"Tell me all about it, my poor child." There was a distinct feeling of comfort in the grasp of the old arms, comfort in the very ring of the deep voice. Molly was not a secretive person by nature, and moreover she retained quite enough shrewdness, even in her unwonted break-down, to conjecture that with Tanty lay her sole hope of help. So rolling her dark head distractedly on the old maid's shoulder, the young maid narrated her tale of woe. Pressed by a pointed question here and there, Tanty soon collected a series of impressions of Molly's visit to Scarthey, that set her busy mind working upon a startlingly new line. It was her nature to jump at conclusions, and it was not strange that the girl's passionate display of grief should seem to be the unmistakable outcome of tenderer feelings than the wounded pride and disappointment which were in reality its sole motors.
"I am convinced it is Rupert that is at the bottom of it," cried Molly at last, springing into uprightness again, and clenching her hands. "His one idea is to drive his brother permanently from his own home—and he hates me."
Tanty sat rigid with thought.
So Molly was in love with Sir Adrian Landale, and he—who knows—was in love with her too; or if not with her, with her likeness to her mother, and that was much the same thing when all was said and done. Could anything be more suitable, more fortunate? Could ever two birds be killed with one stone with more complete felicity than in this settling of the two people she most loved upon earth? Poor pretty Molly! The old lady's heart grew very tender over the girl who now stood half sullenly, half bashfully averting her swollen face; five days ago she had not known her handsome cousin, and now she was breaking her heart for him.
It might be, indeed, as she said, that they had to thank Rupert for this—and off flew Tanty's mind upon another tangent. Rupert was very deep, there could be no doubt of that; he was anxious enough to keep Adrian away from them all; what would it be then when it came to a question of his marriage?
Tanty, with the delightful optimism that seventy years' experience had failed to damp, here became confident of the approach of her younger nephew's complete discomfiture, and in the cheering contemplation of that event chuckled so unctuously that Molly looked at her amazed.
"It is well for you, my dear," said the old lady, rising and wagging her head with an air of enigmatic resolution, "that you have got an aunt."
* * * * *
Some two days later, Rene, sitting upon a ledge of the old Scarthey wall, in the spare sunshine which this still, winter's noon shone pearl-like through a universal mist, busy mending a net, to the tune of a melancholy, inward whistle, heard up above the licking of the waves all around him and the whimper of the seagulls overhead, the beat of steady oars approaching from land side.
Starting to his feet, the little man, in vague expectation, ran to a point of vantage from which to scan the tideway; after a few seconds' investigation he turned tail, dashed into the ruins, up the steps, and burst open the door of the sitting-room, calling upon his master with a scared expression of astonishment.
Captain Jack, poring over a map, his pipe sticking rakishly out of one side of his mouth, looked up amused at the Frenchman's evident excitement, while Adrian, who had been busy with the uppermost row of books upon his west wall, looked down from his ladder perch, with the pessimist's constitutional expectation of evil growing upon his face.
"One comes in a boat," ejaculated Rene, "and I thought I ought to warn his honour, if his honour will give himself the trouble to look out."
"It must be the devil to frighten Renny in this fashion," muttered Captain Jack as distinctly as the clench of his teeth upon the pipe would allow him. Sir Adrian paled a little, he began to descend his ladder, mechanically flicking the dust from his cuffs.
"Your honour," said Rene, drawing to the window and looking out cautiously, "I have not yet seen her, but I believe it is old miss—the aunt of your honour and these ladies."
Captain Jack's pipe fell from his dropping jaw and was broken into many fragments as he leaped to his feet with an elasticity of limb and a richness of expletive which of themselves would have betrayed his calling.
Flinging his arm across one of Adrian's shoulders he peeped across the other out of the window, with an alarm half mocking, half genuine.
"The devil it is, friend Renny," he cried, drawing back and running his hands with an exaggerated gesture of despair through his brown curls; "Adrian, all is lost unless you hide me."
"My aunt here, and alone," exclaimed Adrian, retreating from the window perturbed enough himself, "I must go down to meet her. Pray God it is no ill news! Hurry, Renny, clear these glasses away."
"In the name of all that's sacred, clear me away first!" interposed Captain Jack, this time with a real urgency; through the open lattice came the sound of the grating of the boat's keel upon the sand and a vigorous hail from a masculine throat—"Ahoy, Renny Potter, ahoy!" "Adrian, this is a matter of life and death to my hopes, hide me in your lowest dungeon for goodness' sake; I do not know my way about your ruins, and I am convinced the old lady will nose me out like a badger."
There was no time for explanation; Sir Adrian made a sign to Rene, who highly enjoying the situation and grinning from ear to ear, was already volunteering to "well hide Mr. the Captain," and the pair disappeared with much celerity into the inner room, while Adrian, unable to afford himself further preparation, hurried down the great stairs to meet this unexpected guest.
He emerged bareheaded into the curious mist which hung pall-like upon the outer world, and seemed to combine the opposite elements of glare and dulness, just as Tanty, aided by the stalwart arm of the boatman, who had rowed her across, succeeded in dragging her rheumatic limbs up the last bit of ascent to the door of the keep.
She halted, disengaged herself, and puffing and blowing surveyed her nephew with a stony gaze.
"My dear aunt," cried Adrian, "nothing has happened, I trust?"
"Sufficient has already happened, nephew, I should hope," retorted the old lady with extreme dignity, "sufficient to make me desire to confer with you most seriously. I thank you, young man," turning to William Shearman who stood on one side, his eager gaze upon "the master," ready to pull his forelock so soon as he could catch his eye, "be here again in an hour, if you please."
"But you will allow me to escort you myself," exclaimed Adrian, rising to the situation, "and I hope there need be no hurry so long as daylight lasts—Good-morning, Will, I am glad the new craft is a success—you need not wait. Tanty, take my arm, I beg, the steps are steep and rough."
Gripping her nephew's arm with her bony old woman's hand, Miss O'Donoghue began a laborious ascent, pausing every five steps to breathe stertorously and reproachfully, and look round upon the sandstone walls with supreme disdain; but this was nothing to the air with which, when at last installed upon a high hard chair, in the sitting-room (having sternly refused the easy one Sir Adrian humbly proffered), she deliberately proceeded to survey the scene. In truth, the neatness that usually characterised Adrian's surroundings was conspicuously absent from them, just then.
Two or three maps lay overlapping each other upon the table beside the tray with its flagon of amber ale, which had formed the captain's morning draught; and the soiled glass, the fragments of his pipe, and its half-burnt contents lay strewn about the prostrate chair which that lively individual had upset in his agitation. Adrian's ladder, the books he had been handling and had not replaced, the white ash of the dying fire, all contributed to the unwonted aspect of somewhat melancholy disorder; worse than all, the fumes of the strong tobacco which the sailor liked to smoke in his secluded moments hung rank, despite the open window, upon the absolute motionlessness of the atmosphere.
Tanty snorted and sniffed, while Adrian, after picking up the chair, began to almost unconsciously refold the maps, his eyes fixed wonderingly upon his visitor's face.
This latter delivered herself at length of some of the indignation that was choking her, in abrupt disjointed sentences, as if she were uncorking so many bottles.
"Well I'm sure, nephew, I am not surprised at your extraordinary behaviour, and if this is the style you prefer to live in—style, did I say?—sty would be more appropriate. Of course it is only what I have been led to expect, but I must say I was ill prepared to be treated by you with actual disrespect. My sister's child and I your guest, not to speak of your aunt, and you your mother's son, and her host besides! It is a slap in the face, Adrian, a slap in the face which has been a very bitter pill to have to swallow, I assure you—I may say without exaggeration, in fact, that it has cut me to the quick."
"But surely," cried the nephew, laughing with gentle indulgence at this complicated indictment, "surely you cannot suppose I would have been willingly guilty of the smallest disrespect to you. I am a most unfortunate man, most unfortunately situated, and if I have offended, it is, you must believe, unwittingly and unavoidably. But you got my letter—I made my motives clear to you."
"Oh yes, I got your letter yesterday," responded Tanty, not at all softened, "and a more idiotic production from a man of your attainments, allow me to remark, I never read. Adrian, you are making a perfect fool of yourself, and you cannot afford it!"
"I fear you will never really understand my position," murmured Adrian hopelessly.
Tanty rattled her large green umbrella upon the floor with a violence that made her nephew start, then turned upon him a countenance inflamed with righteous anger.
"It is only three days ago since I gave you fully my view of the situation," she remarked, "you were good enough at the time to admit that it was a remarkably well-balanced one. I should be glad if you will explain in what manner your position could have changed in the space of just three hours after, to lead you to rush back to your island, really as if you were a mole or a wild Indian, or some other strange animal that could not bear civilised society, without even so much as a good-bye to me, or to your cousins either? What is that?—you say you wrote—oh, ay—you wrote—to Molly as well as to me; rigmaroles, my dear nephew, mere absurd statements that have not a grain of truth in them, that do not hold water for an instant. You are not made for the world forsooth, nor the world for you! and if that is not flying in the face of your Creator, and wanting to know better than Providence!—And then you say, 'you cast a gloom by your mere presence.' Fiddle-de-dee! It was not much in the way of gloom that Molly brought back with her from her three days' visit to you—or if that is gloom—well, the more your presence casts of it the better—that is all I can say. Ah, but you should have seen her, poor child, after you went away in that heartless manner and you had removed yourself and your shadow, and your precious gloom—if you could have seen how unhappy she has been!"
"Good God!" exclaimed the man with a paling face, "what are you saying?"
"Only the truth, sir—Molly is breaking her heart because of your base desertion of her."
"Good God," muttered Adrian again, rose up stiffly in a sort of horrified astonishment and then sat down again and passed his hand over his forehead like a man striving to awaken from a painful dream.
"Oh, Adrian, don't be more of a fool than you can possibly help!" cried his relative, exasperated beyond all expression by his inarticulate distress. "You are so busy contemplating all sorts of absurdities miles away that I verily believe you cannot see an inch beyond your nose. My gracious! what is there to be so astonished at? How did you behave to the poor innocent from the very instant she crossed your threshold? Fact is, you have been a regular gay Lothario. Did you not"—cried Tanty, starting again upon her fine vein of metaphor—"did you not deliberately hold the cup of love to those young lips only to nip it in the bud? The girl is not a stock or a stone. You are a handsome man, Adrian, and the long and the short of it is, those who play with fire must reap as they have sown."
Tanty, who had been holding forth with the rapidity of a loose windmill in a hurricane, here found herself forced to pause and take breath; which she did, fanning herself with much energy, a triumphant consciousness of the unimpeachability of her logic written upon her heated countenance. But Adrian still stared at her with the same incredulous dismay; looking indeed as little like a gay Lothario as it was possible, even for him.
"Do you mean," he said at last, in slow broken sentences, as his mind wrestled with the strange tidings; "am I to understand that Molly, that bright beautiful creature, has been made unhappy through me? Oh, my dear Tanty," striving with a laugh, "the idea is too absurd, I am old enough to be her father, you know—what evidence can you have for a statement so distressing, so extraordinary."
"I am not quite in my dotage yet," quoth Tanty, drily; "neither am I in the habit of making unfounded assertions, nephew. I have heard what the girl has said with her own lips, I have read what she has written in her diary; she has sobbed and cried over your cruelty in these very arms—I don't know what further evidence——"
But Sir Adrian had started up again—"Molly crying, Molly crying for me—God help us all—Cecile's child, whom I would give my life to keep from trouble! Tanty, if this is true—it must be true since you say so, I hardly know myself what I am saying—then I am to blame, deeply to blame—and yet—I have not said one word to the child—did nothing...." here he paused and a deep flush overspread his face to the roots of his hair; "except indeed in the first moment of her arrival—when she came in upon me as I was lost in memories of the past—like the spirit of Cecile."
"Humph," said Tanty, pointedly, "but then you see what you took for Cecile's spirit happened to be Molly in the flesh." She fixed her sharp eyes upon her nephew, who, struck into confusion by her words, seemed for the moment unable to answer. Then, as if satisfied with the impression produced, she folded her hands over the umbrella handle and observed in more placid tones than she had yet used:
"And now we must see what is to be done."
Adrian began to pace the room in greater perturbation.
"What is to be done?" he repeated, "alas! what can be done? Tanty, you will believe me when I tell you that I should have cut off my right hand rather than brought this thing upon the child—but she is very young—the impression, thank heaven, cannot in the nature of things endure. She will meet some one worthy of her—with you, Tanty, kindest of hearts, I can safely trust her future. But that she should suffer now, and through me, that bright creature who flitted in upon my dark life, like some heaven-sent messenger—these are evil tidings. Tanty, you must take her away, you must distract her mind, you must tell her what a poor broken-down being I am, how little worthy of her sweet thoughts, and she will learn, soon learn, to forget me, to laugh at herself."
Although addressing the old lady, he spoke like a man reasoning with himself, and the words dropped from his lips as if drawn from a very well of bitterness. Tanty listened to him in silence, but the tension of her whole frame betrayed that she was only gathering her forces for another explosion.
When Adrian's voice ceased there was a moment's silence and then the storm burst; whisking herself out of her chair, the umbrella came into play once more. But though it was only to thump the table, it was evident Miss O'Donoghue would more willingly have laid it about the delinquent's shoulders.
"Adrian, are you a man at all?" she ejaculated fiercely. Then with sudden deadly composure: "So this is the reparation you propose to make for the mischief you have wrought?"
"In God's name!" cried he, goaded at length into some sort of despairing anger himself, "what would you have me do?"
The answer came with the promptitude of a return shot:
"Do? why marry her, of course!"
There was a breathless pause. Tanty, leaning forward across the table, crimson, agitated, yet triumphant; Adrian's white face blasted with astonishment. "Marry her," he echoed at length once more, in a whisper this time. Then with a groan: "This is madness!"
Miss O'Donoghue caught him up briskly. "Madness? My good fellow, not a bit of it; on the contrary, sanity, happiness, prosperity.—Adrian, don't stand staring at me like a stuck pig! Why, in the name of conscience, should not you marry? You are a young man still—pooh, pooh, what is forty!—you are a very fine-looking man, clever, romantic—hear me out, sir, please—and you have made the child love you. There you are again, as if you had a pain in your stomach; you would try the patience of Job! Why, I don't believe there is another man on earth that would not be wild with joy at the mere thought of having gained such a prize. A beautiful creature, with a heart of gold and a purse of gold to boot."
"Oh, heavens, aunt!" interrupted the man, passionately, "leave that question out of the reckoning. The one thing, the only thing, to consider is her happiness. You cannot make me believe it can be for her happiness that she should marry such as me."
"And why shouldn't it be for her happiness?" answered the dauntless old lady. "Was not she happy enough with you here in this God-forsaken hole, with nothing but the tempest besides for company? Why should not she be happy, then, when you come back to your own good place? Would not you be kind to her?—would not you cherish her if she were your wife?"
"Would I not be kind to her?—would I not cherish her?—would I not——? My God!"
"Why, Adrian," cried Tanty, charmed at this unexpected disclosure of feeling and the accent with which it was delivered, "I declare you are as much in love with the girl as she is with you. Why, now you shall just come back with me to Pulwick this moment, and she shall tell you herself if she can find happiness with you or not. Oh—I will hear no more—your own heart, your feelings as a gentleman, as a man of honour, all point, my dear nephew, in the same direction. And if you neglect this warning voice you will be blind indeed to the call of duty. Come now, come back to your home, where the sweetest wife ever a man had awaits you. And when I shall see the children spring up around you, Adrian, then God will have granted my last wish, and I shall die in peace.... There, there, I am an old fool, but when the heart is over full, then the tears fall. Come, Adrian, come, I'll say no more; but the sight of the poor child who loves you shall plead for her happiness and yours. And hark, a word in your ear: let Rupert bark and snarl as he will! And what sort of a devil is it your generosity has made of him? You have done a bad day's work there all these years, but, please God, there are better times dawning for us all.—What are you doing, Adrian? Oh! writing a few orders to your servant to explain your departure with me—quite right, quite right, I won't speak a word then to interrupt you. Dear me! I really feel quite in spirits. Once dear Molly and you settled, there will be a happy home for Madeleine: with you, we can look out a suitable husband for her. Well, well, I must not go too fast yet, I suppose: but I have not told you in what deep anxiety I have been on her account by reason of a most deplorable affair—a foolish girl's fancy only, of course, with a most undesirable and objectionable creature called Smith.... Oh! you are ready, are you?—My dear Adrian, give me your arm then, and let us proceed."
* * * * *
Silence had reigned for but a few seconds in the great room of the keep when Captain Jack re-entered, bearing on his face an expression at once boyishly jubilant and mockingly astonished. He planted himself in front of the landward window, and gazed forth a while.
"There goes my old Adrian, as dutifully escorting that walking sack of bones, that tar-barrel ornament—never mind, old lady, from this moment I shall love you for your brave deeds of this morning—escorting his worthy aunt as dutifully as though he were a penniless nephew.... Gently over the gunnel, madam! That's done! So you are going to take my gig? Right, Adrian. Dear me, how she holds forth! I fancy I hear her from here.—Give way, my lads! That's all right. Gad! Old Adrian's carried off on a regular journey to Cythera, under a proper escort!"
With this odd reminiscence of early mythological reading, the sailor burst into a loud laugh and walked about slapping his leg.
"Would ever any one have guessed anything approaching this? Star-gazing, book-grubbing Sir Adrian ... in love! Adrian the solitary, the pessimist, the I-don't-know-what superior man, in love! Neither more nor less! In love, like an every-day inhabitant of these realms, and with that black-eyed sister of mine that is to be! My word, it's too perfect! Adrian my brother-in-law—for if I gauge that fine creature properly—splendid old lady—she won't let him slide back this time. No, my dear Adrian, you are hooked for matrimony and a return to the living world. That black-eyed jade too, that Molly sister of my Madeleine, will wake up and lead you a life, by George!... Row on, my lads," once more looking at the diminishing black spot upon the grey waters. "Row on—you have never done a better day's work!"
Rene, entering a few moments later, with an open note in his hand, found his master's friend still chuckling, and looked at him inquisitively.
"His honour has returned to Pulwick," said he, in puzzled tones, handing the missive.
"Ay, lad," answered the sailor, cheerily. "The fact is, my good Renny, that in that room of Sir Adrian's where you ensconced me for safety from that most wonderful specimen of her sex (I refer to your master's worthy aunt), it was impossible to avoid overhearing many of her remarks—magnificent voice for a storm at sea, eh? Never mind what it was all about, my good man; what I heard was good news. Ah!" directing his attention to the note; "his honour does not say when he will return, but will send back the gig immediately; and you, M. Potter, are to look after me for as long as I choose to stop here."
Rene required no reflection to realise that anything in the shape of good news which took his master back to his estate must be good news indeed; and his broad face promptly mirrored, in the broadest of grins, the captain's own satisfaction.
"For sure, we will try to take care of M. the captain, as well as if his honour himself was present. He told me you were to be master here."
"Make it so. I should like some dinner as soon as possible, and one of my bro——of Sir Adrian's best bottles. It's a poor heart that never rejoices. Meanwhile, I want to inspect your ruins and your caves in detail, if you will pilot me, Renny. This is a handy sort of an old Robinson Crusoe place for hiding and storing, is it not?"
A JUNIOR'S OPINION
A rarely failing characteristic of very warm-hearted and strongly impulsive people is their inability of graduating their likes and dislikes; a state of mind which cannot fail to lead to frequent alterations of temper.
On more than one occasion, since the domineering old lady had started upon her peregrinations, had her favour for the two brothers undergone reversal; but the ground Rupert gained by Adrian's offences was never of safe tenure. At the present hour, under the elation of her victorious sally upon the hermit's pessimistic entrenchments—the only thing in him of which she disapproved—he at once resumed the warm place she liked to keep for him in her heart. And as a consequence "Master Rupert," as she contemptuously called the "locum tenens Squire," who, in the genealogical order of things, should have been a person of small importance, fell promptly into his original state of disgrace.
During the drive from the village (where she had ordered the carriage to await her return) to the gates of Pulwick, Miss O'Donoghue entertained her companion with an indignant account of his brother's ingratitude, of his hypocritical insinuating method of disparagement of Sir Adrian himself, winding up each indictment with a shrewd, "but he could not impose upon me," which, indeed, she firmly believed.
Her object was, of course, to strengthen the baronet in his resolve to return to the headship of his family—little guessing what a strong incentive to seclusion these very tales of a state of things he suspected but too well would have proved, had it not been for the new unforeseen motive that the morning's revelation had brought.
"Does Molly know of your visit to me?" he asked, as the carriage halted before the gate, and the enormous, red-headed Cumbrian gatekeeper with his rosy Moggie, proudly swung it open to stand on either side, the one bowing with jubilant greeting and the other curtseying with bashful smiles at the real master. "Does she expect my visit?" relapsing into gravity after returning the salutation in kindliness.
"I have told no one of my purpose this day. Rupert walked off to the stables immediately after breakfast—going a-hunting he said he was, and offered to bear the girls to the meet. And then, feeling lonely without his company," added Tanty, with a wink, "I ordered the carriage and thought I would go and have a peep at the place where poor Molly was drowned, just for a little diversion. Whether the little rogue expects you or not, after your note of the other day, I am sure I could not take upon myself to say. She sits watching that crazy old tower of yours by day and your light by night. Well, well, I must not tell tales out of school, you may find out for yourself. But mind you, Adrian," she impressed on him, sagely, "it is not I who bring you back: you return of your own accord. The child would murder me, if she knew—with that proud heart of hers."
"My dear Tanty, trust me. This incomprehensible discovery of yours, which I cannot yet believe in, really is, so far as my discretion is concerned, as if I had never heard of it. Heavens! I have been a blundering fool, but I could not insult her with a hint of it for the world. I have come to see Rupert to-day, as usual, of course—and, as you say ... I shall see for myself. You have opened my eyes."
Miss O'Donoghue looked at her nephew with admiration. "Voyez un peu," she said, "comme l'amour vous degourdit even a doleful Sir Adrian! Faith, here we are. This has been a pleasant ride, but my old bones are so tired, and you and yours have set them jogging so much of late, that I think I'll never want to stir a foot again once I get back to Bunratty ... except indeed to come and be godmother to the heir."
Having lent a dutiful arm up the stairs to his now beaming relative, Sir Adrian came down pensively and entered the library.
There, booted and spurred, but quietly installed at a writing table, sat Mr. Landale, who rose in his nonchalant manner and with cold looks met his brother.
There was no greeting between them, but simply thus:
"I understood from Aunt Rose you were out hunting."
"Such was my intention, but when I found out that she had gone to see you—don't look so astonished, Adrian—a man must know what is going on in his household—I suspected you would escort her back; so I desisted and waited for you. It is an unexpected pleasure to see you, for I thought we had sufficiently discussed all business, recently. But doubtless you will profit of the opportunity to go into a few matters which want your attention. Do you mean to remain?"
Speaking these words in a detached manner, Mr. Landale kept a keenly observant look upon his brother's countenance. In a most unwonted way the tone and the look irritated Sir Adrian.
"I came back, Rupert, because there were some things I wished to see for myself here," he answered frigidly. And going to the bell, rang it vigorously.
On the servant's appearance, without reference to his brother, he himself, and very shortly, gave orders:
"I shall dine here to-day. Have the tapestry-room made ready for me."
Then turning to Rupert, whose face betrayed some of the astonishment aroused by this most unusual assumption of authority, and resuming as it were the thread of his speech, he went on:
"No, Rupert, I have no desire to talk business with you. It is a pity you should have given up your day. Is it yet too late?"
"Upon my word, Adrian," said Mr. Landale, clenching his hand nervously round his fine cambric handkerchief, "there must be something of importance in the wind to have altered your bearing towards me to this extent. I have no wish to interfere. I came back and gave up good company for the reason I have stated. I will now only point out that, with your sudden whims, you render my position excessively false in a house where, at your own wish, I am ostensibly established as master."
And without waiting for another word, the younger brother, having shot the arrow which hitherto never failed to reach the bull's-eye of the situation, left the room with much dignity.
Once more alone, Sir Adrian, standing motionless in the great room, darkened yet more in the winter light by the heavy festoons of curtains that hung over the numerous empty bookshelves, the souls of which had migrated to the peel to keep the master company, cogitated upon this first unpleasant step in his new departure, and wondered within himself why he had felt so extraordinarily moved by anger to-day at the cold inquisitiveness of his brother. No doubt the sense of being watched thus, held away at arm's-length as it were, was cause sufficient. And yet that was not it; ingratitude alone, even to enmity, in return for benefits forgot could not rouse this bitterness. But had it not been for Tanty's interference he would be now exiled from his home until the departure of Cecile's child, just as, but for chance, he would have been kept in actual ignorance of her arrival. It was his brother's doing that he had blindly withdrawn himself when his presence would have caused happiness to her. Yes, that was it. Rupert had a scheme. That was what dwelt in his eyes,—a scheme which would bring, indeed did bring, unhappiness to that dear guest.... No wonder, now, that the unconscious realisation of it awoke all the man's blood in him.
"No, Rupert," Sir Adrian found himself saying aloud, "I let you reign at Pulwick so long as you crossed not one jot of such pleasure and happiness that might belong to Cecile's child. But here our wills clash; and now, since there cannot be two masters in a house as you say, I am the master here."
* * * * *
As Sir Adrian's mind was seething in this unusual mood, Miss O'Donoghue, entering her nieces' room, found Molly perched, in riding dress, on the window-sill, looking forth upon the outer world with dissatisfied countenance.
Mr. Landale had sent word at the last moment that, to his intense regret, he could not escort the ladies to the meet, some important business having retained him at Pulwick.
So much did Miss Molly pettishly explain in answer to the affectionate inquiry concerning the cloud on her brow, slashing her whip the while and pouting, and generally out of harmony with the special radiance of the old lady's eye and the more than usual expansiveness of the embrace which was bestowed upon her.
"Tut, tut, tut, now," observed the artful person in tones of deep commiseration. "Ah well, Rupert's a poor creature which ever side he turns up. Will you go now, my child, and fetch me the letters I left on the drawing-room table? Isn't it like me to spend half the morning writing them and leave them down there after all!"
Molly rose unwillingly, threw her whip on the bed, her hat on the floor; and mistily concerned over Tanty's air of irrepressible and pleasurable excitement, walked out of the room, bestowing as she passed her long pier glass a moody glance at her own glowering beauty.
"What's the use of you?" she muttered to herself, "Anybody can fetch and carry for old aunts and look out of windows on leafless trees!"
The way to the drawing-room was through the library. As Molly, immersed in her reflections, passed along this room, she stopped with a violent start on perceiving the figure of Sir Adrian, a tall silhouette against the cold light of the window. As she came upon him, her face was fully illumined, and there was a glorious tale-telling in the widening of her eyes and the warm flush that mounted to her cheek that on the instant scattered in the man's mind all wondering doubts. A rush of tenderness filled him at one sweep, head and heart, to the core.
"Molly!" he cried, panting; and then with halting voice as she advanced a pace and stood with mouth parted and brilliant expectant eyes: "You took away all light and warmth with you when you left my lonely dwelling. I tried to take up my life there, but——"
"But you have come back—for me?" And drawn by his extended hands she advanced, her burning gaze fixed upon his.
"I dared not think of seeing you again," he murmured, clasping her hands; "yet my return ... pleases you?"
Thus was crowned this strange wooing, was clenched a life's union, based upon either side on fascinating unrealities.
She was drawn into his arms; and against his heart she lay, shaking with little shivers of delight, looking into the noble face bent so lovingly over hers, her mind floating between unconscious exultation and languorous joy.
For a long while without a word he held her thus on his strong arm, gazing with a rending conflict of rapture and anguish on the beautiful image of his life's love, until his eyes were dimmed with rising tears. Then he slowly stooped over the up-turned face, and as she dropped her lids with a faint smile, kissed her lips.
There came a warning rattle at the door handle, and Molly, disengaging herself softly from her betrothed's embrace, but still retaining his arm, turned to witness the entrance of Miss O'Donoghue and Mr. Landale.
On the former's face, under a feigned expression of surprise, now expanded itself in effulgence the plenitude of that satisfaction which had been dawning there ever since her return from the island.
Rupert held himself well in hand. He halted, it is true, for an instant at the first sight of Sir Adrian and Molly, and put his handkerchief furtively to his forehead to wipe the sudden cold sweat which broke out upon it. But the hesitation was so momentary as to pass unperceived; and if his countenance, as he advanced again, bore an expression of disapproval, it was at once dignified and restrained.
"So you are there, Molly," exclaimed the old lady with inimitable airiness. "Just imagine, my dear, I had those letters in my pocket all the while, after all. You did not find them, did you?"
But Adrian, still retaining the little hand on his arm, came forward slowly and broke through the incipient flow.
"Aunt Rose," said he in a voice still veiled by emotion, "I know your kind heart will rejoice with me, although you may not be so surprised, as no doubt Rupert will be, at the news we have for you, Molly and I."
"You are right, Adrian," interrupted Rupert gravely, "to any who know your life and your past as I do, the news you seem to have for us must seem strange indeed. So strange that you will excuse me if I withhold congratulations. For, if I mistake not," he added, with a delicately shaded change of tone to sympathetic courtesy, and slightly turning his handsome face towards Molly, "I assume that my fair cousin de Savenaye has even but now promised to be my sister, Lady Landale."
Sir Adrian who, softened by the emotion of this wonderful hour, had made a movement to grasp his brother's hand, but had checked himself with a passionate movement of anger, instantly restrained, as the overt impertinence of the first words fell on his ears, here looked with a shadowing anxiety at the girl's face.
But Molly, who could never withhold the lash of her tongue when Rupert gave the slightest opening, immediately acknowledged her enemy's courtly bow with sauciness.
"What! No congratulations from the model brother? Not even a word of thanks to Molly de Savenaye for bringing the truant to his home at last? But you malign yourself, my dear Rupert. I believe 'tis but excess of joy that ties your tongue."
With gleaming smile Mr. Landale would have opposed this direct thrust by some parry of polished insult; but he met his elder's commanding glance, remembered his parting words on two previous occasions, and wisely abstained, contenting himself with another slight bow and a contemptuous shrug of the shoulders.
At the same time Miss O'Donoghue, with an odd mixture of farcically pretended astonishment and genuine triumph, fell on the girl's neck.
"It is possible, soul of my heart, my sweet child—I can't believe it—though I vow I knew it all along! So I am to see my two favourites made one by holy matrimony!" punctuating her exclamation with kisses on the fair young face, and wildly seeking in space with her dried-up old fingers to meet Adrian's hand. "I, the one barren stock of the O'Donoghues, shall see my sister's children re-united. Ah, Adrian, what a beautiful coat this will make for you to hand to your children! O'Donoghue, Landale, Kermelegan, Savenaye—eighteen quarters with this heiress alone, Adrian child, for the descendants of Landale of Pulwick!" And Miss O'Donoghue, overcome by this culminating vision of happiness and perfection, fairly burst into tears.
In the midst of this scene, Mr. Landale, after listening mockingly for a few instants, retired with ostentatious discretion.
Later in the day, as Madeleine bent her pretty ears, dutifully yet with wandering attention, to Molly's gay prognostications concerning Pulwick under her sway; whilst the servants in the hall, pantry and kitchen discussed the great news which, by some incomprehensible agency, spread with torrent-like swiftness through the whole estate; while Miss O'Donoghue was feverishly busy with the correspondence which was to disseminate far and wide the world's knowledge of the happy betrothal, Sir Adrian met his brother walking meditatively along the winding path of the garden, flicking with the loop of his crop the border of evergreens as he went. From their room, Molly and Madeleine, ensconced in the deep window-seat, could see the meeting.
"How I should like to hear," said Molly. "I know this supple wretch will be full of Adrian's folly in marrying me—first, because, from the Rupertian point of view, it is a disastrous thing that his elder should marry at all; and secondly, because Molly, mistress at Pulwick Priory, means a very queer position indeed for Mr. Rupert Landale. How I wish my spirit could fly into Adrian's head just for a moment! Adrian is too indulgent. It requires a Molly to deal with such impertinence."
"Indeed you are unjust with our cousin," said Madeleine, gently. "Why this hatred? I cannot understand."
"No, of course not, Madeleine. Rupert is charming—with you. I am not blind. But take care he does not find out your secret, miss. Oh, I don't ask you any more about it. But if he ever does—gare, ma chere."
But at the present juncture, Molly's estimate of Sir Adrian's mood was mistaken. His love of peace, which amounted to a well-known weakness where he alone was concerned, weighed not a feather in the balance when such an interest as that now engaged was at stake.
As a matter of fact, Rupert Landale was to be taken by surprise again, that day, and again not pleasantly. On noticing his brother's approach, he stopped his angry flickings, and slowly moved to meet him. At first they walked side by side in silence. Presently Sir Adrian began:
"Rupert," he said gravely, "after our first interview to-day, it was my intention to have begged your pardon for a certain roughness in my manner which I should have controlled and which you resented. I would have done so, had you allowed me, at that moment when I announced my forthcoming marriage and my heart was full of good-will to all, especially to you. Now, on the contrary, to re-establish at least that outward harmony without which life in common would be impossible, I expect from you some expression of regret for your behaviour."
The first part of his brother's say was so well in accordance with his more habitual mood, that Mr. Landale had already sketched his equally habitual deprecating smile; but the conclusion changed the entire standpoint of their relations.
"An expression of regret—from me?" cried he, exaggerating his astonishment almost to mockery.
"From any one but my brother," said Adrian, with a slight but perceptible hardening in his tone, "I should say an apology for an impertinence."
Mr. Landale, now genuinely taken aback, turned a little pale and halted abruptly.
"Adrian, Adrian!" he retorted, quickly. "This is one of your mad moments. I do not understand."
"No, brother, I am not mad, and never have been, dearly as you would wish me to be so in reality—since Death would have none of me. But though you know this yourself but too well, you have never understood me really. Now listen—once for all. Try and see our positions as they are: perhaps then matters will go more pleasantly in the future for you as well as for me."
Mr. Landale looked keenly at the speaker's face for a second, and then without a word resumed his walk, while Sir Adrian by his side pursued with quiet emphasis:
"When I returned, from the other world so to speak, at least from your point of view (one which I fully understood), I found that this very return was nothing short of a calamity for all that remained of my kin. I had it in my power to reduce that misfortune to a great extent. You loved the position—that worldly estimation, that fortune, all those circumstances which, with perfect moral right, you had hitherto enjoyed. They presented little attraction to me. Moreover, there were many reasons, which I am quite aware you know, that made this very house of mine a dismal dwelling for me. You see I have no wish to give too generous a colour to my motives, too self-denying a character to the benefits I conferred upon you. But, as far as you are concerned, they were benefits. For them I received no gratitude; but as I did not expect gratitude it matters little. I might, however, have expected at least that you should be neutral, not directly hostile to me——Pray let me finish" (in anticipation of a rising interruption from his companion), "I shall soon have done, and you will see that I am not merely recriminating. Hostile you have been, and are now. So long as the position you assumed towards me only bore on our own relations, I acquiesced: you had so much more to lose than I could gain by resenting your hidden antagonism. I held you, so to speak, in the hollow of my hand; I could afford to pass over it all. Moreover, I had chosen my own path, which was nothing if not peaceful. I say, you always were hostile to me; you have been so, more than ever since the arrival of Cecile de Savenaye's children. You were, however, grievously mistaken if you thought—I verily believe you did—that I did not realise the true motives that prompted you to keep me away from them.—I loved them as their mother's children; I love Molly with a sort of love I myself do not understand, but deep enough for all its strangeness. Yet I submitted to your reasoning, to your plausible representations of the disastrous effects of my presence. I went back to my solitude because it never entered my mind that it could be in my power to help their happiness; you indeed had actually persuaded me of the contrary, as you know, and I myself thought it better to break the unfortunate spell that was cast on me. Unfortunate I thought it, but it has proved far otherwise."
They had reached the end of the alley, and as they turned back, facing each other for a moment, Sir Adrian noticed the evil smile playing upon his brothers lips.
"It has proved otherwise," he repeated. "How I came to change my views, I daresay you have guessed, for you have, of late, kept a good watch on your mad brother, Rupert. At any rate you know what has come to pass. Now I desire you to understand this clearly—interference with me as matters stand means interference with Molly: and as such I must, and shall, resent it."
"Well, Adrian, and what have I done now?" was Mr. Landale's quiet reply. He turned a gravely attentive, innocently injured countenance to the paling light.
"When I said you did not understand me," returned Sir Adrian with undiminished firmness; "when I said you owed me some expression of regret, it was to warn you never again to assume the tone of insinuation and sarcasm to me, which you permitted yourself to-day in the presence of Molly. You could not restrain this long habit of censuring, of unwarrantable and impertinent criticism, of your elder, and when you referred to my past, Molly could not but be offended by the mockery of your tones. Moreover, you took upon yourself, if I have heard aright, to disapprove openly of our marriage. Upon what ground that would bear announcing I know not, but let this be enough: try and realise that our respective positions are totally changed by this unforeseen event, and that, as Molly is now to be mistress at Pulwick, I must of course revoke my tacit abdication. Nevertheless, if you think you can put up with the new state of things, there need be little alteration in your present mode of life, my dear Rupert; if you will only make a generous effort to alter your line of conduct."
And here, Sir Adrian, succumbing for a moment to the fault, so common to kindly minds, of discounting the virtue of occasional firmness by a sudden return to geniality, offered his hand in token of peace.
Mr. Landale took it; his grasp, however, was limp and cold.
"I am quite ready to express regret," he said in a toneless voice, "since that would seem to be gratification to you, and moreover seems to be the tacit condition on which you will refrain from turning me out. I ought indeed to have abstained from referring, however vaguely, to past events, for the plain reason that anything I could say would already have come too late to prevent the grievous deed you have now pledged yourself to commit."
"Rupert—!" exclaimed Sir Adrian stepping back a pace, too amazed, at the instant, for indignation.
"Now, in your turn, hear me, Adrian," continued Mr. Landale with his blackest look. "I have listened to your summing up of our respective cases with perfect patience, notwithstanding a certain assumption of superiority which—allow me to insist on this—is somewhat ridiculous from you to me. You complain of my misunderstanding you. Briefly, this is absurd. As a matter of fact I understand you better than you do yourself. On the other hand it is you that do not understand me. I have no wish to paraphrase your little homily of two minutes ago, but the heads of my refutation are inevitably suggested by the points of your indictment. To use your own manner of speech, my dear Adrian, I have no wish to assume injured disinterestedness, when speaking of my doings with regard to you and your belongings and especially to this old place of yours, of our family. You have only to look and see for yourself...."
Mr. Landale made a wide comprehensive gesture which seemed to embrace the whole of the noble estate, the admirably kept mansion with walls now flushed in the light of the sinking sun, the orderly maintenance of the vast grounds, the prosperousness of its dependencies—all in fact that the brothers could see with the eyes of the body from where they stood, and all that they could see with the eyes of the mind alone: "Go and verify whether I fulfilled my duty with respect to the trust which was yours, but which you have allowed to devolve upon my shoulders, and ask yourself whether you would have fulfilled it better—if as well. I claim no more than this recognition; for, as you pointed out, the position carried its advantages, if it entailed arduous responsibility too. It was my hope that heirs of my body would live to perpetuate this pride—this work of mine. It was not to be. Now that you step in again and that possibly your flesh will reap the benefits I have laboured to produce, ask yourself, Adrian, whether you, who shirked your own natural duties, would have buckled to the task, under my circumstances—distrusted by your brother, disliked and secretly despised by all your dependants, who reserved all their love and admiration for the 'real master' (oh, I know the cant phrase), although he chose to abandon his position and yield himself to the stream of his own inertness, the real master who in the end can find no better description for these years of faithful service than 'hostility' and 'ingratitude.'"
Sir Adrian halted a pace, a little moved by the speciousness of the pleading. The incidental reference to that one grief of his brother's life was of a kind which could never fail to arouse generous sympathy in his heart. But Mr. Landale had not come to the critical point of his say, and he did not choose to allow the chapter of emotion to begin just yet.
"But," he continued, pursuing his restless walk, "again to use your own phraseology, I am not merely recriminating. I, too, wish you to understand me. It would be useless to discuss now, what you elect to call my hostility in past days. I had to keep up the position demanded by our ancient name; to keep it up amid a society, against whose every tenet almost—every prejudice, you may call them—you chose to run counter. My antagonism to your mode of acting and thinking was precisely measured by your own against the world in which the Landales, as a family, hold a stake. Let that, therefore, be dismissed; and let us come at once to the special hostility you complain of in me, since the troublesome arrival of Aunt Rose and her wards. As the very thing which I was most anxious to prevent, if possible, has, after all, come to pass, the present argument may seem useless; but you have courted it yourself."
"Most anxious to prevent—if possible...!" repeated Sir Adrian, slowly. "This, from a younger brother, is almost cynical, Rupert!"
"Cynical!" retorted Mr. Landale, with a furious laugh. "Why, you have given sound to the very word I would, in anybody else's case, have applied to a behaviour such as yours. Is it possible, Adrian," said Rupert, turning to look his brother in the eyes with a look of profound malice, "that it has not occurred to you yet, that cynical will be the verdict the world will pass on the question of your marriage with that young girl?"
Sir Adrian flushed darkly, and remained silent for a pace or two; then, with a puzzled look:
"I fail to understand you," he said simply. "I am no longer young, of course; yet, in years, I am not preposterously old. As for the other points—name and fortune——"
But Rupert interrupted him with a sharp exclamation, which betrayed the utmost nervous exasperation.
"Pshaw! If I did not know you so well, I would say you were playing at candour. This—this unconventionality of yours would have led you into curious pitfalls, Adrian, had you been obliged to live in the world. My 'hostility' has saved you from some already, I know—more is the pity it could not save you from this—for it passes all bounds that you should meditate such an unnatural act, upon my soul, in the most natural manner in the world. One must be an Adrian Landale, and live on a tower for the best part of one's life, to reach such a pitch of—unconventionality, let us call it."
"For God's sake," exclaimed Sir Adrian, suddenly losing patience, "what are you driving at, man? In what way can my marriage with a young lady, who, inconceivable as it may be, has found something to love in me; in what way, I say, can it be accounted cynical? I am not subtle enough to perceive it."
"To any one but you," sneered the other, coming to his climax with a sort of cruel deliberation, "it would hardly require special subtleness to perceive that for the man of mature age to marry the daughter, after having, in the days of his youth, been the lover of the mother, is a proceeding, the very idea of which is somewhat revolting in the average individual.... There are many roues in St. James' who would shrink before it; yet you, the enlightened philosopher, the moralist——"
But Sir Adrian, breathing quickly, laid his hand heavily on his brother's shoulder.
"When you say the mother's lover, Rupert," he said, in a contained voice, which was as ominous of storm as the first mutters of thunder, "you mean that I loved her—you do not mean to insinuate that that noble woman, widowed but a few weeks, whose whole soul was filled with but one lofty idea, that of duty, was the mistress—the mistress of a boy, barely out of his teens?"
Rupert shrugged his shoulders.
"I insinuate nothing, my dear Adrian; I think nothing. All this is ancient history which after all has long concerned only you. You know best what occurred in the old days, and of course a man of honour is bound to deny all tales affecting a lady's virtue! Even you, I fancy, would condescend so far. But nevertheless, reflect how this marriage will rake up the old story. It will be remembered how you, for the sake of remaining by Cecile de Savenaye's side, abandoned your home to fight in a cause that did not concern you; nay, more, turned your back for the time upon those advanced social theories which even at your present season of life you have not all shaken off. You travelled with her from one end of England to the other, in the closest intimacy, and finally departed over seas, her acknowledged escort. She on her side, under pretext of securing the best help on her political mission that England can afford her, selected a young man notoriously in love with her, at the very age when the passions are hottest, and wisdom the least consideration—as her influential agent, of course. Men are men, Adrian—especially young men—small blame to you, young that you were, if then ... but you cannot expect, in sober earnest, the world to believe that you went on such a wild pilgrimage for nothing! Women are women—especially young women, of the French court—who have never had the reputation of admiring bashfulness in stalwart young lovers...."
Sir Adrian's hand, pressing upon his brother's shoulder, as if weighted by all his anger, here forced the speaker into silence.
"Shame! Shame, Rupert!" he cried first, his eyes aflame with a generous passion; then fiercely: "Silence, fellow, or I will take you by that brazen throat of yours and strangle the venomous lie once for all." And then, with keen reproach, "That you, of my blood, of hers too, should be the one to cast such a stigma on her memory—that you should be unable even to understand the nature of our intercourse.... Oh, shame, on you for your baseness, for your vulgar, low suspiciousness!... But, no, I waste my breath upon you, you do not believe this thing. You have outwitted yourself this time. Hear me now: If anything could have suggested to me this alliance with the child of one I loved so madly and so hopelessly, the thought that such dastardly slander could ever have been current would have done so. The world, having nothing to gain by the belief, will never credit that Sir Adrian Landale would marry the daughter of his paramour—however his own brother may deem to his advantage to seem to think so! The fact of Molly de Savenaye becoming Lady Landale would alone, had such ill rumours indeed been current in the past, dispel the ungenerous legend for ever."
There were a few moments of silence while Sir Adrian battled, in the tumult of his indignation, for self-control again; while Rupert, realising that he had outwitted himself indeed, bestowed inward curses upon most of his relations and his own fate.
The elder brother resumed at length, with a faint smile:
"And so, you see, even if you had spoken out in time, it would have been of little avail." Then he added, bitterly. "I have received a wound from an unforeseen quarter. You have dealt it, to no purpose, Rupert, as you see ... though it may be some compensation to such a nature as yours to know that you have left in it a subtle venom."
The sun had already sunk away, and its glow behind the waters had faded to the merest tinge. In the cold shadow of rising night the two men advanced silently homewards. Sir Adrian's soul, guided by the invidious words, had flown back to that dead year, the central point of his existence—It was true: men will be men—in that very house, yonder, he had betrayed his love to her; on board the ship that took them away and by the camp fire on the eve of fight, he had pleaded the cause of his passion, not ignobly indeed, with no thought of the baseness which Rupert assigned to him, yet with a selfish disregard of her position, of his own grave trust. And it was with a glow of pride, in the ever living object of his life's devotion—of gratitude almost—that he recalled the noble simplicity with which the woman, whom he had just heard classed among the every-day sinners of society, had, without one grandiloquent word, without even losing her womanly softness, kept her lover as well as herself in the path of her lofty ideal—till the end. And yet she did love him: at the last awful moment, sinking into the very jaws of death, the secret of her heart had escaped her. And now—now her beauty, and something of her own life and soul was left to him in her child, as the one fit object on which to devote that tenderness which time could not change.
* * * * *
After a while, from the darkness by his side came the voice of his brother again, in altered, hardly recognisable accents.
"Adrian, those last words of yours were severe—unjust. I do not deserve such interpretation of my motives. Is it my fault that you are not as other men? Am I to be blamed for judging you by the ordinary standard? But you have convinced me: you were as chivalrous as Cecile was pure, and if needs be, believe me, Adrian, I will maintain it so in the face of the world. Yes, I misunderstood you—and wounded you, as you say, but such was not my intention. Forgive me."
They had come to the door. Sir Adrian paused. There was a rapid revulsion in his kindly mind at the extraordinary sound of humble words from his brother; and with a new emotion, he replied, taking the hand that with well-acted diffidence seemed to seek his grasp:
"Perhaps we have both something to forgive each other. I fear you did not misjudge me so much as you misjudged her who left me that precious legacy. But believe that, believe it as you have just now said, Rupert, the mother of those children never stooped to human frailty—her course in her short and noble life was as bright and pure as the light of day."
Without another word the two brothers shook hands and re-entered their home.
Sir Adrian sought Miss O'Donoghue whom he now found in converse with Molly, and with a grave eagerness, that put the culminating touch to the old lady's triumph, urged the early celebration of his nuptials.
Mr. Landale repaired to his own study where in solitude he could give loose rein to his fury of disappointment, and consider as carefully as he might in the circumstances how best to work the new situation to his own advantage.
* * * * *
Even on that day that had been filled with so many varied and poignant emotions for him; through the dream in which his whole being seemed to float, Sir Adrian found a moment to think of the humble followers whom he had left so abruptly on the island, and of the pleasure the auspicious news would bring to them.
It was late at night, and just before parting with the guest who was so soon to be mistress under his roof, he paused on the stairs before a window that commanded a view of the bay. Molly drew closer and leant against his shoulder; and thus both gazed forth silently for some time at the clear distant light, the luminous eye calmly watching over the treacherous sands.
That light of Scarthey—it was the image of the solitary placid life to which he had bidden adieu for ever; which even now, at this brief interval of half a day, seemed as far distant as the years of despair and vicissitude and disgust to which it had succeeded. A man can feel the suddenly revealed charm of things that have ceased to be, without regretting them.
With the dear young head that he loved, with a love already as old as her very years, pressing his cheek; with that slender hand in his grasp, the same, for his love was all miracle, that he had held in the hot-pulsed days of old—he yet felt his mind wander back to his nest of dreams. He thought with gratitude of Rene, the single-minded, faithful familiar; of old Margery, the nurse who had tended Cecile's children, as well as her young master; thought of their joy when they should hear of the marvellous knitting together into the web of his fate, of all those far-off ties.
In full harmony with such fleeting thoughts, came Molly's words at length breaking the silence.
"Will you take me back to that strange old place of yours, Adrian, when we are married?"
Sir Adrian kissed her forehead.
"And would you not fear the rough wild place, child," he murmured.
"Not for ever, I mean," laughed the girl, "for then my mission would not be fulfilled—which was to make of Adrian, Sir Adrian, indeed. But now and again, to recall those lovely days, when—when you were so distracted for the love of Murthering Moll and the fear lest she should see it. You will not dismantle those queer rooms that received so hospitably the limping, draggled-tailed guest—they must again shelter her when she comes as proud Lady Landale! How delicious it would be if the tempest would only rage again, and the sea-mew shriek, and the caverns roar and thunder, and I knew you were as happy as I am sure to be!"
"All shall be kept up even as you left it," answered Sir Adrian moved by tender emotion; "to be made glorious again by the light of your youth and fairness. And Renny shall be cook again, and maid of all work. My poor Renny, what joy when he hears of his master's happiness, and all through the child of his beloved mistress! But he will have to spend a sobering time of solitude out there, till I can find a substitute for his duties."
"You are very much attached to that funny little retainer, Adrian!" said Molly after a pause.
"To no man alive do I owe so much. With no one have I had, through life, so much in common," came the grave reply.
"Then," returned the girl, "you would thank me for telling you of the means of making the good man's exile less heavy, until you take him back with you."
"No doubt." There was a tone of surprise and inquiry in his voice.
"Why, it is simple enough. Have you never heard of his admiration for Moggie Mearson, our maid? Let them marry. They will make a good pair, though funny. What, you never knew it? Of course not, or you would not have had the heart to keep the patient lovers apart so long. Let them marry, my Lord of Pulwick: it will complete the romance of the persecuted Savenayes of Brittany and their helpful friends of the distant North."
Musing, Sir Adrian fell into silence. The faithful, foolish heart that never even told its secret desire, for very fear of being helped to win it; by whom happiness and love were held to be too dearly bought at the price of separation from the lonely exile!
"Eh bien, dreamer?" cried the girl gaily.
"Thank you, Molly," said Sir Adrian, turning to her with shining eyes. "This is a pretty thought, a good thought. Renny will indeed doubly bless the day when Providence sent you to Pulwick."
And so, the following morn, Mr. Renny Potter was summoned to hear the tidings, and informed of the benevolent prospects more privately concerning his own life; was bidden to thank the future Lady Landale for her service; was gently rebuked for his long reticence, and finally dismissed in company of the glowing Moggie with a promise that his nuptials should be celebrated at the same time as those of the lord of the land. The good fellow, however, required first of all an assurance that these very fine plans would not entail any interference with his duties to his master before he would allow himself to be pleased at his fortunes. Great and complex, then, was his joy; but it would have been hard to say, as Moggie confessed to her inquiring mistress that night, when he had returned to his post, whether the pride and delight in his master's own betrothal was not uppermost in his bubbling spirits.
TWO MONTHS LATER: THE QUICK AND THE DEAD
Neighbour, what doth thy husband when he cometh home from work? He thinks of her he loved before he knew me
February 18th. Upon the 18th of January, 1815, did I commit that most irreparable of all follies; then by my own hand I killed fair Molly de Savenaye, who was so happy, so free, so much in love with life, and whom I loved so dearly, and in her stead called into existence Molly Landale, a poor-spirited miserable creature who has not given me one moment's amusement. How could I have been so stupid?
Let me examine.
It is only a month ago, only a month, 4 weeks, 31 days, millions of horrible dreary minutes, Oh, Molly, Molly, Molly! since you stood, that snowy day, in the great drawing-room (my drawing-room now, I hate it), and vowed twice over, once before the Jesuit father from Stonyhurst, once before jolly, hunting heretical parson Cochrane to cleave to Adrian Landale till death bid you part! Brr—what ghastly words and with what a light heart I said them, tripped them out, ma foi, as gaily as "good-morning" or "good-night!" They were to be the open sesame to joys untold, to lands flowing with milk and honey, to romance, adventure, splendour—and what have they brought me?
It is a cold day, sleeting, snowing, blowing, all that is abominable. My lord and master has ridden off, despite it, to some distant farm where there has been a fire. The "Good Sir Adrian," as they call him now—he is that; but, oh dear me—there! I must yawn, and I'll say no more on this head, at present, for I want to think and work my wretched problem out in earnest, and not go to sleep.
It is the first time I have taken heart to write since yonder day of doom, and God knows when I shall have heart again! Upon such an afternoon there is nothing better to do, since Sir Adrian would have none of my company—he is so precious of me that he fears I should melt like sugar in the wet—he never guessed that it was just because of the storm I wished the ride! Were we to live a hundred years together—which, God forfend—he would never understand me.
Ah, lack-a-day, oh, misery me! (My lady, you are wandering; come back to business.)
What, then, has marriage brought me? First of all a husband. That is to say, another person, a man who has the right to me—to whom I myself have given that right—to have me, to hold me, as it runs in the terrible service, the thunders of which were twice rolled out upon my head, and which have been ringing there ever since. And I, Molly, gave of my own free will, that best and most blessed of all gifts, my own free will, away. I am surrounded, as it were, by barriers; hemmed in, bound up, kept in leading strings. I mind me of the seagull on the island. 'Tis all in the most loving care in the world, of course, but oh! the oppression of it! I must hide my feelings as well as I can, for in my heart I would not grieve that good man, that excellent man, that pattern of kind gentleman—oh, oh, oh—it will out—that dreary man, that dull man, that most melancholy of all men! Who sighs more than he smiles, and, I warrant, of the two, his sighs are the more cheerful; who looks at his beautiful wife as if he saw a ghost, and kisses her as if he kissed a corpse!
There is a mate for Molly! the mate she chose for herself!
So much for the husband. What else has marriage brought her?
Briefly I will capitulate.
A title—I am my lady. For three days it sounded prettily in my ears. But to the girl who refused a duchess' coronet, who was born comtesse—to be the baronet's lady—Tanty may say what she likes of the age of creation, and all the rest of it—that advantage cannot weigh heavy in the balance. Again then, I have a splendid house—which is my prison, and in which, like all prisoners, I have not the right to choose my company—else would Sophia and Rupert still be here? They are going, I am told occasionally; but my intimate conviction is, however often they may be going, they will never go. Item four: I have money, and nothing to spend it on—but the poor.
What next? What next?—alas, I look and I find nothing! This is all that marriage has brought me; and what has it not taken from me?
My delight in existence, my independence, my hopes, my belief in the future, my belief in love. Faith, hope, and charity, in fact, destroyed at one fell sweep. And all, to gratify my curiosity as to a romantic mystery, my vanity as to my own powers of fascination! Well, I have solved the mystery, and behold it was nothing. I have eaten of the fruit of knowledge, and it is tasteless in my mouth.
I have made my capture with my little bow and spear, and I am as embarrassed of my captive as he of me. We pull at the chain that binds us together; nay, such being the law of this world between men and women, the positions are reversed, my captive is now my master, and Molly is the slave.
Tanty, I could curse thee for thy officiousness, from the tip of thy coal black wig to the sole of thy platter shoe—but that I am too good to curse thee at all!
Poor book of my life that I was so eager to fill in, that was to have held a narrative all thrilling, and all varied, now will I set forth in thee, my failure, my hopelessness, and after that close thee for ever.
Of what use indeed to chronicle, when there is nought to tell but flatness, chill monotony, on every side; when even the workings of my soul cannot interest me to follow, since they can now foreshadow nothing, lead to nothing but fruitless struggle or tame resignation!
I discovered my mistake—not the whole of it, but enough to give me a dreadful foreboding of its hideousness, not two hours after the nuptial ceremony.
Adrian had borne himself up to that with the romantic, mysterious dignity of presence that first caught my silly fancy; behind which I had pictured such fascinating depths of passion—of fire—Alas! When he looked at me it was with that air of wondering, almost timid, affection battling with I know not what flame of rapture, with which look I have become so fatally familiar since—without the flame of rapture, be it understood, which seems to have rapidly burnt away to a very ash of grey despondency and self-reproach. I could have sworn even as he gave me his arm to meet and receive the congratulations of our guests, that the glow upon his cheek, the poise of his head denoted the pride any man, were he not an idiot nor a brute, must feel in presenting his bride—such a bride!—to the world. Then we went in to the great dining hall where the wedding feast, a very splendid one, was spread. All the gentlemen looked with admiration at me; many with envy at Adrian. I knew that I was beautiful in my fine white satin with my veil thrown back, without the flattering whispers that reached me now and again; but these were sweet to hear nevertheless. I knew myself the centre of all eyes, and it elated me. So too did the tingling flavour of the one glass of sparkling wine I drank to my fortunes. Immediately upon this silent toast of Lady Landale to herself, Rupert rose and in choice words and silver-ringing voice proposed the health of the bride and bridegroom. There was a merry bustling pause while the glasses were filled; then rising to their feet as with one man, all the gentlemen stood with brimming goblets one instant extended, the next emptied to the last drop; and then the cheers rang out, swelling up the rafters, three times three, seeming to carry my soul along with them. I felt my heart expand and throb with an emotion I never knew in it before, which seemed to promise vast future capacities of pain and delight. I turned to my husband instinctively; looking for, expecting, I could not explain why, an answering fire in his eyes. This was the last moment of my illusions. From thence they began to shrivel away with a terrifying rapidity.
Adrian sat with a face that looked old and lined and grey; with haggard unseeing eyes gazing forth into space as though fixing some invisible and spectre show. He seemed as if wrapt in a world of his own, to which none of us had entrance; least of all, I, his wife.
The shouts around us died away, there were cries upon him for "Speech—speech," then playful queries—"How is this, Sir Adrian? So bashful, egad!" next nudges were exchanged, looks of wonder, and an old voice speaking broadly:
"Yes, by George," it was saying, "I remember it well, by George, in this very room, now twenty years ago, 'Here, gentlemen,' says old Sir Tummas, 'Here's to Madam de Savenaye,' and gad, ma'am, we all yelled,—she was a lovely creature—Eh—Eh?"
"Hush," said some one, and there was a running circle of frowns and the old voice ceased as abruptly as if its owner had been seized by the weasand. In the heavy embarrassed silence, I caught Tanty's red perturbed look and Rupert's smile.
But Adrian sat on—like a ghost among the living, or a live man among the dead. And this was my gallant bridegroom! I seized him by the hand—"Are you ill, Adrian?"
He started and looked round at me—Oh that look! It seemed to burn into my soul, I shall never forget the hopelessness, the dull sadness of it, and then—I don't know what he read in my answering glance—the mute agonised question, followed by a terror.
"They want you to speak," I whispered, and shook the cold hand I held in a fury of impatience.
His lips trembled: he stared at me blankly. "My God, my God, what have I done?" he muttered to himself, "Cecile's child—Cecile's child!"
I could have burst out sobbing. But seeing Rupert's face bent down towards his plate, demure and solemn, yet stamped, for all his cleverness, with an almost devilish triumph, my pride rose and my courage. Every one else seemed to be looking towards us: I stood up.
"Good friends," I said, "I see that my husband is so much touched by the welcome that you are giving his bride, the welcome that you are giving him after his long exile from his house, that he is quite unable to answer you as he would wish. But lest you should misunderstand this silence of his, I am bold enough to answer you in his name, and—since it is but a few moments ago that you have seen us made one, I think I have the right to do so.... We thank you."
My heart was beating to suffocation—but I carried bravely on till I was drowned in a storm of acclamations to which the first cheers were as nothing.
They drank my health again, and again I heard the old gentleman of the indiscreet voice—I have learned since he is stone deaf, and I daresay he flattered himself he spoke in a whisper—proclaim that I was my mother all over again: begad—so had she spoken to them twenty years ago in this very room!
Here Tanty came to the rescue and carried me off.
I dared not trust myself to look at Adrian as I left, but I knew that he followed me to the door, from which I presumed that he had recovered his presence of mind in some degree.
Since that day we have been like two who walk along on opposite banks of a widening stream—ever more and more divided.
I have told no one of my despair. It is curious, but, little wifely as I feel towards him, there is something in me that keeps me back from the disloyalty of discussing my husband with other people.
And it is not even as it might have been—this is what maddens me. We are always at cross purposes. Some wilful spirit wakes in me, at the very sound of his voice (always gentle and restrained, and echoing of past sadness); under his mild, tender look; at the every fresh sign of his perpetual watchful anxiety—I give him wayward answers, frowning greetings, sighs, pouts; I feel at times a savage desire to wound, to anger him, and as far as I dare venture I have ventured, yet could not rouse in him one spark, even of proper indignation.
The word of the riddle lay in that broken exclamation of his at our wedding feast.
His wife, then, is only Cecile's child to him. I have failed when I thought to have conquered—and with the consciousness of failure have lost my power, even to the desire of regaining it. My dead mother is my rival; her shade rises between me and my husband's love. Could he have loved me, I might perhaps have loved him—and now—now I, Molly, I, shall perhaps go down to my grave without having known love.
I thought I had found it on that day when he took me in his arms in that odious library—my heart melted when he so tenderly kissed my lips. And now the very remembrance of that moment angers me. Tenderness! Am I only a weak, helpless child that I can arouse no more from the man to whom I have given myself! I thought the gates of life had been opened to me—behold, they led me to a warm comfortable prison! And this is Molly's end!
There is a light in Madeleine's eyes, a ring in her voice, a smile upon her lip. She has bloomed into a beauty that I could hardly have imagined, and this is because of this unknown whom she loves. She breathes the fulness of the flower; and by-and-by, no doubt, she will taste the fulness of the fruit; she will be complete; she will be fed and I am to starve. What is coming to me? I do not know myself. I feel that I could grudge her these favours, that I do grudge them to her. I am sick at heart.
And she—even she has proved false to me. I know that she meets this man. Adrian too knows it, and more of him than he will tell me; and he approves. I am treated like a child. The situation is strange upon every side; Madeleine loving a plebeian—a sailor, not a king's officer—stooping to stolen interviews! Adrian the punctilious, in whose charge Tanty solemnly left her, pretending ignorance, virtually condoning my sister's behaviour! For though he has distinctly refused to enlighten me or help me to enlighten myself, he could not, upon my taxing him with it, deny that he was in possession of facts ignored by me.
Then there is Rupert paying now open court to this sly damsel—for the sake of her beautiful eyes, or for the beautiful eyes of her casket? And last and strangest, the incongruous friendship struck up this week between her and that most irritating of melancholy fools, Sophia. The latter bursts with suppressed importance, she launches glances of understanding at my sister; sighs, smiles (when Rupert's eye is not on her), starts mysteriously. One would say that Madeleine had made a confidant of her—only that it would be too silly. What? Make a confidant of that funereal mute and deny me the truth! If I had the spirit for it I would set myself to discovering this grand mystery; and then let them beware! They would have none of Molly as a friend: perhaps she will yet prove one too many upon the other side.
If I have grown bitter to Madeleine, it is her own fault; I would have been as true as steel to her if she had but trusted me. Now and again, when a hard word and look escape me, she gives me a great surprised, reproachful glance, as of a petted child that has been hurt; but mostly she scarcely seems to notice the change in me—Moonlike in dreamy serenity she sails along, wrapt in her own thoughts, and troubles no more over Molly's breaking her heart than over Rupert's determined suit. To me when she remembers me, she gives the old caresses, the old loving words; to him smiles and pretty courtesy. Oh, she keeps her secret well! But I came upon her in the woods alone, last Friday, fresh, no doubt, from her lover's arms; tremulous, smiling, yet tearful, with face dyed rose. And when to my last effort to attain the right of sisterhood she would only stammer the tell-tale words: she had promised! and press her hot cheeks against mine, I thrust her from me, indignant, and from my affections for ever. Yet I hold her in my power, I could write to Tanty, put Rupert on the track.... Nay, I have not fallen so low as to become Rupert's accomplice yet!
And so the days go on. Between my husband's increasing melancholy, my own mad regrets, Rupert's watchfulness, Madeleine's absorption and Sophia's twaddle, my brain reels. I feel sometimes as if I could scream aloud, as we all sit round the table, and I know that this is the life that I am doomed to, and that the days may go on, go on thus, till I am old. Poor Murthering Moll the second! Why even the convent, where at least I knew nothing, would have been better! No, it is not possible! Something is still to come to me. Like a bird, my heart rises within me. I have the right to my life, the right to my happiness, say what they may.
THE DAWN OF AN EVENTFUL DAY
Rupert's behaviour at home, since his brother's wedding, had been, as even Molly was bound to admit to herself, beyond reproach in tactfulness, quiet dignity, and seeming cheerfulness.
He abdicated from his position of trust at once and without the smallest reservation; wooed Madeleine with so great a discretion that her dreamy eyes saw in him only a kind relative; and he treated his sister-in-law, for all her freaks of bearing to him, with a perfect gentleness and gentility.
At times Sir Adrian would watch him with great eyes. What meant this change? the guileless philosopher would ask himself, and wonder if he had judged his brother too harshly all through life; or if it was his plain speaking in their last quarrel which had put things in their true light to him, and awakened some innate generosity of feeling; or yet if—this with misgiving—it was love for pretty Madeleine that was working the marvel. If so, how would this proud rebellious nature bear another failure?
Rupert spoke with unaffected regret about leaving Pulwick, at the same time, in spite of Molly's curling lip, giving it to be understood that his removal was only a matter of time.
For the ostensible purpose, indeed, of finding himself another home he made, in the beginning of March, the second month after his brother's marriage, several absences which lasted a couple of days or more, and from which he would return with an eager sparkle in his eye, almost a brightness on his olive cheek, to sit beside Madeleine's embroidery frame, pulling her silks and snipping with her scissors, and talking gaily, persistently, with such humour and colour as at last to draw that young lady's attention from far off musings to his words with smiles and laughter.
Meanwhile, Molly would sit unoccupied, brooding, watching them, now fiercely, from under her black brows, now scornfully, now abstractedly; the while she nibbled at her delicate finger-nails, or ruthlessly dragged them along the velvet arms of her chair with the gesture of a charming, yet distracted, cat.
Sir Adrian would first tramp the rooms with unwitting restlessness, halting, it might be, beside his wife to strive to engage her into speech with him; and, failing, would betake himself at length with a heavy sigh to solitude; or, yet, he would sit down to his organ—the new one in the great hall which had been put up since his marriage, at Molly's own gay suggestion, during their brief betrothal—and music would peal out upon them till Lady Landale's stormy heart could bear it no longer, and she would rise in her turn, fly to the shelter of her room and roll her head in the pillows to stifle the sound of sobs, crying from the depths of her soul against heaven's injustice; anon railing in a frenzy of impotent anger against the musician, who had such passion in him and gave it to his music alone.
During Rupert's absences that curious intimacy which Molly had contemptuously noted between her sister and sister-in-law displayed itself in more conspicuous manner.
Miss Landale's long sallow visage sported its airs of mystery and importance, its languishing leers undisguisedly, so long as her brother Rupert's place was empty; and though her visits to the rector's grave were now almost quotidian, she departed upon them with looks of wrapt importance, and, returning, sought Madeleine's chamber (when that maiden did not herself stroll out to meet her in the woods), her countenance invariably wreathed with suppressed, yet triumphant smiles, instead of the old self-assertive dejection.
* * * * *
The 15th of March of that year was to be a memorable day in the lives of so many of those who then either dwelt in Pulwick, or had dealings on that wide estate.
Miss Landale, who had passed the midnight hour in poring over the delightful wickedness of Lara, and, upon at length retiring to her pillow, had had a sentimental objection to shutting out the romantic light of the moon by curtain or shutter, was roused into wakefulness soon after dawn by a glorious white burst of early sunshine. As a rule, the excellent soul liked to lie abed till the last available moment; but that morning she was up with the sun. When dressed she drew a letter from a secret casket with manifold precautions as though she were surrounded with prying eyes, and, placing it in her reticule, hastened forth to seek the little lonely disused churchyard by the shore. She afterwards remarked that she could never forget in what agitation of spirits and with what strange presentiment of evil she was led to this activity at so unwonted an hour. The truth was, however, that Miss Landale tripped along through the damp wooded path as gaily as if she were going to visit her living lover instead of his granite tomb; and that in lieu of evil omens a hundred fantastically sentimental thoughts floated through her brain, as merrily and irresponsibly as the motes in the long shafts of brilliancy that cleaved, sword-like through the mists, upon her from out the east. Visions of Madeleine's face when she would learn before breakfast that Sophia had actually been to the churchyard already; visions of whom she might meet there; rehearsals of a romantic scene upon that hallowed spot, of her own blushes, her knowing looks, her playful remonstrances, with touching allusions to one who had loved and lost, herself, and who thus, &c. &c.
Miss Landale tossed her long faded ringlets quite coquettishly, turned one slim bony hand with coy gesture before her approving eyes. Then she patted her reticule and hurried on with fresh zest, enjoying the tart whisper of the wind against her well bonneted face, the exquisite virginal beauty of the earth in the early spring of the day and of the year.
As she stepped out of the shadow of the trees, her heart leaped and then almost stood still as she perceived in the churchyard lying below her, beside the great slab of granite which lay over the remains of her long-departed beloved one, the figure of a man, whose back was turned towards her, and whose erect outline was darkly silhouetted against the low, dazzling light.
Then a simper of exceeding archness crept upon Miss Landale's lips; and with as genteel an amble as the somewhat precipitate nature of the small piece of ground that yet divided her from the graveyard would allow, she proceeded on her way.
At the click of the lych-gate under her hand the man turned sharply round and looked at her without moving further. An open letter fluttered in his hand.
His face was still against the light, and Miss Landale's eyes had wept so many tears by day and night that her sight was none of the best. She dropped a very elegant curtsey, simpered, drew nearer, and threw a fetching glance upwards. Then her shrill scream rang through the still morning air and frightened the birds in the ruined church.
"You are early this morning, Sophia," said Mr. Landale.
Sophia sank upon the tombstone. To say that she was green or yellow would ill describe the ghastliness of the tint that suffused her naturally bilious countenance; still speechless, she made a frantic plunge towards the great urn that adorned the head of the grave. Mr. Landale looked up from his reading again with a quiet smile.
"I shall have done in one minute," he remarked, "It is a fine production, egad! full of noble protestations and really high-sounding words. And then, my dear Sophia, you can take charge of it, and I shall be quite ready for the other, which I presume you have as usual with you—ah, in your bag! Thanks."
"Rupert?" ejaculated the unfortunate lady, first in agonised query, and next in agonised reproach, clasping her hands over the precious reticule—"Rupert!"
Mr. Landale neatly folded the sheet he had been reading, moistened with his tongue a fresh wafer which he drew from his waistcoat pocket, and, deftly placing it upon the exact spot from which the original one had been removed, handed the letter to his sister with a little bow. But, as with a gesture of horror the latter refused to take it, he shrugged his shoulders and tossed it carelessly into the urn.
"Now give me Madeleine's," he said, peremptorily.
Rolling upwards eyes of appeal the unhappy Iris called upon heaven to witness that she would die a thousand deaths rather than betray her solemn trust. But even as she spoke the fictitious flame of courage withered away in her shrinking frame; and at the mere touch of her brother's finger and thumb upon her wrist, the mere sight of his face bending masterfully over her with white teeth just gleaming between his twisting smile and half-veiled eyes of insolent determination, she allowed him, unresisting, to take the bag from her side; protesting against the breach of faith only by her moans and the inept wringing of her hands.
Mr. Landale opened the bag, tossed with cynical contempt upon the flat tombstone, sundry precious relics of the mouldering bones within, and discovered at length in an inner pocket a dainty flower-scented note. Then he flung down the bag and proceeded with the same deliberation to open the letter and peruse its delicate flowing handwriting.
"Upon my word," he vowed, "I think this is the prettiest she has written yet! What a sweet soul it is! Listen, Sophia: 'You praise me for my trust in you—but, Jack, dear love, my trust is so much a part of my love that the one would not exist without the other. Therefore, do not give me any credit, for you know I could not help loving you.' Poor heart! poor confiding child! Oh!" ejaculated Mr. Landale as if to himself, carefully proceeding the while with his former manoeuvres to end by placing the violated missive, to all appearance intact, beside its fellow, "we have here a rank fellow, a foul traitor to deal with!"
Then, wheeling round to his sister, and fixing her with piercing eyes: "Sophia," he exclaimed, in tones of sternest rebuke, "I am surprised at you. I am, indeed!"
Miss Landale raised mesmerised, horror-stricken eyes upon him; his dark utterances had already filled her foolish soul with blind dread. He sat down beside her, and once more enclosed the thin arm in his light but warning grasp.
"Sophia," he said solemnly, "you little guess the magnitude of the harm you have been doing; the frightful fate you have been preparing for an innocent and trusting girl; the depth of the villainy you are aiding and abetting. You have been acting, as I say, in ignorance, without realising the awful consequences of your folly and duplicity. But that you should have chosen this sacred place for such illicit and reprehensible behaviour; that by the grave of this worthy man who loved you, by the stones chosen and paid for by my fraternal affection, you should plot and scheme to deceive your family, and help to lead a confiding and beautiful creature to ruin, I should never have expected from you, Sophia—Sophia!"
Miss Landale collapsed into copious weeping.
"I am sure, brother," she sobbed, "I never meant any harm. I am sure nobody loves the dear girl better than I do. I am sure I never wished to hide anything from you!—Only—they told me—they trusted me—they made me promise—Oh brother, what terrible things you have been saying! I cannot believe that so handsome a young gentleman can mean anything wrong—I only wish you could have seen him with her, he is so devoted—it is quite beautiful."
"Alas—the tempter always makes himself beautiful in the eyes of the tempted! Sophia, we can yet save this unhappy child, but who knows how soon it may be too late!—You can still repair some of the wrong you have done, but you can only do so by the most absolute obedience to me.... Believe me, I know the truth about this vile adventurer, this Captain Jack Smith."
"Good Heavens!" cried Sophia, "Rupert, do not tell me, lest I swoon away, that he is married already?"
"The man, my dear, whose plots to compromise and entangle a lovely girl you have favoured, is a villain of the deepest dye—a pirate."
"Oh!" shivered Sophia with fascinated misery—thrilling recollections of last night's reading shooting through her frame.
"A smuggler, a criminal, an outlaw in point of fact," pursued Mr. Landale. "He merely seeks Madeleine for her money—has a wife in every port, no doubt—"
Miss Landale did not swoon; but her brother's watchful eye was satisfied with the effect produced, and he went on in a well modulated tone of suppressed emotion:
"And after breaking her heart, ruining her body and soul, dragging her to the foulest depths he would have cast her away like a dead weed—perhaps murdered her! Sophia, what would your feelings be then?"
A hard red spot had risen to each of Miss Landale's cheek bones; her tears had dried up under the fevered glow.
"We believed," she said trembling in every limb, "that he was working on a mission to the French court—"
"Faugh—" cried Mr. Landale, contemptuously, "smuggling French brandy for our English drunkards and traitorous intelligence for our French enemies!"