"Ah, but do sing me just one song, now, Cousin Madelon—just here, before I go to sleep."
Still kneeling, with Madge's head nestling on her shoulder, Madelon began to sing a little half-gay, half-melancholy French romance of many verses. The tune seemed to grow more and more plaintive as it went on, a pathetic, monotonous chant, rising and falling. Before it was ended, Madge's hold had relaxed, her eyes were closed—she was sound asleep for the night. Madelon rose gently, kissed the honest, rosy, freckled face; and then, as if drawn by some invincible attraction, went back to the window.
Yes; they were still there, those two, not walking up and down now, but standing under the big tree at the end of the lawn still talking, as she could see by their gestures. "Ah, how happy they are!" thinks our Madelon again, forgetting the scene of the afternoon, her doubts, her half-formed suspicions—how happy they must be, Monsieur Horace, who loves Maria, Maria who is loved by Monsieur Horace, whilst she—why, it is she who loves Monsieur Horace, who has loved him since he rescued her, a little child, from loneliness and despair— she, who for all these years has had but one thought, Monsieur Horace, one object, Monsieur Horace, and who sees herself now shut out from such a bright, gleaming paradise, into such shivering outer darkness. Ah, she loved him—she loved him—she owned it to herself now, with a sudden burst of passion—and he was going away; he had no thought of her; his path in life lay along one road, and hers along another—a road how blank, how dreary, wrapped in what grey, unswerving mists.
"Ah, why must I live? Oh! that I could die—if I could only die!" cries the poor child passionately in her thoughts, stretching out her hands in her young impatience of life and suffering. "I love him—is it wrong? How can I help it? I loved him before I knew what it meant, I never knew till——"
She stopped suddenly, with a blush that seemed to set her cheeks all a-flame—she had never known till half-an-hour ago, when she had looked up and met his eyes for that one moment. Ah! why had he looked at her so? And she—oh, merciful heavens! had she betrayed herself? At the very thought Madelon started as if she had been stung. She turned from the window, she covered her face with her hands, and escaping swiftly, she fled to her own room, and throwing herself on the bed, buried her face in the pillow, to wrestle through her poor little tragedy of love, and self-consciousness, and despair.
And while Madelon is crying her heart out upstairs, this is what has been going on below. There had been an uncomfortable pause in the sitting-room after her swift retreat; Mrs. Vavasour neither moved nor spoke, Maria knitted diligently, and Graham stood gloomily staring down on the music-stool where Madelon had sat and sung, and looked up at him with that sudden gleam in her eyes, till, rousing himself, he walked through the open window, into the garden, across the lawn, to the shrubbery. He stood leaning over the little gate at the end of the path, looking over the broad moonlit field, where the scattered bushes cast strange fantastic shadows, and for the first time he admitted to himself that he had made a great, a terrible mistake in life, and he hated himself for the admission. What indeed were faith, and loyalty, and honour worth, if they could not keep him true to the girl whose love he had won five years ago, and to whom he was a thousand times pledged by every loving promise, every word of affection that had once passed between them? And yet, was this Maria to whom he had come back, this Maria so cold and indifferent, so alien from him in tastes, ideas, sympathies, was she indeed the very woman who had once won his heart, whom he had chosen as his life-long companion? How had it all been? He looked back into the past, to the first days after his return from the Crimea, when, wounded and helpless, worn out with toil and fever, he had come back to be tended by Englishwomen in an English home. A vision rose before him of a blooming girl with blue ribbons that matched blue eyes, who came and went about him softly through the long spring and summer days, arranging his cushions, fetching his books, and reading to him by the hour in gentle, unvarying tones. Yes, he understood well enough how it had all come to pass; but those days had gone by, and the Maria who had brightened them, was not she gone also? or rather, had she ever existed except in the eyes that had invested the kind girl-nurse with every perfection? And now what remained? Graham groaned as he bowed his head upon his crossed arms, and suddenly another vision flitted before him—a pale face, a slender form, a pair of brown eyes that seemed to grow out of the twilight, and look at him with a child's affection, a woman's passion—Graham was no boy, to be tossed about on the tempestuous waves of a first love; he had long held that there were things in life, to which love and courtship, marrying and giving in marriage, might be looked upon as quite subordinate—and yet he felt, at that moment, as if life itself would be a cheap exchange for one touch of the small hand that had clung so confidingly to his, years ago, for one more look into the eyes that had met his, scarcely ten minutes since.
Such a mood could not long endure in a man of Graham's stamp and habit of mind; and in a moment he had roused himself, and begun to walk slowly back towards the house. What he might feel could have no practical bearing on the matter one way or another, and feeling might therefore as well be put out of sight. He was bound to Maria by every tie of honour, and he was no man to break those ties—if she were disposed to hold by them. But was she indeed? Graham had not been blind to what had been going on round him during the last few weeks, and he felt that some explanation with Maria was due. Well, there should be an explanation, and if he found that she was still willing to hold to their engagement—why, then they would be married.
He went up to Maria, sitting at the window.
"It is very warm in-doors," he said; "suppose you come and take a turn in the garden."
"As you like," she answered; "I don't find it particularly warm;" but she laid down her work at once, and joined him in the garden.
They took two or three turns up and down the lawn in silence, till at last Graham, trying to speak cheerfully, said, "I had a letter this morning, Maria, that I want to consult you about, as it concerns you as well as me."
"Does it?" she said indifferently. "Well?"
"There is an opening for a physician at that winter place for invalids on the Mediterranean," said Graham, explaining, "and I have the offer of it; it would suit me very well, for the next year or two at any rate, and would enable us to marry at once; but my doubt, Maria, is, whether you would not object to leaving England."
"I don't see what that has to do with it," answered Maria, shortly and coldly. "Of course you will do what you think best."
"What I might think best in the abstract, Maria, is not the point; what I want to ascertain are your wishes in the matter."
"I should have thought you might have known already," she replied; "you are very well aware that, for years, it has been my wish that you should have this partnership with Dr. Vavasour."
"I am aware of it," he said, and paused. "Listen to me, Maria," he continued in a moment, "let me put the case fairly before you. If I accept Dr. Vavasour's offer, it closes, so to speak, my career. I shall be bound down to this country practice for life probably, for years at any rate, since, after making the arrangement, I could not feel justified in altering it again during Dr. Vavasour's lifetime. If, on the other hand, I go to L——, I shall be bound to no one, and free to take anything else that might suit me better."
"Go, then!" cried Maria, hastily, "I will not stand in your way. I should have thought, Horace, that after all these years, you would have been glad to look forward to a quiet home and a settled life; but I see it is different, so go to L——, and never mind me. If it becomes a question between me and your career, I should think your choice would not be a difficult one."
Her voice began to tremble, but she went on vehemently: "Why do you ask my opinion at all? It can make no difference to you; you have gone your own way these five years past without much regard for my wishes, one way or another; and since your return home, you have hardly spoken to me, much less consulted me——"
It was at that moment that Madelon, kneeling at Madge's bedside, began to sing, and the sound of her voice ringing through the open window of her little upper room, Graham involuntarily stopped, and lost the thread of Maria's speech. She perceived it at once.
"Ah! yes, that is it," she cried passionately, hardly knowing what she said. "Do you think I do not see, that I cannot understand? Do I not know who it is you care to listen to now, to talk to, to consult? Ask her what she thinks, ask Madeleine's advice——"
"Be silent!" cried Horace, with sudden anger, "I will not have Madeleine's name mentioned between us in that way. Forgive me, Maria," he went on, more calmly, "but this sort of talk is useless; though, if I cared to recriminate, I might perhaps ask you, how it happens that Mr. Morris comes here so frequently."
"Mr. Morris!" faltered Maria; "who told you——"
Her momentary indignation melted into tears and sobs; she turned, and put out her hand to Graham, as they stood together under the big plane-tree.
"Oh, Horace," she said, "I am very unhappy, and if you blame me, I cannot help it—I daresay I deserve it."
"My poor Molly," he answered, taking her hand in his. "Why should I blame you? and why are you unhappy? Let me help you— unless, indeed, I am altogether the cause of it all."
Meanwhile, Mrs. Vavasour, left all alone in the sitting-room, stitched away in the lamplight, looking out from time to time into the dewy garden, where the two figures were pacing up and down. The murmur of their voices reached her, and presently she also heard Madelon singing up above, and then the two went away out of hearing, and she could distinguish nothing in the silence but the rustling of her own work and the soft, inarticulate sounds of the early night. She could guess pretty well what the result of that talk would be. That very afternoon, going to Maria's room on her return home, she had found the girl in an agony of weeping, and had learnt from her that Mr. Morris had just made her an offer, and that she had been obliged to tell him that she was already engaged—and 'Oh! what could Mr. Morris think of her, and what would Horace think?' cried poor Maria, filled with remorse. And Mr. Morris cared for her so much; he had been so miserable when she had told him they must part, and said she was the only woman he had seen that he could care for; and that was the only reproach he had uttered, though she had treated him so badly. And Horace did not care for her one bit now—she could see it, she knew it, he was tired of her, and she was not clever enough for him, and would never make him a good wife. All this our little-reticent Maria had sobbed out in answer to Mrs. Vavasour's sympathising questions, with many entreaties to know what she had better do next. Mrs. Vavasour could only advise her to say to Horace just what she had said to her, and she had sufficient confidence in Maria's courage and good sense to trust that she would do so now, when matters had evidently come to a crisis. But it was with the keenest interest she awaited the end of their conversation.
She had not to wait very long. In a few minutes she saw Maria coming quickly across the lawn; she passed through the window and the room without looking up or speaking, and, with a little sob, disappeared. Graham followed more slowly, and sitting down by the table, moodily watched his sister's fingers moving rapidly to and fro.
"That is all over," he said at last.
"What is all over?" inquired Mrs. Vavasour.
"Everything between Maria and me. We have agreed upon one thing at last, at any rate."
"I am sure it is for the best, Horace," said Mrs. Vavasour, looking at him with her kind, gentle eyes.
"I don't see how anything should be for the best when one has behaved like a brute, and knows it," he answered, getting up, and beginning to walk up and down the room.
"Is it you who have been behaving like a brute, Horace? I cannot fancy that."
"I don't know why not," he answered gloomily; then, pausing in his walk, "No one knew of our engagement except ourselves and Aunt Barbara?" he asked.
"No one else was told."
"Well, then, no great harm is done, so far as gossip goes. You had better write to Aunt Barbara. I shall go abroad at once."
"To this town on the Mediterranean?"
"Yes, I shall write to-night to B——; and I will start by the seven o'clock train to-morrow morning for London. No one need get up; I will tell Jane to let me have some breakfast."
"We shall hear from you?"
"Yes, I will write when I am across the water. Good-bye."
He stooped down and kissed her as he spoke. She laid her hand on his arm, and detained him for a moment.
"Horace," she said, "you must not vex yourself to much about this; you and Maria have only discovered in time what numbers of people discover when it is too late—that you are not suited to each other. Believe me, it is far better to find it out before marriage than after."
"I daresay you are right," he said. "Don't be afraid, Georgie, I shall not vex myself too much, but at present the whole thing appears hateful to me, as far as I am concerned."
The next morning he was gone before any one of the family was stirring.
Er, der Herrlischste von Allen.
"Ashurst, July, 186—,
"Dear Uncle Horace,—Mamma has a bad headache, and says I am to write and ask you whether you have quite forgotten us, and if you are never coming to see us again. She says, cannot you come next week, because Lady Lorrimer's great ball is on the 31st. She and cousin Madelon are going, and she would be very glad if you could escort them, as papa says he will not go. Cousin Madelon is here still, and Aunt Barbara is coming on Monday to stay with us for a little while before she goes back with her to Cornwall. Cousin Madelon has been reading French with me, and giving me music-lessons. We had a pic-nic in the woods last week, and my holidays begin to-morrow. I wish you would come back, Uncle Horace, and then we could have some fun before Cousin Madelon goes away. I wish she would never go, but stay here always, as Maria used. I have been reading some of your book; mamma said I might, and I like it very much. Mamma sends her love, and I am
"Your affectionate niece,
"Mamma says that she received yesterday the note that I enclose, and that she sends it to you to read."
The note was from Maria Leslie, and was dated from a country- town whither she had gone to stay with some friends, shortly after Graham's departure from Ashurst.
"I feel that you are the first person to whom I should write the news that I am engaged to be married to Mr. Norris. He has just had the offer of a living in the north, and lost no time in coming to tell me of his prospects, and to invite me to share them. To you, who know him so well, I need say nothing of my own great happiness. I only fear that, after all that has passed, you may think I have been a little precipitate; but I could not but feel that something was due to Mr. Morris, and that it would be wrong to keep him in suspense. Send me you good wishes and congratulations, dear Georgie, for I cannot feel that my happiness is complete without them.
"Ever your affectionate,
Graham arrived by the last available train on the evening of the 31st, and was told by Madge, who came running into the hall to meet him, that Mamma and Cousin Madelon were dressing, and would Uncle Horace have some dinner, or go and dress too? Uncle Horace said he had dined already, and would dress at once, and so disappeared upstairs with his portmanteau.
When he came down to the drawing-room, he found Mrs. Treherne sitting alone in the summer twilight at the open window.
"Is that you, Horace?" she said, putting out her hand; "you are quite a stranger here, I understand. Georgie says she has been jealous of my seeing so much of you in London."
"I think Georgie has no right to complain of me," he answered; "if there is a thing on earth I hate it's a ball—are you going, too, Aunt Barbara?"
"Indeed, no—I think you will have enough to do with two ladies; here comes one of them."
A tall, slender figure, moving through the dusk with her soft trailing draperies, and water-lilies in her brown hair. Graham had not seen her since that evening, more than three months ago, when she had looked up at him, and escaped in the midst of her unfinished song. They took each other's hands in silence now; a sudden consciousness and embarrassment seemed to oppress them both, and make the utterance of a word impossible.
Madelon was the first to speak; she went up to Mrs. Treherne.
"Can you see my flowers, Aunt Barbara?" she said; "are they not pretty? Madge walked three miles to-day to the sedge ponds, on purpose to get them for me."
"Is Madge still your devoted friend?" Horace asked.
"Oh! yes, Madge and I are always great friends. I must not expect all her attentions though, now that you are come back, Monsieur Horace."
The old childish name seemed to break the spell, and to bring back the old familiarity.
"And so you are going to a ball at last, Madelon," Graham said. "For the first time in my life I am sorry I cannot dance, for I shall be deprived of the pleasure of having you for a partner."
"Thank you," she said, "I should have liked to have danced with you very much; but, after all, it is in the intention that is the greatest compliment, so I will not mind too much. I think I will be very happy even if I do not dance at all."
She looked up at him for the first time, and even in the dusk he seemed to see the light in her eyes, the smile on her lips, the colour flushing in her cheeks. It was not of the ball she was thinking—it was of him; she had felt the grasp of his kind hand, his voice was sounding in her hears, he has come back at last—at last.
"You have been away a long time, Monsieur Horace," she said softly, "but we have heard of you often; we have read your book, and the critiques upon it; it has been a great success, has it not? And then we have seen your name in the papers—at dinners, at scientific meetings——"
"Yes," said Graham, "I have been doing plenty of hard work lately; but I have come down into the country to be idle, and have some fun, as Madge would say. We will take our holidays together, will we not, Madge?" he added, as the child, followed by her mother, came into the room.
Lady Lorrimer's ball was the culminating point of a series of festivities given in honour of the coming of age of an eldest son. To ordinary eyes, I suppose, it was very like any other ball, to insure whose success no accessory is wanting that wealth and good taste can supply; but to our Madelon there was something almost bewildering in this scene at once familiar and so strange; in these big, lighted, crowded rooms; in this music, whose every beat seemed to rouse a thousand memories and associations, liking the present with the so remote past. As for Madelon herself, she made a success, ideal almost, as if she had indeed been the enchanted Princess of little Madge's fairy tale. Something rare in the style of her beauty— something in her foreign air and appearance, distinguished her at once in the crowd of girls; she was sought after from the moment she entered the room, and the biggest personages present begged for an introduction to Miss Linders. The girl was not insensible to her triumphs; her cheeks flushed, her eyes brightened with excitement and pleasure. Once, in a pause of the waltz, she was standing with her partner close to where Graham was leaning against a wall. He had an air of being horribly bored, as indeed he was; but Madelon's eye caught his, and he was obliged to smile in answer to her look of radiant pleasure.
"You are enjoying yourself, I see, Madelon," he said.
"I never was so happy!" she cried. "Ah! if you knew how I love dancing!—and it is so many years since I have had a waltz!"
Later on in the evening, Lady Lorrimer, the fashionable, gay, kind-hearted hostess, came up to her.
"Miss Linders," she said, "I have a favour to ask of you. My aunt, Lady Adelaide Spencer, is passionately fond of music, and Mrs. Vavasour has been telling us how beautifully you sing. Would it be too much to ask you for one song? It is not fair, I know, in the midst of a ball, but the next dance is only a quadrille, I see——"
"I shall be most happy," says Madelon, blushing up, and following Lady Lorrimer down a long corridor into a music- room. There were not above a dozen people present when she began to sing, but the room was quite full before she rose from the piano. She sang one song after another, as it was asked for—French, German, English. The excitement of the moment, the sense of triumph and success, seemed to fill her with a sort of exaltation; never had her voice been so true and powerful, her accent so pure, her expression so grand and pathetic; she sang as if inspired by the very genius of song.
"We must not be unconscionable, and deprive Miss Linders of all her dancing," said Lady Lorrimer at last—"you would like to go back to the ball-room now, would you not? But first let me introduce you to my aunt; she will thank you better than I can for your singing."
Lady Adelaide Spencer, the great lady of the neighbourhood, a short, stout, good-natured old woman in black velvet, and a grizzled front, gave Madelon a most flattering reception.
"Sit down and talk to me a little," she said. "I want to thank you again for your lovely voice and singing. It is not every young lady who would give up her dancing just for an old woman's caprice."
"Indeed I like singing as much as dancing," says Madelon.
"And you do both equally well, my dear; you may believe me when I tell you so, for I know what good dancing is, and I have been watching you all the evening. You must come and see me and sing to me again. You live with your aunt, Mrs. Treherne, Mrs. Vavasour tells me."
"Yes," replied Madelon.
"I knew Mrs. Treherne well years ago; tell her from me when you go home, that an old woman has fallen in love with her pretty niece, and ask her to bring you to see me. She is staying at Ashurst, I believe?"
"Yes," said Madelon, "we are both at Dr. Vavasour's house. I have been there all the spring and summer, and Aunt Barbara has come for a few weeks before we go home to Cornwall."
"Do you live always in Cornwall?" asked Lady Adelaide. "Have you never been abroad? Your French and German in singing were quite perfect, but you seem to me to speak English with a foreign accent, and a very pretty one too."
"I was born abroad," answered Madelon—"I spent all the first part of my life on the Continent. I have been in England only five years."
"Ah, that accounts for it all, then. What part of the Continent do you come from?"
"I was born in Paris," says unthinking Madelon, "but we—I travelled about a great deal; one winter I was in Florence, and another in Nice, but I know Germany and Belgium best. I was often at Wiesbaden, and Homburg, and Spa."
"Very pretty places, all of them," said Lady Adelaide, "but so shockingly wicked! It is dreadful to think of the company one meets there. Did you ever see the gambling tables, my dear? But I dare say not; you would of course be too young to be taken into such places."
"Yes, I have seen them," said Madelon, suddenly scarlet.
"My health obliges me to go to these baths from time to time," continued the old lady; "but the thought of what goes on in those Kursaals quite takes away any pleasure I might otherwise have; and the people who frequent the tables—the women and the men who go there night after night! I assure you my blood has run cold sometimes when one of those notorious gamblers has been pointed out to me, and I think of the young lives he may have ruined, the young souls he may have tempted to destruction. I myself have known some sad cases—I am sure you sympathise with me, Miss Linders?"
"Lady Adelaide," said a portly gentleman, coming up, "will you allow me to take you into supper?"
"You will not forget to come and see me, my dear," cried Lady Adelaide, with a parting wave of her fan as she moved away, leaving the girl sitting there, silent and motionless. People brushed by her as they left the room, but she paid no heed. Mrs. Vavasour spoke to her as she passed on her way to supper, but Madelon did not answer. All at once she sprang up, looking round as if longing to escape; as she did so, her eyes met Graham's; he was standing close to her, behind her chair, and something in his expression, something of sympathy, of compassion perhaps, made her cheeks flame, and her eyes fill with sudden tears of resentment and humiliation. He had heard them, he had heard every word that had been said, and he was pitying her! What right had he, what did she want with his compassion? She met his glance with one of defiance, and then turned her back upon him; she must remain where she was, she could not go out of the room alone, but, at any rate, he should not have the opportunity of letting her see that he pitied her.
Horace, however, who had in fact heard every word of the conversation, and perhaps understood Madelon's looks well enough, came up to her, as she stood alone, watching the people stream by her out of the room.
"There is supper going on somewhere," he said; "will you come and have some, or shall I bring you an ice here?"
"Neither," she answered, quickly. "I—I don't want anything, and I would rather stay here."
"Perhaps you are right," he said. "We shall have the room to ourselves in a minute, and then it will be cooler."
In fact, the room was nearly deserted—almost every one had gone away to supper. Madelon stood leaning against the window, half hidden by the curtain; the sudden gleam of defiance, of resentment against Horace, had faded; it had vanished at the sound of his kind voice, which she loved better than any other in the world. But there were tears of passion still in her eyes; her little moment of joyousness and triumph had been so cruelly dashed from her; she felt hurt, humiliated, almost exasperated.
"How hot it is!" she said, glancing round impatiently. "Where is every one gone? Cannot we go too? No, not in to supper. What is going on in that little room? I have not been there."
"It leads into the garden, I think," answered Graham. "Shall we see? Wait a moment. I will fetch you a shawl, and then, if you like, we can go out."
He strode off quickly. There was vexation and perplexity in his kind heart too. He understood well enough how the girl had been wounded—his little Madelon, for whom it would have seemed a small thing to give his right hand, could such a sacrifice have availed her aught. And he could do nothing. His compassion insulted her, his interference she would have resented; no, he could do nothing to protect his little girl. So he thought as he made his way into the cloak-room to extract a shawl. He was going his way in the world, and she hers, and she might be suffering, lonely, unprotected, for aught that he could do, unless—unless——
"Those cloaks belong to Lady Adelaide's party," cried the maid, as Graham recklessly seized hold of one in a bundle. "You must not take those, sir; Lady Adelaide will be going immediately."
"Confound the cloaks, and Lady Adelaide too!" cried Graham, impatiently. "Here, give me something—anything. Where is Miss Linders' shawl? Which are Mrs. Vavasour's things?"
Madelon had stood still for a moment after Horace had left her, and then, as he did not immediately return, she left her station behind the window-curtain, and began walking up and down the room. "How tired I am!" she thought wearily. "Will this evening never end? Oh! I wish I have never come. I wish I were going away somewhere, anywhere, so that I should never see or hear again of anybody, that knows anything about me. Why cannot we go home? It must be very late. I wonder what time it is? Perhaps there is a clock in here."
The door of the room which Graham had said led into the garden stood ajar; she pushed it open, and went in. It was a small room, with a glass door at the further end, and on this evening had been arranged for cards, so that Madelon, on entering, suddenly found herself in the midst of green-baize- covered tables, lighted candles, packs of cards, and a dozen or so of silent, absorbed gentlemen, intent upon the trumps and honours, points and odd tricks. The girl, already excited, and morbidly susceptible, stopped short at this spectacle, as one struck with a sudden blow. Not for years, not since that evening the memory of which ever came upon her with a sudden sting, when she had met Monsieur Horace at the gambling-tables of Spa, had Madelon seen a card; Mrs. Treherne never had them in her house; in those little parties of which mention has been made as her only dissipation, they had formed no part of the entertainment, and the sight of them now roused a thousand tumultuous emotions of pain and pleasure. A thousand associations attached themselves to those little bits of pasteboard, whose black and red figures seemed to dance before her eyes—recollections of those early years with their for- ever-gone happiness, of her father, of happy evenings that she, an innocent, unconscious child, had passed at his side, building houses with old packs of cards, or spinning the little gold pieces that passed backwards and forwards so freely. She was happy then, happier than she could ever be again, she thought despairingly, now that she had been taught so sore a knowledge of good and evil. The last evening of her father's life came suddenly before her; she seemed to hear again his last words to herself, to see the scene with Legros, the cards tumbling in a heap on the floor, his dying face. A kind of terror seized her, and she stood gazing as though fascinated at the dozen respectable gentlemen dealing their cards and marking their games, till Graham's step and voice aroused her.
"Here is your shawl, Madelon," he said, putting it round her shoulders; "did you think I was ever coming? That woman——"
He stopped short in his speech; she turned round and looked at him with her white, scared face, her wide-open, brown eyes, as if she had seen a ghost. Ghosts enough, indeed, our poor Madelon had seen during these last five minutes; but they were not visible to Graham, who stood sufficiently astonished and alarmed, as she turned abruptly away again, and disappeared through the glass door into the garden.
"Stay, Madelon!" he cried and followed her out into the night.
It was raining, he found, as soon as he got outside. The garden had been prettily illuminated with coloured lamps hung along the verandah, and amongst the trees and shrubs, but they were nearly all extinguished now. It was a bleak mournful night, summer time though it was, the wind moaning and sighing, the rain falling steadily. Graham, as he passed quickly along the sodden path, had a curious sensation of having been through all this before; another sad, rainy night came to his mind, a lighted street, a dark avenue, and a little passionate figure flying before him, instead of the tall, white one who moved swiftly on now, and finally disappeared beneath the long shoots of climbing plants that overhung a sort of summer-house at the end of a walk. The lamps were not all extinguished here; the wet leaves glistened as the wind swept the branches to and fro, and Horace, as he entered, could see Madelon sitting by the little table, trembling and shivering, her hair all blown about and shining in the uncertain light. What had suddenly come over her? Graham was fairly perplexed.
"Madelon," he said, going up to her, "what is the matter? has anything happened, or any one vexed you?"
"Non, non," she cried, jumping up impatiently, and speaking in French as she sometimes did when excited, "je n'ai rien—rien du tout; leave me, Monsieur Horace, I beg of you! How you weary me with your questions! I was rather hot, and came here for a little fresh air. That was all."
"You are cooler now," said graham, as she stood drawing her shawl round her, her teeth chattering.
"Yes," she said, with a little shiver, "it is rather cold here, and damp; it is raining, is it not? Let us go back and dance. I adore dancing; it was papa who first taught it to me; do you know, Monsieur Horace? He taught me a great many things."
"You had better not dance any more," said Graham, taking her little burning hand in his. "You are overheated already, and will catch cold."
She snatched away her hand impatiently.
"Ah! do not touch me!" she cried. "Let us go—why do we stay here? I do not want your prescriptions, Monsieur Horace. I will go and dance."
"Wait a minute," said Graham; "let me wrap your shawl closer round you, or you will be wet through: it is pouring with rain."
The friendly voice and action went to her heart, and seemed to reproach her for her harsh, careless words. They walked back in silence to the house; but when they reached the empty music-room again, she put both hands on his arm with an imploring gesture, as if to detain him.
"Don't go—don't leave me!" she said; "I am very wicked, Monsieur Horace, but—"
And then she dropped down on to a seat in the deep recess formed by the window.
The sight of her unhappiness touched Graham's heart with a sharper pang than anything else had power to do. He loved her so—this poor child—he would have warded off all unhappiness, all trouble from her life; and there she sat miserable before him, and it seemed to him he could not raise a finger to help her.
"You are not happy, Madelon," he said, at length. "Can I do nothing to help you?"
She raised her head and looked at him.
"Nothing, nothing!" she cried. "Ah, forgive me, Monsieur Horace, for speaking so to you; but you do not know, you cannot understand how unhappy I am."
"Buy why, Madelon? What is it? Has any one spoken unkindly to you?"
"No, no, it is not that. You do not understand. Why do you come to me here? Why am I here at all? If people knew who and what I am, would they talk to me as they do? Supposing I had told Lady Adelaide just now—yes, you heard every word of that conversation—she would have despised me, as you pitied me, Monsieur Horace. Yes, you pitied me; I saw it in your eyes."
"My pity is not such as you need resent, Madelon," said Graham, with a sigh.
"I do not resent it," she answered hastily. "You are kind, you are good; you do well to pity me. What al I? The daughter of a—a—yes, I know well enough now—I did not once, but I do now— and I am here in your society, amongst you all, on sufferance."
"You are wrong," answered Graham quickly, scarcely thinking of what he said. "In the first place, it can make no difference to any one that knows you who your father was; and then you are here as Mrs. Treherne's niece——"
"I am my father's daughter!" cried Madelon, blazing up, "and I must not own it. Yes, yes, I understand it all. As Mrs. Treherne's niece I may be received; but not as—— Oh, papa, papa!" her voice suddenly breaking down, "why did you die? why did you leave me all alone?"
Graham stood silent. He felt so keenly for her; he had so dreaded for her the time when this knowledge of her father's true character must come home to her. In his wide sympathy with everything connected with her, he had regrets of that poor father also, dead years ago, who in his last hours had so plainly foreseen some such moment as this, and yet not quite, either.
"Monsieur Horace," Madelon went on wildly, "I did so love papa, and he loved me—ah, you cannot imagine how much! When I think of it now, when I see other fathers with their children, how little they seem to care for them in comparison, I wonder at his love for me. He nursed me, he played with me, he took such care of me, he made me so happy. I think sometimes if I could only hear his voice once more, and see him smiling at me as he used to smile—and I must not speak of him, I must not even mention him. It is unjust, it is cruel. I do not want to live with people who will not let me think of my father."
"You may speak of him to me, Madelon——"
"To you?" she said, interrupting him; "ah, you knew him—you know how he loved me. But Aunt Barbara—she will not let me even mention his name."
"Then she is very wrong and very foolish," Graham answered hastily. "Listen to me, Madelon. You are making yourself miserable for nothing. To begin with, if everybody in the room to-night knew who your father was, and all about him, I don't suppose it would make the least difference; and as for the rest, you have no occasion to concern or distress yourself about anything in your father's life, except what relates to yourself. Whatever he may have been to others, he was the kindest and most loving of fathers to you, and that is all you need think about."
"But Aunt Barbara——"
"Never mind Aunt Barbara. If she chooses to do what you and I think foolish we will not follow her example. You may talk to me, Madelon, as much as ever you please. I should like to hear about your father, for I know how often you think of him. Now, will you go back to the ball-room? I give you leave to dance now," he added, smiling.
She did not move nor answer, but she looked up at him with a sudden change in her face, and he saw that she was trembling.
"What is it now, Madelon?" he said.
"You are so good," she said. "When I am unhappy, you always comfort me—it has always been so——"
"Do I comfort you?" said Graham—"why, that is good news, Madelon."
"Ah! yes," she cried, in her impulsive way, "you have always been good to me—how can I forget it? That night when papa died, and I was so unhappy all alone—and since then, how often—"
Graham turned away, and walked twice up and down the room. There was a distant sound of music, and footsteps, and voices, but people had drifted away into the ball-room again, and they were alone. He came back to where Madelon was sitting.
"If you think so, indeed, Madelon," he said, "will you not let it be so always? Do you think you can trust me enough to let me always take care of you? I can ask for nothing dearer in life."
"What do you mean?" she cried, glancing up at him startled.
"Do you not understand?" he said, looking at her, and taking one her little hands in his—"do you not understand that one may have a secret hidden away for years, and never suspected even by oneself, perhaps, till all at once one discovers it? I think I must have had some such secret, Madelon, and that I never guessed at it till a few months since, when I found a little girl that I knew years ago, grown up into somebody that I love better than all the world——"
"Ah! stop!" she cried, jumping up, and pulling her hand away. "You are good and kind, but it is not possible that you—ah! Monsieur Horace, I am not worthy!"
"Not worthy! Good heavens, Madelon, you not worthy!" He paused for a moment. "What is not possible?" he went on. "Perhaps I am asking too much. I am but a battered old fellow in these days, I know, and if, indeed, you cannot care enough for me——"
He held out his hand again with a very kind smile. She looked up at him.
"Monsieur Horace," she said, "I—I do—"
And then she put both hands into his with her old, childish gesture, and I daresay the little weary spirit thought it had found its rest at last.
Mrs. Treherne's Forgiveness.
Mrs. Treherne was sitting in the drawing-room of her London house. The window was open to the hot dusty street, long shadows lay upon the deserted pavement, the opposite houses were all closed, and no sound disturbed the stillness of the September evening but the shouts of the children, as they played up and down the steps, and under the porticoes of the houses, and the bells of the Westminster clocks chiming one quarter after another. Through the half-drawn curtains that hung between the two drawing-rooms she could see Graham and Madelon sitting together, looking out upon the Park, as they talked in low tones, and a sudden sadness filled her heart. They were to be married next week, and go abroad at once, whilst she returned to Cornwall; and the even current of a lonely life, that had been stirred and altered in its course five years ago, would return to its original channel, to be disturbed, perhaps, no more.
It was of these five years that Mrs. Treherne was thinking now, and of others, perhaps, beyond them again, when she too had been young, and beloved, and happy. There are some lives which, in their even tenour of mild happiness, seem to glide smoothly from one scattered sorrow to another, so that to the very end some of the hopefulness and buoyancy of youth are retained; but there are others in which are concentrated in one brief space those keen joys and keener sorrows that no one quite survives, which, in passing over us take from us our strongest vitality, our young capacity for happiness and suffering alike. Such a life had been Mrs. Treherne's. She had been a woman of deep affections and passions, and they all lay buried in those early years that had taken from her husband, and children, and friend, and it was only a dim shadow of her former self that moved, and spoke, and lived in these latter days.
It was an old story with her now, however. She did not envy these two happy people who were talking together in the next room. It was of Madelon she was thinking most, thinking sadly enough that in all these years she had not been able to win the girl's heart. When she had first seen the child of the friend who in all the world had been most dear to her, she had promised herself that, for Magdalen's sake, she would take her home and bring her up as her own daughter; and she had kept her promise, but she had failed in making her happy. She knew it now, when she contrasted the Madelon of to-day, going about with the light in her eyes, and the glad ring in her voice, with the Madelon of six months ago. She had not been able to make her happy, and she would leave her without a regret; and the thought gave Mrs. Treherne a sharper pang than she had felt for many a day.
And meanwhile this was what Madelon was saying,—
"In another month, Madelon," Graham had said to her, "we shall be at L——, and you will be looking out on the blue skies that you have so often longed for."
"Yes," she replied, "and then perhaps I shall be thinking of the grey ones I have left behind; I shall be sorry to leave England after all. I will pay your country so much of a compliment as that, Monsieur Horace, or rather I shall be sorry to leave some of the English people—Aunt Barbara, I do not like to think of her alone; she will miss me, she says."
"I should not wonder if she did, Madelon."
"I do not know why she should; I think I have been ungrateful to her; she has been so good, so kind to me, why have I not been able to love her more? Where should I have been if she had not taken care of me? and such care! If I lived to be a hundred I could never repay all she has done, and now I am going away to be happy, and she will be lonely and sad."
"We will ask her to come and see us, some day, at L——. I saw a house when I was there, that would suit us exactly, and it has a room, which shall be sometimes for Aunt Barbara, sometimes for Madge. It has an open gallery, and an outside staircase leading down to the garden, which will delight Madge's small mind."
"Like my room at Le Trooz," cried Madelon. "Ah! how glad I am that you can go there first, and that I shall see Jeanne-Marie again; if only we do not find her ill—it is so long since I have heard from her, and she used to write so regularly."
"For my part," said Graham, "I wish to see the hotel at Chaudfontaine, where I first met a small person who was very rude to me, I remember."
"And your wish will not be gratified, sir, for the season will be over by next month and the hotel closed for the winter. I am sorry for that, but I wonder you can wish to see a place where any one was rude to you—now with me of course it is different."
"In what way, Madelon?"
"Ah! that I will not tell you—but we will go to the convent at Liege, Monsieur Horace; I would like to see Soeur Lucie again. Poor Soeur Lucie—but it is sad to think that she is always there making her confitures—there are so many other things to be done in the world."
"Joining a marching regiment," she said, looking at him half- laughing, half-shyly. "Monsieur Horace, where will you go when you are tired of L——? You will be tired of it some day, I know, and so shall I. Where will you go next?"
"I don't know," he answered; "you see, Madelon, in taking a wife, I undertake a certain responsibility; I can't go marching about the world as if I were a single man."
"You don't mean that!" she cried, "if I thought you meant that, I—I—ah, why do you tease me?" she added, as Graham could not help laughing, "you know you promised me I should go with you everywhere. I am very strong, I love travelling, I want to see the world. Where will you go? To America again? I will adopt the customs and manners of any country; I will dress in furs with a seal-skin cap, and eat blubber like an Esquimau, or turn myself into an Indian squaw; would you like to have me for a squaw, Monsieur Horace? I would lean all their duties; I believe they carry their husband's game, and never speak till they are spoken to. My ideas are very vague. But I would learn—ah, yes, I could learn anything."
Mrs. Treherne was still sitting, thinking her sad thoughts when she felt an arm passed round her neck, and turning round, saw Madelon kneeling at her side. "Horace has gone out," she said; "we have been talking over our plans, Aunt Barbara; we have settled quite now that we will first go to Liege and Le Trooz, and see Jeanne-Marie, and then go on to the south. It is good of Monsieur Horace to go to Liege, for it is all to please me, and it is quite out of his way."
"And you go on to L—— afterwards? You will be glad to find yourself abroad again, Madeleine."
"Yes," she said, hesitating; "but I shall be sorry to leave you, Aunt Barbara."
"Will you, my dear? I am afraid, Madeleine, that I have not made you very happy, though I have only found it out in these last few weeks."
"Aunt Barbara, how can you say such a thing?" cried Madelon. "What have you not done for me? Why, I could never, never thank you for it all; it is for that—because it is so much— that I cannot say more. One cannot use the same words that one does for ordinary things."
"I know, my dear," said Mrs. Treherne, smoothing the girl's hair, "but nevertheless I have not made you happy, and I now know the reason why. Yes, I have been talking to Horace, and I understand your feeling; and if it were all to come again, perhaps I might act differently; but it is too late now, and it matters little, since you are happy at last."
"Aunt Barbara, I have been happy——"
"You see, Madeleine, your mother was my very dearest friend; all your love has been for your father, and that is only natural; but some day, perhaps, you will understand what a mother might have been to you, and then, my dear, you will care for me also a little, knowing how dearly I loved yours."
"I know," said Madelon, "and I do love you, Aunt Barbara, but I must always care for papa most of all."
"I know, my dear; it is only natural, and from what Horace tells me, he must have deserved your love." And with those words, Mrs. Treherne in some sort forgave the man who had been the one hatred of her life, and won the heart of the girl beside her.
"Aunt Barbara," she cried again, "I do love you." And this time Mrs. Treherne believed her.
The hotel at Chaudfontaine was closed for the winter. Every window in the big white building was shuttered, every door barred; the courtyard was empty; not a footstep, nor a voice was resounded. Nevertheless, an open carriage from Liege stopped in front of the gate, and two people getting out, proceeded to look through the iron bars of the railing.
"Was I not right?" said Madelon. "I told you, Horace, it would be closed for the winter, and so it is."
"I don't care in the least," he replied. "If it affords me any gratification, Madelon, to look through the railings into that courtyard, I don't see why I should not have it."
"Oh! by all means," she answered; "but it is just a little tame, is it not?—for a sentimental visit, to be looking through these iron bars."
"That is the very place where I sat," said Graham, not heeding her, "and took you on my knee."
"I don't remember anything about it, Monsieur Horace——"
"Well, perhaps—you gave me a fish, I remember—it was the fish that won my heart; and I have it still, you see."
"Oh! then, your heart was won?"
"A little," she answered, glancing up at him for a moment; and then, moving on, she said, "See here, Horace, this is the hawthorn bush under which I slept that morning after I had run away from the convent. How happy I was to have escaped! I remember standing at this gate afterwards eating my bread, and that dreadful woman came out of the hotel."
"Is there no way of getting in?" said Graham, shaking the gate.
"None, I am afraid," Madelon answered. "Stay, there used to be a path that led round at the back across a little bridge into the garden. Perhaps we might get in that way."
They were again disappointed; they found the path, and the wooden bridge that crossed the stream, but another closed gate prevented their entering the garden.
"This, however, becomes more and more interesting," said Graham, after looking at the spot attentively. "Yes, this is the very place, Madelon, where I first saw you with a doll in your arms."
"Really!" she said.
"Yes, really; and then some one—your father, I think—called you away."
They were silent for a minute, looking at the trees, the shrubs, the grass growing all rough and tangled in the deserted garden.
"We must go," Graham said at last; "it is getting late, Madelon, and we have to drive back to Liege, remember, after we have seen Jeanne-Marie."
They got into the carriage again, and drove on towards Le Trooz, along the valley under the hills, all red and brown with October woods, beside the river, gleaming between green pastures in the low afternoon sun. They had arrived at Liege the day before, and that morning was to have been devoted to visiting the convent; but the convent was gone. On inquiry, they learnt that the nuns had removed to another house ten miles distant from Liege, and on the hills where the old farm- house, the white, low-roofed convent had once stood so peacefully, a great iron-foundry was smoking and spouting fire day and night, covering field and garden with heaps of black smouldering ashes.
"How places and things change!" said Madelon, as they drove along; "we have had two disappointments to-day—shall we have a third, I wonder? Supposing Jeanne-Marie should have gone to live in another house? Ah! how glad I shall be to see her again!—and she will be pleased to see me, I know."
As she spoke, the scattered houses, the church, the white cottages of Le Trooz came in sight. Madelon checked the driver as they approached the little restaurant, the first house in the village, and she and Graham got out of the carriage. The bench still stood before the door, the pigeons were flying about, and the bee-hives were on their stand, but the blue board was gone from the white wall, and the place had a deserted look.
"It is strange," said Madelon. She pushed open the door that stood ajar, and went into the little public room; it was empty; the table shoved away into one corner, the chairs placed against the wall—no signs of the old life and occupation.
"Can Jeanne-Marie have gone away, do you think?" said Madelon, almost piteously. "I am sure she cannot be here."
"I will inquire," said Graham.
He went out into the road, and stopped a little girl of ten or twelve years, who was walking towards the village with a pitcher of water.
"Do you know whether the woman who lived in this house has left?" he asked. "Jeanne-Marie she was called, I think?"
The child stared up at the strange gentleman with the foreign accent:
"Jeanne-Marie that used to live here?" she said. "She is dead."
"Dead?" cried Madelon. The tears came rushing into her eyes. "Ah! why did I not know? I would have come if I had known. When did she die?"
"More than a month ago," the girl answered; "she died here in this house."
"And who lives here now?" inquired Graham.
"Jacques Monnier—he that works at the factory now. He is out all day; but his wife should be here."
And in fact, at the sound of the voices, the door leading into the kitchen opened, and a young woman appeared.
"Pardon," said Madelon, going forward; "we came here to inquire for Jeanne-Marie; but she—she is dead, we hear."
"Yes, she is dead," the woman replied; then, in answer to further questions, told how Jeanne-Marie, when she was taken ill, had refused to let any one be written to, or sent for; and had died alone at last with no one near her but a hired nurse. "She left enough money for her burial, and to have a wooden cross put on her grave," said the woman, "and asked M. le Cure to see that all her things were sold, and the money given to the poor."
"Is she buried here?" said Madelon. "Horace, I should like to see her grave."
"Louise, there, can show it to you," says Madame Monnier, pointing to the child; "run home with your water, ma petite, and then come back and show Monsieur and Madame the road to the churchyard."
"And I have a favour to beg," said Madelon, turning to the woman again. "I knew Jeanne-Marie well; she was very kind to me at one time. Might I see the room in which she died? It is upstairs, is it not, with the window opening on to the steps leading into the garden?"
The woman consented civilly enough, concealing any astonishment she might feel at this tall, beautiful lady, who had come to inquire after Jeanne-Marie; and Madelon left Graham below, and went up alone to the little bed-room, where she had spent so many hours. It was hardly altered. The bed stood in the old place; the vines clustered round the window. Madelon's heart was full of sorrow; she had loved Jeanne-Marie so much, and more and more perhaps, as years went on, and she had learnt to understand better all that the woman had done for her—and she had died alone—she who had saved her life.
When she came down again Louise had reappeared, and was waiting to conduct them to the churchyard. The child went on in front, and they followed her in silence down the village street. It was already evening, the sun had sunk behind the hills; the men were returning from their work; the children were playing and shouting, and the women stood gossiping before their doors. All was life and animation in the little village, where a strange, silent woman had once passed to and fro, with deeds and words of kindness for the suffering and sorrowful, but who would be seen there no more.
"There is the grave," says Louise, pointing it out to them. It was in a corner of the little graveyard; the earth was still fresh over it, and the black cross at its head was one of the newest amongst the hundred similar ones round about. Graham dismissed the child with a gratuity, and he and Madelon went up to the grave. There was no name, only the initials J. M. R. painted on the cross beneath the three white tears, and the customary "Priez pour elle!" Some one had hung up a wreath of immortelles, and a rose-tree, twined round a neighbouring cross, had shed its petals above Jeanne-Marie's head.
Madelon knelt down and began to pull out some weeds that had sprung up, whilst Graham stood looking on. Long afterwards, one might fancy, would that hour still live in his memory—the peaceful stillness brooding over the little graveyard, the sunset sky, the sheltering hills, the scent of the falling roses, and Madelon, in her dark dress, kneeling by the grave. Her task was soon accomplished, but she knelt on motionless. Who shall say of what she was thinking? Something perhaps of the real meaning of life, of its great underlying sadness, ennobled by patient suffering, by unselfish devotion, for presently she turned round to Graham.
"Oh, Horace," she said, "help me to be good; I am not, you know, but I would like to be——and you will help me."
"My little Madelon!" he raised her up, he took her in his arms. "We will both try to be good, with God's help. The world is all before us, to work in, and do our best—we will do what we can; with God's help, I say, we will do what we can."
They drove swiftly back towards Liege; the air blew freshly in their faces, the sunset colours faded, the stars came out one by one. As they vanish from our sight, they seem to fade into the mysterious twilight land. For them, as for us, other suns will rise, other days will dawn, but we shall have no part in them; between them and us falls the darkness of eternal separation.
PRINTING OFFICE OF THE PUBLISHER.
Typographical errors silently corrected by the transcriber :
Part 1 chapter 3 : Ou est-il donc, ce petit drole? silently corrected as Ou est-il donc, ce petit drole?
Part 1 chapter 3 : ton pere nous attends silently corrected as ton pere nous attend
Part 1 chapter 5 : large porte-cocheres at intervals silently corrected as large portes-cocheres at intervals
Part 1 chapter 5 : went to the grande messe silently corrected as went to the grand' messe
Part 1 chapter 5 : for a late dejeuner silently corrected as for a late dejeuner
Part 2 chapter 4 : bursts of passionate crying? silently corrected as bursts of passionate crying.
Part 2 chapter 8 : Ecoutes, Madelon silently corrected as Ecoute, Madelon
Part 2 chapter 11 : his late dejeuner silently corrected as his late dejeuner
Part 2 chapter 12 : quite irrevelant silently corrected as quite irrelevant
Part 2 chapter 14 : said so many things; silently corrected as said so many things,
Part 3 chapter 2 : he said, but one of the children silently corrected as he said, "but one of the children
Part 3 chapter 3 : but she is; without exception silently corrected as but she is, without exception
Part 3 chapter 4 : je m'etouffe ici silently corrected as j'etouffe ici
Part 3 chapter 5 : aret hey not pretty silently corrected as "are they not pretty
Part 3 chapter 5 : "Yes, you pitied me silently corrected as Yes, you pitied me
Part 3 chapter 6 : like an Esquimaux silently corrected as like an Esquimau
Part 3 chapter 7 : lived in this house has left! silently corrected as lived in this house has left?