"Did Angelo bring it in, then?" asked Marion.
"No, no," said Inez, laughing; "he never brings in home measures."
"But he'll speak," said Marion. "I wish I could go and hear him."
"It will be a sight," returned Inez. "I have a Speaker's order for the out-of-the-way little place aloft where they admit—"
"Only a few of 'our choicest spirits,'" interposed Isbel, quoting from 'Martin Chuzzlewit.'
Mrs. Rochester smiled, but again addressed Inez. "Will Government be defeated?"
"How can I tell?" said Inez. "I am afraid they will, but if they are, they will not be long out."
"Well, it seems a weary game and weary struggle," said Marion. "Where are Mr. Rothesay and Miss Arundel?"
"Julian is at home, and Margaret is at Herne Bay," replied Inez.
"Tell the Signor Giulio to come and spend the evening with us," said Marion "I want to speak to him about taking Isbel's portrait."
"I will tell him—good-bye," and Inez de Caldara rode away, followed by her groom.
Marion Rochester leaned back with a heavy, weary sigh. "Drive home, my daughter," she said.
"Home, mamma?" said Isbel.
"My heart is not as bright as the day is, Isbel," said Mrs. Rochester in French, and Isbel drove on.
The stranger stepped forwards and stood looking after them.
"And is that fair woman my wife?—is that beautiful girl my daughter?" he murmured; "and I have left them both all these years. Yes, and will leave them!" and now the recklessness and passion returned to the lip and eye: "for they both hate me—my daughter, too, as her mother did before her; and how can I love Marion, when my heart is in Mina's grave—and she—what heart she had was buried with her first husband when she vowed her love to me with her false lips. All womankind is alike—all fair and false—all fair and false!" said the cynic, turning away with a sardonic curl of his lips. He moved some paces amongst the trees with downcast eyes, not seeing a man approaching till a shadow fell across him, and he turned sharply to confront Stephen Stanfeld.
Austin Rochester recoiled some steps, and Stanfeld stood as one struck dumb. In that momentous but dead silence you might have heard a pin fall. It was broken by Austin.
"So," he said, with so fierce a gesture and accent that the other shrunk back, "it is thus we meet after eighteen years, Stephen Stanfeld. Villain! you escaped me once; but now I will speak. You shall hear me, or I will shoot you as you fly."
There was something actually terrible in the frightful intensity of hatred and fierce passions in his face as he spoke.
"Nineteen years ago," he resumed, "you crossed my path. I have reason to hate you. You, who won a young girl's heart with your fiendish arts, and then deserted her because she lost her fortune. You, who waited until she was a wife and about to be a mother, and then dared to upbraid and curse the woman who had loved you to her own misery. You, who killed her and one child, and laid her own hatred to me on the other. Deeply you have injured me and mine. Murderer, coward, villain! If there is a God in heaven, I call down his heaviest curse on your head, that it may rest on you till your dying hour! I tell you that if your last chance of life hung on my forgiveness, I would sooner cast myself body and soul into hell than give it."
Staggered by the frightful words, Stanfeld shrunk and shivered as if they blasted him, and glided away amongst the trees, but followed even there by the mocking, scornful laughter of his opponent, who stood long there with heart and brain feeling as a forest might feel after a hurricane had swept through it. And while he stands there, let us tell some of his history—the worst his own lips must tell another time.
He was the second son of a gentleman of old family and property not twenty miles from Falcontower. All his father's affections had centered in his oldest son, Wilmot; his wife, whom he had passionately loved, had died in giving birth to Austin, and, in consequence, an unnatural hatred to the child took possession of him. Of course Wilmot and the very servants took their tone from him, and the child grew up in an atmosphere of dislike. Unfortunately, too, every fibre of the boy's nature seemed antagonistic to those about him; every bad passion was fostered to an alarming degree, and the good in him was crushed with a ruthless and cruel hand.
He was passionate even to fierceness, and revengeful, and high-spirited, and he soon rebelled at the treatment he received, and finally his father sent him to a boarding school as being utterly irreclaimable. But there it was the same. Talented in no ordinary degree, he learned readily, but by the boys he was soon hated and detested. Nature had given him a yearning for affections, and those powers of love and hate which are too often man's curse—and they were his; it had also given him a really true nature, but there was not one who could penetrate beneath all the evil and reach the good.
From that school he went to Eton; he was then seventeen, and he was there twelve months; and then, in that short time, when it was too late, he came across one who, if he had met a few years earlier, might have saved him. A boy of but fifteen, by name Angelo Egerton,—and he by some strange, almost mystic knowledge it seemed, at once read Rochester's character,—penetrated at once the cold cynicism, the morose bitterness, and reached the fine nature beneath it.
But the time was too short, and came too late, as young Egerton saw; the evil had been sown too early, and gone too deep; twelve months could not undo the evils of seventeen years. Unscrupulousness had become part of his nature, recklessness a second nature; and when, at the end of twelve months, his removal to college parted him from young Egerton, he flung himself into a wild set, and plunged recklessly into dissipations to drown thoughts and bitter achings of heart that were intolerable; denied all affections where he had a right to look for them, disliked by the very men of whose wild life he was the companion, he sank deeper and deeper. He was barely nineteen when his father died, leaving, of course, to Wilmot the estates, to Austin—deep in debt—one thousand pounds—cast on the world at nineteen.
Utterly in extremity, the memory of Egerton's dark face and musical voice, never quite forgotten, rose vividly to his mind, for he was the only being who had ever cared at all for him, and he wrote to him—
"You once showed me kindness, Egerton. Pardon me if I ask one thing. I am going abroad. I wish none to know where. Suffer me to make you my only repository and medium of any communication to me. I ask it as a favor, and to keep it secret.
Egerton wrote back instantly, for he had felt deeply interested in Rochester; and though he had lost sight of him, he had never forgotten him; and now he returned for answer that he should be glad if he could be of any service to him. He received back a letter of many thanks, and an address in Paris.
Then Austin Rochester, evading his creditors, went abroad, not deigning a line even to his brother Wilmot.
This Wilmot, it may be imagined, was no saint; and though, at his father's death, he came into an estate worth fifty thousand pounds, yet in one year he had mortgaged it to half that, and then he managed to get killed in a low quarrel. Egerton immediately wrote to Austin, merely telling him that Wilmot was dead, and had left his affairs much embarrassed.
Austin came over immediately, and certainly then for once acted wisely. He went to Egerton, and saying plainly that he was literally the only being in the world he could turn to, told him his whole story, and asked his advice; and Angelo, though his chivalrous nature recoiled and shrunk from the vice, saw much to palliate; and pitying the man, held out to him the helping hand, and not only gave him advice, but assisted him to follow it out.
Wilmot's debts were twenty-five thousand pounds, his own ten thousand pounds, and he raised on the estate thirty-five thousand, and paid everything, thus leaving himself six hundred a year. He shut up Rochester Court, left only an old steward on the place, and again vanished abroad, this time not even telling Egerton where he went; and for nearly ten years neither Angelo nor anybody else knew whether he was dead or alive.
But during Angelo's absence in Spain, when he went over for Inez, Austin Rochester suddenly appeared in England with a little daughter of seven years or so. He called at St. James' Square to see Egerton, and saw his mother instead; and on learning that he had been at Eton with her son, she invited him to the house, and it was there that he and Marion D'Arcy met, for Julian had gone with Angelo, and she was staying with Lady Egerton. Thus it came about that the first thing Angelo heard on returning was that Marion was going to marry Rochester.
It was too late to do anything to prevent it; but Egerton, as trustee to the fortune Colonel D'Arcy had left his widow, did what he could for her, knowing what Austin was, suspecting his motives in marrying to be those of a desperate and unscrupulous man; he settled every shilling on Marion and her children in the usual manner—it was too late for Austin to draw back, the more so as he had represented the mortgage on his estate as nearly redeemed, when, in fact, it had only changed from its original mortgagee to a money-lender named Isaac Fakes—and Angelo Egerton, with a heavy heart and gloomy forebodings, for the second time gave Marion away at the altar.
Too soon the truth appeared—too soon the end came. There was a miserable six months of passive neglect and gloomy coldness, and then, one dreadful day, he told her that he had never loved any but Isbel's mother, his dead wife; that neither she nor any human being had or could love him—and so left her and his child and went no one know where, and they had never met since.
All that remains we leave for him to tell; but there he stood alone—desolate, broken-hearted, remorseful, and yet through all a desperate and reckless man.
This is one sad story of a lost life.
Angelo Egerton and Julian Rothesay sat alone together, for Inez and Margaret were out riding.
The artist was sitting at a table with drawing paper before him and a pencil in his hand, half dreamily sketching something, his beautiful head bent a little down, so that the dark, golden brown hair fell partly over the noble brow. The ex-minister sat in his old oak reading chair, with a volume of some ancient Italian political lore in his hand, but with his dark, calm, gray eyes fixed quietly on Julian's face, reading it as only he could, like an open book of very sweet music. He knew as well as possible what was passing in his heart and brain at that moment; then who he was dreaming of, and whose gentle face was gradually looking out of that blank sheet; and he rose and bent over him, saying, "What are you drawing there?" But the artist laid his hand quickly over it.
"Dear Julian," said Egerton, in his soft, low voice, "do you think I have not learned to read your face in twenty years? Long ago I knew you loved her."
"Angelo!" he exclaimed.
"Ay," said Egerton, leaning against the mantelpiece, and looking down on him with that rare tender smile in eyes and mouth, "I knew it long ago. That day at Falcontower, when we stood together on the ramparts, when you evaded my question, I knew then that you had found your ideal, and would learn to love her; and Isbel is worthy of even you."
"Even me!" said Julian, with bitter force. "And can I suffer one word to her to pass my lips while I have the brand of murder on my head? Can I offer the woman I love a stained name? No; it is hopeless. There is a curse on me."
"Julian, Julian! I cannot bear to hear you speak so!" said Egerton passionately. "Nothing is hopeless while there is life."
"Angelo, I was wrong to speak as I did," said Julian; "but would you have me try to win her heart with such a stain upon my name? Put it to your own chivalrous honor, severely, without reference to your love for me, and then answer."
Egerton paused for a moment before he answered; and then he said, "I answer you in a conviction that is something deeper than mere fancy or hope, that you will before very long be cleared to the world; and to the old and honored name of D'Arcy, add the fame you have given to that of Rothesay. In that conviction, that is knowledge, I say to you, go and tell her all, conceal nothing, and if she loves you she will believe you innocent. Do not, if you will, marry her till you can do so in your own name."
"Angelo, if she does not believe me innocent—if she does not love me?" said Julian, rising.
"It is more the pomp of death, than death itself which is terrible," answered Egerton; "have you not a real enough skeleton without raising an imaginary terror as well?"
Julian smiled, and left the room, and Egerton, too restless now to remain still, ordered his horse and rode out to meet Inez and Margaret.
* * *
A month had passed since Austin Rochester had seen his deeply-wronged wife and child, but he could not forget either; and while he utterly shrank from meeting his wife, he longed with almost sickening longing to see the daughter he had deserted, the child and living likeness of a wife who, however false in heart to him, he had worshipped. He must and would see her when he had ascertained that Marion was out. To find where she lived was easy, by means of a directory; her house was in Seymour-street, not far from that occupied by Lady Alice St. John, and for days he lingered there, watching, till at last one day he saw his wife go out in that same park phaeton without Isbel. He stood watching the carriage till it turned the corner, and then he crossed over and knocked.
"Is Miss Rochester at home?" he asked of the servant.
"Yes, sir," answered the man, evidently expecting a card, but none was offered.
"Ask Miss Rochester if she can spare a short time to a gentleman who wishes to see her."
The servant showed him up to the drawing-room, and then crossed the corridor to Mrs. Rochester's boudoir, which was opposite, and where Isbel sat.
"Miss Isbel, there is a gentleman wishes to see you."
"Who is he, George?—are you sure it isn't mamma he wants?"
"No, miss; he asked for you, but gave no name."
"I will see him of course," said Isbel.
The servant retired, and Isbel wondering a little, rose, and leaving the boudoir door open, opened the drawing-room door and entered.
Full in the light of the windows stood Austin, and something in his form and face struck Isbel as vaguely as having something not utterly strange; she had not the almost supernatural memory of Inez, or she would have recognised him.
Rochester advanced a step, and then paused, chilled to the heart to see her cold bow, and forgetting that she had not seen him since early childhood, and that he was changed, and into his cynical heart rushed afresh the thought long there that Marion had taught her to hate and scorn him, and then from his cynical lips came the bitter words, "So, then, your false-hearted stepmother has taught you well, I see, to follow in your dead mother's steps!"
The indignant blood flushed crimson to the girl's cheek and brow; the passionate blood of her father ran red in her veins then as she laid her hand on the bell.
"Who are you, sir," she said, "that dare to come here and insult my mother?"
Rochester's passionate and imperious temper was roused. He grasped her hand with a force that left her powerless, and said, "Her husband, girl, and your father!"
Isbel turned very white, and with a loud cry recoiled from him as if his touch stung her.
"You do well," she said, with quivering lips, "to make your first words a falsehood on my gentle mother. Do you come back, after all these years, for that?"
"Isbel, Isbel!" said he, "is it thus a child should meet her father? Does it not confirm me in what I say, that Marion is false to me, and has taught my child to hate me as a black villain?"
"It is false," exclaimed Isbel, passionately; "She never speaks of you. Oh, father, father! how can you speak so of her?" And hiding her face in the cushions of the couch, the poor child burst into tears.
Rochester stood, looking gloomily down on her, seeing, feeling through nothing but the dark glass that like a black pall hung ever between him and his better nature.
"Ay," said he, "weep on. Women have always tears for everything; but they are in vain with me."
He turned away. She heard the door close on him, and covering her face, she sobbed with an agony that shook every nerve of her slender frame.
That soft, gentle voice!—it thrilled to her very soul, and she lifted her head to see Julian Rothesay bending over her.
"I can bear anything but to see you in such distress," he said. "Surely, Isbel, I love you too well not to grieve when you grieve."
He sat down by her, and wound his arm about her, and with all the innocent love of her young, pure heart, she laid her head on his heart, and the tears she wept were not all sorrowful. There was no language needed. "Look up, darling, and listen to me," Julian whispered, presently—"I have something to tell you."
"What is it, Julian?" she asked.
"My name is not Rothesay," he replied. "I am a man who has fled from prison to escape the law, who has been an exile nine years, for the brand of murder on his name. I want you to hear my story."
"You need not tell me your story, Julian, till I am your wife."
"God bless you, my own Isbel!" said Julian, pressing a kiss on the sweet upturned face, "but I cannot take you from a honored to a dishonored name. I am Julian D'Arcy, the step-son of Marion, so long and still believed dead, because under the name of Doria I was accused of the murder of Angelo Egerton's mother."
"Mamma's son, that she loved so! Are you that Julian? Oh, I am so glad. How could anyone accuse you?" said Isbel, sweeping back the hair from his forehead, "how could they?"
"Isbel, you must listen to my story now."
"Julian, if an angel told me you were guilty I should not believe it."
"I know that, dear Isbel; but for my own honor's sake you must know it now."
"Then tell me all, Julian, your honor is to me as my own."
Meekly folding her little hands on her lap, Isbel sat perfectly still to listen, never interrupting him by any exclamation or remark. What his story was we must reserve for the present, to tell what more immediately happened.
When Austin Rochester left the drawing-room he paused for a second, and then turned into the boudoir and closed the door, with the intention of writing a last letter to the wife and and daughter he firmly believed hated him, and never could do anything else. A writing desk was open on a side table, and the initials on it, M. R., told him it was his wife's. With the intention of finding writing paper, he lifted the inner lid, but the first thing that met his eye were the words "Dear Julian," in her well known hand. For a moment he hesitated, and then muttering fiercely, "I have a right to know who she addresses so familiarly," grasped the letter and read it. It bore date some days before, and seemed not to have been sent. Here are the lines, simple enough to us:—
"Dear Julian,—I just write these few words
in haste to ask you to come round this evening; and as Isbel is
going to Lady Alice's, we shall be alone to talk of old
Rochester's first impulse was to tear it into a thousand pieces, and trample it under his feet, but for once controlling passions that were little used to it, he merely kept it in his hand, though he ground his teeth and clenched his hands in his fierce passion. He would wait now and see her, and know of her what that letter meant. So a dreadful half hour passed; and then at last the step he watched and waited for came up from the hall, along the gallery, and paused outside. The next moment the door opened, and the husband and wife, who had not met for eight years, were confronted.
There was a silence so intense that you could hear it hum and murmur, and then Marion took a step towards him with outstretched arms, "Austin, my husband!"
Rochester drew back, and said sternly, "Stand back, and do not touch me!"
Marion stopped. "Austin, Austin! you told me once that you loved me," she said, plaintively.
"You told me once that you loved me!" he answered, fiercely, "and yet I find this letter," and he flung it at her feet. "Who is Julian?"
Marion staggered back with a sudden sharp cry, and then stood as if a thunderbolt had fallen at her feet. She saw his meaning; that her silence must inevitably make an irreparable breach between them. And yet how could she betray her son? place him in the power of the man whom bitter experience had taught her was so reckless and unscrupulous? No; she could suffer for her son, but she could not place him in danger; and she only bowed her head and wept bitterly.
"Answer me, Mrs. Rochester!" he exclaimed; "for, by heaven, I will know. I have a right to demand it. Who's this Julian?"
"Her son!" said a deep voice, and Julian's tall figure stood between his mother and Rochester. "Silence, mother; my safety cannot weigh for a moment against your fair name, and while I live no man shall dare to cast the faintest shadow on that. Shame to you, Austin Rochester—shame to you, that I, her step-son, and the future husband of her child, should stand here her protector, where you should stand!"
Rochester's passion literally held him silent for a minute, and then he burst forth.
"Husband of my daughter? No, never! Why has Julian D'Arcy passed for dead, and really lived in secret, unless you have a crime on your head?"
Julian moved a few steps forward, and said, calmly, "Listen to me, Mr. Rochester (and neither Marion nor Isbel interrupt me). I throw myself on your honor not to betray me. You may remember the murder of Lady Egerton, and the arrest, trial, and conviction of a man named Giulio Doria for the murder. I was that man. I escaped; for the evidence on the trial would have blasted my name, even if legally acquitted."
"Why were you in that disguise?" demanded Austin. "I remember the evidence, and I believed Doria guilty the more for his flight. Why were you so disguised?"
"There my lips are sealed," said Julian. "But one day my name will be cleared."
"When it is, you shall have my daughter," said Rochester, with his cynical sneer—"not before."
"I do not wish it till then," said Rothesay, quietly. "I would not marry her with a stain on my name."
"It shall never be at all," said Rochester, with a fierce, imperious gesture. "You shall never call her wife, now nor ever."
Till now, Isbel had stood by the door without speaking; but at the last words she deliberately and quietly walked across the floor to where Julian stood, and putting one hand on his arm, locked the other in it.
"To this man, Julian D'Arcy," she said, "I have given my love, and pledged my hand, knowing him to be under the black imputation of murder he is guiltless of. To the world his name is blasted, but to me he is pure; and I will not wait until he is prosperous, and held fair in men's eyes, to become his wife. I will marry him while he is under this dark cloud of wrong and danger. I solemnly swear I will marry him now or never," she said, raising her eyes upward with a strange, steady light in their blue depths.
"Isbel," exclaimed Julian, trying hurriedly to unclasp her hands, "unsay your words! It cannot be—it cannot be, till my name is cleared of this foul stain."
"Julian, I have spoken, and nothing can turn me. I have sworn before heaven, and dare not, if I would, break so solemn an oath. Take me now to share your darkened name and lost life, or in this room we part for ever."
Julian looked for one moment in her face, reading her very soul, then he drew her to him with his strong sheltering arm, and turned to her father.
"You have heard her noble words," said Julian; "and I accept the gift as heaven-sent, for her love is holy. I take her to share my darkened name and lost life, to be in weal or woe my honored wife, and thus I seal it in your presence." And bending down he touched his lips to her brow and lips.
"By heaven, this is too much!" exclaimed Rochester, stamping his foot. "Unhand my daughter, or—"
With all his wild, ungoverned passions in his black eyes, and clenched, half-upraised hand, he stepped forward, but his wife threw herself between them. "Stand back!" she said; "he is my son."
"Ha! do you, too, band with him and that girl against your husband? Hear me, Julian D'Arcy. Whenever and wherever you attempt to marry my daughter, I will be there to forbid the marriage."
"You are welcome to do your worst," answered Julian, with a haughty smile; "it is too late now to claim any right to the child you have so long deserted. Isbel, leave the room."
She glided away without a word. Then all Rochester's fury burst on the head of the beautiful woman who now knelt at his feet.
"Oh, Austin, my husband, have mercy!" she cried. "Is it not enough that you have broken the heart that loves you too well?"
"And do you think to win me back by taking part with this red handed son of yours—" he was beginning, when Julian interposed.
"When you remember," he said, raising his mother, and throwing his arm around her, "that she is a woman and your wife, you may see her, but not till then." And he drew her from the room.
* * *
One soft April morning there was a quiet group in the ancient Gothic church at the Holy Cross in Falcontower. Before the altar knelt Julian D'Arcy and Isbel Rochester; near them stood Egerton and Inez and Marion. And as they were married by Hugh Bertram, secretly, and the marriage of Julian D'Arcy, of Friar's Lea, and Isbel Rochester was registered in the huge old vellum, iron clamped book that recorded the marriages of all the Egertons of Falcontower.
Two days after Austin Rochester read the following announcement:—
"MARRIAGE IN HIGH LIFE.—We have to announce the marriage at St George's, Hanover Square, of the young and celebrated artist, Julian Rothesay, to Isbel Nina, only daughter of Austin Rochester, Esq., of Rochester Court. The fair bride was given away by Sir Angelo Egerton, M.P., and was attended by two bridesmaids, Miss de Caldara and Mademoiselle de Castelnau, and the beautiful Mrs. Rochester, mother of the bride. The breakfast was given at the splendid mansion of Sir Angelo Egerton. The party was small and select."
"Inez," said Egerton, one morning, "how long is it since Walter Surrey wrote?"
"A long time," she replied.
"It is more than a month, I think," said Margaret.
Inez turned her grave quiet face to Egerton and said in Spanish, "What is it you fear, Angelo?"
"That he has got into a racing and betting set," was the reply; "for a long time his letters have been short and to me unsatisfactory. I am afraid he is getting into trouble, and is ashamed to write."
"Surely, Angelo, brought up as he has been, he would not yield to temptation," said Inez.
"The temptations are very great," replied Angelo. "It is so easy to say to a young man 'take my bet for once,' and once done it is so easily repeated. More than all, it is so very hard to withstand the derisive sneer and mocking word, and Walter is peculiarly sensitive to ridicule."
Inez's answer was interrupted by the entrance of a servant with letters that had just come by the post. There were one or two for Margaret and Inez, and a number for Egerton, but he put all aside for one large foreign looking one with the postmark of Lyons on it.
"News at last from Robert Harding," said Angelo. There was a short silence while he read. "Listen," said he, "I will read aloud the letter from the detective:—
"Sir,—I write, as you see, from Lyons,
where most unfortunately at this moment I am detained, having had
the ill fate to be the witness to a murder, by a young man, who
appointed a meeting with a lady who had declined his hand, and then
shot her deliberately, because she had again refused to marry him.
Nothing could be more unfortunate than my detention now, for I had
just discovered positive information of my chase, and was on the
point of sailing in pursuit. This is the information; he is in
Naples, disguised as an Italian, and the companion of a gang of men
who are disaffected toward the Neapolitan Government. I suspect,
nothing less than conspirators. Every hour is of importance; and if
you, sir, could go yourself to Naples, you might prevent him again
slipping through our fingers.—I remain, sir, your obedient
"Margaret, will you ring the bell," said Egerton; and when the servant appeared, he ordered his horse round directly, and then rose.
"Inez," said he, "I am going to see at what hour to-morrow any vessel leaves Dover for the continent, and take my passage. I shall then settle some indispensible things, and call, as I return, at Seymour-street, to ask Marion to let you stay with her during my indefinite absence, for I don't like leaving you two young girls alone here."
"I am glad Julian and Isbel are still in Germany," said the Castilian; "it will save them much anxiety, and perhaps disappointment."
Egerton answered "Yes," and went out.
It was late when he returned, and then he went to his library, though he joined them in the evening in the drawing-room, but there seemed a gloom upon them, as if all that was to happen before they met again had cast its shadow on them; the very dog Leon was restless and uneasy, and kept walking about or coming to Egerton or Inez and whining.
As 10 o'clock struck, Margaret Arundel, thinking that Egerton must have business directions to give his ward, bade them good night, and retired.
Egerton rose, and leaning lightly against the mantelpiece, said, "Inez, lay aside 'Montaigne's Essays,' and attend to me."
"Always obedient to your grace's will. I come to know your pleasure," said the Spaniard, dropping the book with a faint smile, that died away directly. "What is it, Angelo?"
"I want to give you one or two directions, as I do not know how long I may be away," replied Angelo. "I need not, I think, say that I wish no one to know where or why I am gone. Whatever letters come for me you must open, and answer to the best of your ability."
"You don't mean your private letters from friends?" said Inez.
"I have no friends to receive such letters from," he replied, "save Julian—nothing that you might not see in such a case as my absence. Better that than that they should remain unanswered when perhaps they need it."
"I will do as you wish, Angelo," said Inez.
"Then to-morrow write to Harding, enclosing him the banknotes you will find in that little drawer in my desk, and tell him to come home, and to let you see him when he arrives. Reward him handsomely, as I know you will, and dismiss him for the present; but tell him it is possible we may again require his services. For you, I have informed my bankers that your cheques are to be honored as my own."
"Angelo," said the Castilian, rising up with an almost terrified look in her face, "you speak and act as if you were never coming back."
"Life is uncertain," said Angelo, "I may die in Italy or be killed."
She turned hastily aside but he saw her chest heave, and a heavy tear glitter in the dark eye, and fall. There was silence for a few minutes, and then Egerton stretched out his arm, and drew her to him, and like some soft music his low, gentle voice broke the stillness.
"Long ago I received you from the priest Alvarez. You were quite a little child when he put you into my arms, and said, 'Take this child, and love and guard her as a priceless treasure.' I have done so; to no one else have I entrusted the treasure given me; my own hand and brain has trained my little one. You were so like my mother, Inez, that my heart soon loved the little motherless infant; how much more when her terrible death bound us two—the man and the child—so close together by the tie of common suffering and sorrow. I have brought you up entirely; of me you have learnt; you have been my companion in joy and sorrow, in trouble or prosperity; together we have travelled; in all and everything you have been my better angel, round whom every fibre of my nature has twined like my very life itself. Oh, Inez, life without you were dark indeed. I have more than kept my pledge. As a treasure, priceless indeed, I have guarded you, and heaven knows how I love you."
Angelo Egerton turned and opened his arms to clasp the young Inez close to the heart that had loved her so long and so faithfully. It was long before either broke the silence, and then, without lifting her head from his breast, she whispered softly in the touching language of Scripture, "Whither thou goest I will go; where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried."
"My little one—my own darling!" said Egerton. "Ah, Inez, once I thought that I had lost my child-love, and the years that lay before me seemed a dreary waste of time."
She nestled closer to him, and the little slender fingers wound clingingly round his hand; for she knew when and what he meant; but presently she said, "Strange that while I could read others so well, I read my own heart so little. Till now I knew not how I loved you. Since that day in Madrid, that you took me from the priest and called me your little Spanish olive, it grew in my heart; but till now I knew not how deeply and closely it had grown with my growth—grown part of my life and being, and been the motive and secret mainspring of nearly all my thoughts and feelings and actions."
"Truly, indeed, my gentle Inez," said Egerton, "have you proved the truth of your motto—'Love conquers all.'" And, bending down, he pressed a first holy kiss on her lips.
Was Angelo Egerton justified in his fears about Walter Surrey? Look into his sitting-room one evening about a month or five weeks after Egerton's secret departure from England, and we shall see whether or no his fears were well founded.
There at the table sat Julian's ex-pupil, bending over a book which we have no difficulty in recognising as a private note-book, not a betting book, it had not come to that yet; but there were some ugly looking array of figures and entries of bets, and certain ominous bills coming due shortly, and in the hands of Isaac Fakes, the usurer.
He sat a long time bending over the book with an aching head and throbbing brow, and worse than all, with an aching heart too, for the stern dark face of Egerton, or even Julian's gentler countenance, were not the only ones in his memory; it was a yet softer, gentler one than either. It was the face and memory of Theresa Stanfeld that was in the boy's mind and heart, and while that young heart could worship a fine woman, and feel shame and remorse because he had done, though under sore temptation, that which she would weep for, or perhaps turn from in scorn—while he could still feel all this, be so acutely alive to his folly—it wanted but a slender hand to lift him out, a hand firm and gentle, as Angelo's was, for all Walter's idea of its extreme severity.
Still his thoughts as he sat there were sad enough; he had on coming to college been taken especially in hand by a young man of large fortune, but somewhat wild habits. He was fond of the turf and betting on races, and it is easy to see how Walter, young, by nature trusting, and practically inexperienced in the world, was induced by his friend and his companions to bet, and then in order to clear these debts of honor to accept the assistance of Isaac Fakes, the money-lender, who pursued business at Cambridge as well as in London.
Thus it happened and so it was that Isaac Fakes held Walter's bills, due in three days, for one thousand pounds, and how to meet them he had no idea.
"Fool! weak fool that I have been!" muttered the young man. "And now, how shall I clear myself? How could I ever let Trelawney draw me into this vortex? It is my first hard lesson. Will Fakes renew them again? and if he will, it is only sinking deeper and deeper; for it must come at last. Egerton is no lax trustee, and when I come of age must and will know it."
He rose, and began pacing restlessly too and fro. Every feeling of honor and delicacy prevented him writing to Julian; for Julian could not assist him, save out of his own pocket, and naturally Walter shrank from incurring an obligation where he had no claim, and believing, as he did, that Rothesay had nothing but his profession. Worse still to ask, or even allow, Julian to act as mediator between himself and Egerton, for that would irretrievably sink him in the estimation of both.
Then, again, came the question of how to free himself from the debt which hung like a load on him, though Trelawney and his companions would have laughed at the idea of "such a fuss about a paltry thousand pounds."
Why was it that he so shrank from simply applying to his guardian? It was partly that he was ashamed to do so, partly that, despite the words of Mr. Bertram, he unconsciously exaggerated and dreaded Egerton's sternness and severity on all points where anything jarred on his own sensitive, chivalrous honor; but there, as we know, he misunderstood Angelo. Then he shrank, too, from the mere asking for an advance from Egerton, knowing that being still under age, he could give no security, and that even if he could, Angelo would not take it.
In the midst of this miserable doubt and uncertainty there came a knock at the door, and almost before Surrey could say, "Come in," the unknown entered. It was Isaac Fakes.
"Good evening, Mr. Surrey," he said, in his smooth, half-languid manner; and do not imagine him a vulgar, dirty looking follow, who bore 'usurer' on his face; rather imagine a particularly clean, respectable looking man, with good though large features, and sharp eyes, bright and cold, and hard at steel. "Good evening, Mr. Surrey. I ask pardon for intruding on you, but can you spare me a few moments?"
"I can; sit down, Mr. Fakes," returned Walter, in a cold, haughty manner.
"Thank you—no. I only wished to ask, to express a hope, that you will not fail to meet the bills due three days hence."
"So far from being ready, I must ask you to renew them," replied Walter. "I only want five months to my majority."
"I cannot do it, Mr. Surrey," said Fakes, and all the assumed languor was gone, though he spoke politely, "it isn't because I mistrust your honor. When I lent you the money on these bills, I did it knowing you could not legally give them; but I knew you, and knew your honor was my bond. It is my trade to know my clients. But I assure you"—and for once the man spoke the truth—"that this money is important to me to complete a purchase I cannot delay. I am sorry I cannot oblige you, but I must have the money. Your guardian will surely advance you the money."
A fierce answer was on Walter's lips, but he crushed it, and said, haughtily, "Keep to your own affairs, Mr. Fakes, and do not meddle with mine, so that you have your money. Sorry, indeed, am I that I ever was mad enough to incur the debt; but what is written is written. Those bills are due on Friday, you say; on Friday I will be with you and close our accounts. Good evening." And he fairly dismissed the money-lender.
But now his mind was made up—he must write to Egerton, and throw himself, as it were, on his mercy. There was nothing else to do; or, if there was, it would but make the reckoning that must come thrice as bad.
Having once decided upon a line of action, he followed it out with promptitude, and sitting down, he wrote at once to Egerton, telling him all from beginning to end, not even concealing the reasons why he had not from the very first applied to his guardian instead of a money-lender. Once writing, the truthful candour of his nature made him write everything.
The letter reached the house in St James' Square by the next day's post, and, according to orders, the old servant Burns immediately sent it on to his young mistress in Seymour-street.
Mrs. Rochester had gone out shopping, and taken Margaret with her, so that Inez de Caldara was alone when Walter's letter was given her.
Though Angelo had expressly told her to open all his letters, and though he had repeated it the morning of his departure, it was always with a sort of feeling of doing something wrong that she obeyed.
She knew Walter's handwriting at once; she could see that it was a thicker letter than he had written for a long time, and remembering the fears Angelo had expressed about him, a less acute mind than hers would have guessed pretty near the truth, and she did.
What should she do? Angelo had been gone nearly five weeks, but she had not heard from him, and did not know where he was. Should she simply return the letter, and say that Egerton was absent; but then, if Walter had got into trouble, and was asking for advice or assistance, would not such a reply drive him into the hands of the money-lenders? Would it not be better to open it according to Angelo's wish, nay, orders, and see what it really was, and if she could, assist him as much as possible, as Egerton would have done.
Inez was not one to remain long uncertain in anything, as we have seen, and though her position was anything but pleasant, she opened the letter and read it, and glad indeed was she that she had done so when she found what it contained.
Prompt to think as to act, she at once determined to do what she knew Egerton would have done—send the money immediately. The first thing was to get it, and she rang, ordered her horse round, and her old groom Wilde to attend her, drew a cheque for twelve hundred pounds, and fearful of being after banking hours, rode at once to the bankers, and was home again before half-past 4, somewhat warm for a fast ride on a June afternoon.
Then she wrote to Walter explaining her position. She said that she was sorry he had so misunderstood Angelo, but she had acted as she knew her guardian would have done, and would wish her to do. The whole letter was written with the nicest delicacy and regard for his feelings; and though, when her kind and most sisterly letter reached Walter Surrey, he was at first pained and mortified that she should know of his folly, he could not but be grateful to her for so promptly and yet delicately assisting him; and he wrote and told her so; and told her, too, that he had learned a lesson he should never forget. And he kept his word.
Let us return for a brief space to a person whom we have, perhaps, too long forgotten—our radical friend, Roland Aubrey, the companion and friend of Arthur Vivian.
Roland Aubrey was one of those unhappily constituted beings who are always coveting something which, when once possessed, is soon wearied of, and cast aside. False, passionate, fair spoken, and fickle, he always envied and coveted a thing or person till he obtained possession; but once won he was soon sated. Money was the only thing he never wearied of, and he rarely stopped at anything to obtain it, for he was as unprincipled as he was false.
When he had first met Inez de Caldara that night, more than a year before, on which he had given her and Colonel St. John shelter from the snow-drift, her extreme beauty, young as she was, had made a deeper impression on him than perhaps anything had in his life before, and the impression was in no way lessened when he learned from the colonel that she was the ward of Sir Angelo Egerton, of Falcontower; and though many long months passed before he again saw her, the memory of her image did not fade, as others had done. Subsequently in London, during the period that Inez was at Forest Moor, he had availed himself of the colonel's invitation and called on him, and it was the latter who had introduced him to Egerton as the gentleman who had so courteously received himself and Inez; and Egerton, grateful for any service done to his ward, too proud also to remain willingly under an obligation, and naturally taking Louis' introduction as a passport, gave Aubrey an invitation to Falcontower for Christmas, at the same time that he asked Louis.
Roland accepted it, and again met the young Spaniard, more beautiful than ever, the more so in his eyes for the rich gold in which the jewel was set; and Egerton noticed with a secret smile the attentions which Aubrey paid his ward. When they returned to town, Roland, in attempting to continue their guest, soon found that Inez at Falcontower and Inez in London were two very different people. As his hostess, her courtesy had made her treat him with a patient gentleness and tolerance which his vanity had construed into receiving his attentions; but in town, where no tie of hostess to guest bound her, the Castilian treated him with her usual cold hauteur, and placed a barrier of proud reserve between herself and him. He was like most fickle, obstinate characters, only rendered more determined and zealous by opposition, whether tacit or open; and both from that and vanity, Inez's haughty coldness did not daunt him; for with the very lowest possible opinion of women, he set it down to coquettish arts. How very different was his estimate to the high standard of the chivalrous Egerton.
* * *
One day Marion Rochester was sitting alone in her boudoir, lonely and sad enough, when the door opened, and Inez came in with her silent step, but a troubled look on the usually quiet face that instantly alarmed Marion, who, since her meeting with Austin, had grown more restless and nervous.
"What is the matter?" she said, hurriedly. "Julian—has my husband—"
"Hush! No, no, Marion. Look here. What shall I do?"
There was an open letter in her hand, and she gave it to Mrs. Rochester, with the indignant blood flushing through the pale, clear olive of her cheek.
"How dare he send me that?" she said.
"My dear child," said Marion, "why it is actually an offer of marriage from Roland Aubrey. Coolly penned, too, on my word. Well, write directly, and refuse him."
"But, Marion, I really don't know what to say," said the Castilian, half laughing, and still half indignant. "I should say something too bitter and haughty. See how self-satisfied conceit is in every line. The whole effusion looks as if he had got it from a French novel. I wish you would answer it for me."
"No," replied Marion; "if I do, he will call here and want to see you."
"I would not see him for worlds," said the girl, energetically.
"Sit down at my desk there and write," said Marion. "Come, Inez, you who receive and answer Angelo's business letters, must surely know how to write a refusal to an offer. Tell him you are engaged to Egerton."
"But you know, Marion, that the orthodox way is to be very sorry to decline the honor, et cetera, and I won't write any such falsehoods; for I am not sorry, and I consider it rather an insult than an honor."
"Well, then," said Marion, with something of her old merry laugh, "say, 'Sir,—I consider your offer as a dire insult, and desire you to consider yourself kicked."
Inez laughed outright at this, and taking up a pen in a sort of desperation, wrote off an answer which Marion read over her shoulder.
"That will do," she said. "You certainly have given him reason to mutter, 'Haughty as an Infanta.'"
"I mean to do so," replied the Spaniard, as she sealed and directed it. "If he comes here, Aunt Marion, you must see him, for I will not."
Mrs. Rochester promised, and the letter was sent. To say that Aubrey was not annoyed would be untrue; but it would be equally untrue to say that he was seriously daunted; he was nothing of the kind.
"These women," he muttered, with a supercilious smile, "are full of airs and arts to bring us more humbly to their feet, and this Spanish child of fifteen is an adept already. Well, she is worth some trouble to win, for her curious beauty is quite irresistible; moreover, Egerton will of course dower her richly. So to-morrow I will call on her temporary guardian, Mrs. Rochester, and ask for an interview with this coquettish little lady."
The next day Aubrey stepped into his cabriolet, and drove to Seymour-street. He thought he saw Inez at the drawing-room window, but when he was shown up only Mrs. Rochester was there. She received him chillingly, for though she had laughed at Inez's amusing perplexity and indignation, she was in truth somewhat indignant at his coming after so very decided a refusal as he had received; but Aubrey, after the first few words of greeting that politeness required, said, "You seem surprised to see me today, Mrs. Rochester."
"To say the truth, Mr. Aubrey," returned the lady, in the same cold, haughty manner, "I am surprised, when I remember the letter which I presume you must have received from Miss de Caldara."
"I received it, indeed, Mrs. Rochester," he replied, "and I could not rest till I came to entreat permission to plead my cause in person. Uncertainty is terrible, suspense is unbearable, and—"
Marion interrupted him, for she saw through him, and there was an almost unconscious shade of contempt in her tone as she said, "Pardon me, sir, but permit me to say that when Miss de Caldara gave a refusal she meant a refusal; and if you require further confirmation, allow me to inform you that the lady is already engaged, and has been for more than a month."
"Engaged!" exclaimed Aubrey, starting and rising quickly.
"Ay, engaged to Sir Angelo Egerton," returned Marion, rising also; "and before long will be his wife."
"Then, madam," said Aubrey, crushing for the time his real rage, "I can only beg you in my name to express to Miss de Caldara my deep regret for any pain I may, nay, must, have caused her."
Aubrey bowed low, and took his leave, but with revenge in his heart.
In her last interview with her husband, Evelina Vivian had told him, and told him truly, that she was dying. She had never been strong, and from the time her baby died, she had never rallied. If Arthur had been kind to her she might have done so, but almost from the first he had treated her harshly; for a short while after her infant's death, he had been a little more gentle, but then he had gone away for more than a year, and when he returned he was as harsh as he had been before. So it had gone on; he cowed her timid spirit, and ended by breaking her heart.
Eveline was dying now; it was impossible for even her poor grandfather to blind himself to the fact. From that Christmas day that she had seen Arthur she sank rapidly, but his name never passed her lips, nor that of her father either; but she clung more closely to her grandfather and sister, who was with her too, for Eveline never left her room now, and was only moved from the bed to a sofa. They asked her once whether she would not like to go into the country. No, she replied; the only peaceful hours her life had known had been passed in that dear old house, and she would die there.
And so she lingered on till summer; she had always said, as a little girl, that she should die in summer, and she reminded her sister of it with a smile that had not been on her lips for many a long day.
Death came suddenly at last. It was one evening in June when the rays of the setting sun were streaming into the room, and on her wasted white-robed form as it lay on the sofa, which had been wheeled near the window. They had been very silent for a long time, thinking she slept; perhaps she had, but if so, she was not asleep now, for presently she said, quietly, "Look at that setting sun, for my life will set with it. I shall never see another sun-rise."
Theresa came and knelt by her; the old man bent over her, but neither uttered a word. She spoke again after a time.
"When I am dead, lay me in my baby's grave, in the little churchyard at Forest Moor. Ah! Essie."
"What, Evie?" said her sister.
"If it had lived Arthur might have loved me," she replied; "but God's will be done."
"God is a merciful God, my child," whispered the old man.
"Oh, grandfather, but I have not kept His commandments; for I made me human idols, and fell down and worshipped them."
"And in His love, my darling, He took one to Himself, and broke the other idol. Whom God loves He chastens."
"He has chastened me heavily," she said, "very heavily; but it has brought me nearer to Him. 'God be merciful to me, a sinner!' Dear Essie, don't cry so dreadfully; promise me you'll never leave grandfather."
"Never, never—I promise," said Theresa, forcing back her tears.
"Thank you. Grandfather, give me your hand; yours, too, Essie."
She sank back, clasping their hands, and lay very silent and quiet, for a long time so calm and peaceful that it was long before they knew that she was dead:—
'They had thought her dying when she slept,
And sleeping when she died.'
The Highlanders never forget a service nor an injury, and in the latter quality Roland Aubrey resembled them, though he had but little of the former—not that he deliberately and on calculation forgot a service or a friend, but it was that he was too fickle long to retain any impression, save a very strong one; and that meanness and falseness of disposition made him dislike the hand that had done him good service, and hate the person to whom all good feeling and generosity bound him to show gratitude. In fine, he was a type of a very large portion of the world. You had only to do him a kindness or service to make an enemy of him. One person only had he any feeling for that had survived a first acquaintance, and that person was Arthur Vivian; nor was it so strange as it might at first appear; for independent of the mutual dissipations and wild life that had in part bound them together, there was a fascination about Arthur, in his manners, in his strange wild beauty and talents—ay, and in his very atheism and devilry of character, the more so, for the rare and strange flashes of something better—something of remorseful memory of his innocent childhood, that was like soft and far-off music heard through mist and darkness.
The soul which, however dark and evil, can be touched by music, and the sight of a little child, is never utterly lost. The spirit that can feel remorse is never beyond hope.
Perhaps it was these powers of fascination, so fatal to their possessor, which made the usually fickle Roland Aubrey hold to Arthur Vivian, even as an exile and fugitive; though even then the selfish calculation of the man showed forth; for he argued that if he befriended Vivian now his talents might be useful to him one day. That was in part the idea that had crossed him when he first assisted Vivian in escaping after the attempted murder of Inez; and ever since he had continued the same line of conduct, always being aware of some central point by which to keep up a communication. And now the time had come when Roland intended to reap the fruit of the seed he had sown, and put Vivian's talents and extreme beauty to some purpose. Behold the rejected and vindictive suitor of Inez—the rival on whom the haughty Egerton had not even deigned to shut his doors, seated now in an apartment in an hotel in Naples; while opposite to him, lying on a couch, is the elegant form of Arthur Vivian, one beautiful hand supporting his head, and half-hidden amidst the curly masses of his burnished hair, the other idly toying with a small dice-box.
"So," Aubrey was saying, "you have managed to escape the clever detective whom Egerton sent after you?"
"Yes, I have," replied Vivian; "though he was a sharp fellow, and gave me much trouble. He was so near me once as to follow me home from a casino. I gave the knave the slip, though," he added, with a reckless laugh. "But I have escaped a greater, and more imminent danger."
"What—who?" asked Aubrey.
"From Sir Angelo Egerton himself," was the reply.
"Egerton himself!" exclaimed Aubrey. "What do you mean?"
Vivian lifted his head, fixed his brilliant, almost gleaming black eyes on Roland's face, and said, "We have known each other long; and false and fickle as you are in most things, you have never been so to me, and I don't think you will be so. Can I trust you?"
"You can, Arthur Vivian," replied Aubrey; "and, by heaven, if it is anything that will place Egerton in my power, you may count on me to the death. I would give anything for revenge on him and Inez de Caldara."
"Ha! would you?" exclaimed Vivian, starting up. "Then, indeed, there's a strong bond between us—the bond of mutual hatred. Why do you hate them so bitterly?"
"Rather, why do you, Arthur?" enquired Aubrey.
"It is an old score," he replied; "is it not enough that they are hunting me to death? that this man has himself come in pursuit, and, but for a most lucky chance, must have had me now?"
"Arthur, you are speaking in enigmas," said Aubrey; "what do you mean?"
"Tell me first your reason for hating these two," said Vivian.
"It is simple," was the reply. "You know how I first met the senorita; you know her extraordinary beauty."
"And," said the other, "that she is the ward, almost daughter and heiress to Egerton. She had golden charms."
"Daughter!—ward!" exclaimed Aubrey passionately; "his wife, you mean, unless we can stop it."
"You needn't tell me any more," said Vivian, with the cold, icy sneer most habitual to the beautiful mouth. "I see what your reasons are now."
"Seeing it, then, make common cause with me," said Aubrey.
"Stay," said Vivian; "is your motive mere revenge, or do you think you have still a chance if you can make a split between her and Egerton?"
"Are you a believer in woman's faith?" sneered Roland.
"By the Lord Harry!" returned Vivian with a laugh, "my wife was so faithful that she wanted to come abroad with me."
"Ay, your wife; but this is different," said Aubrey. "By the way, your wife is—"
"Well, what?" said Vivian; "he had sunk back again, but he raised his head, and spoke impatiently.
"She is very ill," replied Aubrey; "she is dying."
"She told me that at Christmas," said Vivian.
"It was true," said Aubrey. "I arrived here to-day; and the day before I left England I saw in the Times the announcement of her death."
Vivian's face changed, and he turned it aside, murmuring, "Poor Eveline! poor little Evie! I wish my last word to her had been a kinder one, though I never cared for her." For some moments he was silent; and when he turned his face again, there was no trace of the momentary softness that had thrown real beauty into the handsome features. "What is written, is written," he said in his usual hard, half-reckless, half-sneering way; "that is another page of my life turned over."
"Begin the new leaf, then, by telling me of this Egerton," said his companion; "how and where you saw him."
"Listen, then," said Vivian. "I trust you because your interest is mine, and to betray me would be to betray your interest. I won't weary you with details; it is enough that when I fled here from Lyons, where I last escaped my pursuer, I joined, the better for concealment, half-a-dozen men, who were conspirators against their government—this of Naples. We met in a deserted and half-ruined villa out of the city, with plenty of secret escapes, and one too from the police. We used to go masked and in slouched hats, and heavy black cloaks. About five or six weeks ago we appointed a meeting, for one of us, Alfieri, was going to introduce a new member, a Spaniard, he said, by name Alava, who had for many years been an exile in Naples on account of his Carlist politics. Well, we all met, and Alfieri brought this Don Carlos de Alava, a very tall, steady man, so closely masked and disguised in his Spanish hat and mantilla, that nothing of him was visible, save his coal-black hair, and even his eyes were shadowed under his hat. Still, there was something about his figure, about the bearing of the whole man, that wasn't utterly strange to me, though too undefined to connect the impression with any particular person. It was some time before he spoke, and then it was to address me in the most courteous manner and in the purest Tuscan, though it was without the slightest sign of recognition. But the moment I heard the voice I knew my danger. Angelo Egerton is not a man to be once seen and heard and forgotten; my memory, too, is very tenacious, and I had heard him speak in the House eleven years ago, and when he was in Italy five or six years ago with his ward, though he didn't see me. You, who have known him personally, must have noticed how peculiarly beautiful his voice is, so soft, and deep, and musical, and though so low, heard so distinctly—"
"'Like music on the waters,'" quoted Aubrey. "Yes, I noticed it. His ward's is just the same. I don't wonder at your recognising it again, but what did you do? You spoke of knowing your danger. I should have said his, for he was one to six, not to say seven."
"Six what?—six Neapolitans!" said Arthur, with strong contempt. "You have only to look at him to see that his strength is gigantic, slight as he is; besides, he was armed, and I was pretty sure that Alfieri was in his pay. My position, I tell you, was anything but pleasant, but just as I had made the discovery the door was burst open and the room was filled with police, and every mother's son of them was arrested, save your humble servant, who managed to escape through the secret way and reach the city."
"You were mad to come here," said Aubrey.
"No," replied Vivian; "I had been disguised, hair and all; besides, Naples itself is the very last place they will look for me in. I took care that an anonymous letter reached the authorities, warning them that the Spanish prisoner would try to make himself out an Englishman, and attempt to appeal to the ambassador. The six others were executed, I believe, and if Egerton is still alive, he will have at least a six months' trial of a Neapolitan dungeon."
"Arthur, this is too bad," said Aubrey. "A man of such mark—an ex-minister—"
"And your rival," interposed the other, with his devilish sneer. "Roland, you are a fool. Chance puts into your hands the very man you hate, and you would fling it away. Let him lie there. They won't dare to put him to death, lest what he says should turn out to be true."
"Ah, and then if I could make her believe him faithless to her," said Aubrey, "she would in pique marry the first person who offered."
"I tell you, Roland, it must be a cursedly well put together story that will deceive her," said Vivian. "Though barely sixteen, she knows too much of the world to believe any mere newspaper report."
"But—if—" said Aubrey, slowly, "it were no report, but announced as a certainty amongst the marriages in the papers as having taken place in Italy, and if I could return and swear that I had seen the marriage and register, then I think no woman's faith could stand that."
"Speak out, man! What are you driving at?" demanded Vivian, rising to his feet.
"That I will come down handsomely, and fit you out for the game, if you will do the thing," said Aubrey. "I do not mean any rascally mock marriage. I would not sacrifice any girl's name for my scheme."
"What, when I'm just rid of one wife, you want me to saddle myself with another! Thank you for nothing," said Vivian, with a sardonic curl of his chiselled lip.
"Listen to me, Arthur," said Aubrey. "You can marry a wife without being bored with her. Leave her when you like. I can name a lady whom we met a year ago in Bologna, when you first escaped from Forest Moor—I mean that pretty creature you were so taken with, Genevra della Scala."
"She was very lovely, and I have never forgotten her. A sweet creature, too," said Vivian, with that momentary softening of his face. "I would marry her if I could get her to take me."
"Come here," said Aubrey, drawing him to a tall Venetian mirror. "What do you see there?"
"Myself," said Vivian. "Why?"
"Look, then, on that handsome form and face, and say whether she will refuse you?" said Aubrey.
"Roland—Roland!" said Vivian, with a passionate force that was startling from him, "when my mother died, she left me the fatal gift of her beauty. Oh, that fatal beauty!"
"Vivian—Arthur!" exclaimed Aubrey.
"Ay—you think I was born with a devil in me," said Vivian, "and perhaps I was. But I tell you there are times when I am almost maddened by the memory of my childhood, when I stood an innocent child at my mother's knee, and listened to her gentle teachings. I believed in a God and an eternity then," he said, with a look of such dark, wild remorse in his lurid eyes that Roland almost recoiled.
Vivian turned away, and for some minutes there was silence.
"Will you do it, Vivian?" said Aubrey, breaking a silence that was oppressive to him.
"Yes," replied Vivian. "I don't mind such a pretty wife for a time. How is it to be done?"
"She is a Veronese," said Aubrey. "She is the ward of a distant relative, an old lady, who will be glad to be rid of her charge and her money. They live at a small town some ten miles from Verona. We will go there and introduce ourselves—myself in my own name, you as Sir Angelo Egerton; only, mind, the marriage must take place this day month. And the day that sees Inez pledged to me shall see you the owner of five thousand pounds."
"Done!" said Vivian.
"Then I'll go at once and see about our instant departure," said Aubrey.
Vivian looked after him, and as the door closed on him, he muttered, with a bitter sneer, "I wish no better revenge on that cursed dark faced girl than to see her Aubrey's wife. Curse them all!"
Austin Rochester had parted from his injured wife in fierce passion and anger that had not been improved by the almost immediate marriage of his daughter to her son—her work, he knew, in utter defiance of his commands.
But he was weary of his lonely, dreary weight of misery and sorrow; and ere June was many days old, he determined to return to her, if he could bear it; for all the bitter memories of his lost and wasted life rose between him and his second wife.
He had taken up his residence in apartments; and from thence he wrote to her that he was himself going to live, at any rate for a time, at Rochester Court, and that he wished her to join him there.
When this arbitrary letter reached Marion, she was in her room with Inez, dressing for the opera, having dismissed her maid, Nelly Warren, in order that she and Inez might talk more freely.
The first impulse of the loving, suffering wife was passionate joy; her second was very different.
"Oh, Inez!" she cried, "my son—my Julian; he will part me from him. He will never let us meet; and Julian will not be home till next week, and I fear their meeting. I know Austin so well; his passions are so fearful and ungoverned—and yet—oh, child, if he would love me, I could die happy!"
"Dear Marion," said Inez, "do not let your love for even Julian stand between you and your husband."
"I will go to him now, at once," said Marion. "Take off this dress! Take these jewels from my hair!"
She was almost tearing them out, when Inez's hand arrested her.
"Marion," said she, "be calm, Dear Marion, try and be calm."
"Calm!" said Marion. "Have I not been calm all these years? I am not like you, child. I haven't got your iron nerves; and I haven't had your iron training. I have been more nervous, too, since I met him that day when Julian interfered between us."
The Castilian said nothing, but wrapped a shawl about her and opened the door. "Come," she said, "the carriage is ready, and Wylde will drive you; and, Marion, remember, do not let Margaret and me stand in the way of his return."
She saw Mrs. Rochester into the carriage, and saw it drive off, and then re-entered the house.
Meanwhile, Austin Rochester sat waiting for an answer to his imperative letter. He did not hear a carriage stop, nor steps enter the house; but he heard them ascend the staircase and pause outside, and, as the door opened, he turned sharply to once more confront the beautiful woman whose happiness he had wrecked.
"You here!" he said, drawing back with a dark frown. "Do you answer letters in person at this hour?"
"To my husband, yes," she answered, steadily; "if you wrote at midnight I should come."
"Give me your answer then, madam, and leave me," said Austin.
"Austin, hear me!" said Marion; "When Angelo Egerton went away, he left his ward and her friend in my charge. Inez cannot leave town; and I have no one to whom I can commit them, until Julian—my son—returns, a week or a fortnight hence. Listen still, Austin. I have things in London that I must arrange before I can leave; my house for one, I cannot leave in two days."
"So," said he, with an impetuous gesture, "these girls are to prevent you from obeying my commands; and for the other, this Egerton—"
"Oh, Austin, hush, and listen to me!" said his wife. "I do not refuse. Heaven knows I could not refuse you my very life's blood; but what need to wait or go straight to the north? Return with me now—come with me—to me; is not my home your home—all I have yours too?"
"Mine!" he said, shaking off her entreating hand; "mine, aye, as my soul is. I cannot touch it. Leave me. Go and do this Egerton's bidding. You need not come to me in the north. Go!"
"I will not go—I will not leave you!" she said, still preserving the same gentle, steady manner. "I am your wedded wife, and I have borne your desertion too long. I will not be cast from you, as if I were unworthy to bear your name. It is killing me; I cannot bear it. Oh, Austin, return with me; it is only till Isbel comes home, and then I will follow you where you will."
He glanced in her face, hesitated, and then said abruptly, "I will come to-morrow; it is useless to plead more. I give you my pledge to return to you to-morrow."
She bent down, kissed his hand, and went away without a word. Somehow he could not forgot that silent kiss.
The same summer moon that shone on him, shone on Inez de Caldara. There she sat by the window of the boudoir, whither she had stolen to be alone. Alone she sat, the slight form bending a little forward; the young face drooping, the dark eyes fixed on the ground, one little hand dreamily pushing round a diamond ring on her finger, which flashed and glittered in the moonlight like a star. It was a ring Angelo had placed on her finger the morning of his departure; that was six or seven weeks ago, and she had not had a line from him—not the faintest rumor even of him. Look at that young face; it has the same look it had when she returned from Forest Moor; the anxious lines have returned to the quiet, sad brow, and the whole face has the old stern gravity and weariness of expression in every settled line. She suffers in silence and alone.
She sat without moving the whole time of Mrs. Rochester's absence, till the opening of the door made her lift her face and then rise up quickly as she saw Marion; and her voice, soft and musical as usual, betrayed no emotion when she spoke.
"Dear Marion, is he with you?" she asked. "You look brighter than you have for many a long day."
"Darling, I wish I could see you so," returned Marion. "I am happier, for my husband will return to me to-morrow. Listen, and I will tell you; and then we must go to Margaret. Oh, child! oh, child! how can I win my husband's love?"
The over-strained tension of the nerves gave way; and suddenly, hiding her face on Inez's breast, Marion wept bitterly.
The evening before the day on which Julian and his young wife were expected to arrive was a wild stormy evening, one of those that are so often in summer followed by a fine day.
Marion Rochester and Inez were deep in a game of chess, and Margaret Arundel was sitting near, apparently watching the game, but in truth perhaps dreaming of one far away across the mournful, misty Atlantic. Rochester was seated at a little distance, reading the evening paper, and now and then coming round to glance over the game, though he rarely spoke save to utter something bitter or cynical; for he treated his wife with cold and distant politeness, and her guests the same—with perfect courtesy, but no more. Of Inez's engagement to Angelo he knew nothing, that was only known to Julian and Isbel Rothesay, Marion, and Margaret.
"Marion," said Rochester, suddenly, "I think I heard you say yesterday to Miss de Caldara that you wished you had some news of Egerton. Here is news. Listen, 'We learn by the mails just arrived from the continent that a few days ago was celebrated, at the church of Saneta Maria, in Bologna, the marriage of the celebrated Sir Angelo Rothesay Egerton, of Falcontower Castle, to the Signora Genevra della Scala, an Italian lady of birth and great beauty.'"
"It is impossible!" exclaimed his wife and Margaret, but no word passed Inez's lips. She rose quite calmly, though with a colorless face, walked round to Rochester, and taking the paper from him, read the paragraph herself.
"It is false—utterly, basely false!" she said. "It is impossible that it can be true."
There was no passion in her manner—no quiver of the lip, but there was a depth and intensity in her low steady voice which perhaps only Marion and Margaret thoroughly felt and understood.
Austin looked at her for a moment; then said, "And why is it impossible that it can be true? What is more likely than for a rich and handsome Englishman to marry a beautiful Italian?"
"Why?"—and now Inez's proud face flushed darkly for a moment—"because, Mr. Rochester, I am Angelo Egerton's betrothed wife."
"Still, senora, that hardly affects the possibility or likelihood of this statement," said Austin, with a covert sneer, that the cynicism of his nature could not repress.
"Do you judge all men by your own proved standard of faith?" was the bitter taunt which rose to the Spaniard's lips, but she crushed it down, for Marion's sake, and said in a voice resolutely calm, "You, at least, should know Egerton better than that. Well enough to believe in his honor, if not his faith."
"I! I believe in nothing," he said, with his sardonic smile. "Poor child! You will find the anchor of faith you lean on a vain shadow."
"I shall find it a firm rock, on which to rest my life," she answered, coolly resuming her place at the chessboard. "I do not expect you to disbelieve the statement, but leave me to my faith in Egerton. Come, Marion, let us finish our game."
Truly 'Perfect love casteth out fear.' Her love and faith in Angelo were as perfect as his was in her.
Thus far Roland Aubrey's scheme had utterly failed.
* * *
I was restless that night, says Margaret Arundel, in her memoirs. I did not then know why; but looking back, I know now.
It was a very stormy night, but the moon broke out now and then between the clouds, and shone brightly. Inez's room was next to mine, and a small private door communicated with it. I heard her say good night to Mr. and Mrs. Rochester on the staircase, and then enter her room, but I did not hear her moving about at all, as if she was undressing. I got into bed, but I couldn't rest or sleep, for my thoughts would wander to her alone there, and then far, far away. I could not read my own heart then, but that night she made me know it.
I heard 1 o'clock, then 2 strike, but still sleep would not come—the storm had passed and left the sky clear and fair, and at last rising I wrapped a morning gown round me, and very softly opened the door leading into Inez's room. It was three hours nearly since we had come up stairs, but there she sat on the floor by the window, dressed, her raven hair falling about her; her dark, beautiful face uplifted, and her hand clasping to her breast that jewelled cross I knew so well. I stopped a moment spell-bound, then crossed the chamber, and sat down on a low chair by her.
"Inez," I said, gently touching her.
She drew a deep, shivering breath, and turned her face to me.
"Margaret," she whispered, "if he is dead I shall not live long."
"Inez, Inez," said I, "don't talk like that—don't talk so, child. It is wrong."
"Wrong," she repeated, almost mechanically—"wrong!—why?"
"Isn't it wrong," said I, "to bind up one's very life in that of any human being?"
"I don't know," she replied; "I can't help it. Oh, Margaret, I could bear anything better than this sickening suspense and uncertainty."
Her haughty pride and self-command gave way; and, laying her head on my lap, she wept such tears as I have never before seen a woman weep, and never since. She wept as men, not women, weep; but I was glad to see her, for well I knew that if she knew or believed Egerton really dead, she would have been still, and calm, and tearless, and so have withered away like a blighted flower, and died.
She recovered herself in a few moments, but she did not lift her head, and I bent down, and whispered, "He isn't dead, Inez; he can't be. You look too readily at the dark side of things; isn't it much more likely that he is in disguise in some way that makes it impossible for him to write?"
She made no answer, and to rouse her I added, "It is strange about that notice in the paper. It is more than a mere report."
"Margaret, you don't believe it?" she said.
"No, Inez," I replied, "you don't, and so I don't. Besides, it is impossible."
"I should think so," she said, dryly.
"But still, Inez," said I, "I should like to know what it really means."
"I know it can't be Angelo," she replied, "and so I don't care to know anything about it, or who it is."
Oh, that child's faith! it was sublime—it was grand!
"Inez," said I, "suppose that some one told you they had seen the marriage. Suppose Julian Rothesay—or—or—Colonel St. John."
I could not help that foolish hesitation.
She lifted her dark eyes, and fixed them on me, with that look of hers that Vivian had quailed beneath and which now brought the color to my cheeks, and read my very heart better than I did myself. "I should think them strangely mistaken."
"Perhaps," she said, with a half smile, "that Angelo might have a double, but no more that."
"Inez," I said, "I think, in your place, and in that case, my faith would fail."
"Wait till you are tried," she said.
Again the tell-tale color rushed into my face so warmly that I raised my hand to hide it.
She rose up suddenly, and wound her arms about me, drawing my head upon her breast. I burst into tears; I couldn't help it; I was weak and unnerved.
"Oh, Inez," I cried, "you will despise me; you must think me so weak, so foolish and wrong."
"I knew it long ago, my dear Margaret," whispered the soft musical voice I had never loved so well as now, "and nothing can make me think badly of my Margaret. Can we help giving our affections? They are beyond control. Did I not love Angelo even as a child in his arms, ay, long before I knew I was anything to him but his ward?"
Surely that child was sent as a blessing to all she came in contact with.
For a long time we were silent, and then I said, "Hope and trust, Inez darling. Now come to bed, and have as much hope as you have faith."
She smiled sadly, and shook her head, but we went to bed, and I soon slept. I don't think she did, for the next day she looked very weary and anxious; though when I reminded her that she was to go and meet Julian Rothesay and Isbel at London Bridge, her face brightened. I think, next to Angelo, Julian has the first place in her heart, and knowing what I do now, I don't wonder at it.
Looking over the notes from which I write these memoirs, I find that some few things which followed have been by me somewhat passingly put down.
Julian Rothesay and Isbel took Mrs. Rochester's Seymour-street house off her hands, and then she went with her husband to Rochester Court; but he did not meet either Isbel or her husband, and Mrs. Rochester saw them at the hotel they were at till she left town. When she went, Inez and I remained with the Rothesays, and I was glad of it, for Julian had more influence over Inez than anyone, save Egerton, and he made her sit to him for the portrait, he said, smiling, of "Inez, Lady Egerton."
I remember one day we were all out riding in the park, when Isbel exclaimed, "Inez, there is Roland Aubrey riding this way."
The next moment he came up, affected to hesitate, and then, with a low bow to us, addressed my Spanish friend very coolly, considering what had passed.
"Pardon me, senora, for the liberty I am taking," said he, "but you are aware of the marriage of Sir Angelo Egerton in Bologna?"
"A mere newspaper report," she answered, with a haughty carelessness.
"Pardon, again, senora," said he; "I saw the marriage myself."
"Then Mr. Aubrey must have been strangely mistaken to imagine any stranger Sir Angelo Egerton," said Inez, with bitter sarcasm, "When that gentleman himself informs me of his marriage I will believe it, not before. Your scheme, sir, is 'Love's labor Lost.'"
With an ironical bow and smile she turned from him and we rode on.
"That man is at the bottom of the report," she said to Rothesay; "his whole scheme is as plain as day, Julian."
"His opinion of a woman's truth must be very poor," returned Julian, smiling. "He has over-reached himself. I would as soon believe Isbel here false, as Angelo."
Austin Rochester treated his wife with the most cold and distant politeness that was consistent with the commonest courtesy of a gentleman, a course that cut her more deeply, and placed a more effectual barrier between them, than any harshness could have done, for she began to both fear him, to long for his presence, and yet to dread it; and when he came he found her timid and nervous to a degree that grew at last, cut off as she was now from all who loved her, to actual agony. Sorrow had done its work, and her nervous system was not what it had been ten years before.
If Marion Rochester had met Austin's pride with pride, coldness with coldness, and cynicism with bitterness—if she had set herself, as some would have done, systematically to oppose his wishes and commands, to resist him in everything, she would have made his home a continual scene of discord, and brought upon her head untold misery.
But it was the nature of Austin's gentle wife to act the very opposite to all this. Such an idea as disputing anything he commanded or wished never entered her head. She never met him, when she did see him, with a frown or cloud on her face; nervous or timid she often was now in his presence, but though it sometimes annoyed him—the more that he knew it was his work—it was impossible that he could for ever in heart utterly resist the influence of her unvarying sweetness and gentleness. It was touching to watch her if he spoke to her with something less of his cold distance; how every feature suddenly lighted up, yet how the tear started to her eye and her lip quivered; how, when he paced gloomily up and down the room, as he often did, her eyes would follow him; and, oh, how her heart ached for him, how she longed to throw herself at his feet and entreat him not to repulse her—to love her, to let her love him! Let her love him! Alas for her! Long since had the heart he crushed as ruthlessly as his own been given to him.
He long struggled against it; but there was something about Marion which, despite himself, touched at last the naturally generous and noble nature which lay beneath the evil—a sort of clinging gentleness which, to a man like himself, could not fail to arouse everything soft and good in him. He felt his dislike to her melting, though, alas! not his belief in the impossibility of her love. Often of a night as she slept he would bend over her and gently draw back the sunny tresses from her fair face; once, and once only, he bent lower still, and softly kissed her brow; she moved slightly, and smiling, murmured a name in her sleep; his heart beat wildly—it was the name of Austin that his wife uttered; but then he turned away with a low, bitter laugh.
"No, it is impossible," said he; "she must, she does hate me. It is impossible for any one to love me."
A darker, deeper shadow fell on him. He was no longer indifferent to the wife whom years before it had cost him such agony to wed.
* * *
One day late in the autumn, just as the sun was sinking behind the hills which lay to the west, Marion drove out quite alone in her little park phaeton. It was a lovely evening, but Marion, absorbed in her own thoughts, did not heed it, and the ponies wandered on, and stopped under some trees to crop the grass. For a long time she sat there, till the sun had sunk and the gloaming begun to fall, and then the chilliness roused her from her dreams of the past, and she gathered up the reins to return; but as she did so a man stepped from amongst the trees and laid his hand on the reins—a man we know, though she did not—more haggard and wild-looking now than when we last saw him, but Stephen Stanfeld still.
"Are you Mr. Rochester's wife?" he said, roughly.
"I am," replied Marion, boldly, though her heart sank within her. "Let go those horses."
"Not yet, lady," said he. "You are handsomer than your predecessor, and I must have a few words with you."
"Not one," said Marion; and bold with the desperation of terror, she sprang to the ground to fly, flinging away the heavy whip, which, in her place, Inez would have laid across him with no weak hand.
With one stride Stanfeld was at her side, and had grasped her hand; but in that moment a tall figure stood between them.
"Villain! you have killed my first wife, and insult the second!" And with all his fierce passion and hatred concentrated in that one blow, Austin Rochester felled Stanfeld to the ground.
Marion remembered no more. The first thing she knew again was a dreamy consciousness of being in a lighted room, and hearing voices.
"Nelly, she has lain like this a long time," said the voice of Austin, in low tones. "I wish she would move."
"There is nothing to fear, indeed, sir," replied Nelly. "Her hands are warmer. Leave her to me, now, awhile."
He made no answer; and went away with a slow, sad step. It was sometime longer before Marion could speak.
"Nell," she said, faintly.
"Here I am, my darling mistress. How do you feel?" said the girl, bending over her.
Mrs. Rochester raised herself, and glanced at the clock. It was past 10.
"As late as that?" she said, passing her hand over her eyes. "Nelly, I have been weaker of late, or I should not have fainted so long, I know. Where is my husband!"
"In the library, ma'am," replied the girl. "There is a fire there."
"Alone—all alone!" murmured Marion; then aloud, "You may go to bed, Nelly. I shall not want you to-night."
Nelly Warren retired, and then Marion opened the door, and descended the staircase.
Meanwhile, Rochester had gone to the library, where a bright little fire burned, with a small sofa placed beside it. He sat down on it, and, resting his head on his hand, fixed his eyes on the fire, more lonely, more desolate, more broken-hearted than when he had stood alone and deserted that heavy day years ago, when his first wife died. All the sad, bitter memories of the past had been aroused by that brief meeting with Stanfeld. All his sorrows were raked up and laid bare again; he felt that the crisis of his fate had come at last. He could no longer disguise it from himself that he loved his gentle and deeply injured wife, whom he could not believe loved him. Yet he felt that after what had passed, little though that seemed, he could not go on with her as he had done; he must speak to her, yet his pride, his every feeling rose when he though of her answer—that is, what he believed it would be. He little imagined how near she was while he sat there, his very heart burning with agony.
Marion paused a moment outside the door, fearing to enter, and fearing to meet one of those cold stern looks, so forbidding, so repelling to her. Yet he was alone—he was unhappy, and who should go to him if not she, his wife? She opened the door quietly, and trembling entered. His head was bowed on his hand, and his whole form drooping. Woman's love triumphed over fear and nervous timidity, and she sprang forward—to his feet.
"Oh, Austin, do not send me away. Indeed I could not rest while you were alone and sad here."
He started and looked up. "Send you away?" he repeated slowly; "send you away, Marion? No; it is well you have come, I have much to say to you. You have heard part, and all must come now."
He rose and paced up and down, striving to recover the self-command which for a moment he had lost. It was but for a moment, then he said calmly and steadily, "Marion, listen to me. You as yet know little of my past life. It is sad, but for once I will tell all. I do not fear to lay all bare to your gentle innocence. Once, years ago, I heard you tell my daughter that you pitied me, it nearly maddened me then; but now, I say, be lenient to the evil and wrong you will see, and pity them—if you can."
She longed to throw herself in his arms, and tell him how she loved him, but something in his eye held her silent and nerveless.
Rochester leaned against the mantelpiece, and went on. He went over that portion of his history with which the reader is already acquainted, and continued, "I went from Eton to college. I could not bear myself; and to drown thought, I plunged wildly into dissipation. My father died when I was barely nineteen, leaving me, deep in debt, with a thousand pounds. I left England at once, secretly, and went abroad, not leaving any trace even to my brother Wilmot; only Egerton, under an oath of secrecy, knew of my retreat."
Austin paused before he went on, but not quite so steadily or calmly as before.
"No matter how I lived abroad—let that pass. I met an English gentleman there, a Mr. Earnscliffe, who had a daughter Mina, a beautiful creature. Marion, I loved her—oh, how I loved that girl!—I worshipped, idolised her. But at first I did not speak, for she had some fortune, and I had none—at first, I say, for I had not known them long, when I heard that the bank in which Earnscliffe's fortune was had failed. Well, there is no need to linger here. I spoke then, and was accepted. Marion, I believed that she loved me as I did her—"
He stopped abruptly—his lips were white, but after a minute or two he continued.
"We were married soon, for her father hurried it on, though a year afterwards I knew that she had only married me in pique. It seems strange to tell you all this, but I, who had so loved my wife, soon found that I had been deceived, and by her. Fool, madman that I was, to imagine that any human creature could care for me! She did not; she hated and detested me as the rest had done, and she soon showed it, but I loved her better than I had ever done. One day I asked her what made her so unhappy, and entreated her to tell me—she did then. With passionate tears and sobs she told me how she hated me; and she had loved—how she did still love, one who, before I knew her, had won her heart—it was Stephen Stanfeld, then in the prime of his life. She told me how he had deserted her, as she rightly supposed, because of some rumor about her property. Then I came, and how, in wounded love and pique, she had wedded me. I gave her no word of reproach for her cruel deception, but I grew more stern and bitter after that.
"A year passed away, and Mina was within a very short time of her confinement. I knew she could not survive it; there was no need to tell me that, as they did; for had I not ever since that fatal explanation seen her, month after month, drooping, drooping slowly into her grave.
"We were then at Geneva, and one day I went out and was absent some time, and it was therefore late when I returned home. As I approached the drawing-room, I heard my wife's voice in entreaty, and then a man's voice answered in fierce tones. I dashed open the door, and stood face to face with my rival. She, my wife, was crouching at his feet, and he stood gazing on her with the face of a demon. It was well I had no weapon in my hand, or I should have killed him. She must have read in my face what was in me, for she threw herself, with a wild cry, between us. I remember putting her aside and demanding of him what he did there. He stood there—in my house—and insolently told me that he had watched and waited for this time to perfect his revenge; that he had come to upbraid her for her faithlessness to him; and this when he had a wife in England, which he had left for his fiendish revenge. I did not wait to hear his black villainy to the end. I remember stepping forwards and hurling him with a strength such as I have never possessed save then, right through the open window on to the lawn without, and Mina, with a shriek that I never heard before, and never can again, fell senseless in my arms.
"Oh, why did I recall that fatal day!" said Rochester, covering his face with a bitter agony that he could not control.
There was a dead silence for a moment. Marion sat bending forwards, her lips apart, her eyes fixed on her husband's, spell bound; she could not move or speak. Austin dropped his hands, his face was ashy white, but he went on.
"I carried her up stairs to her room, and sent for a physician; they recovered her from her swoon, but not to her senses. She awoke a raving maniac, and from her ravings I learnt all that had been left untold, all the love she had borne him, and how fiendishly he had repaid it. That night she gave birth to twins. She never saw another sun; she died that night.
"Marion, one child was born mad, and it was his work—his only. It died in a few months, leaving me Isbel, who, like her mother, hated me. I left the place with the child, wanderers in a strange land. But that child—how I loved it! I idolised it. The rest you know—no, not all yet. I have more to tell you; but the story of my life is ended. I have lived forty years, and in that time I have gone through more sorrows than most men have in twice that number of years. Perhaps they should have softened me, but they did not; you saw how the very sight of that man roused all the demon in me. Marion, you know now to what and who you are wedded; you saw why all hate me."
Marion had listened till now without moving, with every nerve strung too high even for tears; but when he stopped, she rose, hesitated a second, and then she threw her arms round his neck, and laying her head on his breast, said, touchingly, "Oh, Austin! not all. I love you, my husband."
The simple words, the tender action went to Rochester's very heart, and he clasped his wife passionately to him, and for a moment held her close, close to him, as if no power should ever take her from him. It was only for a moment; the thought flashed across him, "She mistakes pity for love;" and he put her back.
"No, Marion," he said; "you mistake your own feelings; I should have told you long ago. A woman loves but once, and your love is buried."
Marion bowed her head, and for the first time wept. She saw now the shadows that had been upon her married life.
"Oh, Austin! Austin!" she said, "Cyril was never anything but a second father to me. I have never loved but once."
"Stay, Marion," said Austin. "Do you know that I married you for the basest of motives—money—yet for my Isbel, too, to make a home for her. Oh! what it cost me! I hated you then. I do so no longer. Your gentleness and sweetness under all my harshness and desertion have won me even against my will."
"And yet you will not believe me," she interrupted, passionately. "Oh! Austin, if you repulse me again, I shall die! I, who have loved you so long!"
"I do believe you, my darling, my beloved wife!" said Austin. And, as he clasped her close to his heart, the tears she wept on his breast were tears of joy. There was no alloy in them.
And what of the faithful, enduring, long-suffering Inez—a child almost in years, a woman in sorrows—oh, how many dreary years of silent sorrow she had lived in those short five months, since Egerton went away! She never said anything; she read and wrote, and went on with all the occupations she had been used to, and was so quiet and grave, as she had always been, that even Margaret and Isbel thought her more hopeful; but Julian, who knew her so well, read her tearless calmness better, and he saw that the child's heart was breaking.
"Inez, my dear child," he said, one afternoon, when they were alone, "you make me very anxious about you; you are killing yourself."
"'The sooner it is over, the sooner to sleep,'" said Inez, bowing her face on his shoulder.
"My dear child," said Julian, passing his arm round her, and speaking in his tender, gentle way, "do I not suffer too? Have I not enough to bear without the fear of losing you too?"
He knew well how to reach her heart; the slight tinge of reproach, gentle as it was, touched her to the quick.
"Oh, Julian, forgive me!" said Inez. "I can't help it. I don't mean to grieve you."
"But you do," said Julian. "How do you think I must feel when I see you almost dying, drooping day by day before my eyes? It is dreadful to bear."
She was silent; but he felt her slight form quiver in every nerve, and presently he said, "Rouse yourself, my little sister. Surely if I can hope, you can do so too? Should we not trust in God, and bow to the stroke of Heaven?"
"I can't bend before the blast and rise again," said Inez, almost passionately. "I must bow to the storm—and die!"
"And is not that defying Heaven, my darling Inez?"
"Oh, Julian! Death is all I ask!—all I pray for."
"You speak so, child!" said Julian, energetically. "You who have faced death in the terrible form of midnight murder? You, who even now bear on your breast the proof of how frightfully near sudden death you once were, call the grave all you ask and pray for! Inez, do you forget that after death is eternity? Will all your high love and noble faith for Angelo purchase you a passport to Heaven? Rather have you not loved a human idol instead, and so worshipped it that He who said, 'I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have none other gods but me,' has, in his great love, chastened you? Child, pray for life, not for the death you so impiously ask for, or the grave into which you are so madly hurrying."
She had raised her face with a startled, frightened look; but now she hid it against him, weeping bitterly, almost convulsively, "Oh, Julian! Julian! spare me! have mercy!"
He kissed her brow, and gently soothed her; and, when she grew calmer, whispered words of hope till he won from her lips a faint smile, and a whispered "Dear Julian, if it were possible to do so, I love you better than ever I did before. I will never again be so impiously wicked as I have been."
"Are you angry with me?" said Julian.
"Ah! no, Julian," she replied; "rather am I grateful to you." And she bowed her head, and kissed his hand.
"Letters," said Julian, coming in towards the middle of the next day with several in his hand; "one for you, Miss Arundel; here Isbel, are two; and for you, Inez," throwing several into her lap, "a lot of business letters; one, I dare swear, from some muff of a constituent, asking for an appointment."
"Constituents seem to think that members are made of appointments," said Inez. "What is your letter, Julian?"
"From my—from Marion Rochester," said the artist, remembering Margaret's presence just in time.
There was a silence while he read, and then he put the letter in his wife's hand, with three words in Italian, which made Inez rise quickly, and read it over Isbel's shoulder; no rudeness in any of them to Margaret, who was occupied with her own letter.
Marion's letter contained briefly the tale of her happiness, and an earnest entreaty from herself and Austin for Julian and Isbel to come down as soon as they could. None of the three so deeply interested in her fate spoke; and, indeed, before they could do so, the door opened, and a servant appeared.
"Miss de Caldara," he said, "your servant Burns is here, and desires to see you directly."
The Castilian rose calmly, but with a face so white that Julian followed her out; and laying his hand on her shoulder to stay her, said to the servant, "Where is Burns?"
"In the breakfast-room, sir," was the reply.
"Very well," said Julian. "Inez," he added, in French, "I will go into the next room. If you want me, knock at the wall." She bent her head, and glided away.
In the breakfast-room was Burns, but with such a look of agitation, alarm, and perplexity in his face that for a moment Inez's very heart stood still, and it required all her strong will to speak as calmly as she did. "What has happened, Burns? Tell me the worst at once."
"Oh, Miss Inez, I hope you'll excuse me. I can't understand what has happened, but you must come back with me."
"What has happened?" she repeated, resting her hand heavily on a table near her.
Startled by her stern tone and manner, the old man spoke more quietly.
"This morning, Miss Inez," said he, "not long ago, a fly stopped at the door just as I was crossing the hall. A very pretty foreign-looking lady got out, and, in rather broken English, asked if the Signor Angelo Egerton had arrived yet—whether he was at home? 'No, ma'am,' says I; 'but you can see his ward, Miss de Caldara, who manages everything;' and I showed her into the morning-room, and followed her to question her, for you see how she might have been a swindler, or something bad. So I told her very politely that I should be obliged to her for her name, in order to send for you. Then she up and said, very agitated like, 'Send for this signora directly, then, for I am ill, and tell her I am Lady Egerton, Sir Angelo's wife.' 'Ma'am, that's impossible,' says I, flatly. Oh, Miss Inez," he exclaimed, "how ghastly you look! Is what she says true?"
"Hush!" said the Spaniard, touching him. "No, my faithful Burns, it is a mistake; but keep your own counsel. You have, I see, brought a carriage. I will join you directly."
She left the room, and for some ten minutes Burns was alone; then she returned dressed, and he followed her.
Julian Rothesay stood at the carriage door; he handed her in, sprang in himself, and bade Burns drive fast, and the noble grays did their part so well that in a very short time they reached St. James' Square.
"Now, Burn's," said Inez, "I will go up to the library, and you show this lady up to me there."
She and Julian ascended the staircase; he went into her own boudoir, and she entered the library, which was opposite.
The door opened, and a lady closely veiled entered. It was a strange and trying position for Inez—she herself all but Egerton's wife, and confronting a woman who claimed that position—but even then her natural self-control did not fail her; but before she could speak the stranger threw back her veil, disclosing, to Inez's utter surprise, the soft, Madonna-like face of Genevra della Scala.
"Surely we have met before," exclaimed the Italian in her own language; "there is something in your face that I remember. Oh, signora! tell me, in mercy, where my husband, Angelo Egerton, is."
"Signora," said the Castilian, gently, and in the same tongue, "you are the victim of some strange mistake. Sir Angelo Egerton is unmarried; and, moreover, he never saw you in his life."
"Never saw me!" repeated the Italian, passionately. "You stand there so calmly and tell me that! Listen, signora. He came to Bologna, and on the strength of a former acquaintance in travelling he came to my aunt's house; he won my heart, and last June we were married. He was kind at first, but more than a month ago he left me suddenly. I pass over my despair. I had money and jewels, and when days became weeks, and he did not return, I became convinced that he had deserted me, and returned to England."
She paused a moment, and then went on in a more agitated manner.
"I determined to claim and vindicate my rights for the sake of my unborn child, and I came to England, and straight on to your city of London; for I remembered his saying that his house was here—at your great station near the river."
"London Bridge," said Inez.
"Ah, yes!" said the Italian. "Well, there I asked the Inspector, as they called him, and asked him how I could find the address of a person in London, for I thought he must know. He was very kind, seeing that I was a foreigner, and alone, and he asked me who I wanted. I told him the Signor Angelo Egerton, and he asked me if I meant Sir Angelo Egerton, the member of Parliament? I said 'Yes, it must, be the same;' and then he took me into an office and looked in a huge large book which he called a Directory, and then put me and all I had in a carriage, and told the coachman to drive the lady to Sir Angelo Egerton's, St. James's Square."
She had spoken so rapidly and incoherently, half in broken English, half in Italian, and that not the pure Tuscan which Inez spoke, and was so agitated, that it required all the Castilian's attention to follow her; and when the unfortunate lady ended with a passionate burst of tears, Inez for a moment hardly knew what to say or do, for she had as much dislike to 'a scene' as any man ever had. She hesitated only a moment, and then she bent over Genevra, and soothed her as only a woman can, till she grew more calm, and then Inez spoke.
"Your story is a sad one; you have been cruelly deceived and forsaken, but not by Angelo Egerton. Look at this, and say whether your husband was like it."
There was several photographs on the mantelpiece; she opened it and held it out.
"This is Angelo Egerton, signora," said Inez. "Does that face look like the face of a man who could be false to all faith and honor?"
"No, no. Oh! Holy Mother! have pity on me!" cried the Italian. "This man has deep sad gray eyes, and hair as black as yours; and my husband had black eyes and beautiful strange-looking golden hair, dark, but burnished."
Inez started, and turned ghastly white, and for a moment everything seemed black darkness—black with the utter sense of misery that had fallen on her in that moment. The whole truth flashed across her—ay, worse than the truth. Arthur Vivian had discovered Egerton's pursuit, murdered him, and taken his name to deceive the poor girl, who was another victim of his reckless villainy! But she was too proud to let a stranger see her agony; and stern self-command had so completely grown a second nature, that in a moment she recovered her calmness. "Listen," she said. "Should you know a picture of him?"
"Yes—ah, yes, signora," she replied.
"Here is one," said Inez, taking from the mantelpiece a photograph of the portrait. "Is this your husband?"
Genevra took it, and gazed at it with dilating eyes and quivering lips; then she threw it from her, and clasped her hands on her brow.
"It is! it is! Who and what is he? and what am I?"
Inez took both her hands in her own. "Look at me," she said, quietly and firmly, "and tell me, Genevra, were you married openly and fairly in the Romish Church, and by a priest. Be calm, for you injure yourself by such agitation. Now, tell me."
"It was in the Church of Our Lady that we were married," she replied; "openly and fairly, according to the Catholic rites, for he belonged to our Church."
"To your Church—he is an Atheist; but you are his wedded wife," said Inez.
"His name?" she asked. "Tell me his name, and all you know of him."
"Is it for me to blacken a husband to his wife?" said the Spaniard, recoiling. "Enough that his name is Arthur Vivian, and that I know no good of him. He has been a bitter enemy to me and mine."
"I am alone and forlorn—a stranger to your land; but this house is no place for his wife," said the Italian, rising.
"Genevra!" said Inez.
She turned—threw her arms round Inez, clinging to her almost like a child to its mother; laid her head against her, and wept as only the broken-hearted weep.
Gently and tenderly Inez soothed the poor Italian, and then bidding her wait a moment, and she would bring an old acquaintance, she left the room.
Nearly ten minutes elapsed, and then Inez returned with Julian Rothesay.
Julian Rothesay and Inez had very readily decided what to do with Genevra Vivian, as we must now call her. As she expressed her determination to remain in England, they decided to place her in apartments suitable to her means, which the disposal of her valuable jewels would make comfortable. Inez happened to know a very worthy couple, whom she had once befriended—old tradesmen of Sir Angelo's—who had lodgings to let, and there she placed the unfortunate Italian, engaging a sister of Mrs. Slater as her personal attendant.
Inez had a most painful and distressing scene to go through with Genevra; for before they left Slater's house, Julian drew her aside, and told her that she must at once tell Mrs. Vivian that her husband was under an accusation of murder. "She had better hear it gently," he very truly said, "than suddenly, as she certainly would whenever Arthur was taken, and that might come any day;" and Inez could not but think him right, and she did tell the unfortunate wife as gently as possible, and although she bore it better than she had feared, Inez told Julian that it had been the most trying scene she had ever gone through.
The next day Julian and his young wife left for the North, and in the evening Lady Alice came to fetch Margaret to spend the evening with her. She wanted Inez to go too, but Inez said she must go over to St James' Square, as she had an appointment with Egerton's solicitor, Mr. Seymour, on business relating to Falcontower.
The truth was that the poor child was worn out and ill; constant wearing sorrow and sickening anxiety had begun at last to tell upon her, and she shrunk from anything like society; so she was glad when she found herself once more seated in the old library, with Leon at her feet, and the grand paintings of the old masters looking down from the walls on her.
Mr. Seymour came soon after her arrival, but the business he had to transact was soon done, and then she was alone again. Alone, for a long time so buried in painful, anxious thought that she did not even hear a carriage stop, followed by a knock at the door, and then voices speaking; then the door opened, and a tall dark figure entered, so silently that she did not hear any footfall, but it was rather that indefinite impression that some one was present which made her rise quickly and turn.
"Inez, my little one, my darling!"
She was folded in his arms, close, close to his breast, in a clasp no human power could have loosed, and in that moment all the suffering and sorrow they had gone through was forgotten, save as a dark dream that was past.
He did not speak, he could not, till at last he held her off to gaze into the face he so deeply loved.
"Inez, Inez, how this dear face has changed—how ill and worn it looks!"
"Ah, Angelo, the strongest flower will wither when the hand that cherished it is gone," said Inez, touchingly.
He half smiled, and sat down in the seat she had left, and Inez knelt at his feet and laid her head against him, as she had done when a child, winding her slender fingers round his hand with the old, tender, clinging action.
"Angelo, you too are changed; this grave brow has more lines, and this raven hair more gray than it had five months ago."
"Look at neither now, my little one," said Egerton, gently, drawing her head down on his breast again, and tenderly smoothing her dark tresses. "My journey has been a fruitless and very nearly a fatal one. Let it be forgotten. A page in my life obliterated."
"It cannot be, Angelo. A page once read can never be forgotten, and it is one I have not yet read. Ah, Angelo, it has been such a dark dream!"
"Poor child, poor little one! I have learned from Burns all that has happened here, and I know what you have suffered."
He did not even ask her if she had believed in his marriage, though the proofs of it had been so great as to have made it almost pardonable to do so. But she understood him, and pressed her lips to his hand, while a bright tear glittered in her eye and fell; but presently she said, "You cannot know everything, for the worst only Julian and I know. Angelo, read me your page, and I will tell you mine."
"It is shortly told, Inez; it is a rough chain that has bound us, if possible, closer together."
Then he told her how he had discovered Vivian, by passing him one night in the company of one Alfieri; how he had then, disguised as a Spaniard, Carlos de Alava, got hold of Alfieri, and bribed him to introduce him amongst the conspirators, pledging himself not to betray them, and then how, at the very moment when Arthur seemed in his power, he was made a prisoner by the police, with all but Vivian.
"He managed to escape," said Egerton. "They say the devil takes care of his own. He had not recognised me till I spoke, but I saw him start slightly when I did so. Well, I was of course thrown into prison, and I tell you, Inez, I can understand now, by bitter experience, what the Bastille, Chatelet, or Chateau d'Eu were. I had no trial—I was brought before no tribunal, and when I stated that I was no Spaniard or conspirator, but an Englishman, and a subject of the Queen's, with a right of appeal to the English ambassador, they disbelieved me. I did not give my name, because I did not, and do not wish, or intend it to be known, what had passed. They told me that they had received notice that the Spaniard would try and pass for an Inglese. That shaft came from Vivian, I am sure. It is true my darkness and somewhat Spanish appearance told against me, for these foreigners think that all English people are fair. Still, I could see that they so far thought it possible that my statement of being an Englishman of rank might be true, that they did not venture to execute me as they did the rest, but contented themselves with keeping me a prisoner. I offered my jailor bribes to convey a letter to our ambassador, but he said he dared not for his life do it. My child, those five months of captivity have been years of misery. But God was gracious, and I escaped at last. Some new governor or commandant came, who made me pay a heavy fine or bribe, and quietly released me. Oh, Inez, no one can thoroughly love freedom who has not endured captivity."
She nestled closer to him, and whispered gently, "'Let the dead past bury its dead.' Let that dark page be forgotten, save as another link between us."
The strong man bowed his head, and tears fell on her upturned face. He had never loved her so well as then, for the sorrow they had just gone through had bound them, as he had said, yet closer—if that were possible.
There was plenty for Egerton to do. He had, as he said, smiling, his constituents to address and appease for his long absence, and various other business matters to attend to. Of course, the night before, Inez had told him all that had taken place in his absence, and the first thing he did the next morning was to write to Julian a few lines to ask him and his wife, and Rochester, and Marion, to go over to Falcontower the next day. Inez would be there to receive them, and he himself would join them from Cambridge the evening of the day after. Any one who did not know the man, to have read the letter would have thought him the coldest possible person, who did not care for Julian at all. The next thing was to drive round to Seymour-street, and, after remaining a short while with Inez and Margaret, who warmly and affectionately welcomed him, he went with Inez to see Genevra Vivian, who had been so cruelly deceived by his name. It was a courtesy which his high chivalry instinctively gave to an unfortunate lady, who had, however unwittingly on his part, been injured through and in his name.
Meanwhile Margaret was to get all ready for hers and Inez's immediate departure for the North, under the escort of old Wylde and the Castilian's maid, a respectable and matronly woman, who had for many years been her attendant. So they went down to Falcontower Castle, leaving Angelo to join them there.
The next morning Julian, Isbel, and the Rochesters arrived at the castle, and for the first time Austin Rochester crossed the threshhold of the first and only man who had ever befriended him.
The night that Egerton was expected was a fine frosty moonlight night, and Julian and Austin walked down to the station to meet him.
"We are only a little too early," remarked the latter, as they passed through on to the platform. "He comes from Cambridge, doesn't he, Julian?"
"Yes; Inez, you know, told us that he had to see his constituents."
"Ah, of course," said Rochester. "By the way, did you see a canard in this morning's paper about him?"
"No, what was it, Rochester?"
"Only that in announcing the return of 'the young statesman, Sir Angelo Egerton,' they were pleased to assign a reason for his long absence during the session, which reason, they said, was 'a secret political mission abroad.'"
Julian laughed, and said, "They'll contradict it again to-morrow, when they find in his speech at Cambridge that 'urgent and most strictly private family affairs which had required his departure at a moment's notice, had been the cause of his unavoidable absence;' and he is such a favorite that they will accept his excuse, which is the true one, after all. So," he added, laughing, "they call him a young statesman, do they? He is eight and thirty, and he took his first seat in Parliament when he was twenty-one. He is a statesman of seventeen years' standing."
Austin sighed, for those seventeen years he had worse than wasted.
"Look, Austin, the train is coming in."
"Is he in it, I wonder?" said Rochester.
The train stopped as he spoke, and several people got out. The tall form of Egerton was conspicuous amongst them, and Julian stepped forwards, and the silent iron clasp of their hands spoke more of the deep strong love between them than language could have done. Neither spoke, but Julian linked his arm in Egerton's, and passed out to where Austin stood apart awaiting them.
"Here is some one you knew long ago," said Julian, stopping.
"Has Angelo Egerton forgotten Austin Rochester?" asked Austin.
"No," was the reply, and Egerton held out the same friendly hand that years ago had been tendered in vain. "No, Austin Rochester, I have never forgotten you. Welcome to Falcontower—thrice welcome home."
He paused for no reply, and they walked on to the castle.
* * *
That night, in the same gloomy old library where, nearly a year before, the stern proud man had wept bitter tears of agony for the loss of his child-love, and the friend of his youth had whispered "Hope! thy child-love lives for thee!" in that ancient room the same two friends sat alone long after all else were sleeping.
"There is a fate against me and a doom upon me," said Julian. "All our attempts to take this black villain have failed."
"Not all, Julian," said Angelo, gently; "you forget the portrait. I am as convinced as that I am sitting here that that portrait, and it alone, will be the means of Vivian's discovery. Dear Julian, you have not been upheld for ten years to fall at last."
"Angelo, you are right. It cannot be that God will uphold injustice."
There was a silence, and then Egerton said, "There is a thing I want to speak to you about, and that is dear Marion and her husband. His estates are mortgaged to that Fakes we know too well, and Rochester literally has only two hundred a year he can call his own; it will never do, Julian, for the present state of things to last, the money coming from his wife; it must inevitably end in more misery, perhaps a second separation."
"I have thought of it, Angelo, but deferred acting until your return," said Julian, "Have you any plan? You know in all these years I have spent so little of my income that it has accumulated in your care to enough to do more than release his estate, and who has so good a right as I—his wife's son?"
"I have," replied Egerton, "and I claim the right to halve it with you, Julian; for if Marion is your mother, she is my dear sister; and moreover, there is a tie between Austin and me which would make him almost sooner take a service from me than you."
Julian smiled, and said, "As you will, Angelo. What is the amount of the mortgage that rascal Fakes holds?"
"Twenty thousand pounds at the least," he replied. "My plan is simply to go to Fakes with the money in my hand, and buy the mortgage deeds of him, and burn them in Rochester's presence."
"Will he let us do it?" asked Julian.
"He can't help himself, if we will do it. The deeds once in my hands, he can't compel me to return them to Fakes; nor can he make you and me receive money of him if we don't choose. I tell you plainly it is more for dear Marion's sake than his, though it is a great deal for himself, too, for I like him in spite of his faults. I think I had better manage it as I suggest with Fakes."
"Certainly," said Julian; "besides, you must draw my ten thousand pounds."
"Ay, ay, I have always placed it with separate bankers in my own name. I will write tomorrow to Seymour, sending him the cheques and necessary instructions to pay Fakes the mortgages, and make you and me mortgagees instead."
The fourth night from that the mortgage deeds came, and in the presence of Austin and his wife and daughter, and Julian, Egerton told Austin what they were and flung them on the fire, and when Rochester remonstrated and would fain have refused the gift, Julian bowed his head on Marion's hand and answered, "It is my gift to my mother. Let it rest."
Egerton turned his noble face to Rochester, and touching his wife said, "She is my sister Marion, and through her son she has suffered for my mother's death. Let me make to her and her husband some reparation; let me have the pleasure of seeing her happy in knowing that the inheritance of his fathers belongs to her husband and his children."
How could Rochester refuse a gift which was made to appear an obligation to the givers, and given throughout with such thoughtful delicacy?
Ten days after the papers had the following announcement, prefixed, of course, by the invariable 'Marriage in High Life':—
"We have to announce the marriage of the Conservative leader in the Lower House, Sir Angelo Rothesay Egerton, of Falcontower, M.P. for Cambridge University, to Inez Jesuita Maria de Caldara, a young Spanish lady, who has long been the ward of the right honorable member. We understand that the fair bride is the only child of the late Count de Caldara, and third cousin to Sir Angelo Egerton through his mother, the late Lady Egerton. The marriage was performed in the beautiful chapel of the castle by the Rev. Hugh Bertram, rector of Falcontower, and in the presence of a solid number of friends, amongst whom were the famous artist, Mr. Rothesay (who gave away the bride), Mr. and Mrs. Rochester, of Rochester Court, Lady Alice St. John, Mr. and Mrs. Courtenay, and her father, Monsieur de Castelnau, &c., &c."
So Inez de Caldara became Lady Egerton; so the child and maiden became that sacred and holy thing, a wife.
"Lady Alice, it is close upon 8, and time you came to dress for Lady Egerton's."
So spoke Alice St. John's maid, who, having been with her some twenty years, was a privileged person.
"Has Miss Arabella gone up yet, Mary?"
"Yes, ma'am, and so must you,"
Lady Alice rose, but at that moment a carriage of some sort dashed up to the door, and was followed by a knock at the door, which made the mother start, and say tremblingly, "Mary, that is my son's knock; I am sure it is my son's knock."
"The colonel, ma'am? it can't be."
"Go, go, Mary, and see."
Mary hurried down stair. Lady Alice heard his well known voice; his step bounded up the staircase, the door was pushed open, and Alice St. John was clasped in her son's arms.
"My darling mother, how nice it is to see your sweet face again!"
"My darling son, how nice it is to see your dear face again!"
And then she turned him to the light, and put her hands on his shoulders, and gazed into his eyes, as if she were reading his very soul. They never dropped, but met hers with his old bright, joyous smile.
"Dear mother," he said, kissing her forehead, "I read your look, and your mother's heart may rest."
"My noble boy—my brave son—are you sure, can you trust yourself entirely?"
"Mother, entirely—most perfectly. She is to me once again the child I have known so long, and at the same time Egerton's wife. You were going somewhere, mother, I can tell by a a hundred little things; was it there?"
"Yes, I was, dear Louis; it is a select musical party, but we will stay at home."
"No, mother, I will go with you," said Louis, quietly and steadily; "the sooner I meet her the better, and I had rather meet her in her husband's home and in her husband's presence, than away from either."
"You are right, my son; we will go. Tell me first how it is we have you to-night, instead of three days hence, as your letter said?"
"We had a quick passage over," he replied; "and I hurried on here on purpose to surprise you."
The entrance of his cousin Arabella interrupted him, and Lady Alice went to dress, for though she would rather have had her son at home that evening, she thought it better that he should meet Inez at once.
"One thing let me say, Louis," whispered his mother, as they drove off, "treat her with your former intimacy; call her Inez, not Lady Egerton."
"Surely, dear mother, that must depend upon how she meets me."
"Not entirely, Louis. But as you will."
"How comes it they are still in town, mother?"
"Still, Louis! Sir Angelo has been away from May till last September, nearly two months ago, and then they were in the north, for the marriage took place directly, and they only came up for the proroguing of Parliament. I suppose he wished to show there, as he had been away before."
"I heard one of my travelling companions say today," observed St. John, "that the present ministry cannot survive next February, as they would probably be defeated on their budget, or even on the Queen's speech."
"Ah, well," said Lady Alice, as the carriage stopped, "I don't understand these things, but I hope Egerton and his party will come into office again."
Inez had not long risen from the piano, and was sitting near the door, talking to Austin Rochester and his daughter, Mrs. Rothesay; and, indeed, had just remarked how late Lady Alice was, when the names of "Colonel, Lady Alice and Miss St. John," being announced caught her ear, and made her look up in surprise and pleasure.
"Colonel Louis!" she exclaimed, holding out her hand; and in her frank, cordial action, and in her voice and manner, there was no shade of embarrassment, nothing but the old friendly familiarity of her childhood; "how glad I am to see you!"
And Egerton, stepping forward, grasped his hand with the simple and expressive welcome—"Louis, old friend! welcome back to England and home."
Quietly and keenly Lady Alice watched her son's face; but if for a moment he had felt any embarrassment, neither his face nor his manner showed it; and perfectly reassured, she sat down by lady Egerton, and saw him introduced to Rochester, and then move on to speak to Margaret Arundel and several other old acquaintances; nor did even her mother's heart feel any anxiety when, later in the evening, she heard him ask Inez to sing a song that he had been fond of when she was a child—no, for she was Inez Egerton; and the magic and holy name of wife had made his honorable nature crush in a year a love which, but for that, might perhaps have been long before it could be vanquished.
* * *
Four months have passed—the 'black winds of March' swept drearily through the early spring air, and changes have taken place in both the public and private affairs of this history. Whoever Colonel St. John's travelling companion was his prediction had come true, for the ministry then in office had alienated their own friends, and when Parliament met in February they were defeated on the Royal Speech, and not venturing to dissolve, they were obliged to resign, and once more the Conservatives came into power, and now again Angelo was in the cabinet. So much for public changes; now pass from Downing-street or Westminster Palace to that handsome West-end shop; there is a carriage before the door with the armorial bearings of Egerton on it; but enter the house and pass up stairs into a quiet room out of reach of the noise and bustle of the vast city below it.
There is a matronly woman at work by the window, but on a couch near the fire lies the form of Arthur Vivian's Italian wife—a soft, bright smile on her sweet face as her eyes rest on an infant who is lying on her breast, while leaning against the mantelpiece is the tall slight form of Lady Egerton, but there is a shadow on the dark beautiful face as her calm, watchful eyes also rest on the child, and mark that he has his father's golden hair and black eyes, and will, one day, have his fatal beauty. The mother is thinking the same, too, for presently she looks up and says in her own tongue, "Inez, he is so like Arthur, I wish—" She paused, something was on her mind that it seemed painful to say.
"What is it, Genevra?"
"Oh, Inez, he didn't do it! You told me he was only accused—he didn't do it!"
"Genevra, do not ask me. If I were to tell you all I know and all I have done, you would never again look on my face, but would turn from me with hatred and loathing."
"From you!" said Genevra, almost passionately, and with characteristic impetuosity. "Never! Nothing could make me do anything but love you with the deepest gratitude—nothing you could tell me could alter that."
"Nothing?" said Inez. "Well, as you will, Genevra—you may try the test. Look at my hair, here and there it has gray amongst it, and for ten years it has been there; you have yourself wondered to see how in my teens I am so grave and passionless, so prematurely old, in plain terms. I was so from six years old, and what think you changed my childhood into sorrow and years that time had not added, what, but the death of the only mother I had ever known? More, because I witnessed her murder—I saw him escaping, and it is my evidence almost entirely that will convict Vivian. It is I who, after years of patient watching, discovered him, and found means of obtaining proofs against him; my lips will, so to say, sign his death warrant. Not for vengeance did I act, but because another man suffered, ay, suffers still, for his crime—a man who can only be cleared by Vivian's conviction. Now, Genevra, can you truly repeat your words?"
Genevra's answer was to clasp Inez's hand, and press her lips to it.
"Inez, bitter as it is to me, you have only acted for the ends of justice, and nothing can undo the debt of gratitude I owe to you."
Amongst the crowd ascending the steps of the National Gallery one fine morning towards the end of March was our old friend, Colonel St. John. As he entered the first room, he at once perceived a figure which he recognised as that of old Mr. Bertram, of Falcontower, whom he had met at the Egertons'; and the colonel walked up to and addressed him.
The rector turned quickly, paused a moment, and then with a smile of recognition, held out his hand.
"Colonel St. John, how glad I am to see you," he said, cordially. "I was coming to call on you to-morrow."
"I hold you to your intention, Mr. Bertram," said the colonel, "you must come to dinner. Are you living in town?" he added.
"No, I am only here for a short while on some private business," was the reply. "I am staying with my old friend, Sir Angelo Egerton; and this morning I determined to spend here, as it is some years since I have been to see the gallery."
"Indeed!" said the colonel, "then you have not seen that magnificent picture of Rothesay's, 'Tekel.'"
"No," he replied. "I have heard of it, and I am most anxious to see it. Which room is it in?"
"Further on," said the colonel. "Shall we move on?"
"If you please," said Mr. Bertram.
They moved forward through several rooms till the colonel stopped. "Now, turn," he said, "here it hangs."
The portrait was striking enough to startle any one coming so suddenly upon it, but even that hardly accounted for the start which the rector gave, and the deathly pallor which for a moment overspread his face, and he stood bending forwards looking on it with an intensity in his strained gaze which did not escape the colonel, though he naturally enough set it down to the effect of the picture, and presently he said, in a low voice, "Is it not horribly beautiful? One need hardly to be told that it has some strange history belonging to it."
Hugh Bertram turned to him, and said in a voice resolutely calm and suppressed, as though he feared to trust it, "Has it a history? That phantom's face is as the face of Inez Egerton in a dream; the other, why has it the scroll Tekel on it, in fiery letters—what is the history of that picture?"
"I do not know it all, only partly," said the colonel. "It is not a mere picture; it is a portrait of a living man, and as it was not told me as a secret, I may say it. You know that this belongs to Egerton, and was painted by his order?"
"Yes," said Mr. Bertram. "Who is it of?"
"His mother's murderer," said the colonel. "He told me so himself."
Mr. Bertram did not start now; the blow had gone too deep for language or outward sign, he stood for a few minutes with his eyes still fixed on the portrait, but seeing nothing and hearing nothing, and then by a strong effort he recovered himself, and touching the colonel, said quietly, "I do not feel very well. I shall return home."
"I hope you are not ill," said Colonel St. John, anxiously. "My carriage is at your service."
"Thank you," said Mr. Bertram; "but I have Lady Egerton's carriage outside," and with a polite bow he disappeared in the crowd.
It was some time before, in returning, the colonel again entered the room where the picture hung. There was, for a wonder, only one person standing before it, and naturally St. John noticed him more than he otherwise would. He was rather tall, and slight and elegant, as far as a heavy cloak showed his figure; but that would not have attracted the colonel's notice so much, and he was passing in when a slight noise made the stranger turn sharply.
It was only for a moment, only for a minute that he saw his face, but that fleeting glance was enough for the colonel—the face, with its devilish beauty, the lurid black eyes and glistening golden hair could not be mistaken—he was the original of the portrait, he was the murderer of Jesuita Egerton, and St. John's resolve was instantly taken.
He walked quietly on into the next room, so that the stranger could not leave the gallery without his seeing him, and then he sat down and looked anxiously round.
An intelligent-looking lad, apparently a shop or errand boy, was surveying one of the pictures with a look of profound admiration. St. John called him. "My lad, come here." The boy obeyed. "Will you like to earn half-a-crown?"
"Yes, sir," was the ready reply.
"Then take this slip of paper to the police office, Scotland Yard," continued Louis. "Go in a cab, and tell the man to drive for life or death; promise him double fare, and return to me."
He tore a leaf from his pocket-book, wrote a few lines requesting the immediate presence of Harding the detective, and gave it the boy, who ran off in a moment.
Perhaps twenty or five and twenty minutes elapsed, and then his messenger and a gentlemanly looking man in black entered, and came up to him, and addressed him in a quiet business-like manner.
"Are you sure, sir, that Mr. Vivian is here?"
"So far sure," said the colonel, "that the man I mean is the exact counterpart of that portrait here, called 'Tekel.'"
"Much obliged to you, sir, for what you have done. Leave all the rest to me; he won't escape me again."
Harding went with him to the entrance; there was a cab there with another policeman in plain clothes. Harding spoke a few words to him, and took up his position in such a way that Vivian's escape was impossible.
* * *
Meanwhile Hugh Bertram had returned to St. James' Square. He was told that every one was away. Sir Angelo had not yet come home from the Foreign-office, Lady Egerton had gone into the park with Mr. Rothesay, and only ten minutes before Miss Arundel had gone out with Lady Alice St. John. The rector said no more, but went up stairs, only leaving orders that when either Sir Angelo or Lady Egerton came in, they were to be told he wished to see them.
He did not have very long to wait before he saw from the window Julian Rothesay and Inez, and Egerton, whom they had probably met, ride up together, and all three entered the house, for Julian was going to stay to dinner, and then go with Angelo down to the house.
Almost immediately Egerton appeared in the drawing-room, where the rector was waiting.
"You wish to see me, they told me," he said.
"I do, Egerton—about that picture—that portrait in the National Gallery."
He paused, striving to master his agitation, and Egerton said, "Who told you that it was a portrait?"
"Colonel St. John. I met him there. He asserted on your authority, that it is the portrait of your—of the man who murdered your mother. Answer me truly, Egerton, in mercy—is it true or false?"
Like iron on his heart fell the words, "It is."
A silence then. "What is the name of the person who killed her?"
"If you please, sir," said a servant, opening the door, "Colonel St. John is below, and wishes to see you for five minutes."
Egerton left the room, but in less than five minutes the rector heard a carriage drive away, and Angelo came back.
Hugh Bertram addressed him at once.
"St. John's coming is connected with the person we spoke of, Egerton. Tell me the worst—in pity tell me the worst at once."
"Arthur Vivian is taken at last," said Egerton.
"Oh, merciful heaven, how can I bear it!—how can I bear it!" said the rector, covering his face with his clasped hands, and burning tears fell through his fingers.
"Hugh Bertram, what is Arthur Vivian to you?"
"My son—my only son!"
"God help you!" said Egerton, bowing his head, and his stern lip quivered.
There was a dead stillness, and then the father rose up.
"Egerton you are a stern and severe man; but, by the love you bore your dead mother,—by all your hopes of mercy at the Last Day, show some mercy now, and spare my wretched, guilty son, whose death cannot restore your mother to you."
There was a depth and intensity of agony in the father's passionate appeal that touched Egerton to the very soul. He lifted his head, and the musical tones, usually so firm, were unsteady, as he answered, "Hear me, and do not lightly judge me a hard and merciless man. All these years another man has borne the stain—the conviction of that murder; one whom I love with almost more than a brother's love; but for that I had never so relentlessly pursued Vivian; but for that, I would now, for your sake, and for the sake of his wife and child, spare him. Can I do so when the life of an innocent man is in the balance, and depending on his conviction? Could I have acted—could I now act otherwise?"
"No," said Mr. Bertram, with sudden calmness, "You could only have done what you have done. Oh, Egerton, is there no hope? Was not your wife mistaken?"
"Listen," said Egerton. "Eight years after the murder my wife drew the crayon drawing from which the portrait is done—drew it from memory. There is no hope."
"One thing more I ask," said Mr. Bertram. "Where is this wife and child? Tell me all you know of them, for at least I can take them to my heart. Wifeless and childless, I must love something."
Gently Egerton told him all he knew of Genevra, and ended by promising that early the next morning his wife should take him to her and tell her who he was.
Sorrow had laid a stern and heavy hand on Hugh Bertram.
"Nelly, my good girl, you are a laggard this morning. I have rung twice," were the words Marion Rochester addressed to her maid, Nelly Warren, the morning after Vivian's examination before a magistrate. "What detained you?"
"Indeed, ma'am, I am sorry I didn't hear your first bell, but I was reading the Times."
"The Times!" said her mistress, half smiling. "And what were you reading?"
"The account, ma'am, of the examination of Vivian and—"
"Ah," said Marion, quickly, "I am going to Lady Egerton's. How did it end?"
"He is committed for trial, ma'am; but he made a queer defence—what they call an alibi. His lawyer said that he could prove that Vivian was at the other end of the town at the hour the murder was committed, which was done exactly at 12 o'clock—so Lady Egerton said."
"How did the others try and prove the alibi?" asked Marion.
"Why, ma'am, they said that he was lodging at a house near St. Catherine's Church (hard by where we used to live), in Kent Town, and that it struck 12 as he came in; but I remember, and so do mother and father, that that clock was slow that night, and what's more, ma'am, a gentleman was lodging with us, named Everard, a gunsmith, and he proved by his watch that the clock was wrong. I remember that night particularly, because a servant left us very suddenly that morning."
"Your father and Mr. Everard?" repeated Mrs. Rochester, "and can you swear to all this?"
"Yes, ma'am; is it evidence?"
"I think so. Give me your father's address, Nelly."
"Lady Egerton knows it, ma'am. You know she was at father's nearly two years ago, when she was stabbed by this very man."
"Very well," said Mrs. Rochester, "I remember that she was there. Get me my bonnet and shawl, Nelly, for the sooner they know of this the better."
And while the busy hum and whirl of life went on without, Arthur Vivian—the handsome Arthur Vivian, sat alone—a prisoner within the gloomy walls of Newgate; alone with his dark atheism and remorse, and black load of guilt. He had refused to see his father or wife, resisting all their entreaties. He had enough of remorse and shame to shrink from meeting those he had so wronged. And so he sat there awaiting his trial, which was to come on in the second week of April.
* * *
It was now four months since Louis St. John had returned to England. His love for Inez had died—passed away 'as a tale that is told;' as he himself said to his mother, he could not love another man's wife; but it had left a void, a blank in his heart. So he felt when he returned to England with his regiment, and again met Margaret Arundel in the house of Angelo Egerton.
In person, in character, in everything, Margaret was a direct contrast to the Spaniard, and this very contrast and difference was the first thing which attracted St. John to her; it was a relief, but withal he was somewhat surprised to find that gradually her sweet fair face was constantly in his thoughts and memory. Unconsciously she had wound herself round his heart, and if his affection for her was not the same passionate love he had borne Inez, it was firmer, deeper, stronger, and lasting.
And so one day be told Margaret how he loved her; he concealed nothing, but honorably told her all, and then he learned how long and faithfully she had loved him.
Once again Louis St. John stood before Angelo Egerton, and asked him for a bride, and this time there was no shadow on that handsome face as he placed her hand in Louis', and said with his beautiful smile, "Take her, old friend, as a priceless treasure, for a true-hearted woman is God's own gift."
Never, perhaps, had the Central Criminal Court been more crowded than it was on the 12th April, 18—; and that not merely with 'the vulgar herd,' but peers, and peeresses, and many M.P.'s had not disdained to show themselves there. The length of time elapsing between the murder and the arrest of the accused man, the strange circumstances of the whole thing, including the important history of the portrait, which had been the means of his capture, and above all, the high rank and fame of those most nearly concerned—one a statesman of fame and a minister, and Julian Rothesay, the artist of the portrait—all these things had made the trial of Arthur Vivian an exciting one.
Long before it was called on you might have seen, in a distant corner, where they could see without being noticed, a gray haired man in clerical dress, and a young lady with a child in her arms. No one noticed them, and no one guessed who they were.
Sir Henry Seton, the attorney-general, with an eminent criminal law counsel, had been retained for the prosecution, and for the prisoner were retained men of almost equal eminence Mr. Beresford, Q.C., and his junior, Mr. Hargrave.
Hugh Bertram saw them come in before the case was called, and he noticed too that nearly all those he had met at Falcontower Castle were there already—the St. Johns, and Walter Surrey, and Mrs. Rochester, with a gentleman whom he rightly guessed to be her husband. Then he saw a venerable looking old gentleman enter, leaning on the arm of a young girl in black, whom he recognised as the Miss Herbert he had met in the north. They passed on and spoke to Mrs. Rochester, who placed the old man beside her; and while the rector was watching them a murmur near the door made him turn to see Angelo Egerton come in with his young wife and Margaret Arundel, followed by Julian and Isbel Rothesay. They passed quietly through the crowd and took their places with the rest, near their solicitor and counsel, and their witnesses, who were seven in number—old Mr. Everard, the gunsmith; a Mr. Morley, a well known London clockmaker; his foreman; Sam Warren and his wife; and a Brightstone boatman; and the surgeon who attended Inez. On the opposite side were only Vivian's solicitor, and four witnesses, whom it will be better to name in their turn as they appear.
A few more moments and then the long-expected trial was called on, and the next minute Arthur Vivian appeared, his slight, elegant figure erect, and his gleaming black eyes and handsome countenance hard and set in all its dark and evil beauty boldly facing them all, so like the portrait (which thousands had been to see since his examination) that a visible effect was produced. A murmur arose which was instantly repressed; the indictment was read; and the question how the prisoner pleaded, asked.
There was a dead silence. Vivian leaned slightly forward, glanced round, and answered clearly and deliberately, "Not guilty!"
As the words passed his lips, his eyes met Inez Egerton's fixed on him with that watchful steady gaze he remembered so well, and dreaded even now so much, and he turned aside with a fiercely muttered curse; but the voice of the Attorney-general made him look up again.
"I appear, my lord, for the prosecution."
Then the case fairly commenced by the Attorney-general opening it in a very concise speech, stating all the facts.
He said that nearly ten years and a half before, in the August of the year 18—, the deceased, Jesuita Maria Lady Egerton, went to Brightstone with her son and his ward, Inez de Caldara, then six years of age; and Sir Angelo took a house at the corner of Brunswick-terrace, almost opposite to the Catholic chapel of Our Lady in Walter-street, into which street he begged it to be remembered the window of the deceased lady's bed-chamber looked; also that an agile person could ascend or descend from it to the street by means of stuccoed facings, which were up the house and close to the window. The child was accustomed to sleep in Lady Egerton's own room, in a crib in the corner near the bed; and on the night of the 21st of September she (the little girl) was put to bed as usual. Lady Egerton and her son had been that evening to an evening concert, but they returned home before eleven. Sir Angelo remained in his study, reading; but his mother, the deceased, went to bed; and being tired, she did not put away the jewels she had on, but merely placed them in their casket, and left them on an ottoman close to the window. The jewels, the learned council said, should be produced.
The child, Inez de Caldara, was awakened by a shriek and the report of a pistol, and she distinctly saw a man escaping out of the window. Sir Angelo also heard the report, and subsequently the bullet was extracted from the body of the deceased. Beneath the window a man, an Italian named Giulio Doria, was seized, and at the same time the clock of St. Mary's struck twelve. He wished to call particular attention to that fact. In the hand of the prisoner was found a pistol, evidently having been just fired, and in his pocket was found its fellow; the bullet fitted both, but the jewels stolen were not on him; though, as the policeman had noticed a man running away, he supposed him to be an accomplice. Doria said that he had been passing; that as he came up he saw a man run round the corner, and that he saw the pistol on the ground, and had just picked it up, when a cry of "Murder!" was raised and he was seized, but he refused to give an account of himself at all, and was arrested for the murder. But Sir Angelo, for private reasons, believed him innocent, and the child, his ward, positively and persistently swore that Doria was not the murderer. However, he was so committed, though all attempts to trace the man seen flying failed. Doria contrived to escape from prison, and was never retaken.
"And now, my lord and gentlemen of the jury," said the attorney-general, "I am coming to the prisoner. Eight years passed, Sir Angelo and his ward remaining convinced that the murderer was still at large. Last January two years, Lady Egerton, then Miss de Caldara (and with the lady's permission I will so call her for the present), was sent to school at a place called Yellowfield, and there she met a Miss Margaret Arundel, with whom she formed a close friendship. So firmly were the features of the man she had seen imprinted on her mind that, one day, Miss de Caldara drew his face from memory in crayons. Miss Arundel saw it, and remarked that it was exactly like her guardian's nephew, Arthur Vivian, and then Miss de Caldara arranged with her friend that she was to spend the holidays with her at her guardian's house, Forest Moor Grange. When there she discovered, concealed in a column of an old cloister on the premises, the jewels that had been stolen, and she also convinced herself that the Arthur Vivian she met there was the murderer she had seen eight years before. I may further add that when the prisoner found she had taken the jewels he stabbed her, left her for dead, and fled. The stiletto he used is now in court, and it is remarkable that the deceased lady Egerton was, before being shot, stabbed, and the wound pronounced by the physician to be that made by a stiletto. I shall presently show the court that one of the pistols was sold to the prisoner, the other to a gentleman who, on the 21st of September, was passing for an Italian, for reasons he will explain. The defence, I believe, is an alibi, but I shall show the court that the clock of St. Mary's was right to London time, and that of St. Catherine's ten minutes slow. I shall now proceed to produce my proofs, and the first witness I call is Lady Egerton."
Inez rose immediately, colorless as a beautiful marble statue, but as calm and still. She had gone through too much to be unnerved by the hundreds of eyes fixed upon her, and even the counsel for the defence, experienced as he was in brow-beating witnesses, glanced at her as she was sworn, and whispered to his solicitor, "I am afraid she will not be shaken. Look at her face."
"Do your best," said the solicitor. "Hush now."
The attorney general was speaking. "Your name is Inez Egerton?"
"And you were formerly the ward of Sir Angelo Egerton?"
"I was from the age of five years old, when he brought me over from Spain."
"What was your maiden name?"
"Caldara—Inez de Caldara."
"Now, Lady Egerton, how far back can you remember minute events or things?"
"I can remember things that occurred in Spain when I was four years old. I can recollect my father's confessor, whom I left at five years of age, so well that, a few years ago, when in Madrid, I recognised him as he passed the window."
"Do you remember anything that happened in any particular year?"
"Yes, I remember going to Brightstone in the August of 18—, with my guardian and my cousin Jesuita, the deceased."
"Were you in Brightstone on the 21st of September?"
"Do you recollect anything that occurred that night?"
"State what you remember."
"I remember," said Inca, and her voice throughout, though low and soft, was heard in the farthest corner as clear and distinct as a bell, "I remember that that evening Sir Angelo Egerton and his mother were out at a concert. I was put to bed as usual at half-past 8, and I went to sleep. I was awoke by a shriek and a loud report, and I rose up in bed, and distinctly saw a man escaping through the window."
"Did you see his face?"
"Yes. He looked back into the room, and I saw him as plainly as I now see his lordship or any one else here."
"Now, Lady Egerton, look round and say whether you see that man."
Inez raised her dark eyes, and her steady unflinching glance went straight to Vivian, who shivered beneath it as if that look withered him.
"The prisoner is the man I saw that night," she said, calmly and firmly,
"Are you sure?"
"Now look at this drawing"—he produced the crayon—"it bears date June 27th, 18—, and is signed Inez Jesuita Maria de Caldara, and a witness, Margaret Arundel. Is the first your name?"
"Yes—Inez Jesuita Maria are my Christian names."
"It is written here that you drew it. Is that so?"
"Yes. I drew it at school one half-holiday. I did it before I ever again saw the man I had seen on the 21st of September escaping."
"Did the lady whose name is here signed see you draw it?"
"Yes; and it was Margaret Arundel who told me it was her guardian's nephew, Arthur Vivian; and then I arranged with her to spend the holidays with her at Forest Moor, she engaging that his wife, Eveline (who has since died), should ask me; then I went."
"When did you go to Forest Moor?" asked the attorney-general, after a pause, during which the crayon was handed up to the bench and the jury.
"I went down on the 17th of August," answered Inez; "my husband's solicitor, Mr. Seymour, can prove that, for he took me down to the station, and put me into Mrs. Vivian's brougham."
"What did you do there, at Forest Moor?"
"I tried to find the stolen jewels, which I was convinced Arthur Vivian had in his possession, because they were too marked to be safely parted with. I searched everywhere in vain, till one night, after I had been there six weeks, I found them concealed at the top of a column of the cloisters, and I sent them in the morning to town to my guardian."
"What happened that day?"
"The evening of that day I went to the bridge near the station to wait for the train. It was getting dusk when the prisoner came up to me there; and, after some words, charged me with falseness. He said, 'You have taken a box from the cloisters;' and when I acknowledged it, he drew a stiletto, and stabbed me."
"And what then?"
"I know no more; the wound was nearly fatal."
"That will do for the present."
The judge leaned forwards, and asked, "Are those jewels, and the stiletto, and pistols in court?"
"Yes, my lord," answered Sir Henry, handing them up. "Mr. Beresford, do you cross-examine?"
"Yes, Sir Henry!" and Beresford rose.
"Lady Egerton, how old were you at the time of the murder?"
"I was just six years old."
"Very young to remember so very distinctly," said Beresford, with a sneer. "Perhaps, Lady Egerton, you can also remember how it was that being in a crib in the corner, you could see the window?"
"Certainly I can explain; and if words are not plain enough, I can in a minute give you a sketch of the room, to the accuracy of which my husband can swear."
"Explain it, then, if you please."
"It is very simple. Lady Egerton's bed was so placed that the foot was to the window, and my little crib was in the corner to the left of the bed, looking from the window, so that by raising myself even a little the whole of the window was plainly and broadly visible."
"I think, Mr. Beresford," interposed the judge, mildly, "that the witness has very clearly explained that point."
Beresford bowed, and turned again to Inez.
"You stated, I think, that the man you say you saw looked back, and that you saw his face—now, how could you see him at night?"
"I suppose," said Inez, with quiet irony, "that Mr. Beresford has heard of such a thing as a light in a bed-chamber at night, especially where children come in question. There was a lamp in the room."
Beresford bit his lip, but went on. "Were you awoke suddenly?"
"Then you awoke, of course, in great agitation and alarm, perhaps not thoroughly awake at first?"
"On the contrary, I was broad awake at once, and saw the man glaring in, though he did not see me. The whole circumstances were calculated to engrave that face indelibly on my mind, and that crayon is the best proof that they did so."
"Now we come to that very crayon," said Beresford; "how was it that, if your memory was so very clear, you did not draw a likeness before?"
"Simply because, till the period at which I did do it, my knowledge of drawing was insufficient to the task. It is more difficult to draw a likeness from memory than with an original before you."
"Especially when such a very long time has passed since the original was seen," said the counsel, with another sneer.
The judge here interposed in the same gentle, courteous manner.
"Lady Egerton, think well before you answer me. Are you sure that you have nowhere seen the face you have drawn except in the September of 18—, or between that date and the August of 18—?"
"Nowhere, my lord. I saw his face that September night, and I never saw it again till I went to Forest Moor. Of this point I am positive."
Beresford began to lose all hope of confusing the clear-headed witness he had got hold of, but he made another attempt to throw doubt on her evidence by baring the deception she had practised.
"Lady Egerton, did you go to Forest Moor under your own name?"
"I did not. I assumed that of Jesuita della Castro."
"Then you went under false colors, and having regularly concocted a scheme of deception?"
"I did," she replied, emphatically.
"In fact," added the counsel, "you, a Spanish lady of birth, acted the part of a detective."
"Just so, if you like to call it so," said Inez, with imperturbable coolness.
"That will do," said Beresford, giving it up as hopeless, and Inez, with a secret smile at his baffled look, returned to her place, at any rate for the present, and Margaret Arundel was called. She gave her evidence calmly and consistently, nor could any cross-examining shake her, though Beresford tried to show that the jewels might have been in Inez de Caldara's possession when she went to Forest Moor, but he failed of course. She said positively that the jewels were not in Inez de Caldara's possession when she came to Forest Moor, for she had herself unpacked all her luggage.
As Margaret's evidence was only in the main to confirm Inez's evidence, we will not give it at length. Egerton was next called.
"I have only a few questions to ask you, Sir Angelo," said the attorney-general. "Do you recollect when your wife, then only your ward, finally left school?"
"Yes, in the summer of 18—, nearly two years ago."
"Do you remember the precise date you fetched her?"
"I did not fetch her myself. I was then in the ministry, and could not leave town. My friend, Mrs. Rochester, kindly fetched home my ward when she fetched her own daughter."
"And do you remember the exact date?"
"I do not. I think it was on the 29th of June; but I am certain that she was at home on the 2nd of July, because that night I took her down to the House to hear a debate. I got her a Speaker's order, the date of which is July 2."
"You are sure of that?"
"Now, Sir Angelo, when did you first see this crayon?"
"It must have been on the 1st of July."
"Why on that day?"
"Because I distinctly recollect that my ward showed it to me the day before the one I took her to the House of Commons."
"And when did your ward leave you to go to Forest Moor?"
"Early on the 17th of August."
"Then you saw the crayon drawing before she went to Forest Moor?"
"Most certainly," was the decided answer.
"I will not trouble you any further. Do you cross-examine, Mr. Beresford?" added Sir Henry, turning blandly to his opponent.
"No, Sir Henry."
"The next witness I call, my lord, is Mr. Rothesay."
The artist rose, took the oath, and entered the witness-box.
"Your name," began Sir Henry Seton, "is Julian Rothesay."
"No!" was the startling and unexpected reply. "I have for many years passed by the name of Rothesay, but my real name is Julian D'Arcy, of Friar's Lea."
The counsel looked surprised, but bowed, and went on.
"Do you recollect where you were on the 21st of September, 18—?"
"I was in Brightstone."
"Why were you there then—did you live there?"
"No; I was there that day to settle some affairs for an old friend which required secrecy, and were of a nature that made me wish not to use or act in my own name, and I assumed for the time the name of Doria, with a corresponding disguise."
"Had you any weapon upon you any time that day or night?"
"Yes; before I left London I bought a pistol of Pistoia manufacture, of Mr. Everard, of Bond-street. I had that upon me on the 21st of September."
"Did you buy only one pistol, or the pair?"
"Only one; its fellow had been sold."
"Can you remember where you were somewhere about midnight of that 21st of September?"
"Yes; I was passing down Water-street. I had entered it through an alley opening by the Catholic chapel, and as I emerged I saw a man run round the corner. That was just as St. Mary's clock was striking 12. I crossed, and as I did so I saw on the pavement, under the window of the corner house, a pistol lying. I picked it up, and was surprised to find it hot, and the exact fellow to my own. At that moment a cry of murder was raised, and I was seized."
"Do you remember what followed? I don't mean details."
"I was examined before a magistrate, and committed for trial, but I escaped from prison and fled abroad. I have been an exile for ten years."
"Did you know the deceased lady or her family?"
"Yes; my father, Colonel D'Arcy, left me when a child in the care of Sir Reginald Egerton, and at the time of Lady Egerton's death I was her son's ward."
"Mr. D'Arcy," said the foreman of the jury, "why was it that you fled and lived as an exile instead of taking your trial?"
"Because," said Julian D'Arcy, "I preferred exile to dishonor. I could not clear myself save by betraying my friend and my name, and even then the evidence against me was so very strong that if law had acquitted me, a stain would have been upon my name."
"Now, Mr. D'Arcy, look at these two pistols," continued Seton, producing them; "you see they are a pair. Can you tell the one you bought from the one you picked up?"
Julian took the pistols and examined them carefully and closely.
"No, I cannot," he said.
"That will do."
The other witnesses called were Mr. Everard, who swore to having sold one pistol to Julian D'Arcy, and its fellow to a person whom he identified as the prisoner, in the year and month of the murder; and a clock-maker named Morley, who proved having made the clock of the Catholic chapel at Brightstone, and having repaired it shortly before the same eventful period. His examination closed the prosecution, and Mr. Beresford rose to reply, while Sir Henry leaned back in his seat and whispered to Sir Angelo, who was close to him, "They'll make nothing of it, Egerton, I cannot sufficiently compliment your wife for her steady, unflinching evidence; indeed, all our witnesses behaved admirably."
Beresford was now opening his defence, in one of his brilliant, if not always very logical speeches. He admitted the murder, there was no help for that—admitted that it was committed at 12 o'clock by St. Mary's clock; but he said that it was ten minutes fast, and St. Catherine's right. The witness, Lady Egerton, who drew the crayon drawing, might have seen the prisoner in a hundred places, and mistaken him for the face she saw, or fancied she saw, glare into the room. She was a Spaniard, and the Southerns were confessedly very imaginative. She was at that time a very young child, awoke suddenly from sleep, and most likely, in the alarm and horror of the moment, either imagined she saw a face, or if she really saw one, her imagination invested it with characteristics the original never possessed.
This address went on to weaken as far as possible the weight of the other evidence adduced, and Mr. Beresford then proceeded to call witnesses to prove, if he could, an alibi, by means of the landlord of the prisoner at Brightstone, and a clock-maker, whose evidence he used to show that the exactness of the clock of the Catholic chapel, on which so much depended, could not fairly be relied on. But, though the counsel did all that man could do for his client, it was plain that he felt himself even that his case was a hopeless one.
The defence was concluded, and the attorney-general, in one of his telling and well-argued speeches, pulled to pieces in detail the evidence for the prisoner and shortly summed up his his argument as follows:—
"Now, therefore, gentlemen of the jury, this is the case you have to consider. Lady Egerton swears positive to the prisoner. His face was so engraved upon her memory that years after she makes a speaking portrait of him, a portrait so exactly like that from the resemblance alone he was identified. It is said that she might have imagined it from the idea preying on her mind—no doubt she might have imagined a face, but it passes belief that she could have imagined the very face, and a face so singularly remarkable. Then the stiletto with which he attempted to murder Lady Inez Egerton is identified—stilettos are not usual in England, and you have the opinion, given long before by the surgeon that Lady Egerton was stabbed with a fine instrument, like a stiletto, and the opinion given now that such a weapon as that now produced would have made such a wound as that inflicted on the late Lady Egerton, and you have the pistol found by Mr. D'Arcy traced to the prisoner. The only shadow of an attempt at defence is an alibi, and that rests on which clock was right. You are asked to believe that a new clock, by the first maker in London, set twelve hours before the hour in question, had gained ten minutes in that short space of time; instead of believing that an old clock, by a second rate maker, set seven days before, had lost ten minutes. If the other evidence was not conclusive you could have no doubt which view to take on this question. But I say that the other evidence is absolutely overwhelming, and I leave the matter in your hands, anticipating that you can find but one verdict."
Sir Henry Seton sat down, and then the judge summed up, with that nice critical balancing of facts and impartiality which does so much honor to the judges of England. He recounted all the evidence, and concluded by saying that "if the jury thought St. Mary's clock right, they must then consider the other evidence; but if they thought St. Catherine's clock right, and were satisfied that Gibson and his wife had made no mistake, then, despite the other evidence, they must acquit the prisoner. If they came to the former conclusion, they must consider the evidence regarding the crayon drawing, and whether they believed that Lady Egerton had made it from a distinct recollection, or whether the likeness could be attributed to chance or imagination."
The jury retired, and there was silence. Vivian leaned coolly back with apparent carelessness, but in reality sick and faint with the agony of suspense—so an hour that was like years passed, and then the jury re-appeared. The judge asked the usual question, and you might have heard a pin drop as the foreman spoke—"Guilty!"
A dead, fearful silence for a moment, then—"Prisoner at the bar, have you anything to say why sentence of death shall not be passed upon you?"
"If I have, it is useless," said Vivian, recklessly. "No, I have nothing to say."
The judge calmly assumed the black cap and passed sentence of death, concluding in the usual manner, "May God have mercy on your soul."
Then Vivian turned towards him, with all his devilish beauty in his dark face, and his fierce, dare-devil passions in his lurid black eyes.
"God!" said the atheist; "There is no God! I answer my judges as Couthon answered his, 'After death is nothingness.'"
Alone now, indeed—alone with his dark atheism and his gloomy remorse, that through all his evil life had struggled vaguely with the devil in him—alone with his heavy guilt and the weight of the fearful defiance he had hurled against Heaven!
There he sat, bending forwards, his head resting on his hands, his hair—that rich hair, whose beauty had been so fatal to himself—falling over his brow, and his lurid black eyes raised to the barred window with an expression of fierce, reckless defiance, and yet of agonised remorse, that was at once horrible and touching. He did not fear death, because he could not realise that he must die, and so believing that the grave was death, dreading the remorse that he could not crush, he took into his heart the doctrine of the Stoics—"That Nature has placed the end of life as the summit of her gifts."
He did not fear death, but he dared not face eternity—he dared not acknowledge or believe in a God he had defied in every word, thought, and deed of his lost life.
But with all that, he feared the night worst of all; it closed in round him dark and gloomy and heavy. He had a vague dread of lying down, of sleeping, of the silence. He heard again Jesuita's dying cry, and saw her beautiful form bathed in her own life's blood. His dreams were haunted by a regretful pale form that was his mother, and yet Eveline, and yet through all had the tender eyes and gentle loving face of the fair Italian wife he had abandoned—abandoned, though she was the only woman for whom he had ever had any real feeling like love, as distinct from the mere passing passion of the moment.
But with morning the gloomy shades which, to the assassin, had filled the night, vanished, and once more the man was the desperate hardened atheist, fiercely refusing even to see the chaplain, saying, "that he had lived without a priest, and would die without a priest!"
But presently the gaoler again appeared. It was visiting time, he said, and there was a lady waiting to see him.
The idea of Inez instantly crossed Arthur's mind, and he demanded rapidly, "Is she tall, very dark, and foreign-looking?"
"No," the man answered; "she wasn't tall or dark, but she was foreign. Would he see her and the gentleman with her?"
He knew now who they were—his wife and father. "No," he said, turning his face away, "I will not see them, not one!" But she was not to be so repulsed; she had followed, and as the gaoler came out, she glided past him; the door clanged to, and Arthur's wife was at his feet, her infant in her arms.
"Arthur, my husband, have mercy, have pity; is not Genevra your wife?" pleaded the soft, gentle voice.
But he turned his face aside, and stretched out his arm to put her away.
"Keep back," he said, and through all the fierce recklessness of tone and gesture there struggled yet a strange glimmering of better feeling. "Keep back; you are a murderer's wife! Do you hear that? My hand is a blood-stained hand. Do not touch it with yours, so pure and stainless. Keep back, Genevra."
"I will not keep back," she replied. "I will touch your hand. At the altar I vowed to love you and cling to you, in joy and sorrow, till death parted us twain, and I will not be put away in this your heaviest hour of need—I, your wedded wife, and the mother of your child."
He started, and shrunk back shivering and covering his face.
"Take it away, Genevra. Don't let it touch me; my hand would whither it; my very look would blast it as with a living curse. Take it away."
"I will not," she said. "Oh, Arthur, it is your own son, your own child, and the touch, the look of the father cannot harm it."
She was kneeling at his feet, and Arthur Bertram turned, laid his slight hand on her shoulder and gazed into the tiny face lying on her bosom, into the large soft dark eyes that met his own so wonderingly.
Who shall say what tide of feelings and memories of his own innocent childhood rushed back upon his soul? If the boy had winced or shivered beneath his gaze—if it had even turned its eyes to its mother or moaned—he would have turned away hardened, reckless, utterly lost; but the infant stretched its tiny arms towards him and smiled in his face, that smile of perfect innocence and trust which was surely then God's silent whisper in that prison chamber.
"Genevra! Genevra! It has your face, but my mother's smile," and suddenly and passionately Arthur clasped the little child to his breast, and the strong man, his reckless desperation subdued, his hard, fierce spirit broken down, bowed his head on that little child, and wept such tears as he had not wept since his childhood; full of bitter remorse, and anguish, and regret, as they were, they had yet in them the tear of repentance which opened the gate of heaven.
"Oh, Genevra! wife whom I love, and have wronged, pardon me! and my father, whose gray hairs I have dishonored, so that I dare not face him—entreat his forgiveness for his doomed son."
"My son, I am here!" said a voice, and though neither had heard him enter, Hugh Bertram stood before them.
Arthur recoiled as if struck, almost throwing the child into its mother's arms, and for a minute he stood so, and never perhaps had he looked so beautiful as he did at that moment, facing the father he had dishonored; so for a moment of dead silence, and then Arthur suddenly sank at his father's feet, murmuring unconsciously the words his childhood had heard from his mother's lips—"Father, forgive me, for I was no more worthy to be called thy son!"
The father laid his hand on the bowed head of his son.
"My son, my son, not to me, but to Him who has said, 'Thou shalt do no murder!' to the God you have offended and denied."
Arthur Bertram sprang to his feet as if a scorpion had stung him. "No," he said, with a look of dark despair; "it is too late. I have scoffed and disbelieved too long. I have lived an atheist, and my only hope is in dying an atheist. Shall I believe in your God to my own damnation?"
"Oh, Arthur, my son, child of my dead wife, believe, for your salvation! repent, and turn to God, for 'he that comes to Him he will in no wise cast out. A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench!'"
"My crime is too great, my sin too heavy to be forgiven. I dare not believe in God," answered Arthur, veiling his face; "if I did he would cast me out into outer darkness."
"His mercy endureth for ever," said the gentle priest. "'Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-and-nine just persons which need no repentance.'"
Then the wife stole to his side, and gently laid the little babe on his breast, and the dark night of atheism fled before the holy light of God's smile of mercy and great love, and Arthur Bertram bowed his beautiful face and golden hair on his child, and from his very soul rose the appeal to heaven—"Oh, God, forgive me, and have mercy on me a sinner!"
A lost life no more—lost no more, but saved.
THE memoir of Arthur Bartram is a short and a sad one, for it is a story of evil and wrong, which he addressed to his wife, and sent afterwards to Angelo Egerton.
"You know my noble-hearted father, Genevra, and know that no fault of his can have been the cause of my fall.
"My mother died when I was a child. If she had lived I might have been another being, for only she could charm to silence the demon which I believe was born in my very blood. Even as it is, her memory has been the one softer feeling which has saved me through all my evil life from being chained body and soul to perdition.
"But she left me the fatal gift of her beauty and powers of fascination; and those gifts have been my curse. I will not pain you, gentle wife, by details which can only wring your heart.
"I was sent to college, and there I became one of the worst set to which my evil nature attracted me.
"You wonder, Genevra, how unbelief ever wound its serpent coils round me. 'A third cause of atheism is a custom of profane scoffing in holy matters, which doth by little and little deface the reverence of religion.' So wrote our great philosopher. This was what made me a renegade to my angel mother's faith. I sneered and scoffed till I could no longer worship what I only treated and saw treated as a jest; and I clung to my atheism as a drowning man clings to the slender straw, which will break when he tests its strength.
"At eighteen I had left—fled from the college, and forsworn my father, and lest he should trace and seek to reclaim me, I even dropped his name and went by another name. Before I was twenty I was the companion of professed gamblers, and even worse—let that pass; they had robbers amongst them, men whose trade was robbery, and that fatal September they arranged to rob Lady Egerton; and as I was slight, agile, and utterly reckless, I was selected to do it.
"Oh, Genevra, that horrible night! What wonder that that little Spanish child so remembered my face? I did not mean to kill Lady Egerton, as heaven is my witness. I did not mean to kill her; but she woke and saw me, and I stabbed her—she shrieked, and in the wild desperation of the moment I shot her, seized the casket, dropped the pistol, and fled. One of my accomplices had a swift horse on the beach, and so I reached home at 12 o'clock. Those fatal jewels! they were too marked; I dared not sell them—dared not even let my companions see them, and next day I fled abroad, and for more than two years I never set foot in England. When I did, it was under the name of Arthur Vivian, my Christian names.
"Inez de Caldara, Lady Egerton, will have told you all she knows of me and my first wife, Eveline; if not, ask her to do so, if you wish to know. I pass briefly over the rest of my story. I met Stephen Stanfeld in a gambling house, and I got him in my power; for I, well versed in it, soon found he used loaded dice. I thought his eldest daughter was her mother's heiress, and so she would have been, save that her grandfather had tied up his property when she married.
"I never cared for Eveline, and I soon left her. Poor Evie, her death lies heavy on me, now! Heaven forgive me the wrong I did her. How I met you—how I deceived you, Genevra, you know too well—spare me the recital. I left you because I dared not remain long anywhere, and I could not trust even you with the secret of my residence. I came to London, for it is the safest hiding-place.
"Wonder, Genevra, what you will, what made me, a haunted man, go that day to the National Gallery to see that portrait whose fame had reached me, but I tell you it was no power of mine—it was a strong power that drew me there under the form of my own wish. I thought before my trial that it was my evil fate. I see now that it was God's merciful hand. You know all now, Genevra."
* * *
Later there came a short hurried letter to Vivian, written in Italian.
"My husband, bow down before God, for his mercy
is beyond comparison; you are saved. Angelo Egerton, the noble,
generous Egerton, yielded to my prayer; his wife interceded for
you, and then he said that Julian D'Arcy's name was clear; it was
all he cared for, and for the sake of your father, of me, of our
child, he will do what he can to save you.
Years have passed, and rolled away on the scroll of time. Once more there are dissolving views passing before us like a vision.
See, in the distance, on the verge of a primeval forest in the Far West, the sun is setting behind the distant mountains and shedding its gorgeous light on the plains and on every forest leaf; it falls too on a group there. There are not many. A venerable gray-headed old man sits by the cottage-door, with a fair boy, yet in childhood, at his knee, and he looks ever and anon, with a gentle smile, on a dark-eyed woman with a sweet Madonna face, who sits at the feet of a man yet young, and far more beautiful now than ever he was in past days. There is a softened sadness now in his eyes and smile, and the setting sunbeams shine on his burnished hair, as he bends over his wife, and then, turning, kneels at the old man's feet, and bows his golden head, whispering the touching appeal, "Bless me, even me, O my Father!"
* * *
The shades vanish in the mist and distance. There a crowd gathered before that tall, high house; they say it is a gaming house, and that some one within has killed himself. Hush! they are carrying out the body; it is an old man, his hair is white, and the dead face looks horrible in the moonlight.
They whisper in the crowd that his name is Stephen Stanfeld.
A life lost—lost for ever.
* * *
There is yet another scene that rises.
Once more the ancient castle of Falcontower rises gradually against the sky; but the yule-log blazes within, and a merry party are gathered there. See them all—Louis St. John and gentle Margaret; and his fair mother sits apart, with three beautiful children round her. Ask that dark, noble-looking boy, whose arm is round his little sister, what his name is and his sister's, and he will answer, "Mine is Julian Egerton, and hers is Jesuita;" and that blue-eyed boy beside them is Julian D'Arcy's only boy, Angelo.
They are all there—Austin and Marion Rochester, Walter Surrey and his wife Theresa, for her grandfather lies asleep far away.
There, side by side, stand Angelo Egerton and Julian D'Arcy, looking down on Inez, who sits by them with her youngest child, an infant, in her arms, and she looks up now and then with the old tender smile on her young, quiet face. Later her son comes up, and draws her away to the picture gallery, and stops before a large picture whispering, "Mother, what does it mean?" And the fair young mother bends down, and answers, "Years hence, my son, when you are older, your mother's lips shall tell you the history of that portrait." E. S.
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