The Nebuly Coat/Chapter Twenty Two
Westray passed a day of painful restlessness. He had laid his hand to a repugnant business, and the burden of it was too heavy for him to bear. He felt the same gnawing anxiety, that is experienced by one whom doctors have sentenced to a lethal operation. One man may bear himself more bravely in such circumstances than another, but by nature every man is a coward; and the knowledge that the hour is approaching, when the surgeon's knife shall introduce him to a final struggle of life and death cannot be done away. So it was with Westray; he had undertaken a task for which he was not strong enough, and only high principle, and a sense of moral responsibility, kept him from panic and flight. He went to the church in the morning, and endeavoured to concentrate attention on his work, but the consciousness of what was before him would not be thrust aside. The foreman-mason saw that his master's thoughts were wandering, and noticed the drawn expression on his face.
In the afternoon his restlessness increased, and he wandered listlessly through the streets and narrow entries of the town, till he found himself near nightfall at that place by the banks of the Cull, where the organist had halted on the last evening of his life. He stood leaning over the iron railing, and looked at the soiled river, just as Mr Sharnall had looked. There were the dark-green tresses of duck-weed swaying to and fro in the shallow eddies, there was the sordid collection of broken and worthless objects that lay on the bottom, and he stared at them till the darkness covered them one by one, and only the whiteness of a broken dish still flickered under the water.
Then he crept back to his room as if he were a felon, and though he went early to bed, sleep refused to visit him till the day began to break. With daylight he fell into a troubled doze, and dreamt that he was in a witness-box before a crowded court. In the dock stood Lord Blandamer dressed in full peer's robes, and with a coronet on his head. The eyes of all were turned upon him, Westray, with fierce enmity and contempt, and it was he, Westray, that a stern-faced judge was sentencing, as a traducer and lying informer. Then the people in the galleries stamped with their feet and howled against him in their rage; and waking with a start, he knew that it was the postman's sharp knock on the street-door, that had broken his slumber.
The letter which he dreaded lay on the table when he came down. He felt an intense reluctance in opening it. He almost wondered that the handwriting was still the same; it was as if he had expected that the characters should be tremulous, or the ink itself blood-red. Lord Blandamer acknowledged Mr Westray's letter with thanks. He should certainly like to see the picture and the family papers of which Mr Westray spoke; would Mr Westray do him the favour of bringing the picture to Fording? He apologised for putting him to so much trouble, but there was another picture in the gallery at Fording, with which it might be interesting to compare the one recently discovered. He would send a carriage to meet any train; Mr Westray would no doubt find it more convenient to spend the night at Fording.
There was no expression of surprise, curiosity, indignation or alarm; nothing, in fact, except the utmost courtesy, a little more distant perhaps than usual, but not markedly so.
Westray had been unable to conjecture what would be the nature of Lord Blandamer's answer. He had thought of many possibilities, of the impostor's flight, of lavish offers of hush-money, of passionate appeals for mercy, of scornful and indignant denial. But in all his imaginings he had never imagined this. Ever since he had sent his own letter, he had been doubtful of its wisdom, and yet he had not been able to think of any other course that he would have preferred. He knew that the step he had taken in warning the criminal was quixotic, and yet it seemed to him that Lord Blandamer had a certain right to see his own family portrait and papers, before they were used against him. He could not feel sorry that he had given the opportunity, though he had certainly hoped that Lord Blandamer would not avail himself of it.
But go to Fording he would not. That, at any rate, no fantastic refinement of fair play could demand of him. He knew his mind at least on this point; he would answer at once, and he got out a sheet of paper for his refusal. It was easy to write the number of his house, and the street, and Cullerne, and the formal "My lord," which he used again for the address. But what then? What reason was he to give for his refusal? He could allege no business appointment or other serious engagement as an obstacle, for he himself had said that he was free for a week, and had offered Lord Blandamer to make an appointment on any day. He himself had offered an interview; to draw back now would be mean and paltry in the extreme. It was true that the more he thought of this meeting the more he shrank from it. But it could not be evaded now. It was, after all, only the easiest part of the task that he had set before him, only a prolusion to the tragedy that he would have to play to a finish. Lord Blandamer deserved, no doubt, all the evil that was to fall on him; but in the meanwhile he, Westray, was incapable of refusing this small favour, asked by a man who was entirely at his mercy.
Then he wrote with a shrinking heart, but with yet another fixed purpose, that he would bring the picture to Fording the next day. He preferred not to be met at the station; he would arrive some time during the afternoon, but could only stay an hour at the most, as he had business which would take him on to London the same evening.
It was a fine Autumn day on the morrow, and when the morning mists had cleared away, the sun came out with surprising warmth, and dried the dew on the lawns of many-gardened Cullerne. Towards mid-day Westray set forth from his lodgings to go to the station, carrying under his arm the picture, lightly packed in lath, and having in his pocket those papers which had fallen out from the frame. He chose a route through back-streets, and walked quickly, but as he passed Quandrill's, the local maker of guns and fishing-rods, a thought struck him. He stopped and entered the shop.
"Good-morning," he said to the gunsmith, who stood behind the counter; "have you any pistols? I want one small enough to carry in the pocket, but yet something more powerful than a toy."
Mr Quandrill took off his spectacles.
"Ah," he said, tapping the counter with them meditatively. "Let me see. Mr Westray, is it not, the architect at the minster?"
"Yes," Westray answered. "I require a pistol for some experiments. It should carry a fairly heavy bullet."
"Oh, just so," the man said, with an air of some relief, as Westray's coolness convinced him that he was not contemplating suicide. "Just so, I see; some experiments. Well, in that case, I suppose, you would not require any special facilities for loading again quickly, otherwise I should have recommended one of these," and he took up a weapon from the counter. "They are new-fangled things from America, revolving pistols they call them. You can fire them four times running, you see, as quick as you like," and he snapped the piece to show how well it worked.
Westray handled the pistol, and looked at the barrels.
"Yes," he said, "that will suit my purpose very well, though it is rather large to carry in the pocket."
"Oh, you want it for the pocket," the gunmaker said with renewed surprise in his tone.
"Yes; I told you that already. I may have to carry it about with me. Still, I think this will do. Could you kindly load it for me now?"
"You are sure it's quite safe," said the gunmaker.
"I ought to ask you that," Westray rejoined with a smile. "Do you mean it may go off accidentally in my pocket?"
"Oh no, it's safe enough that way," said the gunmaker. "It won't go off unless you pull the trigger." And he loaded the four barrels, measuring out the powder and shot carefully, and ramming in the wads. "You'll be wanting more powder and shot than this, I suppose," he said.
"Very likely," rejoined the architect, "but I can call for that later."
He found a heavy country fly waiting for him at Lytchett, the little wayside station which was sometimes used by people going to Fording. It is a seven-mile drive from the station to the house, but he was so occupied in his own reflections, that he was conscious of nothing till the carriage pulled up at the entrance of the park. Here he stopped for a moment while the lodge-keeper was unfastening the bolt, and remembered afterwards that he had noticed the elaborate iron-work, and the nebuly coat which was set over the great gates. He was in the long avenue now, and he wished it had been longer, he wished that it might never end; and then the fly stopped again, and Lord Blandamer on horseback was speaking to him through the carriage window.
There was a second's pause, while the two men looked each other directly in the eyes, and in that look all doubt on either side was ended. Westray felt as if he had received a staggering blow as he came face to face with naked truth, and Lord Blandamer read Westray's thoughts, and knew the extent of his discovery.
Lord Blandamer was the first to speak.
"I am glad to see you again," he said with perfect courtesy, "and am very much obliged to you for taking this trouble in bringing the picture." And he glanced at the crate that Westray was steadying with his hand on the opposite seat. "I only regret that you would not let me send a carriage to Lytchett."
"Thank you," said the architect; "on the present occasion I preferred to be entirely independent." His words were cold, and were meant to be cold, and yet as he looked at the other's gentle bearing, and the grave face in which sadness was a charm; he felt constrained to abate in part the effect of his own remark, and added somewhat awkwardly: "You see, I was uncertain about the trains."
"I am riding back across the grass," Lord Blandamer said, "but shall be at the house before you;" and as he galloped off, Westray knew that he rode exceedingly well.
This meeting, he guessed, had been contrived to avoid the embarrassment of a more formal beginning. It was obvious that their terms of former friendship could no longer be maintained. Nothing would have induced him to have shaken hands, and this Lord Blandamer must have known.
As Westray stepped into the hall through Inigo Jones' Ionic portico, Lord Blandamer entered from a side-door.
"You must be cold after your long drive. Will you not take a biscuit and a glass of wine?"
Westray motioned away the refreshment which a footman offered him.
"No, thank you," he said; "I will not take anything." It was impossible for him to eat or drink in this house, and yet again he softened his words by adding: "I had something to eat on the way."
The architect's refusal was not lost upon Lord Blandamer. He had known before he spoke that his offer would not be accepted.
"I am afraid it is useless to ask you to stop the night with us," he said; and Westray had his rejoinder ready:
"No; I must leave Lytchett by the seven five train. I have ordered the fly to wait."
He had named the last train available for London, and Lord Blandamer saw that his visitor had so arranged matters, that the interview could not be prolonged for more than an hour.
"Of course, you could catch the night-mail at Cullerne Road," he said. "It is a very long drive, but I sometimes go that way to London myself."
His words called suddenly to Westray's recollection that night walk when the station lights of Cullerne Road were seen dimly through the fog, and the station-master's story that Lord Blandamer had travelled by the mail on the night of poor Sharnall's death. He said nothing, but felt his resolution strengthened.
"The gallery will be the most convenient place, perhaps, to unpack the picture," Lord Blandamer said; and Westray at once assented, gathering from the other's manner that this would be a spot where no interruption need be feared.
They went up some wide and shallow stairs, preceded by a footman, who carried the picture.
"You need not wait," Lord Blandamer said to the man; "we can unpack it ourselves."
When the wrappings were taken off, they stood the painting on the narrow shelf formed by the top of the wainscot which lined the gallery, and from the canvas the old lord surveyed them with penetrating light-grey eyes, exactly like the eyes of the grandson who stood before him.
Lord Blandamer stepped back a little, and took a long look at the face of this man, who had been the terror of his childhood, who had darkened his middle life, who seemed now to have returned from the grave to ruin him. He knew himself to be in a desperate pass. Here he must make the last stand, for the issue lay between him and Westray. No one else had learned the secret. He understood and relied implicitly on Westray's fantastic sense of honour. Westray had written that he would "take no steps" till the ensuing Monday, and Lord Blandamer was sure that no one would be told before that day, and that no one had been told yet. If Westray could be silenced all was saved; if Westray spoke, all was lost. If it had been a question of weapons, or of bodily strength, there was no doubt which way the struggle would have ended. Westray knew this well now, and felt heartily ashamed of the pistol that was bulging the breast-pocket on the inside of his coat. If it had been a question of physical attack, he knew now that he would have never been given time, or opportunity for making use of his weapon.
Lord Blandamer had travelled north and south, east and west; he had seen and done strange things; he had stood for his life in struggles whence only one could come out alive; but here was no question of flesh and blood—he had to face principles, those very principles on which he relied for respite; he had to face that integrity of Westray which made persuasion or bribery alike impossible. He had never seen this picture before, and he looked at it intently for some minutes; but his attention was all the while concentrated on the man who stood beside him. This was his last chance—he could afford to make no mistake; and his soul, or whatever that thing may be called which is certainly not the body, was closing with Westray's soul in a desperate struggle for mastery.
Westray was not seeing the picture for the first time, and after one glance he stood aloof. The interview was becoming even more painful than he had expected. He avoided looking Lord Blandamer in the face, yet presently, at a slight movement, turned and met his eye.
"Yes, it is my grandfather," said the other.
There was nothing in the words, and yet it seemed to Westray as if some terrible confidence was being thrust upon him against his will; as if Lord Blandamer had abandoned any attempt to mislead, and was tacitly avowing all that might be charged against him. The architect began to feel that he was now regarded as a personal enemy, though he had never so considered himself. It was true that picture and papers had fallen into his hands, but he knew that a sense of duty was the only motive of any action that he might be taking.
"You promised, I think, to show me some papers," Lord Blandamer said.
Most painfully Westray handed them over; his knowledge of their contents made it seem that he was offering a deliberate insult. He wished fervently that he never had made any proposal for this meeting; he ought to have given everything to the proper authorities, and have let the blow fall as it would. Such an interview could only end in bitterness: its present result was that here in Lord Blandamer's own house, he, Westray, was presenting him with proofs of his father's illegitimacy, with proofs that he had no right to this house—no, nor to anything else.
It was a bitter moment for Lord Blandamer to find such information in the possession of a younger man; but, if there was more colour in his face than usual, his self-command stood the test, and he thrust resentment aside. There was no time to say or do useless things, there was no time for feeling; all his attention must be concentrated on the man before him. He stood still, seeming to examine the papers closely, and, as a matter of fact, he did take note of the name, the place, and the date, that so many careful searchings had failed ever to find. But all the while he was resolutely considering the next move, and giving Westray time to think and feel. When he looked up, their eyes met again, and this time it was Westray that coloured.
"I suppose you have verified these certificates?" Lord Blandamer asked very quietly.
"Yes," Westray said, and Lord Blandamer gave them back to him without a word, and walked slowly away down the gallery.
Westray crushed the papers into his pocket where most of the room was taken up by the pistol; he was glad to get them out of his sight; he could not bear to hold them. It was as if a beaten fighter had given up his sword. With these papers Lord Blandamer seemed to resign into his adversary's hands everything of which he stood possessed, his lands, his life, the honour of his house. He made no defence, no denial, no resistance, least of all any appeal. Westray was left master of the situation, and must do whatever he thought fit. This fact was clearer to him now than it had ever been before, the secret was his alone; with him rested the responsibility of making it public. He stood dumb before the picture, from which the old lord looked at him with penetrating eyes. He had nothing to say; he could not go after Lord Blandamer; he wondered whether this was indeed to be the end of the interview, and turned sick at the thought of the next step that must be taken.
At the distance of a few yards Lord Blandamer paused, and looked round, and Westray understood that he was being invited, or commanded, to follow. They stopped opposite the portrait of a lady, but it was the frame to which Lord Blandamer called attention by laying his hand on it.
"This was my grandmother," he said; "they were companion pictures. They are the same size, the moulding on the frame is the same, an interlacing fillet, and the coat of arms is in the same place. You see?" he added, finding Westray still silent.
Westray was obliged to meet his look once more.
"I see," he said, most reluctantly. He knew now, that the unusual moulding and the size of the picture that hung in Miss Joliffe's house, must have revealed its identity long ago to the man who stood before him; that during all those visits in which plans for the church had been examined and discussed, Lord Blandamer must have known what lay hid under the flowers, must have known that the green wriggling caterpillar was but a bar of the nebuly coat. Confidences were being forced upon Westray that he could not forget, and could not reveal. He longed to cry out, "For God's sake, do not tell me these things; do not give me this evidence against yourself!"
There was another short pause, and then Lord Blandamer turned. He seemed to expect Westray to turn with him, and they walked back over the soft carpet down the gallery in a silence that might be heard. The air was thick with doom; Westray felt as if he were stifling. He had lost mental control, his thoughts were swallowed up in a terrible chaos. Only one reflection stood out, the sense of undivided responsibility. It was not as if he were adding a link, as in duty bound, to a long chain of other evidence: the whole matter was at rest; to set it in motion again would be his sole act, his act alone. There was a refrain ringing in his ears, a verse that he had heard read a few Sundays before in Cullerne Church, "Am I God, to kill and make alive? Am I God, to kill and make alive?" Yet duty commanded him to go forward, and go forward he must, though the result was certain: he would be playing the part of executioner.
The man whose fate he must seal was keeping pace with him quietly, step by step. If he could only have a few moments to himself, he might clear his distracted thoughts. He paused before some other picture, feigning to examine it, but Lord Blandamer paused also, and looked at him. He knew Lord Blandamer's eye was upon him, though he refused to return the look. It seemed a mere act of courtesy on Lord Blandamer's part to stop. Mr Westray might be specially interested in some of the pictures, and, if any information was required, it was the part of the host to see that it was forthcoming. Westray stopped again once or twice, but always with the same result. He did not know whether he was looking at portraits or landscapes, though he was vaguely aware that half-way down the gallery, there stood on the floor what seemed to be an unfinished picture, with its face turned to the wall.
Except when Westray stopped, Lord Blandamer looked neither to the right nor to the left; he walked with his hands folded lightly behind him, and with his eyes upon the ground, yet did not feign to have his thoughts disengaged. His companion shrank from any attempt to understand or fathom what those thoughts could be, but admired, against his will, the contained and resolute bearing. Westray felt as a child beside a giant, yet had no doubt as to his own duty, or that he was going to do it. But how hard it was! Why had he been so foolish as to meddle with the picture? Why had he read papers that did not belong to him? Why, above all, had he come down to Fording to have his suspicions confirmed? What business was it of his to ferret out these things? He felt all the unutterable aversion of an upright mind for playing the part of a detective; all the sovereign contempt even for such petty meanness as allows one person to examine the handwriting or postmark of letters addressed to another. Yet he knew this thing, and he alone; he could not do away with this horrible knowledge.
The end of the gallery was reached; they turned with one accord and paced slowly, silently back, and the time was slipping away fast. It was impossible for Westray to consider anything now, but he had taken his decision before he came to Fording; he must go through with it; there was no escape for him any more than for Lord Blandamer. He would keep his word. On Monday, the day he had mentioned, he would speak, and once begun, the matter would pass out of his hands. But how was he to tell this to the man who was walking beside him, and silently waiting for his sentence? He could not leave him in suspense; to do so would be cowardice and cruelty. He must make his intention clear, but how? in what form of words? There was no time to think; already they were repassing that canvas which stood with its face to the wall.
The suspense, the impenetrable silence, was telling upon Westray; he tried again to rearrange his thoughts, but they were centred only on Lord Blandamer. How calm he seemed, with his hands folded behind him, and never a finger twitching! What did he mean to do—to fly, or kill himself, or stand his ground and take his trial on a last chance? It would be a celebrated trial. Hateful and inevitable details occurred to Westray's imagination: the crowded, curious court as he saw it in his dream, with Lord Blandamer in the dock, and this last thought sickened him. His own place would be in the witness-box. Incidents that he wished to forget would be recalled, discussed, dwelt on; he would have to search his memory for them, narrate them, swear to them. But this was not all. He would have to give an account of this very afternoon's work. It could not be hushed up. Every servant in the house would know how he had come to Fording with a picture. He heard himself cross-examined as to "this very remarkable interview." What account was he to give of it? What a betrayal of confidence it would be to give any account. Yet he must, and his evidence would be given under the eyes of Lord Blandamer in the dock. Lord Blandamer would be in the dock watching him. It was unbearable, impossible; rather than this he would fly himself, he would use the pistol that bulged his pocket against his own life.
Lord Blandamer had noted Westray's nervous movements, his glances to right and left, as though seeking some way of escape; he saw the clenched hands, and the look of distress as they paced to and fro. He knew that each pause before a picture was an attempt to shake him off, but he would not be shaken off; Westray was feeling the grip, and must not have a moment's breathing space. He could tell exactly how the minutes were passing, he knew what to listen for, and could catch the distant sound of the stable clock striking the quarters. They were back at the end of the gallery. There was no time to pace it again; Westray must go now if he was to catch his train.
They stopped opposite the old lord's portrait; the silence wrapped Westray round, as the white fog had wrapped him round that night on his way to Cullerne Road. He wanted to speak, but his brain was confused, his throat was dry; he dreaded the sound of his own voice.
Lord Blandamer took out his watch.
"I have no wish to hurry you, Mr Westray," he said, "but your train leaves Lytchett in little over an hour. It will take you nearly that time to drive to the station. May I help you to repack this picture?"
His voice was clear, level, and courteous, as on the day when Westray had first met him at Bellevue Lodge. The silence was broken, and Westray found himself speaking quickly in answer:
"You invited me to stay here for the night. I have changed my mind, and will accept your offer, if I may." He hesitated for a moment, and then went on: "I shall be thankful if you will keep the picture and these documents. I see now that I have no business with them."
He took the crumpled papers from his pocket, and held them out without looking up.
Then silence fell on them again, and Westray's heart stood still; till after a second that seemed an eternity Lord Blandamer took the papers with a short "I thank you," and walked a little way further, to the end of the gallery. The architect leant against the side of a window opposite which he found himself, and, looking out without seeing anything, presently heard Lord Blandamer tell a servant that Mr Westray would stop the night, and that wine was to be brought them in the gallery. In a few minutes the man came back with a decanter on a salver, and Lord Blandamer filled glasses for Westray, and himself. He felt probably that both needed something of the kind, but to the other more was implied. Westray remembered that an hour ago he had refused to eat or drink under this roof. An hour ago—how his mood had changed in that short time! How he had flung duty and principle to the winds! Surely this glass of red wine was a very sacrament of the devil, which made him a partner of iniquity.
As he raised the glass to his lips a slanting sunbeam shot through the window, and made the wine glow red as blood. The drinkers paused glass in hand, and glancing up saw the red sun setting behind the trees in the park. Then the old lord's picture caught the evening light, the green bars of the nebuly coat danced before Westray's eyes, till they seemed to live, to be again three wriggling caterpillars, and the penetrating grey eyes looked out from the canvas as if they were watching the enactment of this final scene. Lord Blandamer pledged him in a bumper, and Westray answered without hesitation, for he had given his allegiance, and would have drunk poison in token that there was to be no turning back now.
An engagement kept Lady Blandamer from home that evening. Lord Blandamer had intended to accompany her, but afterwards told her that Mr Westray was coming on important business, and so she went alone. Only Lord Blandamer and Westray sat down to dinner, and some subtle change of manner made the architect conscious that for the first time since their acquaintance, his host was treating him as a real equal. Lord Blandamer maintained a flow of easy and interesting conversation, yet never approached the subject of architecture even near enough to seem to be avoiding it. After dinner he took Westray to the library, where he showed him some old books, and used all his art to entertain him and set him at his ease. Westray was soothed for a moment by the other's manner, and did his best to respond to the courtesy shown him; but everything had lost its savour, and he knew that black Care was only waiting for him to be alone, to make herself once more mistress of his being.
A wind which had risen after sunset began to blow near bed-time with unusual violence. The sudden gusts struck the library windows till they rattled again, and puffs of smoke came out from the fireplace into the room.
"I shall sit up for Lady Blandamer," said the host, "but I dare say you will not be sorry to turn in;" and Westray, looking at his watch, saw that it wanted but ten minutes of midnight.
In the hall, and on the staircase, as they went up, the wind blowing with cold rushes made itself felt still more strongly.
"It is a wild night," Lord Blandamer said, as he stopped for a moment before a barometer, "but I suspect that there is yet worse to come; the glass has fallen in an extraordinary way. I hope you have left all snug with the tower at Cullerne; this wind will not spare any weak places."
"I don't think it should do any mischief at Saint Sepulchre's," Westray answered, half unconsciously. It seemed as though he could not concentrate his thought even upon his work.
His bedroom was large, and chilly in spite of a bright fire. He locked the door, and drawing an easy-chair before the hearth, sat a long while in thought. It was the first time in his life that he had with deliberation acted against his convictions, and there followed the reaction and remorse inseparable from such conditions.
Is there any depression so deep as this? is there any night so dark as this first eclipse of the soul, this first conscious stilling of the instinct for right? He had conspired to obscure truth, he had made himself partaker in another man's wrong-doing, and, as the result, he had lost his moral foothold, his self-respect, his self-reliance. It was true that, even if he could, he would not have changed his decision now, yet the weight of a guilty secret, that he must keep all his life long, pressed heavily upon him. Something must be done to lighten this weight; he must take some action that would ease the galling of his thoughts. He was in that broken mood for which the Middle Ages offered the cloister as a remedy; he felt the urgent need of sacrifice and abnegation to purge him. And then he knew the sacrifice that he must make: he must give up his work at Cullerne. He was thankful to find that there was still enough of conscience left to him to tell him this. He could not any longer be occupied on work for which the money was being found by this man. He would give up his post at Cullerne, even if it meant giving up his connection with his employers, even if it meant the giving up of his livelihood. He felt as if England itself were not large enough to hold him and Lord Blandamer. He must never more see the associate of his guilt; he dreaded meeting his eyes again, lest the other's will should constrain his will to further wrong. He would write to resign his work the very next day; that would be an active sacrifice, a definite mark from which he might begin a painful retracing of the way, a turning-point from which he might hope in time to recover some measure of self-respect and peace of mind. He would resign his work at Cullerne the very next day; and then a wilder gust of wind buffeted the windows of his room, and he thought of the scaffolding on Saint Sepulchre's tower. What a terrible night it was! Would the thin bows of the tower arches live through such a night, with the weight of the great tower rocking over them? No, he could not resign to-morrow. It would be deserting his post. He must stand by till the tower was safe, that was his first duty. After that he would give up his post at once.
Later on he went to bed, and in those dark watches of the night, that are not kept by reason, there swept over him thoughts wilder than the wind outside. He had made himself sponsor for Lord Blandamer, he had assumed the burden of the other's crime. It was he that was branded with the mark of Cain, and he must hide it in silence from the eyes of all men. He must fly from Cullerne, and walk alone with his burden for the rest of his life, a scapegoat in the isolation of the wilderness.
In sleep the terror that walketh in darkness brooded heavily on him. He was in the church of Saint Sepulchre, and blood dripped on him from the organ-loft. Then as he looked up to find out whence it came he saw the four tower arches falling to grind him to powder, and leapt up in his bed, and struck a light to make sure that there were no red patches on him. With daylight he grew calmer. The wild visions vanished, but the cold facts remained: he was sunk in his own esteem, he had forced himself into an evil secret which was no concern of his, and now he must keep it for ever.
Westray found Lady Blandamer in the breakfast-room. Lord Blandamer had met her in the hall on her return the night before, and though he was pale, she knew before he had spoken half a dozen words, that the cloud of anxiety which had hung heavily on him for the last few days was past. He told her that Mr Westray had come over on business, and, in view of the storm that was raging, had been persuaded to remain for the night. The architect had brought with him a picture which he had accidentally come across, a portrait of the old Lord Blandamer which had been missing for many years from Fording. It was very satisfactory that it had been recovered; they were under a great obligation to Mr Westray for the trouble which he had taken in the matter.
In the events of the preceding days Westray had almost forgotten Lady Blandamer's existence, and since the discovery of the picture, if her image presented itself to his mind, it had been as that of a deeply wronged and suffering woman. But this morning she appeared with a look of radiant content that amazed him, and made him shudder as he thought how near he had been only a day before to plunging her into the abyss. The more careful nurture of the year that had passed since her marriage, had added softness to her face and figure, without detracting from the refinement of expression that had always marked her. He knew that she was in her own place, and wondered now that the distinction of her manner had not led him sooner to the truth of her birth. She looked pleased to meet him, and shook hands with a frank smile that acknowledged their former relations, without any trace of embarrassment. It seemed incredible that she should ever have brought him up his meals and letters.
She made a polite reference to his having restored to them an interesting family picture, and finding him unexpectedly embarrassed, changed the subject by asking him what he thought of her own portrait.
"I think you must have seen it yesterday," she went on, as he appeared not to understand. "It has only just come home, and is standing on the floor in the long gallery."
Lord Blandamer glanced at the architect, and answered for him that Mr Westray had not seen it. Then he explained with a composure that shed a calm through the room:
"It was turned to the wall. It is a pity to show it unhung, and without a frame. We must get it framed at once, and decide on a position for it. I think we shall have to shift several paintings in the gallery."
He talked of Snyders and Wouverman, and Westray made some show of attention, but could only think of the unframed picture standing on the ground, which had helped to measure the passing of time in the terrible interview of yesterday. He guessed now that Lord Blandamer had himself turned the picture with its face to the wall, and in doing so had deliberately abandoned a weapon that might have served him well in the struggle. Lord Blandamer must have deliberately foregone the aid of recollections such as Anastasia's portrait would have called up in his antagonist's mind. "Non tali auxilio nec defensoribus istis."
Westray's haggard air had not escaped his host's notice. The architect looked as if he had spent the night in a haunted room, and Lord Blandamer was not surprised, knowing that the other's scruples had died hard, and were not likely to lie quiet in their graves. He thought it better that the short time which remained before Westray's departure should be spent out of the house, and proposed a stroll in the grounds. The gardener reported, he said, that last night's gale had done considerable damage to the trees. The top of the cedar on the south lawn had been broken short off. Lady Blandamer begged that she might accompany them, and as they walked down the terrace steps into the garden a nurse brought to her the baby heir.
"The gale must have been a cyclone," Lord Blandamer said. "It has passed away as suddenly as it arose."
The morning was indeed still and sunshiny, and seemed more beautiful by contrast with the turmoil of the previous night. The air was clear and cold after the rain, but paths and lawns were strewn with broken sticks and boughs, and carpeted with prematurely fallen leaves.
Lord Blandamer described the improvements that he was making or projecting, and pointed out the old fish-ponds which were to be restocked, the bowling-green and the ladies' garden arranged on an old-world plan by his grandmother, and maintained unchanged since her death. He had received an immense service from Westray, and he would not accept it ungraciously or make little of it. In taking the architect round the place, in showing this place that his ancestors had possessed for so many generations, in talking of his plans for a future that had only so recently become assured, he was in a manner conveying his thanks, and Westray knew it.
Lady Blandamer was concerned for Westray. She saw that he was downcast, and ill at ease, and in her happiness that the cloud had passed from her husband, she wanted everyone to be happy with her. So, as they were returning to the house, she began, in the kindness of her heart, to talk of Cullerne Minster. She had a great longing, she said, to see the old church again. She should so much enjoy it if Mr Westray would some day show her over it. Would he take much longer in the restorations?
They were in an alley too narrow for three to walk abreast. Lord Blandamer had fallen behind, but was within earshot.
Westray answered quickly, without knowing what he was going to say. He was not sure about the restorations—that was, they certainly were not finished; in fact, they would take some time longer, but he would not be there, he believed, to superintend them. That was to say, he was giving up his present appointment.
He broke off, and Lady Blandamer knew that she had again selected an unfortunate subject. She dropped it, and hoped he would let them know when he was next at leisure, and come for a longer visit.
"I am afraid it will not be in my power to do so," Westray said; and then, feeling that he had given a curt and ungracious answer to a kindly-meant invitation, turned to her and explained with unmistakable sincerity that he was giving up his connection with Farquhar and Farquhar. This subject also was not to be pursued, so she only said that she was sorry, and her eyes confirmed her words.
Lord Blandamer was pained at what he had heard. He knew Farquhar and Farquhar, and knew something of Westray's position and prospects—that he had a reasonable income, and a promising future with the firm. This resolve must be quite sudden, a result of yesterday's interview. Westray was being driven out into the wilderness like a scapegoat with another man's guilt on his head. The architect was young and inexperienced. Lord Blandamer wished he could talk with him quietly. He understood that Westray might find it impossible to go on with the restoration at Cullerne, where all was being done at Lord Blandamer's expense. But why sever his connection with a leading firm? Why not plead ill-health, nervous breakdown, those doctor's orders which have opened a way of escape from impasses of the mind as well as of the body? An archæologic tour in Spain, a yachting cruise in the Mediterranean, a winter in Egypt—all these things would be to Westray's taste; the blameless herb nepenthe might anywhere be found growing by the wayside. He must amuse himself, and forget. He wished he could assure Westray that he would forget, or grow used to remembering; that time heals wounds of conscience as surely as it heals heart-wounds and flesh-wounds; that remorse is the least permanent of sentiments. But then Westray might not yet wish to forget. He had run full counter to his principles. It might be that he was resolved to take the consequences, and wear them like a hair-shirt, as the only means of recovering his self-esteem. No; whatever penance, voluntary or involuntary, Westray might undergo, Lord Blandamer could only look on in silence. His object had been gained. If Westray felt it necessary to pay the price, he must be let pay it. Lord Blandamer could neither inquire nor remonstrate. He could offer no compensation, because no compensation would be accepted.
The little party were nearing the house when a servant met them.
"There is a man come over from Cullerne, my lord," he said. "He is anxious to see Mr Westray at once on important business."
"Show him into my sitting-room, and say that Mr Westray will be with him immediately."
Westray met Lord Blandamer in the hall a few minutes later.
"I am sorry to say there is bad news from Cullerne," the architect said hurriedly. "Last night's gale has strained and shaken the tower severely. A very serious movement is taking place. I must get back at once."
"Do, by all means. A carriage is at the door. You can catch the train at Lytchett, and be in Cullerne by mid-day."
The episode was a relief to Lord Blandamer. The architect's attention was evidently absorbed in the tower. It might be that he had already found the blameless herb growing by the wayside.
The nebuly coat shone on the panel of the carriage-door. Lady Blandamer had noticed that her husband had been paying Westray special attention. He was invariably courteous, but he had treated this guest as he treated few others. Yet now, at the last moment, he had fallen silent; he was standing, she fancied, aloof. He held his hands behind him, and the attitude seemed to her to have some significance. But on Lord Blandamer's part it was a mark of consideration. There had been no shaking of hands up to the present; he was anxious not to force Westray to take his hand by offering it before his wife and the servants.
Lady Blandamer felt that there was something going on which she did not understand, but she took leave of Westray with special kindness. She did not directly mention the picture, but said how much they were obliged to him, and glanced for confirmation at Lord Blandamer. He looked at Westray, and said with deliberation:
"I trust Mr Westray knows how fully I appreciate his generosity and courtesy."
There was a moment's pause, and then Westray offered his hand. Lord Blandamer shook it cordially, and their eyes met for the last time.