"Oh, yes!" she answered; "I spent three months there once, and this place is like it."
"Was it a happy time?" I inquired, jealous of those tears.
"It was a hateful time," she said, vehemently. "Don't let us talk of it. I hate to remember it. Why cannot we forget things, Dr. Martin? You, who are so clever, can tell me that."
"That is simple enough," I said, smiling. "Every circumstance of our life makes a change in the substance of the brain, and, while that remains sound and in vigor, we cannot forget. To-day is being written on our brain now. You will have to remember this, Olivia."
"I know I shall remember it," she answered, in a low tone.
"You have travelled a great deal, then?" I pursued, wishing her to talk about herself, for I could scarcely trust my resolution to wait till we were out of the caves. "I love you with all my heart and soul" was on my tongue's end.
"We travelled nearly all over Europe," she replied.
I wondered whom she meant by "we." She had never used the plural pronoun before, and I thought of that odious woman in Guernsey—an unpleasant recollection.
We had wandered back to the opening where Tardif had left us. The rapid current between us and Breckhou was running in swift eddies, which showed the more plainly because the day was calm, and the open sea smooth. Olivia stood near me; but a sort of chilly diffidence had crept over me, and I could not have ventured to press too closely to her, or to touch her with my hand.
"How have you been content to live here?" I asked.
"This year in Sark has saved me," she answered, softly.
"What has it saved you from?" I inquired, with intense eagerness. She turned her face full upon me, with a world of reproach in her gray eyes.
"Dr. Martin," she said, "why will you persist in asking me about my former life? Tardif never does. He never implies by a word or look that he wishes to know more than I choose to tell. I cannot tell you any thing about it."
I felt uncomfortably that she was drawing a comparison unfavorable to me between Tardif and myself—the gentleman, who could not conquer or conceal his desire to fathom a mystery, and the fisherman, who acted as if there were no mystery at all. Yet Olivia appeared more grieved than offended; and when she knew how I loved her she would admit that my curiosity was natural. She should know, too, that I was willing to take her as she was, with all the secrets of her former life kept from me. Some day I would make her own I was as generous as Tardif.
Just then my ear caught for the first time a low boom-boom, which had probably been sounding through the caves for some minutes.
"Good Heavens!" I ejaculated.
Yet a moment's thought convinced me that, though there might be a little risk, there was no paralyzing danger. I had forgotten the narrowness of the gully through which alone we could gain the cliffs. From the open span of beach where we were now standing, there was no chance of leaving the caves except as we had come to them, by a boat; for on each side a crag ran like a spur into the water. The comparatively open space permitted the tide to lap in quietly, and steal imperceptibly higher upon its pebbles. But the low boom I heard was the sea rushing in through the throat of the narrow outlet through which lay our only means of escape. There was not a moment to lose. Without a word, I snatched up Olivia in my arms, and ran back into the caves, making as rapidly as I could for the long, straight passage.
Neither did Olivia speak a word or utter a cry. We found ourselves in a low tunnel, where the water was beginning to flow in pretty strongly. I set her down for an instant, and tore off my coat and waistcoat. Then I caught her up again, and strode along over the slippery, slimy masses of rock which lay under my feet, covered with seaweed.
"Olivia," I said, "I must have my right hand free to steady myself with. Put both your arms round my neck, and cling to me so. Don't touch my arms or shoulders."
Yet the clinging of her arms about my neck, and her cheek close to mine, almost unnerved me. I held her fast with my left arm, and steadied myself with my right. We gained in a minute or two the mouth of the tunnel. The drift was pouring into it with a force almost too great for me, burdened as I was. But there was the pause of the tide, when the waves rushed out again in white floods, leaving the water comparatively shallow. There were still six or eight yards to traverse before we could reach an archway in the cliffs, which would land us in safety in the outer caves. Across this small space the tide came in strongly, beating against the foot of the rocks, and rebounding with great force. There was some peril; but we had no alternative. I lifted Olivia a little higher against my shoulder, for her long serge dress wrapped dangerously around us both; and then, waiting for the pause in the throbbing of the tide, I dashed hastily across.
One swirl of the water coiled about us, washing up nearly to my throat, and giving me almost a choking sensation of dread; but before a second could swoop down upon us I had staggered half-blinded to the arch, and put down Olivia in the small, secure cave within it. She had not spoken once. She did not seem able to speak now. Her large, terrified eyes looked up at me dumbly, and her face was white to the lips. I clasped her in my arms once more, and kissed her forehead and lips again and again in a paroxysm of passionate love and gladness.
"Thank God!" I cried. "How I love you, Olivia!"
I had told her only a few minutes before that the brain is ineffaceably stamped with the impress of every event in our lives. But how much more deeply do some events burn themselves there than others' I see it all now—more clearly, it seems to me, than my eyes saw it then. There is the huge, high entrance to the outer caves where we are standing, with a massive lintel of rocks overhead, all black but for a few purple and gray tints scattered across the blackness. Behind us the sea is glistening, and prismatic colors play upon the cliffs. Shadows fall from rocks we cannot see. Olivia stands before me, pale and terrified, the water running from her heavy dress, which clings about her slender figure. She shrinks away from me a pace or two.
"Hush!" she cries, in a tone of mingled pain and dread—"hush!"
There was something so positive, so prohibitory in her voice and gesture, that my heart contracted, and a sudden chill of despondency ran through me. But I could not be silent now. It was impossible for me to hold my peace, even at her bidding.
"Why do you say hush?" I asked, peremptorily. "I love you, Olivia. Is there any reason why I should not love you?"
"Yes," she said, very slowly and with quivering lips. "I was married four years ago, and my husband is living still!"
CHAPTER THE THIRTIETH.
A GLOOMY ENDING.
Olivia's answer struck me like an electric shock. For some moments I was simply stunned, and knew neither what she had said, nor where we were.
I suppose half a minute had elapsed before I fairly received the meaning of her words into my bewildered brain. It seemed as if they were thundering in my ears, though she had uttered them in a low, frightened voice. I scarcely understood them when I looked up and saw her leaning against the rock, with her hands covering her face.
"Olivia!" I cried, stretching out my arms toward her, as though she would flutter back to them and lay her head again where it had been resting upon my shoulder, with her face against my neck.
But she did not see my gesture, and the next moment I knew that she could never let me hold her in my arms again. I dared not even take one step nearer to her.
"Olivia," I said again, after another minute or two of troubled silence, with no sound but the thunders of the sea reverberating through the perilous strait where we had almost confronted death together—"Olivia, is it true?"
She bowed her head still lower upon her hands, in speechless confirmation. A stricken, helpless, cowering child she seemed to me, standing there in her drenched clothing. An unutterable tenderness, altogether different from the feverish passion of a few minutes ago, filled my heart as I looked at her.
"Come," I said, as calmly as I could speak, "I am at any rate your doctor, and I am bound to take care of you. You must not stay here wet and cold. Let us make haste back to Tardif's, Olivia."
I drew her hand down from her face and through my arm, for we had still to re-enter the outer cave, and to return through a higher gallery, before we could reach the cliffs above. I did not glance at her. The road was very rough, strewed with huge bowlders, and she was compelled to receive my help. But we did not speak again till we were on the cliffs, in the eye of day, with our faces and our steps turned toward Tardif's farm.
"Oh!" she cried, suddenly, in a tone that made my heart ache the keener, "how sorry I am!"
"Sorry that I love you?" I asked, feeling that my love was growing every moment in spite of myself. The sun shone on her face, which was just below my eyes. There was an expression of sad perplexity and questioning upon it, which kept away every other sign of emotion. She lifted her eyes to me frankly, and no flush of color came over her pale cheeks.
"Yes," she answered; "it is such a miserable, unfortunate thing for you. But how could I have helped it?"
"You could not help it," I said.
"I did not mean to deceive you," she continued—"neither you nor any one. When I fled away from him I had no plan of any kind. I was just like a leaf driven about by the wind, and it tossed me here. I did not think I ought to tell any one I was married. I wish I could have foreseen this. Why did God let me have that accident in the spring? Why did he let you come over to see me?"
"Are you surprised that I love you?" I asked.
Now I saw a subtle flush steal across her face, and her eyes fell to the ground.
"I never thought of it till this afternoon," she murmured. "I knew you were going to marry your cousin Julia, and I knew I was married, and that there could be no release from that. All my life is ruined, but you and Tardif made it more bearable. I did not think you loved me till I saw your face this afternoon."
"I shall always love you," I cried, passionately, looking down on the shining, drooping head beside me, and the sad face and listless arms hanging down in an attitude of dejection. She seemed so forlorn a creature that I wished I could take her to my heart again; but that was impossible now.
"No," she answered in her calm, sorrowful voice. "When you see clearly that it is an evil thing, you will conquer it. There will be no hope whatever in your love for me, and it will pass away. Not soon, perhaps; I can scarcely wish you to forget me soon. Yet it would be wrong for you to love me now. Why was I driven to marry him so long ago?"
A sharp, bitter tone rang through her quiet voice, and for a moment she hid her face in her hands.
"Olivia," I said, "it is harder upon me than you can think, or I can tell."
She had not the faintest notion of how hard this trial was. I had sacrificed every plan and purpose of my life in the hope of winning her. I had cast away, almost as a worthless thing, the substantial prosperity which had been within my grasp, and now that I stretched out my hand for the prize, I found it nothing but an empty shadow. Deeper even than this lay the thought of my mother's bitter disappointment.
"Your husband must have treated you very badly, before you would take such a desperate step as this," I said again, after a long silence, scarcely knowing what I said.
"He treated me so ill," said Olivia, with the same hard tone in her voice, "that when I had a chance of escape it seemed as if God Himself opened the door for me. He treated me so ill that, if I thought there was any fear of him finding me out here, I would rather a thousand times you had left me to die in the caves."
That brought to my mind what I had almost forgotten—the woman whom my imprudent curiosity had brought into pursuit; of her. I felt ready to curse my folly aloud, as I did in my heart, for having gone to Messrs. Scott and Brown.
"Olivia," I said, "there is a woman in Guernsey who has some clew to you—"
But I could say no more, for I thought she would have fallen to the ground in her terror. I drew her hand through my arm, and hastened to reassure her.
"No harm can come to you," I continued, "while Tardif and I are here to protect you. Do not frighten yourself; we will defend you from every danger."
"Martin," she whispered—and the pleasant familiarity of my name spoken by her gave me a sharp pang, almost of gladness—"no one can help me or defend me. The law would compel me to go back to him. A woman's heart may be broken without the law being broken. I could prove nothing that would give me a right to be free—nothing. So I took it into my own hands. I tell you I would rather have been drowned this afternoon. Why did you save me?"
I did not answer, except by pressing her hand against my side. I hurried her on silently toward the cottage. She was shivering in her cold, wet dress, and trembling with fear. It was plain to me that even her fine health should not be trifled with, and I loved her too tenderly, her poor, shivering, trembling frame, to let her suffer if I could help it. When we reached the fold-yard gate, I stopped her for a moment to speak only a few words.
"Go in." I said, "and change, every one of your wet clothes. I will see you again, once again, when we can talk with one another calmly. God bless and take care of you, my darling!"
She smiled faintly, and laid her hand in mine.
"You forgive me?" she said.
"Forgive you!" I repeated, kissing the small brown hand lingeringly; "I have nothing to forgive."
She went on across the little fold and into the house, without looking back toward me. I could see her pass through the kitchen into her own room, where I had watched her through the struggle between life and death, which had first made her dear to me. Then I made my way, blind and deaf, to the edge of the cliff, seeing nothing, hearing-nothing. I flung myself down on the turf with my face to the ground, to hide my eyes from the staring light of the summer sun.
Already it seemed a long time since I had known that Olivia was married. The knowledge had lost its freshness and novelty, and the sting of it had become a rooted sorrow. There was no mystery about her now. I almost laughed, with a resentful bitterness, at the poor guesses I had made. This was the solution, and it placed her forever out of my reach. As with Tardif, so she could be nothing for me now, but as the blue sky, and the white clouds, and the stars shining in the night. My poor Olivia! whom I loved a hundredfold more than I had done even this morning. This morning I had been full of my own triumph and gladness. Now I had nothing in my heart but a vast pity and reverential tenderness for her.
Married? That was what she had said. It shut out all hope for the future. She must have been a mere child four years ago; she looked very young and girlish still. And her husband treated her ill—my Olivia, for whom I had given up all I had to give. She said the law would compel her to return to him, and I could do nothing. I could not interfere even to save her from a life which was worse to her than death.
My heart was caught in a vice, and there was no escape from the torture of its relentless grip. Whichever way I looked there was sorrow and despair. I wished, with a faint-heartedness I had never felt before, that Olivia and I had indeed perished together down in the caves where the tide was now sweeping below me.
"Martin!" said a clear, low, tender tone in my ear, which could never be deaf to that voice. I looked up at Olivia without moving. My head was at her feet, and I laid my hand upon the hem of her dress.
"Martin," she said again, "see, I have brought you Tardifs coat in place of your own. You must not lie here in this way. Captain Carey's yacht is waiting for you below."
I staggered giddily when I stood on my feet, and only Olivia's look of pain steadied me. She had been weeping bitterly. I could not trust myself to look in her face again. At any rate my next duty was to go away without adding to her distress, if that were possible. Tardif was standing behind her, regarding us both with great concern.
"Doctor," he said, "when I came in from my lobster-pots, the captain sent a message by me to say the sun would be gone down before you reach Guernsey. He has come round to the Havre Gosselin. I'll walk down the cliff with you."
I should have said no, but Olivia caught at his words eagerly.
"Yes, go, my good Tardif," she cried, "and bring me word that Dr. Martin is safe on board.—Good-by!"
Her hand in mine again for a moment, with its slight pressure. Then she was gone, Tardif was tramping down the stony path before me, speaking to me over his shoulder.
"It has not gone well, then, doctor?" he said.
"She will tell you," I answered, briefly, not knowing how much Olivia might wish him to know.
"Take care of mam'zelle," I said, when we had reached the top of the ladder, and the little boat from the yacht was dancing at the foot of it. "There is some danger ahead, and you can protect her better than I."
"Yes, yes," he replied; "you may trust her with me. But God knows I should have been glad if it had gone well with you."
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-FIRST.
A STORY IN DETAIL.
"Well?" said Captain Carey, as I set my foot on the deck. His face was all excitement; and he put his arm affectionately through mine.
"It is all wrong," I answered, gloomily.
"You don't mean that she will not have you?" he exclaimed.
I nodded, for I had no spirit to explain the matter just then.
"By George!" he cried; "and you've thrown over Julia, and offended all our Guernsey folks, and half broken your poor mother's heart, all for nothing!"
The last consideration was the one that stung me to the quick. It had half broken my mother's heart. No one knew better than I that it had without doubt tended to shorten her fleeting term of life. At this moment she was waiting for me to bring her good news—perhaps the promise that Olivia had consented to become my wife before her own last hour arrived; for my mother and I had even talked of that. I had thought it a romantic scheme when my mother spoke of it, but my passion had fastened eagerly upon it, in spite of my better judgment. These were the tidings she was waiting to hear from my lips.
When I reached home I found her full of dangerous excitement. It was impossible to allay it without telling her either an untruth or the whole story. I could not deceive her, and with a desperate calmness I related the history of the day. I tried to make light of my disappointment, but she broke down into tears and wailings.
"Oh, my boy!" she lamented; "and I did so want to see you happy before I died: I wanted to leave some one who could comfort you; and Olivia would have comforted you and loved you when I am gone! You had set your heart upon her. Are you sure it is true? My poor, poor Martin, you must forget her now. It becomes a sin for you to love her."
"I cannot forget her," I said; "I cannot cease to love her. There can be no sin in it as long as I think of her as I do now."
"And there is poor Julia!" moaned my mother.
Yes, there was Julia; and she would have to be told all, though she would rejoice over it. Of course, she would rejoice; it was not in human nature, at least in Julia's human nature, to do otherwise. She had warned me against Olivia; had only set me free reluctantly. But how was I to tell her? I must not leave to my mother the agitation of imparting such tidings. I couldn't think of deputing the task to my father. There was no one to do it but myself.
My mother passed a restless and agitated night, and I, who sat up with her, was compelled to listen to all her lamentation. But toward the morning she fell into a heavy sleep, likely to last for some hours. I could leave her in perfect security; and at an early hour I went down to Julia's house, strung up to bear the worst, and intending to have it all out with her, and put her on her guard before she paid her daily visit to our house. She must have some hours for her excitement and rejoicing to bubble over, before she came to talk about it to my mother.
"I wish to see Miss Dobree," I said to the girl who quickly answered my noisy peal of the house-bell.
"Please, sir,'" was her reply, "she and Miss Daltrey are gone to Sark with Captain Carey."
"Gone to Sark!" I repeated, in utter amazement.
"Yes, Dr. Martin. They started quite early because of the tide, and Captain Carey's man brought the carriage to take them to St. Sampson's. I don't look for them back before evening. Miss Dobree said I was to come, with her love, and ask how Mrs. Dobree is to-day, and if she's home in time she'll come this evening; but if she's late she'll come to-morrow morning."
"When did they make up their minds to go to Sark?" I inquired, anxiously.
"Only late last night, sir," she answered. "Cook had settled with Miss Dobree to dine early to-day; but then Captain Carey came in, and after he was gone she said breakfast must be ready at seven this morning in their own rooms while they were dressing; so they must have settled it with Captain Carey last night."
I turned away very much surprised and bewildered, and in an irritable state which made the least thing jar upon me. Curiosity, which had slept yesterday, or was numbed by the shock of my disappointment, was feverishly awake to-day. How little I knew, after all, of the mystery which surrounded Olivia! The bitter core of it I knew, but nothing of the many sheaths and envelops which wrapped it about. There might be some hope, some consolation to be found wrapped up with it. I must go again to Sark in the steamer on Monday, and hear Olivia tell me all she could tell of her history.
Then, why were Julia and Kate Daltrey gone to Sark? What could they have to do with Olivia? It made me almost wild with anger to think of them finding Olivia, and talking to her perhaps of me and my love—questioning her, arguing with her, tormenting her! The bare thought of those two badgering my Olivia was enough to drive me frantic.
In the cool twilight, Julia and Kate Daltrey were announced. I was about to withdraw from my mother's room, in conformity with the etiquette established among us, when Julia recalled me in a gentler voice than she had used toward me since the day of my fatal confession.
"Stay, Martin," she said; "what we have to tell concerns you more than any one."
I sat down again by my mother's sofa, and she took my hand between both her own, fondling it in the dusk.
"It is about Olivia," I said, in as cool a tone as I could command.
"Yes," answered Julia; "we have seen her, and we have found out why she has refused you. She is married already."
"She told me so yesterday," I replied.
"Told you so yesterday!" repeated Julia, in an accent of chagrin. "If we had only known that, we might have saved ourselves the passage across to Sark."
"My dear Julia," exclaimed my mother, feverishly, "do tell us all about it, and begin at the beginning."
There was nothing Julia liked so much, or could do so well, as to give a circumstantial account of any thing she had done. She could relate minute details with so much accuracy, without being exactly tedious, that when one was lazy or unoccupied it was pleasant to listen. My mother enjoyed, with all the delight of a woman, the small touches by which Julia embellished her sketches. I resigned myself to hearing a long history, when I was burning to ask one or two questions and have done with the topic.
"To begin at the beginning, then," said Julia, "dear Captain Carey came into town very late last night to talk to us about Martin, and how the girl in Sark had refused him. I was very much astonished, very much indeed! Captain Carey said that he and dear Johanna had come to the conclusion that the girl felt some delicacy, perhaps, because of Martin's engagement to me. We talked it over as friends, and thought of you, dear aunt, and your grief and disappointment, till all at once I made up my mind in a moment. 'I will go over to Sark and see the girl myself,' I said. 'Will you?' said Captain Carey. 'Oh, no, Julia, it will be too much for you.' 'It would have been a few weeks ago,' I said; 'but now I could do any thing to give Aunt Dobree a moment's happiness.'"
"God bless you, Julia!" I interrupted, going across to her and kissing her cheek impetuously.
"There, don't stop me, Martin," she said, earnestly. "So it was arranged off-hand that Captain Carey should send for us at St. Sampson's this morning, and take us over to Sark. You know Kate has never been yet. We had a splendid passage, and landed at the Creux, where the yacht was to wait till we returned. Kate was in raptures with the landing-place, and the lovely lane leading up into the island. We went on past Vaudin's Inn and the mill, and turned down the nearest way to Tardifs. Kate said she never felt any air like the air of Sark. Well, you know that brown pool, a very brown pool, in the lane leading to the Havre Gosselin? Just there, where there are some low, weather-beaten trees meeting overhead and making a long green isle, with the sun shining down through the knotted branches, we saw all in a moment a slim, erect, very young-looking girl coming toward us. She was carrying her bonnet in her hand, and her hair curled in short, bright curls all over her head. I knew in an instant that it was Miss Ollivier."
She paused for a minute. How plainly I could see the picture! The arching trees, and the sunbeams playing fondly with her shining golden hair! I held my breath to listen.
"What completely startled me," said Julia, "was that Kate suddenly darted forward and ran to meet her, crying 'Olivia!'"
"How does she know her?" I exclaimed.
"Hush. Martin! Don't interrupt me. The girl went so deadly pale, I thought she was going to faint, but she did not. She stood for a minute looking at us, and then she burst into the most dreadful fit of crying!
"I ran to her, and made her sit down on a little bank of turf close by, and gave her my smelling-bottle, and did all I could to comfort her. By-and-by, as soon as she could speak, she said to Kate, 'How did you find me out?' and Kate told her she had not the slightest idea of finding her there. 'Dr. Martin Dobree, of Guernsey, told me you were looking for me, only yesterday,' she said.
"That took us by surprise, for Kate had not the faintest idea of seeing her. I have always thought her name was Ollivier, and so did Kate. 'For pity's sake,' said the girl, 'if you have any pity, leave me here in peace. For God's sake do not betray me!'
"I could hardly believe it was not a dream. There was Kate standing over us, looking very stern and severe, and the girl was clinging to me—to me, as if I were her dearest friend. Then all of a sudden up came old Mother Renouf, looking half crazed, and began to harangue us for frightening mam'zelle. Tardif, she said, would be at hand in a minute or two, and he would take care of her from us and everybody else. 'Take me away!' cried the girl, running to her; and the old woman tucked her hand under her arm, and walked off with her in triumph, leaving us by ourselves in the lane."
"But what does it all mean?" asked my mother, while I paced to and fro in the dim room, scarcely able to control my impatience, yet afraid to question Julia too eagerly.
"I can tell you," said Kate Daltrey, in her cold, deliberate tones; "she is the wife of my half-brother, Richard Foster, who married her more than four years ago in Melbourne; and she ran away from him last October, and has not been heard of since."
"Then you know her whole history," I said, approaching her and pausing before her. "Are you at liberty to tell it to us?"
"Certainly," she answered; "it is no secret. Her father was a wealthy colonist, and he died when she was fifteen, leaving her in the charge of her step-mother, Richard Foster's aunt. The match was one of the stepmother's making, for Olivia was little better than a child. Richard was glad enough to get her fortune, or rather the income from it, for of course she did not come into full possession of it till she was of age. One-third of it was settled upon her absolutely; the other two-thirds came to her for her to do what she pleased with it. Richard was looking forward eagerly to her being one-and-twenty, for he had made ducks and drakes of his own property, and tried to do the same with mine. He would have done so with his wife's; but a few weeks before Olivia's twenty-first birthday, she disappeared mysteriously. There her fortune lies, and Richard has no more power than I have to touch it. He cannot even claim the money lying in the Bank of Australia, which has been remitted by her trustees; nor can Olivia claim it without making herself known to him. It is accumulating there, while both of them are on the verge of poverty."
"But he must have been very cruel to her before she would run away!" said my mother in a very pitiful voice. Poor mother! she had borne her own sorrows dumbly, and to leave her husband had probably never occurred to her.
"Cruel!" repeated Kate Daltrey. "Well, there are many kinds of cruelty. I do not suppose Richard would ever transgress the limits of the law. But Olivia was one of those girls who can suffer great torture—mental torture I mean. Even I could not live in the same house with him, and she was a dreamy, sensitive, romantic child, with as much knowledge of the world as a baby. I was astonished to hear she had had daring enough to leave him."
"But there must be some protection for her from the law," I said, thinking of the bold, coarse woman, no doubt his associate, who was in pursuit of Olivia. "She might sue for a judicial separation, at the least, if not a divorce."
"I am quite sure nothing could be brought against him in a court of law," she answered. "He is very wary and cunning, and knows very well what he may do and what he may not do. A few months before Olivia's flight, he introduced a woman as her companion—a disreputable woman probably; but he calls her his cousin, and I do not know how Olivia could prove her an unfit person to be with her. Our suspicions may be very strong, but suspicion is not enough for an English judge and jury. Since I saw her this morning I have been thinking of her position in every light, and I really do not see any thing she could have done, except running away as she did, or making up her mind to be deaf and blind and dumb. There was no other alternative."
"But could he not be induced to leave her in peace if she gave up a portion of her property?" I asked.
"Why should he?" she retorted. "If she was in his hands the whole of the property would be his. He will never release her—never. No, her only chance is to hide herself from him. The law cannot deal with wrongs like hers, because they are as light as air apparently, though they are as all-pervading as air is, and as poisonous as air can be. They are like choke-damp, only not quite fatal. He is as crafty and cunning as a serpent. He could prove himself the kindest, most considerate of husbands, and Olivia next thing to an idiot. Oh, it is ridiculous to think of pitting a girl like her against him!"
"If she had been older, or if she had had a child, she would never have left him," said my mother's gentle and sorrowful voice.
"But what can be done for her?" I asked, vehemently and passionately. "My poor Olivia! what can I do to protect her?"
"Nothing!" answered Kate Daltrey, coldly. "Her only chance is concealment, and what a poor chance that is! I went over to Sark, never thinking that your Miss Ollivier whom I had heard so much of was Olivia Foster. It is an out-of-the-world place; but so much the more readily they will find her, if they once get a clew. A fox is soon caught when it cannot double; and how could Olivia escape if they only traced her to Sark?"
My dread of the woman into whose hands my imbecile curiosity had put the clew was growing greater every minute. It seemed as if Olivia could not be safe now, day or night; yet what protection could I or Tardif give to her?
"You will not betray her?" I said to Kate Daltrey, though feeling all the time that I could not trust her in the smallest degree.
"I have promised dear Julia that," she answered.
I should fail to give you any clear idea of my state of mind should I attempt to analyze it. The most bitter thought in it was that my own imprudence had betrayed Olivia. But for me she might have remained for years, in peace and perfect seclusion, in the home to which she had drifted. Richard Foster and his accomplice must have lost all hope of finding her during the many months that had elapsed between her disappearance and my visit to their solicitors. That had put them on the track again. If the law forced her back to her husband, it was I who had helped him to find her. That was a maddening thought. My love for her was hopeless; but what then? I discovered to my own amazement that I had loved her for her sake, not my own. I had loved the woman in herself, not the woman as my wife. She could never become that, but she was dearer to me than ever. She was as far removed from me as from Tardif. Could I not serve her with as deep a devotion and as true a chivalry as his? She belonged to both of us by as unselfish and noble a bond as ever knights of old were pledged to.
It became my duty to keep a strict watch over the woman who had come to Guernsey to find Olivia. If possible I must decoy her away from the lowly nest where my helpless bird was sheltered. She had not sent for me again, but I called upon her the next morning professionally, and stayed some time talking with her. But nothing resulted from the visit beyond the assurance that she had not yet made any progress toward the discovery of my secret. I almost marvelled at this, so universal had been the gossip about my visits to Sark in connection with the breaking-off of my engagement to Julia. But that had occurred in the spring, and the nine-days' wonder had ceased before my patient came to the island. Still, any accidental conversation might give her the information, and open up a favorable chance for her. I must not let her go across to Sark unknown to myself.
Neither did I feel quite safe about Kate Daltrey. She gave me the impression of being as crafty and cunning as she described her half-brother. Did she know this woman by sight? That was a question I could not answer. There was another question hanging upon it. If she saw her, would she not in some way contrive to give her a sufficient hint, without positively breaking her promise to Julia? Kate Daltrey's name did not appear in the newspapers among the list of visitors, as she was staying in a private house; but she and this woman might meet any day in the streets or on the pier.
Then the whole story had been confided by Julia at once to Captain Carey and Johanna. That was quite natural; but it was equally natural for them to confide it again to some one or two of their intimate friends. The secret was already an open one among six persons. Could it be considered a secret any longer? The tendency of such a singular story, whispered from one to another, is to become in the long-run more widely circulated than if it were openly proclaimed. I had a strong affection for my circle of cousins, which widened as the circle round a stone cast into water; but I knew I might as well try to arrest the eddying of such waters as stop the spread of a story like Olivia's.
I had resolved, in the first access of my curiosity, to cross over to Sark the next week, alone and independent of Captain Carey. Every Monday the Queen of the Isles made her accustomed trip to the island, to convey visitors there for the day.
I had not been on deck two minutes the following Monday when I saw my patient step on after me. The last clew was in her fingers now, that was evident.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-SECOND.
She did not see me at first; but her air was exultant and satisfied. There was no face on board so elated and flushed. I kept out of her way as long as I could without consigning myself to the black hole of the cabin; but at last she caught sight of me, and came down to the forecastle to claim me as an acquaintance.
"Ha! ha! Dr. Dobree!" she exclaimed; "so you are going to visit Sark too?"
"Yes," I answered, more curtly than courteously.
"You are looking rather low," she said, triumphantly—"rather blue, I might say. Is there any thing the matter with you? Your face is as long as a fiddle. Perhaps it is the sea that makes you melancholy."
"Not at all," I answered, trying to speak briskly; "I am an old sailor. Perhaps you will feel melancholy by-and-by."
Luckily for me, my prophecy was fulfilled shortly after, for the day was rough enough to produce uncomfortable sensations in those who were not old sailors like myself. My tormentor was prostrate to the last moment.
When we anchored at the entrance of the Creux, and the small boats came out to carry us ashore, I managed easily to secure a place in the first, and to lose sight of her in the bustle of landing. As soon as my feet touched the shore I started off at my swiftest pace for the Havre Gosselin.
But I had not far to go, for at Vaudin's Inn, which stands at the top of the steep lane running from the Creux Harbor, I saw Tardif at the door. Now and then he acted as guide when young Vaudin could not fill that office, or had more parties than he could manage; and Tardif was now waiting the arrival of the weekly stream of tourists. He came to me instantly, and we sat down on a low stone wall on the roadside, but well out of hearing of any ears but each other's.
"Tardif," I said, "has mam'zelle told you her secret?"
"Yes, yes," he answered; "poor little soul! and she is a hundredfold dearer to me now than before."
He looked as if he meant it, for his eyes moistened and his face quivered.
"She is in great danger at this moment," I continued. "A woman sent by her husband has been lurking about in Guernsey to get news of her, and she has come across in the steamer to-day. She will be in sight of us in a few minutes. There is no chance of her not learning where she is living. But could we not hide Olivia somewhere? There are caves strangers know nothing of. We might take her over to Breckhou. Be quick, Tardif! we must decide at once what to do."
"But mam'zelle is not here. She is gone!" he answered.
"Gone!" I ejaculated. I could not utter another word; but I stared at him as if my eyes could tear further information from him.
"Yes," he said; "that lady came last week with Miss Dobree, your cousin. Then mam'zelle told me all, and we took counsel together. It was not safe for her to stay any longer, though I would have died for her gladly. But what could be done? We knew she must go elsewhere, and the next morning I rowed her over to Peter-Port in time for the steamer to England. Poor little thing! poor little hunted soul!"
His voice faltered as he spoke, and he drew his fisherman's cap close down over his eyes. I did not speak again for a minute or two.
"Tardif," I said at last, as the foremost among the tourists came in sight, "did she leave no message for me?"
"She wrote a letter for you," he said, "the very last thing. She did not go to bed that night, neither did I. I was going to lose her, doctor, and she had been like the light of the sun to me. But what could I do? She was terrified to death at the thought of her husband claiming her. I promised to give the letter into your own hands; but we settled I must not show myself in Peter-Port the day she left. Here it is."
It had been lying in his breast-pocket, and the edges were worn already. He gave it to me lingeringly, as if loath to part with it. The tourists were coming up in greater numbers, and I made a retreat hastily toward a quiet and remote part of the cliffs seldom visited in Little Sark.
There, with the sea, which had carried her away from me, playing buoyantly among the rocks, I read her farewell letter. It ran thus:
"My dear Friend: I am glad I can call you my friend, though nothing can ever come of our friendship—nothing, for we may not see one another as other friends do. My life was ruined four years ago, and every now and then I see afresh how complete and terrible the ruin is. Yet if I had known beforehand how your life would be linked with mine, I would have done any thing in my power to save you from sharing in my ruin. Ought I to have told you at once that I was married? But just that was my secret, and it seemed so much safer while no one knew it but myself. I did not see, as I do now, that I was acting a falsehood. I do not see how I can help doing that. It is as shocking to me as to you. Do not judge me harshly.
"I do not like to speak to you about my marriage. I was very young and very miserable; any change seemed better than living with my step-mother. I did not know what I was doing. The Saviour said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' I hope I shall be forgiven by you, and your mother, and God, for indeed I did not know what I was doing.
"Last October when I escaped from them, it was partly because I felt I should soon be as wicked as they. I do not think any one ought to remain where there is no chance of being good. If I am wrong, remember I am not old yet. I may learn what my duty is, and then I will do it. I am only waiting to find out exactly what I ought to do, and then I will do it, whatever it may be.
"Now I am compelled to flee away again from this quiet, peaceful home where you and Tardif have been so good to me. I began to feel perfectly safe here, and all at once the refuge fails me. It breaks my heart, but I must go, and my only gladness is that it will be good for you. By-and-by you will forget me, and return to your cousin Julia, and be happy just as you once thought you should be—as you would have been but for me. You must think of me as one dead. I am quite dead—lost to you.
"Yet I know you will sometimes wish to hear what has become of me. Tardif will. And I owe you both more than I can ever repay. But it would not be well for me to write often. I have promised Tardif that I will write to him once a year, that you and he may know that I am still alive. When there comes no letter, say, 'Olivia is dead!' Do not be grieved for that; it will be the greatest, best release God can give me. Say, 'Thank God, Olivia is dead!'
"Good-by, my dear friend; good-by, good-by!
The last line was written in a shaken, irregular hand, and her name was half blotted out, as if a tear had fallen upon it. I remained there alone on the wild and solitary cliffs until it was time to return to the steamer.
Tardif was waiting for me at the entrance of the little tunnel through which the road passes down to the harbor. He did not speak at first, but he drew out of his pocket an old leather pouch filled with yellow papers. Among them lay a long curling tress of shining hair. He touched it gently with his finger, as if it had feeling and consciousness.
"You would like to have it, doctor?" he said.
"Ay," I answered, and that only. I could not venture upon another word.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-THIRD.
THE EBB OF LIFE.
There was nothing now for me to do but to devote myself wholly to my mother.
I made the malady under which she was slowly sinking my special study. There remained a spark of hope yet in my heart that I might by diligent, intense, unflagging search, discover some remedy yet untried, or perhaps unthought of. I succeeded only in alleviating her sufferings. I pored over every work which treated of the same class of diseases. At last in an old, almost-forgotten book, I came upon a simple medicament, which, united with appliances made available by modern science, gave her sensible relief, and without doubt tended to prolong her shortening days. The agonizing thought haunted me that, had I come upon this discovery at an earlier stage of her illness, her life might have been spared for many years.
But it was too late now. She suffered less, and her spirits grew calm and even. We even ventured, at her own wish, to spend a week together in Sark, she and I—a week never to be forgotten, full of exquisite pain and exquisite enjoyment to us both. We revisited almost every place where we had been many years before, while I was but a child and she was still young and strong. Tardif rowed us out in his boat under the cliffs. Then we came home again, and she sank rapidly, as if the flame of life had been burning too quickly in the breath of those innocent pleasures.
Now she began to be troubled again with the dread of leaving me alone and comfortless. There is no passage in Christ's farewell to His disciples which, touches me so much as those words, "I will not leave you comfortless; I will come unto you." My mother could not promise to come back to me, and her dying vision looked sorrowfully into the future for me. Sometimes she put her fear into words—faltering and foreboding words; but it was always in her eyes, as they followed me wherever I went with a mute, pathetic anxiety. No assurances of mine, no assumed cheerfulness and fortitude could remove it. I even tried to laugh at it, but my laugh only brought the tears into her eyes. Neither reason nor ridicule could root it out—a root of bitterness indeed.
"Martin," she said, in her failing, plaintive voice, one evening when Julia and I were both sitting with her, for we met now without any regard to etiquette—"Martin, Julia and I have been talking about your future life while you were away."
Julia's face flushed a little. She was seated on a footstool by my mother's sofa, and looked softer and gentler than I had ever seen her look. She had been nursing my mother with a single-hearted, self-forgetful devotion that had often touched me, and had knit us to one another by the common bond of an absorbing interest. Certainly I had never leaned upon or loved Julia as I was doing now.
"There is no chance of your ever marrying Olivia now," continued my mother, faintly, "and it is a sin for you to cherish your love for her. That is a very plain duty, Martin."
"Such love as I cherish for Olivia will hurt neither her nor myself," I answered. "I would not wrong her by a thought."
"But she can never be your wife," she said.
"I never think of her as my wife," I replied; "but I can no more cease to love her than I can cease to breathe. She has become part of my life, mother."
"Still, time and change must make a difference," she said. "You will realize your loneliness when I am gone, though you cannot before. I want to have some idea of what you will be doing in the years to come, before we meet again. If I think at all, I shall be thinking of you, and I do long to have some little notion. You will not mind me forming one poor little plan for you once more, my boy?"
"No," I answered, smiling to keep back the tears that were ready to start to my eyes.
"I scarcely know how to tell you," she said. "You must not be angry or offended with us. But my dear Julia has promised me, out of pure love and pity for me, you know, that if ever—how can I express it?—if you ever wish you could return to the old plans—it may be a long time first, but if you conquered your love for Olivia, and could go back, and wished to go back to the time before you knew her—Julia will forget all that has come between. Julia would consent to marry you if you asked her to be your wife. O Martin, I should die so much happier if I thought you would ever marry Julia, and go to live in the house I helped to get ready for you!"
Julia's head had dropped upon my mother's shoulder, and her face was hidden, while my mother's eyes sought mine beseechingly. I was irresistibly overcome by this new proof of her love for both of us, for I knew well what a struggle it must have been to her to gain the mastery over her proper pride and just resentment. I knelt down beside her, clasping her hand and my mother's in my own.
"Mother, Julia," I said, "I promise that if ever I can be true in heart and soul to a wife, I will ask Julia to become mine. But it may be many years hence; I dare not say how long. God alone knows how dear Olivia is to me. And Julia is too good to waste herself upon so foolish a fellow. She may change, and see some one she can love better."
"That is nonsense, Martin," answered Julia, with a ring of the old sharpness in her tone; "at my age I am not likely to fall in love again.—Don't be afraid, aunt; I shall not change, and I will take care of Martin. His home is ready, and he will come back to me some day, and it will all be as you wish."
I know that promise of ours comforted her, for she never lamented over my coming solitude again.
I have very little more I can say about her. When I look back and try to write more fully of those last, lingering days, my heart fails me. The darkened room, the muffled sounds, the loitering, creeping, yet too rapid hours! I had no time to think of Julia, of Olivia, or of myself; I was wrapped up in her.
One evening—we were quite alone—she called me to come closer to her, in that faint, far-off voice of hers, which seemed already to be speaking from another world. I was sitting so near to her that I could touch her with my hand, but she wanted me nearer—with my arm across her, and my cheek against hers.
"My boy," she whispered, "I am going."
"Not yet, mother," I cried; "not yet! I have so much to say. Stay with me a day or two longer."
"If I could," she murmured, every word broken with her panting breath, "I would stay with you forever! Be patient with your father, Martin. Say good-by for me to him and Julia. Don't stir. Let me die so!"
"You shall not die, mother," I said, passionately.
"There is no pain," she whispered—"no pain at all; it is taken away. I am only sorry for my boy. What will he do when I am gone? Where are you, Martin?"
"I am here, mother!" I answered—"close to you. O God! I would go with you if I could."
Then she lay still for a time, pressing my arm about her with her feeble fingers. Would she speak to me no more? Had the dearest voice in the world gone away altogether into that far-off, and, to us, silent country whither the dying go? Dumb, blind, deaf to me? She was breathing yet, and her heart fluttered faintly against my arm. Would not my mother know me again?
"O Martin!" she murmured, "there is great love in store for us all! I did not know how great the love was till now!"
There had been a quicker, more irregular throbbing of her heart as she spoke. Then—I waited, but there came no other pulsation. Suddenly I felt as if I also must be dying, for I passed into a state of utter darkness and unconsciousness.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-FOURTH.
A DISCONSOLATE WIDOWER.
My senses returned painfully, with a dull and blunted perception that some great calamity had overtaken me. I was in my mother's dressing-room, and Julia was holding to my nostrils some sharp essence, which had penetrated to the brain and brought back consciousness. My father was sitting by the empty grate, sobbing and weeping vehemently. The door into my mother's bedroom was closed. I knew instantly what was going on there.
I suppose no man ever fainted without being ashamed of it. Even in the agony of my awakening consciousness I felt the inevitable sting of shame at my weakness and womanishness. I pushed away Julia's hand, and raised myself. I got up on my feet and walked unsteadily and blindly toward the shut door.
"Martin," said Julia, "you must not go back there. It is all over."
I heard my father calling me in a broken voice, and I turned to him. His frame was shaken by the violence of his sobs, and he could not lift up his head from his hands. There was no effort at self-control about him. At times his cries grew loud enough to be heard all over the house.
"Oh, my son!" he said, "we shall never see any one like your poor mother again! She was the best wife any man ever had! Oh, what a loss she is to me!"
I could not speak of her just then, nor could I say a word to comfort him. She had bidden me be patient with him, but already I found the task almost beyond me. I told Julia I was going up to my own room for the rest of the night, if there were nothing for me to do. She put her arms round my neck and kissed me as if she had been my sister, telling me I could leave every thing to her. Then I went away into the solitude that had indeed begun to close around me.
When the heart of a man is solitary, there is no society for him even among a crowd of friends. All deep love and close companionship seemed stricken out of my life.
We laid her in the cemetery, in a grave where the wide-spreading branches of some beech-trees threw a pleasant shadow over it during the day. At times the moan of the sea could be heard there, when the surf rolled in strongly upon the shore of Cobo Bay. The white crest of the waves could be seen from it, tossing over the sunken reefs at sea; yet it lay in the heart of our island. She had chosen the spot for herself, not very long ago, when we had been there together. Now I went there alone.
I counted my father and his loud grief as nothing. There was neither sympathy nor companionship between us. He was very vehement in his lamentations, repeating to every one who came to condole with us that there never had lived such a wife, and his loss was the greatest that man could bear. His loss was nothing to mine.
Yet I did draw a little nearer to him in the first few weeks of our bereavement. Almost insensibly I fell into our old plan of sharing the practice, for he was often unfit to go out and see our patients. The house was very desolate now, and soon lost those little delicate traces of feminine occupancy which constitute the charm of a home, and to which we had been all our lives accustomed. Julia could not leave her own household, even if it had been possible for her to return to her place in our deserted dwelling. The flowers faded and died unchanged in the vases, and there was no dainty woman's work lying about—that litter of white and colored shreds of silk and muslin, which give to a room an inhabited appearance. These were so familiar to me, that the total absence of them was like the barrenness of a garden without flowers in bloom.
My father did not feel this as I did, for he was not often at home after the first violence of his grief had spent itself. Julia's house was open to him in a manner it could not be open to me. I was made welcome there, it is true; but Julia was not unembarrassed and at home with me. The half-engagement renewed between us rendered it difficult to us both to meet on the simple ground of friendship and relationship. Moreover, I shrank from setting gossips' tongues going again on the subject of my chances of marrying my cousin; so I remained at home, alone, evening after evening, unless I was called out professionally, declining all invitations, and brooding unwholesomely over my grief. There is no more cowardly a way of meeting a sorrow. But I was out of heart, and no words could better express the morbid melancholy I was sinking into.
There was some tedious legal business to go through, for my mother's small property, bringing in a hundred a year, came to me on her death. I could not alienate it, but I wished Julia to receive the income as part payment of my father's defalcations. She would not listen to such a proposal, and she showed me that she had a shrewd notion of the true state of our finances. They were in such a state that if I left Guernsey with my little income my father would positively find some difficulty in making both ends meet; the more so as I was becoming decidedly the favorite with our patients, who began to call him slightingly the "old doctor." No path opened up for me in any other direction. It appeared as if I were to be bound to the place which was no longer a home to me.
I wrote to this effect to Jack Senior, who was urging my return to England. I could not bring myself to believe that this dreary, monotonous routine of professional duties, of very little interest or importance, was all that life should offer to me. Yet for the present my duty was plain. There was no help for it.
I made some inquiries at the lodging-house in Vauvert Road, and learned that the person who had been in search of Olivia had left Guernsey about the time when I was so fully engrossed with my mother as to have but little thought for any one else. Of Olivia there was neither trace nor tidings. Tardif came up to see me whenever he crossed over from Sark, but he had no information to give to me. The chances were that she was in London; but she was as much lost to me as if she had been lying beside my mother under the green turf of Foulon Cemetery.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-FIFTH.
THE WIDOWER COMFORTED.
In this manner three months passed slowly away after my mother's death. Dr. Dobree, who was utterly inconsolable the first few weeks, fell into all his old maundering, philandering ways again, spending hours upon his toilet, and paying devoted attentions to every passable woman who came across his path. My temper grew like touch-wood; the least spark would set it in a blaze. I could not take such things in good part.
We had been at daggers-drawn for a day or two, he and I, when one morning I was astonished by the appearance of Julia in our consulting-room, soon after my father, having dressed himself elaborately, had quitted the house. Julia's face was ominous, the upper lip very straight, and a frown upon her brow. I wondered what could be the matter, but I held my tongue. My knowledge of Julia was intimate enough for me to hit upon the right moment for speech or silence—a rare advantage. It was the time to refrain from speaking. Julia was no termagant—simply a woman who had had her own way all her life, and was so sure it was the best way that she could not understand why other people should wish to have theirs.
"Martin," she began in a low key, but one that might run up to shrillness if advisable, "I am come to tell you something that fills me with shame and anger. I do not know how to contain myself. I could never have believed that I could have been so blind and foolish. But it seems as if I were doomed to be deceived and disappointed on every hand—I who would not deceive or disappoint anybody in the world. I declare it makes me quite ill to think of it. Just look at my hands, how they tremble."
"Your nervous system is out of order," I remarked.
"It is the world that is out of order," she said, petulantly; "I am well enough. Oh, I do not know how ever I am to tell you. There are some things it is a shame to speak of."
"Must you speak of them?" I asked.
"Yes; you must know, you will have to know all, sooner or later. If there was any hope of it coming to nothing, I should try to spare you this; but they are both so bent upon disgracing themselves, so deaf to reason! If my poor, dear aunt knew of it, she could not rest in her grave. Martin, cannot you guess? Are men born so dull that they cannot see what is going on under their own eyes?"
"I have not the least idea of what you are driving at," I answered. "Sit down, my dear Julia, and calm yourself. Shall I give you a glass of wine?"
"No, no," she said, with a gesture of impatience. "How long is it since my poor, dear aunt died?"
"You know as well as I do," I replied, wondering that she should touch the wound so roughly. "Three months next Sunday."
"And Dr. Dobree," she said, in a bitter accent—then stopped, looking me full in the face. I had never heard her call my father Dr. Dobree in my life. She was very fond of him, and attracted by him, as most women were, and as few women are attracted by me. Even now, with all the difference in our age, the advantage being on my side, it was seldom I succeeded in pleasing as much as he did. I gazed back in amazement at Julia's dark and moody face.
"What now?" I asked. "What has my unlucky father been doing now?"
"Why," she exclaimed, stamping her foot, while the blood mantled to her forehead, "Dr. Dobree is in haste to take a second wife! He is indeed, my poor Martin. He wishes to be married immediately to that viper, Kate Daltrey."
"Impossible!" I cried, stung to the quick by these words. I remembered my mother's mild, instinctive dislike to Kate Daltrey, and her harmless hope that I would not go over to her side. Go over to her side! No. If she set her foot into this house as my mother's successor, I would never dwell under the same roof. As soon as my father made her his wife I would cut myself adrift from them both. But he knew that; he would never venture to outrage my mother's memory or my feelings in such a flagrant manner.
"It is possible, for it is true," said Julia. She had not let her voice rise above its low, angry key, and now it sank nearly to a whisper, as she glanced round at the door. "They have understood each other these four weeks. You may call it an engagement, for it is one; and I never suspected them, not for a moment! He came down to my house to be comforted, he said: his house was so dreary now. And I was as blind as a mole. I shall never forgive myself, dear Martin. I knew he was given to all that kind of thing, but then he seemed to mourn for my poor aunt so deeply, and was so heart-broken. He made ten times more show of it than you did. I have heard people say you bore it very well, and were quite unmoved, but I knew better. Everybody said he could never get over it. Couldn't you take out a commission of lunacy against him? He must be mad to think of such a thing."
"How did you find it out?" I inquired.
"Oh, I was so ashamed!" she said. "You see I had not the faintest shadow of a suspicion. I had left them in the drawing-room to go up-stairs, and I thought of something I wanted, and went back suddenly, and there they were—his arm around her waist, and her head on his shoulder—he with his gray hairs too! She says she is the same age as me, but she is forty if she is a day. The simpletons! I did not know what to say, or how to look. I could not get out of the room again as if I had not seen, for I cried 'Oh!' at the first sight of them. Then I stood staring at them; but I think they felt as uncomfortable as I did."
"What did they say?" I asked, sternly.
"Oh, he came up to me quite in his dramatic way, you know, trying to carry it off by looking grand and majestic; and he was going to take my hand and lead me to her, but I would not stir a step. 'My love,' he said, 'I am about to steal your friend from you.' 'She is no friend of mine,' I said, 'if she is going to be what all this intimates, I suppose. I will never speak to her or you again, Dr. Dobree.' Upon that he began to weep, and protest, and declaim, while she sat still and glared at me. I never thought her eyes could look like that. 'When do you mean to be married?' I asked, for he made no secret of his intention to make her his wife. 'What is the good of waiting?' he said, 'My home is miserable with no woman in it.' 'Uncle,' I said, 'if you will promise me to give up the idea of a second marriage, which is ridiculous at your age, I will come back to you, in spite of all the awkwardness of my position with regard to Martin. For my aunt's sake I will come back.' Even an arrangement like this would be better than his marriage with that woman—don't you think so?"
"A hundred times better," I said, warmly. "It was very good of you, Julia. But he would not agree to that, would he?"
"He wouldn't hear of it. He swore that Kate was as dear to him as ever my poor aunt was. He vowed he could not live without her and her companionship. He maintained that his age did not make it ridiculous. Kate hid her brazen face in her hands, and sobbed aloud.
"That made him ten times worse an idiot. He knelt down before her, and implored her to look at him. I reminded him how all the island would rise against him—worse than it did against you, Martin—and he declared he did not care a fig for the island! I asked him how he would face the Careys, and the Brocks, and the De Saumarez, and all the rest of them, and he snapped his fingers at them all. Oh, he must be going out of his mind."
I shook my head. Knowing him as thoroughly as a long and close study could help me to know any man, I was less surprised than Julia, who had only seen him from a woman's point of view, and had always been lenient to his faults. Unfortunately, I knew my father too well.
"Then I talked to him about the duty he owed to our family name," she resumed, "and I went so far as to remind him of what I had done to shield him and it from disgrace, and he mocked at it—positively mocked at it! He said there was no sort of parallel. It would be no dishonor to our house to receive Kate into it, even if they were married at once. What did it signify to the world that only three months had elapsed? Besides, he did not mean to marry her for a month to come, as the house would need beautifying for her—beautifying for her! Neither had he spoken of it to you; but he had no doubt you would be willing to go on as you have done."
"Never!" I said.
"I was sure not," continued Julia. "I told him I was convinced you would leave Guernsey again, but he pooh-poohed that. I asked him how he was to live without any practice, and he said his old patients might turn him off for a while, but they would be glad to send for him again. I never saw a man so obstinately bent upon his own ruin."
"Julia," I said, "I shall leave Guernsey before this marriage can come off. I would rather break stones on the highway than stay to see that woman in my mother's place. My mother disliked her from the first."
"I know it," she replied, with tears in her eyes, "and I thought it was nothing but prejudice. It was my fault, bringing her to Guernsey. But I could not bear the idea of her coming as mistress here. I said so distinctly. 'Dr. Dobree,' I said, 'you must let me remind you that the house is mine, though you have paid me no rent for years. If you ever take Kate Daltrey into it, I will put my affairs into a notary's hands. I will, upon my word, and Julia Dobree never broke her word yet.' That brought him to his senses better than any thing. He turned very pale, and sat down beside Kate, hardly knowing what to say. Then she began. She said if I was cruel, she would be cruel too. Whatever grieved you, Martin, would grieve me, and she would let her brother Richard Foster know where Olivia was."
"Does she know where she is?" I asked, eagerly, in a tumult of surprise and hope.
"Why, in Sark, of course," she replied.
"What! Did you never know that Olivia left Sark before my mother's death?" I said, with a chill of disappointment. "Did I never tell you she was gone, nobody knows where?"
"You have never spoken of her in my hearing, except once—you recollect when, Martin? We have supposed she was still living in Tardif's house. Then there is nothing to prevent me from carrying out my threat. Kate Daltrey shall never enter this house as mistress."
"Would you have given it up for Olivia's sake?" I asked, marvelling at her generosity.
"I should have done it for your sake," she answered, frankly.
"But," I said, reverting to our original topic, "if my father has set his mind upon marrying Kate Daltrey, he will brave any thing."
"He is a dotard," replied Julia. "He positively makes me dread growing old. Who knows what follies one may be guilty of in old age! I never felt afraid of it before. Kate says she has two hundred a year of her own, and they will go and live on that in Jersey, if Guernsey becomes unpleasant to them. Martin, she is a viper—she is indeed. And I have made such a friend of her! Now I shall have no one but you and the Careys. Why wasn't I satisfied with Johanna as my friend?"
She stayed an hour longer, turning over this unwelcome subject till we had thoroughly discussed every point of it. In the evening, after dinner, I spoke to my father briefly but decisively upon the same topic. After a very short and very sharp conversation, there remained no alternative for me but to make up my mind to try my fortune once more out of Guernsey. I wrote by the next mail to Jack Senior, telling him my purpose, and the cause of it, and by return of post I received his reply:
"Dear old boy: Why shouldn't you come, and go halves with me? Dad says so. He is giving up shop, and going to live in the country at Fulham. House and practice are miles too big for me. 'Senior and Dobree,' or 'Dobree and Senior,' whichever you please. If you come I can pay dutiful attention to Dad without losing my customers. That is his chief reason. Mine is that I only feel half myself without you at hand. Don't think of saying no.
It was a splendid opening, without question. Dr. Senior had been in good practice for more than thirty years, and he had quietly introduced Jack to the position he was about to resign. Yet I pondered over the proposal for a whole week before agreeing to it. I knew Jack well enough to be sure he would never regret his generosity; but if I went I would go as junior partner, and with a much smaller proportion of the profits than that proffered by Jack. Finally I resolved to accept the offer, and wrote to him as to the terms upon which alone I would join him.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-SIXTH.
I did not wait for my father to commit the irreparable folly of his second marriage. Guernsey had become hateful to me. In spite of my exceeding love for my native island, more beautiful in the eyes of its people than any other spot on earth, I could no longer be happy or at peace there. A few persons urged me to stay and live down my chagrin and grief, but most of my friends congratulated me on the change in my prospects, and bade me God-speed. Julia could not conceal her regret, but I left her in the charge of Captain Carey and Johanna. She promised to be my faithful correspondent, and I engaged to write to her regularly. There existed between us the half-betrothal to which we had pledged ourselves at my mother's urgent request. She would wait for the time when Olivia was no longer the first in my heart; then she would be willing to become my wife. But if ever that day came, she would require me to give up my position in England, and settle down for life in Guernsey.
Fairly, then, I was launched upon the career of a physician in the great city. The completeness of the change suited me. Nothing here, in scenery, atmosphere, or society, could remind me of the fretted past. The troubled waters subsided into a dull calm, as far as emotional life went. Intellectual life, on the contrary, was quickened in its current, and day after day drifted me farther away from painful memories. To be sure, the idea crossed me often that Olivia might be in London—even in the same street with me. I never caught sight of a faded green dress but my steps were hurried, and I followed till I was sure that the wearer was not Olivia. But I was aware that the chances of our meeting were so small that I could not count upon them. Even if I found her, what then? She was as far away from me as though the Atlantic rolled between us. If I only knew that she was safe, and as happy as her sad destiny could let her be, I would be content. For this assurance I looked forward through the long months that must intervene before her promised communication would come to Tardif.
Thus I was thrown entirely upon my profession for interest and occupation. I gave myself up to it with an energy that amazed Jack, and sometimes surprised myself. Dr. Senior, who was an old veteran, loved it with ardor for its own sake, was delighted with my enthusiasm. He prophesied great things for me.
So passed my first winter in London.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-SEVENTH.
THE TABLES TURNED.
A dreary season was that first winter in London.
It happened quite naturally that here, as in Guernsey, my share of the practice fell among the lower and least important class of patients. Jack Senior had been on the field some years sooner, and he was London-born and London-bred. All the surroundings of his life fitted him without a wrinkle. He was at home everywhere, and would have counted the pulse of a duchess with as little emotion as that of a dairy-maid. On the other hand, I could not accommodate myself altogether to haughty and aristocratic strangers—though I am somewhat ante-dating later experiences, for during the winter our fashionable clients were all out of town, and our time comparatively unoccupied. To be at ease anywhere, it was, at that time, essential to me to know something of the people with whom I was associating—an insular trait, common to all those who are brought up in a contracted and isolated circle.
Besides this rustic embarrassment which hung like a clog about me out-of-doors, within-doors I missed wofully the dainty feminine ways I had been used to. There was a trusty female servant, half cook, half house-keeper, who lived in the front-kitchen and superintended our household; but she was not at all the angel in the house whom I needed. It was a well-appointed, handsome dwelling, but it was terribly gloomy. The heavy, substantial leather chairs always remained undisturbed in level rows against the wall, and the crimson cloth upon the table was as bare as a billiard-table. A thimble lying upon it, or fallen on the carpet and almost crushed by my careless tread, would have been as welcome a sight to me as a blade of grass or a spring of water in some sandy desert. The sound of a light foot and rustling dress, and low, soft voice, would have been the sweetest music in my ears. If a young fellow of eight-and-twenty, with an excellent appetite and in good health, could be said to pine, I was pining for the pretty, fondling woman's ways which had quite vanished out of my life.
At times my thoughts dwelt upon my semi-engagement to Julia. As soon as I could dethrone the image of Olivia from its pre-eminence in my heart, she was willing to welcome me back again—a prodigal suitor, who had spent all his living in a far country. We corresponded regularly and frequently, and Julia's letters were always good, sensible, and affectionate. If our marriage, and all the sequel to it, could have been conducted by epistles, nothing could have been more satisfactory. But I felt a little doubtful about the termination of this Platonic friendship, with its half-betrothal. It did not appear to me that Olivia's image was fading in the slightest degree; no, though I knew her to be married, though I was ignorant where she was, though there was not the faintest hope within me that she would ever become mine.
During the quiet, solitary evenings, while Jack was away at some ball or concert, to which I had no heart to go, my thoughts were pretty equally divided between my lost mother and my lost Olivia—lost in such different ways! It would have grieved Julia in her very soul if she could have known how rarely, in comparison, I thought of her.
Yet, on the whole, there was a certain sweetness in feeling myself not altogether cut off from womanly love and sympathy. There was a home always open to me—a home, and a wife devotedly attached to me, whenever I chose to claim them. That was not unpleasant as a prospect. As soon as this low fever of the spirit was over, there was a convalescent hospital to go to, where it might recover its original tone and vigor. At present the fever had too firm and strong a hold for me to pronounce myself convalescent; but if I were to believe all that sages had said, there would come a time when I should rejoice over my own recovery.
Early in the spring I received a letter from Julia, desiring me to look out for apartments, somewhere in my neighborhood, for herself, and Johanna and Captain Carey. They were coming to London to spend two or three months of the season. I had not had any task so agreeable since I left Guernsey. Jack was hospitably anxious for them to come to our own house, but I knew they would not listen to such a proposal. I found some suitable rooms for them, however, in Hanover Street, where I could be with them at any time in five minutes.
On the appointed day I met them at Waterloo Station, and installed them in their new apartments.
It struck me that, notwithstanding the fatigue of the journey, Julia was looking better and happier than I had seen her look for a long time. Her black dress suited her, and gave her a style which she never had in colors. Her complexion looked dark, but not sallow; and her brown hair was certainly more becomingly arranged. Her appearance was that of a well-bred, cultivated, almost elegant woman, of whom no man need be ashamed. Johanna was simply herself, without the least perceptible change. But Captain Carey again looked ten years younger, and was evidently taking pains with his appearance. That suit of his had never been made in Guernsey; it must have come out of a London establishment. His hair was not so gray, and his face was less hypochondriac. He assured me that his health had been wonderfully good all the winter. I was more than satisfied, I was proud of all my friends.
"We want you to come and have a long talk with us to-morrow," said Johanna; "it is too late to-night. We shall be busy shopping in the morning, but can you come in the evening?"
"Oh, yes," I answered; "I am at leisure most evenings, and I count upon spending them with you. I can escort you to as many places of amusement as you wish to visit."
"To-morrow, then," she said, "we shall take tea at eight o'clock."
I bade them good-night with a lighter heart than I had felt for a long while. I held Julia's hand the longest, looking into her face earnestly, till it flushed and glowed a little under my scrutiny.
"True heart!" I said to myself, "true and constant! and I have nothing, and shall have nothing, to offer it but the ashes of a dead passion. Would to Heaven," I thought as I paced along Brook Street, "I had never been fated to see Olivia!"
I was punctual to my time the next day. The dull, stiff drawing-room was already invested with those tokens of feminine occupancy which I missed so greatly in our much handsomer house. There were flowers blooming in the centre of the tea-table, and little knick-knacks lay strewed about. Julia's work-basket stood on a little stand near the window. There was the rustle and movement of their dresses, the noiseless footsteps, the subdued voices caressing my ear. I sat among them quiet and silent, but revelling in this partial return of olden times. When Julia poured out my tea, and passed it to me with her white hand, I felt inclined to kiss her jewelled fingers. If Captain Carey had not been present I think I should have done so.
We lingered over the pleasant meal as if time were made expressly for that purpose, instead of hurrying over it, as Jack and I were wont to do. At the close Captain Carey announced that he was about to leave us alone together for an hour or two. I went down to the door with him, for he had made me a mysterious signal to follow him. In the hall he laid his hand upon my shoulder, and whispered a few incomprehensible sentences into my ear.
"Don't think any thing of me, my boy. Don't sacrifice yourself for me. I'm an old fellow compared to you, though I'm not fifty yet; everybody in Guernsey knows that. So put me out of the question, Martin. 'There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip.' That I know quite well, my dear fellow."
He was gone before I could ask for an explanation, and I saw him tearing off toward Regent Street. I returned to the drawing-room, pondering over his words. Johanna and Julia were sitting side by side on a sofa, in the darkest corner of the room—though the light was by no means brilliant anywhere, for the three gas-jets were set in such a manner as not to turn on much gas.
"Come here, Martin," said Johanna; "we wish to consult you on a subject of great importance to us all."
I drew up a chair opposite to them, and sat down, much as if it was about to be a medical consultation. I felt almost as if I must feel somebody's pulse, and look at somebody's tongue.
"It is nearly eight months since your poor dear mother died," remarked Johanna.
Eight months! Yes; and no one knew what those eight months had been to me—how desolate! how empty!
"You recollect," continued Johanna, "how her heart was set on your marriage with Julia, and the promise you both made to her on her death-bed?"
"Yes," I answered, bending forward and pressing Julia's hand, "I remember every word."
There was a minute's silence after this; and I waited in some wonder as to what this prelude was leading to.
"Martin," asked Johanna, in a solemn tone, "are you forgetting Olivia?"
"No," I said, dropping Julia's hand as the image of Olivia flashed across me reproachfully, "not at all. What would you have me say? She is as dear to me at this moment as she ever was."
"I thought you would say so," she replied; "I did not think yours was a love that would quickly pass away, if it ever does. There are men who can love with the constancy of a woman. Do you know any thing of her?"
"Nothing!" I said, despondently; "I have no clew as to where she may be now."
"Nor has Tardif," she continued; "my brother and I went across to Sark last week to ask him."
"That was very good of you," I interrupted.
"It was partly for our own sakes," she said, blushing faintly. "Martin, Tardif says that if you have once loved Olivia, it is once for all. You would never conquer it. Do you think that this is true? Be candid with us."
"Yes," I answered, "it is true. I could never love again as I love Olivia."
"Then, my dear Martin," said Johanna, very softly, "do you wish to keep Julia to her promise?"
I started violently. What! Did Julia wish to be released from that semi-engagement, and be free? Was it possible that any one else coveted my place in her affections, and in the new house which we had fitted up for ourselves? I felt like the dog in the manger. It seemed an unheard-of encroachment for any person to come between my cousin Julia and me.
"Do you ask me to set you free from your promise, Julia?" I asked, somewhat sternly.
"Why, Martin," she said, averting her face from me, "you know I should never consent to marry you, with the idea of your caring most for that girl. No, I could never do that. If I believed you would ever think of me as you used to do before you saw her, well, I would keep true to you. But is there any hope of that?"
"Let us be frank with one another," I answered; "tell me, is there any one else whom you would marry if I release you from this promise, which was only given, perhaps, to soothe my mothers last hours?"
Julia hung her head, and did not speak. Her lips trembled. I saw her take Johanna's hand and squeeze it, as if to urge her to answer the question.
"Martin," said Johanna, "your happiness is dear to every one of us. If we had believed there was any hope of your learning to love Julia as she deserves, and as a man ought to love his wife, not a word of this would have been spoken. But we all feel there is no such hope. Only say there is, and we will not utter another word."
"No," I said, "you must tell me all now. I cannot let the question rest here. Is there any one else whom Julia would marry if she felt quite free?"
"Yes," answered Johanna, while Julia hid her face in her hands, "she would marry my brother."
Captain Carey! I fairly gasped for breath. Such an idea had never once occurred to me; though I knew she had been spending most of her time with the Careys at the Vale. Captain Carey to marry! and to marry Julia! To go and live in our house! I was struck dumb, and fancied that I had heard wrongly. All the pleasant, distant vision of a possible marriage with Julia, when my passion had died out, and I could be content in my affection and esteem for her—all this vanished away, and left my whole future a blank. If Julia wished for revenge—and when is not revenge sweet to a jilted woman?—she had it now. I was as crestfallen, as amazed, almost as miserable, as she had been. Yet I had no one to blame, as she had. How could I blame her for preferring Captain Carey's love to my rechauffe affections?
"Julia," I said, after a long silence, and speaking as calmly as I could, "do you love Captain Carey?"
"That is not a fair question to ask," answered Johanna. "We have not been treacherous to you. I scarcely know how it has all come about. But my brother has never asked Julia if she loves him; for we wished to see you first, and hear how you felt about Olivia. You say you shall never love again as you love her. Set Julia free then, quite free, to accept my brother or reject him. Be generous, be yourself, Martin."
"I will," I said.—"My dear Julia, you are as free as air from all obligation to me. You have been very good and very true to me. If Captain Carey is as good and true to you, as I believe he will be, you will be a very happy woman—happier than you would ever be with me."
"And you will not make yourself unhappy about it?" asked Julia, looking up.
"No," I answered, cheerfully, "I shall be a merry old bachelor, and visit you and Captain Carey, when we are all old folks. Never mind me, Julia; I never was good enough for you. I shall be very glad to know that you are happy."
Yet when I found myself in the street—for I made my escape as soon as I could get away from them—I felt as if every thing worth living for were slipping away from me. My mother and Olivia were gone, and here was Julia forsaking me. I did not grudge her her new happiness. There was neither jealousy nor envy in my feelings toward my supplanter. But in some way I felt that I had lost a great deal since I entered their drawing-room two hours ago.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-EIGHTH.
I did not go straight home to our dull, gloomy, bachelor dwelling-place; for I was not in the mood for an hour's soliloquy. Jack and I had undertaken between us the charge of the patients belonging to a friend of ours, who had been called out of town for a few days. I was passing by the house, chewing the bitter cud of my reflections, and, recalling this, I turned in to see if any messages were waiting there for us. Lowry's footman told me a person had been with an urgent request that he would go as soon as possible to No. 19 Bellringer Street. I did not know the street, or what sort of a locality it was in.
"What kind of a person called?" I asked.
"A woman, sir; not a lady. On foot—poorly dressed. She's been here before, and Dr. Lowry has visited the case twice. No. 19 Bellringer Street. Perhaps you will find him in the case-book, sir."
I went in to consult the case-book. Half a dozen words contained the diagnosis. It was the same disease, in an incipient form, of which my poor mother died. I resolved to go and see this sufferer at once, late as the hour was.
"Did the person expect some one to go to-night?" I asked, as I passed through the hall.
"I couldn't promise her that, sir," was the answer. "I did say I'd send on the message to you, and I was just coming with it, sir. She said she'd sit up till twelve o'clock."
"Very good," I said.
Upon inquiry I found that the place was two miles away; and, as our old friend Simmons was still on the cab-stand, I jumped into his cab, and bade him drive me as fast as he could to No. 19 Bellringer Street. I wanted a sense of motion, and a chance of scene. If I had been in Guernsey, I should have mounted Madam, and had another midnight ride round the island. This was a poor substitute for that; but the visit would serve to turn my thoughts from Julia. If any one in London could do the man good. I believed it was I; for I had studied that one malady with my soul thrown into it.
"We turned at last into a shabby street, recognizable even in the twilight of the scattered lamps as being a place for cheap lodging-houses. There was a light burning in the second-floor windows of No. 19; but all the rest of the front was in darkness. I paid Simmons and dismissed him, saying I would walk home. By the time I turned to knock at the door, it was opened quietly from within. A woman stood in the doorway; I could not see her face, for the candle she had brought with her was on the table behind her; neither was there light enough for her to distinguish mine.
"Are you come from Dr. Lowry's?" she asked.
The voice sounded a familiar one, but I could not for the life of me recall whose it was.
"Yes," I answered, "but I do not know the name of my patient here."
"Dr. Martin Dobree!" she exclaimed, in an accent almost of terror.
I recollected her then as the person who had been in search of Olivia. She had fallen back a few paces, and I could now see her face. It was startled and doubtful, as if she hesitated to admit me. Was it possible I had come to attend Olivia's husband?
"I don't know whatever to do!" she ejaculated; "he is very ill to-night, but I don't think he ought to see you—I don't think he would."
"Listen to me," I said; "I do not think there is another man in London as well qualified to do him good."
"Why?" she asked, eagerly.
"Because I have made this disease my special study," I answered. "Mind, I am not anxious to attend him. I came here simply because my friend is out of town. If he wishes to see me, I will see him, and do my best for him. It rests entirely with himself."