Littell's Living Age/Volume 139/Issue 1891/An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress – Part II
He, like a captain who beleaguers round
Since Egbert Mayne's situation is not altogether a new and unprecedented one, there will be no necessity for detailing in all its minuteness his attempt to scale the steeps of fame. For notwithstanding the fact that few, comparatively, have reached the top, the lower tracts of that troublesome incline have been trodden by as numerous a company as any allegorical spot in the world.
The reader must then imagine five years to have elapsed, during which rather formidable slice of human life Egbert had been constantly striving. It had been drive, drive from month to month; no rest, nothing but effort. He had progressed from newspaper work to criticism, from criticism to independent composition of a mild order, from the latter to the publication of a book which nobody ever heard of, and from this to the production of a work of really sterling merit, which appeared anonymously. Though he did not set society in a blaze, or even in a smoke, thereby, he certainly caused a good many people to talk about him, and to be curious as to his name.
The luminousness of nature which had been sufficient to attract the attention and heart of Geraldine Allenville had, indeed, meant much. That there had been power enough in the presence, speech, mind, and tone of the poor painter's son to fascinate a girl of Geraldine's station was of itself a ground for the presumption that he might do a work in the world if he chose. The attachment to her was just the stimulus which such a constitution as his required, and it had at first acted admirably upon him. Afterwards the case was scarcely so happy.
He had investigated manners and customs no less than literature; and for a while the experience was exciting enough. But several habits which he had at one time condemned in the ambitious classes now became his own. His original fondness for art, literature, and science was getting quenched by his slowly increasing habit of looking upon each and all of these as machinery wherewith to effect a purpose.
A new feeling began to animate all his studies. He had not the old interest in them for their own sakes, but a breathless interest in them as factors in the game of sink or swim. He entered picture-galleries, not, as formerly, because it was his humor to dream pleasantly over the images therein expressed, but to be able to talk on demand about painters and their peculiarities. He examined Correggio to criticise his flesh shades; Angelico, to speak technically of the pink faces of his saints; Murillo, to say fastidiously that there was a certain silliness in the look of his old men; Rubens for his sensuous women; Turner for his Turneresqueness. Romney was greater than Reynolds because Lady Hamilton had been his model, and thereby hung a tale. Bonozzi Gozzoli was better worth study than Raffaelle, since the former's name was a learned sound to utter, and all knowledge got up about him would tell.
Whether an intense love for a woman, and that woman Geraldine, was a justifiable reason for this desire to shine it is not easy to say.
However, as has been stated, Egbert worked like a slave in these causes, and at the end of five full years was repaid with certain public applause, though, unfortunately, not with much public money. But this he hoped might come soon.
Regarding his love for Geraldine, the most noteworthy fact to be recorded of the period was that all correspondence with her had ceased. In spite of their fear of her father, letters had passed frequently between them on his first leaving home, and had been continued with ardor for some considerable time. The reason of its close will be perceived in the following note, which he received from her two years before the date of the present chapter: —
- "Tollamore House.
- "MY DEAR EGBERT, —
- "How shall I tell you what has happened! and yet how can I keep silence when sooner or later you must know all?
- "My father has discovered what we feel for each other. He took me into his room and made me promise never to write to you, or seek you, or receive a letter from you. I promised in haste, for I was frightened and excited, and now he trusts me — I wish he did not — for he knows I would not be mean enough to lie. So don't write, poor Egbert, or expect to hear from miserable me. We must try to hope; yet it is along, dreary thing to do. But I will hope, and not be beaten. How could I help promising, Egbert, when he compelled me? He is my father. I cannot think what we shall do under it all. It is cruel of life to be like this towards us when we have done no wrong.
- "We are going abroad for a long time. I think it is because of you and me, but I don't know. He does not tell me where we shall go. Just as if a place like Europe could make me forget you. He doesn't know what's in me, and how I can think about you and cry at nights — he cannot. If he did, he must see how silly the plan is.
- "Remember that you go to church on Sunday mornings, for then I think that perhaps we are reading in the same place at the same moment; and we are sometimes, no doubt. Last Sunday when we came to this in the Psalms, 'And he shall be like a tree planted by the waterside that will bring forth his fruit in due season: his leaf also shall not wither; and look, whatsoever he doeth, it shall prosper,' I thought, 'That's Egbert in London.' I know you were reading that same verse in your church — I felt that you said it with us. Then I looked up to your old nook under the tower arch. It was a misery to see the wood and the stone just as good as ever, and you not there. It is not only that you are gone at these times, but a heavy creature — blankness — seems to stand in your place.
- "But how can I tell you of these thoughts now that I am to write no more? Yet we will hope, and hope. Remember this, that should anything serious happen, I will break the bond and write. Obligation would end then. Good-bye for a time, I cannot put into words what I would finish with. Good-bye, good-bye.
- "G. A.
- "P.S. Might we not write just one line at very wide intervals? It is too much never to write at all."
On receiving this letter Egbert felt that he could not honorably keep up a regular correspondence with her. But a determination to break it off would have been more than he could have adhered to if he had not been strengthened by the hope that he might soon be able to give a plausible reason for renewing it. He sent her a line bidding her to expect the best results from the prohibition, which, he was sure, would not be for long. Meanwhile, should she think it not wrong to send a line at very wide intervals he would promptly reply.
But she was apparently too conscientious to do so, for nothing had reached him since. Yet she was as continually in his thought and heart as before. He felt more misgivings than he had chosen to tell her of on the ultimate effect of the prohibition, but could do nothing to remove it. And then he had learnt that Miss Allenville and her father had gone to Paris, as the commencement of a sojourn abroad.
These circumstances had burdened him with long hours of depression, till he had resolved to throw his whole strength into a production which should either give him a fair start towards fame, or make him clearly understand that there was no hope in that direction for such as he. He had begun the attempt, and ended it, and the consequences were fortunate to an unexpected degree.
Towards the loadstar of my one desire
Mayne's book having been launched into the world and well received, he found time to emerge from the seclusion he had maintained for several months, and to look into life again.
One warm, fashionable day, between five and six o'clock, he was walking along Piccadilly, absent-minded and unobservant, when an equipage approached whose appearance thrilled him through. It was the Allenville landau, newly painted up. Egbert felt almost as if he had been going into battle; and whether he should stand forth visibly before her or keep in the background seemed a question of life or death.
He waited in unobserved retirement, which it was not difficult to do, his aspect having much altered since the old times. Coachman, footman, and carriage advanced, in graceful unity of glide, like a swan. Then he beheld her, Geraldine, after two years of silence, five years of waiting, and nearly three years of separation; for although he had seen her two or three times in town after he had taken up his residence there, they had not once met since the year preceding her departure for the Continent.
She came opposite, now passively looking round, then actively glancing at something which interested her. Egbert trembled a little, or perhaps a great deal, at sight of her. But she passed on, and the back of the carriage hid her from his view.
So much of the boy was left in him still that he could scarcely withhold himself from rushing after her, and jumping into the carriage. She had appeared to be well and blooming, and an instinctive vexation that their long separation had produced no perceptible effect upon her, speedily gave way before a more generous sense of gratification at her well-being. Still, had it been possible, he would have been glad to see some sign upon her face that she yet remembered him.
This sudden discovery that they were in town after their years of travel stirred his lassitude into excitement. He went back to his chambers to meditate upon his next step. A trembling on Geraldine's account was disturbing him. She had probably been in London ever since the beginning of the season, but she had not given him a sign to signify that she was so near; and but for this accidental glimpse of her he might have gone on for months without knowing that she had returned from abroad.
Whether she was leading a dull or an exciting life Egbert had no means of knowing. That night after night the arms of interesting young men rested upon her waist and whirled her round the ball-room he could not bear to think. That she frequented gatherings and assemblies of all sorts he calmly owned as very probable, for she was her father's only daughter, and likely to be made much of. That she had not written a line to him since their return was still the grievous point.
"If I had only risen one or two steps further," he thought, "how boldly would I seek her out! But only to have published one successful book in all these years — such grounds are slight indeed."
For several succeeding days he did nothing but look about the Park, and the streets, and the neighborhood of Chevron Square, where their town house stood, in the hope of seeing her again; but in vain. There were moments when his distress that she might possibly be indifferent about him and his affairs was unbearable. He fully resolved that he would on some early occasion communicate with her, and know the worst. Years of work remained to be done before he could think of appearing before her father; but he had reached a sort of half-way stage at which some assurance from herself that his track was a hopeful one was positively needed to keep him firm.
Egbert still kept on the look-out for her at every public place; but nearly a month passed, and she did not appear again. One Sunday evening, when he had been wandering near Chevron Square, and looking at her windows from a distance, he returned past her house after dusk. The rooms were lighted, but the windows were still open, and as he strolled along he heard notes from a piano within. They were the accompaniment to an air from the "Messiah," though no singer's voice was audible. Egbert readily imagined who the player might be, for the "Messiah" was an oratorio which Geraldine often used to wax eloquent upon in days gone by. He had not walked far when he remembered that there was to be an exceptionally fine performance of that stirring composition during the following week, and it instantly occurred to him that Geraldine's mind was running on the same event, and that she intended to be one of the audience.
He resolved upon doing something at a venture. The next morning he went to the ticket-office, and boldly asked for a place as near as possible to those taken in the name of Allenville.
"There is no vacant one in any of those rows," the office-keeper said, "but you can have one very near their number on the other side of the division."
Egbert was astonished that for once in his life he had made a lucky hit. He booked his place, and returned home.
The evening arrived, and he went early. On taking his seat he found himself at the left-hand end of a series of benches, and close to a red cord, which divided the group of seats he had entered from stalls of a somewhat superior kind. He was passing the time in looking at the extent of orchestra space, and other things, when he saw two ladies and a gentleman enter and sit down in the stalls diagonally before his own, and on the other side of the division. It delighted and agitated him to find that one of the three was Geraldine; her two companions he did not know.
"Policy, don't desert me now," he thought; and immediately sat in such a way that unless she turned round to a very unlikely position she would not see him.
There was a certain half-pleasant misery in sitting behind her thus as a possibly despised lover. To-night, at any rate, there would be sights and sounds common to both of them, though they should not communicate to the extent of a word. Even now he could hear the rustle of her garments as she settled down in her seat, and the faint murmur of words that passed between her and her friends.
Never, in the many times that he had listened to that rush of harmonies, had they affected him as they did then; and it was no wonder, considering what an influence upon his own life had been and still was exercised by Geraldine, and that she now sat there before him. The varying strains shook and bent him to themselves as a rippling brook shakes and bends a shadow. The music did not show its power by attracting his attention to its subject; it rather dropped its own libretto and took up in place of that the poem of his life and love.
There was Geraldine still. They were singing the chorus "Lift up your heads," and he found a new impulse of thought in him. It was towards determination. Should every member of her family be against him he would win her in spite of them. He could now see that Geraldine was moved equally with himself by the tones which entered her ears.
"Why do the nations so furiously rage together" filled him with a gnawing thrill, and so changed him to its spirit that he believed he was capable of suffering in silence for his whole lifetime, and of never appearing before her unless she gave a sign.
The audience stood up, and the "Hallelujah Chorus" began. The deafening harmonies flying from this group and from that seemed to absorb all the love and poetry that his life had produced, to pour it upon that one moment, and upon her who stood so close at hand. "I will force Geraldine to be mine," he thought.. "I will make that heart ache of love for me." The chorus continued, and her form trembled under its influence. Egbert was for seeking her the next morning and knowing what his chances were, without waiting for further results. The chorus and the personality of Geraldine still filled the atmosphere. I will seek her to-night — as soon as we get out of this place," he said. The storm of sound now reached its climax, and Geraldine's power was proportionately increased. He would give anything for a glance this minute — to look into her eyes, she into his. "If I can but touch her hand, and get one word from her, I will," he murmured.
He shifted his position somewhat and saw her face. Tears were in her eyes, and her lips were slightly parted. Stretching a little nearer he whispered, "My love!"
Geraldine turned her wet eyes upon him, almost as if she had not been surprised, but had been forewarned by her previous emotion. With the peculiar quickness of grasp that she always showed under sudden circumstances, she had realized the position at a glance.
"Oh, Egbert!" she said; and her countenance flagged as if she would have fainted.
"Give me your hand," he whispered.
She placed her hand in his, under the cord, which it was easy to do without observation; and he held it tight.
"Mine, as before?" he asked.
"Yours now as then," said she.
They were like frail and sorry wrecks upon that sea of symphony, and remained in silent abandonment to the time, till the strains approached their close.
"Can you meet me to-night?" said Egbert.
She was half frightened at the request, and said, "Where?"
"At your own front door, at twelve o'clock." He then was at once obliged to gently withdraw himself, for the chorus was ended, and the people were sitting down.
The remainder was soon over, and it was time to leave. Egbert watched her and her party out of the house, and, turning to the other doorway, went out likewise.
Bright reason will mock thee,
When he reached his chambers he sat down and literally did nothing but watch the hand of the mantel-clock minute by minute, till it marked half past eleven, scarcely removing his eyes. Then going again into the street he called a cab, and was driven down Park Lane and on to the corner of Chevron Square. Here he alighted, and went round to the number occupied by the Allenvilles.
A lamp stood nearly opposite the doorway, and by receding into the gloom to the railing of the square he could see whatever went on in the porch of the house. The lamps over the doorways were nearly all extinguished, and everything about this part was silent and deserted, except at a house on the opposite side of the square, where a ball was going on. But nothing of that concerned Egbert: his eyes had sought out and remained fixed upon Mr. Allenville's front door, in momentary expectation of seeing it gently open.
The dark wood of the door showed a keen and distinct edge upon the pale stone of the porch floor. It must have been about two minutes before the hour he had named when he fancied he saw a slight movement at that point, as of something slipped out from under the door.
"It is but fancy," he said to himself.
He turned his eyes away, and turned them back again. Some object certainly seemed to have been thrust under the door. At this moment the four quarters of midnight began to strike, and then the hour. Egbert could remain still no longer, and he went into the porch. A note had been slipped under the door from inside. He took it to the lamp, turned it over, and saw that it was directed only with initials, — "To E. M." Egbert tore it open and glanced upon the page. With a shiver of disappointment he read these words in her handwriting —
- "It was when under the influence of much emotion, kindled in me by the power of the music, that I half assented to a meeting with you to-night; and I believe that you also were excited when you asked for one. After some quiet reflection I have decided that it will be much better for us both if we do not see each other.
- "You will, I know, judge me fairly in this. You have by this time learnt what life is; what particular positions, accidental though they may be, ask, nay, imperatively exact from us. If you say 'not imperatively,' you cannot speak from knowledge of the world.
- "To be woven and tied in with the world by blood, acquaintance, tradition, and external habit, is to a woman to be utterly at the beck of that world's customs. In youth we do not see this. You and I did not see it. We were but a girl and a boy at the time of our meetings at Tollamore. What was our knowledge? A list of other people's words. What was our wisdom? None at all.
- "It is well for you now to remember that I am not the unsophisticated girl I was when you first knew me. For better or for worse I have become complicated, exclusive, and practised. A woman who can speak, or laugh, or dance, or sing before any number of men with perfect composure may be no sinner, but she is not what I was once. She is what I am now. She is not the girl you loved. That woman is not here.
- "I wish to write kindly to you, as to one for whom, in spite of the unavoidable division between our paths, I must always entertain a heartfelt respect. Is it, after this, out of place in me to remind you how contrasting are all our associations, how inharmonious our times and seasons? Could anything ever overpower this incongruity?
- "But I must write plainly, and, though it may grieve you now, it will produce ultimately the truest ease. This is my meaning. If I could accept your addresses without an entire loss of position I would do so; but, since this cannot be, we must forget each other,
- "Believe me to be, with wishes and prayers for your happiness,
- "Your sincere friend,
- "G. A."
Egbert could neither go home nor stay still; he walked off rapidly in any direction for the sole sake of vehement motion. His first impulse was to get into darkness. He went towards Kensington; thence threaded across to the Uxbridge Road, thence to Kensal Green, where he turned into a lane and followed it to Kilburn, and the hill beyond, at which spot he halted and looked over the vast haze of light extending to the length and breadth of London. Turning back and wandering among some fields by a way he could never afterwards recollect, sometimes sitting down, sometimes leaning on a stile, he lingered on until the sun had risen. He then slowly walked again towards London, and, feeling by this time very weary, he entered the first refreshment-house that he came to, and attempted to eat something. Having sat for some time over this meal without doing much more than taste it, he arose and set out for the street in which he lived. Once in his own rooms he lay down upon the couch and fell asleep.
When he awoke it was four o'clock. Egbert then dressed and went out, partook of a light meal at his club at the dismal hour between luncheon and dinner, and cursorily glanced over the papers and reviews. Among the first things that he saw were eulogistic notices of his own book in three different reviews, each the most prominent and weighty of its class. Two of them, at least, would, he knew, find their way to the drawing-room of the Allenvilles, for they were among the periodicals which the squire regularly patronized.
Next, in a weekly review he read the subjoined note: —
"Theauthorship of the book — —, about which conjecture has lately been so much exercised, is now ascribed to Mr. Egbert Mayne, whose first attempt in that kind we noticed in these pages some eighteen months ago."
He took up a daily paper, and presently lighted on the following paragraph: —
"It is announced that a marriage is arranged between Lord Bretton, of Tosthill Park, and Geraldine, only daughter of Foy Allenville, Esq., of Tollamore House, Wessex."
Egbert arose and went towards home. Arrived there he met the postman at the door, and received from him a small note. The young man mechanically glanced at the direction.
"From her," he mentally exclaimed.
"What does it —"
This was what the letter contained: —
- "Twelve o'clock.
- "I have just learnt that the anonymous author of the book in which the world has been so interested during the past two months, and which I have read, is none other than yourself. Accept my congratulations. It seems almost madness in me to address you now. But I could not do otherwise on receipt of this news, and after writing my last letter. Let your knowledge of my nature prevent your misconstruing my motives in writing thus on the spur of the moment. I need scarcely add, please keep it a secret forever. I am not morally afraid, but other lives, hopes, and objects than mine have to be considered.
- "The announcement of the marriage is premature, to say the least. I would tell you more, but dare not.
- "G. A."
The conjunction of all this intelligence produced in Egbert's heart a stillness which was some time in getting aroused to excitement. His emotion was formless. He knew not what point to take hold of and survey his position from; and, though his faculties grew clearer with the passage of time, he failed in resolving on a course with any deliberateness. No sooner had he thought, "I will never see her again for my pride's sake," than he said, "Why not see her? she is a woman; she may love me yet."
He went down-stairs and out of the house, and walked by way of the Park towards Chevron Square.
Probably nobody will rightly appreciate Mayne's wild behavior at this juncture, unless, which is very unlikely, he has been in a somewhat similar position himself. It may always appear to cool critics, even if they are generous enough to make allowances for his feelings, as visionary and weak in the extreme. Yet it was scarcely to be expected, after the mental and emotional strain that he had undergone during the preceding five years, that he should have acted much otherwise.
He rang the bell and asked to see Mr. Allenville. He, perhaps fortunately, was not at home. "Miss Allenville, then," said Mayne.
"She is just driving out," said the footman dubiously.
Egbert then noticed for the first time that the carriage was at the door, and almost as soon as the words were spoken Geraldine came down-stairs.
"The madness of hoping to call that finished creature wife!" he thought.
Geraldine recognized him, and looked perplexed.
"One word, Miss Allenville," he murmured.
She assented, and he followed her into the adjoining room.
"I have come," said Egbert. "I know it is hasty of me; but I must hear my doom from your own lips. Five years ago you spurred me on to ambition. I have followed but too closely the plan I then marked out, for I have hoped all along for a reward. What am I to think? Have you indeed left off feeling what you once felt for me?
"I cannot speak of it now," she said hurriedly. "I told you in my letter as much as I dared. Believe me I cannot speak — in the way you wish. I will always he your friend."
"And is this the end? Oh, my God!"
"And we shall hope to see you to dinner some day, now you are famous," she continued, pale as ashes. "But I — cannot be with you as we once were. I was such a child at that time, you know."
"Geraldine, is this all I get after this lapse of time and heat of labor?"
"I am not my own mistress — I have my father to please," she faintly murmured. "I must please him. There is no help for this. Go from me — do go!"
Egbert turned and went, for he felt that he had no longer a place beside her.
Then I said in my heart, "As it happeneth to the fool,
Mayne was in rather an ailing state for several days after the above-mentioned event. Yet the lethean stagnation which usually comes with the realization that all is over allowed him to take some deep sleeps, to which he had latterly been a stranger.
The hours went by, and he did the best he could to dismiss his regrets for Geraldine. He was assisted to the very little success that he attained in this by reflecting how different a woman she must have become from her old sweet self of five or six years ago.
"But how paltry is my success now she has vanished!" he said. "What is it worth? What object have I in following it up after this?" It rather startled him to see that the root of his desire for celebrity having been Geraldine, he now was a man who had no further motive in moving on. Town life had for some time been depressing to him. He began to doubt whether he could ever be happy in the course of existence that he had followed through these later years. The perpetual strain, the lack of that quiet to which he had been accustomed in early life, the absence of all personal interest in things around him, was telling upon his health of body and of mind.
Then revived the wish which had for some time been smouldering in his secret heart — to leave off, for the present, at least, his efforts for distinction; to retire for a few months to his old country nook, and there to meditate on his next course.
To set about this was curiously awkward to him. He had planned methods of retrogression in case of defeat through want of ability, want of means, or lack of opportunity but to retreat because his appetite for advance had gone off was what he had never before thought of.
His reflections turned upon the old home of his mother's family. He knew exactly how Tollamore appeared at that time of the year. The trees with their half-ripe apples, the bees and butterflies lazy from the heat; the haymaking over, the harvest not begun, the people lively and always out of doors. He would visit the spot, and call upon some old and half-forgotten friends of his grandfather in an adjoining parish.
Two days later he left town. The fine weather, his escape from that intricate web of effort in which he had been bound these five years, the sensation that nobody in the world had any claims upon him, imparted some buoyancy to his mind; and it was in a serene if sad spirit that he entered Tollamore Vale, and smelt his native air.
He did not at once proceed to the village, but stopped at Fairland, the parish next adjoining. It was now evening, and he called upon some of the old cottagers whom he knew. Time had set a mark upon them all since he had last been there. Middle-aged men were a little more round-shouldered, their wives had taken to spectacles, young people had grown up out of recognition, and old men had passed into second childhood.
Egbert found here, as he had expected, precisely such a lodging as a hermit would desire. It was in an ivy-covered detached house which had been partly furnished for a tenant who had never come, and it was kept clean by an old woman living in a cottage near. She offered to wait upon Egbert whilst he remained there, coming in the morning and leaving in the afternoon, thus giving him the house to himself during the latter part of the day.
When it grew dusk he went out, wishing to ramble for a little time. The gibbous moon rose on his right, the stars showed themselves sleepily one by one, and the far distance turned to a mysterious ocean of grey. He instinctively directed his steps towards Tollamore, and when there towards the school. It looked very little changed since the year in which he had had the memorable meetings with her there, excepting that the creepers had grown higher.
He went on towards the park. Here was the place whereon he had used to await her coming — he could be sure of the spot to a foot. There was the turn of the hill around which she had appeared. The sentimental effect of the scenes upon him was far greater than he had expected, so great that he wished he had never been so reckless as to come here. "But this is folly," he thought. "The betrothed of Lord Bretton is a woman of the world in whose thoughts, hopes, and habits I have no further interest or share."
In the lane he heard the church-bells ringing out their five notes, and meeting a shepherd Egbert asked him what was going on.
"Practising," he said, in an uninterested voice. "'Tis against young miss's wedding, that their hands may be thoroughly in by the day for't."
He presently came to where his grandfather's old house had stood. It was pulled down, the ground it covered having become a shabby, irregular spot, half grown over with trailing plants. The garden had been grassed down, but the old apple-trees still remained, their trunks and stems being now sheeted on one side with moonlight. He entertained himself by guessing where the front door of the house had been, at which Geraldine had entered on the memorable evening when she came to him full of grief and pity, and a tacit avowal of love was made on each side. Where they had sat together was now but a heap of broken rubbish half covered with grass. Near this melancholy spot was the cottage once inhabited by Nathan Brown. But Nathan was dead now, and his wife and family had gone elsewhere.
Finding the effect of memory to be otherwise than cheerful, Mayne hastened from the familiar spot, and went on to the parish of Fairland in which he had taken his lodging.
It soon became whispered in the neighborhood that Miss Allenville's wedding was to take place on the 17th of October. Egbert heard few particulars of the matter beyond the date, though it is possible that he might have known more if he had tried. He preferred to fortify himself by dipping deeply into the few books he had brought with him; but the most obvious plan of escaping his thoughts, that of a rapid change of scene by travel, he was unaccountably loth to adopt. He felt that he could not stay long in this district; yet an indescribable fascination held him on day after day, till the date of the marriage was close at hand.
How all the other passions fleet to air,
On the eve of the wedding the people told Mayne that arches and festoons of late summer flowers and evergreens had been put up across the path between the church porch at Tollamore and the private gate to the squire's lawn for the procession of bride and bridesmaids. Before it got dark several villagers went on foot to the church to look at and admire these decorations. Egbert had determined to see the ceremony over. It would do him good, he thought, to be witness of the sacrifice.
Hence he, too, went along the path to Tollamore to inspect the preparations. It was dusk by the time that he reached the churchyard, and he entered it boldly, letting the gate fall together with a loud slam, as if he were a man whom nothing troubled. He looked at the half-completed bowers of green, and passed on into the church, never having entered it since he first left Tollamore.
He was standing by the chancel-arch, and observing the quantity of flowers which had been placed around the spot, when he heard the creaking of a gate on its hinges. Two figures entered the church, and Egbert stepped behind a canopied tomb.
The persons were females, and they appeared to be servants from the neighboring mansion. They brought more flowers and festoons, and were talking of the event of the morrow. Coming into the chancel they threw down their burdens with a remark that it was too dark to arrange more flowers that night.
"This is where she is to kneel," said one, standing with her arms akimbo before the altar-railing. "And I wish 'twas I instead, Lord send if I don't."
The two girls went on gossiping till other footsteps caused them to turn.
"I won't say 'tisn't she. She has been here two or three times to-day. Let's go round this way."
And the servants went towards the door by a circuitous path round the aisle, to avoid meeting with the new-comer.
Egbert, too, thought he would leave the place now that he had heard and seen thus much; but from carelessness or design he went straight down the nave. An instant afterwards he was standing face to face with Geraldine. The servants had vanished.
"Good evening," she said serenely, not knowing him, and supposing him to be a parishioner.
Egbert returned the words hastily, and, in standing aside to let her pass, looked clearly into her eyes and pale face, as if there never had been a time at which he would have done anything on earth for her sake.
She knew him, and started, uttering a weak exclamation. When he reached the door he turned his head, and saw that she was irresolutely holding up her hand, as if to beckon to him to come back.
"One word, since I have met you," she said in unequal, half-whispered tones. "I have felt that I was one-sided in my haste on the day you called to see me in London. I misunderstood you."
Egbert could at least out-do her in self-control, and, astonished that she should have spoken, he answered in a yet colder tone, —
"I am sorry for that; very sorry, madam."
"And you excuse it?"
"Of course I do, readily. And I hope you, too, will pardon my intrusion on that day, and understand the — circumstances."
"Yes, yes. Especially as I am most to blame for those indiscreet proceedings in our early lives which led to it."
Certainly you were not most to blame."
"How can you say that?" she answered with a slight laugh, "when you know nothing of what my motives and feelings were?"
"I know well enough to judge, for I was the elder. Let me just recall some points in your own history at that time."
"Will you not hear a word?"
"I cannot. . . Are you writing another book?"
"I am doing nothing. I am idling at Monk's Hut."
"Indeed!" she said, slightly surprised. "Well, you will always have my good wishes, whatever you may do. If any of my relatives can ever help you —"
"Thank you, madam, very much. I think, however, that I can help myself."
She was silent, looking upon the floor; and Egbert spoke again, successfully hiding the feelings of his heart under a light and untrue tone. "Miss Allenville, you know that I loved you devotedly for many years, and that that love was the starting-point of all my ambition. My sense of it makes this meeting rather awkward. But men survive almost anything. I have proved it. Their love is strong while it lasts, but it soon withers at sight of a new face. I congratulate you on your coming marriage. Perhaps I may marry some day, too."
"I hope you will find some one worth your love. I am sorry I ever — inconvenienced you as I did. But one hardly knows at that age —"
"Don't think of it for a moment — I really entreat you not to think of that." What prompted the cruelty of his succeeding words he never could afterwards understand. "It was a hard matter at first for me to forget you, certainly; but perhaps I was helped in my wish by the strong prejudice I originally had against your class and family. I have fixed my mind firmly upon the differences between us, and my youthful fancy is pretty fairly overcome. Those old silly days of devotion were pretty enough, but the devotion was entirely unpractical, as you have seen, of course."
"Yes, I have seen it," she faltered.
"It was scartely of a sort which survives accident and division, and is strengthened by disaster."
"Well, perhaps not, perhaps not. You can scarcely care much now whether it was or not; or, indeed, care anything about me or my happiness."
"I do care."
"How much? As you do for that of any other wretched human being?"
"I will tell you — I must tell you! "she said with rapid utterance. "This is my secret, this. I don't love the man I am going to marry; but I have agreed to be his wife to satisfy my friends. Say you don't hate me for what I have told. I could not bear that you should not know!"
"Hate you? Oh, Geraldine!"
A hair's breadth further, and they would both have broken down.
"Not a word more. Now you know my unhappy state, and I shall die content."
"But, darling — my Geraldine!"
"It is too late. Good-night — goodbye!" She spoke in a hurried voice, almost like a low cry, and rushed away.
Here was a revelation. Egbert moved along to the door,. and up the path, in a condition in which his mind caused his very body to ache. He gazed vacantly through the railings of the lawn, which came close to the churchyard; but she was gone. He still moved mechanically on. A little further and he was overtaken by the parish clerk, who, addressing a few words to him, soon recognized his voice.
The clerk's talk, too, was about the wedding. "Is the marriage likely to be a happy one?" asked Egbert, aroused by the subject.
"Well, between you and me, Mr. Mayne, 'tis a made-up affair. Some says she can't bear the man."
"Yes. I could say more if I dared; but what's the good of it now!"
"I suppose none," said Egbert wearily.
He was glad to be again alone, and went on towards Fairland slowly and heavily. Had Geraldine forgotten him, and loved elsewhere with a light heart, he could have borne it; but this sacrifice at a time when, left to herself, she might have listened to him, was an intolerable misery. Her inconsistent manner, her appearance of being swayed by two feelings, her half-reservations, were all explained. "Against her wishes," he said; "at heart she may still be mine. Oh, Geraldine, my poor Geraldine, is it come to this!"
He bitterly regretted his first manner towards her, and turned round to consider whether he could not go back, endeavor to find her, and ask if he could be of any possible use. But all this was plainly absurd. He again proceeded homeward as before.
Reaching Fairland he sat a while in his empty house without a light, and then went to bed. Owing to the distraction of his mind he lay for three or four hours meditating, and listening to the autumn wind, turning restlessly from side to side, the blood throbbing in his temples and singing in his ears, and the ticking of his watch waxing apparently loud enough to stun him. He conjured up the image of Geraldine in her various stages of preparation on the following day. He saw her coming in at the well-known door, walking down the aisle in a floating cloud of white, and receiving the eyes of the assembled crowd without a flush, or a sign of consciousness; uttering the words, "I take thee to my wedded husband," as quietly as if she were dreaming them. And the husband? Egbert shuddered. How could she have consented, even if her memories stood their ground only half so obstinately as his own? As for himself, he perceived more clearly than ever how intricately she had mingled with every motive in his past career. Some portion of the thought, "marriage with Geraldine," had been marked on every day of his manhood.
Ultimately he fell into a fitful sleep, when he dreamed of fighting, wading, diving, boring, through innumerable multitudes, in the midst of which Geraldine's form appeared flitting about, in the usual confused manner of dreams — sometimes coming towards him, sometimes receding, and getting thinner and thinner till she was a mere film tossed about upon a seething mass.
He jumped up in the bed, damp with a cold perspiration, and in an agony of disquiet. It was a minute or two before he could collect his senses. He went to .the window and looked out. It was quite dark, and the wind moaned and whistled round the corners of the house in the heavy intonations which seem to express that ruthlessness has all the world to itself.
"Egbert, do, do come to me!" reached his ears in a faint voice from the darkness.
There was no mistaking it: it was assuredly the tongue of Geraldine.
He half dressed himself, ran downstairs, and opened the front door, holding the candle above his head. Nobody was visible.
He set down the light, hastened round the back of the house, and saw a dusky figure turning the corner to get to the gate. He then ran diagonally across the plot, and intercepted the form in the path. "Geraldine!" he said, "can it indeed be you?"
"Yes, it is, it is!" she cried wildly, and fell upon his shoulder.
The hot turmoil of excitement pervading her hindered her from fainting, and Egbert placed his arm round her, and led her into the house, without asking a question, or meeting with any resistance. He assisted her into a chair as soon as they reached the front room.
"I have run away from home, Egbert, and to you!" she sobbed. "I am not insane: they and you may think so, but I am not. I came to find you. Such shocking things have happened since I met you just now. Can Lord Bretton come and claim me?"
"Nobody on earth can claim you, darling, against your will. Now tell it all to me."
She spoke on between her tears. "I have loved you ever since, Egbert; but such influences have been brought to bear upon me that at last I have hardly known what I was doing. At last, I thought that perhaps, after all, it would be better to become a lady of title, with a large park and houses of my own, than the wife of any man of genius who was poor. I loved you all the time, but I was half ashamed that I loved you. I went out continually, that gaiety might obscure the past. And then dark circles came round my eyes — I grew worn and tired. I am not nearly so nice to look at as at that time when we used to meet in the school, nor so healthy either . . . I think I was handsome then." At this she smiled faintly, and raised her eyes to his, with a sparkle of their old mischief in them.
"And now and ever," he whispered..
"How innocent we were then! Fancy, Egbert, our unreserve would have been almost wrong if we had known the canons of behavior we learnt afterwards. Ah! who at that time would have thought I was to yield to what I did? I wish now that I had met you at the door in Chevron Square, as I promised. But I feared to — I had promised Lord Bretton — and I that evening received a lecturing from my father, who saw you at the concert — he was in a seat further behind. And then, when I heard of your great success, how I wished I had held out a little longer! for I knew your hard labor had been on my account. When we met again last night it seemed awful, horrible — what I had done. Yet how could I tell you plainly? When I got indoors I felt I should die of misery, and I went to my father, and said I could not be married to-morrow. Oh, how angry he was, and what a dreadful scene occurred!" She covered her face with her hands.
"My poor Geraldine!" said Egbert, supporting her with his arm.
"When I was in my room this came into my mind, 'Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.' I could bear it no longer. I was determined not to marry him, and to see you again, whatever came of it. I dressed, and came down-stairs noiselessly, and slipped out. I knew where your house was, and I hastened here."
"You will never marry him now?"
"Never. Yet what can I do? Oh! what can I do? If I go back to my father — no, I cannot go back now — it is too late. But if they should find me, and drag me back, and compel me to perform my promise!"
"There is one simple way to prevent that, if, beloved Geraldine, you will agree to adopt it."
"By becoming my wife, at once. We would return to London as soon as the ceremony was over; and there you may defy them all."
"Oh, Egbert! I have thought of this —"
"You will have no reason to regret it. Perhaps I can introduce you to as intellectual, if odd-mannered and less aristocratic, society than that you have been accustomed to."
"Yes, I know it, — I reflected on it before I came . . . I will be your wife," she replied tenderly. "I have come to you, and to you I will cling."
Egbert kissed her lips then for the first time in his life. He reflected for some time, if that process could be called reflection which was accompanied with so much excitement.
"The parson of your parish would perhaps refuse to marry us, even if we could get to the church secretly," he said, with a cloud on his brow. "That's a difficulty."
"Oh, don't take me there!" I cannot go to Tollamore. I shall be seen, or we shall be parted. Don't take me there."
"No, no; I will not, love. I was only thinking. Are you known in this parish?"
"Well, yes; not, however, to the clergyman. He is a young man — old Mr. Keene is dead, you know."
"Then I can manage it." Egbert clasped her in his arms in the delight of his heart. "Now this is our course. I am first going to the surrogate' s, and then further; and while I am gone you must stay in this house absolutely alone, and lock yourself in for safety. There is food in the house, and wine in that cupboard; you must stay here in hiding till I come back. It is now five o'clock. I will be here again at latest by eleven. If anybody knocks, remain silent, and the house will be supposed empty, as it lately has been so for a long time. My old servant and waitress must not come here to-day — I will manage that. I will light a fire, which will have burnt down by daylight, so that the room will be warmed for you. Sit there while I set about it."
He lit the fire, placed on the table all the food the house afforded, and went away.
Hence will I to my ghostly father's cell
In half an hour Egbert returned, leading a horse.
"I have borrowed this from an old neighbor," he said, "and I have told the woman who waits upon me that I am doing on a journey, and shall lock up the house to-day, so that she will not be wanted. And now, dearest, I want you to lend me something."
"Whatever it may be, you know it is yours."
"It is that," he answered, lightly touching with the tip of his finger a sparkling ring she wore on hers — the same she had used to wear at their youthful meetings in past years. "I want it as a pattern for the size."
She drew it off and handed it to him, at the same time raising her eyelids and glancing under his with a little laugh of confusion. His heart responded, and he kissed her; but he could not help feeling that she was by far too fair a prize for him.
She accompanied him to the door, and Mayne mounted the horse. They parted, and, waiting to hear her lock herself in, he cantered off by a bridle-path towards a town about five miles off.
It was so early that the surrogate on whom he called had not yet breakfasted, but he was very willing to see Mayne, and took him at once to the study. Egbert briefly told him what he wanted; that the lady he wished to marry was at that very moment in his house, and could go nowhere else for shelter — hence the earliness and urgency of his errand.
The surrogate seemed to see rather less interest in the circumstances than Mayne did himself; but he at once prepared the application for a license. When it was done, he made it up into a letter, directed it, and placed it on the mantelpiece. "It shall go by this evening's post," he said.
"But," said Egbert, "considering the awkward position this lady is in, cannot a special messenger be sent for the license? It is only seven or eight miles to —, and yet otherwise I must wait for two days' posts."
"Undoubtedly; if anybody likes to pay for it, a special messenger may be sent."
"There will be no paying; I am willing to go myself. Do you object?"
"No; if the case is really serious, and the lady is dangerously compromised by every delay."
Mayne left the vicarage of the surrogate and again rode off; this time it was towards a well-known cathedral town. He felt bewildering sensations during this stroke for happiness, and went on his journey in that state of mind which takes cognizance of little things, without at the time being conscious of them, though they return vividly upon the memory long after.
He reached the city after a ride of seven additional miles, and soon obtained the precious document, and all else that he required. Returning to the inn where the horse had been rested, rubbed down, and fed, he again crossed the saddle, and at ten minutes past eleven he was back at Fairland. Before going to Monk's Hut, where Geraldine was immured, he hastened straight to the parsonage.
The young clergyman looked curiously at him, and at the bespattered and jaded horse outside. "Surely you are too rash in the matter," he said.
"No," said Egbert; "there are weighty reasons why I should be in such haste. The lady has at present no home to go to. She has taken shelter with me. I am doing what I consider best in so awkward a case."
The parson took down his hat, and said, "Very well; I will go to the church at once. You must be quick if it is to be done to-day."
Mayne left the horse for the present in the parson's yard, ran round to the clerk, thence to Monk's Hut, and called Geraldine.
It was, indeed, a hasty preparation for a wedding ceremony that these two made that morning She was standing at the window, quite ready, and feverish with waiting. Kissing her gaily and breathlessly he directed her by a slightly circuitous path to the church; and, when she had been gone about two minutes, proceeded thither himself by the direct road, so that they met in the porch. Within, the clergyman, clerk, and clerk's wife had already gathered; and Geraldine and Egbert advanced to the communion railing.
Thus they became man and wife.
"Now he cannot claim me anyhow," she murmured when the service was ended, as she sank almost fainting upon the arm of Mayne.
"Mr. Mayne," said the clergyman, aside to him in the vestry, "what is the name of the family at Tollamore House?"
"Strangely enough, Allenville — the same as hers," said he coolly.
The parson looked keenly and dubiously at Mayne, and Egbert returned the look, whereupon the other turned aside and said nothing.
Egbert and Geraldine returned to their hermitage on foot, as they had left it; and, by rigorously excluding all thoughts of the future, they felt happy with the same old unreasoning happiness as of six years before, now resumed for the first time since that date.
But it was quite impossible that the hastily married pair should remain at Monk's Hut unseen and unknown, as they fain would have done. Almost as soon as they had sat down in the house they came to the conclusion that there was no alternative for them but to start at once for Melport, if not for London. The difficulty was to get a conveyance. The only horse obtainable here, though a strong one ,had already been tired down by Egbert in the morning, and the nearest village at which another could be had was about two miles off.
"I can walk as far as that," said Geraldine.
"Then walk we will," said Egbert. "It will remove all our difficulty." And, first packing up a small valise, he locked the door and went off with her upon his arm, just as the church clock struck one.
That walk through the woods was as romantic an experience as any they had ever known in their lives, though Geraldine was far from being quite happy. On reaching the village, which was larger than Fairland, they were fortunate enough to secure a carriage without any trouble. The village stood on the turnpike road, and a fly, about to return to Melport, where it had come from, was halting before the inn. Egbert hired it at once, and in little less than an hour and a half bridegroom and bride were comfortably housed in a quiet hotel of the seaport town above mentioned.
How small a part of time they share
They remained three days at Melport without having come to any decision on their future movements.
On the third day, at breakfast, Egbert took up the local newspaper which had been published that morning, and his eye presently glanced upon a paragraph headed "The Tollamore Elopement."
Before reading it he considered for a moment whether he should lay the journal aside, and for the present hide its contents from the tremulous creature opposite. But deeming this unadvisable, he gently prepared her for the news, and read the paragraph aloud.
It was to the effect that the village of Tollamore and its neighborhood had been thrown into an unwonted state of excitement by the disappearance of Miss Allenville on the eve of the preparations for her marriage with Lord Bretton, which had been alluded to in their last number. Simultaneously there had disappeared from a neighboring village, whither he had come for a few months' retirement, a gentleman named Mayne, of considerable literary reputation in the metropolis, and apparently an old acquaintance of Miss Allenville's. Efforts had been made to trace the fugitives by the young lady's father and the distracted bridegroom, Lord Bretton, but hitherto all their exertions had been unavailing.
Subjoined was another paragraph, entitled "Latest particulars."
"It has just been discovered that Mr. Mayne and Miss Allenville are already man and wife. They were boldly married at the parish church of Fairland, before any person in the village had the least suspicion who or what they were. It appears that the lady joined her intended husband early that morning at the cottage he had taken for the season, that they went to the church by different paths, and after the ceremony walked out of the parish by a route as yet unknown. In consequence of this intelligence Lord Bretton has returned to London, and her father is left alone to mourn the young lady's rashness."
Egbert lifted, his eyes and watched Geraldine as he finished reading. On perceiving his look she tried to smile. The smile thinned away, for there was not cheerfulness enough to support it long, and she said faintly, "Egbert, what must be done?"
"We must, I suppose, leave this place, darling; charming as our life is here."
"Yes; I fear we must."
"London seems to be the spot for us at once, before we attract the attention of the people here."
"How well everything might end," she said, "if my father were induced to welcome you, and make the most of your reputation! I wonder, wonder if he would! In that case there would be little amiss.
Mayne, after some reflection, said, "I think that I will go to your father before we leave for town. We are certain to be discovered by somebody or other, either here or in London, and that would bring your father, and there would possibly result a public meeting between him and myself at which words might be uttered which could not be forgotten on either side; so that a private meeting and explanation is safest, before anything of that sort can happen."
"I think," she said, looking to see if he approved of her words as they fell, "I think that a still better course would be for me to go to him — alone."
Mayne did not. care much about this plan at first; but further discussion gave it a more feasible aspect, since Allenville, though stern and proud, was fond of his daughter, and had never crossed her, except when her whims interfered, as he considered, with her interests. Nothing could unmarry them; and Geraldine's mind would be much more at ease after begging her father's forgiveness. The journey was therefore decided on. They waited till nearly evening, and then, ordering round a brougham, Egbert told the man to drive to Tollamore.
The journey to Geraldine was tedious and oppressive to a degree. When, after two hours' driving, they drew near the park precincts, she said shivering, — "I don't like to drive up to the house, Egbert."
"I will do just as you like. What do you propose?"
"To let him wait in the road, under the three oak-trees, while you and I walk to the house."
Egbert humored her in everything; and when they reached the designated spot the driver was stopped, and they alighted. Carefully wrapping her up he gave her his arm, and they started for Tollamore House at an easy pace through the moonlit park, avoiding the direct road as much as possible.
Geraldine spoke but little during the walk, especially when they neared the house, and passed across the smooth broad glade which surrounded it. At sight of the door she seemed to droop, and leant heavily upon him. Egbert more than ever wished to confront Mr. Allenville himself; morally and socially it appeared to him the right thing to do. But Geraldine trembled when he again proposed it; and he yielded to her entreaty thus far, that he would wait a few minutes till she had entered and seen her father privately, and prepared the way for Egbert to follow, which he would then do in due course.
The spot in which she desired him to wait was a summer-house under a tree about fifty yards from the lawn front of the house, and commanding a view of the door on this side. She was to enter unobserved by the servants, and go straight to her father, when, should he listen to her with the least show of mildness, she would send out for Egbert to follow. If the worst were to happen, and he were to be enraged with her, refusing to listen to entreaties or explanations, she would hasten out, rejoin Egbert, and depart.
In this little summer-house he embraced her, and bade her adieu, after their honeymoon of three short days. She trembled so much that she could scarcely walk when he let go her hand.
"Don't go alone — you are not well," said Egbert.
"Yes, yes, dearest, I am — and I will soon return, so soon!" she answered; and he watched her crossing the grass and advancing, a mere dot, towards the mansion. In a short time the appearance of an oblong of light in the shadowy expanse of wall denoted to him that the door was open her outline appeared on it; then the door shut her in, and all was shadow as before. Even though they were husband and wife the line of demarcation seemed to be drawn again as rigidly as when he lived at the school.
Egbert waited in the solitude of this place minute by minute, restlessly swinging his foot when seated, at other times walking up and down, and anxiously watching for the arrival of some messenger. Nearly half an hour passed, but no messenger came.
The first sign of life in the neighborhood of the house was in the shape of a man on horseback, galloping from the stable entrance. Egbert saw this by looking over the wall at the back of the summer-house; and the man passed along the open drive, vanishing in the direction of the lodge. Mayne, not without some presentiment of ill, wondered what it could mean, but thought it just possible that the horseman was a special messenger sent to catch the late post at the nearest town, as was sometimes done by Squire Allenville So he curbed his impatience for Geraldine's sake.
Next he observed lights moving in the upper windows of the building. "It has been made known to them all that she is come, and they are preparing a room," he thought hopefully.
But nobody came from the door to welcome him; his existence was apparently forgotten by the whole world. In another ten minutes he saw the Melport brougham that had brought them, creeping slowly up to the house. Egbert went round to the man, and told him to drive to the stables and wait for orders.
From the length of Geraldine's absence, Mayne could not help concluding that the impression produced on her father was of a doubtful kind, not quite favorable enough to warrant her in telling him at once that her husband was in waiting. Still, a sense of his dignity as her husband might have constrained her to introduce him as soon as possible, and he had only agreed to wait a few minutes. Something unexpected must, after all, have occurred. And this supposition was confirmed a moment later by the noise of a horse and carriage coming up the drive. Egbert again looked over into the open park, and saw the vehicle reach the carriage entrance, where somebody alighted and went in.
"Her father away from home perhaps, and now just returned," he said.
He lingered yet another ten minutes, and then could endure no longer. Before he could reach the lawn door through which Geraldine had disappeared it opened. A person came out and, without shutting the door, hastened across to where Egbert stood. The man was a servant without a hat on, and the moment that he saw Mayne he ran up to him.
"Mr. Mayne?" he said.
"It is," said Egbert.
"Mr. Allenville desires that you will come with me. There is something serious the matter. Miss Allenville is taken dangerously ill, and she wishes to see you."
"What has happened to her?" gasped Egbert breathlessly.
"Miss Allenville came unexpectedly home just now, and directly she saw her father it gave her such a turn that she fainted, and ruptured a blood-vessel internally, and fell upon the floor. They have put her to bed, and the doctor has come, but we are afraid she won't live over it. She has suffered from it before."
Egbert did not speak, but walked hastily beside the man-servant. The only recollection that he ever had in after years of entering that house was a vague idea of stags' antlers in a long row on the wall, and a sense of great breadth in the stone staircase as he ascended it. Everything else was in a mist.
Mr. Allenville, on being informed of his arrival, came out and met him in the corridor.
Egbert's mind was so entirely given up to the one thought that the life of his Geraldine was in danger, that he quite forgot the peculiar circumstances under which he met Allenville, and the peculiar behavior necessary on that account. He seized her father's hand, and said abruptly,
"Where is she? Is the danger great?"
Allenville withdrew his hand, turned, and led the way into his daughter's room, merely saying in a low, hard tone, "Your wife is in great danger, sir."
Egbert rushed to the bedside and bent over her in agony not to be described. Allenville sent the attendants from the room, and closed the door.
"Father," she whispered feebly, "I cannot help loving him. Would you leave us alone? We are very dear to each other, and perhaps I shall soon die."
"Anything you wish, child," he said with stern anguish; "and anything can hardly include more." Seeing that she looked hurt at this, he spoke more pleasantly. "I am glad to please you — you know I am, Geraldine — to the utmost." He then went out."
"They would not have let you know if Dr. Williams had not insisted," she said. "I could not speak to explain at first — that's how it is you have been left there so long."
"Geraldine, dear, dear Geraldine, why should all this have come upon us?" he said in broken accents.
"Perhaps it is best," she murmured. "I hardly knew what I was doing when I entered the door, or how I could explain to my father, or what could be done to reconcile him to us. He kept me waiting a little time before he would see me, but at last he came into the room. I felt a fulness on my chest, I could not speak, and then this happened to me. Papa has asked no questions."
A silence followed, interrupted only by her fitful breathing: —
- A silence which doth follow talk, that causes
- The baffled heart to speak with sighs and tears.
"Do you love me very much now, Egbert?" she said. "After all my vacillation, do you?"
"Yes — how can you doubt?"
"I do not doubt. I know you love me. But will you stay here till I get better? You must stay. Papa is sure to be friendly with you now."
"Don't agitate yourself, dearest, about me. All is right with me here. Your health is the one thing to be anxious about now."
"I have only been taken ill like this once before in my life, and I thought it would never be again."
As she was not allowed to speak much, he remained holding her hand; and after some time she sank into a light sleep. Egbert then went from the chamber for a moment, and asked the physician who was in the next room, if there was good hope for her life.
"It is a dangerous attack, and she is very weak," he replied, concealing, though scarcely able to conceal, the curiosity with which he regarded Egbert; for the marriage had now become generally known.
The evening and night wore on. Great events in which he could not participate seemed to be passing over Egbert's head; a stir was in progress, of whose results he grasped but small and fragmentary notions. And, on the other hand, it was mournfully strange to notice her father's behavior during these hours of doubt. It was only when he despaired that he looked upon Egbert with tolerance. When he hoped, the young man's presence was hateful to him.
Not knowing what to do when out of her chamber, having nobody near him to whom he could speak on intimate terms, Egbert passed a wretched time of three long days. After watching by her for several hours on the third day, he went downstairs, and into the open air. There intelligence was brought him that another effusion, more violent than any which preceded it, had taken place. Egbert rushed back to her room. Powerful remedies were applied, but none availed. A fainting-fit followed, and in two or three hours it became plain to those who understood that there was no Geraldine for the morrow.
Sometimes she was lethargic, and as if her spirit had already flown; then her mind wandered; but towards the end she was sensible of all that was going on, though unable to speak, her strength being barely enough to enable her to receive an idea.
It was a gentle death. She was as acquiescent as if she had been a saint, which was not the least striking and uncommon feature in the life of this fair and unfortunate lady. Her husband held one tiny hand, remaining all the time on the right side of the bed in a nook beside the curtains, while her father and the rest remained on the left side, never raising their eyes to him, and scarcely ever addressing him.
Everything was so still that her weak act of trying to live seemed a silent wrestling with all the powers of the universe. Pale and hopelessly anxious they all waited and watched the heavy shadows close over her. It might have been thought that death felt for her and took her tenderly. She sighed twice or three times; then her heart stood still; and this strange family alliance was at an end forever.