One of Two, Chapter XLV
Note: original spelling has been maintained.
From the series: ONE OF TWO;
A LEFT-HANDED BRIDE.
Leonora. Sinful am I, but not compact of sin.
Though Satan charges me with many darts.
But one shall wound." Marion Colonna, act ii., sc. iii.
“WINE, wine!—we will save her yet!” cried the doctor. Heavens above us! what an anxiety and bustle, what a straining of hope, of nerve, what a motion and an eagerness, to save life —one life! As if at other times we were not all as ready to throw away lives by the thousand!
For the sake of science—rather, cynics might say (but cynics are such queer fellows!), for the sake of himself—the good Dr. Richards was as eager in attempting to bolster up the fleeting existence of Mrs. Wade as a man well could be who was hunting, let us say, or pursuing any object, fame, or wealth, or ambition of any sort
The good little man—who had a tender heart too—would have been just as eager to annihilate the reputation of a rival; or to have criticised, in one of the journals devoted to medical science, the works of a brother with such biting gall, that the said brother might have languished and have died from the wound, and Dr. Richards would sophistically have believed that he had done his duty. But now the desire was not to slay, but to save—not to wound, but to heal; and the eager little man, putting his arm round the thin, wasted form of the invalid, lifted her up, made the Religieuse arrange the pillows, and himself poured, slowly and carefully, some very old port— of the vintage of '98—down the throat of poor Eugenie.
It would have done Old Daylight good to have seen the form of the woman he loved—even although he were deceived in her—suddenly resuscitate itself under the influence of the old port that he had provided.
And is it to he attributed to the far-seeing cleverness of Mr. Tom Forster that, in the degenerate days in which he lived, forty years ago, he was so much before his time that he made himself a judge of wines, as to age and vintage, and at a time when the middle-class person drank port as dark as the blacking of the patriotic Mr. Hunt, and as fiery as the furnace in the pantomime of “St. George and the Dragon?”
The good sister dropped her beads when Eugenie spoke. She had been so long silent, that the nurse had grown accustomed to the dumb woman she attended to, and whose lips she wetted with brandy and water; and she had so quietly’made her own soul in her constant prayers as she moved noiselessly about the room, that Mrs. Wade was forgotten, save as some necessary piece of furniture.
So in this world we become the property of each other. “ I have said so many aves so many credos. Let me see—what must I do? Oh, I must attend to my invalid.”
“ My invalid!” Poor Eugenie had faded out of life, and had not a holding even in herself.
Mr. Tom Forster’s wine seconded the effect of the electric fluid in a marvellous way. The most admirable and subtle spirit, alcohol—the most absurdly abused of all God’s creatures, the thing which sets free the true nature of man, and then is credited by the ungrateful creature with having caused the crimes which it gave him the courage to commit—coursed through the veins of Eugenie, and made her tremble into something like reanimation.
“It is wondrous, is it not,” whispered the doctor to his onlooking friends, “that, when one who has lived simply and purely, as this lady has, and who has no organic disease, some little action like that of electricity and alcohol will give her life? You see, it has a mechanical effect—it is like shaking a watch when a particle of dust stops it. And yet, if this lady had been; under the hands of Dr. Dash or Dr. Blank, he would have drenched the life out of her; with Physic!—Physic!” Here the doctor, in great disgust, made a face as if he were taking a nasty dose of senna. “Physic—if only the fools knew it—physic means Nature! and they have perverted it to signify poisonous drugs!”
“Half a glass more, sister,” he said, after a pause; during which the lips of the patient opened, and the faintest of faint glows rose to her throat and cheeks.
“There—that will be enough. She wishes to speak, and the strength will come very soon.”
So indeed it did. The poor lady trembled all over, with a delicate shudder; and then, with a smile that was far sadder than a tear, spoke—
“Philip,” she murmured—“Philip, I know you are here. Speak to me—speak to me once more, as once you did!”
The Earl, sinking upon his knees at the foot of the bed, had been all the time a prey to such emotions of awe, of strong trouble, and remorse, as one may be supposed to feel when he witnesses one whom he has wronged and loved risen from the dead.
“ Eugenie,” he answered—“my Eugenie!”
Age, disappointment, the wear of the world, the wrongs of misprized love, were all forgotten; and the tones sounded as freshly as in youthful days, when they struck upon the dying woman's ears.
As when the murmuring wind reaches an Æolian harp, and dies away upon the strings it renders eloquent with music, the same sad tone is caught by the hearts of those who listen—so the little company around the bed seemed attuned to the nature of this sad shrift between the lovers. Nor did the wasted form of the one, and the bowed and whitened head of the other, serve to detracting any way from the freshness and reality of the love. For misfortune and the wintry cold of disappointment has this merit, that it seems to arrest one's existence to the very time it falls, and the lack of fruition thus prevents the increment of age. How many an old man is there who still remains in his I heart as young as he was when that heart bent down, never to rise again, at the grave of his dead love? How many a woman I lives, mature but yet a girl in heart, who cherishes the feeling which she had when her love was lost at sea—never to be heard of more, but never to be forgotten? In some old books of household recipes, there is one which is said to arrest the development of a rosebud in midsummer, and to keep it fresh and green, so that, with care I fill tending and due warmth, it shall blossom in midwinter. The experiment is, perhaps, never successful, and hence the simile, is the more true. The bud remains a bud, and never becomes a rose, but it withers in the form in which it is gathered; and so the human heart remains unchanged, except by the slow decay which, while it cheats it with the promise of a future summer, keeps it with the semblance of youth, and visible almost unaltered.
“ Eugenie, my Eugenie!”
The remembered voice, the old fon tones, swept like the dying wind the chord of the poor lady's heart, and brought wit them the memories of old days, and of the cherished love.
Her eyes were still closed, but all he senses seemed prematurally acute smile of delight—radiant, and bright, an pure as winter sunshine—lit up her features and she spoke—
“We were so happy,” she said; “so young and both so innocent. We lived but for each other, Philip; and you, in your fond passion, were as true as I. What was the world to us? What were its vanities, its empty pomp, its cruel, false ambitions? We lived but for each other; and every passing day, swift as it went when winged by joy and love, made us dearer to each other.
“ We had no bargaining, no buying, nor cheating, no chaffering with our love; but gave ourselves to each other—a boy and girl —never dreaming of deceit which we could not understand, nor of sordid motives which we could not comprehend. And although the glory of that mom of love has been succeeded by a sudden long dark night, it never faded to the light of common day—was never ruined by mean doubts, nor fretted by everyday cares and follies; but has remained a pure, sweet memory through all these years of sorrow.
“ Do you remember our first meeting, love?—our first confession, and the innocent kiss which sealed the mutual tender of our hearts each to the other? Do you remember the long summer days of our journey to be married in Prussia? I was your wife by the left hand—that was all, you told me, that you could give me; and I believed you, and was content, since you were a great noble, and I the daughter of a poor French emigré, an artist. I knew I had your heart. I knew the vows I offered up to God were true. I trusted that He would accept them.
“ If we sinned—and the deep punishment of after-days will make us read in it God's judgment of our love, ray Philip, which was too tenderly and too exclusively our own; too human, warm, and joyous of this life— we sinned at least in love, not hate; from generous impulse, not from sordid desires and faithless love of the world. But this we knew not then. You lifted me from a life of trial and of care to one of comfort and of plenty, in its modest way. You enabled me to aid my father in his years of want, disease, and old age; and to lay my poor pious mother in an honoured grave. To you the retirement of our little house at Passy—with its tiny garden where the sweet birds sang, and where the violets grew, and the sun came, it seemed to me, earlier and lingered later than in Paris streets—might have seemed but poverty. To me it was a fairy palace.
“I remember now the paper on the walls of our little salon, which gave its windows to our garden; our little bed-room, fitted in the English style; our kitchen, where our servant—grave, honest, pious and Norman— sat and told her beads, and wondered at our love—which rejoiced her heart, and seemed to her, as she said, like some sweet fairy tale, which she read all day and dreamt of in the night.
“ I remember, too, almost every word you said: your noble sentiments, your generous disregard of self, your every action; not one angry word, not one clouded look in all those days of love; not one expression of being tired or wearied of my fond love;—not one sentence but that which an English gentleman might use to a lady far above him! Can you wonder that I loved you?
“You were of that generous people which —when at war with my country, and suffering grievous wrong from her—received my father, and thousands like him, and aided him in all his struggles, and gave him life and hope.
“And I, a girl, had an hereditary love for our noble enemies, and yet our friends, the English. I loved their language, their stately poems, and their calm yet warm manners. In you I found my ideal—no slave of passion, yet so full of life and love; no empty braggart, but so strong in action; no dreamer, yet so generous in thought. Oh, my Philip, you were my all, and you were worthy—aye, in spite of untruth, wrong, and fate.”
Here the poor lady paused awhile, and the doctor gave her some more wine and water.
“ Let her speak,” he said, softly—and his two bright, hard, and scientific brown eyes were brighter for the moisture that was in them. “ Let her speak as long as she will. This has been long upon her poor heart: it will do her good to say her say, poor darling.”
Winnifred had crept nearer to the sufferer, and had caught one hand, and fondled it and kissed it. In the picture of the father she recognized the traits of her own Philip;and had not Eugenie been full of sorrow and ill-health, which was quite a sufficient reason to attract this young lady’s love, she would have loved her for the sad sweet voice and the full-hearted memory of her own young love.
The good little nurse, looking up with, saintly eyes from under the cold shade of; her white cortiet, told her beads with fervour, and, it may be, thanked God that she . had escaped this trial and this sorrow caused by human passions. Was she right? I hardly know. Is the soldier better who has not 1 joined the fight? It may be so; but surely the thankfulness which arises from past trial and trouble is better than that which boasts an isolated safety.
The same sweet smile again flickered upon the thin, pale features, as if some pleasant t memory had lit up a lantern which had long been dark.
“Do you remember, Philip,” she said, “ how we wandered in the Louvre and in Versailles, and how you made each picture, memorable by describing it to me, telling me of the story of my country, and never using one hard word against us; pointing out how we had fought at Fontenoy and Ivry, your face glowing with admiration for the gallant deeds of knights, or your eyes dimming with moisture as you recounted some heroic deed which led to death?
“ Sooner or later all paths lead to death, my Philip! The world wreck so much of is death’s antechamber; and long have I waited in it. I am now near the door, and would bid you good-bye.”
The face was more solemn, but still hopeful and joyous, as she said these words,Then the tone changed.
“ How often have I since stood in those pleasant palaces, and recalled those words ! Surely, if men knew the love that women bear them, they would never use one harsh ! phrase towards them. The memory has been a pleasant memory, and has kept me alive during a long trial.
“And, alas! what a price we mortals pay for love, for comfort, and for joy! Thirty years!—for thirty years, and the light of my life gone out, leaving me half dead and darkling.
“ The blow was too severe for me to attempt to defend myself, or to recover from it I could only gather what comfort there was in prayer, and in my child—our child, my Philip!”
Winnifred listened even more eagerly than before, and pressed the thin hand more closely. The Earl gazed at the dying woman even more intensely; and the doctor, raising her form gently, gave her some more refreshment.
After a short pause, the patient, with a sadder tone, and the tears gently dropping one by one from her closed eyes, continued—
“The trial had not changed me, my dear sweet love, nor had it broken me. I determined to still endure. I took the punishments as some good priests tell us to take them, as a recompense for the greater pleasures we had known, as a trial and a test, a warning that we should not forget God. Heaven help me!—life is at best a trial, when we hardly dare be happy except in the dreamlike illusions of our youth. I trusted your love, Philip, even though you were married to your English wife. I never flinched, nor failed, nor doubted. I was rewarded. But oh, the bitter sweet! You proved your love by urging me to be dishonest to your other child. With all the eloquence which a pent-up, unsatisfied love could give you, you tried to persuade me to do wrong. I resisted for a long time, for a long, long time.”
“You did, Eugenie! God knows you did. You were better and wiser than I was. You set before me the folly of the wrong, but I could not be persuaded.”
“My dear!” murmured the poor sick lady, “God permits some of us to yield to sin, because we do not trust Him. I was about to yield, when I went to confession, and sought comfort in the words of the ! good father who directed my prayers. He ! knew not of you, for I did not tell him all.
He showed me a way out of the horrible pit, even if it was for the first and only time I in my life—”
“The first and only time!” The Earl breathed more quickly, and awaited with anxious ears, as if he divined what was coming.
“ Even, then, if I deceived you. You urged me to change the children. You sent to me your Normandy nurse with my little boy, rosy with country air and tanned with sea breezes. He was to be, like you, the great Earl of Chesterton. But then he would have been, like you, tempted, set up high, and bom to miserable alliances of family and of pride, never to know the truth. I looked for smaller paths and quieter ways for our child, my Philip. My heart revolted at the trial for my boy. I could not consent. Your nurse—a creature only won by 11 gold—received my bribe as well as yours. You thought that you had done that deed; but still my child was kept near me—as I well knew—and did not fill another place! ! Pardon me, Philip!”
“Thank God!—thank God!” gasped the nobleman, as if a weight had fallen from l him; while Winnifred, covering the thin frail hand with grateful kisses, placed it to her own pure heart, saying—
“He is Lord Wimpole still!”
“ He should have been a light
Shining to bless us!
But proved a storm and blight
Sent to distress us." Scott.
“ THIS is a strange case,” said the doctor. “I am obliged to listen to many a confession; but I do not remember anything like this.”
“I am so thankful you are here, Dr.Richards,” whispered Winnifred, speaking, thus for her husband’s sake. “You will remember what the poor lady has said?”
The doctor replied by an upward, a surprised but brilliant glance, which plainly said, “Can any one forget it?” The nurse,too, looked up, as if to testify that she too was human, and not a mere ornament with I a religious exterior.
“Hush!” ejaculated the doctor at length,after a somewhat anxious pause, “she will speak again.” Then he thought to himself, “The newly recovered strength will last some time—it is useless to check her. What I dread is, the collapse after this; but if she will aid us—as of course she will, withhope before her— I think we shall pull through. Sickness of what we call heart I and mind, conscience and feeling!—those are the matters that puzzle the doctor. Who knows in what organ, either, numbing, deadening pain is situated?”
The same strange, trembling, nervous motion passed over Mrs. Wade’s form and features as she again spoke, after drinking eagerly and with interest—not mere sufferance—some wine, as if she knew that it did her good, and gave her momentary strength.
“I would not have deceived you, Philip, in that; for I would have done your bidding even in wrong, but that I would not wrong another. I am sure that I have been right. I look back with calm satisfaction to that step in life. I felt a better and a wiser woman afterwards. I accepted, as you know, my fate. I was not one to struggle against the decrees of Providence. We loved each other too dearly. I loved you to the forgetfulness of all—even of God; and He smote me to remembrance with a bitter blow.”
Dr. Richards was so much of a savant that this talk to him was but a shibboleth, beyond his thorough comprehension. The religious state of mind was like any other strange prepossession: he accepted it, but he could not account for it. But the nursing Sister nodded her white cap, as much as to signify her acquiescence, and that it was borne out by her experience.
“ I know this nurse was true to me and false to you, by a secret knowledge that a mother has. My child remained with her, was brought up by her in his earlier years; and, alas! by that secret way of nature, of which we know so little, imbibed strange moral poison in his foster-mother’s milk. Alas, Philip! he is not what his father’s son should be, nor what his mother’s teachings would have made him.”
Then Winnifred was right. As she listened, a secret satisfaction was borne in upon her mind, and she thanked God that in her prejudice she had not been unjust.
The Earl was, however, tom with a deeper sorrow. Through his sin, he felt that both his sons were lost to him for ever; and the very satisfaction that he would have felt was embittered beyond endurance by the crime to which he felt the chain of circumstances which he had forged had dragged his son Philip.
“But let that pass—we’ll speak of it again,” continued the invalid, in her low, sweet voice and measured cadence, so full of harmony and rhythm that the words seemed now and then to fall into natural lines of blank verse, and to admit of scansion. “In that I did deceive you, for your good; but afterwards there came an accusation—based on some slight truth— which eager friends, your jealous fondness set to watch, brought foully against me. How could your faith be shaken? How could you misjudge the one you loved?
The fault began in you. A victim to your father’s will and pride, you did me wrong; and then added to that evil in believing that I could return the wrong to your own bosom.”
The Earl groaned and sighed—now, when it was too late, fully believing what the dying woman said.
“ It was in vain that I wrote to you after your cruel letter. You had shut out all chances of the error being retrieved. My letters were returned. Again I wrote; they were returned unopened. I bowed to fate.
I was too proud, too much wounded—and deep sorrow has its pride as well as joy—to urge you more. I succumbed, and comforted myself by the penance I had to undergo. Why should I clear my fame to you ?
I asked myself; especially when a proof of my innocence would bring back your fondness, and make you unjust to and unhappy with your English wife. It has been, Philip, a martyrdom of thirty years. Heaven knows how I passed it. It is ended now. You suspected me cruelly and most wrongfully. No cloistered nun could have been more pure in thought and deed than I. I wore this wrong suspicion, this most odious accusation, as one who does an unseen penance wears a chain of steel or shirt of hair. They lacerate the flesh: your penance ate into my soul.”
“ Forgive me! oh, forgive me, Eugenie!”
“ Forgiven, Philip, are you ere you ask— long loved, long cherished, long forgiven.
I found that the accusation was based upon the visits of my brother, whom I had educated, with the money you had so plentifully bestowed upon me, at St. Cyr; and who— poor, brave young fellow—had won his epaulettes. He is dead now, thank Heaven for it! He will meet me where our errors are more wisely looked at than by human eyes. He was happy when he died, in some sharp fray in Africa; happy—with the name of his sister, his widowed sister, on his lips—that he gave his life for France. France—dear, sweet France! I have been long away from her, in this cold land of my adoption. My dear, sweet mother country!
I did not love her well enough; but now her sunshine and blue skies come back to me so plainly, so vividly: there seems to rest once more a gleam of her bright sunshine on my bed.”
The doctor well knew the meaning of this, and gave the invalid some wine. It was useless trying to stop her, or to give her 1 rest. Rapidly the sweet voice, so low and so clear in its enunciation, poured forth its words, as if the invalid knew that she was making her last shrift in this troublous world.
“ But our boy, when he came back to me, seemed to have come with an altered nature,” she continued. “ He grew up out’ wardly all that a fond mother could wish; I but inwardly cold, reserved, and clever—but I with that cleverness which regards only self.
He worked at his tasks steadily and with industry—accumulated knowledge, but it was for himself. For years I did not let him know his history. He believed me to be a widow; and he chafed and fretted against 1 poverty, as if our quiet life—undistinguished, but with few trials in it—were a bitter trouble to him.
“ He was ambitious, and chose his own career. He was determined to study the I law; for he saw that in that there lay more I advancement in the world than in anything else, and that he might thereby take advan tage of the weakness and the follies of mankind. He said so, calmly and with purpose, to me. I hoped that, as he grew up, some strong passion of love might lay hold of him, and purify his nature; but I found that youth passed away without this relief. He never told me anything—was coldly polite to me, but never confided in me. The love which I had fondly dreamed he would, from his father's nature, shower upon me, was withheld. He was impassive. Many a mother would, perhaps, have held him to be without fault—he was so constant at his studies, so determined to win his way. Alas! the very faultlessness which others saw in him was to my fond heart his greatest fault itself.
“At last, in an evil hour, some six months ago, thinking to move him, I told him all. I was ill then, and I fancied that I might not live; and I thought that I should not like to die without his knowing his mother's story and his father's name.
“ The revelation did not seem either to distress him or to surprise him. He heard me coolly to the end—telling him, with broken voice, the sad story of my love and my punishment”
Even here the poor dying creature said no harsh word. She might have told her cruel wrongs—and so the little group that heard her thought. Her reticence made the story more pathetic; and Lord Chesterton felt in his heart her great charity to be a blow and a reproof.
“ He listened calmly, but said no word of sympathy; while he complained bitterly of the wrong done to him. Oh, how every word of his wounded me! My punishment was indeed bitter: it was more than I could bear.
“ Some time after that he obtained some of the letters which you had sent me—those letters which were a proof of what I had said, and which, while they revealed to him his birth, told him also of the love you bore him. He complained coldly, but in strong terms, that I had thwarted your schemes. He never uttered what my heart longed for —the generous approval of a son of a sorely tempted mother who had refrained from crime.”
The poor lady again paused, and the nurse refreshed her by putting some wine and water to her lips.
During the short silence that ensued, we will go back to Edgar Wade, whom we left standing at the door of Mr. George Horton's house in Wimpole-street.
Disturbed by the persistence of Winnifred in her plan, the barrister found that resistance was useless, and that he could not prevent the meeting which he dreaded.
And, after all—thus he reasoned to himself—why should he dread it? Mrs. Wade was too far gone for her to recover, and to make uncomfortable explanations. The chain of evidence collected by Old Daylight was too strong, even at its weakest link, to break; and if it did, and Lord Wimpole were not thus disposed of, his claim to the position which he so coveted, and which would purchase or ensure him the only being he loved, had been admitted by both father and son.
It would be useless for him to oppose this meeting. It would be better for him to allow it to take place. He felt his dread only a weakness; and he was so far committed to the desperate game he had hitherto played with such skill and success, that he felt it was better to leave something to chance. Had not Dr. Richards, his old scientific friend—with whom he had studied natural science, and who looked upon the world as a chess-board, and human beings as the pieces moved by the hands of science, and an intelligible but unmastered law—assured him that the game in Mrs. Wade’s case was very nearly ended, and that death was certainly about to checkmate vital force? Yes, he would let them proceed. But, as the carriage rolled away, the barrister looked after it somewhat uneasily.
Was Mr. Horton at home?
He was. The neat-handed Phillis took the barrister’s card from his hand, and ushered him upstairs. The house was one of those quiet and unpretending but excellently built and comfortably warm houses common forty years ago. It was not half so elegant as a much smaller house would be now. There were no fern cases at the staircase window, nor flowers in the vases of the rooms; yet everywhere cleanliness and neatness, order and arrangement, were visible enough.
The drawing-room, on the first floor front, was furnished plainly; and the furniture was carefully covered up—even to the tassels of the bell-ropes—with brown holland. A huge square sofa, a round centre table, two armchairs, and about half a dozen others, furnished the room. In one corner was a glass case full of gay butterflies, arranged in the shape of a great star, brilliant with spread wings of dazzling colours; in the i opposite one, a pendant was found in another case full of British birds. Over the mantelshelf, a handsome square glass—a Vauxhall looking-glass, with bevelled edges —reflected some ormolu candlesticks with diamond-cut lustre-drops, and two Chelsea china figures of a shepherd and shepherdess, leaning against white china trees, the foliage of which was formed of coloured flowers stuck against the branches. On the wall opposite the fireplace and the Vauxhall glass, in its plainly moulded gilt frame, innocent of elaborate carving, hung two large water colours, from the sombre but excellent pencil of old Nicholson—a waterfall being one, and a woodland scene the other; between them, a convex mirror, and a deep gold frame with an eagle in gold perched on the top, reflected the form of the barrister, as he stood with his back to the fire warming himself—for the October evening was chilly—and awaiting Mr. Horton. His busy mind, although it might have pleaded other occupation, took in all these details, and remembered them, as if they were important.
Mr. Horton came at once, and had some talk with the barrister—who, to his surprise, found that the magistrate was by no means unwilling to believe in Lord Wimpole’s innocence. But he was anxious to get away, and he assented to all Mr. Horton surmised, merely gathering from him the result of his inquiries. He had promised to call there, and he performed his promise methodically; but even while the magistrate was talking, and he was listening, looking at the case of butterflies with an absorbed interest, his heart was in the sick room with Mrs. Wade. With a few complimentary words he arose and left, and walked hurriedly round to Queen Anne-street.
The carriage was not before the door. The coachman, with the tender care of his animals usual to him, was quietly walking the steeds up and down, to prevent them chilling in the cold evening air. Edgar Wade had some hope that his too intrusive visitors had left; but it was soon dissipated.
He let himself in by his key, and walked upstairs softly. He had a quiet, careful step, which he seemed to have cultivated.
When he reached the landing outside the door of the invalid, he waited for a time and listened. His ears were preternaturally acute. He noted a pause, as if the conversation had been interrupted—a soft rustling, and the undertones of the doctor, and— heavens!—the voice of Mrs. Wade.
Softly turning the handle of the door, he entered softly—so softly, that no one of those so intently listening to the sad shrift of the speaker heard him.
But the invalid, finely strung, felt his presence, although her eyes were unopened.
Her whole frame shuddered, and seemed dilated with an angry agony. She rose forward, and concluded what she was saying— which had been some guarded statements of a proposition made by her son—and said—
“He is here. I feel his presence. He is my bane, my punishment. He is a Murderer!"