Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/The prodigal son - Part 13
THE PRODIGAL SON.
BY DUTTON COOK, AUTHOR OF “PAUL FOSTER’S DAUGHTER,” &c
“A lytel misgoyng in the gynning causeth mykel errour in the end.”—Chaucer’s “Testament of Love.”
CHAPTER XXIV. WILFORD’S WIFE.
It was twilight. Though the weather was not cold, a fire was lighted in the pleasant drawing-room of Mr. Fuller’s cottage at Grilling Abbots. The doctor had himself given orders for the fire, finding his daughter shivering and weak. So, close to the hearth, on a low chair, holding her sleeping child in her arms, sat Violet. She had been reading until the daylight had faded, and her eyes ached too much, or were too full of tears, for her to continue. It is needless to say from what book Violet, in her deep affliction, was seeking consolation and support. Faint with suffering, she leant upon the religion which had been the treasured possession of her whole life, and found the strength to endure, and the patience and comfort of which her want was so immediate. By the waning light she had read yet once again the golden words of invitation to the oppressed:—“Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” and already her burthen seemed something lightened. The first pangs of her agony had passed away. She had recovered a little from the primal overwhelming effects of the blow which had descended upon her with a violence and a suddenness alike frightful—which, while it had lacerated her poor heart, had deranged her intellect and menaced even her life. This excess of acute suffering had gone, and she had now acquired calmness and strength to support a pain which, if less violent in its visitation, was yet hardly less certain and lasting. Still now she could weep and pray. At first even these had seemed not possible to her. She wept and prayed, hugging her child to her heart.
It was painful to look upon her now—remembering what she had been—how radiantly happy so short a time back, as a wife, as a mother. In what vulnerable places had the poor soul been stricken! A wife no longer. A mother—when the word seemed to convey reproach and disgrace. How white she was—as marble—with a strange rigidity about her lineaments—as though they had been, as it were, petrified by her great grief. That mobility of expression which had distinguished her face so exquisitely before, was now wholly gone. In lieu of it, there was one fixed look of hopeless suffering—almost of utter despair. Now and then, when she closed her aching eyes—for even the poor light of the fire was a torture to them—there was quite a corpse-like look upon her face—it was so still, so lifeless. If she was a Madonna now, it was a Madonna carved in stone. The colour was gone from her cheeks, from her lips, and the light from her eyes. For some time she would remain almost motionless; it was only by the gentle heaving of her bosom, and perhaps now and then by a slight change of position of the thin white hands that were twined and woven round her baby, that it could be seen that she lived. Poor Violet! And she was schooling herself to support her hard fate. She was ousting, by her trust in Heaven, all repining at its decrees; and she was crushing down with all her might each impulse that prompted her to level a charge, or a reproach, against the man who had brought upon her all this dire trouble.
“He is my husband before God,” she murmured. But even the comfort of that thought could not overcome her dread of what Man would say of her, and, above all, of the poor little one in her lap; and her doom seemed to be harder than she could bear.
The door was opened softly, and her father entered. He looked very pale and troubled. The sad events that had come so recently to his knowledge—that had brought his daughter again to his house—seemed to have added several years to his age. He was much bent, his hair quite white, and he trembled as he walked. Noiselessly he advanced into the room; but Violet opened her eyes as he approached.
“Dear father,” she said, with a very sad smile, but a most kindly look in her eyes; and she put up her face to be kissed. It was the same action she had been wont to use years and years ago, when she had been quite a child, and they had all been happy, very happy! So it seemed, looking back into the past from that terrible present. The doctor turned away as this thought occurred to him, and for a moment would not trust himself to speak.
“I thought—I hoped that you were asleep, dear one,” he said, at length, stooping down and kissing her, as he smoothed her soft hair.
She shook her head, mournfully. “No, I cannot sleep.”
“You should try and follow baby’s good example,” he went on; and he moved the light muslin kerchief that half hid the rounded pink face of the little one, sleeping soundly—two small plump fists cuddled together under its chin. “See how soundly baby sleeps!”
She bowed her head over the child, hiding her face.
“How like it is to him!” she whispered, rocking herself to and fro.
A cloud passed over the doctor’s forehead. He frowned fiercely, as he said: “Don’t speak of him! I can’t bear it. I can’t bear to think of him even—and the cruel, cruel wrong that he has done to you, my darling. He is a villain—”
“No. No, father—don’t say that. I must not—I cannot bear to hear you speak so. Remember always”—and she placed her hand, with a solemn gesture, on the Bible at her side—“it is not for us to judge—and—and—he is my husband before God! I must not say—I must not hear—a single word against him.”
“You are an angel, Violet; and this man”—but he stopped himself. “How I trusted him! How fond I was of him—ever since he was quite a child—a baby in his grand cradle at the Grange. How I cheered his poor mother with good prophecies about her boy! I would have staked my life upon his integrity. I did more, my dear one—I staked your happiness! I am rightly punished. I would take no warning. The old man—whom I thought so hard and cruel and relentless—was right, after all. He knew his son better than I did. I see it all now—the cause of their quarrel, years ago—the reason why they never could be reconciled, and the old man took away the estates, and went down into the grave cursing his first-born. And I dared to set myself up in opposition to him—combated his opinions—disputed his judgment—took the son to my heart and home, and gave him my dear, dear daughter! This man who had made a low and scandalous marriage, and disgraced his family irretrievably. Surely that was enough! But to keep this marriage secret—and then to marry again, his first wife still living—to win my child from me by a cowardly falsehood and fraud—to bring shame upon our happy home here! Was that worthy of one of the Hadfields of the Grange? He does well to shrink from bearing that honoured name—he does well to try to hide the infamy he has brought upon his family history! Violet, I can never forgive myself that I brought him beneath this roof. I know not what romantic folly prompted me to do this. I am rightly punished—I am rightly punished.”
The old man moved about the room, trembling and in great sorrow.
“Father,” said Violet, “let us not repine! What is done is done. Let us bow our heads to Heaven’s will. Our burthen is very, very hard to bear, but strength will be given to us, or He will take us to himself. Let our trust be always in His infinite goodness and mercy. Let us not speak of this again; it is but to re-open our wounds and endure their agony anew. We have many things to think about—much to arrange. Come and sit down close to me, and let us talk as to the future.”
Nobly Violet tried to fight with and support the suffering of her position.
“You are very brave, my darling,” said her father, struck by some such thought; and, with a proud look in his face, he stooped down again and kissed her. She smiled sadly; perhaps he did not know how much of her firmness was assumed for his sake.
“For the future—” she began, but rather faintly.
“You still desire that the secret should be kept?”
She bowed her head.
“At least, for the present,” she answered. “For all our sakes it will be the best so. Never to see him more, and to hide his sin from the world; to live and die obscurely—here, if possible—if not, then in some other quiet place where the story may never be known. It is not for myself, father, I ask this, but for the child in my arms. O God! if it should grow up to hate its parents!” (What an agony this thought caused her!) “It must never know—never know.”
“Perhaps this will be the best; though, for my part, I own my first impulse was to proclaim aloud, as from the housetops, the infamous cruelty of this man!”
“No, no, father!” and she pressed his hand fondly, “vengeance is not for us, but forgiveness; and try—try as I do—to think he has erred through a cruel chance, rather than from premeditation and design.”
But she saw that it was useless to urge this plea at present. Her father’s brow was lowered, and his hands clenched with an involuntary anger.
“Do they know in Grilling Abbots that I am here?” she asked hastily, to change the turn the conversation was taking.
“It was not possible to keep that a secret long, but I think I can manage to keep our friends at bay for a little while, at all events until you are more composed—until we have decided definitively as to the future.” And the doctor smiled as he added, “I contrived to put Mrs. Stephen to rout this afternoon. It seemed she had heard of your arrival, and was coming down post-haste to make inquiries; but I made her turn her ponies’ heads quickly. I said that you had come down because of the illness of the baby—that its disorder, however, was not serious, though it might be infectious. Her face changed, she sent all sorts of kind messages, but she thought of the safety of her own little ones at home and hurried off. The report will spread, and we can keep visitors at a distance by such means for some time to come.”
Violet thanked him with her eyes.
“It grows dark,” she said with some anxiety, “surely Madge will not be long now.”
“She should have been back before this,” and Mr. Fuller looked frowningly at his watch: “she could have had no difficulty in getting a fly at Mowle. I am sorry I let her go. I ought to have gone myself.”
“No, father,” Violet urged eagerly, “you were too angry—too excited. In your frame of mind no good could have resulted from your meeting him. It was better for Madge to go. Besides, it was her own proposal, and it was important to find occupation for her. The poor darling’s sorrow was so great it would have preyed upon her mind else. It will be a satisfaction to her always to think she undertook this journey; it will give her courage and self-confidence; and then, she may not have seen him after all.”
“If he should insult her?” Mr. Fuller suggested angrily.
“He will not—be sure he will not.”
“He is capable of anything; he has proved that sufficiently, I think. What good can come of his seeing Madge? Can he undo the past?”
Violet answered very quietly and sadly.
“No; little good can come of it, perhaps. I know it is hoping against hope; yet it will be something to learn from himself of the strange past: at least he may have excuses to offer.”
“He will lie, Violet, there is no doubt of that. There can be no excuses in the truth.”
“We have heard him accused—”
“And the accusation has been only too fully proved.”
“Still, father, he should be heard; he may have some answer to give.”
“It is not possible, Violet.”
“There may be reason for our pity—our forgiveness. Surely in every human error there is reason for these. Ah! the sound of wheels! Madge returns.”
There was the noise as of a carriage approaching along the road from Mowle.
“Be calm, dearest; pray compose yourself. I will go out and see.”
And Mr. Fuller left the room.
A few minutes, and Violet started up suddenly. There was a noise as of some one tapping at the window.
“How nervous I grow,” she said, in a frightened voice: “it is only a branch blown against the panes.”
But the noise was repeated. She went to the window: looking out she recognised a figure standing in the garden.
“Madge!” she cried, eagerly; and she unlocked the sash and threw it open. “Madge!—my sister!”
They were in each other’s arms instantly.
“How tired you must be; how cold your face is! My poor child, come to the fire.”
Even at such a moment she could think first of her sister.
“Dearest Vi, be brave, be strong, there’s my good Vi.” Madge stopped as though in fear of the effect of what she was about to say; then she went on in a different tone upon another subject. “We have been such a long time coming from Mowle—there was such a poor horse in the fly.” She peered at Violet: was she composed enough yet to hear what was to be told? How pale—how trembling she was!
“Why did you come to the window, Madge?” said Violet, in a strange voice.
“Because—” What was she to say? Rather frightened, she glanced over her shoulder.
“He came with you?” Violet demanded, with a scream.
“Be calm, my sister.”
“He is there?” and she pointed to the garden.
“My dearest sister—”
“Quick—quick—tell me. It is true?”
Madge knew to what the question referred, with what wild hope Violet was trembling.
“Yes, my poor Violet, it is true! But he believed her dead; he did not—could not, know the wrong he did you. It was accident, not design—”
“O, Madge, why did you bring him here? How wrong—how cruel! O, God help me! I must not—dare not see him.” She reeled, covering her face with her hands—but for Madge’s aid she would have fallen.
“Dear Violet, be calm; he comes for one last moment to see you, to hear your own lips pronounce his pardon—to see once more his child—”
“What of that—what of that?” Violet asked, almost fiercely. The baby was on the sofa now, curled up, calm, beautiful, quite unconscious of the great grief afflicting those so near to it. “He would not take it from me? It is all mine now; it is all I have in the world now! It is for my baby only that I wish to live, my poor baby, who has no father now—my poor baby, who has no one now to look to for comfort, and support, and protection; no one but a wretched mother, whom, by-and-by, he will be taught to hate.” She bent over the child as though to shield it from harm. “He has not come to take my child from me?”
“No, dearest, be calm; he never dreamt of such a cruel thing. But to kiss it, Violet; he may do that. He is poor baby’s father—”
“Yes, his father—he may see his child.”
“And you will see him, Violet? He is greatly changed—so broken—so utterly prostrate and wretched—say one kind word to him, Violet, before he goes away—for ever—for ever, Violet.”
“Yes,” she said, after a pause, and in a calmer voice, “I will see him.”
“No, it is impossible. I forbid it!” cried Mr. Fuller, solemnly and sternly as he entered the room. “This man shall not again enter my house. Has he not brought suffering enough already? Would he insult his victim? Does he dare to cross my threshold again? I will not answer for his life! Violet, my dearest, this must not be—I cannot suffer it!”
“Father, have mercy,” she said, as she threw her arms round his neck: “there is no fear; but one moment, and then he will have gone from me for ever! Whatever he has done, he is my husband before God. Be not alarmed for me. I have more courage than you think. Trust in me, father: a short time and all will be over, for ever!”
The old man could seldom act in opposition to her wishes; least of all now. He suffered himself to be led from the room by Madge. Violet watched him to the door. She turned, to behold the figure of Wilford Hadfield standing at the window.
He tottered rather than walked into the room.
“Violet! Violet!” he cried, in a strange hollow voice. He sunk upon his knees—more he intended probably to say—his lips moved as though in an attempt at utterance; though no sound came, yet with outstretched imploring arms, his action was as eloquent as speech.
Greatly troubled, swaying to and fro, her hands clasped together with convulsive energy, Violet stood for a moment irresolute, gazing wildly at him.
Suddenly she raised her eyes. She then perceived another person standing at the window. The fire burned up brightly at the moment, and lit up the room.
What was it she read in the face of this man at the window? What meant that sudden change that came over her? She was breathing so quickly she could scarcely speak, and her hands were pressing her heart. “My husband!” she seemed to gasp out at last—an almost delirious question.
“Yes, your husband!—for he is your husband—your true and lawful husband.”
George Martin was the speaker.
“What are you saying?” cried Wilford, in a scared, dazed way.
“The truth. I have come all this way to tell it. You were too busy to hear the galloping of my horse. I have come full speed. Can you bear to hear me?”
He glanced from one to the other. How greedily they seemed to drink in his words. As calmly and distinctly as he was able, Martin continued.
“You have been both victims of a cruel and shameful conspiracy and fraud. The marriage with Regine Pichot is void. Be assured that it is so. I hold the proofs in my hand. At the time of that marriage, Regine was already the wife of one Lenoir, formerly a medical student of Paris, late a singer in the chorus of the Grand Opera, Brussels, and now spy and agent of police in the employment of the French Government. From the lips of the woman Regine, and the man Lenoir, I have gathered this day a confession of their history. Any claim made by the woman is one founded upon imposture. The marriage has been all along utterly void. Wilford Hadfield, you are the lawful husband of Violet Fuller.”
A moment, to obtain firm mental grasp of this intelligence—to gather from Martin’s earnest face confidence in its truth—then Violet was locked in the embrace of her husband.
“My own Violet!” cried Wilford, “pardon me—pity me—love me, ever!”
“My husband!” and she pressed him to her heart, how fondly.
Martin drew back from a scene upon the sacred nature of which his presence seemed to be a trespass!
CHAPTER XXV. CONCLUSION.
Monsieur René Isidor Philippe St. Just Lenoir—Monsieur Chose, as he had playfully named himself at an early period of this narrative—was as good as his word. He had called upon George Martin at his chambers in the Temple. With the important information derived from the Frenchman, Martin had hurried to the house in Freer Street, but he arrived there only in time to encounter the earnest lamentations of Mr. Phillimore and the faithful Rembrandt over the recent departure of Wilford and his sister-in-law. He of course concluded that his friends had journeyed to Grilling Abbots. Martin had then hastened to the railway station; he found, however, that he was too late for the train which had conveyed his friends into the country. He had to wait some hours before there was another train to Mowle. He knew the importance of the intelligence he had obtained, while he dreaded the consequences that might be involved in any delay in communicating upon the subject with those most interested. Arrived at Mowle, late in the day, he had at once taken horse and proceeded to Grilling Abbots with all possible speed. The events that followed his appearance at the doctor’s cottage have already been related.
Lenoir had put into writing the chief facts contained in his recital to Martin. This written statement, although it comprised a history of the career of the Frenchman by no means without interest and value, it is not necessary to set out here in detail, its connection with the chief characters of our narrative being often too remote and undefined. Monsieur Lenoir had moreover strengthened the especially important points of his statement by the production of evidence from various quarters. At a later period he obtained a letter from Regine, confirming all he had related in regard to her. She had been taken to the Charing Cross Hospital, and while still suffering acutely from the effects of her recent accident, had dictated a letter, to which she was able with some exertion to add her signature, and in which she confessed her share in the deception that had been practised, and besought pardon of all concerned for her fraud and wickedness.
It will be convenient for our purpose to consider the statement of Lenoir, and the letter of Regine, as one source from which we may derive a brief explanation of such of the foregoing facts as may appear to need elucidation. In truth, such details as we propose to give are obtained now from one, now from the other, of these documents—occasionally, indeed, from both—but it will not be necessary to trace back each fact to its specific author. As a whole, the following summary of information may be received as substantially authentic and complete.
René Lenoir, the son of respectable parents of the bourgeois class, had commenced life as a student of medicine at Paris. His habits were not very orderly. Soon he was a prisoner for debt at Clichy. There he formed an important acquaintance. There was a gentleman also confined for debt during Lenoir’s sojourn at Clichy, who was of some fame as a composer and musical director. Lenoir had a passion for music, and an excellent barytone voice. The composer had also a passion for having his boots brilliantly polished. The captives came to a definite understanding and agreement—Lenoir blacked the composer’s boots, the composer undertook the musical education of Lenoir. Released in due course from Clichy, Lenoir found that return to Paris, and continuance of his studies, would be as unavailing, as unattractive. His parents were dead, and they had left no money for their son. He joined a vagrant troupe of vocalists. Ultimately he crossed the frontier—for reasons best known to himself—and was soon a member of the chorus of the Grand Opera at Brussels; and also, it should be stated, one of the choir of the church of Saint Etienne du Mont, in that city. He was prosperous. He was now and then promoted to a small part in the opera—he was occasionally entrusted with a solo in one of the anthems sung at Saint Etienne du Mont. Years went by; he made progress as a singer. Meanwhile, he enjoyed himself after his wont, and, smoking his pipe at the window of his most ill-furnished mansarde, contemplated the sports of the young ladies, scholars at a neighbouring pension.
Lenoir was of a susceptible nature, was an admirer of the sex. In due time he found himself deeply fascinated with one of his young neighbours—slight, small, a brunette with superb eyes. He wrote a sonnet to her eyebrows, wrapped the lines round a bonbon, and flung the parcel at the feet of the young lady. She read the verse, and ate the confectionary; it would be hard to say which she liked the best. She was young; and probably her digestive organs, both mental and physical, were sound, strong, and good. She could not throw back other verse and bonbon, for her lover’s mansarde was up too high; but she replied appreciatingly—lovingly—with her eyes, and the mode of answer seemed to be quite as efficacious. Lenoir was charmed; and he never rested until he had become the accepted lover of Mademoiselle Regine Stephanie Pichot; more, until he had carried her off from the pension and made her his wife. The ceremony was performed by a not too respectable priest attached to the church of Saint Etienne du Mont. There was little difficulty about the matter. The young lady was an English subject, the daughter of English subjects; why should she not marry, if she so chose, even a member of the chorus of the opera—of the choir of St. Etienne? Of course Madame Latour, mistress of the pension, was very angry; but what did that matter? Her pupil was already sharing the mansarde of the husband.
Official proof of his marriage was annexed to Monsieur Lenoir’s statement.
For a very short time the newly married couple were very happy indeed; they spent all the money they had in the world; they exhausted all their credit—that was soon done—they enjoyed themselves immensely. But they made mutual discoveries; the husband found that his wife had a temper that was not always angelic; the wife that her husband was idle, dissolute, poor. Soon it became necessary that Madame Lenoir should work in aid of the funds of the household. When Madame Pichot arrived from England to remove Regine from school, the young lady was found to be not only married, but also a promising figurante in the ballet of the Grand Opera, her husband being one of the best basses in the chorus of the same establishment.
Of course, there was a tremendous scene, into the particulars of which it is not advisable to enter. And Madame Pichot did not spare Madame Latour; the pension was ruined. Next, Monsieur Lenoir found himself again in prison, thanks, probably, to the connivance of his mother-in-law. Regine was taken to England, to enter the Harley Street house of Colonel Hugh Hadfield, and to meet there, for the first time, another lover, the Colonel’s nephew, Wilford Hadfield. Lenoir came out of prison, after some time; he missed his wife a good deal at first, but he consoled himself. He had forfeited his engagement at the opera; he had only one mouth to feed now—it was quite as well. He returned to Paris; to become eventually a member of the French police, distinguished for his intelligence, versatility, and utter want of either heart or principle. When next he heard of his wife she was living in London; he wrote to her repeatedly. At one time he almost began to think his passion for her was reviving. She replied to his letters. This correspondence, as the reader has been informed, came to the knowledge of Wilford Hadfield, and led to his separation from his wife, for such he believed Regine to be. When Lenoir next encountered the Pichots in Paris, they were living in apparent affluence, probably upon the money they had obtained under the will of Colonel Hadfield. But M. Pichot gambled very much. By-and-by, he was keeping a boarding house, in other words, a gaming-table. The police interfered; there was said to be a distinct conspiracy to defraud, in which the Pichot family were all implicated. Upon a charge arising out of this, true or false, it was hard to say, Regine was found guilty, and imprisoned in St. Lazare. She escaped, to quit France, return to the profession she had adopted at Brussels, to work hard, to appear at various continental theatres, with a rising fame as Mademoiselle Boisfleury, and ultimately to delight London at Mr. Grimshaw’s establishment, with the result we have seen. Monsieur Dominique Pichot was less prosperous. He was not morally benefited by his incarceration. He formed imprudent acquaintances. From cheating at cards and conspiring to defraud, he advanced to forgery, robbery with violence, &c. He obtained at last a sentence of hard labour at the galleys for twenty years, upon a conviction for burglary and attempt to murder. It was not found possible at that time, to the regret of very many, to prove any complicity in the crime on the part of Madame Pichot. She was permitted to quit France, and in the character of Madame Boisfleury to chaperone her daughter, the danseuse, about the continent.
For Regine’s share in the nefarious transactions we have narrated, it is only to be said, that she was completely an instrument in the evil-working hands of the Pichots. Born in India, luxurious by nature and habit, indolent, vain, pleasure-loving, it was not surprising that she should find the restrictions of the Belgian pension singularly irksome—it was not wonderful that she should turn a willing ear to the ardent petitions and promises of René Lenoir—since in these she found a certain escape from conditions that constrained and vexed her. It is even likely enough that, at the outset, she had believed in the devotedness of her admirer, as she had fancied that she reciprocated his devotion. Brought to England, she had attached herself greatly to Colonel Hugh; it is possible that this state of feeling was generated by certain hints let fall from time to time by Madame Pichot, to the effect that in the Colonel, Regine beheld her real father. In this affection, and in the threat to reveal to the Colonel the secret of her marriage with Lenoir, the Pichots found that they possessed extraordinary power over Regine, a leverage by means of which they could move her in whichever direction they might will. Regine—not naturally cruel—and shrinking from the villainy she saw impending, did all that was possible to avert from herself the affection of Wilford Hadfield. She was compelled to listen to him; as in time by means of threats, and cajoleries, and assurances that her first marriage was void, she was induced to become his wife. The marriage accomplished, Regine found herself more than ever in the power of her putative parents. They informed her that she had been deliberately guilty of a felony, and that they had but to lay the facts of the case before the police to bring down upon her condign punishment. She, however, availed herself of the first opportunity to obtain a separation from Wilford, though she could not prevent this separation being made the means of extortion to an extraordinary amount. In truth, she had not been greatly moved by his love, occupied as she had been by the difficulties of her own position, and possibly by the remains of such affection as she had ever entertained for René Lenoir. The feeling she had permitted herself to manifest in her interview with Wilford, a short time before the accident, at the T. R. Long Acre, and the outburst of jealous rage with which she had dared to insult Violet and her child, can only be attributed to those uncontrollable impulses and violent changes of emotion to which a woman of Regine’s nature and habits of life will always be subject. It is possible, however, that such love as she was capable of, might be aroused in Wilford’s favour, by a recollection of his former devotion to her—a striking contrast, it might be, to such forms of passion as she had since had experience of—and the shameful injuries that devotion had entailed upon him, while the thought that this was now hopelessly gone from her, would be sufficient to prompt her to almost any excess of violence and anger.
Thus far we have drawn from the confessions of Lenoir and Regine such explanations as appear to be necessary for the proper understanding of our history. There is but little to add to the information thus obtained.
In a letter received from Lenoir at a date shortly subsequent to his statement Martin read:
“Be consoled, my dear friend; a dangerous person will be removed from your country—free, happy, and noble. There will be no esclandre. It will be done without the assistance of your minister of the interior: yet the hospitality superb of England will not be insulted. You will sleep, while we shall act: as under the influence of chloroform there will be removed from your bosom a cancer dangerous and painful; the operation will be performed adroitly by the government of which I have the honour to be an executive.
I am instructed to arrest Madame Pichot. She is hiding; but I owe it to her child—Monsieur Alexis—that I know where to find her. Monsieur Pichot, in the hope of ameliorating his condition, has made confessions implicating his wife. It is not generous; it is in effect cruel to the wife who loves her husband. But what do you wish? It is good for France, for justice, for the police. She will be apprehended to-night; to-morrow she will sleep in Paris—in prison. Ah! has she not cause to love her husband? But the wife has always cause.
“‘And Monsieur Alexis escapes, then?’ you ask me. I hear your voice, I see your looks. Ah, my friend! calm yourself, have patience. It is true: and you will believe no more in the justice poetic! But believe, then, in the poetry of the police. He is free, but he is ours. A pretty criminal is the dear child; but we will leave him on the tree, not gather him too soon; he will be more worth our trouble by-and-by. Shun immature fruit—it tries too much the teeth and the stomach. Meanwhile leave him—idle, corrupt, wicked—alone in London, with the sleepless eyes of a paternal government watching over him. He is quite safe, the handcuffs are already made for him, and—laugh, my friend!—he loves the maigre Blondette! Délassement suprème! Say, then! do you still believe no more in the justice poetic?”
By way of more last words we are permitted to add the following. The date is as of the 21st December, 185—, three years later, it should be stated, than any of the events previously chronicled.
EXTRACT FROM THE DIARY OF GEORGE MARTIN.
“This morning I received a letter from my old friend Wilford, reminding me of my promise to spend Christmas at Grilling Abbots. I had not forgotten it; though I do believe that I am coward enough to avoid this visit if it were possible. But it is not; I must go. He accuses me of neglect; says that upon a shameful pretext I evaded joining their happy party last year; that we never meet now, and that it is my fault. Perhaps he has reason for these reproaches.
“We do seldom meet; and for correspondence it is not, I think, in the nature of men to write letters—conversational, friendly letters. They can’t do it; only grim, brief, hard notes, which satisfy neither writer nor reader. And we are parted by circumstances. Time has brought him peace and happiness and success, I am happy to know. What need has he to linger in this dreadful, depressing, heartless London? He is in the country; the tenant of the beautiful old Manor House Farm on the Hadfield estate. I believe Stephen had his way in that matter, at last, and the farm is to be settled on little Wilford. There was a great fight about it, but the ladies were all on Stephen’s side, and Wilford was overwhelmed at last by numbers. It is a noble old place, with high gable-ends, stone coigns and window-cases, and with Prince Rupert’s name scratched on one of the panes—he was there one night only during the Civil War. The grand old hall, with its carved oak panels and mantelpiece and ceilings, would be the very place of all others in which to spend Christmas—and yet—and yet—
“Does she know my secret? I feel she does. She knows it, and yet will not know it. It is better so, for it is folly, madness, this secret! I feel that she has read me through on the subject, and gently, tenderly, has given me her pity and her sympathy—as, indeed, she would bestow them upon any one who suffered; and I know, at least I think I do, the good soul’s dream, her plan for my happiness. Is it not to bring me to Madge’s feet?
Dear Madge! she is very charming; and so good and true—we are great friends. Can she care for me ever so little? Sometimes I think this may be so; at other times it seems fairly impossible. I never feel so old as when I am basking in the radiance of Madge’s youth and beauty; it is always in the strong sunlight that one’s wrinkles become the most visible. There is certainly great happiness in going down with worn nerves, jaded and gloomy from the over-work of my life here, to the peace and calm of the Manor House; to hear in the evening the lovely voice of Violet giving new beauty to those old true melodies of Mozart; to talk with Wilford over a pipe in the snug porch; to romp with little Wilford on the lawn; or to sing absurd songs and give endless rides upon my knee to the tiny second child, just two years old, little Gertrude Violet, my god-daughter, for whom, by the way, I must take down all sorts of presents at Christmas. How dreadful to have children thinking one shabby! It’s hard if one can’t even be a hero to them. And I have omitted Madge from my list. Is it no pleasure to gaze into the lustrous depths of her superb blue eyes? Yes, indeed it is.
“This is all great happiness. Yet the coming back here again is so dreadful! My life seems to be so utterly lonely and wretched; indeed, solitude begins to grow very detestable. It is because for one reason, these notions torture me so when I return to town that I am always vowing that I will never leave it again. Yet I have promised to spend Christmas at Grilling Abbots!
“And I am to meet old Phillimore there, am I? The good old boy. He has taken, Wilford writes, Mrs. Gardiner’s cottage and settled just outside Grilling Abbots. He boasts of his collection of landscapes by Gainsborough, and is always arranging what he calls ‘nice bits of still life’ in his garden. They say he was quite shocked to find there had been an addition to the family in the shape of little Gertrude. He declares it is quite unparalleled in art to introduce the figure of a female child into a riposa. He never heard of such a thing, and wonders what St. Joseph, means by it. The faithful Sally, the Rembrandt, is still in his service. He busies himself with arranging and cleaning and rearranging the pictures in the gallery at the Grange, and in teaching drawing and a love of art to Stephen’s children and to little Wilford. He has publicly announced that the boy is to be his heir—‘he has developed into such a beautiful Vandyke.’ The child seems to be really quite attached to the old gentleman, and I know that Wilford and Violet have a great regard for him—he is associated in their minds with a very remarkable period of their married life. It was rather a shame of Wilford—putting the old picture-dealer into his last novel. However, the old gentleman read the book, and pronounced his opinion upon it without having remarked his own portrait, and so no great harm was done. Indeed I think Mr. Phillimore somehow had rather the best of it, though Wilford pretended not to be vexed that his picture had not been recognised, and said the likeness was unimpeached notwithstanding.
“How strangely one hears of things! That queer fellow, C——, was here to-day. He has just returned from Paris—full of a wonderful dancer at the Grand Opera—a Madame Lenoir-Boisfleury. She is making a large fortune and turning the heads of the Parisians by her daring style of performance. Surely this must be Regine again? But Lenoir-Boisfleury? Is my police friend at her side then—giving her the protection of his name—and receiving her salary in return? It is not impossible.
“Well, I have written to Wilford. I spend Christmas in the old Manor Farm-house. There is to be more mirth they promise themselves than they have known for some years past.
“New Year’s Day—we are all to be fêted at the Grange. That good Mrs. Stephen! she has already decided which of her daughters is to be married to little Wilford, and which of her young gentlemen is to give his hand to my little god-daughter. She is a good woman; and she has been scheming too, I know, as to another wedding, to take place at an earlier date I presume. She thinks dear old Mr. Fuller’s second daughter and that Mr. Martin are quite cut out for each other!
“Who can tell how this will end?
“I will go to the farmhouse—I will look carefully into the dear child’s sweet face—if I see one glance that seems to bid me speak, I——
“But I must stop for to-night. Past two o’clock, and the lamp going out. Let me close my book!”