Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Eleanor's victory - Part 11
BY THE AUTHOR OF “AURORA FLOYD,” “LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET,” &c.
CHAPTER XIX. LIKE THE MEMORY OF A DREAM.
Mrs. Darrell drove away from Tolldale Priory late in the afternoon, and in a very despondent state of mind. She had done no good by her visit to Woodlands, and it seemed painfully probable that she had done a great deal of harm; for the unfortunate accident of a resemblance between Laura Mason’s companion and the late George Vane had stirred up the memories of the past in that turbid stream, the old man’s mind. The widow scarcely opened her lips during the homeward drive. She would fain have punished Eleanor for that unhappy chance by which she happened to resemble the dead man, and she had not failed to remark unpleasantly upon Miss Vane’s conduct at Woodlands.
“One would really think you wished to trade upon your likeness to Mr. Vane, and to insinuate yourself into my uncle’s good graces, Miss Vincent,” the widow said, rather sharply.
Eleanor blushed crimson, but did not attempt to reply to her employer’s bitter speech. The falsehood of an assumed name was perpetually placing her in positions against which her truthful nature revolted.
If Mrs. Darrell had been free to dismiss Eleanor Vane, she would doubtless have done so, for the girl’s presence had now become a source of alarm to her. There were two reasons for this sentiment of alarm. First, the likeness which Maurice de Crespigny had discovered between Eleanor and his dead friend, and which might prompt him at any moment to some capricious fancy for the girl; and, secondly, the fact that Eleanor’s beauty and fascinations might not be without their effect upon Launcelot Darrell.
The widow knew by cruel experience that her son was not a man to surrender his lightest caprice at the entreaty of another. At seven-and-twenty years of age he was as much a spoiled child as he had been at seven. Ellen Darrell looked back at the bitter trials of the past, and remembered how hard it had been to keep her son true even to his own interests. Selfish and self-willed, he had taken his own way; always relying upon his handsome face, his shallow versatility, his showy accomplishments, to carry him through every difficulty, and get him out of every dilemma; always eager for the enjoyment of the present hour, and reckless as to any penalties to be paid in the future.
Mrs. Darrell had concentrated every feeling of her heart into one passion: her love for this young man. Frigid and reserved to others, with him she was impulsive, vehement, spontaneous, ready to pour out her heart’s blood at his feet, if he had needed such an evidence of her devotion. For him she was jealous and exacting; harsh to others; desperate and unforgiving to those whom she thought his enemies.
For Launcelot she was anxious and ambitious. The hope that her uncle Maurice would leave his fortune to the young man, or, on the other hand, would die without a will, thus leaving Launcelot to succeed as heir-at-law, never entirely deserted her. But, even if that hope should fail, her sisters were elderly women like herself. If they succeeded in cajoling Maurice de Crespigny out of his fortune, they must surely eventually leave it to their only nephew, Launcelot. This was how the widow reasoned. But there was another chance which she fancied she saw for her son’s advancement. Laura Mason, the heiress, evidently admired the young man’s handsome face and dashing manners. What more likely than that Launcelot might succeed in winning the hand and fortune of that capricious young lady?
Under these circumstances Mrs. Darrell would have been very glad to have removed Eleanor Vane out of her son’s way; but this was not easily to be done. When the widow sounded Laura Mason upon the subject, and dimly suggested the necessity of parting with Eleanor, the heiress burst into a flood of tears, and declared passionately that she would not live without her darling Nelly; and when Mrs. Darrell went even further than this, and touched upon the subject in a conversation with Mr. Monckton, the lawyer replied very decidedly that he considered Miss Vincent’s companionship of great benefit to his ward, and that he could not hear of any arrangement by which the two girls would be separated.
Mrs. Darrel], therefore, could do nothing but submit, in the hope that for once her son might consent to be governed by his interests, rather than by those erratic impulses which had led him in the reckless and riotous days of his early youth.
She pleaded with him, entreating him to be prudent and thoughtful for the future.
“You have suffered so much from poverty, Launcelot,” she urged, “that surely you will lose no opportunity of improving your position. Look back, my boy; remember that bitter time in which you were lost to me, led away by low and vicious companions, and only apppealing to me when you found yourself in debt and difficulty. Think of your Indian life, and the years you have wasted,—you who are so clever and accomplished, and who ought to have been so fortunate. Oh, Launcelot, if you knew what a bitter thing it is to a mother to see her idolised child waste every opportunity of winning the advancement which should be his by right,—yes, by right, Launcelot, by the right of your talents. I never reproached you, my boy, for coming home to me penniless. Were you to return to me twenty times, as you came back that night, you would always find the same welcome, the same affection. My love for you will never change, my darling, till I go to my grave. But I suffer very bitterly when I think of your wasted youth. You must be rich, Launcelot; you cannot afford to be poor. There are some men to whom poverty seems a spur that drives them on to greatness, but it has clogged your footsteps, and held you back from the fame you might have won.”
“Egad, so it has, mother,” the young man answered, bitterly; “a shabby coat paralyses a man’s arm, to my mind, and it’s not very easy for a fellow to hold his head very high when the nap’s all worn off his hat. But I don’t mean to sit down to a life of idleness, I can tell you, mother; I shall turn painter. You know I’ve got on with my painting pretty well during the last few years.”
“I’m glad of that, my dear boy. You had plenty of time to devote to your painting, then?”
“Plenty of time; oh, yes, I was pretty well off for that matter.”
“Then you were not so hard worked in India?”
“Not always. That depended upon circumstances,” the young man answered, indifferently. “Yes, mother, I shall turn painter, and try and make a fortune out of my brush.”
Mrs. Darrell sighed. She wished to see her son made rich by a quicker road than the slow and toilsome pathway by which an artist reaches fortune.
“If you could make a wealthy marriage, Launcelot,” she said, “you might afford to devote yourself to art, without having to endure the torturing anxieties which must be suffered by a man who has only his profession to depend upon. I wouldn’t for the world wish you to sell yourself for money, for I know the wretchedness of a really mercenary marriage; but if—”
The young man flung back the dark hair from his forehead, and smiled at his mother as he interrupted her.
“If I should fall in love with this Miss Laura Mason, who, according to your account, is to have a power of money one of these days, I should prove myself a wise man. That’s what you mean, isn’t it, madre mia? Well, I’ll do my best. The young lady is pretty, but her childishness is positively impayable. What’s the amount of the fortune that is to counterbalance so much empty-headed frivolity? Eh, mother?”
“I can’t quite answer that question, Launcelot. I only know that Mr. Monckton told me Laura will be very rich.”
“And Gilbert Monckton, although a lawyer, is one of those uncompromising personages who never tell a lie. Well, mother, we’ll see about it; I can’t say anything more than that.”
The young man had been standing before his easel with his palette and brushes in his hand during this conversation, now and then putting a touch here and there into a picture that he had been working at since his return. He had taken up his abode in his old apartments. His mother spent a good deal of her time with him; sitting at needlework by the open window, while he painted; listening while, in his idler moments, he sat at the piano, composing a few bars of a waltz, or trying to recall some song that he had written long ago; always following him with watchful and admiring eyes, shadowed only by the mother’s anxiety for her son’s future.
Launcelot Darrell did not seem to be altogether a bad young man. He accepted his mother’s love with something of that indolent selfishness common to those spoiled children of fortune upon whom an extra share of maternal devotion has been lavished. He absorbed the widow’s affection, and gave her in return an easy-going, graceful attention, which satisfied the unselfish woman, and demanded neither trouble nor sacrifice from the young man himself.
“Now, if the wealthy heiress were the poor companion, mother,” Mr. Darrell said, presently, working away with his brush as he spoke, “your scheme would be charming. Eleanor Vincent is a glorious girl; a little bit of a spitfire, I should think, quiet and gentle as she is with us; but a splendid girl; just the sort of wife for an indolent man; a wife who would rouse him out of his lethargy and drive him on to distinction.”
Yes, Launcelot Darrell, who had never in his life resisted any temptation, or accepted any guidance except that of his own wishes, was led by them now, and, instead of devoting himself to the young heiress, chose to fall desperately in love with her fair-haired companion. He fell in love with Eleanor Vane; desperately, after his own fashion. I doubt if there was any great intensity in the young man’s desperation, for I do not believe that he was capable of any real depth of feeling. There was a kind of hollow, tinselly fervour in his nature which took the place of true passion. It may be that with him all emotions—love and remorse, penitence, pity, regret, hate, anger, and revenge—were true and real so long as they lasted; but all these sentiments were so short-lived, by reason of the fickleness of his mind, that it was almost difficult to believe even in their temporary truth.
But Eleanor Vane, being very young and inexperienced, had no power of analysing the character of her lover. She only knew that he was handsome, accomplished, and clever; that he loved her, and that it was very agreeable to be loved by him.
I do not believe that she returned the young man’s affection. She was like a child upon the threshold of a new world: bewildered and dazzled by the glorious aspect of the unknown region before her; beguiled and delighted by its beauty and novelty. All the darker aspects of the great passion were unknown to her, and undreamed of by her. She only knew that in the blank horizon that had so long bounded her life, a new star had arisen—a bright and wonderful planet, which for a while displaced the lurid light that had so long shone steadfastly across the darkness.
Eleanor Vane yielded herself up to the brief holiday-time which generally comes once in almost every woman’s life, however desolate and joyless the rest of that life may be. The holiday comes,—a fleeting summer of gladness and rejoicing. The earth lights up under a new sun and moon; the flowers bloom into new colours and scatter new perfumes on the sublimated atmosphere; the waters of the commonest rivers change to melted sapphires, and blaze with the splendour of a million jewels in the sunshine. The dull universe changes to fairyland; but, alas! the holiday-time is very short: the children grow tired of paradise, or are summoned back to school; the sun and moon collapse into commonplace luminaries, the flowers fade into every-day blossoms, the river flows a gray stream under a November sky, and the dream is over.
Launcelot Darrell had been little more than a fortnight at Hazlewood, when he declared his love for Miss Mason’s companion. The young people had been a great deal together in that fortnight; wandering in the grassy lanes about Hazlewood, and in the shadowy woods round Tolldale Priory, or on breezy hills high above the lawyer’s sheltered mansion. In hope of an alliance between Launcelot and Gilbert Monckton’s ward, Mrs. Darrell was obliged to submit to the necessity which threw her son very much into the society of the companion as well as of the heiress.
“He will surely never be so foolish as to thwart my plan for his future,” thought the anxious mother. “Surely, surely, he will consent to be guided by his own interests. Gilbert Monckton must know that it is only likely an attachment may arise between Launcelot and Laura. He would not leave the girl with me unless he were resigned to such an event, and ready to give his consent to their marriage. My son is poor, certainly; but the lawyer knows that he is likely to inherit a great fortune.”
While the mother pondered thus over her son’s chances of advancement, the young man took life very easily; spending his mornings at his easel, but by no means over-exerting himself, and dawdling away his afternoons in rustic rambles with the two girls.
Laura Mason was very happy in the society of this new and brilliant companion. She was bewitched and fascinated by Mr. Darrell’s careless talk, which sounded very witty, very profound, sarcastic, and eloquent in the ears of an ignorant girl. She admired him and fell in love with him, and wearied poor Eleanor with her very unreserved rhapsodies about the object of her affection.
“I know it’s very bold and wicked and horrid to fall in love with anybody before they fall in love with one, you know, Eleanor,” the young lady said in not very elegant English; “but he is so handsome and so clever. I don’t think any one in the world could help loving him.
“‘I have no hope in loving thee,
I only ask to love;
I ber-rood upon my silent heart,
As on its nest a dove;’”
added Miss Mason, quoting that favourite poet of all desponding lovers, poor L. E. L.
I think Mr. Monckton’s ward rather enjoyed the hopelessness of her attachment. The brooding upon her silent heart was scarcely an accurate exposition of her conduct, as she talked reams of sentiment to Eleanor upon the subject of her unrequited affection. Miss Vane was patient and tender with her, listening to her foolish talk, and dreading the coming of that hour in which the childish young beauty must be rudely awakened from her rose-coloured dream.
“I don’t want to marry him, you know, Eleanor,” the young lady said; “I only want to be allowed to love him. You remember the German story in which the Knight watches the window of his lost love’s convent cell. I could live for ever and ever near him; and be content to see him sometimes; or to hear his voice, even if I did not see him. I should like to wear boy’s clothes, and be his page, like Viola, and tell him my own story, you know, some day.”
Eleanor remembered her promise to Gilbert Monckton, and tried sometimes to check the torrent of sentimental talk.
“I know your love is very poetical, and I dare say it’s very true, my pet,” she said; “but do you think Mr. Darrell is quite worth all this waste of affection? I sometimes think, Laura dear, that we commit a sin when we waste our best feelings. Suppose by-and-bye you should meet some one quite as worthy of your love as Launcelot Darrell; some one who would love you very devotedly; don’t you think you would look back and regret having lavished your best and freshest feelings upon a person who—”
“Who doesn’t care a straw for me,” cried the heiress, half crying. “That’s what you mean, Eleanor Vincent. You mean to insinuate that Launcelot doesn’t care for me. You are a cruel, heartless girl, and you don’t love me a bit.”
And the young lady bemoaned her disappointment, and wept over the hardships of her lot, very much as she might have cried for any new plaything a few years before.
It was upon a burning August morning that Launcelot Darrell declared himself to Eleanor Vane. The two girls had been sitting to him for a picture,—Eleanor as Rosalind, and Laura as Celia,—a pretty feminine group. Rosalind in her womanly robes, and not her forester’s dress of grey and green; for the painter had chosen the scene in which Celia promises to share her cousin’s exile.
This picture was to be exhibited at the Academy, and was to make Mr. Darrell’s fortune. Laura had been called from the room to attend to some important business with a dressmaker from Windsor, and Eleanor and Launcelot were alone.
The young man went on painting for some time, and then, throwing down his brush with a gesture of impatience, went over to the window near which Eleanor sat on a raised platform covered with a shabby drapery of red baize.
“Do you think the picture will be a success, Miss Vincent?” he asked.
“Oh yes, I think so, and hope so; but I am no judge, you know.”
“Your judgment must be as good as the public judgment, I should think,” Launcelot Darrell answered, rather impatiently. “The critics will try to write me down, I dare say, but I don’t look to the critics to buy my picture. They’ll call me crude and meretricious, and hard and cold, and thin and grey, I’ve no doubt; but the best picture, to my mind, is the picture that sells best, eh, Miss Vincent?”
Eleanor lifted her arched eyebrows with a look of surprise; this very low view of the question rather jarred upon her sense of the dignity of art.
“I suppose you think my sentiments very mercenary and contemptible, Miss Vincent,” said the painter, interpreting the expression of her face; “but I have lived out the romance of my life, or one part of that romance, at any rate, and have no very ardent aspiration after greatness in the abstract. I want to earn money. The need of money drives men into almost every folly; further, sometimes: into follies that touch upon the verge of crime.”
The young man’s face darkened suddenly as he spoke, and he was silent for a few moments, not looking at his companion, but away out of the open window into vacancy, as it seemed.
The memory of Gilbert Monckton’s words flashed back upon Eleanor’s mind. “There is a secret in Launcelot Darrell’s life,” the lawyer had said; “a secret connected with his Indian experience.” Was he thinking of that secret now, Eleanor wondered. But the painter’s face brightened almost as suddenly as it had been overshadowed. He flung back his head with an impetuous gesture. It seemed almost as if he had cast some imaginary burden from off his shoulders by the same sudden movement.
“I want to earn money, Miss Vincent,” he said. “Art in the abstract is very grand, no doubt. I quite believe in the man who stabbed his model in order to get the death agony for his picture of the Crucifixion; but I must make art subservient to my own necessities. I must earn money for myself and my wife, Eleanor. I might marry a rich woman, perhaps, but I want to marry a poor one. Do you think the girl I love will listen to me, Eleanor? Do you think she will accept the doubtful future I can offer her? Do you think she will be brave enough to share the fortunes of a struggling man?”
Nothing could be more heroic than the tone in which Launcelot Darrell spoke. He had the air of a man who means to strive, with the sturdy devotion of a martyr, to win the end of his ambition, rather than that of a sanguine but vacillating young gentleman who would be ready to fling himself down under the influence of the first moment of despondency, and live upon the proceeds of the pawning of his watch, while his unfinished picture rotted upon the canvas.
He had something of George Vane’s nature, perhaps; that fatally hopeful temperament common to men who are for ever going to do great things, and for ever failing to achieve even the smallest. He was one of those men who are perpetually deluding other people by the force of their power of self-delusion.
Self-deluded and mistaken now, it was scarcely strange if he deceived Eleanor Vane, who was carried away by the impetuous torrent of words in which he told her that he loved her, and that the future happiness of his life depended upon the fiat which must issue from her lips.
Only very faltering accents came from those tremulous lips. Miss Vane was not in love; she was bewildered, and perhaps a little bewitched by the painter’s vehemence. He was the first young, elegant, handsome, and accomplished man with whom she had ever been thrown much in contact. It is scarcely wonderful, then, if this inexperienced girl of eighteen was a little influenced by the ardour of his admiration—by the eloquence of his wild talk.
She had risen from her seat in her agitation, and stood with her back to the sunlit window, trembling and blushing before her lover.
Launcelot Darrell was not slow to draw a flattering inference from these signs of womanly confusion.
“You love me, Eleanor,” he said; “yes, you love me. You think, perhaps, my mother would oppose our marriage. You don’t know me, dearest, if you can believe I would suffer any opposition to come between me and my love. I am ready to make any sacrifice for your sake, Eleanor. Only tell me that you love me, and I shall have a new purpose in life; a new motive for exertion.”
Mr. Darrell held the girl’s two hands clasped in both his own, as he pleaded thus, using hackneyed phrases with a vehement earnestness that gave new life to the old words. His face was close to Eleanor’s, with the broad light of the sunny summer sky full upon it. Some sudden fancy—some vague idea, dim and indistinct as the faint memory of some dream whose details we strive vainly to recall—flashed into the mind of George Vane’s orphan daughter as she looked into her lover’s black eyes. She recoiled from him a little; her eyebrows contracted into a slight frown; her blushes faded out with the effort which she made to seize upon and analyse that sudden fancy. But her effort was vain: transient as a gleam of summer lightning the thought had flashed across her brain, only to melt utterly away.
While she was still trying to recall that last idea, while Launcelot Darrell was still pleading for an answer to his suit, the door of the painting-room was pushed open—it had been left ajar by volatile Miss Mason, most likely—and the widow entered, pale, stern, and sorrowful-looking.
CHAPTER XX. RECOGNITION.
“I thought Laura was with you,” Mrs. Darrell said, rather sharply, as she scrutinised Eleanor’s face with no very friendly eyes.
“She was with us until a few minutes ago,” Launcelot answered carelessly; “but she was called away to see a milliner or a dressmaker, or some such important personage in the feminine decorative art line. I don’t believe that young lady’s soul ever soars above laces and ribbons, and all those miscellaneous fripperies which women dignify by the generic title of their ‘things’!”
Mrs. Darrell frowned darkly at her son’s contemptuous allusion to the heiress.
“Laura Mason is a very amiable and accomplished girl,” she said.
The young man shrugged his shoulders, and took up his palette and brushes.
“Will you settle yourself once more in the Rosalind attitude, Miss Vincent,” he said. “I suppose our volatile Celia will be back presently.”
“Will you go and look for her, Launcelot?” interposed Mrs. Darrell, “I want to speak to Miss Vincent.”
Launcelot Darrell flung down his brushes and turned suddenly towards his mother with a look of angry defiance in his face.
“What have you to say to Miss Vincent that you can’t say before me?” he asked. “What do you mean, mother, by breaking in upon us like this, and scowling at us as if we were a couple of conspirators?”
Mrs. Darrell drew herself to her fullest height, and looked half sternly, half contemptuously at her son. His nature, in every quality weaker and meaner than her own, prompted him to shrink from any open contest with her. Dearly as she loved this selfish, handsome scapegrace, there were times in which her better sense revolted against the weakness of her affection; and at such times Launcelot Darrell was frightened of his mother.
“I have a great deal to say to Miss Vincent,” the widow answered, gravely. “If you refuse to leave us together, I have no doubt Miss Vincent will have the good taste to come elsewhere with me.”
Eleanor looked up startled and bewildered by the suppressed passion in the widow’s tone.
“I will come with you anywhere, Mrs. Darrell,” she said, “if you wish to speak to me.”
“Come this way, then.”
Mrs. Darrell swept out of the room, and Eleanor followed her, before the young man had any opportunity for remonstrance. The widow led the way to the pretty chamber in which Miss Vane slept, and the two women went in together, Mrs. Darrell shutting the door behind her.
“Miss Vincent,” she said, taking Eleanor’s hand in her own, “I am going to appeal to you more frankly than one woman often appeals to another. I might diplomatise and plot against you, but I am not base enough for that; though, I dare say, I could stoop to a good deal that is despicable for the sake of my son. And, again, I have so good an opinion of you that I think candour will be the wisest policy. My son has asked you to be his wife.”
“Madam,” stammered Eleanor, looking aghast at the pale face which had an almost tragic aspect in its earnestness.
“Yes, I told you just now that I could do despicable things for my son’s sake. I was passing the door while Launcelot was talking to you. The door was ajar, you know. I heard a few words, enough to tell me the subject upon which he was speaking; and I stopped to hear more. I listened, Miss Vincent. It was very contemptible, was it not?”
Eleanor was silent. She stood before the widow looking down upon the ground. The colour came and went in her face; she was agitated and confused by what had happened; but in all her agitation and confusion the memory of that sudden fancy that had flashed across her brain while Launcelot Darrell talked to her was uppermost in her mind.
“You despise me for my conduct, Miss Vincent,” said Mrs. Darrell, reading the meaning of the girl’s silence; “but the day may come in which you may experience a mother’s anguish; the brooding care, the unceasing watchfulness, the feverish, all-devouring anxiety which only a mother can feel. If that day ever comes, you will be able to forgive me; to think mercifully of me. I do not complain of my son; I never have complained of him. But I suffer, I suffer. I see him holding no place in the world, despised by prosperous and successful men, with a wasted youth behind him and a blank future before. I love him, but I am not deceived in him. The day for all deception is past. He will never be rich or prosperous by any act of his own. There are but two chances for him: the chance of inheriting my uncle’s fortune, or the chance of marrying a rich woman. I speak very frankly, you see, Miss Vincent, and I expect equal candour from you. Do you love my son?”
“You would not answer him just now; I ask you to answer me. The prosperity of his future life hangs upon your reply. I know that he might marry a girl who does love him, and who can bring him a fortune which will place him in the position he ought to occupy. Be generous, Miss Vincent. I ask you to tell me the truth. That is the least you can do. Do you love my son, Launcelot Darrell? Do you love him with your whole heart and soul, as I love him?”
Eleanor lifted her head suddenly, and looked full in the widow’s face.
“No, madam,” she answered, proudly, “I do not.”
“Thank God for that! Even if you had loved him, I would not have shrunk from asking you to sacrifice yourself for his happiness. As it is, I appeal to you without hesitation. Will you leave this place; will you leave me my son, with the chance of planning his future after my own fashion?”
“I will, Mrs. Darrell,” Eleanor said, earnestly. “I thought, perhaps, till to-day—I may have fancied that I—I mean that I was flattered by your son’s attention, and perhaps believed I—I loved him a little,” the girl murmured shyly; “but I know now that I have been mistaken. Perhaps it is the truth and intensity of your love that shows me the shallowness and falsehood of my own. I remember how I loved my father,”—her eyes filled with tears as she spoke,—“and, looking back at my feelings for him, I know that do not love Mr. Darrell. It will be much better for me to go away. I shall be sorry to leave Laura; sorry to leave Hazlewood, for I have been very happy here—too happy, perhaps. I will write to your son, and tell him that I leave this place of my own free will.”
“Thank you, my dear,” the widow said, warmly; “my son would be very hard with me if he thought that my influence had been the means of thwarting any whim of his. I know him well enough to know that this sentiment, like every other sentiment of his, will not endure for ever. He will be angry and offended, and wounded by your departure, but he will not break his heart, Miss Vincent.”
“Let me go away at once, Mrs. Darrell,” said Eleanor; “it will be better for me to go at once. I can return to my friends in London. I have saved some money while I have been with you, and I shall not go back to them penniless.”
“You are a generous and noble-hearted girl. It shall be my care to provide you with at least as good a home as you have had here. I am not selfish enough to forget how much I have asked of you.”
“And you will let me go at once. I would rather not see Laura, or say good-by to her. We have grown so fond of each other. I never had a sister—that is to say, never a—and Laura has been like one to me. Let me go away quietly without seeing her, Mrs. Darrell. I can write to her from London to say good-by.”
“You shall do just as you like, my dear,” the widow answered. “I will drive you over to Windsor in time for the four-o’clock train, and you will get into town before dark. I must go now and see what my son is doing. If he should suspect—”
“He shall suspect nothing till I am gone,” said Eleanor. “It is past one o’clock now, Mrs. Darrell, and I must pack all my things. Will you keep Laura out of my room, please, for if she came here, she’d guess—”
“Yes, yes, I’ll go and see—I’ll make all arrangements.”
Mrs. Darrell hurried out of the room, leaving Eleanor to contemplate the sudden change in her position. The girl dragged one of her trunks out of a recess in the simply-furnished bedchamber, and, sitting down upon it in a half-despondent attitude, reflected on the unlooked-for break in her existence. Once more she was called upon to disunite herself from the past, and begin life anew.
“Am I never to know any rest?” she thought. “I had grown so accustomed to this place. I shall be glad to see the Signora and Richard once more; but Laura, Mr. Monckton,—I wonder whether they will be sorry for me.”
By three o’clock in the afternoon, all Eleanor’s preparations were completed. Her trunks packed, and handed over to the factotum of the Hazlewood establishment, who was to see them safely despatched by luggage train after the young lady’s departure. At three o’clock precisely Miss Vincent took her seat beside Mrs. Darrell in the low basket carriage.
Circumstances had conspired to favour the girl’s unnoticed departure from Hazlewood. Laura Mason had been prostrated by the intense strain upon her faculties caused by an hour’s interview with her dressmaker, and had flung herself upon the sofa in the drawing-room after sopping up half a pint of eau-de-Cologne on her flimsy handkerchief. Worn out by her exertions, and lulled by the summer heat, the young lady had fallen into a heavy slumber of two or three hours’ duration.
Launcelot Darrell had left the house almost immediately after the scene in the painting-room, striding out of the hall without leaving any intimation as to the direction in which he was going, or the probable hour of his return.
Thus it was that the little pony-carriage drove quietly away from the gates of Hazlewood, and Eleanor left the house in which she had lived for upwards of a year without any one caring to question her as to the cause of her departure.
Very few words were said by either Mrs. Darrell or her companion during the drive to Windsor. Eleanor was absorbed in gloomy thought. She did not feel any intense grief at leaving Hazlewood; but some sense of desolation, some despondency at the thought that she was a wanderer on the face of the earth, with no real claim upon any one, no actual right to rest anywhere. They drove into Windsor while she was thinking thus. They had come through the park, and they entered the town by the gateway at the bottom of the hill. They had driven up the hill and were in the principal street below the castle wall, when Mrs. Darrell uttered an exclamation of surprise.
“Launcelot!” she said, “and we must pass him to get to the station. There’s no help for it.”
Eleanor looked up. Yes, before the door of one of the principal hotels stood Mr. Launcelot Darrell, with two other young men. One of these men was talking to him, but he was paying very little attention. He stood upon the edge of the curbstone, with his back turned to his companion, kicking the pebbles on the road with the toe of his boot, and staring moodily before him.
In that one moment,—in the moment in which the pony-carriage, going at full speed, passed the young man,—the thought which had flashed, so vague and indistinct, so transient and intangible, through the mind of Eleanor Vane that morning, took a new shape, and arose palpable and vivid in her brain.
This man, Launcelot Darrell, was the sulky stranger, who had stood on the Parisian Boulevard, kicking the straws upon the curbstone, and waiting to entrap her father to his ruin.