Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Eleanor's victory - Part 31
BY THE AUTHOR OF “AURORA FLOYD,” “LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET,” &c.
CHAPTER LVIII. MAURICE DE CRESPIGNY’S BEQUEST.
Richard Thornton had received Eleanor’s letter in Edinburgh, and had been travelling perpetually since his receipt of the girl’s eager epistle. He had calculated that by travelling day and night he should be able to accomplish a great achievement in the four days that were to elapse between the hour in which he received Eleanor’s letter and the hour appointed for the interview with the Frenchman. This achievement was the reconciliation of Gilbert Monckton and his wife.
For this purpose the devoted young man had travelled from Edinburgh to London, and from London to Torquay, back to London again, with Mr. Monckton for his companion, and from London to Paris, still in that gentleman’s companionship. Gilbert Monckton would have thought it a small thing to have given half his fortune in payment of the tidings which the scene painter carried to him.
He should see his wife again; his bright and beautiful young wife, whom he had so cruelly wronged, and so stupidly misunderstood.
Human nature is made up of contradictions. From the hour in which Gilbert Monckton had turned his back upon Tolldale Priory, deserting his young wife in a paroxysm of jealous anger, until now, he had done nothing but repent of his own work. Why had he disbelieved in her? How had he been vile enough to doubt her? Had she not stood before him, with the glorious light of truth shining out of her beautiful face? Even had he not already repented, Eleanor’s letter would have opened the jealous husband’s eyes to his own folly; that brief, offended letter in which the brave girl had repudiated her husband’s offer of wealth and independence; and had declared her proud determination to go out into the world once more, and to get her own living, and to accept nothing from the man who doubted her truth.
The lawyer had made every effort to lure the lost bird back to its deserted nest. But if you render your wife’s existence intolerable, and she runs away from you in despair, it is not always possible to bring her back to your halls; though you may be never so penitent for your offences against her. Gilbert Monckton had employed every possible means to discover his wife’s whereabouts; but had failed most completely to do so. His search was futile; his advertisements were unanswered; and, very lonely and miserable, he had dragged out the last six weeks, in constant oscillation between London and Torquay; always making some new effort to obtain tidings of the missing girl; perpetually beguiled a little way onward with false hopes, only to be disappointed. He had gone again and again to Signora Picirillo; but had received no comfort from her, inasmuch as the music mistress knew no more about Eleanor than he did.
It is not to be wondered, then, that when Richard Thornton appeared at Torquay, carrying with him Eleanor’s letter, he was received with open arms by the penitent husband. Not an hour was wasted by the eager travellers, but use what haste they might, they could not hasten the Dover express, or the Calais packets, or the comfortable jog-trot pace of the train between Calais and Paris; so they had only been able to arrive at eight o’clock in the dusky April evening, just in time to behold Major Lennard in his moment of triumph.
Gilbert Monckton extended his hand to the stalwart soldier, after the events of the evening had been hurriedly related by Eleanor and her companion.
“You robbed me of a wife twenty years ago, Major Lennard,” he said, “but you have restored another wife to me to-night.”
“Then I suppose we’re quits,” the major exclaimed cheerfully, “and we can go back to the Palais and have a devilled lobster, hay? I suppose we must do something for this poor devil though, first, hay?”
Mr. Monckton heartily concurred in this suggestion; and Richard Thornton, who was better acquainted with Paris than any of his companions, ran down stairs, told the portress of the malady which had stricken down the lodger in the entresol, despatched the sharp young damsel with the shrill voice in search of a sick nurse, and went himself to look for a doctor. In a little more than half-an-hour both these officials had arrived, and Mr. Monckton and his wife, Major Lennard, and Richard departed, leaving the Frenchman in the care of his two compatriots. But before Gilbert Monckton left the apartment, he gave the nurse special orders respecting the sick man. She was not to let him leave his rooms upon any pretence whatever; not even if he should appear to become reasonable.
Mr. Monckton went to the Hôtel du Palais with his young wife, and, for the first time since he had been wronged, forgave the frivolous woman who had jilted him. She had been very kind to Eleanor, and he was in a humour to be pleased with any one who had been good to his wife. So the lawyer shook hands very heartily with Mrs. Lennard, and promised that she should see her daughter before long.
“The poor little girl has had a hard trial lately, Mrs. Lennard, through my folly, and I owe her some atonement. I separated her from her natural protectors, because I was presumptuous enough to imagine that I was better fitted to plan her destiny; and after all I have wrecked her girlish hopes, poor child! But I don’t think the damage is irreparable: I think she’ll scarcely break her heart about Launcelot Darrell.”
In all this time nobody had cared to ask any questions about the will. Eleanor had handed it to her husband; and Gilbert Monckton had put it, still folded, into his pocket. But when the devilled lobster and the sparkling Moselle, which the major insisted upon ordering, had been discussed, and the table cleared, Mr. Monckton took the important document from his pocket.
“We may as well look at poor De Crespigny’s last testament,” he said, “and see who has been most injured by the success of Launcelot Darrell’s fabrication.”
He read the first two sheets of the will to himself, slowly and thoughtfully. He remembered every word of those two first sheets. So far the real will was verbatim the same as the forged document: Gilbert Monckton could therefore now understand why that fabricated will had seemed so genuine. The fabrication had been copied from the original paper. It was thus that the forgery had borne the stamp of the testator’s mind. The only difference between the two documents lay in the last and most important clause.
The lawyer read aloud this last sheet of Maurice de Crespigny’s will.
“I devise and bequeath all the residue and remainder of my real and personal property unto Hortensia Bannister, the daughter of my old and deceased college friend, George Vane, and my valued friend Peter Sedgewick, of Cheltenham, their heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns, upon trust, for the sole and separate use of Eleanor, the daughter of my said dear deceased friend, George Vane, by his last wife, Eleanor Thompson, during her life, free from the control, debts, or engagements of any husband she may at any time have, and so that she shall not have power to anticipate the rents, interest, and annual proceeds thereof; and upon and after her decease for such persons, estates, and in such manner as she shall, whether covert or uncovert, by will appoint; and in default of and subject to any such appointment, by the said Eleanor, the daughter of the said George Vane, to her heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns, according to the nature of the said property. And in case the said Eleanor shall have departed this life during my life time, or in case the said last-named trustees cannot discover the said Eleanor Vane within four years after my decease, then they shall consider the said Eleanor Vane dead, and therefrom I give and devise the said residuary estates to be equally divided between my said three nieces, Sarah, Lavinia, and Ellen, absolutely.”
“It is fortunate that the money is left to trustees for your separate use, Eleanor,” Mr. Monckton said. “If it had been otherwise, the gift would have been invalid, since I, your husband, was one of the witnesses to the will.”
A torrent of congratulations from Major and Mrs. Lennard, and Richard Thornton, almost overwhelmed Eleanor; but she was still more overwhelmed by her astonishment at the wording of the will.
“The money left to me!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t want it. I am sorry it should be so. It will seem now as if I had been plotting to get this fortune. I don’t want it: I only want my revenge.”
Gilbert Monckton narrowly watched his wife’s astonished face. He saw no look of triumph, no smile of gratification. At least she was free from any mercenary baseness. He took her a little way from the rest of the party, and looked earnestly into her fearless eyes.
“My own dear love,” he said, “I have learned a hard lesson, and I believe that I shall profit by it. I will never doubt you again. But tell me, Eleanor, tell me once and for ever! have you ever loved Launcelot Darrell? Have any of your actions been prompted by jealousy?”
“Not one,” cried Mrs. Monckton. “I have never loved him, and I have never been jealous of him. From first to last I have been actuated by one motive, and one alone—the duty I owe to my dead father.”
She had not abandoned her purpose, then. No; the lurid star that had beckoned her forward still shone before her. It was so near now, that its red splendour filled the universe. The young wife was pleased to be reconciled to her husband; but with the sense that he was restored to her once more, the memory of the dreary interval in which she had lost him melted away from her mind, and Launcelot Darrell—Launcelot Darrell, the destroyer of her dead father, became once more paramount in her thoughts.
“Oh, Gilbert!” she said, clasping her hands about her husband’s arm and looking up in his face, “you’ll take me back to England at once, won’t you?”
“Yes, my dear,” Mr. Monckton answered, with a sigh. “I’ll do whatever you wish.”
There was a jealous pain at his heart as he spoke. His wife was pure, and true, and beautiful, but this strange purpose of her life divided her from him; and left his own existence very blank.
CHAPTER LIX. THE DAY OF RECKONING.
Launcelot Darrell and his mother had inhabited Woodlands for a little more than a fortnight. The painters, and paper-hangers, and upholsterers, had done a great deal to alter the handsome country-house; for Mr. Darrell had no wish to be reminded of his dead uncle; and familiar chairs and tables have an unpleasant faculty of suggesting tiresome thoughts, and recalling faded faces that had better be forgotten. Almost all the old furniture had been swept away, therefore, and the young man had behaved very generously to his maiden aunts, who had furnished a small house in Windsor with the things that Launcelot had banished from Woodlands. These poor disappointed ladies had located themselves in a quiet little cul-de-sac, squeezed in between the hilly street and the castle, with the idea that the wild dissipations of a town life would enable them to forget their wrongs.
So Launcelot Darrell and his mother reigned at Woodlands instead of the maiden sisters; and Parker, the butler, and Mrs. Jepcott, the housekeeper, waited upon a new master and mistress.
The young man had chafed bitterly at his poverty, and had hated himself and all the world, because of those humiliations to which a man who is too idle to work, and too poor to live without work, is always more or less subject. But, alas! now that by the commission of a crime he had attained the great end of his ambition, he found that the game was not worth the candle; and that in his most fretful moments before Maurice de Crespigny’s death he had never suffered as much as he now suffered, daily and hourly.
The murderers of the unfortunate Mr. Ware ate a hearty supper of pork chops while their victim lay, scarcely cold, in a pond beside the high road; but it is not everybody who is blessed with the strength of mind possessed by those gentlemen. Launcelot Darrell could not shake off the recollection of what he had done. From morning till night, from night till morning, the same thoughts, the same fears, were perpetually pressing upon him. In the eyes of every servant who looked at him; in the voice of every creature who spoke to him; in the sound of every bell that rang in the roomy country-house, there lurked a something that inspired the miserable terror of detection. It haunted him in every place; it met him at every turn. The knowledge that he was in the power of two bad, unscrupulous men, the lawyer’s clerk, and Victor Bourdon, made him the most helpless of slaves. Already he had found what it was to be in the power of a vicious and greedy wretch. The clerk had been easily satisfied by the gift of a round sum of money, and had levanted before his employer returned from America. But Victor Bourdon became insatiable. He was a gamester and a drunkard; and he expected to find in Launcelot Darrell’s purse a gold mine that was never to be exhausted.
He had abandoned himself to the wildest dissipation in the worst haunts of London after Maurice de Crespigny’s death; and had appeared at Woodlands at all times and seasons, demanding enormous sums of his miserable victim. At first terror sealed Launcelot Darrell’s lips, and he acceded to the most extravagant demands of his accomplice; but at last his temper gave way, and he refused that “paltry note for a thousand francs,” to which the Frenchman alluded in his interview with Eleanor. After this refusal there was a desperate quarrel between the two men, at the end of which the commercial traveller received a thrashing, and was turned out of doors by the master of Woodlands.
The young man had been quite reckless of consequences in his passion; but when he grew a little calmer he began to reflect upon the issue of this quarrel.
“I cannot see what harm the man can do me,” he thought; “to accuse me is to accuse himself also. And then who would believe his unsupported testimony? I could laugh at him as a madman.”
Launcelot Darrell had no knowledge of the existence of the real will. He implicitly believed that it had been burned before his own eyes, and that Eleanor’s assertion to the contrary had been only a woman’s falsehood invented to terrify him.
“If the girl had once had the will in her possession, she would never have been such a fool as to lose it,” he argued.
But notwithstanding all this he felt a vague fear, all the more terrible because of its indefinite character. He had placed himself in a false position. The poet is born and not made; and perhaps the same thing may be said of the criminal. The genius of crime, like the genius of song, may be a capricious blossom indigenous to such and such a soil, but not to be produced by cultivation. However this may be, Launcelot Darrell was not a great criminal. He had none of the reckless daring, the marvellous power of dissimulation, the blind indifference to the future, which make a Palmer, a Cartouche, a Fauntleroy, or a Roupell. He was wretched because of what he had done; and he allowed everybody to perceive his wretchedness.
Mrs. Darrell saw that her son was miserable in spite of his newly-acquired wealth; and a horrible terror seized upon her. Her sisters had taken good care to describe to her the scene that had occurred at Woodlands upon the night of the old man’s death. She had watched her son, as only mothers can watch the children they love; and she had seen that his dead kinsman’s fortune had brought him no happiness. She had questioned him, but had received only sulky, ungracious answers, and she had not the heart to press him too closely. The mother and son were alone in the dining-room at Woodlands about a week after the scene in Monsieur Victor Bourdon’s apartment. They had dined tête-à-tête. The dessert had not been removed, and the young man was still sitting at the bottom of the long table, lounging lazily in his comfortable chair, and very often refilling his glass from the claret-jug on his right hand. The three long windows were open, and the soft May twilight crept into the room. A tall shaded lamp stood in the centre of the table, making a great spot of yellow light in the dusk. Below the lamp there was a confused shimmer of cut glass, upon which the light trembled, like moonbeams upon running water. There were some purple grapes and a litter of vine leaves in a dessert dish of Sèvres china; the spiky crown of a pine-apple; and scarlet strawberries that made splashes of vivid colour amid the sombre green. The pictured face of the dead man hanging upon the wall behind Launcelot Darrell’s chair seemed to look reproachfully out of the shadows. The ruby draperies shading the open windows grew darker with the fading of the light. The faint odour of lilacs and hawthorn blossoms blew in from the garden, and the evening stillness was only broken by the sound of leaves, stirred faintly by a slow night wind that crept amongst the trees.
Mrs. Darrell was sitting in the recess of one of the open windows, with some needlework in her lap. She had brought her work into the dining-room after dinner, because she wished to be with her son; and she knew that Launcelot would sit for the best part of the evening brooding over his half-filled glass. The young man was most completely miserable. The great wrong he had done had brought upon him a torture which he was scarcely strong enough to endure. If he could have undone that wrong—if——! No! That way lay such shame and degradation as he could never stoop to endure.
“It was all my great-uncle’s fault,” he repeated to himself, doggedly. “What business had he to make the will of a madman? Whom have I robbed, after all? Only a specious adventuress, the intriguing daughter of a selfish spendthrift.”
Such thoughts as these were for ever rising in the young man’s mind. He was thinking them to-night, while his mother sat in the window, watching her son’s face furtively. He was only roused from his reverie by the sound of wheels upon the gravel drive, the opening of a carriage-door, and a loud ringing of the bell.
The arrival of any unexpected visitor always frightened him; so it was nothing unusual for him to get up from his chair and go to the door of the room to listen for the sound of voices in the hall.
To-night he turned deadly pale, as he recognised a familiar voice; the voice of Gilbert Monckton, whom he had not seen since the reading of the will.
Launcelot Darrell drew back as the servant approached the door, and in another moment the man opened it, and announced Mr. Monckton, Mrs. Monckton, Mr. Thornton, Monsieur Bourdon. He would have announced Mr. John Ketch, I dare say, just as coolly.
Launcelot Darrell planted his back against the low marble chimneypiece, and prepared to meet his fate. It had come; the realisation of that horrible nightmare which had tormented him ever since the night of Maurice de Crespigny’s death. It had come; detection, disgrace, humiliation, despair; no matter by what name it was called, the thing was living death. His heart seemed to melt into water, and then freeze in his breast. He had seen the face of Victor Bourdon lurking behind Gilbert and Eleanor, and he knew that he had been betrayed.
The young man knew this, and determined to make a gallant finish. He was not a coward by nature, though his own wrong-doing had made him cowardly; he was only an irresolute, vacillating, selfish Sybarite, who had quarrelled with the great schoolmaster Fate, because his life had not been made one long summer’s holiday. Even cowards sometimes grow courageous at the last. Launcelot Darrell was not a coward: he drew himself up to his fullest height, and prepared to confront his accusers.
Eleanor Monckton advanced towards him. Her husband tried to restrain her, but his effort was wasted; she waved him back with her hand, and went on to where the young man stood, with her head lifted and her nostrils quivering.
“At last, Launcelot Darrell,” she cried, “after watching that has wearied me, and failures that have tempted me to despair, at last I can keep my promise; at last I can be true to the lost father whose death was your cruel work. When last I was in this house, you laughed at me and defied me. I was robbed of the evidence that would have condemned you: all the world seemed leagued together against me. Now, the proof of your crime is in my hands, and the voice of your accomplice has borne witness against you. Cheat, trickster, and forger: there is no escape for you now!”
“No,” exclaimed Monsieur Bourdon, with an unctuous chuckle, “it is now your turn to be chased, my stripling; it is now your turn to be kicked out of the door.”
“From first to last, from first to last,” said Eleanor, “you have been false and cruel. You wronged and deceived the friends who sent you to India——”
“Yaase,” interrupted the commercial traveller, who was very pale, and by no means too steady in his nerves, after the attack of delirium tremens. He had dropped into a chair, and sat trembling and grinning at his late patron, with a ghastly jocosity that was far from agreeable to behold. “Yaase, you cheat your mo-thair, you cheat your friends. You make belief to go to the Indias, but you do not go. You what you call shally-shilly, and upon the last moment, when the machine is on the point of depart, you change the mind. You are well in England, there is a handsome career for you, as artist, you say. Then you will not go. But you have fear of your uncle, who has given the money for your—fit-out—and for your passage, and you make believe to do what they wish from you. You have a friend, a confrère, a Mr., who is to partake your cabin. You write to heem, you get heem to post your letters; you write to your mo-thair, in Clip-a-stone Street, and you say to her, ‘Dear mo-thair, I cannot bear this broil climate; I am broil, I work the night and the day; I am indigo planter;’ and you send your letter to the Indias to be posted; and your poor mo-thair belief you; and you are in Paris to enjoy yourself, to lead the life of student, a little Bohemian, but very gay. You read Balzac, you make the little sketches for the cheap Parisian journals. You are gamester, and win money from a poor old Englishman, the father of that lady there; and you make a catspaw of your friend, Victor Bourdon. You are a villain man, Monsieur Darrell, but it is finished with you.”
“Listen to me, Launcelot Darrell,” Gilbert Monckton said, quietly. “Every falsehood and trick of which you have been guilty, from first to last, is known. There is no help for you. The will which my wife holds in her hand is the genuine will signed by Maurice de Crespigny. This man is prepared to testify that the will by which you took possession of this estate is a forgery, fabricated by you and Henry Lawford’s clerk, who had in his possession a rough draught of the real will which he had written at Mr. de Crespigny’s dictation, and who copied the three different signatures from three letters written by the old man to Henry Lawford. You are prepared to bear witness to this?” added the lawyer, turning to Victor Bourdon.
“But certainly,” exclaimed the Frenchman, “it being well understood that I am not to suffer by this candour. It is understood that I am innocent in this affair.”
“Innocent!” cried Launcelot Darrell, bitterly. “Why you were the prime mover in this business. It was your suggestion that first induced—”
“It is possible, my friend,” murmured Monsieur Bourdon, complacently; “but is it, then, a crime to make a little suggestion—to try to make oneself useful to a friend! I do not believe it! No matter. I have studied your English law: I do not think it can touch me, since I am only prepared to swear to having found this real will, and having before that overheard a conversation between you and the clerk of the avoué de Vindsor.”
“You use noble tools, Mrs. Monckton,” said Launcelot Darrell, “but I do not know by what right you come into my house, uninvited, and bringing in your train a very respectable transpontine scene-painter, with whom I have not the honour to be intimate, and a French commercial traveller, who has chosen to make himself peculiarly obnoxious to me. It is for the Court of Chancery to decide whether I am the rightful owner of this house and all appertaining to it. I shall await the fiat of that court; and in the meantime I have the honour to wish you good evening.”
He laid his hand upon the handle of the bell as he spoke, but he did not pull it.
“You defy me, then, Launcelot Darrell?” said Eleanor.
“I am glad that it is so!” exclaimed the girl.
“I am glad that you have not prayed to me for mercy. I am glad that Providence has suffered me to avenge my father’s death.”
Eleanor Monckton was moving towards the door.
In all this time Ellen Darrell had not once spoken. She had stood apart in the recess of the window, a dark and melancholy shadow, mourning over the ruin of her life.
I think that she was scarcely surprised at what had happened. We sometimes know the people we love, and know them to be base; but we go on loving them desperately, nevertheless; and love them best when the world is against them, and they have most need of our love. I speak here of maternal love, which is so sublime an affection as to be next in order to the love of God.
The widow came suddenly into the centre of the room, and cast herself on her knees before Eleanor, and wound her arms about the girl’s slender waist, pinning her to the spot upon which she stood, and holding her there. The mother’s arms were stronger than bands of iron, for they were linked about the enemy of her son. It has been demonstrated by practical zoologists that the king of beasts, his majesty the lion, is after all a cowardly creature. It is only the lioness, the mother, whose courage is desperate and indomitable.
“You shall not do this,” Ellen Darrell cried; “you shall not bring disgrace upon my son. Take your due, whatever it is; take your paltry wealth. You have plotted for it, I dare say. Take it, and let us go out of this place penniless. But no disgrace, no humiliation, no punishment, for him!”
“Mother!” cried Launcelot, “get up off your knees. Let her do her worst. I ask no mercy of her.”
“Don’t hear him,” gasped the widow, “don’t listen to him. Oh, Eleanor, save him from shame and disgrace. Save him! save him! I was always good to you, was I not? I meant to be so, believe me! If ever I was unkind, it was because I was distracted by regrets and anxieties about him. Oh, Eleanor, forgive him, and be merciful to me. Forgive him. It is my fault that he is what he is. It was my foolish indulgence that ruined his childhood. It was my false pride that taught him to think he had a right to my uncle’s money. From first to last, Eleanor, it is I that am to blame. Remember this, and forgive him, forgive—”
Her throat grew dry, and her voice broke, but her lips still moved, though no sound came from them, and she was still imploring mercy for her son.
“Forgive!” cried Eleanor, bitterly. “Forgive the man who caused my father’s death! Do you think I have waited and watched for nothing? It seems to me as if all my life had been given up to this one hope. Do you know how that man has defied me?” she exclaimed, pointing to Launcelot Darrell. “Do you know that through him I have been divided from my husband? Bah! why do I speak of my own wrongs? Do you know that my father, a poor helpless old man, a lonely, friendless old man, a decayed gentleman, killed himself because of your son? Do you expect that I am to forget that? Do you think that I can forgive that man? Do you want me to abandon the settled purpose of my life, the purpose to which I have sacrificed every girlish happiness, every womanly joy, now that the victory is mine, and that I can keep my vow?”
She tried to disengage herself from Ellen Darrell’s arms, but the widow still clung about her, with her head flung back, and her white face convulsed with anguish.
“Forgive him, for my sake,” she cried; “give him to me—give him to me. He will suffer enough from the ruin of his hopes. He will suffer enough from the consciousness of having done wrong. He has suffered. Yes. I have watched him, and I know. Take everything from him. Leave him a penniless dependant upon the pittance my uncle left to me, but save him from disgrace. Give him to me. God has given him to me. Woman, what right have you to take him from me?”
“He killed my father,” Eleanor answered, in a sombre voice; “my dead father’s letter told me to be revenged upon him.”
“Your father wrote in a moment of desperation. I knew him. I knew George Vane. He would have forgiven his worst enemy. He was the last person to be vindictive or revengeful when his first anger was passed. What good end will be gained by my son’s disgrace? You shall not refuse to hear me. You are a wife, Eleanor Monckton: you may one day be a mother. If you are pitiless to me now, God will be pitiless to you then. You will think of me then. In every throb of pain your child may suffer; in every childish ailment that makes your heart grow sick with unutterable fear, you will recognise God’s vengeance upon you for this night’s work. Think of this, Eleanor; think of this, and be merciful to me—to me—not to him. What he would have to endure would be only a tithe of my suffering. I am his mother—his mother!”
“Oh, my God!” cried Eleanor, lifting her clasped hands above her head. “What am I to do?”
The hour of her triumph had come; and in this supreme moment doubt and fear took possession of her breast. If this was her victory, it was only half a victory. She had never thought that any innocent creature would suffer more cruelly by her vengeance upon Launcelot Darrell than the man himself would suffer. And now here was this woman, whose only sin had been an idolatrous love of her son, and to whom his disgrace would be worse than the anguish of death.
The widow’s agony had been too powerful for the girl’s endurance. Eleanor burst into a passion of tears, and turning to her husband let her head fall upon his breast.
“What am I to do, Gilbert?” she said. “What am I to do?”
“I will not advise you, my dear,” the lawyer answered, in a low voice. “To-night’s business is of your own accomplishing. Your own heart must be your only guide.”
There was silence in the room for a few moments, only broken by Eleanor’s sobbing. Launcelot Darrell had covered his face with his hands. His courage had given way before the power of his mother’s grief. The widow still knelt, still clung about the girl, with her white face fixed now, in an awful stillness.
“Oh, my dear, dead father!” Eleanor sobbed, “you—you did wrong yourself, sometimes; and you were always kind and merciful to people. Heaven knows, I have tried to keep my oath; but I cannot—I cannot. It seemed so easy to imagine my revenge when it was far away: but now—it is too hard—it is too hard. Take your son, Mrs. Darrell. I am a poor helpless coward. I cannot carry out the purpose of my life.”
The white uplifted face scarcely changed, and the widow fell back in a heap upon the floor. Her son and Gilbert Monckton lifted her up and carried her to a chair in one of the open windows. Richard Thornton dropped on his knees before Eleanor, and began to kiss her hands with effusion.
“Don’t be frightened, Nelly,” he exclaimed. “I was very fond of you once, and very unhappy about you, as my poor aunt can bear witness; but I am going to marry Eliza Montalambert, and we’ve got the carpets down at the snuggest little box in all Brixton, and I’ve made it up with Spavin and Cromshaw in consideration of my salary being doubled. Don’t be frightened if I make a fool of myself, Eleanor; but I think I could worship you to-night. This is your victory, my dear. This is the only revenge Providence ever intended for beautiful young women with hazel brown hair. God bless you.”
Launcelot Darrell, with a grayish pallor spread over his face, like a napkin upon the face of a corpse, came slowly up to Eleanor.
“You have been very generous to me, Mrs. Monckton, though it is a hard thing for me to say as much,” he said. “I have done wicked things, but I have suffered—I have suffered and repented perpetually. I had no thought of the awful consequences which would follow the wrong I did your father. I have hated myself for that wicked act ever since; I should never have forged the will if that man had not come to me, and fooled me, and played upon my weaknesses. I will thank you for the mercy you have shown me by-and-by, Mrs. Monckton, when I am better worthy of your generosity.”
CHAPTER THE LAST.
Gilbert Monckton seconded his wife in all she wished to do. There was no scandal. All legal formalities were gone through very quietly. Those troublesome people who require to be informed as to the business of their neighbours, were told that a codicil had been found, which revoked the chief clause of Mr. de Crespigny’s will. Mr. Peter Sedgewick and Mrs. Bannister were ready to perform all acts required of them; though the lady expressed considerable surprise at her half-sister’s unexpected accession of wealth. Eleanor Monckton entered into possession of the estates. The impulsive girl having once forgiven her father’s enemy, would fain have surrendered the fortune to him into the bargain—but practical matter-of-fact people were at hand to prevent her being too generous. Mrs. Darrell and her son went to Italy, and Mrs. Monckton, with her husband’s concurrence, made the young man a very handsome allowance, which enabled him to pursue his career as an artist. He worked very hard, and with enthusiasm. The shame of the past gave an impetus to his pencil. His outraged self-esteem stood him his friend, and he toiled valiantly to redeem himself from the disgrace that had fallen upon him.
“If I am a great painter, they will remember nothing against me,” he said to himself; and though it was not in him to become a great painter, he became a popular painter; a great man for the Royal Academy, and the West End engravers, if only a small man for future generations, who will choose the real gems out of the prodigal wealth of the present. Mr. Darrell’s first success was a picture which he called “The Earl’s Death,” from a poem of Tennyson’s, with the motto, “Oh, the Earl was fair to see,”—a preternaturally ugly man lying at the feet of a preternaturally hideous woman, in a turret chamber lighted by lucifer matches—the blue and green light of the lucifers on the face of the ugly woman, and a pre-Raphaelite cypress seen through the window; and I am fain to say, that although the picture was ugly, there was a strange weird attraction in it, and people went to see it again and again, and liked it, and hankered after it, and talked of it perpetually all that season; one faction declaring that the lucifer-match effect was the most delicious moonlight, and the murderess of the Earl the most lovely of womankind, till the faction who thought the very reverse of this became afraid to declare their opinions, and thus everybody was satisfied.
So Launcelot Darrell received a fabulous price for his picture; and, having lived without reproach during three years of probation, came home to marry Laura Mason Lennard, who had been true to him all this time, and who would have rather liked to unite her fortunes with those of a modern Cartouche or Jack Sheppard for the romance of the thing. And although the artist did not become a good man all in a moment, like the repentant villain of a stage play, he did take to heart the lesson of his youth. He was tenderly affectionate to the mother who had suffered so much by reason of his errors, and he made a very tolerable husband to a most devoted little wife.
Monsieur Victor Bourdon was remunerated—and very liberally—for his services, and was told to hold his tongue. He departed for Canada soon afterwards, in the interests of the patent mustard, and never reappeared in the neighbourhood of Tolldale Priory.
Eleanor insisted on giving up Woodlands for the use of Mr. Darrell, his wife, and mother. Signora Picirillo lived with her nephew and his merry little wife in the pretty house at Brixton; but she paid very frequent visits to Tolldale Priory, sometimes accompanied by Richard and Mrs. Richard, sometimes alone. Matrimony had had a very good effect upon the outward seeming of the scene-painter: for his young wife initiated him in the luxury of shirt-buttons, as contrasted with pins; to say nothing of the delights of a shower-bath, and a pair of ivory-backed hairbrushes, presented by Eleanor as a birthday present to her old friend. Richard at first suggested that the ivory-backed brushes should be used as chimney-ornaments in the Brixton drawing-room; but afterwards submitted to the popular view of the subject, and brushed his hair. Major and Mrs. Lennard were also visitors at Tolldale, and Laura knew the happiness of paternal and maternal love—the paternal affection evincing itself in the presentation of a great deal of frivolous jewellery, purchased upon credit; the maternal devotion displaying itself in a wild admiration of Launcelot Darrell’s son and heir, a pink-faced baby, who made his appearance in the year 1861, and who looked very much better than the “Dying Gladiator,” exhibited by Mr. Darrell in the same year. Little children’s voices sounded by-and-bye in the shady pathways of the old-fashioned Priory garden, and in all Berkshire there was not a happier woman than Gilbert Monckton’s beautiful young wife.
And, after all, Eleanor’s Victory was a proper womanly conquest, and not a stern, classical vengeance. The tender woman’s heart triumphed over the girl’s rash vow; and poor George Vane’s enemy was left to the only Judge whose judgments are always righteous.