'I cannot say that word.'
'Do you mean that, after all, I am to be thrown off like an old glove? I have had many dealings with men and have found them to be false, cruel, unworthy, and selfish. But I have met nothing like that. No man has ever dared to treat me like that. No man shall dare.'
'I wrote to you.'
'Wrote to me;—yes! And I was to take that as sufficient! No. I think but little of my life and have but little for which to live. But while I do live I will travel over the world's surface to face injustice and to expose it, before I will put up with it. You wrote to me! Heaven and earth;—I can hardly control myself when I hear such impudence!' She clenched her fist upon the knife that lay on the table as she looked at him, and raising it, dropped it again at a further distance. 'Wrote to me! Could any mere letter of your writing break the bond by which we were bound together? Had not the distance between us seemed to have made you safe would you have dared to write that letter? The letter must be unwritten. It has already been contradicted by your conduct to me since I have been in this country.'
'I am sorry to hear you say that.'
'Am I not justified in saying it?'
'I hope not. When I first saw you I told you everything. If I have been wrong in attending to your wishes since, I regret it.'
'This comes from your seeing your master for two minutes on the beach. You are acting now under his orders. No doubt he came with the purpose. Had you told him you were to be here?'
'His coming was an accident.'
'It was very opportune at any rate. Well;—what have you to say to me? Or am I to understand that you suppose yourself to have said all that is required of you? Perhaps you would prefer that I should argue the matter out with your—friend, Mr Carbury.'
'What has to be said, I believe I can say myself.'
'Say it then. Or are you so ashamed of it that the words stick in your throat?'
'There is some truth in that. I am ashamed of it. I must say that which will be painful, and which would not have been to be said, had I been fairly careful.'
Then he paused. 'Don't spare me,' she said. 'I know what it all is as well as though it were already told. I know the lies with which they have crammed you at San Francisco. You have heard that up in Oregon— I shot a man. That is no lie. I did. I brought him down dead at my feet.' Then she paused, and rose from her chair, and looked at him. 'Do you wonder that that is a story that a woman should hesitate to tell? But not from shame. Do you suppose that the sight of that dying wretch does not haunt me? that I do not daily hear his drunken screech, and see him bound from the earth, and then fall in a heap just below my hand? But did they tell you also that it was thus alone that I could save myself,—and that had I spared him, I must afterwards have destroyed myself? If I were wrong, why did they not try me for his murder? Why did the women flock around me and kiss the very hems of my garments? In this soft civilization of yours you know nothing of such necessity. A woman here is protected,—unless it be from lies.'
'It was not that only,' he whispered.
'No; they told you other things,' she continued, still standing over him. 'They told you of quarrels with my husband. I know the lies, and who made them, and why. Did I conceal from you the character of my former husband? Did I not tell you that he was a drunkard and a scoundrel? How should I not quarrel with such a one? Ah, Paul; you can hardly know what my life has been.'
'They told me that—you fought him.'
'Psha;—fought him! Yes;—I was always fighting him. What are you to do but to fight cruelty, and fight falsehood, and fight fraud and treachery,—when they come upon you and would overwhelm you but for fighting? You have not been fool enough to believe that fable about a duel? I did stand once, armed, and guarded my bedroom door from him, and told him that he should only enter it over my body. He went away to the tavern and I did not see him for a week afterwards. That was the duel. And they have told you that he is not dead.'
'Yes;—they have told me that.'
'Who has seen him alive? I never said to you that I had seen him dead. How should I?'
'There would be a certificate.'
'Certificate;—in the back of Texas;—five hundred miles from Galveston! And what would it matter to you? I was divorced from him according to the law of the State of Kansas. Does not the law make a woman free here to marry again,—and why not with us? I sued for a divorce on the score of cruelty and drunkenness. He made no appearance, and the Court granted it me. Am I disgraced by that?'
'I heard nothing of the divorce.'
'I do not remember. When we were talking of these old days before, you did not care how short I was in telling my story. You wanted to hear little or nothing then of Caradoc Hurtle. Now you have become more particular. I told you that he was dead,—as I believed myself, and do believe. Whether the other story was told or not I do not know.'
'It was not told.'
'Then it was your own fault,—because you would not listen. And they have made you believe I suppose that I have failed in getting back my property?'
'I have heard nothing about your property but what you yourself have said unasked. I have asked no question about your property.'
'You are welcome. At last I have made it again my own. And now, sir, what else is there? I think I have been open with you. Is it because I protected myself from drunken violence that I am to be rejected? Am I to be cast aside because I saved my life while in the hands of a reprobate husband, and escaped from him by means provided by law;—or because by my own energy I have secured my own property? If I am not to be condemned for these things, then say why am I condemned.'
She had at any rate saved him the trouble of telling the story, but in doing so had left him without a word to say. She had owned to shooting the man. Well; it certainly may be necessary that a woman should shoot a man—especially in Oregon. As to the duel with her husband,—she had half denied and half confessed it. He presumed that she had been armed with a pistol when she refused Mr Hurtle admittance into the nuptial chamber. As to the question of Hurtle's death,—she had confessed that perhaps he was not dead. But then,—as she had asked,—why should not a divorce for the purpose in hand be considered as good as a death? He could not say that she had not washed herself clean;—and yet, from the story as told by herself, what man would wish to marry her? She had seen so much of drunkenness, had become so handy with pistols, and had done so much of a man's work, that any ordinary man might well hesitate before he assumed to be her master. 'I do not condemn you,' he replied.
'At any rate, Paul, do not lie,' she answered. 'If you tell me that you will not be my husband, you do condemn me. Is it not so?'
'I will not lie if I can help it. I did ask you to be my wife—'
'Well—rather. How often before I consented?'
'It matters little; at any rate, till you did consent. I have since satisfied myself that such a marriage would be miserable for both of us.'
'I have. Of course, you can speak of me as you please and think of me as you please. I can hardly defend myself.'
'Hardly, I think.'
'But, with whatever result, I know that I shall now be acting for the best in declaring that I will not become—your husband.'
'You will not?' She was still standing, and stretched out her right hand as though again to grasp something.
He also now rose from his chair. 'If I speak with abruptness it is only to avoid a show of indecision. I will not.'
'Oh, God! what have I done that it should be my lot to meet man after man false and cruel as this! You tell me to my face that I am to bear it! Who is the jade that has done it? Has she money?—or rank? Or is it that you are afraid to have by your side a woman who can speak for herself,—and even act for herself if some action be necessary? Perhaps you think that I am—old.' He was looking at her intently as she spoke, and it did seem to him that many years had been added to her face. It was full of lines round the mouth, and the light play of drollery was gone, and the colour was fixed and her eyes seemed to be deep in her head. 'Speak, man,—is it that you want a younger wife?'
'You know it is not.'
'Know! How should any one know anything from a liar? From what you tell me I know nothing. I have to gather what I can from your character. I see that you are a coward. It is that man that came to you, and who is your master, that has forced you to this. Between me and him you tremble, and are a thing to be pitied. As for knowing what you would be at, from anything that you would say,—that is impossible. Once again I have come across a mean wretch. Oh, fool!—that men should be so vile, and think themselves masters of the world! My last word to you is, that you are—a liar. Now for the present you can go. Ten minutes since, had I had a weapon in my hand I should have shot another man.'
Paul Montague, as he looked round the room for his hat, could not but think that perhaps Mrs Hurtle might have had some excuse. It seemed at any rate to be her custom to have a pistol with her,—though luckily, for his comfort, she had left it in her bedroom on the present occasion. 'I will say good-bye to you,' he said, when he had found his hat.
'Say no such thing. Tell me that you have triumphed and got rid of me. Pluck up your spirits, if you have any, and show me your joy. Tell me that an Englishman has dared to ill-treat an American woman. You would,—were you not afraid to indulge yourself.' He was now standing in the doorway, and before he escaped she gave him an imperative command. 'I shall not stay here now,' she said—'I shall return on Monday. I must think of what you have said, and must resolve what I myself will do. I shall not bear this without seeking a means of punishing you for your treachery. I shall expect you to come to me on Monday.'
He closed the door as he answered her. 'I do not see that it will serve any purpose.'
'It is for me, sir, to judge of that. I suppose you are not so much a coward that you are afraid to come to me. If so, I shall come to you; and you may be assured that I shall not be too timid to show myself and to tell my story.' He ended by saying that if she desired it he would wait upon her, but that he would not at present fix a day. On his return to town he would write to her.
When he was gone she went to the door and listened awhile. Then she closed it, and turning the lock, stood with her back against the door and with her hands clasped. After a few moments she ran forward, and falling on her knees, buried her face in her hands upon the table. Then she gave way to a flood of tears, and at last lay rolling upon the floor.
Was this to be the end of it? Should she never know rest;—never have one draught of cool water between her lips? Was there to be no end to the storms and turmoils and misery of her life? In almost all that she had said she had spoken the truth, though doubtless not all the truth,— as which among us would in giving the story of his life? She had endured violence, and had been violent. She had been schemed against, and had schemed. She had fitted herself to the life which had befallen her. But in regard to money, she had been honest and she had been loving of heart. With her heart of hearts she had loved this young Englishman;—and now, after all her scheming, all her daring, with all her charms, this was to be the end of it! Oh, what a journey would this be which she must now make back to her own country, all alone!
But the strongest feeling which raged within her bosom was that of disappointed love. Full as had been the vials of wrath which she had poured forth over Montague's head, violent as had been the storm of abuse with which she had assailed him, there had been after all something counterfeited in her indignation. But her love was no counterfeit. At any moment if he would have returned to her and taken her in his arms, she would not only have forgiven him but have blessed him also for his kindness. She was in truth sick at heart of violence and rough living and unfeminine words. When driven by wrongs the old habit came back upon her. But if she could only escape the wrongs, if she could find some niche in the world which would be bearable to her, in which, free from harsh treatment, she could pour forth all the genuine kindness of her woman's nature,—then, she thought she could put away violence and be gentle as a young girl. When she first met this Englishman and found that he took delight in being near her, she had ventured to hope that a haven would at last be open to her. But the reek of the gunpowder from that first pistol shot still clung to her, and she now told herself again, as she had often told herself before, that it would have been better for her to have turned the muzzle against her own bosom.
After receiving his letter she had run over on what she had told herself was a vain chance. Though angry enough when that letter first reached her, she had, with that force of character which marked her, declared to herself that such a resolution on his part was natural. In marrying her he must give up all his old allies, all his old haunts. The whole world must be changed to him. She knew enough of herself, and enough of Englishwomen, to be sure that when her past life should be known, as it would be known, she would be avoided in England. With all the little ridicule she was wont to exercise in speaking of the old country there was ever mixed, as is so often the case in the minds of American men and women, an almost envious admiration of English excellence. To have been allowed to forget the past and to live the life of an English lady would have been heaven to her. But she, who was sometimes scorned and sometimes feared in the eastern cities of her own country, whose name had become almost a proverb for violence out in the far West,—how could she dare to hope that her lot should be so changed for her?
She had reminded Paul that she had required to be asked often before she had consented to be his wife; but she did not tell him that that hesitation had arisen from her own conviction of her own unfitness. But it had been so. Circumstances had made her what she was. Circumstances had been cruel to her. But she could not now alter them. Then gradually, as she came to believe in his love, as she lost herself in love for him, she told herself that she would be changed. She had, however, almost known that it could not be so. But this man had relatives, had business, had property in her own country. Though she could not be made happy in England, might not a prosperous life be opened for him in the far West? Then had risen the offer of that journey to Mexico with much probability that work of no ordinary kind might detain him there for years. With what joy would she have accompanied him as his wife! For that at any rate she would have been fit.
She was conscious, perhaps too conscious, of her own beauty. That at any rate, she felt, had not deserted her. She was hardly aware that time was touching it. And she knew herself to be clever, capable of causing happiness, and mirth and comfort. She had the qualities of a good comrade—which are so much in a woman. She knew all this of herself. If he and she could be together in some country in which those stories of her past life would be matter of indifference, could she not make him happy? But what was she that a man should give up everything and go away and spend his days in some half-barbarous country for her alone? She knew it all and was hardly angry with him in that he had decided against her. But treated as she had been she must play her game with such weapons as she possessed. It was consonant with her old character, it was consonant with her present plans that she should at any rate seem to be angry.
Sitting there alone late into the night she made many plans, but the plan that seemed best to suit the present frame of her mind was the writing of a letter to Paul bidding him adieu, sending him her fondest love, and telling him that he was right. She did write the letter, but wrote it with a conviction that she would not have the strength to send it to him. The reader may judge with what feeling she wrote the following words:—
You are right and I am wrong. Our marriage would not have been fitting. I do not blame you. I attracted you when we were together; but you have learned and have learned truly that you should not give up your life for such attractions. If I have been violent with you, forgive me. You will acknowledge that I have suffered.
Always know that there is one woman who will love you better than any one else. I think too that you will love me even when some other woman is by your side. God bless you, and make you happy. Write me the shortest, shortest word of adieu. Not to do so would make you think yourself heartless. But do not come to me.
This she wrote on a small slip of paper, and then having read it twice, she put it into her pocket-book. She told herself that she ought to send it; but told herself as plainly that she could not bring herself to do so. It was early in the morning before she went to bed but she had admitted no one into the room after Montague had left her.
Paul, when he escaped from her presence, roamed out on to the sea-shore, and then took himself to bed, having ordered a conveyance to take him to Carbury Manor early in the morning. At breakfast he presented himself to the squire. 'I have come earlier than you expected,' he said.
'Yes, indeed;—much earlier. Are you going back to Lowestoft?'
Then he told the whole story. Roger expressed his satisfaction, recalling however the pledge which he had given as to his return. 'Let her follow you, and bear it,' he said. 'Of course you must suffer the effects of your own imprudence.' On that evening Paul Montague returned to London by the mail train, being sure that he would thus avoid a meeting with Mrs Hurtle in the railway-carriage.
CHAPTER XLVIII - RUBY A PRISONER
Ruby had run away from her lover in great dudgeon after the dance at the Music Hall, and had declared that she never wanted to see him again. But when reflection came with the morning her misery was stronger than her wrath. What would life be to her now without her lover? When she escaped from her grandfather's house she certainly had not intended to become nurse and assistant maid-of-all-work at a London lodging-house. The daily toil she could endure, and the hard life, as long as she was supported by the prospect of some coming delight. A dance with Felix at the Music Hall, though it were three days distant from her, would so occupy her mind that she could wash and dress all the children without complaint. Mrs Pipkin was forced to own to herself that Ruby did earn her bread. But when she had parted with her lover almost on an understanding that they were never to meet again, things were very different with her. And perhaps she had been wrong. A gentleman like Sir Felix did not of course like to be told about marriage. If she gave him another chance, perhaps he would speak. At any rate she could not live without another dance. And so she wrote him a letter.
Ruby was glib enough with her pen, though what she wrote will hardly bear repeating. She underscored all her loves to him. She underscored the expression of her regret if she had vexed him. She did not want to hurry a gentleman. But she did want to have another dance at the Music Hall. Would he be there next Saturday? Sir Felix sent her a very short reply to say that he would be at the Music Hall on the Tuesday. As at this time he proposed to leave London on the Wednesday on his way to New York, he was proposing to devote his very last night to the companionship of Ruby Ruggles.
Mrs Pipkin had never interfered with her niece's letters. It is certainly a part of the new dispensation that young women shall send and receive letters without inspection. But since Roger Carbury's visit Mrs Pipkin had watched the postman, and had also watched her niece. For nearly a week Ruby said not a word of going out at night. She took the children for an airing in a broken perambulator, nearly as far as Holloway, with exemplary care, and washed up the cups and saucers as though her mind was intent upon them. But Mrs Pipkin's mind was intent on obeying Mr Carbury's behests. She had already hinted something as to which Ruby had made no answer. It was her purpose to tell her and to swear to her most,—solemnly should she find her preparing herself to leave the house after six in the evening,—that she should be kept out the whole night, having a purpose equally clear in her own mind that she would break her oath should she be unsuccessful in her effort to keep Ruby at home. But on the Tuesday, when Ruby went up to her room to deck herself, a bright idea as to a better precaution struck Mrs Pipkin's mind. Ruby had been careless,—had left her lover's scrap of a note in an old pocket when she went out with the children, and Mrs Pipkin knew all about it. It was nine o'clock when Ruby went upstairs,—and then Mrs Pipkin locked both the front door and the area gate. Mrs Hurtle had come home on the previous day. 'You won't be wanting to go out to-night;—will you, Mrs Hurtle?' said Mrs Pipkin, knocking at her lodger's door. Mrs Hurtle declared her purpose of remaining at home all the evening. 'If you should hear words between me and my niece, don't you mind, ma'am.'
'I hope there's nothing wrong, Mrs Pipkin?'
'She'll be wanting to go out, and I won't have it. It isn't right; is it, ma'am? She's a good girl; but they've got such a way nowadays of doing just as they pleases, that one doesn't know what's going to come next.' Mrs Pipkin must have feared downright rebellion when she thus took her lodger into her confidence.
Ruby came down in her silk frock, as she had done before, and made her usual little speech. 'I'm just going to step out, aunt, for a little time to-night. I've got the key, and I'll let myself in quite quiet.'
'Indeed, Ruby, you won't,' said Mrs Pipkin.
'Won't what, aunt?'
'Won't let yourself in, if you go out. If you go out to-night you'll stay out. That's all about it. If you go out to-night you won't come back here any more. I won't have it, and it isn't right that I should. You're going after that young man that they tell me is the greatest scamp in all England.'
'They tell you lies then, Aunt Pipkin.'
'Very well. No girl is going out any more at nights out of my house; so that's all about it. If you had told me you was going before, you needn't have gone up and bedizened yourself. For now it's all to take off again.'
Ruby could hardly believe it. She had expected some opposition,—what she would have called a few words; but she had never imagined that her aunt would threaten to keep her in the streets all night. It seemed to her that she had bought the privilege of amusing herself by hard work. Nor did she believe now that her aunt would be as hard as her threat. 'I've a right to go if I like,' she said.
'That's as you think. You haven't a right to come back again, any way.'
'Yes, I have. I've worked for you a deal harder than the girl downstairs, and I don't want no wages. I've a right to go out, and a right to come back;—and go I shall.'
'You'll be no better than you should be, if you do.'
'Am I to work my very nails off, and push that perambulator about all day till my legs won't carry me,—and then I ain't to go out, not once in a week?'
'Not unless I know more about it, Ruby. I won't have you go and throw yourself into the gutter;—not while you're with me.'
'Who's throwing themselves into the gutter? I've thrown myself into no gutter. I know what I'm about.'
'There's two of us that way, Ruby;—for I know what I'm about.'
'I shall just go then.' And Ruby walked off towards the door.
'You won't get out that way, any way, for the door's locked;—and the area gate. You'd better be said, Ruby, and just take your things off.'
Poor Ruby for the moment was struck dumb with mortification. Mrs Pipkin had given her credit for more outrageous perseverance than she possessed, and had feared that she would rattle at the front door, or attempt to climb over the area gate. She was a little afraid of Ruby, not feeling herself justified in holding absolute dominion over her as over a servant. And though she was now determined in her conduct,—being fully resolved to surrender neither of the keys which she held in her pocket,—still she feared that she might so far collapse as to fall away into tears, should Ruby be violent. But Ruby was crushed. Her lover would be there to meet her, and the appointment would be broken by her! 'Aunt Pipkin,' she said, 'let me go just this once.'
'No, Ruby;—it ain't proper.'
'You don't know what you're a doing of, aunt; you don't. You'll ruin me,—you will. Dear Aunt Pipkin, do, do! I'll never ask again, if you don't like.'
Mrs Pipkin had not expected this, and was almost willing to yield. But Mr Carbury had spoken so very plainly! 'It ain't the thing, Ruby; and I won't do it.'
'And I'm to be—a prisoner! What have I done to be—a prisoner? I don't believe as you've any right to lock me up.'
'I've a right to lock my own doors.'
'Then I shall go away to-morrow.'
'I can't help that, my dear. The door will be open to-morrow, if you choose to go out.'
'Then why not open it to-night? Where's the difference?' But Mrs Pipkin was stern, and Ruby, in a flood of tears, took herself up to her garret.
Mrs Pipkin knocked at Mrs Hurtle's door again. 'She's gone to bed,' she said.
'I'm glad to hear it. There wasn't any noise about it;—was there?'
'Not as I expected, Mrs Hurtle, certainly. But she was put out a bit. Poor girl! I've been a girl too, and used to like a bit of outing as well as any one,—and a dance too; only it was always when mother knew. She ain't got a mother, poor dear! and as good as no father. And she's got it into her head that she's that pretty that a great gentleman will marry her.'
'She is pretty!'
'But what's beauty, Mrs Hurtle? It's no more nor skin deep, as the scriptures tell us. And what'd a grand gentleman see in Ruby to marry her? She says she'll leave to-morrow.'
'And where will she go?'
'Just nowhere. After this gentleman,—and you know what that means! You're going to be married yourself, Mrs Hurtle.'
'We won't mind about that now, Mrs Pipkin.'
'And this'll be your second, and you know how these things are managed. No gentleman'll marry her because she runs after him. Girls as knows what they're about should let the gentlemen run after them. That's my way of looking at it.'
'Don't you think they should be equal in that respect?'
'Anyways the girls shouldn't let on as they are running after the gentlemen. A gentlemen goes here and he goes there, and he speaks up free, of course. In my time, girls usen't to do that. But then, maybe, I'm old-fashioned,' added Mrs Pipkin, thinking of the new dispensation.
'I suppose girls do speak for themselves more than they did formerly.'
'A deal more, Mrs Hurtle; quite different. You hear them talk of spooning with this fellow, and spooning with that fellow,—and that before their very fathers and mothers! When I was young we used to do it, I suppose,—only not like that.'
'You did it on the sly.'
'I think we got married quicker than they do, anyway. When the gentlemen had to take more trouble they thought more about it. But if you wouldn't mind speaking to Ruby to-morrow, Mrs Hurtle, she'd listen to you when she wouldn't mind a word I said to her. I don't want her to go away from this, out into the Street, till she knows where she's to go to, decent. As for going to her young man,—that's just walking the streets.'
Mrs Hurtle promised that she would speak to Ruby, though when making the promise she could not but think of her unfitness for the task. She knew nothing of the country. She had not a single friend in it, but Paul Montague;—and she had run after him with as little discretion as Ruby Ruggles was showing in running after her lover. Who was she that she should take upon herself to give advice to any female?
She had not sent her letter to Paul, but she still kept it in her pocket-book. At some moments she thought that she would send it; and at others she told herself that she would never surrender this last hope till every stone had been turned. It might still be possible to shame him into a marriage. She had returned from Lowestoft on the Monday, and had made some trivial excuse to Mrs Pipkin in her mildest voice. The place had been windy, and too cold for her;—and she had not liked the hotel. Mrs Pipkin was very glad to see her back again.
CHAPTER XLIX - SIR FELIX MAKES HIMSELF READY
Sir Felix, when he promised to meet Ruby at the Music Hall on the Tuesday, was under an engagement to start with Marie Melmotte for New York on the Thursday following, and to go down to Liverpool on the Wednesday. There was no reason, he thought, why he should not enjoy himself to the last, and he would say a parting word to poor little Ruby. The details of his journey were settled between him and Marie, with no inconsiderable assistance from Didon, in the garden of Grosvenor Square, on the previous Sunday,—where the lovers had again met during the hours of morning service. Sir Felix had been astonished at the completion of the preparations which had been made. 'Mind you go by the 5 p.m. train,' Marie said. 'That will take you into Liverpool at 10:15. There's an hotel at the railway station. Didon has got our tickets under the names of Madame and Mademoiselle Racine. We are to have one cabin between us. You must get yours to-morrow. She has found out that there is plenty of room.'
'I'll be all right.'
'Pray don't miss the train that afternoon. Somebody would be sure to suspect something if we were seen together in the same train. We leave at 7 a.m. I shan't go to bed all night, so as to be sure to be in time. Robert,—he's the man,—will start a little earlier in the cab with my heavy box. What do you think is in it?'
'Clothes,' suggested Felix.
'Yes, but what clothes?—my wedding dresses. Think of that! What a job to get them and nobody to know anything about it except Didon and Madame Craik at the shop in Mount Street! They haven't come yet, but I shall be there whether they come or not. And I shall have all my jewels. I'm not going to leave them behind. They'll go off in our cab. We can get the things out behind the house into the mews. Then Didon and I follow in another cab. Nobody ever is up before near nine, and I don't think we shall be interrupted.'
'If the servants were to hear.'
'I don't think they'd tell. But if I was to be brought back again, I should only tell papa that it was no good. He can't prevent me marrying.'
'Won't your mother find out?'
'She never looks after anything. I don't think she'd tell if she knew. Papa leads her such a life! Felix! I hope you won't be like that.'—And she looked up into his face, and thought that it would be impossible that he should be.
'I'm all right,' said Felix, feeling very uncomfortable at the time. This great effort of his life was drawing very near. There had been a pleasurable excitement in talking of running away with the great heiress of the day, but now that the deed had to be executed,—and executed after so novel and stupendous a fashion, he almost wished that he had not undertaken it. It must have been much nicer when men ran away with their heiresses only as far as Gretna Green. And even Goldsheiner with Lady Julia had nothing of a job in comparison with this which he was expected to perform. And then if they should be wrong about the girl's fortune! He almost repented. He did repent, but he had not the courage to recede. 'How about money though?' he said hoarsely.
'You have got some?'
'I have just the two hundred pounds which your father paid me, and not a shilling more. I don't see why he should keep my money, and not let me have it back.'
'Look here,' said Marie, and she put her hand into her pocket. 'I told you I thought I could get some. There is a cheque for two hundred and fifty pounds. I had money of my own enough for the tickets.'
'And whose is this?' said Felix, taking the bit of paper with much trepidation.
'It is papa's cheque. Mamma gets ever so many of them to carry on the house and pay for things. But she gets so muddled about it that she doesn't know what she pays and what she doesn't.' Felix looked at the cheque and saw that it was payable to House or Bearer, and that it was signed by Augustus Melmotte. 'If you take it to the bank you'll get the money,' said Marie. 'Or shall I send Didon, and give you the money on board the ship?'
Felix thought over the matter very anxiously. If he did go on the journey he would much prefer to have the money in his own pocket. He liked the feeling of having money in his pocket. Perhaps if Didon were entrusted with the cheque she also would like the feeling. But then might it not be possible that if he presented the cheque himself he might be arrested for stealing Melmotte's money? 'I think Didon had better get the money,' he said, 'and bring it to me to-morrow, at four o'clock in the afternoon, to the club.' If the money did not come he would not go down to Liverpool, nor would he be at the expense of his ticket for New York. 'You see,' he said, 'I'm so much in the City that they might know me at the bank.' To this arrangement Marie assented and took back the cheque. 'And then I'll come on board on Thursday morning,' he said, 'without looking for you.'
'Oh dear, yes;—without looking for us. And don't know us even till we are out at sea. Won't it be fun when we shall be walking about on the deck and not speaking to one another! And, Felix;—what do you think? Didon has found out that there is to be an American clergyman on board. I wonder whether he'd marry us.'
'Of course he will.'
'Won't that be jolly? I wish it was all done. Then, directly it's done, and when we get to New York, we'll telegraph and write to papa, and we'll be ever so penitent and good; won't we? Of course he'll make the best of it.'
'But he's so savage; isn't he?'
'When there's anything to get;—or just at the moment. But I don't think he minds afterwards. He's always for making the best of everything;— misfortunes and all. Things go wrong so often that if he was to go on thinking of them always they'd be too many for anybody. It'll be all right in a month's time. I wonder how Lord Nidderdale will look when he hears that we've gone off. I should so like to see him. He never can say that I've behaved bad to him. We were engaged, but it was he broke it. Do you know, Felix, that though we were engaged to be married, and everybody knew it, he never once kissed me!' Felix at this moment almost wished that he had never done so. As to what the other man had done, he cared nothing at all.
Then they parted with the understanding that they were not to see each other again till they met on board the boat. All arrangements were made. But Felix was determined that he would not stir in the matter unless Didon brought him the full sum of L250; and he almost thought, and indeed hoped, that she would not. Either she would be suspected at the bank and apprehended, or she would run off with the money on her own account when she got it;—or the cheque would have been missed and the payment stopped. Some accident would occur, and then he would be able to recede from his undertaking. He would do nothing till after Monday afternoon.
Should he tell his mother that he was going? His mother had clearly recommended him to run away with the girl, and must therefore approve of the measure. His mother would understand how great would be the expense of such a trip, and might perhaps add something to his stock of money. He determined that he could tell his mother;—that is, if Didon should bring him full change for the cheque.
He walked into the Beargarden exactly at four o'clock on the Monday, and there he found Didon standing in the hall. His heart sank within him as he saw her. Now must he certainly go to New York. She made him a little curtsey, and without a word handed him an envelope, soft and fat with rich enclosures. He bade her wait a moment, and going into a little waiting-room counted the notes. The money was all there;—the full sum of L250. He must certainly go to New York. 'C'est tout en regle?' said Didon in a whisper as he returned to the hall. Sir Felix nodded his head, and Didon took her departure.
Yes; he must go now. He had Melmotte's money in his pocket, and was therefore bound to run away with Melmotte's daughter. It was a great trouble to him as he reflected that Melmotte had more of his money than he had of Melmotte's. And now how should he dispose of his time before he went? Gambling was too dangerous. Even he felt that. Where would he be were he to lose his ready money? He would dine that night at the club, and in the evening go up to his mother. On the Tuesday he would take his place for New York in the City, and would spend the evening with Ruby at the Music Hall. On the Wednesday, he would start for Liverpool,—according to his instructions. He felt annoyed that he had been so fully instructed. But should the affair turn out well nobody would know that. All the fellows would give him credit for the audacity with which he had carried off the heiress to America.
At ten o'clock he found his mother and Hetta in Welbeck Street— 'What; Felix?' exclaimed Lady Carbury.
'You're surprised; are you not?' Then he threw himself into a chair. 'Mother,' he said, 'would you mind coming into the other room?' Lady Carbury of course went with him. 'I've got something to tell you,' he said.
'Good news?' she asked, clasping her hands together. From his manner she thought that it was good news. Money had in some way come into his hands,—or at any rate a prospect of money.
'That's as may be,' he said, and then he paused.
'Don't keep me in suspense, Felix.'
'The long and the short of it is that I'm going to take Marie off.'
'You said you thought it was the right thing to do;—and therefore I'm going to do it. The worst of it is that one wants such a lot of money for this kind of thing.'
'Immediately. I wouldn't tell you till I had arranged everything. I've had it in my mind for the last fortnight.'
'And how is it to be? Oh, Felix, I hope it may succeed.'
'It was your own idea, you know. We're going to;—where do you think?'
'How can I think?—Boulogne.'
'You say that just because Goldsheiner went there. That wouldn't have done at all for us. We're going to—New York.'
'To New York! But when will you be married?'
'There will be a clergyman on board. It's all fixed. I wouldn't go without telling you.'
'Oh; I wish you hadn't told me.'
'Come now;—that's kind. You don't mean to say it wasn't you that put me up to it. I've got to get my things ready.'
'Of course, if you tell me that you are going on a journey, I will have your clothes got ready for you. When do you start?'
'For New York! We must get some things ready-made. Oh, Felix, how will it be if he does not forgive her?' He attempted to laugh. 'When I spoke of such a thing as possible he had not sworn then that he would never give her a shilling.'
'They always say that.'
'You are going to risk it?'
'I am going to take your advice.' This was dreadful to the poor mother. 'There is money settled on her.'
'Settled on whom?'
'On Marie;—money which he can't get back again.'
'She doesn't know,—but a great deal; enough for them all to live upon if things went amiss with them.'
'But that's only a form, Felix. That money can't be her own, to give to her husband.'
'Melmotte will find that it is, unless he comes to terms. That's the pull we've got over him. Marie knows what she's about. She's a great deal sharper than any one would take her to be. What can you do for me about money, mother?'
'I have none, Felix.'
'I thought you'd be sure to help me, as you wanted me so much to do it.'
'That's not true, Felix. I didn't want you to do it. Oh, I am so sorry that that word ever passed my mouth! I have no money. There isn't L20 at the bank altogether.'
'They would let you overdraw for L50 or L60.'
'I will not do it. I will not starve myself and Hetta. You had ever so much money only lately. I will get some things for you, and pay for them as I can if you cannot pay for them after your marriage;—but I have not money to give you.'
'That's a blue look-out,' said he, turning himself in his chair 'just when L60 or L70 might make a fellow for life! You could borrow it from your friend Broune.'
'I will do no such thing, Felix. L50 or L60 would make very little difference in the expense of such a trip as this. I suppose you have some money?'
'Some;—yes, some. But I'm so short that any little thing would help me.' Before the evening was over she absolutely did give him a cheque for L30 although she had spoken the truth in saying that she had not so much at her banker's.
After this he went back to his club, although he himself understood the danger. He could not bear the idea of going to bed, quietly at home at half-past ten. He got into a cab, and was very soon up in the card-room. He found nobody there, and went to the smoking-room, where Dolly Longestaffe and Miles Grendall were sitting silently together, with pipes in their mouths. 'Here's Carbury,' said Dolly, waking suddenly into life. 'Now we can have a game at three-handed loo.'
'Thank ye; not for me,' said Sir Felix. 'I hate three-handed loo.'
'Dummy,' suggested Dolly.
'I don't think I'll play to-night, old fellow. I hate three fellows sticking down together.' Miles sat silent, smoking his pipe, conscious of the baronet's dislike to play with him. 'By-the-by, Grendall look here.' And Sir Felix in his most friendly tone whispered into his enemy's ear a petition that some of the I.O.U.'s might be converted into cash.
''Pon my word, I must ask you to wait till next week,' said Miles.
'It's always waiting till next week with you,' said Sir Felix, getting up and standing with his back to the fireplace. There were other men in the room, and this was said so that every one should hear it. 'I wonder whether any fellow would buy these for five shillings in the pound?' And he held up the scraps of paper in his hand. He had been drinking freely before he went up to Welbeck Street, and had taken a glass of brandy on re-entering the club.
'Don't let's have any of that kind of thing down here,' said Dolly. 'If there is to be a row about cards, let it be in the card-room.'
'Of course,' said Miles. 'I won't say a word about the matter down here. It isn't the proper thing.'
'Come up into the card-room, then,' said Sir Felix, getting up from his chair. 'It seems to me that it makes no difference to you, what room you're in. Come up, now; and Dolly Longestaffe shall come and hear what you say.' But Miles Grendall objected to this arrangement. He was not going up into the card-room that night, as no one was going to play. He would be there to-morrow, and then if Sir Felix Carbury had anything to say, he could say it.
'How I do hate a row!' said Dolly. 'One has to have rows with one's own people, but there ought not to be rows at a club.'
'He likes a row,—Carbury does,' said Miles.
'I should like my money, if I could get it,' said Sir Felix, walking out of the room.
On the next day he went into the City, and changed his mother's cheque. This was done after a little hesitation: The money was given to him, but a gentleman from behind the desks begged him to remind Lady Carbury that she was overdrawing her account. 'Dear, dear;' said Sir Felix, as he pocketed the notes, 'I'm sure she was unaware of it.' Then he paid for his passage from Liverpool to New York under the name of Walter Jones, and felt as he did so that the intrigue was becoming very deep. This was on Tuesday. He dined again at the club, alone, and in the evening went to the Music Hall. There he remained, from ten till nearly twelve, very angry at the non-appearance of Ruby Ruggles. As he smoked and drank in solitude, he almost made up his mind that he had intended to tell her of his departure for New York. Of course he would have done no such thing. But now, should she ever complain on that head he would have his answer ready. He had devoted his last night in England to the purpose of telling her, and she had broken her appointment. Everything would now be her fault. Whatever might happen to her she could not blame him.
Having waited till he was sick of the Music Hall,—for a music hall without ladies' society must be somewhat dull,—he went back to his club. He was very cross, as brave as brandy could make him, and well inclined to expose Miles Grendall if he could find an opportunity. Up in the card-room he found all the accustomed men,—with the exception of Miles Grendall. Nidderdale, Grasslough, Dolly, Paul Montague, and one or two others were there. There was, at any rate, comfort in the idea of playing without having to encounter the dead weight of Miles Grendall. Ready money was on the table,—and there was none of the peculiar Beargarden paper flying about. Indeed the men at the Beargarden had become sick of paper, and there had been formed a half-expressed resolution that the play should be somewhat lower, but the payments punctual. The I.O.U.'s had been nearly all converted into money,—with the assistance of Herr Vossner,—excepting those of Miles Grendall. The resolution mentioned did not refer back to Grendall's former indebtedness, but was intended to include a clause that he must in future pay ready money. Nidderdale had communicated to him the determination of the committee. 'Bygones are bygones, old fellow; but you really must stump up, you know, after this.' Miles had declared that he would 'stump up.' But on this occasion Miles was absent.
At three o'clock in the morning, Sir Felix had lost over a hundred pounds in ready money. On the following night about one he had lost a further sum of two hundred pounds. The reader will remember that he should at that time have been in the hotel at Liverpool.
But Sir Felix, as he played on in the almost desperate hope of recovering the money which he so greatly needed, remembered how Fisker had played all night, and how he had gone off from the club to catch the early train for Liverpool, and how he had gone on to New York without delay.
CHAPTER L - THE JOURNEY TO LIVERPOOL
Marie Melmotte, as she had promised, sat up all night, as did also the faithful Didon. I think that to Marie the night was full of pleasure,— or at any rate of pleasurable excitement. With her door locked, she packed and unpacked and repacked her treasures,—having more than once laid out on the bed the dress in which she purposed to be married. She asked Didon her opinion whether that American clergyman of whom they had heard would marry them on board, and whether in that event the dress would be fit for the occasion. Didon thought that the man, if sufficiently paid, would marry them, and that the dress would not much signify. She scolded her young mistress very often during the night for what she called nonsense; but was true to her, and worked hard for her. They determined to go without food in the morning, so that no suspicion should be raised by the use of cups and plates. They could get refreshment at the railway-station.
At six they started. Robert went first with the big boxes, having his ten pounds already in his pocket,—and Marie and Didon with smaller luggage followed in a second cab. No one interfered with them and nothing went wrong. The very civil man at Euston Square gave them their tickets, and even attempted to speak to them in French. They had quite determined that not a word of English was to be spoken by Marie till the ship was out at sea. At the station they got some very bad tea and almost uneatable food,—but Marie's restrained excitement was so great that food was almost unnecessary to her. They took their seats without any impediment,—and then they were off.
During a great part of the journey they were alone, and then Marie gabbled to Didon about her hopes and her future career, and all the things she would do;—how she had hated Lord Nidderdale,—especially when, after she had been awed into accepting him, he had given her no token of love,—'pas un baiser!' Didon suggested that such was the way with English lords. She herself had preferred Lord Nidderdale, but had been willing to join in the present plan,—as she said, from devoted affection to Marie. Marie went on to say that Nidderdale was ugly, and that Sir Felix was as beautiful as the morning. 'Bah!' exclaimed Didon, who was really disgusted that such considerations should prevail. Didon had learned in some indistinct way that Lord Nidderdale would be a marquis and would have a castle, whereas Sir Felix would never be more than Sir Felix, and, of his own, would never have anything at all. She had striven with her mistress, but her mistress liked to have a will of her own. Didon no doubt had thought that New York, with L50 and other perquisites in hand, might offer her a new career. She had therefore yielded, but even now could hardly forbear from expressing disgust at the folly of her mistress. Marie bore it with imperturbable good humour. She was running away,—and was running to a distant continent,—and her lover would be with her! She gave Didon to understand that she cared nothing for marquises.
As they drew near to Liverpool Didon explained that they must still be very careful. It would not do for them to declare at once their destination on the platform,—so that every one about the station should know that they were going on board the packet for New York. They had time enough. They must leisurely look for the big boxes and other things, and need say nothing about the steam packet till they were in a cab. Marie's big box was directed simply 'Madame Racine, Passenger to Liverpool;'—so also was directed a second box, nearly as big, which was Didon's property. Didon declared that her anxiety would not be over till she found the ship moving under her. Marie was sure that all their dangers were over,—if only Sir Felix was safe on board. Poor Marie! Sir Felix was at this moment in Welbeck Street, striving to find temporary oblivion for his distressing situation and loss of money, and some alleviation for his racking temples, beneath the bedclothes.
When the train ran into the station at Liverpool the two women sat for a few moments quite quiet. They would not seek remark by any hurry or noise. The door was opened, and a well-mannered porter offered to take their luggage. Didon handed out the various packages, keeping however the jewel-case in her own hands. She left the carriage first, and then Marie. But Marie had hardly put her foot on the platform, before a gentleman addressed her, touching his hat, 'You, I think, are Miss Melmotte.' Marie was struck dumb, but said nothing. Didon immediately became voluble in French. No; the young lady was not Miss Melmotte; the young lady was Mademoiselle Racine, her niece. She was Madame Racine. Melmotte! What was Melmotte? They knew nothing about Melmottes. Would the gentleman kindly allow them to pass on to their cab?
But the gentleman would by no means kindly allow them to pass on to their cab. With the gentleman was another gentleman,—who did not seem to be quite so much of a gentleman;—and again, not far in the distance Didon quickly espied a policeman, who did not at present connect himself with the affair, but who seemed to have his time very much at command, and to be quite ready if he were wanted. Didon at once gave up the game,—as regarded her mistress.
'I am afraid I must persist in asserting that you are Miss Melmotte,' said the gentleman, 'and that this other—person is your servant, Elise Didon. You speak English, Miss Melmotte.' Marie declared that she spoke French. 'And English too,' said the gentleman. 'I think you had better make up your minds to go back to London. I will accompany you.'
'Ah, Didon, nous sommes perdues!' exclaimed Marie. Didon, plucking up her courage for the moment, asserted the legality of her own position and of that of her mistress. They had both a right to come to Liverpool. They had both a right to get into the cab with their luggage. Nobody had a right to stop them. They had done nothing against the laws. Why were they to be stopped in this way? What was it to anybody whether they called themselves Melmotte or Racine?
The gentleman understood the French oratory, but did not commit himself to reply in the same language. 'You had better trust yourself to me; you had indeed,' said the gentleman.
'But why?' demanded Marie.
Then the gentleman spoke in a very low voice. 'A cheque has been changed which you took from your father's house. No doubt your father will pardon that when you are once with him. But in order that we may bring you back safely we can arrest you on the score of the cheque,— if you force us to do so. We certainly shall not let you go on board. If you will travel back to London with me, you shall be subjected to no inconvenience which can be avoided.'
There was certainly no help to be found anywhere. It may be well doubted whether upon the whole the telegraph has not added more to the annoyances than to the comforts of life, and whether the gentlemen who spent all the public money without authority ought not to have been punished with special severity in that they had injured humanity, rather than pardoned because of the good they had produced. Who is benefited by telegrams? The newspapers are robbed of all their old interest, and the very soul of intrigue is destroyed. Poor Marie, when she heard her fate, would certainly have gladly hanged Mr Scudamore.
When the gentleman had made his speech, she offered no further opposition. Looking into Didon's face and bursting into tears, she sat down on one of the boxes. But Didon became very clamorous on her own behalf,—and her clamour was successful. 'Who was going to stop her? What had she done? Why should not she go where she pleased. Did anybody mean to take her up for stealing anybody's money? If anybody did, that person had better look to himself. She knew the law. She would go where she pleased.' So saying she began to tug the rope of her box as though she intended to drag it by her own force out of the station. The gentleman looked at his telegram,—looked at another document which he now held in his hand, ready prepared, should it be wanted. Elise Didon had been accused of nothing that brought her within the law. The gentleman in imperfect French suggested that Didon had better return with her mistress. But Didon clamoured only the more. No; she would go to New York. She would go wherever she pleased;—all the world over. Nobody should stop her. Then she addressed herself in what little English she could command to half-a-dozen cab-men who were standing round and enjoying the scene. They were to take her trunk at once. She had money and she could pay. She started off to the nearest cab, and no one stopped her. 'But the box in her hand is mine,' said Marie, not forgetting her trinkets in her misery. Didon surrendered the jewel-case, and ensconced herself in the cab without a word of farewell; and her trunk was hoisted on to the roof. Then she was driven away out of the station,—and out of our story. She had a first-class cabin all to herself as far as New York, but what may have been her fate after that it matters not to us to enquire.
Poor Marie! We who know how recreant a knight Sir Felix had proved himself, who are aware that had Miss Melmotte succeeded in getting on board the ship she would have passed an hour of miserable suspense, looking everywhere for her lover, and would then at last have been carried to New York without him, may congratulate her on her escape. And, indeed, we who know his character better than she did, may still hope in her behalf that she may be ultimately saved from so wretched a marriage. But to her her present position was truly miserable. She would have to encounter an enraged father; and when,—when should she see her lover again? Poor, poor Felix! What would be his feelings when he should find himself on his way to New York without his love! But in one matter she made up her mind steadfastly. She would be true to him! They might chop her in pieces! Yes;—she had said it before, and she would say it again. There was, however, doubt in her mind from time to time, whether one course might not be better even than constancy. If she could contrive to throw herself out of the carriage and to be killed,—would not that be the best termination to her present disappointment? Would not that be the best punishment for her father? But how then would it be with poor Felix? 'After all I don't know that he cares for me,' she said to herself, thinking over it all.
The gentleman was very kind to her, not treating her at all as though she were disgraced. As they got near town he ventured to give her a little advice. 'Put a good face on it,' he said, 'and don't be cast down.'
'Oh, I won't,' she answered. 'I don't mean.'
'Your mother will be delighted to have you back again.'
'I don't think that mamma cares. It's papa. I'd do it again to-morrow if I had the chance.' The gentleman looked at her, not having expected so much determination. 'I would. Why is a girl to be made to marry to please any one but herself? I won't. And it's very mean saying that I stole the money. I always take what I want, and papa never says anything about it.'
'Two hundred and fifty pounds is a large sum, Miss Melmotte.'
'It is nothing in our house. It isn't about the money. It's because papa wants me to marry another man;—and I won't. It was downright mean to send and have me taken up before all the people.'
'You wouldn't have come back if he hadn't done that.'
'Of course I wouldn't,' said Marie.
The gentleman had telegraphed up to Grosvenor Square while on the journey, and at Euston Square they were met by one of the Melmotte carriages. Marie was to be taken home in the carriage, and the box was to follow in a cab;—to follow at some interval so that Grosvenor Square might not be aware of what had taken place. Grosvenor Square, of course, very soon knew all about it. 'And are you to come?' Marie asked, speaking to the gentleman. The gentleman replied that he had been requested to see Miss Melmotte home. 'All the people will wonder who you are,' said Marie laughing. Then the gentleman thought that Miss Melmotte would be able to get through her troubles without much suffering.
When she got home she was hurried up at once to her mother's room,—and there she found her father, alone. 'This is your game, is it?' said he, looking down at her.
'Well, papa;—yes. You made me do it.'
'You fool you! You were going to New York,—were you?' To this she vouchsafed no reply. 'As if I hadn't found out all about it. Who was going with you?'
'If you have found out all about it, you know, papa.'
'Of course I know;—but you don't know all about it, you little idiot.'
'No doubt I'm a fool and an idiot. You always say so.'
'Where do you suppose Sir Felix Carbury is now?' Then she opened her eyes and looked at him. 'An hour ago he was in bed at his mother's house in Welbeck Street.'
'I don't believe it, papa.'
'You don't, don't you? You'll find it true. If you had gone to New York, you'd have gone alone. If I'd known at first that he had stayed behind, I think I'd have let you go.'
'I'm sure he didn't stay behind.'
'If you contradict me, I'll box your ears, you jade. He is in London at this moment. What has become of the woman that went with you?'
'She's gone on board the ship.'
'And where is the money you took from your mother?' Marie was silent. 'Who got the cheque changed?'
'And has she got the money?'
'Have you got it?'
'Did you give it to Sir Felix Carbury?'
'Then I'll be hanged if I don't prosecute him for stealing it.'
'Oh, papa, don't do that;—pray don't do that. He didn't steal it. I only gave it him to take care of for us. He'll give it you back again.'
'I shouldn't wonder if he lost it at cards, and therefore didn't go to Liverpool. Will you give me your word that you'll never attempt to marry him again if I don't prosecute him?' Marie considered. 'Unless you do that I shall go to a magistrate at once.'
'I don't believe you can do anything to him. He didn't steal it. I gave it to him.'
'Will you promise me?'
'No, papa, I won't. What's the good of promising when I should only break it. Why can't you let me have the man I love? What's the good of all the money if people don't have what they like?'
'All the money!—What do you know about the money? Look here,' and he took her by the arm. 'I've been very good to you. You've had your share of everything that has been going;—carriages and horses, bracelets and brooches, silks and gloves, and every thing else.' He held her very hard and shook her as he spoke.
'Let me go, papa; you hurt me. I never asked for such things. I don't care a straw about bracelets and brooches.'
'What do you care for?'
'Only for somebody to love me,' said Marie, looking down.
'You'll soon have nobody to love you if you go on this fashion. You've had everything done for you, and if you don't do something for me in return, by G——, you shall have a hard time of it. If you weren't such a fool you'd believe me when I say that I know more than you do.'
'You can't know better than me what'll make me happy.'
'Do you think only of yourself? If you'll marry Lord Nidderdale you'll have a position in the world which nothing can take from you.'
'Then I won't,' said Marie firmly. Upon this he shook her till she cried, and calling for Madame Melmotte desired his wife not to let the girl for one minute out of her presence.
The condition of Sir Felix was I think worse than that of the lady with whom he was to have run away. He had played at the Beargarden till four in the morning and had then left the club, on the breaking-up of the card-table, intoxicated and almost penniless. During the last half hour he had made himself very unpleasant at the club, saying all manner of harsh things of Miles Grendall;—of whom, indeed, it was almost impossible to say things too hard, had they been said in a proper form and at a proper time. He declared that Grendall would not pay his debts, that he had cheated when playing loo,—as to which Sir Felix appealed to Dolly Longestaffe; and he ended by asserting that Grendall ought to be turned out of the club. They had a desperate row. Dolly of course had said that he knew nothing about it, and Lord Grasslough had expressed an opinion that perhaps more than one person ought to be turned out. At four o'clock the party was broken up and Sir Felix wandered forth into the streets, with nothing more than the change of a ten pound note in his pocket. All his luggage was lying in the hall of the club, and there he left it.
There could hardly have been a more miserable wretch than Sir Felix wandering about the streets of London that night. Though he was nearly drunk, he was not drunk enough to forget the condition of his affairs. There is an intoxication that makes merry in the midst of affliction,— and there is an intoxication that banishes affliction by producing oblivion. But again there is an intoxication which is conscious of itself though it makes the feet unsteady, and the voice thick, and the brain foolish; and which brings neither mirth nor oblivion. Sir Felix trying to make his way to Welbeck Street and losing it at every turn, feeling himself to be an object of ridicule to every wanderer, and of dangerous suspicion to every policeman, got no good at all out of his intoxication. What had he better do with himself? He fumbled in his pocket, and managed to get hold of his ticket for New York. Should he still make the journey? Then he thought of his luggage, and could not remember where it was. At last, as he steadied himself against a letter-post, he was able to call to mind that his portmanteaus were at the club. By this time he had wandered into Marylebone Lane, but did not in the least know where he was. But he made an attempt to get back to his club, and stumbled half down Bond Street. Then a policeman enquired into his purposes, and when he said that he lived in Welbeck Street, walked back with him as far as Oxford Street. Having once mentioned the place where he lived, he had not strength of will left to go back to his purpose of getting his luggage and starting for Liverpool.
Between six and seven he was knocking at the door in Welbeck Street. He had tried his latch-key, but had found it inefficient. As he was supposed to be at Liverpool, the door had in fact been locked. At last it was opened by Lady Carbury herself. He had fallen more than once, and was soiled with the gutter. Most of my readers will not probably know how a man looks when he comes home drunk at six in the morning; but they who have seen the thing will acknowledge that a sorrier sight cannot meet a mother's eye than that of a son in such a condition. 'Oh, Felix!' she exclaimed.
'It'sh all up,' he said, stumbling in.
'What has happened, Felix?'
'Discovered, and be d——- to it! The old shap'sh stopped ush.' Drunk as he was, he was able to lie. At that moment the 'old shap' was fast asleep in Grosvenor Square, altogether ignorant of the plot; and Marie, joyful with excitement, was getting into the cab in the mews. 'Bettersh go to bed.' And so he stumbled upstairs by daylight, the wretched mother helping him. She took off his clothes for him and his boots, and having left him already asleep, she went down to her own room, a miserable woman.
CHAPTER LI - WHICH SHALL IT BE?
Paul Montague reached London on his return from Suffolk early on the Monday morning, and on the following day he wrote to Mrs Hurtle. As he sat in his lodgings, thinking of his condition, he almost wished that he had taken Melmotte's offer and gone to Mexico. He might at any rate have endeavoured to promote the railway earnestly, and then have abandoned it if he found the whole thing false. In such case of course he would never have seen Hetta Carbury again; but, as things were, of what use to him was his love,—of what use to him or to her? The kind of life of which he dreamed, such a life in England as was that of Roger Carbury, or, as such life would be, if Roger had a wife whom he loved, seemed to be far beyond his reach. Nobody was like Roger Carbury! Would it not be well that he should go away, and, as he went, write to Hetta and bid her marry the best man that ever lived in the world?
But the journey to Mexico was no longer open to him. He had repudiated the proposition and had quarrelled with Melmotte. It was necessary that he should immediately take some further step in regard to Mrs Hurtle. Twice lately he had gone to Islington determined that he would see that lady for the last time. Then he had taken her to Lowestoft, and had been equally firm in his resolution that he would there put an end to his present bonds. Now he had promised to go again to Islington;—and was aware that if he failed to keep his promise, she would come to him. In this way there would never be an end to it.
He would certainly go again, as he had promised,—if she should still require it; but he would first try what a letter would do,—a plain unvarnished tale. Might it still be possible that a plain tale sent by post should have sufficient efficacy? This was his plain tale as he now told it.
Tuesday, 2nd July, 1873.
MY DEAR MRS HURTLE,—
I promised that I would go to you again in Islington, and so I will, if you still require it. But I think that such a meeting can be of no service to either of us. What is to be gained? I do not for a moment mean to justify my own conduct. It is not to be justified. When I met you on our journey hither from San Francisco, I was charmed with your genius, your beauty, and your character. They are now what I found them to be then. But circumstances have made our lives and temperaments so far different, that I am certain that, were we married, we should not make each other happy. Of course the fault was mine; but it is better to own that fault, and to take all the blame,—and the evil consequences, let them be what they may [to be shot, for instance, like the gentleman in Oregon] than to be married with the consciousness that even at the very moment of the ceremony, such marriage will be a matter of sorrow and repentance. As soon as my mind was made up on this I wrote to you. I can not,—I dare not,—blame you for the step you have since taken. But I can only adhere to the resolution I then expressed.
The first day I saw you here in London you asked me whether I was attached to another woman. I could answer you only by the truth. But I should not of my own accord have spoken to you of altered affections. It was after I had resolved to break my engagement with you that I first knew this girl. It was not because I had come to love her that I broke it. I have no grounds whatever for hoping that my love will lead to any results.
I have now told you as exactly as I can the condition of my mind. If it were possible for me in any way to compensate the injury I have done you,—or even to undergo retribution for it,—I would do so. But what compensation can be given, or what retribution can you exact? I think that our further meeting can avail nothing. But if, after this, you wish me to come again, I will come for the last time,—because I have promised.
Your most sincere friend,
Mrs Hurtle, as she read this, was torn in two ways. All that Paul had written was in accordance with the words written by herself on a scrap of paper which she still kept in her own pocket. Those words, fairly transcribed on a sheet of note-paper, would be the most generous and the fittest answer she could give. And she longed to be generous. She had all a woman's natural desire to sacrifice herself. But the sacrifice which would have been most to her taste would have been of another kind. Had she found him ruined and penniless she would have delighted to share with him all that she possessed. Had she found him a cripple, or blind, or miserably struck with some disease, she would have stayed by him and have nursed him and given him comfort. Even had he been disgraced she would have fled with him to some far country and have pardoned all his faults. No sacrifice would have been too much for her that would have been accompanied by a feeling that he appreciated all that she was doing for him, and that she was loved in return. But to sacrifice herself by going away and never more being heard of, was too much for her! What woman can endure such sacrifice as that? To give up not only her love, but her wrath also;—that was too much for her! The idea of being tame was terrible to her. Her life had not been very prosperous, but she was what she was because she had dared to protect herself by her own spirit. Now, at last, should she succumb and be trodden on like a worm? Should she be weaker even than an English girl? Should she allow him to have amused himself with her love, to have had 'a good time,' and then to roam away like a bee, while she was so dreadfully scorched, so mutilated and punished! Had not her whole life been opposed to the theory of such passive endurance? She took out the scrap of paper and read it; and, in spite of all, she felt that there was a feminine softness in it that gratified her.
But no;—she could not send it. She could not even copy the words. And so she gave play to all her strongest feelings on the other side,— being in truth torn in two directions. Then she sat herself down to her desk, and with rapid words, and flashing thoughts, wrote as follows:—
I have suffered many injuries, but of all injuries this is the worst and most unpardonable,—and the most unmanly. Surely there never was such a coward, never so false a liar. The poor wretch that I destroyed was mad with liquor and was only acting after his kind. Even Caradoc Hurtle never premeditated such wrong as this. What you are to bind yourself to me by the most solemn obligation that can join a man and a woman together, and then tell me,—when they have affected my whole life,—that they are to go for nothing, because they do not suit your view of things? On thinking over it, you find that an American wife would not make you so comfortable as some English girl;—and therefore it is all to go for nothing! I have no brother, no man near;—me or you would not dare to do this. You can not but be a coward.
You talk of compensation! Do you mean money? You do not dare to say so, but you must mean it. It is an insult the more. But as to retribution; yes. You shall suffer retribution. I desire you to come to me,—according to your promise,—and you will find me with a horsewhip in my hand. I will whip you till I have not a breath in my body. And then I will see what you will dare to do;—whether you will drag me into a court of law for the assault.
Yes; come. You shall come. And now you know the welcome you shall find. I will buy the whip while this is reaching you, and you shall find that I know how to choose such a weapon. I call upon you so come. But should you be afraid and break your promise, I will come to you. I will make London too hot to hold you;—and if I do not find you I will go with my story to every friend you have.
I have now told you as exactly as I can the condition of my mind.
Having written this she again read the short note, and again gave way to violent tears. But on that day she sent no letter. On the following morning she wrote a third, and sent that. This was the third letter:—
'Yes. Come. W. H.'
This letter duly reached Paul Montague at his lodgings. He started immediately for Islington. He had now no desire to delay the meeting. He had at any rate taught her that his gentleness towards her, his going to the play with her, and drinking tea with her at Mrs Pipkin's, and his journey with her to the sea, were not to be taken as evidence that he was gradually being conquered. He had declared his purpose plainly enough at Lowestoft,—and plainly enough in his last letter. She had told him, down at the hotel, that had she by chance have been armed at the moment, she would have shot him. She could arm herself now if she pleased;—but his real fear had not lain in that direction. The pang consisted in having to assure her that he was resolved to do her wrong. The worst of that was now over.
The door was opened for him by Ruby, who by no means greeted him with a happy countenance. It was the second morning after the night of her imprisonment; and nothing had occurred to alleviate her woe. At this very moment her lover should have been in Liverpool, but he was, in fact, abed in Welbeck Street. 'Yes, sir; she's at home,' said Ruby, with a baby in her arms and a little child hanging on to her dress. 'Don't pull so, Sally. Please, sir, is Sir Felix still in London?' Ruby had written to Sir Felix the very night of her imprisonment, but had not as yet received any reply. Paul, whose mind was altogether intent on his own troubles, declared that at present he knew nothing about Sir Felix, and was then shown into Mrs Hurtle's room.
'So you have come,' she said, without rising from her chair.
'Of course I came, when you desired it.'
'I don't know why you should. My wishes do not seem to affect you much. Will you sit down there?' she said, pointing to a seat at some distance from herself. 'So you think it would be best that you and I should never see each other again?' She was very calm; but it seemed to him that the quietness was assumed, and that at any moment it might be converted into violence. He thought that there was that in her eye which seemed to foretell the spring of the wild-cat.
'I did think so certainly. What more can I say?'
'Oh, nothing; clearly nothing.' Her voice was very low. 'Why should a gentleman trouble himself to say any more than that he has changed his mind? Why make a fuss about such little things as a woman's life, or a woman's heart?' Then she paused. 'And having come, in consequence of my unreasonable request, of course you are wise to hold your peace.'
'I came because I promised.'
'But you did not promise to speak;—did you?'
'What would you have me say?'
'Ah what! Am I to be so weak as to tell you now what I would have you say? Suppose you were to say, "I am a gentleman, and a man of my word, and I repent me of my intended perfidy," do you not think you might get your release that way? Might it not be possible that I should reply that as your heart was gone from me, your hand might go after it;—that I scorned to be the wife of a man who did not want me?' As she asked this she gradually raised her voice, and half lifted herself in her seat, stretching herself towards him.
'You might indeed,' he replied, not well knowing what to say.
'But I should not. I at least will be true. I should take you, Paul,— still take you; with a confidence that I should yet win you to me by my devotion. I have still some kindness of feeling towards you,—none to that woman who is I suppose younger than I, and gentler, and a maid.' She still looked as though she expected a reply, but there was nothing to be said in answer to this. 'Now that you are going to leave me, Paul, is there any advice you can give me, as to what I shall do next? I have given up every friend in the world for you. I have no home. Mrs Pipkin's room here is more my home than any other spot on the earth. I have all the world to choose from, but no reason whatever for a choice. I have my property. What shall I do with it, Paul? If I could die and be no more heard of, you should be welcome to it.' There was no answer possible to all this. The questions were asked because there was no answer possible. 'You might at any rate advise me. Paul, you are in some degree responsible,—are you not,—for my loneliness?'
'I am. But you know that I cannot answer your questions.'
'You cannot wonder that I should be somewhat in doubt as to my future life. As far as I can see, I had better remain here. I do good at any rate to Mrs Pipkin. She went into hysterics yesterday when I spoke of leaving her. That woman, Paul, would starve in our country, and I shall be desolate in this.' Then she paused, and there was absolute silence for a minute. 'You thought my letter very short; did you not?'
'It said, I suppose, all you had to say.'
'No, indeed. I did have much more to say. That was the third letter I wrote. Now you shall see the other two. I wrote three, and had to choose which I would send you. I fancy that yours to me was easier written than either one of mine. You had no doubts, you know. I had many doubts. I could not send them all by post, together. But you may see them all now. There is one. You may read that first. While I was writing it, I was determined that that should go.' Then she handed him the sheet of paper which contained the threat of the horsewhip.
'I am glad you did not send that,' he said.
'I meant it.'
'But you have changed your mind?'
'Is there anything in it that seems to you to be unreasonable? Speak out and tell me.'
'I am thinking of you, not of myself.'
'Think of me, then. Is there anything said there which the usage to which I have been subjected does not justify?'
'You ask me questions which I cannot answer. I do not think that under any provocation a woman should use a horsewhip.'
'It is certainly more comfortable for gentlemen,—who amuse themselves,—that women should have that opinion. But, upon my word, I don't know what to say about that. As long as there are men to fight for women, it may be well to leave the fighting to the men. But when a woman has no one to help her, is she to bear everything without turning upon those who ill-use her? Shall a woman be flayed alive because it is unfeminine in her to fight for her own skin? What is the good of being —feminine, as you call it? Have you asked yourself that? That men may be attracted, I should say. But if a woman finds that men only take advantage of her assumed weakness, shall she not throw it off? If she be treated as prey, shall she not fight as a beast of prey? Oh, no;—it is so unfeminine! I also, Paul, had thought of that. The charm of womanly weakness presented itself to my mind in a soft moment,—and then I wrote this other letter. You may as well see them all.' And so she handed him the scrap which had been written at Lowestoft, and he read that also.
He could hardly finish it, because of the tears which filled his eyes. But, having mastered its contents, he came across the room and threw himself on his knees at her feet, sobbing. 'I have not sent it, you know,' she said. 'I only show it you that you may see how my mind has been at work'
'It hurts me more than the other,' he replied.
'Nay, I would not hurt you,—not at this moment. Sometimes I feel that I could tear you limb from limb, so great is my disappointment, so ungovernable my rage! Why,—why should I be such a victim? Why should life be an utter blank to me, while you have everything before you? There, you have seen them all. Which will you have?'
'I cannot now take that other as the expression of your mind.'
'But it will be when you have left me;—and was when you were with me at the sea-side. And it was so I felt when I got your first letter in San Francisco. Why should you kneel there? You do not love me. A man should kneel to a woman for love, not for pardon.' But though she spoke thus, she put her hand upon his forehead, and pushed back his hair, and looked into his face. 'I wonder whether that other woman loves you. I do not want an answer, Paul. I suppose you had better go.' She took his hand and pressed it to her breast. 'Tell me one thing. When you spoke of—compensation, did you mean—money?'
'No; indeed no.'
'I hope not,—I hope not that. Well, there;—go. You shall be troubled no more with Winifred Hurtle.' She took the sheet of paper which contained the threat of the horsewhip and tore it into scraps.
'And am I to keep the other?' he asked.
'No. For what purpose would you have it? To prove my weakness? That also shall be destroyed.' But she took it and restored it to her pocket-book.
'Good-bye, my friend,' he said.
'Nay! This parting will not bear a farewell. Go, and let there be no other word spoken.' And so he went.
As soon as the front door was closed behind him she rang the bell and begged Ruby to ask Mrs Pipkin to come to her. 'Mrs Pipkin,' she said, as soon as the woman had entered the room; 'everything is over between me and Mr Montague.' She was standing upright in the middle of the room, and as she spoke there was a smile on her face.
'Lord 'a mercy,' said Mrs Pipkin, holding up both her hands.
'As I have told you that I was to be married to him, I think it right now to tell you that I'm not going to be married to him.'
'And why not?—and he such a nice young man,—and quiet too.'
'As to the why not, I don't know that I am prepared to speak about that. But it is so. I was engaged to him.'
'I'm well sure of that, Mrs Hurtle.'
'And now I'm no longer engaged to him. That's all.'
'Dearie me! and you going down to Lowestoft with him, and all.' Mrs Pipkin could not bear to think that she should hear no more of such an interesting story.
'We did go down to Lowestoft together, and we both came back not together. And there's an end of it.'
'I'm sure it's not your fault, Mrs Hurtle. When a marriage is to be, and doesn't come off, it never is the lady's fault.'
'There's an end of it, Mrs Pipkin. If you please, we won't say anything more about it.'
'And are you going to leave, ma'am?' said Mrs Pipkin, prepared to have her apron up to her eyes at a moment's notice. Where should she get such another lodger as Mrs Hurtle,—a lady who not only did not inquire about victuals, but who was always suggesting that the children should eat this pudding or finish that pie, and who had never questioned an item in a bill since she had been in the house!
'We'll say nothing about that yet, Mrs Pipkin.' Then Mrs Pipkin gave utterance to so many assurances of sympathy and help that it almost seemed that she was prepared to guarantee to her lodger another lover in lieu of the one who was now dismissed.
CHAPTER LII - THE RESULTS OF LOVE AND WINE
Two, three, four, and even five o'clock still found Sir Felix Carbury in bed on that fatal Thursday. More than once or twice his mother crept up to his room, but on each occasion he feigned to be fast asleep and made no reply to her gentle words. But his condition was one which only admits of short snatches of uneasy slumber. From head to foot, he was sick and ill and sore, and could find no comfort anywhere. To lie where he was, trying by absolute quiescence to soothe the agony of his brows and to remember that as long as he lay there he would be safe from attack by the outer world, was all the solace within his reach. Lady Carbury sent the page up to him, and to the page he was awake. The boy brought him tea. He asked for soda and brandy; but there was none to be had, and in his present condition he did not dare to hector about it till it was procured for him.
The world surely was now all over to him. He had made arrangements for running away with the great heiress of the day, and had absolutely allowed the young lady to run away without him. The details of their arrangement had been such that she absolutely would start upon her long journey across the ocean before she could find out that he had failed to keep his appointment. Melmotte's hostility would be incurred by the attempt, and hers by the failure. Then he had lost all his money,—and hers. He had induced his poor mother to assist in raising a fund for him,—and even that was gone. He was so cowed that he was afraid even of his mother. And he could remember something, but no details, of some row at the club,—but still with a conviction on his mind that he had made the row. Ah,—when would he summon courage to enter the club again? When could he show himself again anywhere? All the world would know that Marie Melmotte had attempted to run off with him, and that at the last moment he had failed her. What lie could he invent to cover his disgrace? And his clothes! All his things were at the club;—or he thought that they were, not being quite certain whether he had not made some attempt to carry them off to the Railway Station. He had heard of suicide. If ever it could be well that a man should cut his own throat, surely the time had come for him now. But as this idea presented itself to him he simply gathered the clothes around him and tried to sleep. The death of Cato would hardly have for him persuasive charms.
Between five and six his mother again came up to him, and when he appeared to sleep, stood with her hand upon his shoulder. There must be some end to this. He must at any rate be fed. She, wretched woman, had been sitting all day,—thinking of it. As regarded her son himself; his condition told his story with sufficient accuracy. What might be the fate of the girl she could not stop to inquire. She had not heard all the details of the proposed scheme; but she had known that Felix had proposed to be at Liverpool on the Wednesday night, and to start on Thursday for New York with the young lady; and with the view of aiding him in his object she had helped him with money. She had bought clothes for him, and had been busy with Hetta for two days preparing for his long journey,—having told some lie to her own daughter as to the cause of her brother's intended journey. He had not gone, but had come, drunk and degraded, back to the house. She had searched his pockets with less scruple than she had ever before felt, and had found his ticket for the vessel and the few sovereigns which were left to him. About him she could read the riddle plainly. He had stayed at his club till he was drunk, and had gambled away all his money. When she had first seen him she had asked herself what further lie she should now tell to her daughter. At breakfast there was instant need for some story. 'Mary says that Felix came back this morning, and that he has not gone at all,' Hetta exclaimed. The poor woman could not bring herself to expose the vices of the son to her daughter. She could not say that he had stumbled into the house drunk at six o'clock. Hetta no doubt had her own suspicions. 'Yes; he has come back,' said Lady Carbury, broken-hearted by her troubles. 'It was some plan about the Mexican railway I believe, and has broken through. He is very unhappy and not well. I will see to him.' After that Hetta had said nothing during the whole day. And now, about an hour before dinner, Lady Carbury was standing by her son's bedside, determined that he should speak to her.
'Felix,' she said,—'speak to me, Felix.—I know that you are awake.' He groaned, and turned himself away from her, burying himself further under the bedclothes. 'You must get up for your dinner. It is near six o'clock.'
'All right,' he said at last.
'What is the meaning of this, Felix? You must tell me. It must be told sooner or later. I know you are unhappy. You had better trust your mother.'
'I am so sick, mother.'
'You will be better up. What were you doing last night? What has come of it all? Where are your things?'
'At the club.—You had better leave me now, and let Sam come up to me.' Sam was the page.
'I will leave you presently; but, Felix, you must tell me about this. What has been done?'
'It hasn't come off.'
'But how has it not come off?'
'I didn't get away. What's the good of asking?'
'You said this morning when you came in, that Mr Melmotte had discovered it.'
'Did I? Then I suppose he has. Oh, mother, I wish I could die. I don't see what's the use of anything. I won't get up to dinner. I'd rather stay here.'
'You must have something to eat, Felix.'
'Sam can bring it me. Do let him get me some brandy and water. I'm so faint and sick with all this that I can hardly bear myself. I can't talk now. If he'll get me a bottle of soda water and some brandy, I'll tell you all about it then.'
'Where is the money, Felix?'
'I paid it for the ticket,' said he, with both his hands up to his head.
Then his mother again left him with the understanding that he was to be allowed to remain in bed till the next morning; but that he was to give her some further explanation when he had been refreshed and invigorated after his own prescription. The boy went out and got him soda water and brandy, and meat was carried up to him, and then he did succeed for a while in finding oblivion from his misery in sleep.
'Is he ill, mamma?' Hetta asked.
'Yes, my dear.'
'Had you not better send for a doctor?'
'No, my dear. He will be better to-morrow.'
'Mamma, I think you would be happier if you would tell me everything.'
'I can't,' said Lady Carbury, bursting out into tears. 'Don't ask. What's the good of asking? It is all misery and wretchedness. There is nothing to tell,—except that I am ruined.'
'Has he done anything, mamma?'
'No. What should he have done? How am I to know what he does? He tells me nothing. Don't talk about it any more. Oh, God,—how much better it would be to be childless!'
'Oh, mamma, do you mean me?' said Hetta, rushing across the room, and throwing herself close to her mother's side on the sofa. 'Mamma, say that you do not mean me.'
'It concerns you as well as me and him. I wish I were childless.'
'Oh, mamma, do not be cruel to me! Am I not good to you? Do I not try to be a comfort to you?'
'Then marry your cousin, Roger Carbury, who is a good man, and who can protect you. You can, at any rate, find a home for yourself, and a friend for us. You are not like Felix. You do not get drunk and gamble,—because you are a woman. But you are stiff-necked, and will not help me in my trouble.'
'Shall I marry him, mamma, without loving him?'
'Love! Have I been able to love? Do you see much of what you call love around you? Why should you not love him? He is a gentleman, and a good man,—soft-hearted, of a sweet nature, whose life would be one effort to make yours happy. You think that Felix is very bad.'
'I have never said so.'
'But ask yourself whether you do not give as much pain, seeing what you could do for us if you would. But it never occurs to you to sacrifice even a fantasy for the advantage of others.'
Hetta retired from her seat on the sofa, and when her mother again went upstairs she turned it all over in her mind. Could it be right that she should marry one man when she loved another? Could it be right that she should marry at all, for the sake of doing good to her family? This man, whom she might marry if she would,—who did in truth worship the ground on which she trod,—was, she well knew, all that her mother had said. And he was more than that. Her mother had spoken of his soft heart, and his sweet nature. But Hetta knew also that he was a man of high honour and a noble courage. In such a condition as was hers now he was the very friend whose advice she could have asked,— had he not been the very lover who was desirous of making her his wife. Hetta felt that she could sacrifice much for her mother. Money, if she had it, she could have given, though she left herself penniless. Her time, her inclinations, her very heart's treasure, and, as she thought, her life, she could give. She could doom herself to poverty, and loneliness, and heart-rending regrets for her mother's sake. But she did not know how she could give herself into the arms of a man she did not love.
'I don't know what there is to explain,' said Felix to his mother. She had asked him why he had not gone to Liverpool, whether he had been interrupted by Melmotte himself, whether news had reached him from Marie that she had been stopped, or whether,—as might have been possible,—Marie had changed her own mind. But he could not bring himself to tell the truth, or any story bordering on the truth. 'It didn't come off,' he said, 'and of course that knocked me off my legs. Well; yes. I did take some champagne when I found how it was. A fellow does get cut up by that kind of thing. Oh, I heard it at the club,—that the whole thing was off. I can't explain anything more. And then I was so mad, I can't tell what I was after. I did get the ticket. There it is. That shows I was in earnest. I spent the L30 in getting it. I suppose the change is there. Don't take it, for I haven't another shilling in the world.' Of course he said nothing of Marie's money, or of that which he had himself received from Melmotte. And as his mother had heard nothing of these sums she could not contradict what he said. She got from him no further statement, but she was sure that there was a story to be told which would reach her ears sooner or later.
That evening, about nine o'clock, Mr Broune called in Welbeck Street. He very often did call now, coming up in a cab, staying for a cup of tea, and going back in the same cab to the office of his newspaper. Since Lady Carbury had, so devotedly, abstained from accepting his offer, Mr Broune had become almost sincerely attached to her. There was certainly between them now more of the intimacy of real friendship than had ever existed in earlier days. He spoke to her more freely about his own affairs, and even she would speak to him with some attempt at truth. There was never between them now even a shade of love-making. She did not look into his eyes, nor did he hold her hand. As for kissing her,—he thought no more of it than of kissing the maid-servant. But he spoke to her of the things that worried him,—the unreasonable exactions of proprietors, and the perilous inaccuracy of contributors. He told her of the exceeding weight upon his shoulders, under which an Atlas would have succumbed. And he told her something too of his triumphs;—how he had had this fellow bowled over in punishment for some contradiction, and that man snuffed out for daring to be an enemy. And he expatiated on his own virtues, his justice and clemency. Ah,—if men and women only knew his good nature and his patriotism;—how he had spared the rod here, how he had made the fortune of a man there, how he had saved the country millions by the steadiness of his adherence to some grand truth! Lady Carbury delighted in all this and repaid him by flattery, and little confidences of her own. Under his teaching she had almost made up her mind to give up Mr Alf. Of nothing was Mr Broune more certain than that Mr Alf was making a fool of himself in regard to the Westminster election and those attacks on Melmotte. 'The world of London generally knows what it is about,' said Mr Broune, 'and the London world believes Mr Melmotte to be sound. I don't pretend to say that he has never done anything that he ought not to do. I am not going into his antecedents. But he is a man of wealth, power, and genius, and Alf will get the worst of it.' Under such teaching as this, Lady Carbury was almost obliged to give up Mr Alf.
Sometimes they would sit in the front room with Hetta, to whom also Mr Broune had become attached; but sometimes Lady Carbury would be in her own sanctum. On this evening she received him there, and at once poured forth all her troubles about Felix. On this occasion she told him everything, and almost told him everything truly. He had already heard the story. 'The young lady went down to Liverpool, and Sir Felix was not there.'
'He could not have been there. He has been in bed in this house all day. Did she go?'
'So I am told;—and was met at the station by the senior officer of the police at Liverpool, who brought her back to London without letting her go down to the ship at all. She must have thought that her lover was on board;—probably thinks so now. I pity her.'