The Forlorn Hope: A Novel (Vol. 2 of 2) by Yates, Edmund
THE FORLORN HOPE. A NOVEL.
BY EDMUND YATES, AUTHOR OF "LAND AT LAST," "BROKEN TO HARNESS," ETC.
IN TWO VOLUMES. VOL. II.
_The Right of Translation is reserved_.
CONTENTS OF VOLUME. II.
CHAPTER I. Nothing like Wilmot. II. Another Turn of the Screw. III. A Coup manqué. IV. Madeleine awakes. V. At our Minister's. VI. The Gulf fixed. VII. Henrietta. VIII. Mrs. Ramsay Caird at Home. IX. Inquisitorial. X. Against the Grain. XI. Iconoclastic. XII. Too Late. XIII. Quand même! XIV. Forlorn.
THE FORLORN HOPE.
CHAPTER I. Nothing like Wilmot.
Mr. Foljambe did not easily throw off the painful impression which his interview with Chudleigh Wilmot had made upon him. The old gentleman had always found Wilmot, though not an expansive, a singularly frank person; he had not indeed ever spoken much to him concerning his wife or his domestic affairs generally; but men do not do so habitually; and the men to whom their wives are most dear and important rarely mention them at all. The circumstance had therefore made no impression upon Mr. Foljambe, himself a confirmed old bachelor, who, though very kind and considerate to women and children, regarded them rather as ornamental trifles, with a tendency to degenerate into nuisances, than otherwise.
He began by wondering why Wilmot should have been so thoroughly upset by his wife's death, and went on to speculate how long that very unexpected and undesirable result might be likely to last. Becoming sanguine and comparatively cheerful at this point, he made up his mind that Chudleigh would get over it before long. Perhaps all had not gone very smooth with the Wilmots. Not that he had any particular reason to think so; but Wilmot was not a remarkably domestic man, and there might be perhaps a little spice of self-reproach in his sorrow. At all events, it would not last; _that_ might be looked upon as certain. In the mean time, and in order that the world might not think Wilmot's conduct silly, sentimental, or mysterious, Mr. Foljambe would be beforehand with the gossips and the curious, and, by assigning to his absence from England a motive in which the interests of his profession and those of his health should be combined, prevent the risk of its being imputed to anything so _rococo_ as deep feeling.
"Gad, I'll do it," said Mr. Foljambe, as he took his seat in his faultless brougham, having carefully completed an irreproachable afternoon toilette, in which every article of costume was integrally perfect and of the highest fashion, but as scrupulously adapted to his time of life as the dress of a Frenchwoman of middle or indeed of any age. "I'll go and inquire for that Kilsyth girl, and set the right story afloat there," he said, as he gave his coachman the necessary orders; "it will soon find its way about town, especially if that carrier-pigeon Caird is in the way."
And the old gentleman, chuckling over his own cleverness in hitting on so happy a device, felt almost reconciled already to the deprivation which he was doomed to suffer in the loss of Wilmot's society by the opportunity which it afforded him of exercising the small social talents, of which he really possessed a good many, and believed himself to be endowed with a good many more.
Lady Muriel Kilsyth was at home, likewise Miss Kilsyth; and her ladyship "received" that afternoon. So Mr. Foljambe, who, though an admittedly old man, long past the elderly stage, and no longer _à pretention_ in any sense, was as welcome a visitor in a London drawing-room as the curliest of darlings and most irresistible of guardsmen, made his way nimbly upstairs, and was ushered into the presence of the two ladies, who formed an exceedingly pretty and effective domestic group.
Madeleine Kilsyth, who had recovered her beauty, though a little of her brilliance and her bloom was still wanting, was drawing, while her stepmother stood a little behind her chair, her dark graceful head bent over her shoulder, and directed her pencil. Mr. Foljambe's glance lighted on the two faces as he entered the room, and they inspired him with an instantaneous compliment, which he turned with grace, a little old-fashioned, but the more attractive. They answered him pleasantly; Lady Muriel gave him her hand; Madeleine suffered him to take both hers, and repaid the long look of interest with which he regarded her with her sweetest smile; then resumed her occupation, and listened, as she drew, to the conversation between Lady Muriel and Mr. Foljambe.
At first their talk was only of generalities: what the ladies had been doing since they came to London, the extent of Madeleine's drives, how many of their acquaintance had also arrived, the prospects of society for the winter, and cognate topics. They had seen a good deal of Ronald, Lady Muriel told Mr. Foljambe; and her brother's presence had been a great pleasure to Madeleine. A close observer might have thought that Madeleine's expression of countenance did not altogether confirm this statement; but her old friend was not a close observer of young ladies, and Lady Muriel did not look at her stepdaughter as she spoke. After a while Mr. Foljambe turned the conversation upon Madeleine's illness, and so, in the easiest and most natural way, introduced Wilmot's name. Lady Muriel's manner of meeting this topic was admirable. She never failed in the _aplomb_ which is part of the armour of a woman of the world; and though she never again could hear Wilmot's name mentioned with real composure, she had the mock article always at hand; so skilful an imitation as successfully to defy detection.
"A fine fellow, is he not, Lady Muriel?" said Mr. Foljambe, in the tone of a father desirous of hearing the praises of his favourite son.
"Indeed he is," responded Lady Muriel heartily. "He has laid us under an obligation which we can never discharge or forget. I am sure Kilsyth and I reckon him among the most valued of our friends."
"He took the deepest interest in Miss Kilsyth's case, I know," said Mr. Foljambe; "and of course there was everything to excite such a feeling;" and the gallant old gentleman bowed in the direction of Madeleine, who acknowledged the compliment with a most becoming blush.
"It was a very anxious, a very trying time," said Lady Muriel, in the precise tone which suited the sentiment. "I don't know how Kilsyth would have borne it, had it not been for Dr. Wilmot. We were much distressed to hear that such bad news awaited him on his return. He found his wife dying, did he not?"
"He found her dead, Lady Muriel."
There was a pause, during which Madeleine laid aside her pencil, and shaded her face with her hand. The tears were standing in her blue eyes; and while Mr. Foljambe proceeded, they streamed unchecked down her face.
"Yes, he found her dead. It was a sudden termination to an illness which had nothing serious in it, to all appearance. But, as many another illness has done, it set all human calculations at naught; and when the bad symptoms set in, it was too late for him to reach her in time. I suppose he has not told you anything about it?"
"No," said Lady Muriel; "beyond a few words of condolence, to which he made a very brief reply, nothing has been said. I fancy Dr. Wilmot is a man but little given to talking of his own afnot fairs or his own feelings."
"Not given to talking of them at all, Lady Muriel. I never met a more reticent man, even with myself; and I flatter myself he has no closer friend, none with whom he is on more confidential terms; he is very reserved in some things. I did not know much of his wife."
"Did you not?" said Lady Muriel; "how was that?"
"When I say I did not know much of her," Mr. Foljambe explained, "I do not mean that it was from any fault of mine. I called once or twice, but there was something sullen and impenetrable and uninteresting about her, and I never felt any real intimacy with her."
"Indeed!" said Lady Muriel, "it is impossible to know Dr. Wilmot without feeling interested in all that concerns him; and I have often wished to know what sort of woman his wife was."
"Well, that is precisely what very few persons in the world could have told you; and I, for one, acknowledge myself astonished at the effect her death has had on Wilmot."
"He is dreadfully cut up by it certainly," said Lady Muriel; "but I hope, and suppose, he will recover it, as other people have to recover troubles of that and every other kind."
"He is taking the best means of getting over it," said Mr. Foljambe; "and I heartily enter into the notion, and have encouraged him in it. He thinks of going abroad for some time. I know he has been very anxious to study the foreign treatment of diseases in general, and of fever in particular; and he came to me yesterday and told me he meant to leave London for six months at least. He assigned sound reasons for such a determination, and I think it is the wisest at which he could possibly have arrived."
Lady Muriel rose and rang the bell. The fire required mending, and the brief afternoon twilight rendered the lamps a necessity earlier than usual. When these things had been attended to, she took up the dialogue where it had been broken off with all her accustomed grace and skill.
"I did not know we were about to lose Dr. Wilmot for a time," she said. "If all his friends and patients miss him as much as Madeleine Kilsyth and myself are likely to do, his absence is likely to create a sensation indeed. And so poor Mrs. Wilmot was not a very amiable, woman?"
Mr. Foljambe had not said anything about Mrs. Wilmot's amiability, or the opposite, but he let the observation pass in sheer bewilderment; and that Lady Muriel Kilsyth understood as well as he did. She went on. "A man like Dr. Wilmot must miss companionship at home very much. Of course he can always command the resources of society, but they would not be welcome to him yet awhile. How long does he speak of remaining away, Mr. Foljambe?"
"He did not mention any particular time in talking the matter over with me. His destination is Berlin, I believe. He is anxious to investigate some medical system carried on there, which I need not say neither you nor I know anything about. He was very eloquent upon it, I assure you; and I am glad to perceive that all his trouble has not decreased his interest in the one great object of his life."
"His professional advancement, I suppose?" said Lady Muriel.
"Well, not exactly that. I think he must retard that by any, and especially by an indefinite, absence. It is rather to his profession itself, to science in the abstract, I allude. He always had a perfect thirst for knowledge, and the greatest powers of application I have ever known any man possessed of. A 'case' was in his eyes the most important of human affairs. He would throw himself into the interest of his attendance upon a patient with preternatural energy. I am sure you discovered that while he was at Kilsyth."
"Yes indeed; his care of Madeleine was beyond all praise, or indeed description. No doubt, had any other opportunity offered, we should have found, as you say, that such devotion was not a solitary instance."
"O no, Wilmot is always the same. You know, I presume, that I required his services very urgently indeed just then; but he would not leave Miss Kilsyth's case for even so old and near a friend as I am."
Madeleine's colour deepened, and she listened to the conversation, in which she had taken no share, with increased eagerness.
"I know that some one telegraphed to him, but that he kindly said Madeleine's case being the more urgent of the two, he would remain with her. And you were none the worse, it seems, Mr. Foljambe?"
"No indeed, Lady Muriel," replied the old gentleman with a good-humoured smile. "Wilmot's deputy did quite as well for me as the mighty potentate of medicine himself. But I acknowledge I was a little annoyed; and if anyone but my old friend Kilsyth's daughter had been the detaining cause, I should have been tempted to play Wilmot a trick, by pretending that some extraordinary and entirely novel symptoms had appeared. He would have come fast enough then, I warrant you, for the chance of finding out something new about gout."
Lady Muriel laughed, but Madeleine apparently did not perceive the joke. Soon some other callers dropped in, and Mr. Foljambe took his leave. But the subject of Wilmot and his contemplated abandonment of London was not abandoned on his departure. He was well known to the "set" in which the Kilsyths moved, though their own acquaintance with him was so recent, and everyone had something to say about the rising man. The sentimental view of the subject was very general. It was so very charming to think of any man, especially one so talented, so popular, so altogether delightful as Wilmot, being "broken-hearted" by the death of his wife. Lady Muriel gently insinuated, once or twice, a doubt whether there was any ground for this very congenial but rather romantic supposition: her doubts, however, were by no means well received, and she found herself overwhelmed with evidence of the irremediably desolate condition of Wilmot's heart.
When the afternoon calls had come to an end, and Lady Muriel and her stepdaughter were in their respective rooms and about to dress for dinner, the mind of each was in accord with that of the other, inasmuch as the same subject of contemplation engrossed both. But the harmony went no farther. Nothing could be more opposite than the effect produced upon Madeleine and Lady Muriel by Mr. Foljambe's news, and by all the desultory discussion and speculation which had followed its announcement.
To Madeleine the knowledge that she should see Wilmot no more for an indefinite period was like a sentence of death. The young girl was profoundly unconscious of the meaning of her own feelings. That the sentiment which she entertained towards Wilmot was love, she never for a moment dreamed. In him the ideal of an elevated and refined fancy had found its realisation; he was altogether different from the men she had hitherto met since her emancipation from the schoolroom; different from the hunting, shooting devotees of field-sports, or the heavy country gentlemen given to farming and local politics, who frequented Kilsyth; different from the associates of her brother, who, whether they were merely fashionable and empty, or formal and priggish like Ronald himself, were essentially distasteful to her. She was of a dreamy and romantic temperament, to which the delicacy of health and the not quite congenial conditions of her life at home contributed not a little; and she had seen in Wilmot the man of talent, action, and resolve, the realisation of the nineteenth-century heroic ideal. To admire and reverence him; to find the best and most valuable of resources in his friendship, the wisest and truest guidance in his intellect, the most exquisite of pleasures in his society; to triumph in his fame, and try to merit his approval,--such was the girl's scheme for the future. But it never occurred to her that there was one comprehensive and forbidden word in which the whole of this state of feeling might be accurately defined. She had grieved for Wilmot's grief when she heard of the death of his wife, but at the same time a subtle instinct, which she never questioned and could not have defined, told her that his marriage had not been a happy one, according to her enthusiastic girlish notion of a happy marriage. She did not know anything about it; she had no idea what sort of woman Chudleigh Wilmot's wife was, but she had felt, by the nameless sense which, had she been an elder woman with ever so little experience, would have enlightened her as to the nature of her own feelings, that he was not really attached to her to the extent which alone seemed to her to imply happiness in the conjugal relation. So, when Madeleine heard that Wilmot was going abroad, and heard her stepmother's visitors talk about his being "broken-hearted," she felt equally wretched and incredulous. Sentimental reason for this resolution she did not, she could not accept; the other was exquisitely painful to her. Had he, indeed, so absorbing a love for his professional studies? Was he really occupied by them to the exclusion of all else; had her "case," and not herself, been his attraction at Kilsyth? If Mr. Foljambe had really resorted to the device he had spoken of, would Wilmot have left her? To none of these questions could Madeleine find an answer inside her own breast, or without it; so they tortured her. Her vision of seeing him frequently, of making him her friend--the vision which had so strangely beautified the prospect of her stay in London,--faded suddenly; and unconscious of all the idea meant and implied, the girl said to herself, "If he had cared for me--not as I care for him, of course that could not be--but ever so little, he would not go away."
Very different were Lady Muriel's meditations. To her this resolve on the part of Wilmot was peculiarly welcome. In the first place, she was a thorough woman of the world, and free from the impetuosity of youth. She was quite willing to be deprived of Wilmot's society for the present, if, as she calculated would be the case, he should return under circumstances which would enable her to reckon with increased security upon gaining the influence over him to which she ardently aspired, to which she aspired more and more ardently as each day proved to her how strong an impulse her life had taken from this new source. She cared little from what motive Wilmot's resolve had sprung. If indeed he had deeply loved, and if indeed he did desperately mourn his wife, the very power and violence of the feeling would react upon itself, and force him to accept consolation all the sooner that he had proved the greatness of his need of it. He would be absent during the dark time when grief forms an eclipse, and he would emerge from its shadow into the brightness which she would cause to shine upon his life. She did not anticipate that his absence would be greatly prolonged, but she did not shrink, even supposing it should be, from the interval. She had enough to do within its duration. Lady Muriel was as thoroughly acquainted with Madeleine's love for Wilmot as the girl was ignorant that she loved him. There was not a corner of her innocent heart which the keen experienced eye of her stepmother had not scanned and examined narrowly.
In Madeleine's perfect ignorance of the real nature of her own feelings Lady Muriel's best security for the success of her wishes and designs lay. As she had no notion that her love was aught but liking, she would be the more easily persuaded that her liking was love. She had a liking for Ramsay Caird. The gay, careless, superficial good-nature of the young man, his easy gentlemanly manners, and the familiarity with which his intercourse with the Kilsyth family was invested in consequence of his relationship to Lady Muriel, were all pleasing to the young girl; and probably, "next to Ronald," she preferred Ramsay Caird to any man of her acquaintance. Of late, too, an unexplained something had come between Madeleine and her brother--a certain restraint, a subtle sense of estrangement--which Lady Muriel thoroughly understood, but for which Madeleine could not have accounted, and shrunk from acknowledging to herself. This unexplained something, which made her look forward to Ronald's visits with greatly decreased pleasure, and made her involuntarily silent and depressed in his presence, told considerably in Ramsay Caird's favour; for it led to Madeleine's according him an increased share of her attention. The young man was a constant visitor at the Kilsyths'; and there was so much decision in Madeleine's liking for him, that she missed him if by any chance he was absent of an evening, and occasionally was heard to wonder what could have kept Mr. Caird away.
Madeleine's delicate health furnished Lady Muriel with a sufficient and reasonable pretext for keeping her at home in the evenings; and she contrived to make it evident that Ramsay Caird's presence constituted a material difference in the dulness or the pleasantness of the little party which assembled with tolerable regularity in the drawing-room. Ronald would come in for an hour or so, and then Madeleine would be particularly _prévenante_ towards Ramsay Caird; an innocent and unconscious hypocrisy, poor child, which her stepmother perfectly understood, and which she saw with deep though concealed satisfaction.
On the evening of the day when Mr. Foljambe had discussed Wilmot's departure with Lady Muriel and Madeleine, the elder lady was a little embarrassed by the manifest effect on the looks and the spirits of the younger which the intelligence had produced. At dinner Kilsyth perversely chose to descant on the two themes with all a single-minded man's amiable pertinacity, and, of course, without the smallest conception that any connection existed between them. He was quite aggrieved at Wilmot's departure, and called on everyone to take notice of Madeleine's looks in confirmation of the loss he and his in particular must sustain by his absence. Ronald was of the party; and he preserved so marked and ungracious a silence, that at length even Kilsyth could not avoid noticing it, and said:
"I suppose you are the only man who knows him, Ronald, who underrates Wilmot; and I really believe you think we make quite an unnecessary fuss about him."
"I by no Means underrate the abilities of your medical attendant, sir," Ronald answered in his coldest and driest tone, and, as Madeleine felt in all her shrinking nerves, though she dared not look up to meet it, with a moody searching glance at her; "but, admirable as he may be in his proper capacity and his proper place, I cannot quite appreciate his social importance."
"Just listen to him, Muriel," said Kilsyth in a provoked but yet good-humoured tone. "What wonderful fellows these young men are! He actually talks of a man like Wilmot as if he were a general practitioner or an apothecary's apprentice!"
Lady Muriel interposed, and turned off this somewhat perilous and peace-breaking remark with one of the graceful, skilful generalities of which she always had a supply ready for emergencies. Ronald contented himself with a half smile of contempt at his father's enthusiastic misrepresentation; Madeleine talked energetically to Ramsay Caird; and the matter dropped.
To be resumed in the drawing-room, however. Madeleines looks were not improved when her father and the two young men joined her and Lady Muriel. She was dreaming over a book which she was pretending to read, when Kilsyth came up to her, took her chin in his hand, and turned up her face to his and to the light.
Tears were trembling in her blue eyes.
"Hallo, Maddy," said her father, "what's this? You're nervous, my darling! I knew you were not well. Has anything fretted you?--Has anything vexed her, Muriel?"
"No, papa, nothing; nothing at all," said Madeleine, making a strong effort to recover herself. "I have got hold of a sorrowful book, that's all."
"Have you, my dear? then put it away. Let's look at it. Why, it's _Pickwick_, I declare! Maddy, what can all you? How could you possibly cry over anything in _Pickwick?_"
"I don't know that, sir," said Ramsay, jauntily and jovially coming to Madeleine's assistance, without the faintest notion of anything beyond her being "badgered by the governor." "There's the dying clown, you know, and the queer client. I've cried over them myself; or at least I've been very near it," And he sat down beside Madeleine, and applied himself with success to rousing and amusing her. Ronald said nothing, and very soon went away.
"I'm determined on one thing, Muriel," said Kilsyth to his wife when they were alone; "I'll have a long talk with Wilmot before he goes, and get the fullest instructions from him about Madeleine. I have no confidence in anyone else in her case, and I'll write to Wilmot about it, and ask him to come here professionally, as soon as he can, the first thing to-morrow morning."
CHAPTER II. Another Turn of the Screw.
If the interview which had taken place between Chudleigh Wilmot and Henrietta Prendergast had had unfortunate results for the one, it had been proportionably, if not equally, unpleasant to the other. It was impossible that Henrietta could have sustained a more complete discouragement, a more telling and unmistakable defeat, than she felt had befallen her when, after Wilmot had left her, she went over every point of their conversation, and considered the interview in every possible aspect. She had at once, or at least at a very early stage, discerned that some fresh disturbing cause existed in Wilmot's mind. She had seen him, on the memorable occasion of their first interview after his wife's death, horrified, confounded, and unfeignedly distressed. However little he had loved his wife, however passing and shallow the impression made upon him by the sudden and untimely event might prove--and Mrs. Prendergast was prepared to find it prove shallow and passing--it had been real, single, intelligible. He had received the painful communication which she had been charged to make to him with surprise, with sorrow--no doubt, in his secret soul, with bitter, regretful, vain remorse. She could only surmise this part of his feelings. He had not departed from the manly reticence which she had expected from him, and for which she admired him; but she never doubted that he had experienced such remorse,--vain, bitter, and regretful.
All the information which had drifted to her knowledge since--and though she was not a distinctly curious or mean-natured woman, Mrs. Prendergast was not above cultivating and maintaining friendly relations with Dr. Wilmot's household, to all of whom she was as well known, and had been nearly as important, as their late mistress--confirmed her in the belief that the conduct of the suddenly-bereaved husband had been all that propriety, good feeling, good taste, and good sense could possibly require. She bad not precisely defined in her imagination what it was that she looked for and expected in the interview which Wilmot had requested, with a little too much formality, certainly, to be reassuring with regard to any notions she might possibly have entertained with respect to the freedom and intimacy of their future relations. But she did not suffer herself to dwell on that matter of the formality. It was not unnatural; there are persons, she knew, to whom that sort of thing seems proper when a death--what may be called an intimate death, that is to say--has taken place, who change all their ways and manners for a time, just as they put on mourning and use lugubrious stationery. It was not very like what she would have expected of Wilmot, to enrol himself in the number of these formalists; but she did not allow the circumstance to impress her disagreeably. She possessed patience in as marked a degree as she possessed intelligence--patience, a much rarer and nearly as valuable a quality--and she was satisfied to wait until time should enable her to arrive at the free and frequent association with Wilmot, which was the first step to the end she had in view, and meant to keep in view. She was perfectly clear upon that point; none the leas clear that she did not discuss it in her own thoughts, or ponder over it; but she laid it quietly aside, to be produced and acted on when it should be required.
Therefore Henrietta Prendergast was disquieted and disconcerted by the tone and manner which Wilmot had assumed during their interview. Disquieted, because there was something in and under them which she could not fathom; disconcerted, because everything in the interview betrayed and disappointed the expectations she had formed, and because her intention of conveying to Wilmot, by a frank and friendly manner, that it was within his power to continue in his own person the intimacy which had subsisted between herself and his wife, had been utterly routed and nullified.
"There was something in his mind with regard to Mabel," she said to herself, as she sat at her tea in her snug drawing-room on the same afternoon; "there certainly was something in his mind about her which was not in it when I saw him last. I wonder what it is. I wonder whether he has found anything? I am sure she never kept a journal; I shouldn't think so; I fancy no one ever does in real life, except they are so important as to be wanted for public purposes, or so vain as to think such demand likely. Besides, Mabel's trouble was not tragical; it was only monotonous and uneventful. No; I am sure she did not keep a journal. So he has not found one; and he has not found any letters either. Mabel had very few to keep, and she burnt the scanty collection just as her illness began. I remember coming suddenly into the room, and fluttering the ashes all over her bed and toilet-table by opening the door. Yes, to be sure, the window was open; and she had had a fire kindled on purpose."
Mrs. Prendergast leaned her face upon her hand, struck her teaspoon thoughtfully against the edge of the tea-tray, and pondered deeply. She was trying to recall every little incident connected with the dead woman, in the endeavour to discover the secret of Wilmot's demeanour that day.
"Yes, she was sitting by the fire; a sandal-wood box was on the floor, and a heap of ashes in the grate. I remember looking rather surprised, and she said, 'You know, Hettie, one never can tell what may happen. You nor I either cannot tell whether I shall ever recover; and it is well to have all things in readiness.' I thought the observation rather absurd particularly, however true it might be generally, and told her so, for she was by no means seriously ill then. She still persisted, however. What a remarkable feature of poor Mabel's illness, by the bye, was her persistent and unalterable belief that she should die! The wish to die, no doubt, assisted it much at the end; but the conviction laid hold on her from the first."
Then Mrs. Prendergast remembered how Mrs. Wilmot had left everything in readiness; every article of household property, all her own private possessions, everything which had claimed her care, provided for; and though she knew that instances of such a morbid state of mind were not altogether wanting in the case of women in Mrs. Wilmot's state of health, she did not feel that such an hypothesis accounted for this particular case satisfactorily. In all other respects there had been such equality of disposition, common sense, and absence of fancifulness about her friend, that she could not accept the explanation which suggested itself. This was not the first time that she had thought over this circumstance. It had been brought before her very forcibly when a packet was sent to her, with a kind but formal note from Wilmot, a day or two after his wife's funeral; which packet contained a few articles of jewelry and general ornament, and a strip of paper, bearing merely the words: "I wish these to be given to Mrs. Prendergast.--M. W."
But now it assumed a more puzzling importance and deeper interest. Had Wilmot found anything among all her orderly possessions which had thrown any new light upon her life? Had he had a misunderstanding with Dr. Whittaker? Did he think his wife's life had been sacrificed by want of care, or want of attention or of skill? Had remorse seized him on this account, when he had succeeded in defeating its attack, in consequence of the revelation which she had made to him? Had he regained incredulity or indifference as regarded the years which had passed in miscomprehension, to be roused into inquietude and stern self-reproach by an appeal to his master passion, his professional knowledge and attainments? If this were so, there would at least be some measure of punishment allotted to Chudleigh Wilmot; for he was a proud man, and sensitive on that point, if not on any other.
Henrietta Prendergast was well disposed towards Wilmot now, in the new aspect of affairs, and contemplating as she did certain dim future possibilities very grateful to her pertinacious disposition. But she was not sorry to think that he had something to suffer; and that something of a nature to oppress his spirits considerably, and render him indifferent to the attractions of society. Before this desirable effect should have worn off, she would have contrived to make herself necessary to him. She had but little doubt of her power to accomplish this, if only the opportunity were afforded her. She knew she had plenty of ability, not of a kind which Wilmot would dislike, and certainly of a quality for which he did not give her credit. She had less attraction than Mabel, so far as good looks would go, but that would not be very far, she thought, with Dr. Wilmot. He might never care for her even so much as he had cared for Mabel; but his feelings towards her, if evoked at all, would be different, much more satisfactory, and to her mind, which was properly organised, quite sufficient.
If Henrietta's daydreams were of a more sober colour, they were no less unreal than the rosiest and most extravagant vision ever woven by youthful fancy. She had not seen Madeleine Kilsyth. She had indeed understood and witnessed Mabel's jealousy, aroused by the devotion of her husband to the young Scotch girl. But she thought little of danger from this quarter. She had always understood--having a larger intellect and a wider perception, and above all, being an unconcerned spectator, uninjured by it in her affections or her rights--Wilmot's absorption in his profession much better than his wife had understood it. Something in her own nature, dim and undeveloped, answered to this absorption.
"If I had had any pursuit in life, I should have followed it just as eagerly; if I had had a career, I should have devoted myself to it just as entirely," had been her frequent mental comment upon Wilmot's conduct. She quite understood the effect it produced on a woman of Mabel's temperament, was perfectly convinced that it could not produce a similar effect on a woman of her own; but also believed that no such conduct would ever have been pursued towards her. The very something which enabled her to sympathise with him would have secured her from exclusion from the reality and the meaning of his life. "At least I should interest him," she had often said to herself, when she had seen how entirely Mabel failed to inspire him with interest; and in her lengthened cogitations on the evening of the day which had been marked by Wilmot's visit, she repeated the assurance with renewed conviction.
It was not that the remembrance of Miss Kilsyth did not occur to her very strongly; on the contrary, it occupied its fall share of her mind and attention. But she disposed of the subject very comfortably and finally by dwelling on the following points:
First, the distinction of rank and the difference in age between Miss Kilsyth and Dr. Wilmot were both considerable, important, and likely to form very efficient barriers against any extravagant notions on his part. Supposing--an unlikely supposition in the case of a man who added remarkable good sense to exceptional talent--he were to overlook this distinction of rank and difference of age, it was not probable that the young lady's relatives would accommodate themselves to any such blindness; while it was extremely probable they would regard any project on his part with respect to her as unmitigated presumption.
So far she had pursued her cogitations without regard to the young girl herself--to this brilliant young beauty, upon whom, endowed with youth, beauty, rank, the prestige of one of the most fashionable and popular women in London (for Henrietta Prendergast had her relations with the great world, though she was not of it), life was just opening in the fulness of joy and splendour. But when she turned her attention in that direction, she found nothing to discourage her, nothing to fear. What could be more wildly improbable than that Chudleigh Wilmot should have made any impression on Miss Kilsyth of a nature to lead to the realisation of any hope which might suggest itself to the new-made widower? Henrietta Prendergast was not a woman of much delicacy of mind or refinement of sentiment--if she had been, such self-communing as that of this evening would have been impossible within three weeks of her friend's death--but she was not so coarse, or indeed so ignorant of the nature and training of women like Madeleine Kilsyth, as to conceive the possibility of the girl's having fallen in love with a married man, even had that married man been of a far more captivating type than that presented by Chudleigh Wilmot. Madeleine's stepmother had not been restrained from such a suspicion by any superfluous delicacy; but Lady Muriel had an incentive to clear-sightedness which was wanting in Henrietta's case; and it must be said in justification of the acute woman of the world, that she was satisfied of the girl's perfect unconsciousness of the real nature of the sentiment which her jealous quick-sightedness had detected almost in the first hours of its existence.
The disqualification of his marriage removed, Henrietta still thought there could be nothing to dread. The reminiscences attached to the doctor who had attended her through a long illness, was said to have saved her life, and had made himself very agreeable to his patient, were no doubt frankly kind and grateful; but they were very unlikely to be sentimental, and the opportunities which might come in his way for rendering the tie already established stronger would be probably limited. "If anything were to be feared in that quarter," thought Henrietta, "and one could only manage to get a hint conveyed to Lady Muriel, the thing would be done at once."
Henrietta pronounced this opinion in her own mind with perfect confidence. And she was right. If Lady Muriel Kilsyth had had no more interest in Wilmot than that which during his sojourn at Kilsyth he might have inspired in the least important inmate of the house, she would have acted precisely as she had done. This was her strong tower of defence, her excuse, her justification. If Wilmot's admiration of her stepdaughter had not had in it the least element of offence to herself, she would at once have opposed it, have endeavoured to prevent its growth and manifestation, just as assiduously as she had done. Herein was her safety. So, though Henrietta Prendergast was entirely unaware of anything that had taken place; though she had never spoken to Lady Muriel in her life, she had, as it happened, speculated upon her quite correctly. So her self-conference came to a close, without any misgiving, discouragement, or hesitation.
"Mabel knew some people who knew the Kilsyths," Henrietta Prendergast had said to Wilmot in their first interview; but she had not mentioned that the people who knew the Kilsyths were acquaintances of hers, and that she had been present on the occasion when Mabel had acquired all the information which she had taken to heart so keenly. Such was, however, the case; and Henrietta made up her mind, when she had reasoned herself out of the first feeling of discouragement which her interview with Wilmot had caused, though not out of the conviction that there was something in his mind which she had not been able to come at, that she would call on Mrs. and Miss Charlwood without delay. She might not learn anything about Wilmot by so doing, but she could easily introduce the Kilsyths into the conversation; and it could not fail to be useful to her to gain a clear insight, into what sort of people they were, and especially to know whether Miss Kilsyth had any declared or supposed admirers as yet. So she went to bed that night with her mind tolerably easy on the whole, though her last waking thought was of the strange something in Chudleigh Wilmot's manner which she had not been able to penetrate.
It chanced, however, that Mrs. Prendergast did not fulfil her intention so soon as she had purposed. On awaking the following morning, she found that she had taken cold, a rather severe cold. She was habitually careful of her health, and as the business on which she had intended to go out was not pressing, she thought it wiser to remain at home. The next day she was no better; the day after a little worse. On the fourth day she thought she should be justified in asking Wilmot to give her a call. On the very rare occasions when she had required medical attendance she had had recourse to her friend's husband; and it occurred to her that the present opportunity was favourable for impressing him with a sense that she desired to maintain the former relation unbroken. To increase and intensify it would be her business later.
So Mrs. Prendergast sent for Dr. Wilmot; but in answer to the summons Dr. Whittaker presented himself.
They had not met since they had stood together by Mabel's deathbed, and the recollection softened Henrietta, though she felt at once surprised and angry at the substitution.
"I am doing Wilmot's work, except in the very particular cases," Dr. Whittaker explained.
"Indeed! Then Dr. Wilmot knew, in some strange way, that mine was not a particular case!" Henrietta answered, with an exhibition of pique as unusual in her as it was unflattering to Dr. Whittaker.
"My dear Mrs. Prendergast," expostulated the doctor mildly, "your note--I saw it in the regular way of business--said 'merely a cold;' and Wilmot and I both know you always say what you mean--no more and no less."
Henrietta smiled rather grimly as she replied, "I must say, you are adroit in turning a slight into a compliment. And now we will talk about my cold."
They did talk about her cold, and Dr. Whittaker duly prescribed for it, emphatically forbidding exposure to the weather. Just as he rose to take leave, Henrietta asked him what sort of spirits Wilmot appeared to be in.
"Very low indeed," said Dr. Whittaker; "but I think the change of air will do him good."
The change was likely to be sufficiently profitable to Dr. Whittaker to make it only natural that he should regard it with warm approbation, without reflecting very severely upon his sincerity either; he was but human, and not particularly prosperous.
"What change?" asked Henrietta in a tone which had not all the indifference which she had desired to lend it. (Dr. Whittaker had seen and guessed enough to make it just that he should not look for much warmth from Mabel's friend in speaking of Mabel's husband; and Mrs. Prendergast never overlooked the relative positions in any situation.)
"What! don't you know, then? He is going abroad--going to Paris, and then to Berlin, partly to recruit, and partly to inquire into some new theory about fever they've got there. I don't generally think much of their theories myself, especially in Berlin."
But Dr. Whittaker's opinions had no interest for Henrietta. His news occupied her. She did not altogether like this move. She did not believe in either of the reasons assigned; she felt certain there was something behind them both, and that that something had been in Wilmot's mind when she last saw him. What was it? Was he flying from a memory or a presence? If the former, then something more than she was in possession of had come to his knowledge concerning Mabel; for much as he had been shocked, and intensely as he had felt all she had told him, Henrietta knew Wilmot too well to believe for a moment that the present resolution was to be traced to that source. If the latter, the presence must be that of Miss Kilsyth; and there must be dangers in her way, complications in this matter, she did not understand, some grave error in her calculation. True, he might be flying away in despair; but that could hardly be. In so short an interval of time it was impossible he could have dared or even tried his fate. It was the unexpectedness of this occurrence that gave it so much power to trouble Henrietta. She had made a careful calculation; but this was outside it, and it puzzled her. She took leave of Dr. Whittaker, while these and many more equally distracting thoughts passed through her mind, in a sufficiently absent manner, and listened to his expression of a sanguine hope of finding her much better on the morrow through a sedulous observance of his advice, with as much indifference as though he had been talking about somebody else's cold. When he had left her, she sat still for a while; then put on her warmest attire, sent for a cab, and, utterly regardless of Dr. Whittaker's prohibition, drove straight to Mrs. Charlton's house in South-street, Park-lane.
Mrs. Prendergast's cab drew up behind a carriage which had just stopped before Mrs. Charlton's door, at that moment opened in reply to the defiant summons of the footman, who was none other than one of the ambrosial Mercuries in attendance on Lady Muriel Kilsyth. An elderly lady, rather oddly dressed, descended from the equipage, bestowed a familiar nod upon its remaining occupant from the steps, and walked into the house. Mrs. Prendergast was then admitted; and as the carriage which made way for her was displaced, she recognised in the face of the lady who sat in it Lady Muriel Kilsyth.
"That is very odd," she thought; "I wonder who she has set down here, and why she has not come in herself."
Immediately afterwards she was exchanging the customary _fadeurs_ with Mrs. Charlton, and had been presented by that lady to Mrs. M'Diarmid.
Wonderfully voluble was Mrs. M'Diarmid, to be sure, and communicative to a degree which, if her audience did not happen to be vehemently interested in the matter of her discourse, must have been occasionally a little overpowering and wearisome. Mrs. M'Diarmid, being at present staying with the Kilsyths, could not talk of anything but the Kilsyths; a state of things rather distressing to Mrs. Charlton, who was an eminently well-bred person, and perfectly aware that Mrs. Prendergast was not acquainted with the people under discussion. But to arrest Mrs. M'Diarmid in the full tide of her discourse was a feat which a few adventurous spirits had indeed attempted, but in which no one had ever succeeded. Mrs. Charlton's was not an adventurous spirit; she merely suffered, and was not strong, but derived sensible consolation after a while from observing that Mrs. Prendergast either had the tact and the manners to assume an aspect of perfect contentment, or really did feel an interest in the affairs of strangers, which to her, Mrs. Charlton, was inexplicable. She had much regard for Henrietta, and considerable respect for her intellect; so she preferred the former hypothesis, and adopted it.
"And she told me to tell you how sorry she was that she could not possibly come in to-day; but she had to fetch Kilsyth at his club, and then go home and dress for a ride with him, and send the carriage for me. I must run away the moment it comes, and get back to Maddy." This, after Mrs. M'Diarmid had run on uninterruptedly for about a quarter of an hour, with details of every kind concerning the house and the servants, the health, spirits, employments and engagements of the family.
"Miss Kilsyth is still delicate, I think you said?" Mrs. Chariton at length contrived to say.
"Yes, indeed, very delicate. My dear, the child mopes--she really mopes; and I can't bear to see young people moping, though it seems the fashion nowadays for all the young people to think themselves not only wiser but sadder than their elders. Just to see Ronald beside his father, my dear! The difference! And to think he'll be Kilsyth of Kilsyth some day; and what will the poor people do then? He'll make them go to school, and have 'em drilled, I'm sure he will; not that he is not a fine young man, my dear, and a good one--must all admit that; but he is not like his father, and never will be--never. And, for my part, I don't wonder Maddy's afraid of him, for I am sure I am."
"But I thought Miss Kilsyth and her brother were so particularly attached to each other," said Mrs. Charlton, yielding at length to the temptation to gossip.
"So they are, so they are.--I'm sure, Mrs. Prendergast," said Mrs. M'Diarmid, turning to Henrietta, "a better brother than Ronald Kilsyth never lived; but then he _is_ dictatorial, I _must_ say that; and he never will believe or remember that Madeleine is not a child now, and that it is absurd and useless to treat a woman just as one would treat a child. He makes such a fuss about everyone Maddy sees, and everywhere she goes to, and is positively disagreeable about anyone she seems to fancy."
"Well," said Mrs. Charlton, "but I'm not sure that he is wrong to be particular about his sister's fancies. The fancies of a young lady of Miss Kilsyth's beauty and pretensions are not trifling matters. Has she any _very_ strongly pronounced?"
"Bless your heart, no!" exclaimed Mrs. M'Diarmid, her vulgarity evoked by her earnestness. "The girl is fonder of himself and her father than of anyone in the world, and I really don't think she ever had a thought hid from them. But Ronald _will_ interfere so; he bothered about the silliness of young ladies' correspondence until he worried her into giving up writing to Bessy Ravenshaw; and he lectured for ten minutes because she wrote to poor Dr. Wilmot on her own account."
"How very absurd!" said Mrs. Charlton; "he had better take care he does not worry her by excess of brotherly love and authority into finding her home so unbearable, that she may make a wretched hurried marriage in order to get away from it. Such things _have_ been;" and Mrs. Charlton sighed, as if she spoke from some close experience of "such things."
"Very true, very true--I am sure I often wish the poor dear child was well married. I must say for Lady Muriel, I think she is an admirable stepmother. It is such a difficult position, Mrs. Prendergast, so invidious; still, you know, it never can be exactly the same thing; and then, you know, there are the little girls to grow up, and there will be the natural jealousy--about Maddy's fortune, you know; and altogether _I do_ think it would be very nice."
"I should think a good many others think it would be very nice also," said Mrs. Charlton.
"Well, I don't know--it is hard to say--young men are so different nowadays from what they were in my time; they seem to be afraid of marrying. I really don't think Maddy has ever had an offer."
"Depend on it that story will soon be changed. She is, to my knowledge, immensely admired. Her illness made quite a sensation, and the romantic story of the famous Dr. Wilmot's devotion to the patient."
"I think you should say to the _case_," struck in Henrietta. "I know Dr. Wilmot very well, and I can fancy any amount of devotion to the fever and its cure; but Wilmot devoted to a patient I cannot understand."
Something in her voice and manner conveyed an unpleasant impression to both her hearers. Mrs. Charlton looked calmly surprised; Mrs. M'Diarmid looked distressed and rather angry. She wished she had been more cautious in telling of the Kilsyths before this lady, who did not know them, but who did know Dr. Wilmot. She felt that Mrs. Prendergast had put a meaning into what Mrs. Charlton had said, in which there was something at least indirectly slighting and derogatory to Madeleine; and the feeling made her hot and angry. Mrs. Charlton's suavity extricated them from the difficulty, which all felt, and one intended.
"I. didn't quite understand the distinction," she said; "of course I understand it as you put it, but mine was merely a _façon de parler_. Dr. Wilmot's devotion to his profession has long been known, and he has succeeded as such devotion deserves."
"Yes, indeed, Mrs. Charlton," said Henrietta heartily, and slipping with infinite ease into the peculiar manner which implies such intimacy with the person complimented as to make the praise almost a personal favour. "He has paid dearly indeed for his devotion, in the very instance you mention, Mrs. M'Diarmid."
"How so?" said Mrs. M'Diarmid, off her guard, and rather huffily.
"Ah, poor fellow! I can hardly bear to talk of it; but as I was his poor wife's closest friend, and with her when she died, I think it is only fair and just to him to tell the truth. Of course he had no notion of his wife's danger--no one could have had; but he never can or will forgive himself for his absence from her. You will not wonder that he should feel it dreadfully, and that his self-reproach is intolerable. 'I suppose,' he said, in one of his worst fits of grief, 'people will think I stayed at Kilsyth because Kilsyth is a great man; but you, Henrietta, you know me better. If she had been his dairymaid, instead of his daughter, it would have been all one to me.' And that was perfectly true; he knows no distinction in the pursuit of his duties. It was a terrible coincidence; but nothing can persuade him to regard it merely as a coincidence. It is fortunate your young friend is restored to health, Mrs. M'Diarmid."
"Yes," said that lady, now pale, and looking the image of disconcerted distress.
"Fortunate for her, of course; but also fortunate for him. You will exctuse my telling you, of course; nothing in the whole matter reflects in the least on the Kilsyth family--and I cannot forbear from saying what must exalt him still more in your esteem, but you cannot conceive how painful to him any reference to that fatal time is. He has wonderful self-control and firmness; but they were severely taxed, I assure you, when he had to make a call on Lady Muriel and Miss Kilsyth. I daresay he didn't show it."
"Not in the least," said Mrs. M'Diarmid.
"O no; he is essentially a strong man. But he suffered. You would know how much, if you had seen him when he had finally made up his mind to go abroad, and get out of the remembrance of it all, so far as he could. Poor Miss Kilsyth! one pities a young girl to have been even the perfectly innocent cause of such a calamity to any man, and especially to one who rendered her such a service. However, people who talk about it now will have forgotten it all long before he comes back."
At this juncture Miss Charlton entered the room and warmly greeted Henrietta. Mrs. Prendergast was an authority in the art of illuminating, to which Miss Charlton devoted her harmless life.
Presently Lady Muriel's carriage came for Mrs. M'Diarmid, and that good woman went away, and might have been heard to say many times during the silent drive:
"My poor Maddy! my poor dear child!"
Chudleigh Wilmot had entertained, it has been seen, vague fears that Mrs. Prendergast might talk about him; but of all possible shapes they had never taken this one.
CHAPTER III. A Coup Manqué.
It has been said that Mrs. M'Diarmid took an earnest motherly interest in Madeleine Kilsyth; but the bare statement is by no means sufficient to explain the real feelings entertained towards the somewhat forlorn motherless girl by the brisk energetic vulgar little woman of the world, who was her connection by marriage. Such affections spring up in many female breasts which, to all outward appearance, are most unpromising soil; they need no cultivation, no looking after, no watering with the tears of sympathy or gratitude, no raking or hoeing or binding up. They are ruthlessly lopped off in their tenderest shoots; but they grow again, and twine away round the "object" as parasitically as ever. Mrs. M'Diarmid's regard for Madeleine was quite of the parasitical type, in its best sense, be it always understood. She loved the young girl with all her heart and soul, and would as soon have dreamed of inspiring as of "carneying" her, as she expressed it. Her love for Madeleine was pure and simple and unaffected, deep-seated, and capable of producing great results; but it was of the "poor-dear" school, after all.
Nothing, for instance, could persuade Mrs. M'Diarmid that Madeleine was not very much to be pitied in every act and circumstance of her life. The fact of having a stepmother was in itself a burden sufficient to break the spirit of any ordinarily-constituted young woman, according to Mrs. Mac's idea. Not but that Mrs. Mac and Lady Muriel "got on very well together," according to the former lady's phraseology; not but that Lady M. (whom she was usually accustomed to speak of, when extra emphasis was required, as Lady Hem) did her duty by Madeleine perfectly and thoroughly; but still, as Mrs. Mac would confess, "she was not one of them; she was of a different family; and what could you expect out of your own blood and bone?" "One of them" meant of the Kilsyth family, of which Mrs. M'Diarmid to a certain portion of her acquaintance, described herself as a component part. In the late summer and the early autumn, when the Kilsyths and all their friends had left town, dear old Mrs. M'Diarmid would revel in the light with which, though her suns of fashion had set, her horizon was still illumined. When the grandees of Belgravia and Tyburnia have sped northward in the long preëngaged seat of the limited mail; when they are coasting round the ever-verdant Island, or lounging in all the glory of pseudo-naval get-up on the pier at Ryde, there is yet corn in Egypt, balm in Gilead, and fine weather in the suburbs of London. Many of Mrs. M'Diarmid's acquaintance, formed in the earlier and ante-married portion of her life, were found in London during those months. Some had been away to Ramsgate and Margate with their children in June; others, unable to "get away from business," had compromised the matter with their wives by taking a cottage at Richmond or Staines, and running backwards and forwards from town for a month, and staying at home on the Saturday. To these worthy people Mrs. M'Diarmid was the connecting link between them and that fashionable world, of whose doings they read so religiously every Saturday in the fashionable journal. For her news, her talk, her appearance, they loved this old lady, and paid her the greatest court. From some of them she received brevet rank, and was spoken of as the Honourable Mrs. M'Diarmid; from all she received kindness and--what she never gave herself--toadyism. Pleasant dinners at the furnished cottages at Richmond and Staines, Star-an-Garter reflections, picnics on the river, what was even more delicious, a croquet-party on the lawn, tea, and an early supper, with some singing afterwards--all these delights were provided by her acquaintances for Mrs. M'Diarmid, who had nothing to do but to sit still, and be taken about; to recall a few of the scenes of her past season's gaiety; to drop occasionally the names of a few of her grand acquaintance, and to have it thoroughly understood that she was "one of them."
Use is second nature; and by dint of perpetually repeating that she was "one of them," Mrs. M'Diarmid had almost begun to forget the lodging-house and its associations, and to believe that she was a blood-relation of the old house of Kilsyth. It did the old lady no harm, this innocent self-deception; it did not render her insolent, arrogant, or stuck-up; it did not for an instant tend to render her forgetful of her position in the household, and it did perhaps increase the fond maternal affection which she entertained for Madeleine. How could Lady Muriel feel for that girl like one of her own blood? Besides, had she not now children of her own, about whose future she was naturally anxious, and whose future might clash with that of her stepdaughter? Whose future? Ay, it was about Madeleine's future that she was so anxious; and just about this stage in our history Mrs. M'Diarmid, revolving all these things in her mind, set herself seriously to consider what Madeleine's future should be.
To a woman of Mrs. M'Diarmid's stamp the future of a young girl, it is almost needless to say, meant her marriage. Notwithstanding all the shams which, to use Mr. Carlyle's phrases, have been exploded, all the Babeldoms which have been talked out, all the mockeries, delusions, and snares which have been exposed, it yet remains that marriage is the be-all and end-all of the British maiden's existence. That accomplished, life shuts up; or is of no account, with the orange-flowers and the tinkling bells, the ring, the oath, and the blessing; all that childhood has played at, and maidenhood has dreamed of, is at an end. The husband is secured, and so long as he is in the requisite position and possesses the requisite means--_vogue la galère_ in its most respectable translation, be it understood--all that is requisite on friends' part has been done. We laugh when we hear that a charwoman offers to produce her "marriage-lines" in proof of her respectability; but we slur over the fact that in our own social status we are content to aim at the dignity achieved by the charwoman's certificate, and not to look beyond into the future thereby opened.
Madeleine's marriage? Yes; Mrs. M'Diarmid had turned that subject over in her mind a hundred thousand times; had chewed the cud of it until all taste therein had been exhausted; had had all sorts of preposterous visions connected therewith, none of which had the smallest waking foundation. Madeleine's marriage? It was by her own marriage that Mrs. M'Diarmid had made her one grand _coup_ in life, and consequently she attached the greatest value to it. She was always picturing to herself Madeleine married to each or one of the different visitors in Brook-street; seeing her walking up the aisle with one, standing at the altar-rails with another, muttering "I will" to a third, and shyly looking up after signing the register with a fourth. The old lady had the good sense to keep these mental pictures in her own mental portfolio, but still she was perpetually drawing them forth for her own mental delectation. None of the young men who were in the habit of dropping in in Brook-street for a cup of afternoon tea and a social chat had any notion of the wondrous scenes passing through the brain of the quiet elderly lady, whom they all liked and all laughed at. None of them knew that in Mrs. Mac's mind's eye, as they sat there placidly sipping their tea and talking their nonsense, they were transfigured; that their ordinary raiment was changed into the blue coat and yellow waistcoat dear to this valentine artist; that from their coat-collar grew the attenuated spire of a village church, and that sounds of chiming bells drowned their voices. Madeleine as a countess presented at a drawing-room "on her marriage;" Madeleine receiving a brilliant circle as the wife of a brilliant member of the House of Commons; Madeleine doing the honours of the British embassy at the best and most distinguished legation which happened at the time to be vacant. All these pictures had presented themselves to Mrs. M'Diarmid, and been filled up by her mentally in outline and detail. Other supplementary pictures were there in the same gallery. Madeleine presenting new colours to the gallant 140th as the wife of their colonel; Madeleine landing from the Amphitrite, amidst the cheers of her crew, as the wife of their admiral; Madeleine graciously receiving the million pounds' worth of pearls and diamonds which the native Indian princes offered to the wife of their governor-general. All these different shiftings of the glasses of the magic lantern appeared to Mrs. M'Diarmid as she noticed the attention paid to Madeleine by the different visitors in Brook-street.
But these, after all, were mere daydreams, and it was time Mrs. M'Diarmid thought that some real and satisfactory match should be arranged for her dear child. Since the return of the family from Scotland, after Madeleine's illness, Mrs. M'Diarmid either had noticed, or fancied she had noticed, that Lady Muriel was less interested in her stepdaughter than ever, more inclined to let her have her own way, less particular as to who sought her society. Under these circumstances, not merely did Mrs. M'Diarmid's dragon watchfulness increase tenfold, but the necessity of speedily taking her darling into a different atmosphere, and surrounding her with other cares and hopes in life, made itself doubly apparent. For hours and hours the old lady sat in her own little room, cosy little room,--neat, tidy, clean, and wholesome-looking as the old lady herself,--revolving different matrimonial schemes in her mind, guessing at incomes, weighing dispositions, thinking over the traits and characteristics, the health and position of every marriageable man of her acquaintance. And all to no purpose; for the old lady, though a tolerably shrewd and worldly-wise old lady, was a good woman: in the early days of the lodging-house she had had a spirit of religion properly instilled into her; and this, aided by her genuine and unselfish love for Madeleine, would have prevented her from wishing to see the girl married to any one, no matter what were his wealth, position, and general eligibility, unless there was the prospect of her darling's life being a happy one with him. "I don't see my way clear, my dear," she would say to Mrs. Tonkley, the most intimate of her early life acquaintances, and the only one whom the old lady admitted into her confidence (Mrs. Tonkley had been Sarah Simmons, daughter of Simmons's private hotel, and had married Tonkley, London representative of Blades and Buckhorn of Sheffield),--"I don't see my way clear in this business, my dear, and that's the truth. Powers forbid my Madeleine should marry an old man, though among our people it's considered to be about the best thing that could happen to a girl, provided he's old enough, and rich into the bargain. Why, there are old fellows, tottering old wretches, that crawl about with mineral teeth in their mouths and other people's hair on their heads, and they'd only have to say, 'Will you?' to some of the prettiest and the best-born girls in England, and they'd get the answer 'Yes' directly minute! No, no; I've seen too much of that. Not to name names, there's one old fellow, a lord and a general, all stars and garters and crosses and ribbons, and two seasons ago he carried off a lovely girl. I won't put a name to her, my dear, but you've seen her photographic likeness in the portrait-shops; and what is it now? Divorced? Lord, no, my dear; that sort of thing's never done amongst US, nor even separation, so far as the world knows. O no; they live very happily together, to all outward show, and she has her opera-box, and jewels as much as she can wear; but, Lor' bless you, I hear what the young fellows say who come to our house about the way she goes on, and the men who are always about her, and who was meant by the stars and blanks in last week's _Dustman_. No, no; no old wretch for Madeleine; nor any of your fast boys either, with their drags and their yachts, and their hunters and their Market Harboroughs, and their Queen's Benches, I tell'em; for that's what it'll come to. You can't build a house of paper, specially of stamped paper, to last very long; and though you touch it up every three months or so, at about the end of a year down it goes with a run, and you and your wife and the lot of you go with it! That would be a pleasant ending for my child, to have to live at Bolong on what her husband got by winning at cards from the foreigners; and that's not likely to be much, I should think. No; that would never do. I declare to you, my dear Sarah, when I think about that dear girl's future, I am that driven as to be at my wits' end."
There was another reason for the old lady's feeling "driven" when thinking over her dear girl's future which she never imparted to her dear Sarah, nor indeed to anyone else, but which she crooned over constantly, and relished less and less after each spell of consideration, and that was the evident intention of Lady Muriel with regard to Ramsay Caird. Mrs. M'Diarmid, though a woman of strong feelings, rarely, if ever, took antipathies; but certainly her strong aversion to Ramsay Caird could be called by no other name. She hated him cordially, and took very little pains to conceal her dislike, though, if she had been called upon, she would have found it difficult to define the reasons for her prejudice. It was probably the obvious purpose for which he had been introduced into the family which the old lady immediately divined and as immediately execrated, that made her his enemy; but she could not put forward this reason, and she had no other to offer. She used to say to herself that he was a "down-looking fellow," which was metaphorical, inasmuch as Ramsay Caird had rather a frank and free expression, though, to one more versed in physiognomy than Mrs. M'Diarmid, there certainly was a shifty expression in his eyes. She hated to see him paying attention to Madeleine, bending over her, hovering near her--in her self-communion the old lady declared that it gave her "the creeps"--and it was with great difficulty that she refrained when present from actually shuddering. It was lucky that she did so refrain; for Lady Muriel, who brooked no interference with her plans, would have ruthlessly given Mrs. Mac her _congé_, and closed the doors of Brook-street against her for ever.
To find someone so eligible that Kilsyth would take a fancy to him--a fancy which Lady Muriel could not, in common honesty, combat--and thus to get rid of Ramsay Caird and his pretensions to Madeleine's hand,--this was Mrs. M'Diarmid's great object in life. But she had pottered hopelessly about it; and it is probable that she would never have succeeded in getting the smallest clue to what, if properly carried through, might really have led to the accomplishment of her hopes, had it not been for her own kindness of heart, which led her to spend many of her leisure half-hours in the nursery with Lady Muriel's little girls. Sitting one day with these little ladies, but in truth not attending much to their prattle, being occupied in her favourite daydream, Mrs. M'Diarmid was startled by hearing an observation which at once interested her, and caused her to attend to the little ladies' conversation.
"When you grow up, Maud, will you be like Maddy?" asked little Ethel.
"I don't know," replied her sister. "I think I shall be quite as pretty as Maddy; and I'm sure I sha'n't be half so dull."
"You don't know that! People are only dull because they can't help it. They're not dull on purpose; only because they can't help it."
"Well, then, I shall help it," said Maud in an imperious way. "Besides, it's not always that Maddy's dull; she's only dull since we've been back in London; she wasn't dull at Kilsyth."
"Ah, no one was dull at Kilsyth," said little Ethel with a sigh.
"O, we all know what you mean by that, Ethel," said Maud. "You silly sentimental child, you were happy at Kilsyth because you had _someone_ with you."
"Well, it's no use talking to you, Maud; because you're a dreadful flirt, and care for no one in particular, and like to have a heap of men always round you. But wasn't Madeleine happy at Kilsyth because she had _someone_ with her?"
"Why, you don't mean that Lord Roderick?"
"Lord Roderick, indeed! I should think not," said little Ethel, flushing scarlet. "Madeleine's 'someone' was much older and graver and wiser and sterner, and nothing like so good-looking."
"Ethel dear, you talk like a child!" said Maud, who, by virtue of her twelvemonth's seniority, gave herself quite maternal airs towards her sister. "Of course I see you're alluding to Dr. Wilmot; but you can't imagine that Maddy cared for him in any way but that of a--a friend who was grateful to him--for--"
"O yes! 'Your grateful patient,' we know! Maddy did not know how to end her note to him the other morning, and I kept suggesting all kinds of things: 'yours lovingly,' and 'yours eternally,' and 'your own devoted;' and made Madge blush awfully; and at last she put that. 'Grateful patient'! grateful rubbish! You hadn't half such opportunities as I had of seeing them together at Kilsyth, Maud."
"I'm not half so romantic and sentimental, Ethel; and I can see a doctor talking to a girl about her illness without fancying he's madly in love with her. And now I am going to my music." And Maud pranced out of the room.
And then Mrs. M'Diarmid who had greedily swallowed every word of this conversation between the children, laid down the book over which she had been nodding; and going up to little Ethel, gave herself over to the task of learning from the child her impressions of the state of Madeleine's feelings towards Dr. Wilmot, and of gleaning as much as she could of all that passed between them at Kilsyth; the result being that little Ethel, who was, as her sister had said, sentimentally and romantically inclined, led her old friend to believe, first, that Madeleine was deeply attached to the doctor, and, secondly, that the doctor was inclined to respond promptly to the young lady's sentiments.
That night Mrs. M'Diarmid remained at home, for the purpose of "putting on her considering cap," as she phrased it, and steadily looking at the question of Madeleine's future in the new light now surrounding it. Like all other old ladies, she had a _tendresse_ for the medical profession; and though she had never met Dr. Wilmot, she had often heard of him, and had taken great interest in his rise and progress. And this was the man who was to fulfil her expectations, and to prevent Madeleine's being sacrificed to a sordid or disagreeable match? It really seemed like it. Dr. Wilmot was in the prime of life, was highly thought of and esteemed by all who knew him, was essentially a man of mark in the world, and must be in the enjoyment of a very lucrative practice. Practice? ay, that was rather awkward! Kilsyth would not care much about having a son-in-law who was in practice, and at the beck and call of every hypochondriacal old woman; and Lady Muriel would, Mrs. Mac was certain, refuse to entertain such a notion. And yet Dr. Wilmot was in every other respect so eligible; it was a thousand pities! Dr. Wilmot! Yes, there it was; that "Doctor" would stick to him through life; and he, from all she had heard of him, was just the man to be proud of the title, and refuse to be addressed by any other. Unless, indeed, they could get him knighted; that would be something indeed. Sir--Sir--whatever his name was--Wilmot would sound very well; and nobody need ever know that he had felt pulses and written prescriptions. That is, of course, if he retired from his professsion, as he would do on his marriage into "our" family; because if the unpleasantness with Lady Muriel and--but then how were they to live? Dr. Wilmot could not possibly have saved enough money to retire upon; and though Madeleine had her own little fortune, neither Kilsyth nor Lady Muriel would feel inclined to accept for a son-in-law a penniless man, unless he had some old alliance with the family. The old lady was very much puzzled by all these thoughts. She sat for hour after hour revolving plans and projects in her head, without arriving at any definite result. The want of adequate fortune without continuing in practice--that was what worried Mrs. M'Diarmid. She had already perfectly settled in her own mind that Madeleine and Wilmot adored each other. She had pictured them both at the altar, and settled upon the new dress to which she should treat herself on the occasion of their marriage--a nice brown _moire_; none of your cheap rubbish--a splendid silk, stiff as a board, that would stand upright by itself, as one might say; and she knew just the pew which she would be shown into. All the arrangements were completed in Mrs. Mac's mind--all, with the exception of the income for the happy pair.
How could that be managed? What could be done? Were there not appointments, government things, where people were very well paid, and which were always to be had, if asked for by people of influence? Straightway the indefatigable old lady began questioning everybody able to give her information about consulships, secretaryships, and commissionerships; and received an amount of news that quite bewildered her. Two or three men in the Whitehall offices, who were in the habit of coming to Brook-street, from whom she had endeavoured to glean information, amused themselves by telling her the wildest nonsense of the necessary qualifications for such appointments; so that the old lady was in despair, and almost at her wits' end, when she suddenly bethought her of Mr. Foljambe. The very man! Wealthy and childless, with the highest opinion of Wilmot, and with a great regard for Madeleine. Mrs. Mac remembered hearing it said in Brook-street, long before Madeleine's illness, that Mr. Foljambe would in all probability leave his fortune to Dr. Wilmot. And his fortune was a very large one--quite enough to keep up the dignity of a knight upon; though indeed, as there would be no lack of money, Mrs. Mac did not see why a baronetcy should not be substituted. Lady Wilmot, and green-and-gold liveries, and hair-powder, of course; that would be the very thing, if that dear old man would only settle it, and not care to live too long after he had settled it--his attacks of gout were dreadful now, she had heard Lady Muriel say--all would be well. Would it be possible to ascertain whether there was any real foundation for the gossip whether Mr. Foljambe had really made Wilmot his heir? Would it not be possible to give him such hints respecting his power of benefiting the future of two persons in whom he had the greatest interest as to settle him finally in his amiable determination? Mrs. M'Diarmid was a woman of impulse, and believed much in the expediency of "clinching the nail," and "striking the iron while it was hot," as she expressed it. "In such matters as these," she was accustomed to say, "nothing is ever done by third parties, or by writing; if you want a thing done, go and see about it at once, and go and see about it yourself, Lord love you!" Acting on which wise maxims, Mrs. M'Diarmid determined to call in person upon Mr. Foljambe, and then and there "have it out with him."
At ten o'clock on the following morning, Mr. Foljambe, seated at breakfast, was disturbed by a sharp rap at his street-door. Mrs. M'Diarmid was right in saying that the old gentleman's gout had been extra troublesome lately, and his temper had deteriorated in proportion to the sharpness and the frequency of the attacks. He had had some very sharp twinges the previous evening, and was in anything but a good temper; and as the clanging knock resounded through the hall, and penetrated to the snug little room where the old gentleman, in a long shawl dressing-gown, such as were fashionable five-and-twenty years ago, but are now seldom seen out of farces, was dallying with his toast and glancing at the _Times_, he broke out into a very naughty exclamation. A thorough type of the 'old English gentleman of his class, Mr. Foljambe, as witness his well-bred hands and feet,--the former surrounded by long and beautifully white wristbands, one of the latter incased in the nattiest of morocco-leather slippers, though the other was in a large list shoe,--his high cross-barred muslin cravat, his carefully trimmed gray whiskers, and his polished head.
"Visitors' bell!" muttered the old gentleman to himself, after giving vent to the naughty exclamation. "What the deuce brings people calling here at this hour? Just ten!" with a glance at the clock. "'Pon my word, it's too bad; as though one were a doctor, or a dentist, and on view from now till five. Who can it be? Collector of some local charity, probably, or someone to ask if somebody else doesn't live here, and to be quite astonished and rather indignant when he finds he's come to the wrong house."
"Well, Sergeant," to the servant who had just entered, "what is it?"
"Lady, sir, to speak with you," said Sergeant, grim and inflexible. He objected to women anywhere in general, but at that house in particular. Like his master, he passed for a misogynist; but unlike his master, he was one.
"A lady! God bless my soul, what an extraordinary thing for a lady to come here to see me, and at this hour, Sargeant!"
The tone of Mr. Foljambe's voice invited response; but from Sargeant no response came. His master had uttered his sentiments, and there was nothing more to say.
"Why don't you answer, man?" said the old gentleman peevishly. "What sort of a lady is she? Young or old, tall or short? What do you think she has come about, Sargeant?"
"About middle 'ithe; but 'ave her veil down. Wouldn't give a message; but wanted to speak to you partickler, sir."
"Confounded fellow! no getting anything out of him!" mattered the old gentleman beneath his breath. Then aloud, "Where is she?"
"I put the lady in the droring-room, sir; but no fire, as the chimlies was swept this morning."
"I know that; I heard 'em, the scoundrels! No fire! the woman will be perished! Here, bring me down a coat, and take this dressing-gown, and just put these things aside, and poke the fire, and brighten up the place, will you?"
As soon as the old gentleman had put on his coat, and cast a hasty glance at himself in the glass, he hobbled to the drawing-room, and there found a lady seated, who, when she raised her veil, partly to his relief, partly to his disappointment, revealed the well-known features of Mrs. M'Diarmid.
"God bless my soul, my dear Mrs. Mac, who ever would have thought of seeing you here! I mean to say this is what one might call an unexpected pleasure. Come out of this confoundedly cold room, my dear madam. Now I know who is my visitor, I will, with your permission, waive all formality and receive you in my sanctum. This way, my dear madam. You must excuse my hobbling slowly; but my old enemy the gout has been trying me rather severely during the last few days."
Chattering on in this fashion, the old gentleman gallantly offered Mrs. M'Diarmid his arm, and led her from the cold and formally-arranged drawing-room, where everything was set and stiff, to his own cheerful little room, the perfection of bachelor comfort and elegance.
"Wheel a chair round for the lady, Sargeant, there, with its back to the light, and push that footstool nearer.--There, my dear madam, that's more comfortable. You have breakfasted? Sorry for it. I've some orange pekoe that is unrivalled in London, and there's a little ham that is perfectly de-licious. You won't? Then all I can say is, that yours is the loss. And now, my dear madam, you have not told me what has procured me the honour of this visit."
Had the old lady been viciously disposed, she might easily have pleaded that her host had not given her the chance; but as it was her policy to be most amiable, she merely smiled sweetly upon him, and said that her visit was actuated by important business.
Outside the bank-parlour, Mr. Foljambe detested business visits of all kinds; and even there he only tolerated them. Female visitors were his special aversion; and the leaden-buttoned porter in Lombard-street had special directions as to their admission. The junior partner, a buck of forty-five, who dressed according to the fashion of ten years since, and who was supposed still to cause a flutter in the virgin breasts of Balham, where his residence, "The Pineries," was situate, was generally told off to reply to the questions of such ladies as required consultation with Burkinyoung, Foljambe, and Co.
So that when Mrs. M'Diarmid mentioned business as the cause of her visit, the old gentleman was scarcely reassured, and begged for a farther explanation.
"Well, when I say business, Mr. Foljambe," said the old lady, again resuming her smile, "I scarcely know whether I'm doing justice to what lies in my own--my own bosom. Business, Mr. Foljambe, is a hard word, as I know well enough, connected with my early life--of which you know, no doubt, from our friends in Brook-street--connected with boot-cleaning, and errand-sending, and generally poor George's carryings-on in--no matter. And indeed there is but little business connected with what rules the court, the camp, the grove, and is like the red red rose, which is newly sprung in June, sir. You will perceive, Mr. Foljambe, that I am alluding to Love."
"To Love, madam!" exclaimed the old gentleman with a jerk, thinking at the same time, "Good God! can it be possible that I have ever said anything to this old vulgarian that can have induced her to imagine that I'm in love with her?"
"To Love, Mr. Foljambe; though to you and me, at our time of life, such ideas are generally _non compos_. Yet there are hearts that feel for another; and yours is one, I am certain sure."
"You must be a little clearer, madam, if you want me to follow you," said the old gentleman gruffly.
"Well, then, to have no perspicuity or odontification, and to do our duty in that state into which heaven has called us," pursued Mrs. Mac, with a lingering recollection of the Church Catechism, "am I not right in thinking that you take an interest in our Maddy?"
"In Miss Kilsyth?" said Foljambe. "The very greatest interest that a man at--at my time of life could possibly take in a girl of her age. But surely you don't think, Mrs. M'Diarmid, that--that I'm in love with her?"
"Powers above!" exclaimed Mrs. Mac, "do you think that I've lost my reason; or that if you were, it would be any good? Do you think that I for one would stand by and see my child sacrificed? No, of course I don't mean that! But what I do mean is, that you're fond of our Maddy, ain't you?"
"Yes," said the old gentleman with a burst; "yes, I am; there, will that content you? I think Madeleine Kilsyth a very charming girl!"
"And worthy of a very charming husband, Mr. Foljambe?"
"And worthy of a very charming husband. But where is he? I have been tolerably intimate with the family for years--not, of course, as intimate as you, my dear Mrs. M'Diarmid, but still I may say an intimate and trusted friend--and I have never seen anyone whom I could think in the least likely to be a _prétendu_--not in the least."
"N-no; not before they left for Scotland, certainly."
"No; and then in Scotland, you know, of course there would have been a chance--country house full of company, thrown together and all that kind of thing--best adjuncts for love-making, importunity and opportunity, as I daresay you know well enough, my dear madam; but then Maddy was taken ill, and that spoilt the whole chance."
"Spoilt the whole chance! Maddy's illness spoilt the whole chance, did it? Are you quite sure of that, Mr. Foljambe? Are you quite sure that that illness did not decide Maddy's future?"
"That illness. 'Importunity and opportunity,' to quote your own words, Mr. Foljambe, the last if hot the worst--have it how you will."
"My dear Mrs. M'Diarmid, you are speaking in riddles; you are a perfect Sphinx, and I am, alas, no OEdipus. Will you tell me shortly what you mean?"
"Yes, Mr. Foljambe, I will tell you; I came to tell you, and to ask you, as an old friend of the family, what you thought. More than that, I came to ask you, as an old friend of one whom I think most interested, what you thought. You know well and intimately Dr. Wilmot?"
"Know Wilmot? Thoroughly and most intimately, and--why, good God, my dear madam, you don't think that Wilmot is in love with Miss Kilsyth?"
"I confess that I have thought--"
"Rubbish, my dear madam! Simple nonsense! You have been confounding the attention which a man wrapped up in his own profession, in the study of science, pays to a case, with attentions paid to an individual. Why, my dear madam, if--not to be offensive--if _you_ had had Miss Kilsyth's illness, and Wilmot had attended you, he would have bestowed on you exactly the same interest."
"Perhaps while the case lasted, Mr. Foljambe, while his professional duty obliged him to do so; but not afterwards."
"Not afterwards? Does Dr. Wilmot still pay attention to Miss Kilsyth?"
"The last time I was in Brook-street I saw him there," said the old lady, bridling, "paying Miss Kilsyth great 'attention.'"
"Then it was a farewell visit, Mrs. M'Diarmid," replied Mr. Foljambe. "Dr. Wilmot quits town--and England--at once, for a lengthened sojourn on the Continent."
"Leaves town--and England?" said Mrs. Mac blankly.
"For several months. Devoted to his profession, as he always has been, without the smallest variation in his devotion, he goes to Berlin to study in the hospitals there. Does that look like the act of an ardent _soupirant_, Mrs. M'Diarmid?"
"Not unless he has reasons for feeling that it is better that he should so absent himself," said the old lady.
"Of that you will probably be the best judge," said Mr. Foljambe. "My knowledge of Chudleigh Wilmot is not such as to lead me to believe that he would 'set his fortunes on a die' without calculating the result."
In the "off season," when her fashionable friends were away from town, Mrs. M'Diarmid was in the habit of receiving some few acquaintances who constituted a whist-club, and met from week to week at each other's houses. Amongst this worthy sisterhood Mrs. Mac passed for a very shrewd and clever woman; a "deep" woman, who never "showed her hand." But on turning into Portland-place after her interview with Mr. Foljambe, the old lady felt that she had forfeited that title to admiration, and that too without the slightest adequate result.
CHAPTER IV. Madeleine awakes.
It is probable that if Chudleigh Wilmot had remained in London, fulfilling his professional duties and leading his ordinary life, the declaration of love and the offer of his hand which in due course he would have made to Miss Kilsyth would have, for the first time, caused that young lady to avow the real state of her feelings towards him to herself. These feelings, beginning in gratitude, had passed into hero-worship, which is perhaps about as dangerous a phase both for adorer and adored as any in the whole category; showing as it does that the former must be considerably "far gone" before she could consent to exalt any man into an object of idolatry, and proving very perilous to the latter from the impossibility of his separating himself from the peculiar attributes which are supposed to call forth the devotion. And Wilmot was just such an idol as a girl like Madeleine ould place upon a pedestal and worship with constancy and fervour. The very fact that he possessed none of those qualifications so esteemed by and in the men by whom she was ordinarily surrounded was in her eyes a point in his favour. He did not hunt; he was an indifferent shot; he professed himself worse than a child at billiards, and his whist-playing was something atrocious. But then, for the best man across country, the straightest rider to hounds whom they knew, was Captain Severn, a slangy wretch only tolerated in society for his wife's sake. George Pitcairn was a splendid shot; but he had never heard of Tennyson, and would probably think that Browning was the name of a setter. Major Delapoche was the billiard champion at Kilsyth, where he was never seen out of the billiard-room, except at meal-times; and as for whist there could not be much in that when her father declared that there were not three men at Brookes's who could play so good a rubber as old Dr. M'Johns, the Presbyterian clergyman in the village. Ever since she had been emancipated from her governess, she had longed to meet some man of name and renown, who would take an interest in her, and whom she could reverence, admire, and look up to. She never pined for the heroes of the novels which she read, probably because she saw plenty of them in her ordinary life, and she was used to them and their ways. The big heavy dragoons of the _Guy-Livingstone_ type--by his portrayal of whom Mr. Lawrence establishes for himself such a reputation amongst the young ladies of the middle classes, who pine after the _beaux sabreurs_ and the "cool captains," principally because they have never met anyone in real life like them--are by no means such sources of raving among the girls accustomed to country-house and London-season society, who are familiar with something like the prototype of each character. Ronald's brother officers, Kilsyth's sporting friends, and Lady Muriel's connections, had made this kind of type too common for Madeleine, even if her temperament had not been very different, to elevate it into a hero; but she had never met anyone fulfilling herideas until Chudleigh Wilmot crossed her path. From the earliest period of her convalescence, from the time when slowly-returning strength gave her an interest again in life, until the time that Wilmot left London, she had indulged in this happy dream. She was something in that man's life, something to which his thoughts occasionally turned, as she hoped, as she believed, with pleasure. As to "being in love" as it is phrased, Madeleine believed that such a state as little applied to Wilmot as to herself, and of her own entire innocence in the existence of such a feeling she was confident. But there was established a curious relation between them which she could not explain, but which she thoroughly understood, and which made her very happy. Hour after hour she would sit thinking over this acquaintance, so singularly begun, so different from anything which she had ever previously experienced, and wondering within herself what a bright clever man like Dr. Wilmot could see to like in a silly girl like herself. If Wilmot had been differently constituted she could have understood it well enough; for though very free from vanity, Madeleine was of course conscious that she had a pretty face, and she could perfectly understand the admiration which she received from Ramsay Caird and the men of whom he was a type. But she imagined Wilmot to be far too staid and serious, far too much absorbed in his studies and his "cases," to notice anything so unimportant.
What could he see in her? She asked herself this question a thousand times without arriving at any satisfactory result. She thought that Wilmot, whom she had exalted into her hero, would naturally not bestow his thoughts on any but a heroine; and she knew that there was very little of the heroine in her. Indeed I, writing this veracious history, am often surprised at my own daring in having, in these highly-spiced times, ventured to submit so very tame a specimen of womanhood to public notice. Madeleine Kilsyth was neither tawny and leopard-like, nor hideous and quaintly-fascinating. She was merely an ordinary English girl, with about as much cleverness as girls have at her age, when they have had no occasion to use their brains; And she thought and argued in a girlish manner. She could not tell that the difference in each from their ordinary acquaintance pleased them equally. If Madeleine had been bright, clever, witty, fast, flirting, or _blasée_, she would never have seen her physician after her recovery. Wilmot was too thoroughly acquainted with women of all these varieties to find any pleasure in an additional specimen. It was the young girl's freshness and innocence, her frankness and trusting confidence, her bright looks and happy thoughts, that touched the heart of the worn and solitary man, and made him feel that there were in life joys which he had never experienced, and which were yet worth living for.
To admire and reverence him; to find the best and most valuable of resources in his friendship, the wisest and truest guidance in his intellect, the most exquisite of pleasures in his society; to triumph in his fame, and to try to merit his approval--such, as we have seen, had been Madeleine's scheme. Now this was all changed: he was gone; the greatest enjoyment of her life, his society, was taken from her. He was gone; he would be absent for a long time; she should not see him, would not hear his voice, for weeks--it might be for months: it took her a long time to realise this fact, and with its realisation flashed across her the knowledge that she loved Chudleigh Wilmot.
Loved him! The indefinite inexplicable sentiments so long brooded over were gone now, and she looked into her own heart and acknowledged its condition. So long as he remained in London, so long as there was a chance of seeing him, even though she knew that his departure had been decided on, and was almost inevitable, she yet remained unconscious of the state of her feelings. It was only when he was actually gone, when she knew that the long-dreaded step had been taken, that all chance of seeing him again for months was at an end, that the truth flashed upon her. She loved him!--loved him with the whole warmth, truth, and earnestness of her sweet simple nature; loved him as such a man should be loved--deeply, fervently, and confidingly. In the first recognition of the existence of this feeling, she was scarcely likely to inquire psychologically into it; but she felt that her love for Wilmot had many component parts. The admiration and reverence with which he had originally inspired her still remained; but with them was now blended a passion which had never before been evoked in her. She longed to see him again, longed to throw her arms round his neck and whisper to him how she loved him. How miserably blind she had been! What childish folly had been hers not sooner to have comprehended the meaning of her feelings towards this man! She loved him, and--a fearful thought flashed across her. Had it come too late, the discovery of this passion? Had she been dreaming when the golden chance of her life came by, and had she let it pass unheeded? And again, what were Wilmot's feelings with regard to her? Was he under such a delusion as had long oppressed her? He was a man, strong-minded, clear-brained, and of subtle intellect; he would know at once whether his liking for her arose from professional interest, from the friendly feeling which, situated as they had been together at Kilsyth, would naturally spring up between them, or whether it had a deeper foundation and was of a warmer character. His manner to her--save perhaps on that one morning in Brook-street, when Ronald interrupted them so brusquely--had never been marked by anything approaching to warmth; and yet--That morning in Brook-street! there had been a difference then; she had noticed it at the time, and, now regarded in the new light which had dawned upon her, the thought was strengthened and confirmed. She remembered the way in which he held her hand, and looked down at her with a soft earnest gaze out of those wonderful eyes; such a look as she had never had before or since. If ever love was conveyed by looks, if ever eyes spoke, it was surely then. Ah, did he feel for her as she now knew she felt for him, or was it merely warm friendship, fraternal affection, that actuated him? He had gone away; would he have done that if he had loved her? She had asked herself this question before the state of her own real feelings had dawned upon her, only then substituting the word "like" for love, and had decided that, if he had cared for her ever so little, he would have remained. But her recent discovery led her now to think very differently, and she hoped that this ardour in the cause of science, which prompted this professional visit to Berlin, and necessitated this lengthened absence, might be assumed, and that the real motive of Wilmot's departure might be his desire to avoid her, ignorant as he was of the state of her feelings towards him. Heaven grant that it might be so! for now that she knew herself, it would be easy to recall him. Some pretext could be found for bringing him back to England, back to her; and once together again they would never separate. As this thought passed through her mind her glance fell upon her hands, which were clasped before her, and upon a ring which had been given her by Ramsay Caird. By Ramsay Caird! The curtain dropped as swiftly as it had risen, and Madeleine shivered from head to foot.
It was a pretty ring, a broad hoop of gold set with three turquoises, and the word "AEI" engraved upon it. Madeleine remembered that Ramsay Caird had presented it to her on her last birthday, and while presenting it had said a few words of compliment and kindness with an earnestness and an _empressement_ such as he had never before shown. He was not a brilliant man, but he had the society air and the society talk; and he imported just enough seriousness into the latter when he said something about wishing he had dared to have had the ring perfectly plain--just enough to convey his intended hint without making a fool of himself. Ramsay Caird! There, then, was her fate, her future! Knowing all that had been prearranged, she had been mad enough to dream for a few minutes of loving and being loved by Chudleigh Wilmot, when she knew, as well as if it had been expressly stated instead of merely implied, that Ramsay Caird was looked upon by her family and by most of their intimate friends, as her future husband.
Ramsay Caird her future husband! She herself had occasionally thought of him in that position, not with dissatisfaction. Knowing nothing better, she imagined that the liking which she undoubtedly entertained for the pleasant young man was love. She had not been brought up in a very gushing school. She had no intimate friend, no one with whom to exchange confidences; and her acquaintances seemed to make liking do very well for love, at least as far as their _fiancés_ or their husbands were concerned. Madeleine, when she had thought about the matter, had quite convinced herself that she liked Ramsay very much indeed; and it was only after she discovered that she loved Wilmot that she was undeceived. She thought that she had liked him well enough to marry him, but now she hated herself for ever having entertained such an idea. She knew now that she had never felt love for Ramsay Caird; and she would not marry where she did not love.
A hundred diverse and distracting thoughts and influences were at work within the young girl's mind. Doubt as to whether she was really loved by Wilmot, doubt as to how far she was pledged to Ramsay Caird, comprehension of the urgent necessity at once to take some steps towards a solution of the difficulty, inability to decide on the fittest course to pursue, disinclination to appeal to her father through bashfulness and timidity, to Lady Muriel through distrust, to Ronald through absolute fear: all these feelings alternated in Madeleine's breast; and as she experienced each and all, there hung over her a sense of an impending dreadful something which she could not explain, could not understand, but which seemed to crush her to the earth.
The cause of the feeling which for some time past had induced her to shrink from Ronald, to be silent and depressed when he was present, and to be rather glad when he stayed away from Brook-street, was now perfectly understood by her. In her new appreciation of herself she saw plainly that the fact of her brother's having always been Ramsay Caird's friend and Chudleigh Wilmot's enemy would, insensibly to herself, have caused an estrangement between them in these later days. And why was Ronald so hostile to Wilmot, so bitter in his depreciation of him, so grudging in his praise even of Wilmot's professional qualifications? Was this hostility merely a result of Ronald's normal "oddness" and sternness, or did it spring from the fact that Ronald had observed his sister narrowly, and had discovered, before she herself knew of it, the state of her feelings towards Wilmot? Thinking over this, the remembrance of her brother's manner that morning in Brook-street, when he broke in upon her interview with Wilmot, flashed across Madeleine's mind, and she felt convinced that her dread suspicions were right, and that Ronald had guessed the truth.
The reason of his hatred to Wilmot was then at once apparent to Madeleine. Ronald had always supported Ramsay's unacknowledged position in the family very strongly, not demonstratively, but tacitly, as was his custom in most things. He was essentially "thorough;" and Madeleine imagined that nothing would probably annoy him so much as the lack of thoroughness in those whom he loved and trusted. She saw that, actuated by these feelings, her brother would regard, had regarded what she had previously imagined to be her admiration and reverence, but what she now knew, and what Ronald had probably from the first recognised, to be her love for Chudleigh Wilmot as base treachery; and he hated Wilmot for having, however innocently, called these feelings into play. However innocently? There was a drop of comfort even in this bitter cup for poor Madeleine. However innocently? Ronald was a man of the world, eminently clear-headed and far-seeing--might not his hatred of Wilmot arise from his having perceived that Wilmot himself was aware of Madeleine's feelings, and reciprocated them? He had never said so--never hinted at it; but then that soft fond look into her eyes when they were alone together in the drawing-room in Brook-street rose in the girl's memory, and almost bade her hope.
These mental anxieties, these vacillations between hope and fear, doubt and despair, which furnished Madeleine with constant food for reflection, were not without their due effect on her bodily health. Her fond father, watching her ever with jealous care, noticed the hectic flush upon her cheek more frequent, her spirits lower, her strength daily decreasing: he became alarmed, and confessed his alarm to Lady Muriel.
"Madeleine is far from well," he said; "very far from well. I notice an astonishing difference in her within the last few months. After her first recovery from the fever, I thought she would take a new lease of life. But Wilmot was right throughout; she is very delicate; the last few weeks have made a perceptible difference in her; and Wilmot is not here to come in and cheer us after seeing her."
"I think you are over-anxious about Madeleine," said Lady Muriel. "I must confess, Alick, she is not strong; she never was before her illness; and I do not believe that she ever recovered even her previous strength; but I do not think so badly of her as you do. As you say, we have not Dr. Wilmot to send for. For reasons best known to himself, but which I confess I have been unable, so far as I have troubled myself, to fathom, Dr. Wilmot has chosen to absent himself, and to put himself thoroughly out of any chance of his being sent for. But so far as advice goes, I suppose Sir Saville Rowe is still unequalled; and Dr. Wilmot must have full confidence in him, or he would never have begged him to break through his retirement and attend upon Madeleine."
"Yes; that is all very well. Of course Sir Saville Rowe's opinion is excellent and all that, but he comes here but seldom; and one can't talk to him as one could to Wilmot; and he does not stop and talk and all that sort of thing, don't you know? Maddy's is a case where particular interest should be taken, it strikes me; and I think Wilmot did take special interest in her."
"I don't think there can be any doubt of that," said Lady Muriel, with the slightest touch of dryness in her accent. "Dr. Wilmot's devotion to his patient was undeniable; but Dr. Wilmot's away, and not available, and we must do our best to help ourselves during his absence. My own feeling is that the girl wants thoroughly rousing; she gets moped sitting here day after day with you and me and Mrs. M'Diarmid; and Ronald, when he comes, does not tend much to enliven her. Ramsay Caird is the only one with any life and spirits in the whole party."
"He's a good fellow, Ramsay," said Kilsyth; "a genial, pleasant, brisk fellow."
"He is; and he's a true-hearted fellow, Alick, which is better still. By the way, Alick, he spoke to me again the other day upon that subject which I mentioned to you before--about Madeleine, you recollect?"
"I recollect perfectly, Muriel," said Kilsyth slowly.
"You said then, if you remember, that there was no reason for pressing the matter then--no reason for hurrying it on; that Madeleine was full young, and that it would be better to wait and let us see more of Ramsay. You were perfectly right in what you said. I agreed with you thoroughly, and what you suggested has been done. We have waited now for several months; Madeleine has gone through a crisis in her life." (Lady Muriel looked steadily at her husband as she said these words to see if he detected any double meaning in them; but Kilsyth only nodded his head gravely.) "We have seen more, a great deal more, of Ramsay Caird; and from what you just said, I conclude you like him?"
"I was not thinking of him in that light when I spoke, my dear Muriel," said Kilsyth; "but indeed I see no reason to alter my opinion. He's a pleasant, bright, good-tempered fellow, and I think would make a good husband. He has seen plenty of life, and will be all the better for it when he settles down."
"Exactly. Well, then, having settled that point, I think you will agree with me that now the matter does press, and there is reason for hurrying it on. Not the marriage,--there is no necessity for hastening with that; but it is both necessary and proper that it should be understood that Madeleine and Ramsay Caird are regularly engaged. As I said before, Madeleine wants rousing. She is _fade_ and weary and a little lackadaisical. You remember how she burst out crying about that book the other night. She wants employment for her thoughts and her mind; and if she is engaged, and we then find her occupation in searching for a house, then in furnishing it, choosing _trousseau_, brougham, jewels, the thousand-and-one little things that we can find for her to do, you may depend upon it you will soon see her a different being."
Kilsyth said he hoped so; but his tone had little buoyancy in it, and was almost despondent as he added:
"What about Maddy herself? Has she any notion of--of what you have just said to me, Muriel?"
"Any notion, my dear Alick? Madeleine, though backward in some things, has plenty of common sense; and she must be perfectly aware what Ramsay's intentions mean and point to. Indeed my own observation leads me to believe that she not merely understands them, but is favourably disposed towards their object."
"Yes; but what I mean to say is, Maddy has never been plainly spoken to on the subject."
"No, no; not that I know of."
"But, she should be, eh?"
"Of course she should be--and at once. It is not fair to Mr. Caird to keep him longer in suspense; and there are other reasons which render such a course highly desirable."
Again Lady Muriel looked steadfastly at her husband, and again he evaded her glance, and contented himself with nodding acquiescence at her suggestion.
"This should be done," continued Lady Muriel, "by some one who has influence with dear Madeleine, whom she regards with great affection, and whose opinion she is likely to respect. I have never said as much to you, my dear Alick, because I did not want to worry you, in the first place; and in the second, because the thing sits very lightly on me, and the feeling is one which is natural, and which I can perfectly understand; but the fact is that I am Madeleine's stepmother only, and she regards me exactly in that light."
"Muriel!" cried Kilsyth.
"My dear Alick, it is perfectly natural and intelligible, and I make no complaint. I should not have alluded to the subject if it were not necessary, you may depend upon it. But I thought perhaps that you might expect me to broach the matter which we have been recently discussing to Madeleine; and for the reasons I have given, I think that would be wholly unadvisable. You did think so, did you not?"
"Well," said Kilsyth, who felt himself becoming rapidly 'cornered,' "I confess I was going to ask you to do it; but of course if you--and I feel--of course--that you're right. But then the question comes--as it must be done--who is to do it? I'm sure I could not."
Lady Muriel's brow darkened for a few moments as she heard this, but it cleared again ere she spoke. "There is only one person left then," said she; "and I am not sure that, after all, he is not the most fitting in such a case as this. I mean, of course, Ronald. He is perfectly straightforward and independent; he will see the matter in its right light; and, above all, he has great influence with Madeleine."
"Ronald's a little rough; isn't he?" said Kilsyth doubtfully; "he don't mean it, I know; but still in a matter like this he might--what do you think?"
"_I_ think, as I have said, that he is the exact person. His manner may be a little cold, somewhat _brusque_ to most people; but he has Madeleine's interest entirely at heart, and he has always shown her, as you know, the most unswerving affection. He has a liking for Ramsay Caird; he appreciates the young man's worth; and he will be able to place affairs in their proper position."
So Kilsyth, with an inexpressible feeling that all was not quite right, but with the impossibility of being able to better it, vividly before him, agreed to his wife's proposition; and the next day Ronald had a long interview with Lady Muriel, when they discussed the whole subject, and settled upon their plan of action. Ronald undertook the mission cheerfully; he and his stepmother fully understood each other, and appreciated the necessity of immediate steps. Neither entered into any detail, so far as Chudleigh Wilmot was concerned; but each knew that the other was aware of the existence of that stumbling-block, and was impressed with the expediency of its removal.
Two days afterwards Ronald knocked at the door of Lady Muriel's boudoir at a very much earlier hour than he was usually to be found in Brook-street. When he entered the room he looked a thought more flushed and a thought less calm and serene than was his wont. Lady Muriel also was a little agitated as she rose hastily from her chair and advanced to greet him.
"Have you seen her?" she asked; "is it over? what did she say?"
"She is the best girl in the world!" said Ronald; "she took it quite calmly, and acquiesced perfectly in the arrangement. I think we must have been wrong with regard to that other person--at least so far as Madeleine's caring for him is concerned."
O, of course: Madeleine cared nothing for "that other person," the loss of whose love she was at that moment bewailing, stretched across her bed, and weeping bitterly.
CHAPTER V. At our Minister's.
Meanwhile Chudleigh Wilmot, bearing the secret of his great sorrow about with him, bearing with him also the dread horror and gnawing remorse which the fear that his wife had committed self-destruction had engendered in his breast, had sought safety in flight from the scene of his temptation, and oblivion in absence from his daily haunts, and to a certain extent had found both. How many of us are there who have experienced the benefit of that blessed change of climate, language, habit of life? I declare I believe that the continental boats rarely leave the Dover or the Folkestone pier without carrying away amongst their motley load some one or two passengers who are going, not for pleasure or profit, not with the idea of visiting foreign cities or observing foreign manners, not with the intention of gaining bodily health, or for the vain-glory of being able to say on their return that they have been abroad (which actuates not a few of them), but simply in the hope that the entire change will bring to them surcease of brain-worry and heart-despondency, calm instead of anxiety, peace in place of feverish longing, rest--no matter how dull, how stupid, how torpid--instead of brilliant, baleful, soul-harrowing excitement. After having pursued the beauty of Brompton through the London season; after having spent a little fortune in anonymous bouquets for her and choice camellias for his own adornment; after having duly attended at every fête offered by the Zoological and Botanical Societies, danced himself weary at balls, maimed his feet at croquet-parties, and ricked his neck with staring up at her box from the opera-stalls,--Jones, finding all his _petits soins_ unavailing, and learning that the rich stock-broker from Surbiton has distanced him in the race, and is about to carry off the prize, flings himself and his portmanteau on board the Ostend boat, and finds relief and a renewal of his former devotion to himself among the quaint old Belgian cities. By the time he arrives at the Rhinebord he is calmer; he has lapsed into the sentimental stage, and is enabled to appreciate and, if anybody gives him the chance, to quote all the lachrymose and all the morbid passages. He relapses dreadfully when he gets to Homburg, because he then thinks it necessary to--as he phrases it in his diary--"seek the Lethe of the gaming-table;" but having lost his five pounds' worth of florins, he is generally content; and when he arrives in Switzerland finds himself in a proper-tempered state of mind, quite fitted to commune with Nature, and to convey to the Jungfrau his very low opinion of the state of humanity in general, and of the female being who has blighted his young affections in particular. And by the time that his holiday is over, and he returns to his office or his chambers, he has forgotten all the nonsense that enthralled him, and is prepared to commence a new course of idiotcy, _da capo_, with another enchantress.
And to Chudleigh Wilmot, though a sensible and thoughtful man, the change was no less serviceable. The set character of his daily duties, the absorbing nature of his studies, the devotion to his profession, which had narrowed his ideas and cramped his aspirations, once cast off and put aside, his mind became almost childishly impressionable by the new ideas which dawned upon it, the new scenes which opened upon his view. In his wonder at and admiration of the various beauties of nature and art which came before him there was something akin to the feeling which his acquaintance with Madeleine Kilsyth had first awakened within him. As then, he began to feel now that for the first time he lived; that his life hitherto had been a great prosaic mistake; that he had worshipped false gods, and only just arrived at the truth. To be sure, he had now the additional feeling of a lost love and an unappeasable remorse; but the sting even of these was tempered and modified by his enjoyment of the loveliness of nature by which he was surrounded.
His time was his own; and to kill it pleasantly was his greatest object. He crossed from Dover to Ostend, and lingered some days on the Belgian seaboard. Thence he pursued his way by the easiest stages through the flat low-lying country, so rich in cathedrals and pictures, in Gothic architecture and sweet-toned _carillons_, in portly burghers and shovel-hatted priests and plump female peasants. To Bruges, to Ghent, and Antwerp; to Brussels, and thence, through the lovely country that lies round Verviers and Liège, to Cologne and the Rhine, Chudleigh Wilmot journeyed, stopping sometimes for days wherever he felt inclined, and almost insensibly acquiring bodily and mental strength.
There is a favourite story of the practical hardheaded school of philosophers, showing how that one of their number, when overwhelmed with grief at the loss of his only son, managed to master his extreme agony, and to derive very great consolation from the study of mathematics--a branch of science with which he had not previously been familiar. It probably required a peculiar temperament to accept of and benefit by so peculiar a remedy; but undoubtedly great grief, arising from whatsoever source, is susceptible of being alleviated by mental employment. And thus, though Chudleigh Wilmot bore about with him the great sorrow of his life; though the sweet sad face of Madeleine Kilsyth was constantly before him; and though the dread suspicion regarding the manner of his wife's death haunted him perpetually, as time passed over his head, and as his mind, naturally clever, opened and expanded under the new training it was unconsciously receiving, he found the bitterness of the memory of his short love-dream fading into a settled fond regret, and the horror which he had undergone at the discovery of the seal-ring becoming less and less poignant.
Not that the nature of his love far Madeleine had changed in the least. He saw her sweet face in the blue eyes and fair hair of big blonde Madonnas in altar-pieces in Flemish cathedrals; he imagined her as the never-failing heroine of such works of poetry and fiction as now, for the first time for many years, he found leisure and inclination to read. He would sit for hours, his eyes fixed on some lovely landscape before him, but his thoughts busy with the events of the past few months--those few months into which all the important circumstances of his life were gathered. One by one he would pass in review the details of his meetings, interviews, and conversations with Madeleine, from the period of his visit to Kilsyth to his last sad parting from her in Brook-street. And then he would go critically into an examination of his own conduct; he was calm enough to do that now; and he had the satisfaction of thinking that he had pursued the only course open to him as a gentleman and a man of honour. He had fled from the sweetest, the purest, the most unconscious temptation; and by his flight he hoped he was expiating the wrong which he had ignorantly committed by his neglect of his late wife. That must be the keynote of his future conduct--expiation. So far as the love of women or the praise of men was concerned, his future must be a blank. He had made his mind up to that, and would go through with it. Of the former he had very little, but very sweet experience--just one short glimpse of what might have been, and then back again into the dull dreary life; and of the latter--well, he had prized it and cherished it at one time, had laboured to obtain and deserve it; but it was little enough to him now.
Among the old Rhenish towns, at that time of year almost free of English, save such as from economical motives were there resident, Wilmot lingered lovingly, and spent many happy weeks. To the ordinary tourist, eager for his next meal of castles and crags, the town means simply the hotel where he feeds and rests for the night, while its inhabitants are represented by the landlord and the waiters, whose exactions hold no pleasant place in his memory. But those who stay among them will find the Rhenish burghers kindly, cheery, and hospitable, with a vein of romance and an enthusiastic love for their great river strangely mixed up with their national stolidity and business-like habits. Desiring to avoid even such few of his countrymen as were dotted about the enormous _salons_ of the hotels, and yet; to a certain extent, fearing solitude, Wilmot eagerly availed himself of all the chances offered him for mixing with native society, and was equally at home in the merchant's parlour, the artist's _atelier_, or the student's _kneipe_. Pleasant old Vaterland! how many of us have kindly memories of thee and of thy pleasures, perhaps more innocent, and certainly cheaper, than those of other countries,--memories of thy beer combats, and thy romantic sons, our _confrères_, and thy young women, with such abundance of hair and such large feet!
At length, when more than three months had glided away, Wilmot determined upon starting at once for Berlin. He had lazed away his time pleasantly enough, far more pleasantly than he had imagined would ever have been practicable, and he had laid the ghosts of his regret and his remorse more effectually than at one time he had hoped. They came to him, these spectres, yet, as spectres should come, in the dead night-season, or at that worst of all times, when the night is dead and the day is not yet born, when, if it be our curse to lie awake, all disagreeable thoughts and fancies claim us for their own. The bill which we "backed" for the friend whose solvency and whose friendship have both become equally doubtful within the last few weeks; the face of her we love, with its last-seen expression of jealousy, anger, and doubt; the pile of neatly-cut but undeniably blank half-sheets of paper which is some day to be covered with our great work--that great work which we have thought of so long, but which we are as far as ever from commencing: all these charming items present themselves to our dreary gaze at that unholy four-o'clock waking, and chase slumber from our fevered eyelids. Chudleigh Wilmot's ghosts came too, but less, far less frequently than at first; and he was in hopes that in process of time they would gradually forsake him altogether, and leave him to that calm unemotional existence which was henceforth to be his.
Meantime he began to hunger for news of home and home's doings. For the first few weeks of his absence he had regularly abstained even from reading the newspapers, and up to the then time he had sent no address to his servants, choosing to remain in absolute ignorance of all that was passing in London. This was in contradiction to his original intention, but, on carefully thinking it over, he decided that it would be better that he should know nothing. He apprehended no immediate danger to Madeleine, and he knew that she could not be better than under old Sir Saville Rowe's friendly care. He knew that there was no human probability of anything more decisive leaking out of the circumstances of his wife's death. For any other matter he had no concern. His position in London society, his practice, what people said about him, were now all things of the past, which troubled him not; and hitherto he had looked on his complete isolation from his former world as a great ingredient in his composure and his better being. But as his mind became less anxious and his health more vigorous, he began to hunger for news of what was going on in that world from which he had exiled himself; and he hurried off to Berlin, anxious to secure some _pied-à-terre_ which he could make at least a temporary home; and he had no sooner arrived at the Hôtel de Russie than he wrote at once to Sir Saville, begging for fall and particular accounts of Madeleine Kilsyth's illness, and to his awn servant, desiring that all letters which had been accumulating in Charles-street should be forwarded to him directly.
Knowing that several days must elapse before his much-longed-for news could arrive, Wilmot amused himself as best he might To the man who has been accustomed to dwell in capitals, and who has been spending some months in provincial towns, there is a something exhilarating in returning to any place where the business and pleasure of life are at their focus, even though it be in so tranquil a city as Berlin. The resident in capitals has a keen appreciation of many of those inexplicable nothingnesses which never are to be found elsewhere; the best provincial town is to him but a bad imitation, a poor parody on his own loved home; and in the same way, though the chief city of another country may be far beneath that to which he is accustomed, nay, even in grandeur and architectural magnificence may not be comparable to some of the provincial towns of his native land, he at once falls into its ways, and is infinitely more at home in it, because those ways and customs remind him of what he has left behind. Amidst the bustle and the excitement--mild though it was--of Berlin, Wilmot's desire for perpetual wandering began to ebb. A man who has nearly reached forty years of age in a fixed and settled routine of life makes a bad Bedouin; and when the sting which first started him--be it of disappointment, remorse, or _ennui_, and the last worst of all--loses its venom, he will probably be glad enough to join the first caravan of jovial travellers which he may come across, so long as they are bound for the nearest habitable and inhabitable city. Chudleigh Wilmot knew that a return to England and his former life was, under existing circumstances, impossible; he felt that he could not take up his residence in Paris, where he would be constantly meeting old English Mends, to whom he could give no valid reason for his self-imposed exile; but at Berlin it would be different. Very few English people, at least English people of his acquaintance, came to the Prussian capital; and to those whose path he might happen to cross he might, for the present at all events, plead his studies in a peculiar branch of his profession in which the German doctors had long been unrivalled; while as for the future--the future might take care of itself!
Wandering Unter den Linden, pausing in mute admiration before the Brandenburger Thor, or the numerous statues with which the patriotism of the inhabitants and the sublime skill of the sculptor Rauch has decorated the city, loitering in the Kunst Kammer of the palace, spending hour after hour in the museum, reviving old recollections, tinged now with such mournfulness as accrues to anything which has been put by for ever, in visiting the great anatomical collection, dropping into the opera or the theatre, and walking out to Charlottenburg or other of the pleasant villages on the Spree, Chudleigh Wilmot found life easier to him in Berlin than it had been for many previous months. There, for the first time since he left England, he availed himself of the fame which his talent had created for him, and found himself heartily welcome among the leading scientific men of the city, to all of whom he was well known by repute. To them, inquiring the cause of his visit, he gave the prepared answer, that he had come in person to study their mode of procedure, which had so impressed him in their books; end this did not tend to make his welcome less warm. So that, all things taken into consideration, Wilmot had almost made up his mind to remain in Berlin, at least for several months. He could attend the medical schools--it would afford him amusement; and if in the future he ever resumed the practice of his profession, it could do him no harm; his life, such as it was, were as well passed in Berlin as anywhere else; and meanwhile time would be fleeting on, and the gulf between him and Madeleine Kilsyth, would be gradually widening. It must widen! No matter to what width it now attained, he could never hope to span it again.
One day, on his return to his hotel after a long ramble, the waiter who was specially devoted to his service received him with a pleasant grin, and told him that a "post packet" of an enormous size awaited him. The parcel which Wilmot found on his table was certainly large enough to have created astonishment in the mind of anyone, more especially a German waiter, accustomed only to the small square thin letters of his nation. There was but one huge packet; no letter from Sir Saville Rowe, nor from Mr. Foljambe, to whom Wilmot had also written specially. Wilmot opened the envelope with an amount of nervousness which was altogether foreign to his nature; his hand trembled unaccountably; and he had to clear his eyes before he could set to work to glance over the addresses of the score of letters which it contained. He ran them over hurriedly; nothing from Sir Saville Rowe, nothing from Mr. Foljambe, no line--but he had expected none from any of the Kilsyths. He threw aside unopened a letter in Whittaker's bold hand, a dozen others whose superscriptions were familiar to him, and paused before one, the mere sight of which gave him an inexplicable thrill. It was a long, broad, blue-papered envelope, addressed in a formal legal hand to him at his house in Charles-street, and marked "Immediate." There are few men but in their time have had an uneasy sensation caused by the perusal of their own name in that never-varying copying-clerk's caligraphy, with its thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes, its carefully crossed t's and infallibly dotted i's. Few but know the "further proceedings" which, unless a settlement be made on or before Wednesday next, the writers are "desired to inform" us, they will be "compelled to take." But Chudleigh Wilmot was among those few. During the whole of his career he had never owed a shilling which he could not have paid on demand, and his experience of law in any way had been nil. And yet the sight of this grim document had an extraordinarily terrifying effect upon him. He turned it backwards and forwards, took it up and laid it down several times, before he could persuade himself to break its seal, a great splodge of red wax impressed with the letters "L. & L." deeply cut. At length he broke it open. An enclosure fell from it to the ground; but not heeding that, Wilmot held up the letter to the fast-fading light, and read as follows:
"Sir,--In accordance with instructions received from the late Mr. Foljambe of Portland-place--"
The late Mr. Foljambe! He must be dreaming! He rubbed his eyes, walked a little nearer to the window, and reperused the letter. No; there the sentence stood.
"In accordance with instructions received from the late Mr. Foljambe of Portland-place, we forward to you the enclosed letter. As it appeared that in consequence of your absence from England you could not be immediately communicated with, and in pursuance of the instructions more recently verbally communicated to us by our late client in the event of such a contingency arising, we have taken upon ourselves to make the necessary arrangements for the funeral, as laid down in a memorandum written by the deceased; and the interment will take place to-morrow morning at Kensal-green Cemetery. We trust you will approve of our proceedings in this matter, and that you will make it convenient to return to London as soon as possible after the receipt of this letter, as there are pressing matters awaiting your directions.
"Your obedient servants,
"LAMBERT & LEE.
The late Mr. Foljambe! His kind old friend, then, was dead! Again and again he read the letter before he realised to himself the information conveyed in that one sentence: the late Mr. Foljambe--pressing matters awaiting his directions. Wilmot could not make out what it meant. That Mr. Foljambe was dead he understood perfectly; but why the death should be thus officially communicated to him, why the old gentleman's lawyers should express a hope that he would approve of their proceedings, and a desire that he should at once return to London, was to him perfectly inexplicable, unless--but the idea which arose in his mind was too preposterous, and he dismissed it at once.
In the course of his reflections his eyes fell upon the enclosure which had fallen from the letter to the ground. He picked it up, and at a glance saw that it was a note addressed to him in his friend's well-known clear handwriting--clearer indeed and firmer than it had been of late. He opened it at once; and on opening it the first thing which struck him was, that it was dated more than twelve months previously. It ran thus:
"My DEAR CHUDLEIGH,--A smart young gentleman, with mock-diamond studs in his rather dirty shirt, and a large signet-ring on his very dirty hand, has just been witnessing my signature to the last important document which I shall ever sign--my will--and has borne that document away with him in triumph, and a hansom cab, which his masters will duly charge to my account. I shall send this letter humbly by the penny post, to be put aside with that great parchment, and to be delivered to you after my death. In all human probability you will be by my bedside when that event occurs, but I may not have either the opportunity or the strength to say to you what I should wish you to know from myself; so I write it here. My dear boy, Chudleigh--boy to me, son of my old friend--when I told your father I would look after your future, I made up my mind to do exactly what I have done by my signature ten minutes ago. I knew I should never marry, and I determined that all my fortune should go to you. By the document (the young man in the jewelry would call it a document)--by the document just executed, you inherit everything I have in the world, and are only asked to pay some legacies to a few old servants. Take it, my dear Chudleigh, and enjoy it. That you will make a good use of it, I am sure. I leave you entirely free and unfettered as to its disposal, and I have only two suggestions to make--mind, they are suggestions, and not requirements. In the first place, I should be glad if you would keep on and live in my house in Portland-place--it has been a pleasant home to me for many years; and I do not think my ghost would rest easily if, on a revisit to the glimpses of the moon, he should find the old place peopled with strangers. It has never known a lady's care--at least during my tenure--but under Mrs. Wilmot's doubtless good taste, and the aptitude which all women have for making the best of things, I feel assured that the rooms will present a sufficiently brave appearance. The other request is, that you should retire from the active practice of your profession. There! I intended to arrive at this horrible announcement after a long round of set phrases and subtle argument; but I have come upon it at once. I do not want you, my dear Chudleigh, entirely to renounce those studies or the exercise of that talent in which I know you take the greatest delight; on the contrary, my idea in this suggestion is, that your brains and experience should be even more valuable to your fellow-creatures than they are BOW. I want you to be what the young men of the present day call a 'swell' in your line. I don't want you to refuse to give the benefit of your experience in consultation; what I wish is to think that you will be free--be your own master--and no longer be at the beck and call of everyone; and if any lady has the finger-ache, or M. le Nouveau Riche has overeaten himself, and sends for you, that you will be in a position to say you are engaged, and cannot come.
"If some of our friends could see this letter, they would laugh, and say that old Foljambe was selfish and eccentric to the last; he has had the advantage of this man's abilities throughout his own illnesses, and now he leaves him his money on condition that he sha'n't cure anyone else! But you know me too well, my dear Chudleigh, to impute anything of this kind to me. The fact is, I think you're doing too much, working too hard, giving up too much time and labour and life to your profession. You cannot carry on at the pace you've been going; and believe an old fellow who has enjoyed every hour of his existence, life has something better than the _renom_ gained from attending crabbed valetudinarians. What that something is, my dear boy, is for you now to find out. I have done my _possible_ towards realising it for you.
"And now, God bless you, my dear Chudleigh! I have no other request to make. To any other man I should have said, 'Don't let the tombstone-men outside the cemetery persuade you into any elaborate inscription in commemoration of my virtues.' 'Here lies John Foljambe, aged 72,' is all I require. But I know your good sense too well to suspect you of any such iniquity. Again, God bless you!
"Your affectionate old friend,
Tears stood in Wilmot's eyes as he laid aside the old gentleman's characteristic epistle. He took it up again after a pause and looked at the date. Twelve months ago! What a change in his life during that twelve months! Two allusions in the letter had made him wince deeply--the mention of his wife, the suggestion that undoubtedly he would be at the deathbed of his benefactor. Twelve months ago! He did not know the Kilsyths then, was unaware of their very existence. If he had never made that acquaintance; if he had never seen Madeleine Kilsyth, might, not Mabel have been alive now? might he not--Whittaker was a fool in such matters--might he not have been able once more to carry his old friend successfully through the attack to which he now had succumbed? Were they all right--his dead wife, Henrietta Prendergast, the still small voice that spoke to him in the dead watches of the night? Had that memorable visit had such a baleful effect on his career? was it from his introduction to Madeleine Kilsyth that he was to date all his troubles?
His introduction to Madeleine Kilsyth! Ah, under what a new aspect she now appeared! Chudleigh Wilmot knew the London world sufficiently to be aware of the very different reception which he would get from it now, how inconvenient matters would be forgotten or hushed over, and how the heir of the rich and eccentric Mr. Foljambe would begin life anew; the doctrine of metempsychosis having been thoroughly carried out, and the body of the physician from which the new soul had sprung having been conveyed into the outer darkness of forgetfulness. True, some might remember how Mr. Wilmot, when he was in practice--so honourable of him to maintain himself by his talents, you know, and really considerable talents, and all that kind of thing--and before he succeeded to his present large fortune, had attended Miss Kilsyth up at their place in the Highlands, and brought her through a dangerous illness, don't you know, and that made the affair positively romantic, you see!--Bah! To Ronald Kilsyth himself the proposition would be sufficiently acceptable now. The Captain had stood out, intelligibly enough, fearing the misunderstanding of the world; but all that misunderstanding would be set aside when the world saw that an eligible suitor had proposed for one of its marriageable girls, more especially when the eligible couple kept a good house and a liberal table, and entertained as befitted their position in society.
Wilmot had pondered over this new position with a curled lip; but his feelings softened marvellously, and his heart bounded within him, as his thoughts turned towards Madeleine herself. Ah, if he had only rightly interpreted that dropped glance, that heightened colour, that confused yet trusting manner in the interview in the drawing-room! Ah, if he had but read aright the secret of that childish trusting heart! Madeleine, his love, his life, his wife! Madeleine, with all the advantages of her own birth, the wealth which had now accrued to him, and the respect which his position had gained for him!--could anything be better? He had seen how men in society were courted, and flattered and made much of for their wealth alone,--dolts, coarse, ignorant, brainless, mannerless savages; and he--now he could rival them in wealth, and excel them--ah, how far excel them!--in all other desirable qualities!
Madeleine his own, his wife! The dark cloud which had settled down upon him for so long a time rolled away like a mist and vanished from his sight. Once more his pulse bounded freely within him; once more he looked with keen clear eyes upon life, and owned the sweet aptitude of being. He laughed aloud and scornfully as he remembered how recently he had pictured to himself as pleasant, as endurable, a future which was now naught but the merest vegetation. To live abroad! Yes, but not solitary and self-contained; not pottering on in a miserable German town, droning through existence in the company of a few old _savans!_ Life abroad with Madeleine for a few months in the year perhaps--the wretched winter months, when England was detestable, and when he would take her to brighter climes--to the Mediterranean, to Cannes, Naples, Algiers it may be, where the soft climate and his ever-watchful attention and skill would enable her to shake off the spell of the disease which then oppressed her.
He would return at once--to Madeleine! Those dull lawyers in their foggy den in Lincoln's-inn little knew how soon he would obey their mandate, or what was the motive-power which induced his obedience. In his life he had never felt so happy. He laughed aloud. He clapped the astonished waiter, who had hitherto looked upon the Herr Englander as the most miserable of his melancholy nation, on the shoulder, and bade him send his passport to the Embassy to be _viséd_, and prepare for his departure. No; he would go himself to the Embassy. He was so full of radiant happiness that he must find some outlet for it; and he remembered that he had made the acquaintance of a young gentleman, son of one of his aristocratic London patients, who was an _attaché_ to our minister. He would himself go to the Embassy, see the boy, and offer to do any mission for him in England, to convey anything to his mother. The waiter smiled, foreseeing in his guest's happiness a good _trinkgeld_ for himself; gentlemen usually sent their passports by the _hausknecht_, but the Herr could go if he wished it--of course he could go!
So Wilmot started off with his passport in his pocket. The sober-going citizens stared as they met, and turned round to stare after the eager rushing Englishman. He never heeded them; he pushed on; he reached the Embassy, and asked for his young friend Mr. Walsingham, and chafed and fumed and stamped about the room in which he was left while Mr. Walsingham was being sought for. At length Mr. Walsingham arrived. He was glad to see Dr. Wilmot; thanks for his offer! He would intrude upon him so far as to ask him to convey a parcel to Lady Caroline. _Visa?_ O, ah! that wasn't in his department; but if Dr. Wilmot would give him the passport, he'd see it put all right. Would Dr. Wilmot excuse him for a few moments while he did so, and would he like to look at last Monday's _Post_, which had just arrived?
Wilmot sat himself down and took up the paper. He turned it vaguely to and fro, glancing rapidly and uninterestedly at its news. At length his eye hit upon a paragraph headed "Marriage in High Life." He passed it, but finding nothing to interest him, turned back to it again, and there he read:
"On the 13th instant, at St. George's, Hanover-square, by the Lord Bishop of Boscastle, Madeleine, eldest daughter of Kilsyth of Kilsyth, to Ramsay Caird, Esq., of Dunnsloggan, N.B."
When Mr. Walsingham returned with the passport he found his visitor had fainted.
CHAPTER VI. The Gulf fixed.
Fainted! a preposterous thing for a big strong man to do! Fainted, as though he had been a school-girl, or a delicate miss, or a romantic woman troubled with nerves. Mr. Walsingham did not understand it at all. He rang the bell, and told the servant to get some water and some brandy, and something--the right sort of thing; and he picked up Wilmot's head, which was gravitating towards the floor, and he bade him "Hold up, my good fellow!" and then he let his friend's head fall, and gazed at him with extreme bewilderment. He was unused to this kind of performance was Mr. Walsingham, and felt himself eminently helpless and ridiculous. When the water and the brandy were brought, he administered a handful of the former externally, and a wine-glassful of the latter internally; and Wilmot revived, very white and trembling and dazed and vacant-looking. So soon as he could gather where he was, and what had occurred, he made his apologies to Mr. Walsingham, and begged he would add to the kindness he had already shown by sending for a cab, and by allowing him to borrow the newspaper which he had been reading at the time of the attack; it should be carefully returned that afternoon. Mr. Walsingham, who wag the soul of politeness, agreed to each of these requests; the cab was fetched, and Wilmot, with many thanks to his young friend, and with the packet for his young friend's mother, his own passport, and the _Morning Post_ in his pocket, went away in it. Mr. Walsingham, who regarded this little episode in his monotonous life as quite an adventure, waxed very eloquent upon the subject afterwards to his friends, and made it his stock story for several days. "Doosid awkward," he used to say, "to have a fellow, don't you know, who you don't know, don't you know, gone off into fits, and all that kind of thing! Here, too, of all places in the world! If he'd gone off in my rooms, you know, it wouldn't so much have mattered; but here, where old Blowhard"--for by this epithet Mr. Walsingham designated Sir Hercules Shandon, K.P., Her Britannic Majesty's Minister at the Court of Prussia--"where old Blowhard might have come in at any moment, don't you know, it might have been devilish unpleasant for a fellow. What he wanted with the _Post_ I can't make out. I've looked through every column of it since he sent it back, but I can't find anything likely to upset a fellow like that. I thought at first he must have been sinking his fees in some city company that had bust-up, but there's no such thing in the paper; or that he'd read of some chap being poisoned in mistake, and that had come home to him, but there's nothing about that either. I can't make it out.--I say, Tollemache, do you see that Miss Kilsyth's married? Married to Caird, that good-looking fellow that always used to be there at Brook-street--tame cat in the house--and that used to--you know--Adalbert Villa, Omicron-road, eh? Sell for you, old boy; you were very hard hit in that quarter, weren't you, Tolly?"
So Chudleigh Wilmot went back to his hotel in the cab; and the friendly waiter, who had seen him depart so full of life and joyousness, had to help him up the steps, and thought within himself that the great English doctor would have to seek the assistance of other members of his craft. But no bodily illness had struck down Chudleigh Wilmot; he had not recovered his full strength, and the shock to his nerves had been a little too strong--that was all. So soon as he found himself alone, after refusing the friendly waiter's offer of sending for a physician, of getting him restoratives of a kind which came specially within the resources of the Hôtel de Russie, such as a roast chicken and a bottle of sparkling Moselle, and after dispensing with all further assistance or companionship, Wilmot locked the door of his room, and sat down at the table with the newspaper spread open before him. He read the paragraph again and again, with an odd sort of bewildering wonderment that it remained the same, and did not change before his eyes. No doubt about what it expressed--none. Madeleine Kilsyth, who had been worshipped by him for months past; and with whom as his companion he was looking forward to pass his future, was married to another man--that last fact was expressed in so many words. It was all over now, the hope and the fear and the longing; there was an end to it all. If he had only known this three months ago, what an agony of heart-sickness, of dull despair, of transient hope, of wearying feverish longing he had been spared! She was gone, then, so far as he was concerned--taken from him; the one star that had glimmered on his dark lonely path was quenched, and henceforward he was to stumble through life in darkness as best he might. That was a cruel trick of Fortune's, a wretched cruel trick, to keep him back in his pursuit, to throw obstacles of every kind in his way, but all the time to let him see his love at the end of the avenue, as he thought, beckoning to him to overcome them all, to make his way to her, and carry her off in spite of all opposition; then for all the obstacles to melt away, for him to have naught to do but gain the temple unopposed; and when he succeeded in gaining it, for the doors to be open, the shrine abandoned, the divinity gone!
Hard fate indeed! hard, hard fate! But it was not to be. His dead wife had said it; Henrietta Prendergast had said it: it was not to be. For him no woman's love, no happy home, no congenial spirit to share his thoughts, his ambition, his success. He sighed as he thought of this, with additional sadness as he remembered that if Henrietta Prendergast's story were true, all this had been his. Such a companion he had had, had never appreciated, and had lost. He had entertained an angel unawares, and he was never to have the chance again. For him a drear blank future--blank save when remorse for the probable fate of the woman who had died loving him, regret for the loss of the woman whom he had loved, should goad him into new scenes of fresh action. Madeleine married! Was, then, his fancy that she, that Madeleine, during that interview in the drawing-room in Brook-street, had manifested an interest in him different from that which she had previously shown, a mere delusion? Had he been so far led away by his vanity as to mistake for something akin to his own feeling the mere gratitude which the young girl had felt towards her physician? Was she, indeed, "his grateful patient," and no more? Wilmot's heart sunk within him, and his cheeks burned, as this view of the subject presented itself to his mind. Had he, professing to be skilled in psychology, committed this egregious blunder? Had he, who was supposed to know what people really were when they had put off the mummeries which they played before the world, and when they had laid by their face-makings and their posturings and their society antics, and revealed to their physician perforce what no one else was allowed to see--had he been deceived in his character study of one who to him was a mere child? The very suddenness of the inspiration had led him to believe in its truth. Until that moment, just before that savage brother of hers had burst in upon them, he had acknowledged to himself the existence of his own passion indeed, but had struggled against it, fully believing it to be unreciprocated, fully believing in the mere gratitude and respect which--as it now seemed--were the sole feelings by which Madeleine had been animated. But surely that day, in her downcast eyes and in her fleeting blush, he had recognised--A new idea, which rushed through his mind like a flash of light, illumining his soul with a ray of hope. Had this been a forced marriage? Had she been compelled by her brother, her father, Lady Muriel--God knows who--to accept this alliance? Had it been carried out against her own free will? Had his absence from England been made the pretext for urging her on to it? Had that been shown to her as a sign of the mistake she had made in supposing that he, Wilmot, eared for her at all? He had never been so near the truth as now, and yet he scouted the notion more quickly than any of the others which he discussed within himself. Such a thing was impossible. The idea of a girl being forced to marry against her will, of her judgment being warped, and the truth perverted for the sake of warping that judgment, was incomprehensible to a man like Wilmot--man of the world in so many phases of his character, but of childlike simplicity in the others. He had heard of such things as the stock-in-trade of the novelist, but in real life they did not exist. Mammon-matches, forced marriages, diabolical torturings of fact--all these various combinations, neatly dovetailed together, filled the shelves of the circulating-library, but were laughed to scorn by all sensible persons when they professed to be accurate representations of what takes place in the every-day life of society.
Besides, if it were so, the mischief was done, and he was all-powerless to counteract it. The marriage had taken place; there was an end of it. It could be undone by no word or deed of his. The times were changed from the old days when a sharp sword and a swift steed could nullify the priest's blessing, and leave the brave gallant and the unwilling bride to be "happy ever after." He was no young Lochinvar, to swim streams and scour countries, to dance but one measure, drink one cup of wine, and bolt with the lady on his saddle-croup. He was a sober, middle-aged man, who must get back to England by the mail-train and the packet-boat; and when he got there--well, make his bow to the bride and bridegroom, and congratulate them on the happy event. It was all over. His turn in the wheel of Fortune had arrived too late; the bequest which his good old friend had secured to him, had it come two months earlier, might have insured his happiness for life; as it was, it left him where it found him, so far as his great object in life, so far as Madeleine Kilsyth, was concerned.
Another long pause for reflection, a prolonged pacing up and down the room, revolving all the circumstances in his mind. Was his whole life bound up in this young girl? did his whole future so entirely hang upon her? Here was he in his prime, with fame such as few men ever attained to, with fortune newly accruing to him--large fortune, leaving him his own master to do as he liked, free, unfettered, with no ties and no responsibilities; and was he to give up this splendid position, or, not giving it up, to forego its advantages, to let its gold turn into withered leaves and its fruits into Dead-Sea apples, because a girl, of whose existence he had been ignorant twelve months before, preferred to accept a husband of her choice, of her rank, of her family connection, rather than await in maidenhood a declaration of his hitherto unspoken love? He was pining under his solitude, the want of being appreciated, the lack of someone to confide in, to cherish, to educate, to love. Was his choice so circumscribed by fate that there was only one person in the world to fulfil all these requirements? Was it preordained that he must either win Madeleine Kilsyth or pass the remainder of his days helplessly, hopelessly celibate? Was his heart so formed as to be capable of the reception of this one individual and none other, to be impressionable by her and her alone? His pride revolted at the idea; and when a man's pride undertakes the task of combating his passion, the struggle is likely to be a severe one, and none can tell on which side the victory may lie.
He would test it, at all events, and test it at once. The kind old man now gone to his rest had hoped that the fortune which he had bequeathed might be of service to the son of his old friend "and to Mrs. Wilmot;" and why should it not, although Mrs. Wilmot might not be the person whom Mr. Foljambe had intended, nor, as Chudleigh had madly hoped on reading his benefactor's letter, Madeleine Kilsyth? He would go back to England at once; he would show these people that--even if they entertained the idea which had been so plainly set before him by Ronald Kilsyth--he was not the man to sink under an injury, however much he might suffer under an injustice. "Love flows like the Solway, but ebbs like its tide," so far he would say to them with Lochinvar; they should not imagine that he was going to pine away the remainder of his life miserably because Miss Kilsyth had chosen to marry someone else. He had been a fool, a weak pliable fool, to make such a statement as he had done in that interview with Ronald Kilsyth. His cheeks tingled with shame as he remembered how he had confessed the passion which he had nurtured, and which he acknowledged beset him even at the time of speaking. And that cool, calculating young man, with his cursed priggish, pedantic airs, his lack of anything approaching enthusiasm, and his would-be frank manner, was doubtless at that moment grinning to himself at the successful result of his calm diplomacy. Chudleigh Wilmot stamped his foot on the floor and ground his teeth in the impotence of his rage.
Married to Ramsay Caird, eh? Ramsay Caird! Well, they had not made such a great catch after all! To hear them talk, to see the state they kept up at Kilsyth, to listen to or look at my Lady Muriel, one would have thought that an earl, with half England in estates at his back, was the lowest they would have stooped to for their daughter's husband. And now she was married to an untitled Scotchman, without money, and--well, if he remembered club-gossip aright, rather a loose fish. Had not Captain Kilsyth been a little too hurried in the clinching of the nail, in the completion of the bargain? As Mr. Foljambe's heir, he, Chudleigh Wilmot, would have been worth a dozen such men as Ramsay Caird; and as to the question of former intimacy, of acquaintance formed during his wife's lifetime, the world would have forgotten that speedily enough.
He would go back to England at once, but when there he would show them he was not the kind of man which, from Ronald Kilsyth's behaviour, that family apparently imagined him. Still the Border song rang in his head--
"There were maidens in Scotland more lovely by far Would gladly be bride to the young Lochinvar."
Not more lovely, and probably never to be anything like so dear to him; but there were other maidens in England besides Madeleine Kilsyth. And why should the remainder of his life be to him utterly desolate because this girl either did not love him, or, loving him, was weak enough to yield to the interference of others? Was he to pine in solitude, to renounce all the pleasures of wifely companionship, to remain, as he had hitherto been, self-contained and solitary, because he had placed his affections unworthily, and they had not been understood, or cast aside? No; he had existed, he had vegetated long enough; henceforward he would live. Wealth and fame were his; he was not yet too old to inspire affection or to requite it; by his old friend's death he had obtained an additional claim upon society, which even previously was willing enough to welcome him; he should have the _entrée_ almost where he chose, and he would avail himself of the privilege. So thus it stood. Chudleigh Wilmot left London broken-hearted at having to give up his love, and full of remorse for a crime, not of his commission indeed, but which he imagined had arisen out of his own egotism and selfish preoccupation. He was about to start on his return, with stung sensibility and wounded pride--feelings which rendered him hostile rather than pitying towards the woman to whom he had imagined himself sentimentally attached, and which had completely obliterated and driven into oblivion all symptoms of his remorse.
He wrote a hurried line to Messrs. Lambert and Lee, informing them of his satisfaction with their proceedings hitherto, and notifying his immediate return; and he told the friendly waiter that he should start by that night's mail, and get as far as Hanover. But this the friendly waiter would not hear of. The Herr Doctor must know perfectly well--for had not he, the friendly waiter, heard the German doctors speak of the English doctor's learning?--that he was in no condition to travel that night. If he, the friendly waiter, might in his turn prescribe for the English doctor, he should say, "Wait here to-night; dine, not at the _table d'hôte_, where there is hurry and confusion, but in the smaller _speise-saal_, where you usually breakfast; and the cook shall be instructed to send up to you of his very best; and the Herr Oberkellner, a great man, but to be come over by tact, and specially kind in cases of illness, shall be persuaded to go to the cellar and fetch you Johannisberg--not that Zeltinger or Marcobrünner, which, under the name of Johannisberg, they sell to you in England, but real Johannisberg, of Prince Metternich's own vintage--pfa!" and the friendly waiter kissed his own fingers, and then tossed them into the air as a loving tribute to the excellence of the costly drink.
So Wilmot, knowing that there was truth in all the man had said; feeling that he was not strong, and that what little strength he had had gone out of him under the ordeal of the morning at the Embassy, gave way, and consented to remain that night. But the next morning he started on his journey, and on the evening of the third day he arrived in London. He drove straight to his house in Charles-street, and saw at once by the expression of his servant's face that the news of his inheritance had preceded him. There was a struggle between solemnity and mirth on the man's countenance that betrayed him at once. The man said he expected his master back, was not in the least surprised at his coming; indeed most people seemed to have expected him before. What did he mean? O, nothing--nothing; only there had been an uncommon number of callers within the last few days. "Not merely the reg'lars," the man added; "them of course; but there have been many people as we have not seen here these two years past a-rat-tattin', and leavin' reg'lar packs of cards, with their kind regards, and to know how you were, sir." The cards were brought, and Wilmot looked through them. The man was right; scores of his old acquaintance, whom he had not seen or heard of for years, were there represented; people whom he had only known professionally, and who had never been near him since he wrote their last prescription and took their last fee months before, had sought him out again. To what could this be accredited? Either to the earnest desire of all who knew him to console him in the affliction of having lost his friend, or to the information sown broadcast by that diligent contributor to the _Illustrated News_, who had given exact particulars of the will of the late John Foljambe, Esq., banker, of Lombard-street and Portland-place. But there was no card from any member of the Kilsyth family in the collection. Wilmot searched eagerly for one, but there was none there.
He had a hurried meal--hurried, not because he had anything to do, and wanted to get through with it, but because he had no appetite, and what was placed before him was tasteless and untempting--and sat himself down in his old writing-chair in his consulting-room to ponder over his past and his future. He should leave that house; he must. Though Mr. Foljambe had made no binding requirement, the expression of his wish was enough. Wilmot must leave that house, and obey his benefactor's behests by taking up his residence in Portland-place. He had never thought much of it before, but now he felt that he loved the place in which so much of his life had been passed, and felt very loth to leave it. He recollected when he had fire moved into it, when his practice began to increase and his name began to be known. He remembered how his friends had said that it was necessary he should take up his position in a good West-end street, and how alarmed he was, when the lease was signed and the furniture--rather scanty and very poor, but made to look its best by Mabel's disposition and taste--had been moved in, lest he should be unable to pay the heavy rent. He recollected perfectly the first few patients who had come to see him there: some sent by old Foljambe, some droppers-in from the adjacent military club, allured by the bright door-plate; old gentlemen wishing to be young again, and young gentlemen in constitution rather more worn and debilitated than the oldest of the veterans. He remembered his delight when the first great person ever sent for him; how he had treasured the note requesting his visit; how he had gone to his club and slily looked up the family in the Peerage; and how when he first stood before Lady Hernshaw, and listened to her account of her infant's feverish symptoms, he could, if he had been required, have gone through an examination in the origin and progress of the Hawke family, with the names of all the sons and daughters extant, and come out triumphantly. His well-loved books were ranged in due order on the walls round him; on the table before him stood the lamp by whose light he had gathered and reproduced that learning which had gained him his fame and his position. In that house all is early struggles had been gone through; he remembered the first dinner-parties which had been given under Mabel's superintendence, her diffidence and fright, his nervousness and anxiety. And now that was all of the past; Mabel had vanished for ever and aye; and soon the old house and its belongings, its associations and traditions, would know him no more. What had he gained during those few years? Fame, position, men's good word, the envy of his brother-professionals, and, recently, wealth. What had he lost? Youth, spirit, energy, the at one time all-sufficing love of study and progress in his science, content; and, latterly, the day-spring of a new existence, the hope of a new world which had opened so fairly and so promisingly before him. The balance was on the _per-contra_ side, after all.
The fashionable journals found out his return (how, his servant of all men alone knew), and proclaimed it to the world at large. The world at large, consisting of the subscribers to the said fashionable journals, acknowledged the information, and the influx of cards was redoubled. Some of these performers of the card-trick lingered at the door, and entered into conversation with the presiding genius in black to whom their credentials were delivered. Whether the doctor were well, whethe he intended continuing the practice of his profession, whether the rumour that he intended giving up that house and removing to Portland-place had any substantial foundation; whether it were true that he, the presiding genius, was about to have a new mistress, a lady from abroad--for some even went so far as to make that inquiry--all these different points were put, haughtily, confidentially, jocosely, to the presiding genius of the street-door, and all were answered by him as best he thought fit. Only one of the queries, the last, had any influence on that great man. He fenced with it in public with all the coolness and the dexterity of an Angelo, but in private, in the sacred confidence of the pantry engendered by the supper-beer, he was heard to declare that "the guv'nor knew better than that; or that if he didn't, and thought to introduce furreners, with their scruin' ways, to sit at the 'ead of his table and give horders to them, he'd have to suit himself, and the sooner he knew that the better."
Some of the callers on seeking admittance were admitted--among them Dr. Whittaker. Perhaps amongst the large circle of Wilmot's acquaintances calling themselves Wilmot's friends, that eminent practitioner was the only one who had a direct and palpable feeling of annoyance at Wilmot's return.
Dr. Whittaker's originally good practice had been considerably amplified by the patients who, under Wilmot's advice, had yielded themselves up to Dr. Whittaker's direction during Wilmot's absence, and the substitute naturally looked with alarm upon the reappearance of the great original. So Dr. Whittaker presented himself at an early date in Charles-street, and being admitted, had a long and, on his side at least, an earnest talk with his friend. After the state and condition of various of the leading patients had been discussed between then, Whittaker began to touch upon more dangerous, and, to him more interesting, ground, and said, with an attempt at jocosity,--and Whittaker was a ponderous man, in whom humour was as natural and as easy as it might have been in Sir Isaac Newton,--
"And now that I have given account of my stewardship, I suppose my business is ended, and all I have to do is to return my trust into the hands of him from whom I received it."
He said this with a smile and a smirk, but with an anxious look in his eyes notwithstanding.
"I don't clearly understand you," said Wilmot. "If you mean to ask me whether I intend to take up my practice again, my answer is clear and distinct--No. If you wish to inquire whether those patients whom you have been attending in my absence will continue to send for you, I am in no position to say. All I can say is, that if they send for me, I shall let them know that I have retired from the profession, and that you are taking my place."
Dr. Whittaker was in ecstasies. "Of course that is all I could expect," he replied; "and I flatter myself that--hum! ha! well, a man does not boast of his own proceedings--ha! Well then, and so what the little birds whispered _is_ true, eh?"
"I--I beg your pardon," said Wilmot absently--"the--the little birds--"
"Cautious!" murmured Dr. Whittaker in his blandest tone--that tone which had such an influence with female patients--"we are quite right to be cautious; but between friends one may refer to the little birds which have whispered," he continued with surprising unction, "that a certain friend of ours, whom the world delights to honour, has succeeded to wealth and station, and is about to exchange that struggle in which the--the, if I may so express it--the _pulverem Olympicum_ is gathered, for a soft easy seat in the balcony, whence he can look on at the contention with a smiling _conjux_ by his side."
"Little birds have peculiar information, Whittaker, if they have been so communicative as all that," said Wilmot with a rather dreary smile; "they know more than I do, at all events."
"Ha, ha! my dear friend," said Whittaker, in a gushing transport of delight at the thought of his own good fortune; "we are deep, very deep; but we must allow a little insight into human affairs to others. Why did we fly from the world, dear Bessy, to thee? as the poet Moore, or Milton--I forget which--has it. Why did we give up our practice, and hurry off so suddenly to foreign parts, hum?" Dr. Whittaker gave this last "hum" in his softest and most seductive tones, such as had never failed with a patient. But perhaps because Wilmot was not a patient, and was indeed versed in the behind-scenes mechanism of the profession, it had no effect on him, and he merely said: "Not for the reason you name. Indeed, you never were farther out in any surmise."
"Is that really so?" said Whittaker blandly. "Well, well, you surprise me! It is only a fortnight since that I was discussing the subject at a house where you seem often spoken of, and I said I fully believed the report to be true."
"And where was that, pray?" asked Wilmot, more for the sake of something to say than for any real interest he took in the matter.
"Ah, by the way, you remind me! I intended to speak to you about that case before you left. The young lady whom you attended in Scotland--where you were when poor Mrs. Wilmot died, you know--"
"In Scotland--where I was when--good God! what do you mean?"
"Miss Kilsyth, you know. Well, you left her in charge of poor old Rowe as a special case, didn't you? Yes, I thought so. Well, the poor old gentleman got a frightful attack of bronchitis, and was compelled to go back to Torquay--don't think he'll last a month, poor old fellow!--and before he went, he asked me to look after Miss Kilsyth. Thought she had phthisis--all nonsense, old-fashioned nonsense; merely congestion, I'm sure. I've seen her half-a-dozen times; and about a fortnight ago--yes, just before her intended marriage was announced--she's married since, you know--we were talking about you and I mentioned this rumour, and--and we had a good laugh over your enthusiasm."
"It is a pity, Dr. Whittaker," said Wilmot, quivering with suppressed rage, "it is a pity; and it is not the first time that it has been remarked, both professionally and socially, that you offer opinions and volunteer information on subjects of which you are profoundly ignorant. Good-morning!"
Just before the announcement of her intended marriage! Had the vile nonsense talked by that idiot Whittaker had any influence in inducing her to take that step? He thought of that a hundred times, coming at last to the conclusion--what did it matter now? The irrevocable step was taken. Ah, for him it was not to be! His dead wife had said so--Henrietta Prendergast had said so. It was not to be!
What was to be was soon carried out according to his old friend's expressed wish. Wilmot removed from Charles-street to Portland-place, and materially changed his manner of life. All his old patients flocked round him directly his return was announced; but, as he had promised Whittaker, he let it be understood that he had entirely retired from practice. He even declined to attend consultations, alleging as an excuse that his health was delicate, and that for some time at least be required absolute repose. He had determined to take as much enjoyment out of life as he could find in it; and that, truth to tell, was little enough. The growth and development of his love for Madeleine Kilsyth had lessened his thirst for knowledge and his desire for fame; and when the fierce flames of that love had burned out, there was still enough fire in the ashes to wither up and destroy any other passion that might seek to occupy his heart. He tried to find relief for the dead weariness of spirit, the blank desolation always upon him, in society. He gathered around him brilliant men of all c lasses; and "Wilmot's dinners" were soon spoken of as among the pleasantest bachelor _réunions_ in London. He dined out at clubs, he joined men's dinner-parties; but he resolutely declined to enter into ladies' society. The resolution which he had formed at the Berlin hotel of proving to the Kilsyth people that there were families equal to theirs into which he could be received, and girls equal to Madeleine who were willing to marry him, never was brought to the test. Many ladies no doubt asked their husbands about Wilmot; but from the answers they received they regarded him as never likely to marry again; and save from hearsay report, they had no opportunity of evidence.
He went about constantly, rode on horseback a great deal, visited theatres, and sat with a melancholy face at nearly all the public exhibitions. The few persons who had sufficient interest in him to discuss the reason for this change attributed it to the impossibility of his ever recovering the shock of his wife's sudden death; and he was quoted perpetually before many husbands, who sincerely wished they had the opportunity of showing how they would conduct themselves under similar circumstances. So his life passed on, monotonous, blank, aimless, for about three weeks after his installation in Portland-place; when one evening returning from a long ride round the western suburbs, as he turned his horse through the Albert-gate, hecame full upon a carriage containing Lady Muriel and Madeleine. They were so close, that it was impossible to avoid a recognition. Wilmot raised his hat mechanically, Lady Muriel gave him a chilling bow, and then turned rapidly to her companion. Madeleine turned dead-white, and sank back as though she would have fainted; but Lady Muriel's look recalled her, and she recovered herself in time to bow. Then they were gone. Not much hope in that, Chudleigh Wilmot! Not much chance of bridging that gulf which is fixed between you!
CHAPTER VII. Henrietta.
Mrs. Prendergast had heard of Chudleigh Wilmot's accession to fortune before the news had reached that more than ever "rising" man. Though she was not among Mr. Foljambe's intimates, and though that sprightly old gentleman found less favour in her eyes than in those of most of his acquaintance, she knew when his illness commenced, when it had assumed a dangerous form; and she was one of the earliest outsiders to learn its fatal and rapid termination. She was indebted for all this information to Dr. Whittaker, whom she had assiduously cultivated, and who was very fond of talking of all and everything that nearly or remotely concerned Wilmot. The little professional jealousy which had sometimes interfered with Dr. Whittaker's genuine and generally irrepressible admiration of the genius and the success of his _confrère_ and superior had given way to the influence of the superior's loftiness and liberality of mind; and with Dr. Whittaker also there was, as old Mr. Foljambe had said, on an occasion destined to affect many destinies, "nothing like Wilmot."
Dr. Whittaker was not aware that Mrs. Prendergast valued his visits chiefly because they afforded her an opportunity, which otherwise she could not have enjoyed, of hearing of Wilmot. She had too much tact to permit him to make any such mortifying discovery, and he had too much vanity to permit him to suspect the fact, except under extreme provocation. So Mrs. Prendergast accounted his visits as among her most agreeable glimpses of society; and he regarded her as one of the most sensible and unaffected women of his acquaintance. Thus, when Dr. Whittaker's attendance on Mr. Foljambe came to a close with the sprightly and _débonnaire_ old gentleman's life, he brought the news to his friend in Cadogan-place, and they lamented together Wilmot's untimely absence. But Dr. Whittaker had previously conveyed to Mrs. Prendergast information of another sort, which had largely influenced the feelings with which she heard of Mr. Foljambe's death.
It was the same welcome messenger who had brought her the tidings of Madeleine Kilsyth's marriage; and never had he been more welcome. She had steadily persevered in denying to herself that the young Scotch girl could possibly count for anything, one way or another, in the matter in which she was so vividly interested; but she had not succeeded in feeling such complete conviction on the point as to render her indifferent to any occurrence which effectually disposed of that young lady before Wilmot's return. That he should have come back to London, to all the former prestige of his talent and success, with the new and brilliant addition that he had acquired the whole of Mr. Foljambe's large fortune, to find Madeleine Kilsyth unmarried, and to be brought upon an equality with her by the agency of his wealth,--this would not have appeared to Henrietta by any means desirable. The obstacles which the social pride of her relations might have opposed to a penchant for Wilmot on the part of Miss Kilsyth--and Mrs. Prendergast had always felt instinctively that such a _penchant_, if it did not actually exist, would arise with opportunity--would be considerably modified, if not altogether removed, by Wilmot's becoming a rich man by other than professional means. Altogether there were many new sources of danger to her project, which did not relax in its intensity and fixedness by time, silence, or leisure for consideration, in the possibility of Madeleine Kilsyth's being again brought within Wilmot's reach, which presented themselves very unpleasantly to the clear perception of Mrs. Prendergast.
"And so you had not heard of Miss Kilsyth's intended marriage at all, knew nothing of it until after the event?" said Dr. Whittaker, after he had imparted the intelligence to Mrs. Prendergast. To him it was merely an item in the gossiping news of the day; nor had he any suspicion that it was more to his hearer.
"No; I had not heard a word of it. And I wonder I had not, for I have seen Miss Charlton several times; and I know Mrs. M'Diarmid has been at their house frequently. She must have known all about it, and I can't fancy her knowing anything and not talking about it."
"No," said Dr. Whittaker. "Reserve is not her _forte_, good old lady. But they say--the omnipresent, omniscient, and indefinable _they_--that Miss Kilsyth expressly stipulated that the engagement was to be kept a profound secret. She is troubled, I understand, with rather more delicacy and modesty than most young ladies at present; and she disliked the pointing and talking, the giggling and speculation which attend the appearance of an engaged young lady in what is politely called 'high life' on such occasions."
"The engagement was not a long one, I suppose?" said Henrietta.
"Only a few weeks, I understand. They say Lady Muriel Kilsyth was rather anxious to get her stepdaughter off her hands--"
"And into those of her not particularly rich cousin, I fancy," said Henrietta. Dr. Whittaker laughed.
"I daresay I shall hear a great deal about it at the Charltons'," she continued; "I am going to dine there to-morrow. I know Mrs. M'Diarmid will be there, and she will have plenty to tell, no doubt. I shall hear much more about the wedding than I shall care for."
Mrs. Prendergast dined at Mrs. Charlton's on the following day, and she did hear a great deal about the wedding, which Mrs. M'Diarmid was of opinion had not been quite worthy of the occasion either in style or in publicity, and whereat she could not say Madeleine had conducted herself altogether to her satisfaction. Not that she had been too emotional, or in the least bold in her manner, but she had taken it all so very quietly.
"I assure you it was quite unnatural, in my opinion," said the old lady, with a homely heartiness of manner calculated to convert other people to her opinion too. "Madeleine was as quiet and as unconcerned as if it was somebody else's wedding, and not her own. She positively seemed to think more of little Maud's dress and appearance than of her own, and she was as friendly as possible with Mr. Caird."
"Friendly with Mr. Caird, Mrs. M'Diarmid!" said Henrietta. "Why should you be surprised at that? Why should she not be friendly with him?"
"Well, I'm sure I don't know, my dear," answered Mrs. M'Diarmid, who called everyone 'my dear;' "it did seem odd to me somehow--there, I can't explain it; and I daresay I'm an old fool--very likely; but they did seem more like friends to me, that is, Madeleine did, than lovers--that's the truth."
Miss Charlton remarked to Mrs. Prendergast, with a sentimental sigh, that she perfectly understood Mrs. M'Diarmid,--that Miss Kilsyth's manner had had too little of the solemnity and exaltation of such a \serious and important event. "At such a moment, Henrietta," said the young lady, raising her fine eyes towards the ceiling, "earth and its restraints should fade, and the spirit be devoted to the heavenly temple, Which is the true scene of the marriage."
"All I can say, then," said Mrs. M'Diarmid, by no means touched by the high-flown interpretation placed upon her remarks, "is, that if anyone can be reminded of a heavenly temple by St. George's, Hanover-square, they must have a lively imagination; for a duller and heavier earthly one I never was in in my life."
"I suppose the wedding-party was numerous?" said Mrs. Charlton, who never could endure anything like a verbal passage-at-arms; and who was moreover occasionally beset by a misgiving that her daughter was rather silly.
"Not what the Kilsyths would consider large, my dear; only their immediate connections and a few very intimate friends. Miss Kilsyth would have it so; and indeed the whole thing was got up in a hurry. It was announced in the _Morning Post_ on Monday, and the marriage came off on Wednesday."
"I suppose the bride had some splendid presents?" said Miss Charlton, whose curiosity was agreeably irrepressible.
"O yes, my dear, lots. Some beautiful and expensive; some ugly and more expensive; Several cheap and pretty; and a great many which could not possibly be of use to any rational being. You know Mr. Foljambe, don't you, Mrs. Prendergast?"
"Yes," said Henrietta; "I know him slightly."
"He is an old friend of Kilsyth's; poor man, he's very ill indeed--could not come to the wedding because he was ill then, and he is much worse since; he gave Madeleine the handsomest present of the lot--a beautiful set of pearls, and he sent her such a nice, kind, old-fashioned letter with them. He is a real old dear, though I always feel a little afraid of him somehow."
"Is Mr. Foljambe really very ill?" said Mrs. Charlton.
"I am sorry to say he is," said Henrietta; "I saw Dr. Whittaker to-day, and he gave a very bad account of him."
"Dr. Whittaker?" said Mrs. Charlton inquiringly. "I don't know him; I--"
"No," interrupted Henrietta with a smile; "he is not yet famous; he is only just beginning to be a rising man. He is a great friend of Dr. Wilmot's, who, when he went abroad, placed several of his principal patients in his hands."
As Henrietta mentioned Wilmot's name, she glanced keenly at Mrs. M'Diarmid, and perceived at once that the mention of him produced an effect on the old lady of no pleasing kind. Her face became overcast in a moment.
"I hope Miss Kilsyth's--I beg her pardon, Mrs. Caird's health is sufficiently restored to make any such provision in her case unnecessary," said Henrietta to Mrs. M'Diarmid in her best manner; which was a very good manner indeed.
"Yes, yes," the old lady said absently; then recovering herself, she continued, "Madeleine has been much better latterly; but Sir Saville Rowe has been looking after her. Dr. Wilmot recommended her specially to his care."
The conversation then turned on other matters, and did not again revert to the Kilsyths; but Mrs. Prendergast carried away with her from the substance of what had passed two convictions.
The first, that Wilmot had entertained sufficient feeling of some kind for Madeleine Kilsyth to render him averse to bringing her into contact with the man who attended his wife's deathbed, and who might therefore have been inconveniently communicative, or even suspicious.
The second, that there was some painful impression or association in the kind, honest, and simple mind of Mrs. M'Diarmid connected with Dr. Wilmot and Madeleine Kilsyth.
On that evening Mrs. Prendergast settled the point, in consultation with herself, that Madeleine's marriage was an important advantage gained. How important, or precisely why, she had no means of ascertaining, but she felt that it was so; and she experienced a comfortable feeling, compounded of hope and content, at the occurrence.
A week later Dr. Whittaker called on Henrietta and communicated to her the intelligence of Mr. Foljambe's death; and in a few days later the accession of Wilmot to his faithful old friend's large fortune was made known to her in the same way.
And now Henrietta felt the full importance of the removal of Madeleine Kilsyth from Wilmot's path. He would return to London of course--perhaps to abandon his professional pursuits, though that she thought an unlikely step on his part. His sphere of life would, however, certainly be changed; and the best chance for the success of her project would consist in her being able to induce him to form habits of intimacy and companionship with her before the increased demands of society upon him should whirl him away out of her reach. Even supposing, which she--though more capable than most women of taking a contingency which she disliked into sensible and serious consideration--did not think likely, that Dr. Wilmot would contemplate a second marriage, and that marriage purely of affection, he would certainly return to London heart-whole. If Madeleine Kilsyth had indeed possessed for him attraction which he could not disavow to himself, nor avow to the world, so much the better now as things had turned out. Madeleine would have held his fancy captive until such time as fate had set between them a second inviolable barrier; and this new and keen disappointment, even supposing he had never distinctly formulated his hope, would have turned his heart, and brought him: back irresistibly to the realties of life.
Thus, knowing nothing of the actual circumstances of the case, unaware of the twofold shock which Chudleigh Wilmot had received by the events which she calmly regarded as equally fortunate; unconscious of the storm of passion, rage, grief, and helplessness in which Wilmot was wrapped and tossed, even while she was quietly discussing the matter with herself, Henrietta Prendergast arranged the present before her eyes, and questioned the future in her thoughts. But had she known all of which she was ignorant--had she been able to see Chudleigh Wilmot as he really was, while she was thus thinking of him, the revelation would hardly have changed the current of her thoughts, though it might have robbed her of much of her composure. In that case she would have reflected that she had but mistaken the quality and the depth of his feelings, that circumstances remained unchanged. Wilmot had been passionately in love with Madeleine Kilsyth; but he was now none the less certainly, irrevocably, and eternally separated from her.
Thus, the facts which she knew, the facts which she guessed, and the facts which were effectually concealed from her, all bore encouragingly upon the projects of Henrietta Prendergast. It is only just to acknowledge that the increase to his wealth did not intensify or sharpen Mrs. Prendergast's wish to marry Wilmot; indeed it rather depressed her. She felt that it might create new obstacles as strong as those which fate had removed; she would have preferred his being in his former position. "If I could have won him as he was," she thought, "and then this fortune had come, that would have been better. However, ever so poor he would have been a man worth winning; it makes no difference in that respect his being ever so rich."
After all, this appreciation, calm and passionless, yet just, clear-sighted, and true, was not a gift to be despised by a sensible man, who had had the gilding pretty nearly taken off the gingerbread of his life, but it was not likely to be valued as it deserved by a man pining desperately for the impossible love of a brilliant young beauty like Madeleine Kilsyth.
One immediate purpose which Henrietta set strongly before her was to see Wilmot as soon as possible after his return, of the time of which event she would be duly informed by Dr. Whittaker. She had had no communication with him since the puzzling interview which had preceded his departure; he had neither written nor gone to take leave of her; but this omission, which would have been extremely discouraging to a less keen-sighted woman, was not discouraging to Henrietta. She knew that, as far as she was concerned, it meant simply nothing. Wilmot was deeply distressed and preoccupied; that was the cause of it. She also knew that at present, in his life, _she_ meant nothing, and she was satisfied, so that the future should afford her a fair opportunity of coming to mean much. But she must attain and begin to profit by that opportunity as soon as possible--she must endeavour to anticipate other impressions; and for this purpose she resolved to seek an interview with him immediately on his return.
"I will write to him at once," she said to herself "He has no reason to wish to avoid me; and if he had, he would conquer it at an appeal made in the name of poor Mabel."
And this strange yet matter-of-fact woman paused in the busy current of her thoughts and plans to bestow affectionate remembrance and true regret on her dead friend! Henrietta Prendergast was neither inconsistent nor insincere.
* * * * *
"I hope you did not think me intrusive in asking you to call on me so soon," said Henrietta to Chudleigh Wilmot, when he had duly presented himself in answer to a note from her, which she had written on the day Dr. Whittaker had told her Wilmot had returned to London.
"You have seen him, of course?" she had asked Dr. Whittaker.--"Yes, I have seen him. He looks extremely ill--wretchedly ill, in fact. As unlike a man who has just come in for a tremendous stroke of luck as any man I ever saw. I fancy he was more cut up about his wife's death than either you or I gave him credit for--eh, Mrs. Prendergast?"
And now, holding Wilmot's hand in hers, and looking into his sunken eyes, marking his sallow cheek, the rigidity of the expression of his face, the thinness of his hand, she thought that Dr. Whittaker's first impressions were correct. He did look ill, wretchedly ill. He did indeed look little like a favourite of fortune.
He assured her, very kindly, that her note had only forestalled his intention of calling upon her immediately, and apologised for his former omission.
"I ought to have come to say good-bye," he said; "but I could not indeed. I made no adieux possible to be avoided."
"And have you benefited by your absence? Have you gained health and spirits to enjoy the good fortune which has befallen you?"
She asked him these questions in a tone of more than conventional kindness; but her face told him she read the answer in his.
"I am quite well," he said quickly; "but perhaps I don't enjoy my good fortune very much. I am alone in the world, Mrs. Prendergast; and my fortune has been gained by the loss of the best friend I ever had in it."
"Yes," she said thoughtfully, "that is very true. Poor Mr. Foljambe! He missed you very much; but," she added, for she saw the painful expression of self-reproach which she had noticed in their first interview after Mabel's death settle down upon his face, "you must not grieve about that. He expressed the utmost confidence in Dr. Whittaker."
"I know--I know," said Wilmot. "Still I wish--however, that is but one of many far heavier griefs. I did not come to talk about my troubles," he said with a faint smile. "You had something to say to me--what is it? Not only to congratulate me on being a rich man now that it is too late, I am sure."
"It is not altogether too late, I think," said Henrietta in a low impressive voice; "and I wanted to speak to you of something connected alike with your grief and your fortune."
"Indeed!" said Wilmot in a tone of anxious surprise.
"Yes," said Henrietta; "I did not know how long or how short a time you might be within my reach; and so I determined to lose no time in endeavouring to gain your assent to a wish of poor Mabel's."
The conscious blood rushed into Wilmot's face. This, then, was the double connection of his present visit with his grief and his fortune. And he had not been thinking of Mabel! His dead wife's friend believed him indifferent to the wealth that had come too late to be shared by her; and except for the first sudden remembrance which the sight of Henrietta had produced, he had not thought of his dead wife at all. He thought of her now with keen remorse--keener because it had not occurred to him to think of her before, in connection with his wealth. Yes, the life which had had so dark an ending might have been very bright and prosperous now, with all this useless money to gild it. He shrunk from Mrs. Prendergast's steady eyes with all the shame and uneasiness of a candid nature when given credit for motives or deeds superior to the truth. No vision of the dead face he had seen, awfully white and still, in his little loved home, had arisen to blot out the prospect of a future rich in all that wealth can give, to teach him how infinitely little is that all, how poor that richness! But he carried about for ever between him and the sunshine a vision of a fair girlish face, with pleading innocent blue eyes, with golden hair and faintly flushing cheeks, with sweet sensitive lips, and over all a look which he knew well and interpreted only too accurately. And that face, it did not lie in a coffin indeed, but as far, as hopelessly away from him--it lay on another man's breast This was his grief; the other--well, the other was his shield from suspicion, from observation, his defence. He seized upon it, feeling unutterably the degradation of the evasion, and answered:
"I will be more than grateful, Mrs. Prendergast, if you can show me any way in which I can fulfil any wish of hers. If there is anything within the power of any effort of mine, let me know it."
Then Henrietta, in her turn, putting the dead woman forward as a pretext, began to discuss with Wilmot the provisions of a certain charitable institution, to which she knew it had been Mrs. Wilmot's wish to contribute, but which she had not felt entitled by her means to assist. Wilmot acceded to all her suggestions with the utmost readiness, besought her to tax her memory for any other resource for doing honour to Mabel's memory, and prolonged his visit considerably beyond Henrietta's expectation. In her softened manner there was now no reproach, and her sense and calmness refreshed his jaded spirits. It was a relief to him to be in the company of a woman who did not expect him to be anything but sorrowful, and who yet had no suspicion of the cause and origin of his sorrow. So thought Wilmot, as he left Henrietta, having asked her permission to call on her again speedily.
And at the same moment Henrietta was thinking--
"He knows something of the torture of love unrequited and in vain now. It won't last, of course; but for the present, if she could only know it, poor Mabel is avenged!"
CHAPTER VIII. Mrs. Ramsay Caird at Home.
Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay Caird lived, it is needless to say, in a fashionable quarter of the town. They could not have lived in any other. Their lot being essentially cast among fashionable people, it was necessary for them to reside somewhere within fashionable people's ken; and that ken is, to say the least of it, limited. It is known to vulgarians and common persons that there are buildings beyond Oxford-street on the north side; but it is not known to fashionable people. They, to be sure, know that some "old families"--and this is said with an emphasis which conveys that the families in question are almost pre-Adamite in their age--reside in Portman-square. The fashionable world allows this as a kind of old-world eccentricity, as it allows male members of said families to appear in the evening in blue tailcoats and brass buttons, and to swathe their necks in rolls of cravat, instead of donning the ordinary small tie. It is a respectable eccentricity; but it is an eccentricity after all. North of Oxford-street is as much "the other side" to the fashionable world as is Suez to the Eastern travellers by the Peninsular and Oriental route. The fashionable world has heard of the big terraces of splendid mansions which Messrs. Kelk and Austin have built in the Bayswater-road facing the Park; they have seen them occasionally when they have been driving to Kensington-gardens; they believe them to be inhabited by a respectable moneyed class; but the idea of looking upon them as residences for themselves has never once struck them. These houses are such an enormous distance from "anywhere," which to the fashionable world is bounded by the Regent-circus on the east, Belgrave-square on the south, the Marble Arch on the west, and Oxford-street on the north.
It is possible that if the choice of district had been left to Madeleine herself, poor child, she, never particularly caring about such matters, and not being in a very critical or very argumentative state of mind at the period of her marriage, would have fixed upon some comfortable pleasant house, cheerful, roomy, airy, but in a wrong situation. If the choice had been left to her father, there is no doubt that he would have made some tremendous blunder of the like kind; for Kilsyth when in London was always opening his arms and expanding his chest and gasping for air. Accustomed to the free atmosphere of his native Highlands, the worthy gentleman suffered torture in the dull, dead, confined and vitiated air of the London street; and amidst the many sufferings which he underwent for the sake of society of during the few weeks when he remained in town during the few weeks when he remained in town was the martyrdom which he was put to in the tiny ill-ventilated rooms in which he had occasionally to dine or pass a ghastly half-hour "assisting" at a reception. But Lady Muriel and Mr. Ramsay Caird took this matter in hand. Of their own express wish as it was to them the task of selecting the residence of the about-to-be-married couple was to be confided; and there was no doubt that they would take care that their choice should not be open to question.
On Squab-street, Grosvenor-place, that choice fell. A curious street Squab-street; a street in a progressive state; a street which was feeling the ad immediate vicinity of Cubitopolis, but which was yielding to the advancing conquest piecemeal and by slow degrees; a street of small houses originally occupied by small people--doctors, clerks well-up in the West-end government offices, a barrister or two with fashionable proclivities, and several lodging-houses, always filled with good visitors from the country or eligible regular tenants; a quiet street, looked upon for many years as being a long way off, but suddenly awaking to find itself in the centre of fashion. For while the doctors had been paying their ordinary seven-and-sixpenny visits within what was then almost their suburban neighbourhood; while the West-end government-office clerks had been plodding to and fro from their offices; while the barristers had been pluming themselves on the superiority of their position to that of their brethren, who, true to old tradition, had set up their Lares and Penates in the neighbourhood of Russell-square and the Foundling Hospital; while the lodging-house-keeper had vaunted as recommendations the quietude of the vicinity and the freshness of the air, the great district now known as Belgravia was being reclaimed from its native mud, the wild meadow called the Field of Forty Footsteps was being drained and built on, the desolate track over which our ancestors pursued their torchlighted way to Ranelagh and Vauxhall was being spanned by arches and undermined with gas-pipes; and when all these grand improvements were complete Squab-street, which had held a respectable but ignominious existence as Squab-street, Pimlico, blossomed out in the _Post-Office Directory_ and the _Court-Guide_ as Squab-street, S.W., and thenceforward emerged from its chrysalis state, and became a recognisable and appreciated butterfly.
The effect of the change on the street itself was immediate. Two or three leases fell in about that time, and the householders, in whose families the leases had been for a couple of generations, made no doubt of their renewal. Lord Battersea was the ground landlord--not a liberal man, not a generous man; in short, a screw, and the driver of a hard bargain, but still a good landlord. He would be all right, of course. Would he? When the leaseholders went to Lord Battersea's man of business, an apple-faced old gentleman with a white head and a kind of frosty wire for beard, they learned that his lordship had fully comprehended the change in the state of affairs in Squab-street, and was prepared to act accordingly. As each lease fell in, the house which was vacant was to be increased by a couple of stories, and to have its rent trebled. Squab-street was to be a fitting accessory to Grosvenor-place. In vain the dispossessed ex-tenants declared that none of his lordship's then holders could pay the new rent: the apple-faced old gentleman was sorry; but he thought his lordship could find plenty of tenants who would. The tenants grumbled; but the man of business was firm. So were the tenants: they yielded up their leases; and so the houses were improved, and the rents were raised, and other tenants came of a class hitherto unknown to Squab-street. Married officers of the Guards, who found the situation convenient for Wellington, and not inconvenient for Portman barracks; members of parliament, who found it handy for the House; railway engineers and contractors of fabulous wealth, who could skurry to and fro their offices in Great George-street; and City magnates, who walked to Westminster-bridge, and went humbly in to the Shrine of Mammon by the penny-boat. All these new-comers lived in the enlarged houses, gorgeous stucco-fronted edifices, with porticoes which looked as if they did not belong to the house, but were leaning up against it by accident, and plate-glass windows and conservatories about the size of a market-gardener's hand-lights.
But the other houses in Squab-street, the leases of which had not run out, remained in their normal condition, and were the same little brisk, cheery, cleanly, snug common brick edifices that they had been ever since they were built. The new style of buildings had grown up round about them, and was dotted here and there amongst them; so that the range of houses in Squab-street looked like a row of uneven teeth. The original settlers, who at first had been rather overawed by the immigrants, had in time come to look upon their arrival as rather a benefit than otherwise; the doctors extended the number and the importance of their patients; the government clerks bragged judiciously of the "swells" who lived in their street; and the lodging-housekeepers, secure with leases of many unexpired years, raised their prices season after season, and found plenty of fish to swallow their hooks.
The house which Lady Muriel and Ramsay Caird, after much driving about, worrying of house-agents, search of registers, obtaining of cards to view, and general soul-depression and leg-weariness,--the house which they eventually decided upon was represented in the sibylline books of the agent as an "eligible bachelor's residence, in that fashionable locality Squab-street, S. W." Such indeed it had been for several previous years; the Honourable Peregrine Fluke, known generally as Fat Fluke, from his tendency to obesity, or Fishy Fluke, from a card transaction in which he had once been mixed up, having been its respected occupant. The Honourable Peregrine Fluke was a very eligible bachelor indeed, and led the life of the gay young fellow and the sad dog until he had passed sixty years of age. Then pale Death, knocking away with impartial rat-tat at the doors of all, the huts of the poor and the castellated turrets of kings, stopped at 122 Squab-street, and called for the Honourable Peregrine Fluke. The eligible bachelor succumbing to the summons, his executors came upon the scene; and wishing to do the best for the lieutenant in the Marines, who was understood to be the eligible bachelor's nephew, but who was clearly proved to be his illegitimate son, put up the lease of the house--the only available thing belonging to the deceased--to auction, and found a purchaser in Kilsyth. Lady Muriel's clever tact also secured the furniture at a comparatively cheap rate. It was not first-rate furniture--a little rococo and old-fashioned; but a few things could be imported into the drawing-rooms; and, after all, Ramsay and his wife were not rich people--young beginners, and that kind of thing, and the place would do very well to commence their married life in. Lady Muriel always spoke of "Ramsay and his wife" when any monetary question was under debate, ignoring utterly that all the money came from Madeleine's side. For not only was there Madeleine's twenty thousand pounds, but Kilsyth, when the marriage was settled, announced his intention of making the young couple such an allowance as would prevent his favourite child from missing any of the comforts, any of the luxuries to which she had become accustomed.
The situation was undoubtedly fashionable; but that the house itself might have been more comfortable could not be denied. What was complimentarily called the hall, but was really the passage, was so small, that the enormous footmen, awaiting the descent of their employers from the little drawing-rooms above, dared not house themselves therein. Two of them would have filled it to overflowing; so they were compelled either to remain with the carriages, or to run the chance of being out of the way when required, and solace themselves in the tap of the Battersea Arms, down the adjacent mews. The door was so small and so low, that these great creatures rubbed their cockades and ruffled their coats in passing through it. The house stood at the corner of the mews, and every vehicle that drove in or out caused an earthquake-like sensation as it passed. Doors creaked, china rocked, floors groaned, walls trembled. The little dining-room was like a red-flocked tank; the little drawing-rooms encumbered with the newly-imported extra furniture, were so choke-full, that it was with the utmost difficulty that visitors could thread their way between table and couch and ottoman and _étagère_. It required a knowledge of the science of navigation to tack round the piano; and the visitor, when once he had reached a seat by the hostess near the fireplace, could scarcely devote himself to conversation, owing to the trouble which filled his mind as to how he would ever get away again. It was not advisable to open any of the side-windows, even in the hottest weather, or a stably odour at once pervaded the house, and the forcible language addressed by the grooms to the horses, whose toilet was performed in the open yard, was a little too audible. It was impossible for guests to go through the ceremony of "taking down" to dinner. The steep little ladder-like staircase was only passable by one person at a time; and in the narrow little tank of a dining-room the people who sat with their backs to the fire were roasted alive, and had the additional pleasure of having to eat their meat vegetable-less and sauce-less, there being no approach to them and no passing them. Still everyone said that the situation was delightful, and the house was "quite charming;" and Lady Muriel and Ramsay Caird took great credit to themselves for having secured it.
Madeleine herself was but little impressed by it. It was immaterial to her where she lived, or in what style of house. She shrugged her shoulders when they told her the rooms were charming; she raised her eyebrows when her servants complained of darkness and inconvenience. "It did very well," was her highest commendation, and she never found fault. If this girl's life had not been strangely solitary and without companionship, she would have had all sorts of confidences to exchange with some half-dozen intimates as to her new life, her new home, her new career. As it was, she dropped into it quietly, with scarcely a remark to any one. After her little and short-lived daydream had dissolved, after she had awakened to the exact realities which were about her, her period of suspense was very short. What passed between her and her brother Ronald at the interview which, as settled with Lady Muriel, he sought at his sister's hands was never known. The result was satisfactory to the prime movers in the scheme; and the result was that Madeleine was to marry Ramsay Caird. There was another interview connected with the matter which neither Lady Muriel nor Ronald ever heard of. When the news was first announced to him by his wife, Kilsyth received it very quietly. The next morning, before my lady had risen, the fond father, in pursuance of an appointment made in a note secretly sent up by the maid the night before, went to his darling's room, and had a half-hour's long and earnest conversation with her. Earnest on his side at all events: he asked her whether this engagement had been brought about of her own free will; if she had thought over it sufficiently; if she would wish the time of betrothal to be lengthened beyond the usual period; if there were anything, in fact, in which she would wish to make reference to him, and in which he could aid her. To all these inquiries, urged in the warmest and most affectionate manner, he got but the same kind of reply. Madeleine kissed her father fondly. She hated the thought of leaving him, she said; but it would do very well. It would do very well! She had not even the heart to be deceitful--to feign delight when she did not feel it. It would do very well! Kilsyth's warm heart beat more slowly as he istened to this lukewarm appreciation of the expected joys of his daughter's future; he scarcely comprehended anything so _fade_ and so spiritless from a young girl about to undergo such an important change in all the phases of her existence. He again pressed his question home, and received the same answer; and then he made up his mind, for the thousandth time in his life, that women were extraordinary creatures, and that there was no dealing with them. This was a very favourite axiom of his, and had been enounced with much solemnity frequently. On this occasion, however, he kept silence, shaking his head in a very thoughtful and prophetic manner as he descended the stairs to his own dressing-room. It would do very well! Madeleine thought of the reply which she had given to the most important question ever put to her, after her father had left her and when she was alone. She knew her father well enough to be certain that a word spoken at that time by her to him would have stopped the engagement, and left her free. And what would then have ensued? She would have made an enemy of Lady Muriel, with whom she had to live; she would have deeply annoyed Ronald, who had always, in his odd way, shown the greatest love for her and the keenest interest in her welfare; and in the great question of her life she would have advanced not one whit. Chudleigh Wilmot was gone--gone for ever. An alliance--a continuance even of the friendship, such as it had been, with him was impossible; her friends wanted her to marry Ramsay Caird. Well, then, it would do very well!
A phrase significant of a state of mind in which marriages are often undertaken, but surely an unlucky and a pitiable state of mind. Something more than a tacit acquiescence is meant by the vows of the marriage-service; and though cynics endeavour to persuade us that these vows are far more frangible and far more often broken than they used to be, it is as well to believe in the whole force of them while we stand before the altar-rails, and before the priest utters his benediction. And the worst of it all was that the phrase expressed Madeleine's feelings thoroughly--her feelings as regarded her marriage, her feelings towards her husband. It _was_ Ramsay Caird--it might have been Clement Penruddock, or Frank Only, or Lord Roderick Douglas, or half-a-dozen others. She had an equal liking for all these men; no love for any one of them. In her earlier girlish days, some year or two beforehand, she had wondered which of the young men who frequented the house would propose to her, and which of them she would marry. None of them had ever proposed to her. They saw long before she did that she was marked down for Ramsay Caird. These sort of things are concealed with the utmost discretion by long-headed mothers, are never suspected by daughters, and are discussed between male friends of the family with much openness and freedom. She had been a favourite with all these pleasant youths; but they knew perfectly well why Ramsay Caird was always at the house, and why he inevitably had the best chance; and their regard for Lady Muriel was by no means diminished by the clever manner in which she aided and assisted her protégé.
After marriage, at least during the first few months after marriage, it was very much the same. Madeleine "liked" her husband; he was quite gentlemanly, genial, cheery, very hospitable, very fond of pleasure, very fond of spending money on her, on himself, on anyone. He never interfered with her in the smallest degree, and never was happier than when she was under the chaperonage of her mother, and his attendance on her was not required. During the first few months of her married life she received a vast number of callers; all of whose visits she duly repaid; went out constantly to dinners, balls, receptions of all kinds, to operas and theatres, private and public fêtes,--everywhere, in short, where people can go--with decency and enjoy themselves. Not that Madeleine enjoyed herself. "It would do very well," seemed to be the keynote no less in her pleasures than in the rest of her life. In company she sat with the same ever-blank look until she was roused. Then she responded with the same smile. O, so unlike her old smile! With an upward glance of her blue eyes, where there was no light now, and with the little society-laugh which she had recently learned, and which was so different from the hearty ringing burst which used to greet her father's ears at Kilsyth in the old days before her illness--those days which seemed to her, to them all, but to her most of all, so long ago.
Visitors she had in plenty. Scarcely a morning passed without a call from Lady Muriel, who, still priding herself upon the admirable manner in which by her tact her stepdaughter had been "settled," looked in to see how she was getting on, to learn who had been to see her during the preview day, what parties she had been to, who she had met, what their reception of her had been, and what invitations for forthcoming gaieties she had received. A comparison of notes on these last matters, now a favourite occupation of Lady Muriel's, with whose great name the world of fashion had begun to busy itself, proclaiming her as one of its leaders,--and she, always equal to the occasion, had accepted the tribute gracefully, and, as in everything else, conscientiously discharged the duties of her position,--then luncheon, to which meal Lady Muriel would frequently remain, and when some of the more intimate friends of the family, notably Mrs. M'Diarmid, would drop in; not that Mrs. M'Diarmid's accession added much to the comfort of the meal. The dear old lady, when her favourite project of marrying Madeleine to Wilmot had been untimely nipped in the bud, and when she saw that Ramsay Caird, whom she cordially disliked, was the accepted suitor, relinquished all opposition in silence, and contented herself with sniffing loudly, as the sole demonstration of her displeasure. That marriage-service, which she had pictured to herself with so many different "eligibles" as bridegrooms, might, but for the presence of mind of his Right Reverence of Boscastle, have been sorely interrupted by the defiant sniffs which came from the right-hand pew close by the altar-rails, where Mrs. Mac, dressed in the brown _moire_ which had so often filled her dreams, had bestowed herself, to the deep indignation of the pew opener. But she did not allow her disapproval of the marriage to interfere with her love for "her dear child;" she came constantly to Squab-street; and the pleasantest hours of Madeleine's life were passed in the society of this good old woman, when she knew that there was no call upon her to exert herself in any way, or to show herself otherwise than she really was; when she could lie back in her chair, and indulge herself with the sweet sad daydream of "what might have been," which contrasted so harshly and unsatisfactorily with what was.
A drive in her stepmother's carriage, or a round of calls in her own brougham, filled up the afternoon, until it was time to return home to preside at her tea-table and receive her friends. After her engagement had been regularly announced there had been a good deal of fuss made about that five-o'clock tea-table; the young men who were intimate at Brook-street had vowed that they would make it the pleasantest in London; that more news should be heard there than anywhere else; and that the men who write in the _Cotillon_--a charming amateur journal of political _canards_ and society gossip, published during the season--should go on their knees and implore invitations. The tea-table had been established in due course, but it had not been such a success as had been anticipated. Madeleine was _triste_ and quiet to a degree. The men could not understand it, she had always been so pleasant before her marriage; unlike most women, who are always a doosid sight pleasanter after it. They had been in the habit of finding their old partners of the two or three previous seasons, now married, by no means indisposed to listen to the compliments which they had been erst in the habit of addressing to them; and the practice had derived additional piquancy from the fact of the change of condition in the person addressed. There was Lady Violet Penruddock, for instance, only married to old Clem--O, within a few weeks of Miss Kilsyth's marriage; and how jolly she was! Looked as fresh as possible--fresh as paint, some fellow said; but that was a confounded shame, don't you know,--only a little powder and that kind of thing, what all girls use, don't you know--doosid cruel you women are to one another! There was Lady Vi, jolly as a sand-boy! Old Clem was at his club, or some place, and didn't come home till late, and there was always tearing fun at Grosvenor-gate. Charmin' woman, Lady Vi; and very wise of old Clem to like to read the evening papers, and that kind of thing. Not that there was anything to be complained of Caird in this matter; never thought much of Caird, eh, did you? he was never at home; but his wife had grown so confoundedly dull, hipped, and that kind of thing--bored, don't you know? sits still and don't say a word except yes and no; don't help a feller out a hit, you know, and looks rather dreary and dull.
Poor Madeleine! she was beginning to be found out by her friends. If you live in society you must contribute your quota, according to your means--either your rank, your money, your talent--towards the general stock; but unless your birth will warrant it, you must never be dull; and in no case must you differ from the ordinary proceedings of your order. Madeleine was very unlike Lady Violet Penruddock, she felt--very unlike indeed. But that was her misfortune, not her fault. She would have been very glad to laugh and flirt with all her old friends, to talk nonsense and innocent scandal, and all the society chit-chat, if she had been able; but she was not able. Under all her quiet manner and shyness and girlishness Madeleine Caird possessed what Lady Violet Penruddock had never pretended to--a heart. That heart had been hurt and torn and lacerated; and as in the present day it is not possible to explain this, or rather it is considered essential to hide it, Madeleine was obliged to put up with the imputation of dulness, when in reality she was merely suffering from having loved someone who, as she thought, did not care for her, and having been compelled to marry somebody for whom she had no real affection.
Did Ramsay Caird ever fancy that his wife did not care for him, or at least was not as romantically fond of him as are most wives of their husbands during the first few months after marriage? If he did, did the reflection ever cost him a moment's anxiety, a moment's distrust, a thought that perhaps his own course of living was not precisely adapted to enthral the affections of a young girl? Not for an instant. Ramsay, when Lady Muriel's half-spoken hints had first enlightened him as to the position which, for his dead brother's sake, her ladyship proposed to him to hold, had cogitated over the matter in an essentially business-like spirit, and had come to the conclusion that such an opportunity ought by all means to be made the most of. He was a calculating cautious young man, entirely devoid of impulse; and--as had been suspected by more than one of the frequenters of the Brook-street establishment, who, however, were much too good fellows to hint at it openly--he was a man fond of common, not to say gross pleasures, which his limited means prevented him from indulging in. A marriage with Madeleine Kilsyth, herself a very nice girl, as society girls went, would give him position, ease, and money--leave him his own master, with power and opportunity to pursue his own devices--and was therefore for him in every respect most desirable. With all his easy bearing, his _laiesez-aller_ manners, and his apparent _nonchalance_, Mr. Ramsay Caird possessed his full share of the national 'cuteness; and having made up his mind to win, looked carefully round him to see where his course lay straightest, and what shoals were to be avoided. He determined to make a waiting race of it, convinced that any eagerness or ill-timed enthusiasm might spoil his chance; he saw that his game was to be quiet and wait upon his oars until he received the signal to dash out into mid-stream; his complete willingness to attend to all suggestions, and to take his time from the family, quite fascinated Ronald Kilsyth, from whom at first Caird had apprehended opposition; and, as we have seen, when the time came, he declared himself with so strong a show that no other competitor dared put in an appearance.
But when the race had been run and the prize secured, Ramsay Caird felt that the crisis was past, that the long course of tutelage under which he had placed himself was at an end, and that henceforward he would enjoy those benefits for the acquisition of which he had regulated his conduct for so many months. He had not the smallest love for his wife; he had even but small admiration for her looks. Madeleine's blue eyes and golden hair were too cold and insipid for his taste. In his freer moments he was accustomed to talk about "soul"--an attribute which poor Maddy was supposed not to possess--and "liquid eyes" and "classic features" and the "sunny South"--which, as Tommy Toshington remarked, when told of it, accounted for his having seen Caird on the previous Sunday afternoon ringing at the door of the villa temporarily tenanted by Madame Favorita, the _prima donna_ of the Opera, and situated in the Alpha-road. Tommy Toshington invariably happened to be passing by when the wrong man was ringing at the wrong house; and got an immense number of pleasant dinners out of the coincidence. So that Ramsay Caird saw but little of the interior of his own house after leaving it in the mornings. He at first had been somewhat punctilious and deferential with Lady Muriel, taking care to be at home when she came, and to be in attendance when he thought she would require his presence; but after a few weeks he threw off this restraint, and kept the hours which suited him. Kilsyth looked blank and uncomfortable once or twice when at dinners, specially given in honour of the new-married couple, Madeleine had appeared alone, and Lady Muriel had proffered a story of Ramsay's toothache or business appointment; and Ronald had looked black, and held more than one muttered conversation with his stepmother, in the course of which his brows contracted, and his mouth grew very rigid. But Madeleine never uttered a word of complaint, although Lady Muriel was in daily expectation of an outburst. She sat quietly, sadly, uninterestedly by. Better, far better, for all concerned if she had had sufficient feeling of her own loneliness, of her own neglected condition, to appeal in language however forcible and strong. To labour under the "it-will-do-very-well" feeling is to be on the high road to destruction.
CHAPTER IX. Inquisitorial.
Lady Muriel Kilsyth had carried her cherished plan into execution--had seen her wishes as regarded Madeleine and her kinsman Ramsay Caird fulfilled. With wonderfully little trouble, too. When she thought over it all, she was surprised at the apparent ease and rapidity with which the marriage, which she had regarded, after Madeleine's illness at Kilsyth, as a difficult matter to manage, had been brought about. Time had done it all for her--time, assisted by her own tact and skill, and the accomplished fashion after which she had removed all removable obstacles, and availed herself of every circumstance and indication in favour of her cherished project. Nor had the smallest injury to her own position resulted from manoeuvering which Lady Muriel would have been ready to blast, if performed by anyone else, with the ruinous epithet, "vulgar matchmaking." No, not the smallest. Indeed, Lady Muriel Kilsyth was one of those fortunate individuals whose position may be generally regarded as, under all circumstances, unassailable. She stood as well with Ronald as ever; and Lady Muriel, with all her imperturbable but never offensive pride, was more anxious about standing well with her step-son than the world would have consented to believe she could have been about securing the good opinion of any human being. She stood, as she always had done, first and chief in the love and esteem of her husband, who, if he did not "understand" her--and he was none the less happy with her that he assuredly did not--made up for his want of comprehension by the most uncompromising trust, devotion, and admiration,--all manifested in his own quiet peculiar way. As this "way" included allowing her the most absolute liberty of action, and an apparent impossibility of questioning her judgment on any conceivable point, it suited Lady Muriel admirably.
Kilsyth was perfectly satisfied with Madeleine's marriage. He believed in love-matches, and it never occurred to him to doubt that this was one. He had quietly taken it for granted, first, because Ramsay Caird had spoken of their "mutual attachment," when he had formally asked Kilsyth for the precious gift of his daughter. Then, Lady Muriel had spoken so warmly of Ramsay's love for Madeleine, had shown such generous and sensitive susceptibility to the possibility of Kilsyth's thinking she had been wrong and injudicious in admitting to such close household intimacy a relative of her own, who was not qualified, as far as fortune was concerned, to pretend to his daughter's hand. Thirdly, if he never doubted Ramsay's being in love with Madeleine--and he never did doubt it for an instant--what could be more natural than that all the young men who had the chance should be in love with Madeleine? Still less could it have occurred to him to doubt that Madeleine was in love with Ramsay. Ramsay had neither rank nor fortune to give her--that was very certain; and Kilsyth knew of only two motives as possible incentives to marriage--love and money. Under any circumstances, he never could have suspected his daughter of being actuated by the latter. The fine, gallant, unsophisticated, hearty old fellow, who had had a fair share of happiness all his life, and whose knowledge of human nature was as superficial as his judgment of it was genial, had no notion that pique, thwarted love, blighted hope, wounded pride, the strong and desperate necessity of hiding suffering from kindred household eyes, or an infatuated yearning for the freedom, in certain respects; whose value a man can never estimate, and which a girl gains by her marriage, were among the not unfrequent causes of the taking of that tremendous step. He had never talked to Maddy about her love for Ramsay Caird, certainly; it would never have occurred to him to "make the girl uncomfortable," as he would have expressed it, by any such proceeding; but he would as soon have suspected that Madeleine had brought an asp to her new home among her wedding-clothes as believed that the girl's heart hid, ever so far down in its depths, another image than her husband's.
So Kilsyth was satisfied, in his genial and outspoken way; and Ronald was satisfied, after his grim undemonstrative fashion. And Lady Muriel stood well with all concerned, especially with Madeleine. All the petty restraints of "stepmother" authority, inevitably resented even by the most amiable natures, however mildly exercised, were gone now. Maddy was on a social level with Lady Muriel; there could never more be any of the little discords between them there had been; and Madeleine, as she took her own place hi the world, and felt, with a sudden sort of shock, as if she had grown ever so much older, woke up to a fuller consciousness of Lady Muriel's many attractions than she had ever previously attained. She recognised her beauty, her grace, her dignity, her perfect breeding, her thorough _savoir faire_ with real appreciation now, and true pleasure and admiration; and one of the happiest thoughts in which she indulged was of how she would be such "good friends" with Lady Muriel, and how she would take her for the model of her conduct, and in every respect her social guide. She was perfectly aware of the dissimilarity which existed between them; and she never would have been guilty of the absurdity of "copying" Lady Muriel's manners, but she might be guided by her for all that. So much the more readily now that she was not always in dread of hearing Wilmot mentioned, of being reminded of him, of exciting a suspicion by some inadvertence that she had been guilty of the folly of thinking he had cared for her just a little. No fear of that now. She was married and _safe_--poor child!
Unsuspicious by nature, ignorant of the world, and unconsciously living a life apart, a life in her own thoughts and reveries, Madeleine was wonderfully indifferent to the conduct of her husband. Either she was really unconscious of it for some time after it had begun to excite the fears of her father, the suspicions of Lady Muriel, the anger of her brother, and the gossip of society, or she successfully contrived to appear so. The judgment of the world leaned to the latter hypothesis; but the judgment of the world is always uncharitable, and frequently wrong. In the present instance it was both. Madeleine did not know that Ramsay Caird was behaving ill. He was always kind in his manner to her; and if he was--which there was no denying--a good deal away from home, why, he did not differ in that respect from many other men whom she knew or heard of, and it never occurred to Madeleine to resent his absence. Neither did it occur to her to ask herself whether she was not in real truth rather glad he should be so much away from her, nor to reflect that the world, which knew he was, would inevitably come to one of two conclusions, either that she was a most unhappy wife, or that she had never loved her husband.
No; Madeleine Caird thought of none of these things. She went on her way caring very little for anything; not entirely unhappy, surprised indeed at the variations in her own spirits, unable to account for the overwhelming sadness which beset her at some times, and finding equally inexplicable the ease with which she flung off this sadness at others. She was looked at and wondered at and talked of daily by scores of her acquaintances, and, she was entirely unconscious that she was the subject of any such scrutiny.
Lady Muriel understood Madeleine's state of mind perfectly. She had a clue to it, which she alone possessed; and while she regarded Ramsay Caird's conduct with all the by no means inconsiderable strength of indignation of which she was capable, she was quite aware that Madeleine was only in the conventional sense an object of compassion.
Was Lady Muriel quite satisfied, was she perfectly content with her success? Hardly so; in the first place, because she was forced to condemn Ramsay Caird, and she did not like to acknowledge the necessity; in the second place, because the result of this success, personal to her, that to which it was to owe its best value, its chief sweetness, was delayed. She chafed at Wilmot's absence now; she had hailed it until Madeleine's marriage had been an accomplished fact; she had tolerated it for a little time afterwards; but now--now her impatience was undisguised to herself, now she wanted this man to return--this man who lent her life such a strange charm, in whose presence the common atmosphere took a vivid colouring, and every-day things and occurrences assumed a different meaning and value.
Lady Muriel had heard of Chudleigh Wilmot's accession to fortune reasonably soon after the occurrence of the event. Kilsyth happened to be out of town for a few days on the occasion of Mr. Foljambe's death, and had therefore not attended the funeral. General report, at least in Lady Muriel's particular sphere, had not yet proclaimed the succession of one unlinked by ties of blood to the rich banker to the large fortune with which rumour correctly accredited Mr. Foljambe, and it remained for Lady Muriel to learn the news from the same source whence Henrietta Prendergast had derived the account of Madeleine's marriage. It was from Mrs. Charlton that Lady Muriel heard the interesting tidings, and Mrs. Prendergast was present on the occasion. It was the first time she had ever been in the same room with Lady Muriel Kilsyth, and she had regarded her with lively curiosity, and much genuine, honest admiration. The finished style of Lady Muriel's beauty--the sort of style which conveys the impression that the possessor of so much beauty is beautiful as much by a sovereign act of her will as by the decree and gift of nature; her grace of manner, true stamp of the _grande dame_ set upon her, had irresistible attractions for Henrietta, who was one of those women, by no means so rare as the cynics would have us believe, who can heartily and enthusiastically admire the qualities, physical and mental, of individuals of their own sex.
"I am sure you will be glad to hear the news Mrs. Prendergast has just told us," Mrs. Charlton had said; and then Lady Muriel learned that Mr. Foljambe had made Wilmot his heir. She received the intelligence with the perfection of friendly interest; she turned courteously to Mrs. Prendergast, as though taking it for granted her congratulations were to be addressed to her individually, as Wilmot's relative or friend; and as she did so her heart beat rapidly, with the pulse of one who has escaped a great danger, as she thought, "Had this happened only a few weeks sooner, all might have been lost!"
It was on the same day and at the same hour that Wilmot learned the same fact, from the letter of his dead friend, at Berlin.
Had Lady Muriel been a younger, a weaker, or a less experienced woman, she must inevitably have betrayed some emotion beyond that of mere gratification at a friend's good fortune to the keen eyes of Henrietta Prendergast. But her _savoir faire_ was perfect, and she said and looked precisely what she ought to have said and looked. There was a strange accord in the impulsive thoughts of each of these women, so different, so widely separated by circumstances. As Henrietta repeated the intelligence for Lady Muriel's information which she had already communicated to Mrs. Charlton, she too was thinking, "Had this happened only a few weeks sooner, all might have been lost!"
Madeleine's marriage was of no less importance to the designs and the hopes of Henrietta Prendergast than to those of Lady Muriel Kilsyth.
"I wonder what he will do now?" said Miss Charlton, who had some of the advantages of silliness, among them a happy _naïveté_, which made it always safe to calculate upon her making some remark or asking some question which others might desire to proffer on their own behalf, but for the restraints of good taste. Lady Muriel could not imagine; Mrs. Prendergast could not guess. Lady Muriel remarked that Dr. Wilmot would probably be guided by the nature of Mr. Foljambe's property, and the terms of the bequest.
"I fancy the whole property is in money, with the exception of the house in Portland-place," said Henrietta. "I have heard my poor friend Mrs. Wilmot say that Mr. Foljambe hated all the responsibility of landed property, and had none. So Dr. Wilmot will be free--perhaps he will live altogether abroad."
"Do you think that probable?" said Lady Muriel, very courteously implying Mrs. Prendergast's more intimate acquaintance with the object of the discussion. "For a man of his turn of mind, I fancy there's no place like London--certainly no country like England."
"Ah, yes, Lady Muriel, very true," said the irrepressible Miss Charlton, making her mother wince for the twentieth time since the commencement of the visit; "but then, you see, he has such painful recollections of London. His poor wife dying as she did, you know, while he was away attending to strangers."
"Very true," said Lady Muriel--with perfect self-possession, and purposely turning her head away from Mrs. Charlton, who glanced angrily and despairingly at her unconscious daughter, and towards Henrietta, who shared her friend's dismay. "We all regretted that circumstance very deeply; and I do not wonder Dr. Wilmot should have felt it as he did: still, he is so strong-minded a man--"
"And so perfectly convinced that it had nothing to do with his wife's death--I mean that he could not have saved her," said Henrietta quickly.
Lady Muriel looked at her inquiringly.
"Mrs. Prendergast was Mrs. Wilmot's intimate Mend, and was with her when she died," Mrs. Charlton said; and then another visitor came in, and a _tête-à-tête_ established itself between Lady Muriel and Henrietta, which caused her visit to be prolonged considerably beyond any former experience of Mrs. Charlton, and gave her ladyship a good deal to think of, when she had ordered her coachman to go into the Park, and gave herself up to her thoughts, mechanically returning, the numerous salutes which she received, and thinking sometimes how strange it was that there was no one in all this great crowded London whom it could interest her to see.
"She must have been a strange woman," thought Lady Muriel, "and desperately uninteresting, I am sure. That Mrs. Prendergast has plenty of character. He never mentioned her, that I can remember; but then he talked so little of himself, he said so little from which any notion of his daily life and its surroundings could be gathered. Yes, I am sure his wife was a tiresome, commonplace creature, with no kind of companionship in her--an insipid doll. What wonderful things one sees under the sun in the way of unsuitable marriages! To think of such a man marrying such a woman! But it is stranger still"--and here Lady Muriel's face darkened, and a hard look came into her beautiful brown eyes--"it is stranger still to think that such a man should be attracted by Madeleine--such a merely 'pretty girl.' And he was--he was; I could not be mistaken. If this fortune had come a little sooner, what would he have done? He could not of course have proposed to her--impossible in the time he might have told Kilsyth, and gotten his leave, when the year should be up. What a danger! I am glad I never thought of such a thing; I am glad the possibility never occurred to me. Ronald, indeed, would have been a barrier; but I need not, I must not deceive myself, Kilsyth would not have listened to Ronald where Madeleine's happiness was concerned. When will he return? He must come soon, I suppose, to arrange his affairs. I need not fear his admiration of Madeleine now--he is not a man to admire the woman who could marry Ramsay Caird. If she did betray to him that she loved him, he would have the best and plainest proof in her marriage how fickle and flimsy such a feeling is in her case."
Lady Muriel Kilsyth was in many respects a very superior, in many respects a highly-principled woman; but she had dreamed a forbidden dream, she had cherished a perverse thought, and such speculations as she would once have shrunk from with incredulous amazement had become not only possible but easy to her.
And then all her thoughts directed themselves towards the one object--Wilmot's return. When would he come back? She wrote the news of the disposition of Mr. Foljambe's will to Kilsyth; and he answered in a few jovial lines, expressing his heartfelt satisfaction. She told the news to Madeleine; carelessly, skilfully, opening a large parcel of books as she spoke, and looking at the contents. Madeleine was in her ladyship's boudoir; her bonnet lay on the sofa by her side, and she was idly twisting the strings.
"You are going to fetch Ramsay from the club, are you, Maddy?"
"Yes," said Madeleine listlessly, and looking at the clock; "presently, I suppose. Have you anything new there?"
"New? yes. Good? I can't say. Nothing you would care for, I fancy. All the magazines, though. A new volume by Merivale,--not much after your fashion. A new novel by nobody knows whom--_Squire Fullerton's Will_. By the bye, the name reminds me--I don't think you have heard about Mr. Foljambe's will?"
"No," said Madeleine rising, and tying on her bonnet at the chimney-glass.
"Your father is delighted. Only fancy, Mr. Foljambe has left all his money to Dr. Wilmot."
Madeleine did not answer for a minute. Then she said,
"I am very glad. Was Mr. Foljambe very rich?"
"I believe so. They talk of its being a very large fortune. What a delightful change for Dr. Wilmot! Of course he will give up his profession now, and take a place in society."
"Do you think he would give up his profession for anything, Lady Muriel?" asked Madeleine.
Lady Muriel was standing at a table, still sorting the books; she could not see Maddy's face.
"Give up his profession! Of course, my dear. A man of fortune is not likely to practise as a doctor, I should think; besides, the position."
"Everyone--I mean Mr. Foljambe always said Dr. Wilmot was so devoted to his profession," said Madeleine hesitatingly.
"Of course he was; and of course his friends said so. It is the best and wisest thing a man can have said of him--the best character he can get, while he wants it, and easily laid aside when he doesn't. What's this? _Wine of Shiraz!_ O, another book of travels with a fantastical name! Are you going, Maddy? Will you have one of these productions to try?"
"No, thank you," said Madeleine; and she took leave of Lady Muriel, and did not call for Ramsay at the club, but went home, and passed the evening with a book lying open on her knee--a book of which she never turned a page, and wondered when Chudleigh Wilmot would come home. She wondered whether his wealth would make him happy. She wondered whether, if he had been a rich man and not a hard-working doctor, he would have cared a little about her when his wife died; and whether it was really as Lady Muriel had said, or whether his devotion to his profession was genuine and true. She wondered whether he ever thought of her; she felt sure he knew of her marriage. Well, not _ever_--something forbade her using that word in her thoughts, something told her it would be unjust and unkind; but much? Ronald would hear about this bequest of Mr. Foljambe's; would be glad--or sorry--or neither? Supposing it had come earlier, and he, Wilmot, had cared for her! would things have been different? would Ronald--But no, no; she must not think of that. Let her still believe he had seen in her only a patient, only a case of fever, only an occasion for the exercise of his skill. She wondered, if "things had been different"--which was the phrase by which she translated to herself "if she had married Wilmot"--whether it would have harmed anyone; she did not dare to think how happy it would have made her. Ramsay? But no; not all the simplicity, not all the credulous egotism of girlhood--and Madeleine had her fair share of those natural qualities--could persuade her that Ramsay's life would have been marred if their marriage had never taken place. And so she wondered and wondered, recurring often in her thoughts solemnly to the dead woman who had been Wilmot's wife, and thinking sadly, wonderingly, over that life, all unknown to her; and yet concerning which some mysterious instinct had whispered to her vaguely and unhappily. She hoped people would not talk much to her, or before her, of this bequest of Mr. Foljambe's. It embarrassed her, though she knew it ought not; who ought to be so ready as she to speak of him, to whom no one owed so much?
Henrietta Prendergast wondered too when Dr. Wilmot would return to London; and questioned Dr. Whittaker, who had contrived in a wonderfully brief space of time to accumulate an extraordinary quantity of information relative to the nature and extent of Wilmot's inheritance. The worthy man possessed an inherent talent for gossip, which was likely to be of great service to him in his career, being admittedly an immense recommendation for a physician, especially when his practice lies in a class of society largely productive of _malades imaginaires_. Wilmot was left at perfect liberty, except in the matter of the house in Portland-place. It was not to be sold; and Wilmot had instructed the solicitors to keep up the establishment, and retain the old housekeeper and butler permanently in his service. As for his old house in Charles-street, Wilmot had behaved most generously indeed--Dr. Whittaker would say he had placed it entirely at his disposal nobly: for the remainder of his lease; and by the time that should expire, he had expressed his conviction that Dr. Whittaker would be making his fortune.
"All the more chance of it, Mrs. Prendergast," said Whittaker with his smoothest smile, "that Wilmot will be out of my way; he's a wonderfully clever fellow, wonderfully; and I can't imagine a more popular physician. I assure you he reminds me, in his way of dealing with a case, of Carlyle's description of Frederick the Great's eyes, 'rapidity resting upon depth.' Quite Wilmot--quite Wilmot, I assure you." And Dr. Whittaker, considering that he had made a remarkably good hit, took himself off, leaving Henrietta with new matter for her thoughts.
The three women who thus pondered and thought and speculated about Chudleigh Wilmot had plenty of time during which to indulge in these vain occupations. Time passed on, and Mr. Foljambe's heir did not present himself to the tide of congratulations which awaited him. The first, interest of the intelligence died out. Other rich men died, and left their wealth to other heirs expectant or non-expectant "Foljambe's will" and "Wilmot's luck" had almost ceased to be talked about when Chudleigh Wilmot ventured into society. Henrietta Prendergast was the first of the three who saw him. As for Lady Muriel and Madeleine, they were less likely to meet him than any women in London; for the good reason that Wilmot sedulously avoided them. And for a time successfully; but that was not always to be. He believed that the page of the book of his life on which "Madeleine Kilsyth" was written was closed for ever; Fate had written upon another, "Madeleine Caird."
CHAPTER X. Against the Grain.
Of all those who were in the habit of seeing Madeleine under circumstances which made it possible for them to observe her closely, her brother had been the last to perceive and the most reluctant to acknowledge that the state of her health was far from satisfactory. Ronald Kilsyth was habitually unobservant in matters of the kind; and he usually saw Madeleine in the evening, when the false spirits and deceptive flush of her disease produced an appearance of health and vivacity which might have imposed upon a closer observer. He knew she had a cough indeed; but then "Maddy always had a cough--I never remember her without one," was the ready reply to any observations made on the subject in his hearing, and to any misgivings which occasionally flitted across his own mind. It did not occur to him that in this "fact" there was no reply at all, but rather an additional reason for apprehension concerning this cough. When Madeleine was a child, it was acknowledged that she was delicate. "She had it from her poor mother," Kilsyth would say--Kilsyth, who never had a day's illness in his life, and in whose family ninety years was considered a fair age. But she was to get strong, to "outgrow her delicacy" as she grew up. When Madeleine was a girl, she was still delicate; perhaps more continuously so than she had been as a child, though no longer subject to the maladies of childhood; but she was to get stronger as she grew older. Now Madeleine had grown older; the delicate girl, with her fragile figure and poetical face, was no more; in her place was a beautiful, self-possessed young woman--a wife, with a place in the world, and a career before her. Strange, but Madeleine was still delicate; the time unhesitatingly foretold, looked forward to so anxiously with a kind of weary patience by her father, had come; but it had not brought the anticipated, the desired result. Madeleine was more delicate than ever. Her friends saw it, her father saw it; her stepmother saw it more clearly than either--saw it with feelings which would have been remorseful, had she not arrested their tendency in that direction by constantly reminding herself that Madeleine had been delicate as a child and as a girl; but her brother had not permitted the fact to establish itself in his mind.
The old affection, tacitly interrupted for a time, when Madeleine had felt the unexpressed opposition of her brother to Chudleigh Wilmot, had been as tacitly restored between them since Madeleine's marriage. She had felt during that sad interval, all whose sadness was hidden and unspoken, never taking an external shape, but formless, like a sorrow in a dream, that circumstances and her surroundings were stronger than she was; she had felt somewhat like a prisoner, against and for whom conspiracies were formed, but who had no power to meddle in them, and no distinct knowledge of their methods or objects. Mrs. M'Diarmid, she vaguely felt, was for her, in the secret desire of her heart; her brother against her. Ronald would have been successful in any case, she had been quite sure, even if he had not been at once justified and relieved of all apprehensions by Wilmot's departure. Hedid not care for her--he had gone away; they might each and all have spared the pains they had taken--their bugbear had been only a myth. Then Madeleine, in whose mind justice had a high place, turned again to her brother as tacitly, as completely, without explanation, as she had turned from him, and loved him, admired him, thought about him, and clung to him as she had been wont to do. Which surprised Ronald Kilsyth, who had taken it for granted that Madeleine, who had married Ramsay Caird a good deal to the Captain's surprise--who had his theories concerning affinities and analogies, into which this alliance by no means fitted--but not at all to his displeasure, would discard everybody in favour of her husband, and devote herself to him after the gushing fashion of very young brides in ordinary. He had smiled grimly to himself occasionally, as he wondered whether Lady Muriel would be altogether satisfied with a match which was so largely of her own bringing about, and by which, whatever advantages she had secured to her own family, for whom she entertained a truly clannish attachment, she had undeniably provided herself with a young, beautiful, and ever-present rival in her own queendom of fashion and social sway. "Let them fight it out," Captain Kilsyth had thought; "it would have been pleasanter if Maddy had gone farther afield; but it cannot be helped. I am sure she is glad to get away from Lady Muriel; and I am sure Lady Muriel is glad to get rid of her. I don't understand her taking to Caird in this way; for I am as strongly convinced as ever it was no false alarm about Wilmot; she was in love with him; only," and his face reddened, "thank God, she did not know it. However, it is time wasted to wonder about women, even the best and the truest of them, and no very humiliating acknowledgment to say I cannot understand them."
But Captain Kilsyth was destined to find himself unable to discard reflection on his sister and her marriage after this fashion. Madeleine put all his previously conceived ideas to rout, and disconcerted all his expectations. She was by no means engrossed by her husband; she did not assume any of the happy fussiness or fussy happiness which he had observed exhibit themselves in _jeunes ménages_ constructed on the old-fashioned principle of love, as opposed to the modern expedient of _convenance_. She was just as friendly, just as kindly with Ramsay Caird as she had been in the days before their brief engagement, in the days when Ronald had found it difficult to believe that Lady Muriel's wishes and plans would ever be realised. She did not talk about her house, or give herself any of the pretty "married-woman" airs which are additional charms in brides in their teens. She led, as far as Ronald knew, much the same sort of life she had led under her stepmother's chaperonage; and Kilsyth visited her every day: Ronald too, when he was in town; and he soon felt that he was all to her he had formerly been. The innocent, girlish, loving heart had room and power for grief indeed, but none for a half-understood anger, none for the prolongation of an involuntary estrangement. So the first months of Madeleine's married life were pleasant to her brother in his relations with her; and the first thing which occurred to trouble his mind in reference to her was his suspicion and dislike of certain points in Ramsay Caird's conduct Here, again, Madeleine puzzled him. Naturally, he had no sooner conceived this suspicious displeasure against the man to whom such an immense trust as that of his sister's happiness had been committed than he sought to discover by Madeleine's looks and manner whether and how far her happiness was compromised by what he observed. But he failed to discover any of the indications which he sought. Madeleine's spirits were unequal, but her disposition had never been precisely gay; and there was no trace of pique, sullenness, or the consciousness of offence in her manner towards her husband.
It was when Ronald's indignation against Ramsay Caird was rising fast, and he began to think Madeleine either unaccountably indifferent to certain things which women of quite as gentle a nature as hers would inevitably and reasonably resent, or that she was concealing her sentiments, in the interests of her dignity, with a degree of skill and cleverness for which he was far from having given her credit, that his sister's delicate health for the first time attracted Ronald's attention. And Mrs. M'Diarmid was the medium of the first communication on the subject which alarmed him.
As in all similar cases, attention once excited, anxiety once awakened, the progress of both is rapid. Ronald questioned his father, questioned Lady Muriel, questioned Ramsay Caird. In each instance the result was the same. Madeleine was undoubtedly very delicate, and the danger of alarming her, which, as her organisation was highly nervous and sensitive, was considerable, presented a serious obstacle to the taking of the active measures which had become undeniably desirable.
One day Ronald went to see his sister earlier in the day than usual, having been told by Mrs. M'Diarmid that her looks in the evening were not by any paeans a reliable indication of the state of her health. He found her lying on a sofa in her dressing-room, wholly unoccupied, and with an expression of listless weariness in her face and figure which even his unskilled judgment could not avoid observing and appreciating with alarm.
One hand was under her head, the other hung listlessly down; and as Ronald drew near, and took it in his tenderly, he saw how thin the fingers were, how blue the veins, how they marked their course too strongly under the white skin, and how the rose-tint was gone. As he took the gentle hand, he felt that it was cold; but it burned in his clasp before he had held it a minute. Like all men of his stamp, Ronald Kilsyth, when he was touched, was deeply touched; when his mood was tender, it was very tender. Madeleine looked at him; and the love and sadness in her smile pierced at once his well-defended heart.
"What's this I hear, Maddy, about your not being well?" he said, as he seated himself beside her sofa, and kissed her forehead--it was slightly damp, he felt, and she touched it with her handkerchief frequently while he stayed. "You were not complaining last week, when I saw you last; and now I've just come up to town, and been to Brook-street, I find my father and my lady quite full of your not being well. What is it all, Maddy? what are you suffering from, and why have you said nothing about it?"
"I am not very ill, Ronald," said Madeleine, raising herself, and propping herself up on her cushions by leaning on her elbow, one hand under her head, its fingers in her golden hair; more profuse and beautiful than ever Ronald thought the hair was. "I am really not a bit worse than I have been; only I suddenly felt a few days ago that I could not go on making efforts, and going out, and seeing people, and all that kind of thing, any longer; and then papa got uneasy about me. I assure you that is the only difference; and you know it does grow horribly tiresome, dear, don't you? At least you don't know, because you never would do it; and you were right; but I--I hadn't much else to do, and it does not do to seem peculiar; and I went on as long as I could. But this last week was really too much for me, and I had to tell Lady Muriel I must be quiet; and so I have been quiet, lying here."
She gave her brother this simple explanation, her blue eyes looking at him with a smile, and a tone in her voice as though she prayed him not to blame her.
"My poor child, my darling Maddy!" said Ronald, "to think of your trying to go on in that way, and feeling so unequal to it, and fancying alll the time you must! What a wonderful life of humbug and delusion you women lead, to be sure, either with your will or against it! Now tell me, does Ramsay know how ill you are, and how you have been doing all sorts of things which are most unfit for yon, until you are quite worn out?"
"Ramsay is very kind," said Madeleine; and then she hesitated, and the colour deepened painfully in her face; "but you know, Ronald, men are not very patient with women when they are only ailing; if I were seriously ill; it would be quite a different thing. Re really is not in the least to blame," she went on hurriedly; "he gets bored at home, you know; and since I have not been feeling strong, it has been quite a relief to me to be alone."
"I see--I understand," said Ronald; but his tone did not reassure Madeleine.
"You really must not blame him," she repeated. "You know _you_ yourself did not perceive that I was ill before you went away; and it is only within the last week, I assure you. I suppose the cough has weakened me; for some time, in the morning, I have felt giddy going downstairs, so I thought it better not to try it until I get stronger."
"I have not heard you cough much, Madeleine, that is, not more than usual, you know. You have always had a cough, more or less."
"Yes," said Madeleine simply, "ever since I was born, I believe; but it is never really bad, except in the morning, and sometimes at night. Up to this time I have got on very well in the day and the afternoon; and I like the evening best of all, if I am not too tired. I feel quite bright in the evening, especially when I take my drops."
"What drops, Maddy?"
"The drops Sir Saville Rowe ordered for me last winter," said Madeleine. "I got on very well with them, and I don't want anything else. Papa wants me to see some of the great doctors, but there's really no occasion; and I hate strangers. Dr. Whittaker comes occasionally--as Sir Saville wished--and he does well enough. The mere idea of seeing a stranger now--in that way--would make me nervous and miserable." Indeed she flushed up again, looked excited and feverish, and a violent fit of coughing came on, and interrupted any remonstrance on Ronald's part, which perhaps she dreaded.
But she need not have dreaded such remonstrance. There was a consciousness in Ronald's heart which kept him silent; and besides, with every word his sister had spoken, with every instant during which his examination of her, close though furtive, had lasted, increasing alarm had taken firmer hold of him. How had he been so blind? How had he been content to accept appearances in Madeleine's case? how had he failed to search and examine rightly into the story of this marriage, and satisfy himself that his sister's heart was in it, that she had really forgotten Wilmot? For a conviction seized upon Ronald Kilsyth, as he looked at his sister and listened to her, that had she been really happy, this state of things would not have existed. In the angry and suspicious state of his feelings towards Wilmot, he had accorded little attention, and less credence, to his father's confidences respecting Wilmot's opinion and warnings about Madeleine's health. He was too honourable, too true a gentleman, even in his anger to set down Wilmot as insincere, as acting like a charlatan or an alarmist; but he had dismissed the matter from his thoughts with disregard and impatience. How awfully, how fatally wrong he had been! And a flame of anger sprung wildly up in his heart; anger which involved equally himself and Lady Muriel.
Yes, Lady Muriel! All he had thought and done, he had thought and done at her instigation; and though, when Ronald thought the matter over calmly afterwards, as was his wont, he was unable to believe that any other course than that which had ended in the complete separation of Wilmot and Madeleine would have been possible, still he was tormented with this blind burning anger.
When Lady Muriel had aroused his suspicions, had awakened his fears, Wilmot was a married man; but when he had acted upon these fears and suspicions, Wilmot's wife was dead. "It might have been," then he thought. True; but would he not, being without the knowledge, the fear which now possessed him, have at any time, and under any circumstances, prevented it? It cost him a struggle now, when the knowledge and the fear had come, and his mind was full of them, to acknowledge that he would; but Ronald was essentially an honest man--he made the struggle and the acknowledgment. In so far he had no right to blame Lady Muriel.
In so far--but what about Ramsay Caird? How, had that marriage been brought about? How had his sister been induced to marry a man whom he now felt assured she did not lave?--something had revealed it to him, nothing she had said, nothing she had looked. How had this marriage, by which his sister had not gained in rank, wealth, or position, been brought about? (He thought at this stage of his meditations, with a sigh, that Wilmot could even have given her wealth now--how _bizarre_ the arrangements of fate are!) How had that been done? By Lady Muriel of course, and no other. Maddy might have remained contentedly enough at home, might have been suffered gradually to forget Wilmot, and enticed into the amusements and distractions natural to her age and position; there was no need for this extreme measure of inducing her to fix her fate precipitately by a marriage with Ramsay Caird. Yes, Lady Muriel had done it; done it to secure Madeleine's fortune to a relative of her own, and to disembarrass herself of a grown-up stepdaughter. How blind he had been, how completely he had played into her hands! Thus thought Ronald, as he strode about his bare room at Brook-street, his face haggard with care, and his heart sick with the terrible fear which had smitten it with his first look at Madeleine.
Ronald's interview with his sister had been long and painful to him, though nothing, or very little more, had been said on the subject of her health. He had perceived her anxiety to abridge discussion on that point, and had fallen in with her humour. Once or twice, as he talked with her, he had asked her if she was quite sure he was not wearying her, if she did not feel tired or inclined to sleep, if he should go, and send her maid to her. But to all his questions she replied no; she was quite comfortable, and had not felt so happy for a long time; and she had begged him to stay with her as long as he could. The brother and sister talked of numerous subjects--much of Kilsyth, and their childhood; a little of their several modes of life in the present; and sometimes the current of their talk would be broken by Madeleine's low musical laugh, but oftener by the miserable cough, from which Ronald shrunk appalled, wondering that he ever could have heard it without alarm, with indifference. But the truth was, he had never heard it at all. The cough had changed its character; and the significance which it had assumed, and which crept coldly with its hollow sound to Ronald's heart, was new.
Ronald had a dinner engagement for that day, and remained with his sister until it was time to go home and dress. He looked into Kilsyth's room on his way to the hall-door, when he had completed that operation; but his father was not there. "I will speak to him in the morning," thought Ronald. "I was impatient with him for croaking, as I thought, about Maddy. God help him, I'm much mistaken, or it's worse than he thinks for."
And so Captain Kilsyth went out to dinner, and was colder in his manner and much less lucid and decisive in his conversation than usual. He left the party early, did not "join the ladies;" and all the other guests, notably "the ladies" themselves, were of opinion that they had no loss.
"If Wilmot had not gone away when he did," said Kilsyth to his son, at an advanced stage of the long and sad conversation which took place between them on the following morning, "Maddy would have been quite well now. Nobody understood her as he did; you must have seen it to have believed it, Ronald. You always had some unaccountable prejudice against Wilmot--I could not get to the bottom of it--but you must have acknowledged _that_, if you had seen it."
"It is too late to talk about that now, sir," said Ronald; "and you are quite mistaken in supposing that I undervalue Dr. Wilmot's ability. But something decisive must be done at once; and as Wilmot's advice is not to be had, we must procure the best within our reach. There is no use now in looking back; but I do wonder Caird has permitted her to be without good advice all this time, and has suffered us to be so misled. He must have known of the cough being so bad in the morning, and of her exhaustion at times when neither you nor Lady Muriel saw her."
Kilsyth sighed. "I spoke to him yesterday," he said, "and I found him very easy about the matter. He says Maddy wouldn't have a strange doctor."
"Maddy wouldn't have a strange doctor! My dear father, what perfect nonsense! As if Maddy were the proper person to judge on such a subject--as if she ever ought to have been asked or consulted! As if anyone in what I fear is her state ever had any consciousness of danger! I recognise Caird completely in that, his invincible easiness, his selfishness, his--"
He stopped. Kilsyth was looking at him, new concern and anxiety in his face; and Ronald had no desire to cause either, beyond the absolute necessity of the case, to his father.
"However," he said, "let us at least be energetic now. Come with me to see her now, and then we will consult someone with a first-rate reputation. Maddy will not offer any resistance when she sees your anxiety, and knows your wishes."
Kilsyth and his son walked out together; and in the street he took Ronald's arm. He was changed, enfeebled, by the fear which had captured him a few days since, and held him inexorably in its grasp.
Madeleine received her father and brother cheerfully. As usual now, she was in her dressing-room, and also, as usual, she was lying down. Ramsay Caird had told her the previous evening that her father was anxious she should have immediate advice, and she was prepared to accede to the wish. Not that she shared it; not that, as Ronald supposed, she was unconscious of her danger, as consumptive persons usually are. Quite the contrary, in fact. Madeleine Caird firmly believed that she was dying; only she did not in the least wish to live; and neither did she wish that her father should learn the fact before it became inevitable, which she felt it must, so soon as an experienced medical opinion should be taken upon her case.
But a certain dulness of all her faculties had made itself felt within the last few days, and she was particularly under its influence just then. She had neither the power nor the inclination to combat any opinion, to dissent from any wish. So she said, "Certainly, papa, if it will make your mind any easier about me;" and twined her thin arm round her father's neck and kissed him, when he said, "I may bring a doctor to see you then, my darling, and you will tell him all about yourself."
Her arm was still about his neck, and his brow was resting against her cheek, when he said:
"Ah, if Wilmot were only here! No one ever understood you like Wilmot, my darling."
Neither Ronald nor Madeleine said a word in reply; and when Ronald took leave of his sister, he avoided meeting her glance.
CHAPTER XI. Iconoclastic.
In this great London world of ours it is our boast that we live free and unfettered by the opinions of our neighbours; that we may be unacquainted with those persons who for a score of years have resided on either side of us; that our sayings and doings, our "goings on," the company we keep, the lives we lead, and the pursuits we follow, are nothing to anybody, and are consequently unnoticed. We pride ourselves on this not a little; we shrug our shoulders and elevate our eyebrows when we talk of the small scandal and the petty spite of provincial towns; we are grateful that, in whatever state the larger vices may be, the smaller ones, at all events, do not flourish among us; and, in short, we take to ourselves enormous credit for the possession of something which has not the slightest real existence, and for the absence of something else which is of daily growth. It is true that in London a man need not be particular about the shape of his hat or the cut of his coat, so far as London itself is concerned, any more than he need fear that his having taken too much wine at a public dinner, or held a lengthened flirtation with a barmaid, will appear in the public prints; but in his own circle, be it high or low, large or small, pharisaical or liberal-minded, as much attention will be paid to all he does, his speeches, actions, and mode of life will be the subject of as much spiteful comment, as if he lived at Hull or vegetated at York. The insane desire to talk about trifles, to indulge in childish chit-chat and terrible twaddle, to erect mole-hills into mountains, and to find spots in social suns, exists everywhere amongst people who have nothing to do, and who carry out the doctrine laid down by Dr. Watts by applying their "idle hands" to "some mischief still." The Duke of Dilworth, interested in the management of his own estates, looking after the race-horses under his trainer's care, hunting up his political influence, and seeing that it sustains no diminution, marking catalogues of coming picture-sales for purchases which he has long expected must enter the market, devising alterations in his Highland shooting-box, planning yachting expeditions, going through, in fact, that business of pleasure which is the real business of his life, has no time for profitless talk and ridiculous gossip, which, as his grace says, "he leaves for women." But the women like what is left for them. The Duchess and the Ladies Daffy have none of these occupations to fill the "fallow leisure of their lives"--their calls and visits, their fête-attendances and garden-parties, their play at poor-visitings and High-Church-service frequentings, leave them yet an enormous margin of waste time, which is more or less filled up by tattle of a generally derogatory nature. It is the same in nearly every class of life: men must work, and women must talk; and when they talk, their conversation is robbed of half its zest and point if it be not disparaging and detrimental to their dearest friends.
It was not to be imagined that the Ramsay-Caird _ménage_, even had it been very differently constituted, could have escaped criticism; as it was, it courted it. The mere fact of Ramsay Caird himself having somehow or other slipped into the society of _nous autres_ (it was solely through the Kilsyths that he was known in the set), and having had the audacity to carry away one of the prizes, would in itself have attracted sufficient attention to him and his, had other inducements been wanting. But other inducements were not wanting. The alteration which had taken place in Madeleine since her illness in Scotland, more especially since the time of the announcement of her engagement, was matter of public comment; and all kinds of stories were set afloat by her dearest friends to account for it. That she had had some dreadful love-affair, highly injudicious, impossible of achievement, was one of the most romantic; and being one of the most mischievous, consequently became one of the most popular theories, the only difficulty being to find for this desperate affair--which, it was said, had superinduced her illness, scarlet-fever being, as is well known to the faculty, essentially a mental disease--a hero. The list of visitors to the house was discussed in half-a-dozen different places; but no one at all likely to fill the character could be found, until Colonel Jefferson was accidentally hit upon. This, coupled with the fact that Colonel Jefferson's mad pursuit of Lady Emily Fairfax, which everyone knew had so long existed, had ceased about that time, was extensively promulgated, and pretty generally accepted. So extensively promulgated, that it reached the ears of Colonel Jefferson himself, and elicited from him an expression of opinion couched in language rather stronger than that gallant officer usually permitted himself the use of--to the effect that, if he found anyone engaged in the fetching and carrying of such infernal lies, he, Colonel Jefferson, should make it his business to inflict personal chastisement on him, the said fetcher and carrier. A representation of this kind coming from a very big and strong man, who in such matters had the reputation of keeping his promise, had the effect of doing away with all identification of Mrs. Ramsay Caird's supposed heartbroken lover, and of restoring him his anonymity, but the fact of his existence, still was whispered abroad; else why had one of the brightest girls of the past season--not that there was ever anything in her very clever, or that she was ever anything but extremely "missy," but still a pleasant, cheerful kind of girl in her way--why had she become dull and _triste_, and obviously uncaring for anything? That was what society wanted to know.
As for her husband, as for Ramsay Caird, society's tongue said very little about him; but society's shoulders, and eyebrows, and hands, and fluttering fans, hinted a great deal. Society was divided on the subject of Mr. Ramsay Caird. One portion of it threw out nebulous allusions to the fascinations of Madame Favorita of the Italian Opera, suggested the usual course pursued by beggars who had been set upon horseback, wondered how Madeleine's relations could endure the state of things which existed under their very eyes, and thought that the time could not be very far distant when Captain Kilsyth--who had the name, as you very well know, my dear, for being so very particular in such matters, not to say strait-laced--would call his brother-in-law to account for his goings on. The other portion of society was more liberal, so far at least as the gentleman was concerned. What, it asked, was the position of a man who found his newly-married wife evidently preoccupied with the loss of some previous flirtation? What was to be expected from a man who had found Dead-Sea apples instead of fruit, and utter indifference instead of conjugal love and domestic happiness? The _nous-autres_ feeling penetrated into the discussion. It was not likely that a young man who had been brought up in a different sphere, who had been, if what people said was correct, a clerk or something of the kind to a lawyer in Edinburgh, could comprehend the necessity for such a course of conduct under the circumstances as the belonging to their class would naturally dictate. If Mr. Caird had made a mistake--well, mistakes were often made, often without getting the equivalent which he, in allying himself with an old family in the position of the Kilsyths, had secured for himself. But they were always borne _sub silentio_--at all events the sufferer, however he might seek for distraction in private, did not let the mistake which he had made, and the means he had adopted for his own compensation, become such common gossip-matter for the world at large.
Such conversation as this is not indulged in without its reaching the ears of those most concerned. When one says most concerned, one means those likely to take most concern in it. It is doubtful if Madeleine's ears were ever disturbed by any of the rumours in which she played so prominent a part. It is certain that her husband never knew of the interest which he excited in so many of his acquaintances; equally certain that if he had known it, the knowledge thus gained would not have caused him an emotion. Lady Muriel, however, was fully acquainted with all that was said. The world, which did her homage as one of its queens of fashion, took every possible occasion to remind her that she was mortal, and found no better opportunity than in pointing out the mistake which she had made in the marriage of her stepdaughter and the settlement in life of her _protégé_. Odd words dropped here and there, sly hints, innuendoes, phrases capable of double meaning, and always receiving the utmost perversion which could be employed in their warping, nay, in some instances, anonymous letters--the basest shifts to which treachery can stoop,--all these ingredients were made use of for the poisoning of Lady Muriel's cup of life, and for the undermining of that pinnacle to which society had raised her.
Nor was Ronald Kilsyth ignorant of the world's talk and the world's expressions. Isolate himself as much as he would, be as self-contained and as solitary as an oyster, fend off confidence, shut his ears to gossip,--all he could do was to exclude pleasant things from him; the unpleasant had penetrating qualities, and invariably made their way. He knew well enough what was said in every kind of society about Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay Caird. When he dined away from the mess, he had a curiously unpleasant feeling that advantage would be taken of his absence to discuss that unfortunate _ménage_. When he dined at his club, he had a morbid horror lest the two men seated at the next table should begin to talk about it. The disappointment about the whole thing had been so great as to make him morbidly sensitive on the point, to ascribe to it far greater interest than it really possessed for the world in general, and to allow it to prey on his mind, and seriously to influence his health. It had been such a consummate failure! And he, as he owned to himself,--he was primarily responsible for the marriage! If Lady Muriel had not had his assistance, she would never have carried her point of getting Madeleine for Ramsay Caird; one word from him would have nipped that acquaintance in the bud, would have stopped the completion of the project, no matter how far it had advanced. And he had never said that word. Why? He comforted himself by thinking that Caird had never shown himself in his real character before his marriage; but the fact was, although Ronald would not avow it, that he had been hoodwinked by the deference so deftly paid to him both by his stepmother and her confederate, who had consulted him on all points, and cajoled him and used him as a tool in their hands. He thought over all this very bitterly now; he saw how he had been treated, and stamped and raved in impotent fury as he remembered how he had been led on step by step, and how weak and vacillating he must have appeared in a matter in which he was most deeply interested, and which, during the whole of its progress, he thought he was managing so well.
To no man in London could such a _fiasco_ as his sister's marriage had turned out be more oppressively overwhelming, productive of more thorough disgust and annoyance than to Ronald Kilsyth. The _fiasco_ was so glaring, that at once two points on which the young man most prided himself stood impugned. Everyone knew that dear old Kilsyth himself would not have interfered in such a matter, and that the final settlement of it, after Lady Muriel's light skirmishing had been done, must have been left to Ronald, who was the sensible one of the family. He had then, in the eyes of the world, either had so little care for his sister's future as to sanction her marriage with a very ineligible man, or so little natural perspicacity and sharpness as to be deceived by such a shallow pretender as Caird. That anyone should entertain either of these suppositions was gall and wormwood to Ronald. He whose reputation forclear-headedness and far-seeing had only been equalled by the esteem in which by all men he had been held for his strict honesty and probity and the Spartan quality of his virtue,--that he should be suspected--more than suspected, in certain quarters accused--of folly or want of proper caution where his sister was concerned, was to him inexpressibly painful. Perhaps the worst thing of all was to know that people knew that he was aware of what was said, and that he suffered under the tittle-tattle and the gossip. He tried to forget that idea, to dispel and do away with it by changing his usual habits; he went about; he was seen--for one week--oftener in society than he had been for months previously: but the morbid feeling came upon him there; he fancied that people noticed his presence, and attributed it to its right cause; that every whisper which was uttered in the room had Madeleine for its burden; that the whole company had their minds filled with him, and were thinking of him either pityingly, sarcastically, or angrily, according to their various temperaments.
He avoided Brook-street at this time as religiously as he avoided the little residence in Squab-street. He did not particularly care about meeting his father, though he thought Kilsyth would probably know nothing of what so many were talking of; and he had resolutely shunned a meeting with Lady Muriel, for Ronald in his inmost heart did his stepmother a gross injustice. He fully believed that she was perfectly cognisant of Ramsay Caird's real character; whereas, in truth, no one had been more astonished at what her _protégé_ had proved himself than Lady Muriel--and very few more distressed. Ronald, however, thought otherwise; and being a gentleman, he carefully avoided meeting her ladyship, lest he might lose his temper and forget himself. The Kilsyth blood _was_ hot, and even in the heir to the name there had been occasions when it was pretty nearly up to boiling-point.
For the same reason he avoided all chance of running across his brother-in-law. In common with most men of strong feelings always kept in a state of repression, Ronald Kilsyth was particularly sensitive; and the idea of the publicity already accruing to this wretched business being increased by any possible tattle of open rupture between members of the family horrified him dreadfully. If he did not dare trust himself with Lady Muriel, he should certainly have to exercise a much stronger command over himself in the event of his ever meeting Ramsay Caird. Every governing principle of his life rose up within him against that young man; and on the first occasion of his hearing--accidentally, as men often hear things of the greatest import to themselves--of Mr. Caird's doings, Ronald Kilsyth had for the whole night paced his barrack-room, trying in every possible form to pick such a quarrel with Caird as might leave no real clue to its origin, and enable him to work out his revenge without compromising anyone. But he soon saw the futility of any such proceeding, which, carried out between _sous-officiers_, might form the basis of a French drama, but which was impossible of execution between English gentlemen, and elected absence from Squab-street, and total ignorance of Mr. Caird's mode of procedure, as his best aids to a tolerably quiet life for himself. Besides, absence from Squab-street meant absence from Madeleine; and absence from Madeleine meant a great deal to Ronald Kilsyth. He, in his self-examination found Madeleine's behaviour since her marriage the one point on which he could neither satisfy himself by a feeling of pity nor bluster himself into a fit of indignation. He knew well enough what her abstracted manner, her dulness, her sad weary preoccupied mind, her impossibility to join in the nonsensical talk floating around her,--he knew well enough what all these symptoms meant. . If he had ever doubted that his sister had a strong affection for Wilmot--and it is due to his perspicacity to say that no such doubt ever crossed his mind--he would have been certain of it now. If he had ever hoped--and he had hoped very earnestly--that any girlish predilection which his sister might have entertained for Wilmot was merely girlish and evanescent, and would pass away with her marriage, he could not more effectually have blighted any such chance than by marrying her to the man whose suit he, her brother, had himself urged her to accept Perhaps under happier circumstances that childish dream would have passed away, merged into a more happy realisation; but as it had eventuated, Ronald knew perfectly well that Madeleine could not but contrast the blank loveless present with the bright past, could not but compare the days when she now sat solitary and uncared for with those when the man for whom she had such intense veneration--for whom, as she doubtless had afterwards discovered, she had such honest, earnest love--had given up everything else to attend to her and shield her in the hour of danger. With such feelings as these at his heart, it was but little wonder that Ronald sedulously avoided being thrown in Madeleine's way.
He had always been so "odd;" his comings, and goings in Brook-street had been so uncertain; it was so utterly impossible to tell when he might or might not be expected at his father's house, that his prolonged absence caused no astonishment to any of the members of the family, nor to any one of their regular visitors. Lady Muriel, indeed, with a kind of guilty consciousness of participation in his feelings, guessed the reason why her step-son eschewed their society; but no one else. And Lady Muriel, who from her first suspicion of Ramsay Caird's conduct--suspicion not entertained, be it understood, until some time after the marriage--had looked forward with great fear and trembling to a grand _éclaircissement_, a searching explanation with Ronald, in which she would have to undergo an amount of cross-questioning in his hardest manner, and a judgment which would inevitably be pronounced against her, was rather glad that this whim had taken possession of Ronald, and that her _dies irae_ was consequently indefinitely deferred. But it happened one day that Ronald, walking down to Knightsbridge barracks, came upon his father waiting to cross the road at the corner of Sloane-street, and came upon him so "plump" and so suddenly, that retreat was impossible. The young man accordingly, seeing how matters stood, advanced, and took his father by the hand.
In an instant he saw that one other, at all events, had suffered from the--well, there was no other word for it--the disgrace, the discredit, to say the least of it, which had fallen on the family during the past few months. Kilsyth seemed aged by ten years. The light had died out of his bright blue eyes, and left them glassy and colourless, with red rims and heavy dark "pads" underneath each. The bright healthy colour had faded from his cheeks, and few would have recognised the lithe and active mountaineer, the never-tiring pedestrian, and the keen shot, in the bent and shrunken form which stood half-leaning on, half-idly dallying with, its stick. He pressed his son's hand warmly, however; and something like his well-known kind old smile lighted up his face as he exclaimed--
"Ronald, I'm glad to see you, my boy! very glad! You've not been near us for ages! And not merely that--I can understand that--we're not very good company for young people now in Brook-street; there's little inducement to come there now since poor Maddy has left us. But I don't think that I was ever half so long in London without dining with you as your guest over there at the barracks. I used to like an outing with your fellows there; it brisked me up, and made me forget what an old fogie I am growing; but--but you haven't given me the chance this time, sir,--you haven't given me the chance!"
There was something in the evidently strained attempt at cheeriness with which his father said these words which contrasted so strongly with the depression under which it was impossible for him to prevent showing he was labouring, and with the marked alteration in his personal appearance, that touched Ronald deeply. His heart sank within him, and his tongue grew dry; he had to clear his throat before he replied--and even then huskily--
"It _is_ a long time since we've met, sir; and I confess the fault is mine--entirely mine. The fact is I've been very much engaged lately--regimental duty, and--and some business in which I've been particularly interested--business which I fear you would hardly care about--and--"
"Likely enough, my dear boy!" said Kilsyth, coming to his rescue, as he floundered about in a way very unusual to him. "Likely enough! I never did care particularly for a good many of your pursuits, you know, Ronald, though I tried very hard at one time--when you were quite a lad, I recollect--to understand them and share in them. But that was not to be. I was not bright enough. I'm of the old school, and what we old fellows cared about seems to have died out with our youth, and never to have interested anybody ever since. I don't say this complainingly--not in the least--but it was deuced odd. However, I'm very glad I've met you, Ronald, for I have long wished--and lately, within the last few days more especially--to have a talk with you, a serious talk, my boy, which will take up some little time. Have you half-an-hour you can give me now? I shall be very glad if you have."
It was coming at last. He had but put off the evil day, and now it was upon him. Well--better to hear himself condemned by his father than by anyone else. Let it come.
"My time is yours, sir," said Ronald, almost echoing Wilmot, as he remembered, on the day of that eventful interview in Charles-street. "I shall of course be delighted to give my best attention to anything you may have to say."
"Well, then, let's take a turn in the Park opposite," said Kilsyth, hooking his arm into his son's. "Not among the people there, where we should be perpetually interrupted by having to speak to those folks who bail one so good-naturedly at every step, but away on the grass there, by ourselves."
The two men passed through the Albert Gate, and turning to the right, struck on to the piece of turf lying between the Row and the Drive. A few children were playing about, a few nurse-maids were here and there gossiping together; else they had it all to themselves.
"I want to talk to you," commenced Kilsyth, "about your sister--about Maddy. I have been a good deal to Squab-street in the last few weeks, and I've thought Maddy looks anything but as I should wish her to look. Has that struck you, Ronald?"
"I--I'm sorry to say that I haven't seen Madeleine for some little time, sir. The business which, as I just explained to you, has prevented my coming to Brook-street has equally prevented me from calling on her."
"Of course, yes! I beg pardon--I forgot! Well, Maddy looks anything but well. For a long time past--indeed ever since her marriage--she has been singularly low-spirited and dull; very unlike her usual self."
"I don't know that that is much to be wondered at. Madeleine was always a peculiar girl, in the sense that she had an extraordinary attachment for her home; and the fact of being parted from you, with whom all her life has been passed, and to whom she is devotedly attached, may explain the cause of any little temporary lowness of spirits."
"Ye-es, that's true so far; but it's not that; I wish I could think it was. What you say, though, Ronald, I think gets somewhat near the real cause. Maddy has been unlike most other girls of her class; much more home-y and domestic, thinking much more of those around her with whom she has been brought into daily contact than of the outside pleasures, if I may so call them. And she's had a great deal of love. She's accustomed to it, and can't get on without it. Love's just as essential to Madeleine as light to the flowers, or the keen clear air to the stags. She's had it all her life, and she would die without it. And, Ronald, I'll say to you what I'd not say to another soul upon earth, but what's lying heavy on my heart this month past--I doubt much whether she gets it, my boy; I doubt much whether she gets it."
The old man stopped suddenly in his walk, and clutched his son's arm, and looked up earnestly into his son's fade. There was so much sharp agony in the glance, hurried and fleeting though it was, that Ronald scarcely knew what to say in reply to the quivering jerky speech.
His father saved him from his embarrassment by continuing: "I don't think she gets the love that she's been accustomed to, and that she had a right to expect. I tell you that Maddy is not happy, Ronald; that her little heart aches and pines for want of sympathy, for want of appreciation, for want of love. I'm an old fellow; but in this case I suppose my affection for my darling has opened my eyes, and I can see it all plainly."
"Don't you think, sir, that your undoubted devotion to Madeleine may, on the other hand, have had the effect of warping your judgment a little, and prejudicing you in the matter? Though I've not seen my sister very lately, when I did see her I confess I did not observe any marked difference in her--any difference at all from what she has been during the last few months."
"The last few months! That's just it; that's just what--however, we'll come to that presently. I _know_ you're wrong, Ronald; I _know_ that Madeleine is thoroughly changed and altered from the bright darling girl of the old days. And I know why, my boy! God help me, I know why!"
Again Ronald essayed to speak, and again he only muttered unintelligibly.
"Because her home is unhappy," said Kilsyth, stopping short in his walk, and dropping his voice to a whisper; "because the marriage into which she was--was persuaded--I will use no harsh words--has proved a wretched one for her; because her husband has proved himself to be--God forgive me--a scoundrel!"
"You speak strongly, sir, notwithstanding your professions," said Ronald, on whom warm words of any kind had always the effect of rendering him even more cold and stoical than was his wont.
"I speak strongly because I feel strongly, Ronald! I don't expect you to share my feelings in this matter, but I do expect you to have some of your own, although you may not show them. For God's sake cast aside for a few minutes that cloak of frost in which you always shroud yourself, and let us talk as father and son about one who is daughter to the one and sister to the other!"
Ronald looked up in surprise. He had never seen his father so much excited before.
"I have no doubt about this," continued Kilsyth. "I have hoped against hope, and I have shut my eyes against what I have seen, hoping they might be fancies; and my ears against what I have heard, hoping they might be lies. But I can befool myself in this manner no longer. Ah! to think of my darling thus--to think of my darling thus!" Tears started to the old man's eyes, and he smote fiercely with his stick upon the ground.
"If you are really persuaded of this, sir," said Ronald, "it is our duty to take immediate measures. Mr. Caird must be taught--"
"Who brought him to our house?" asked Kilsyth in a storm of passion; "or rather--not that--but when he was brought, who backed him up and encouraged him in every way? You, Ronald! you--you--you! By your advice he was permitted free access to the house, was constantly thrown in Madeleine's company, and gave the world to understand that he was going to marry her. I postponed the settling of the engagement once; but the second time, when--when I fancied that the child might have had some other views--might have formed some other fancy--you persuaded me to agree, and--"
"You should apportion the blame properly, sir," said Ronald in his coldest tones. "I did not introduce Caird to your house, nor was I the principal advocate of his cause."
"You're quite right, Ronald, quite right--and I've been hasty and passionate and inconsiderate, I know; but if you knew how utterly heartbroken I am--"
"I think, with regard to Mr. Caird," interrupted Ronald, "the best plan will be--"
"No, no; not Caird now--leave him for the present; afterwards we'll do for him. Now about Maddy--nothing but about Maddy--and not about her dulness, or anything of that kind, nor--worse, much worse--you recollect--no, you didn't know; I think you weren't there--what Wilmot, Dr. Wilmot, said to me at Kilsyth about her chest? He told me that one of her lungs was threatened--that the lungs were her weak point; and he asked me whether any of our family had suffered from such disease."
"Well, sir," said Ronald, anxiously now.
"This disease has been gaining ground for months past; I'm sure of it. I have had my opinions for some time; but Maddy never complains, you know, and I didn't like to ask her about her symptoms, lest she might be frightened. But within the last few days she has been so bad that It has been evident to us all, to myself and--and Lady Muriel that the disease was on the increase. She caught cold at the theatre the other night, and her cough is now frightful. I have seen her just now, poor darling! She was on the sofa, but very weak--all they could do to get her there--and when the paroxysms of coughing come on it's awful to see her--she hardly seems to have the strength to live through them. My poor darling Maddy!"
"What do the doctors say, sir? Who is attending her?"
"Whittaker--Dr. Whittaker--a very good man in his way, I daresay but--I don't know--somehow I don't think much of him. Now that is the very point I wanted to talk to you about. Somehow--how, I never understood--somebody--I don't know who--offended Dr. Wilmot, a man to whom we were under the greatest obligation for kindness rendered; and though he has been back in England for some time, he has never called in Brook-street, nor on Madeleine even, since his return. There is no one in whom I have such faith; there is no one, I am convinced, who understands Madeleine's constitution like Wilmot; and I want to know what is the best method for us to put our pride in our pockets and implore him to come and see her."
"You were not thinking of asking Dr. Wilmot to visit Madeleine?"
"I was indeed. What objection could there possibly be?"
"I suppose you know that he has retired from practice, that he even declines to attend consultations, since he inherited Mr. Foljambe's money?"
"I know that; but I am perfectly certain, from what I saw of him at Kilsyth, that if I were to go to him and tell him the state of affairs, he would overlook anything that may have annoyed him, and come and see Maddy at once."
"That would be a condescension!" said Ronald. "Perhaps it might be on the other side that the 'overlooking' might be required. However, there are other reasons, sir, why I, for one, should think it highly inadvisable that Dr. Wilmot should be requested to visit my sister."
"What are they, then, in Heaven's name, man?" said Kilsyth petulantly. "You don't seem to see that the matter is of the utmost urgency."
"It is because of its urgency that I speak of it at all; it is by no means a pleasant topic for me or for any of us. You spoke to me just now, sir, in warm words of the part I took in pressing Ramsay Caird to visit at your house, and supporting his claims for Madeleine. I don't know that I was at all eager for it at first; I'm certain I never cared particularly for Ramsay Caird; but I freely own that latterly I did my best for him, convinced that a speedy alliance with him was the only chance of rescuing Madeleine from another offer which I was sure was impending--which would have been far more objectionable, and yet which she would have accepted."
"Another offer?--from whom?"
"From the gentleman of whom you entertain so high an opinion--from Dr. Wilmot."
"From Wilmot! An offer from Wilmot to Madeleine! You must be mad, Ronald!"
"I never was more sane in my life, sir. I repeat, I am perfectly certain Dr. Wilmot was in love with Madeleine, that he would have made her an offer, and that she would have accepted him."
"And why should she not have accepted him? God knows I would have welcomed him for a son-in-law, and--"
"I scarcely think this is the time to enter into that subject, sir; but now that I have enlightened you, I presume you see the objection to calling in Dr. Wilmot to my sister."
"I see the difficulty, Ronald; but the objection and the difficulty shall be overcome. You shall yourself go and see Wilmot; and I know he'll not refuse you."
"Don't you think, sir, before I take upon myself to do that, it would be, to say the least of it, desirable that we should consult Madeleine's husband?"
"Indeed I do not, Ronald," said Kilsyth; "indeed I do not. In giving up my daughter to Mr. Caird I yielded privileges which I alone had enjoyed from her birth, and which I would gladly have retained until her death or mine. But I did not give up the privilege of watching over her health, more especially when it has been so shamefully neglected; and I shall claim the power to use it now."
"And you think, after all I have told you, that there is no objection to asking Dr. Wilmot to visit Madeleine?"
"See here, Ronald!--I will be very frank with you in this matter--I think that if I had known all you have told me now seven or eight months ago, we should never have had this conversation. For I firmly believe that--granting your ideas were correct--if my darling had married Wilmot, he would have taken care both of her health and her happiness, both of which have been so grossly neglected."
The father and son took their way in silence back across the grass, each filled with his own reflections. They had only reached the Albert Gate, and were about to pass through it into the street, when a brougham passed them, and a gentleman sitting in it gravely saluted them.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Kilsyth; "there's Wilmot!"
"Yes," said Ronald. He was surprised, and secretly agitated by the sight of the man towards whom his feelings had insensibly changed, and was hardly master of his emotion.
The carriage had passed on, but Kilsyth was standing still at the crossing.
"What an extraordinary chance--what a wonderful Providence, I should say!" said Kilsyth; "the only man I have confidence in--fancy his passing by just at this time! Thank God! No chance of his calling at Brook-street before he goes home, as he used to do; we must go on to his house at once and leave a message for him." Here the impetuous old gentleman hailed a hansom, which drew up abruptly in dangerous proximity to his toes.
"Stop a moment," said Ronald. "You had better get home, in case I can persuade Dr. Wilmot to call, and tell Lady Muriel; it will save time. I will go on to his house."
"All right," said Kilsyth in a voice of positive cheerfulness. The mere sight of Wilmot had acted like a strong cordial upon him--had restored his strength and his confidence.
"Don't I recollect how he saved her before, when she was much worse, when she was actually in the clutch of a mortal disease? And he will save her again! he will save her again!" said the old man to himself as he drove homewards. He went directly to Lady Muriel's boudoir, and communicated to her the glad tidings of Ronald's mission, which had filled him with hope and joy.
The rich red colour flew to Lady Muriel's cheek, and the light shone in her dark eyes. To her too the news was precious, delicious; but not so the intelligence which formed its corollary. What! Ronald Kilsyth gone to solicit Dr. Wilmot's attendance on his sister! Ronald Kilsyth bringing about the renewal of this danger which she, apparently ably assisted by fate, had put far from her! What availed Wilmot's return, if he might see Madeleine again--might be with her? What availed it that Madeleine was no longer in the house with him, that she was free to see him, to enjoy his society undisputed? As Kilsyth saw how her face lighted up, how her colour rose, he rejoiced in her sympathy with his feelings; with his hope and relief, he blessed her in his heart for her love for his Madeleine. And she listened to him, dominated in turn by irresistible joy and by burning anger.
CHAPTER XII. Too Late.
That there can be such a thing as a broken heart; that love, misguided, misdirected, fixed upon the wrong object, and never finding "its earthly close," having to pine in secret, and to take out its revenge in saying deteriorating and spiteful things of its successful rival, ever kills, is nowadays generally accepted as nonsense. In the daily round of the work-a-day life there are too many things hourly cropping up to allow a man of any spirit to permit himself to hug to his bosom the corpse of a dead joy, or to bemoan over the reminiscence of vanished happiness. He must be up and doing; he must go in to his business, read his newspaper, give his orders to his clerks, write his letters--or at least sign them; go to his club, eat his dinner, and go through his ordinary routine, each item of which fills up his time, and prevents him from dwelling on the atrocious perfidy of the Being who has deceived him. The evening has generally been considered a favourable time for indulging in those reflections which, by their bitterness, bring about the anatomical consequences so much to be deplored; but your modern Strephon either forgets his own woes in reading of the fictitious woes of others, duly supplied by Mr. Mudie, or in witnessing them depicted on the stage, or in listening to the cynical wisdom of the smoking-room, which, if he duly imbibe it, leads him rather to think he has had a wonderful escape; or in the friendly game of whist, when deference to his partner's interest, to say the least of it, requires that he should keep his thoughts from wandering into that subject so redolent of bitter-sweet. The heart-breaking business is out of date, it is _rococo_, it is bygone; and one might as well look to see the brazen greaves of bold Sir Lancelot flashing in our English imitation of the sunshine, and to hear the knight singing "Lirra-lirra!" as he rode up the banks of the Serpentine, as to believe in its existence nowadays.
So that those who may have imagined that Chudleigh Wilmot had given up all relish of and interest in life must have been grievously disappointed. When he first went abroad, grief and rage were in his heart, and he cared but little what became of him. When he first received the news of Mr. Foljambe's bequest, there sprung up in him a new feeling of hope and joy, such as he had never had before, which lasted but a very few hours, being uprooted and cast out by the announcement of Madeleine's marriage in the newspaper. When he returned to London, his mind was so far made up, that he contemplated very calmly the possibility of such an existence--without Madeleine, that is to say--as a few hours previously he had deemed impossible; and though on first entering on the new life the old ghosts which "come to trouble joy" would occasionally await him; and though after that chance meeting with Madeleine and Lady Muriel in the Park he was for some little time much disturbed, yet, on the whole, he managed to live his life quietly, soberly, peacefully, and not unhappily.
The man who, after years of active employment, inherits or obtains a competency, and straightway lies upon his oars and looks round him for the remainder of his life, immediately falls into a sad way, and comes speedily to a bad end. Wilmot was quite sufficient man of the world to be aware of this; and though he had retired from the active practice of his profession, indeed from practising in any way, he still kept up his medical studies, and now became one of the most sought-after and most influential contributors to the best of our scientific publications. In this way he found exercise enough for his mental faculties, which had been somewhat burdened and overtasked with all the hard work which he had gone through in his early life; and as for the rest, he found he had done society a great injustice in estimating its resources so meanly as he had been used to do. By degrees he gave up the rule which he had at first kept so strictly, never to go into ladies' society; and the first plunge made he felt that he enjoyed himself therein more than in any other. He found that his reputation, which had been considerably increased by the literary work on which he had recently engaged, smoothed the way for him on first introduction; and that the fact of his being a middle-aged widower secured for him that pleasant license accorded to fogies, of which only fogies are thoroughly conscious and appreciative. Instead of losing caste or position, he felt that he had gained it; all the best people who had been his patients in the old days kept up their acquaintance with him, and asked him to their houses; and after the publication of a paper by him on a momentous subject of the day, containing new and striking views which at once commanded public attention and attracted public comment, he was placed on a Royal Commission among some of the first men of the time, and an intimation was conveyed to him that Government would be glad to avail themselves of his services.
And the old wearing, tearing feeling of love and disappointment and regret which had blighted so many hours of his life, and which he thought at one time would sap life itself, was gone, was it? Well, not entirely. It had been an era in his life which was never to be forgotten, which was never to be otherwise renewed. Night after night he saw pretty charming girls, all of whom would have been pleased by a flattering word from the celebrated Dr. Wilmot, many of whom would have listened more than complacently to anything he might have chosen to say to them,--"he is very rich, my dear, and goes into excellent society." But he never said anything, because he never thought anything of the kind. Sometimes when alone, in the pauses of his work, he would look up from off his book or his paper, and then straightway he would see--although his thoughts had been previously engrossed with something entirely different--a bright flushed face, with blue eyes, and a nimbus of golden hair surrounding it. But for a moment he would see it, and then it would fade away; but in that moment how many memories had it evoked! Sometimes he would take from a special drawer in his desk a small knot of blue ribbon, and a thin letter, frayed in its folds, and bearing traces of having been for some time carried in the pocket. Slight memorials these of the only love of a lifetime which had now extended to some forty years; not much to show in return for an all-absorbing passion which at one time threatened to have dire effect on his health, on his life--yet cherished all the more, perhaps, on account of their insignificance! These were memorials of Miss Kilsyth, be it understood: of Mrs. Ramsay Caird Chudleigh always rigidly repeated to himself that he knew nothing--that he never would know anything.
But one morning Chudleigh Wilmot was sitting in his library after his breakfast, his slippered feet resting idly on a chair, he himself in placid enjoyment of the newspaper and a cigar, which, since he had freed himself from professional restraint, he had taken as a pleasant solace, when suddenly, and without being in any way led up to, the subject of his dream of the previous night flashed suddenly across his mind. It was about Madeleine. He remembered that he had seen her lying outstretched on her bed dead; there were Christmas berries in her golden hair, and the robe which covered her was embroidered with the initial letters of his name twisted into a monogram, such as was engraved on the binding of a present of books which he had recently received from one of his great friends, and on the little finger of her hand, which lay outside the coverlet, was Mabel's signet-ring. He remembered all this vividly now; remembered too how, when he had gone forward with the intention of taking off the ring, a female form, clad in dark sweeping garments, but with its face shrouded, had risen by the bedside and motioned him away. He remembered how he felt persuaded, although the face was hidden, that the form was known to him--was that of Henrietta Prendergast; how he had persisting in approaching; and how at length the muffled form had spoken, saying only these words, "It was not to be!" What followed he could not remember: there was a kind of chaos, out of which rose figures of Whittaker and Colonel Jefferson, the man whom he had met in Scotland, and Ronald Kilsyth in full uniform, with his sword drawn and pointed at his (Chudleigh's) heart; and then he had waked, and the whole remembrance of the dream had departed from him until that moment, when simultaneously the door of his room was thrown open, and Ronald Kilsyth stood before him.
That was no dream. Wilmot thought at first that his waking fancies were running in the track of his sleeping thoughts; but there was Ronald Kilsyth, somewhat changed from the man he remembered--less grim and stoical, a trifle less cynical, and a trifle more human,--but still Ronald Kilsyth standing before him.
"You are surprised to see me, Dr. Wilmot," said Ronald, advancing hesitatingly,--"surprised to see me here, after--after so long an interval."
"On the last occasion of our meeting, Captain Kilsyth," replied Wilmot, "you were good enough to tell me that you objected to the ordinary set phrases of society, and preferred straightforward answers. I have not forgotten that interview, or anything that passed therein; and I have every desire, believe me, to accommodate you--at least so far as that wish is concerned. My straightforward answer to your question is, I _am_ surprised to see you in this house."
"I looked for no other reply. You seem to forget that, even so far ago as our last meeting, you were pleased to fall in with my whim, and to answer me with perfect candour, however painful it might have been--it was--to you. That conversation will doubtless be remembered by you, Dr. Wilmot."
What did this mean? Was the man come here, in the assurance of his own cold, calm stoicism, to triumph over him? Whence this most indecorous outrage on his privacy, this insult to his feelings? Of all men, this man knew how he had suffered, and how he had borne his sufferings. Why, then, was he here, at such a moment, with such words on his lips?
"I perfectly remember that conversation, Captain Kilsyth," was all Wilmot replied.
"You will spare me, then, a great deal of acute pain in referring to it," said Ronald. "Refer to it I must, but my reference will be of the most general kind. I sought that interview beseeching you"--Wilmot gave a short half-laugh, which Ronald noticed--"Well, you stickle for terms, it appears,--demanding of you to give up a pursuit in which you were then engaged--a pursuit to which you attached the greatest interest, but which I knew would not only be futile in its results to you, but would be fraught with distress and danger to one who was very dear to me. You acquiesced in my reasoning--at great sorrow and disappointment to yourself, I know--and you gave up the pursuit."
"You are very good to make such large allowances for me, Captain Kilsyth," said Wilmot in a hard dry voice. "Yes, I gave it up; at great sorrow and disappointment to myself, as you are good enough to say."
"I can fully understand the feelings which now influence you, Dr. Wilmot," said Ronald, far more gently than was his wont; "and, believe me, I do not quarrel with or take exception at the tone in which they are now expressed. You gave up that pursuit, and you carried out the intention you then expressed to me of leaving England."
"I did. I left England within a fortnight of that conversation. I should not have returned when I did--I should not have returned even now, most probably--had it not been for circumstances then utterly unforeseen, but of which you may have heard, which compelled me to come back at once."
Ronald bowed; he had heard of those circumstances, he said.
"And now, pardon me, Captain Kilsyth, if I just run through what has occurred. It cannot be, you will allow, less unpleasant for me to do so than for you; but since we have met again,--at an interview not of my seeking, recollect,--it is as well that they should be understood. You told me in my consulting-room in Charles-street that you had reason to believe that your sister, Miss Kilsyth, was--let us put it plainly--loved by me. You said that, or at least you implied that, you had reason to believe that she was interested in me. You told me that any question of marriage between us was impossible; first, because I had originally made your sister's acquaintance when I was a married man; secondly, because my station in life--you put it kindly, as a gentleman would, but that was the gist of your argument--because my station in life was inferior to hers. I do not know, Captain Kilsyth," continued Wilmot, whose voice grew harder as he proceeded, "that your reasoning was so subtle in either case as not to admit of controversy, perhaps even of disproof; but I felt that when a young lady's name was in question, when there was, as you assured me there was--and you were much more a man of the world than I--the chance of the slightest slur being cast on her, it was my duty to sacrifice my own feelings, however strong they might have been in the matter. I did so. To the best of my ability I stamped out my love; I pocketed my pride; I gave up the best feelings of my nature, and I did as you and your friends wished. I went abroad, and remained grizzling and feeding on my own heart for months. At length I heard of a stroke of good fortune which had befallen me. I had previously made for myself a name which was respected and honoured; and you, who know more of these things than your compeers, or people in your 'set,' can appreciate the worth of the renown which a man makes off his own bat by the exercise of his talents; and by the chance which I have named I had now inherited a fortune--a large fortune for any man not born to wealth. When this news reached me, my first thought was, Now, surely, my coast is clear. I can go back to England; I can say to Miss Kilsyth's friends, I am renowned; I am rich; I am, I hope, a gentleman in the ordinary acceptation of the term. If this young lady will accept my court, why should it not be paid her? Within twenty-four hours of my learning of my inheritance, of my determination, I heard that Miss Kilsyth was married."
"There was no stipulation, I believe, Dr. Wilmot--at least so far as I am concerned--no compact, no given time during which Miss Kilsyth should keep single, in the view of anything that might happen to you?"
"None in the world; and so far as Miss Kilsyth is concerned--her name is being bandied between us in the course of conversation, but it is my duty to say that I have not the smallest atom of complaint to make against her. To this hour, so far as I know, she is unacquainted with my feelings towards her, and can consequently be held responsible for no acts of hers at which I may feel aggrieved. But you must let me continue. I will not tell you what effect the intelligence of Miss Kilsyth's marriage had on me. I had been raised to the highest pinnacle of hope, I was cast down into the lowest depths of despair. That concerned no one but myself. I returned to England. Miss Kilsyth was Mrs. Ramsay Caird--I had learned that from the public prints--no private announcement, no wedding-cards awaited me. The story of my vast inheritance got wind, as such things do, and all my friends--all my acquaintance, let me say, to use a more fitting word, called on me or sent their congratulations. From your family, from Mrs. Ramsay Caird, I had not the slightest notice. The young lady whose life--if you credit her father--I had saved a few months previously, and her family, who professed themselves so grateful, ignored my existence. To this hour I have had no communication with Kilsyth, with Lady Muriel, with the Ramsay Cairds. I met Lady Muriel and her daughter once by the merest accident--an accident entirely unsought by me--and they bowed to me as though I were a tradesman who had been pestering for his bill. What am I to gather from this treatment? One of two things--either that I was regarded merely as the 'doctor' who was called in when his services were needed, but who, when he had fulfilled his functions and saved the patient, was no more to be recognised than the butcher when he had supplied the required joint of meat; or that, by those who knew, or thought they knew, the inner circumstances of the case, my moral character was so highly esteemed that, guessing I had been in love with Miss Kilsyth, it was judged expedient that I should have no opportunity of acquaintance with Mrs. Ramsay Caird. I ask you, Captain Kilsyth, which of these suppositions is correct?"
Wilmot spoke with great warmth. Ronald Kilsyth looked on with wonder; he could scarcely imagine that the man who now stood erect before him with flashing eye and curled lips, every one of whose sentences rang with scorn, was the same being who, on the occasion of their last interview, had urged his suit so humbly, and accepted his dismissal with such resignation.
After a short pause Ronald said: "You speak strongly, Dr. Wilmot, very strongly; but you have great cause for annoyance; and the fact that you have borne it so long in silence of course adds to the violence of your expressions now. I think I could soften your opinion--I think I could show that my father and Lady Muriel have had some excuse for their conduct; at all events, that they believed they were doing rightly in acting as they did. But this is not the time for me to enter into that discussion. I have come to you in the discharge of a mission which is urgent and imperative. You know me to be a cold and a proud man, Dr. Wilmot, and will therefore allow I must be convinced of its urgency when I consented to undertake it. I have come to say to you--leaving all things for the present unexplained, and even in the state in which you have just described them--I have come to say to you my sister is very ill; will you go and see her?" He was standing close by Wilmot as he spoke, and saw him change colour, and reel as though he would have fallen.
"Very ill?" he said, after a moment's pause, with white lips and trembling voice. "Mad--Mrs. Caird, very ill?"
"Very ill; so ill, that my father is seriously alarmed about her; so ill, that I have obeyed his wishes, and ask you to come to her."
Wilmot was silent for a moment, in thought; not that he had the smallest doubt as to what he should do; but the news had come so suddenly upon him, that he could scarcely comprehend its significance. Then he said, "Where is she? in town?"
"She is--at her own house. I know I am asking you a great deal in begging you to go there, but--you won't refuse us, Wilmot?"
"I will go at once to your sister, Captain Kilsyth," said Wilmot, pressing Ronald's outstretched hand; "and God grant I may be of service to her!"
"I won't say any thanks; but you know how grateful we shall all of us be. Perhaps Madeleine had better be a little prepared for your visit; if you were to meet quite unexpectedly, it might agitate her."
Wilmot agreed in this, and promised to come that afternoon.
It was three o'clock--just the hour when Squab-street woke up, and became alive to the fact that day had dawned. The light had indeed penetrated the little street at its usual hour, and the sun had shone; but still Squab-street could not be considered to be fully awake. Tradesmen had come and gone; area-bells had rung out shrilly; grooms on horseback had followed the Amazon daughters of the natives to the morning-ride in the Row; governesses had arrived, and had taken their young charges into the neighbouring square garden for bodily exercise and mental recreation; neat little broughams had deposited neat little foreigners, whose admission into the houses had been immediately followed by the thumping of the piano and the screaming of the female voice; but the cream of Squab-street society had not yet been seen, save by its female attendants. Three o'clock, however, had arrived; luncheon was over, carriages began to rattle up and down, the street resounded with double knocks indefinitely prolonged, and all the little passages were redolent of hair-powder. All society's mummers were acting away at their hardest; and all who passed up and down Squab-street were too much engrossed with themselves or their fellow-performers to notice a very blank and mournful face looking out at them from the drawing-room window of the little house at the corner of the mews. This was Kilsyth's face, which had been planted against the window for the previous half-hour, in anxious expectation of Wilmot's arrival. Sick at heart, and overpowered by anxiety, the old man had taken his position where he could catch the first glimpse of him on whom his life now solely rested; and he scanned every vehicle that approached with eager eyes. At length a brougham, very different from that in which he used to pay his visits in his professional days, perfectly appointed, and drawn by horses which even Clement Penruddock himself could not have designated as "screws," drew up at the door, and Wilmot jumped out. Two minutes afterwards Kilsyth, with his eyes full of tears, was holding both his friend's hands, and murmuring to him his thanks.
"I knew you would come!" he said; "I knew you would come! No matter what had happened in the interval--no matter that, as they told me, you had retired from practice and went nowhere--I said, 'Let him know that Madeleine is very ill, and he'll come! he'll be sure to come!'"
"And you said right, my dear sir," said Wilmot, returning the friendly pressure; "and I only hope to Heaven that my coming now may be as efficacious as it was when you summoned me to Kilsyth--ah, how long ago that seems! Now tell me--for my conversation with Captain Kilsyth was necessarily brief, and admitted of no details concerning the state of his sister--the tendency to weakness on the lungs, which I spoke to you about just before I left Scotland, has increased, I fear?"
"It has been increasing rapidly, we fancy, for the last few months; and she is now never free from a cough, a hollow, dreadful cough, the paroxysms of which are sometimes terrible, and leave her perfectly exhausted. She never complains; on the contrary, she makes light of it, and struggles to hide her pain and weakness from us. But I fear she is very, very ill!" The old man's voice sunk as he said this, and the tears flowed down his cheeks.
"Come, come, you must not give way, my good friend; while there's life there's hope, you know; and what is very dreadful and hopeless to an unprofessional eye has a very different aspect frequently to those who have studied these diseases. I think Captain Kilsyth came here to prepare Mrs. Caird for my visit?"
"O yes, she expects you. She was greatly excited at first; so much so that we were afraid she would do herself harm; but I think she is calmer now."
"Then perhaps I had better go to her at once. It is always desirable in these cases as much as possible to avoid suspense. Will you show me the way?"
They went upstairs together; and when they arrived at the room, Kilsyth opened the door, and left Wilmot to enter by himself. As the door closed behind him, he looked up, and saw the woman whom he had loved with such devotion and yet with such bitter regret. She was lying on a sofa drawn across the window, propped up by pillows. She turned round at the noise of his entrance; and as soon as she recognised her visitor, her cheeks flushed to the deepest crimson. Wilmot advanced rapidly, with as cheerful a smile as he could assume, and took her hand--her hot, wasted, and trembling hand--within both of his. She was dreadfully changed--he saw that in an instant. There were deep hollows in her cheeks, and round her blue eyes, which were now feverishly bright and lustrous, there were large bistre circles. She wore a white dressing-gown trimmed with blue,--such a one as was associated with his earliest recollections of her; and as he saw her lying back and looking up at him with earnest trusting gaze, he was reminded of the first time he saw her in the fever at Kilsyth, but with O what a difference in his hope of saving her!
"You see I have come back to you, Mrs. Caird," said Wilmot, seating himself by the sofa, but still retaining her hand. "You thought you had got rid of me for ever; but I am like the bottle-imp in the story, impossible to be sent away. Now, own you are surprised to see me!"
"I am not indeed, Dr. Wilmot," Madeleine replied, in a voice the hollow tones of which went to Wilmot's heart. Ah, how unlike the sweet, clear, ringing tones which he so well remembered! "I am not indeed surprised to see you. I had a perfect conviction," she said very calmly, "that I should see you once again. At that time--at Kilsyth, you remember--I thought I was going to die, you know; and when I knew I should recover, as I lay in a dreamy half-conscious state, I recollect having a presentiment that when I did die you would be near me--that you would stand by my bedside, as you used to do, and--"
"My dearest Mrs. Caird, I cannot listen to you; my--my child, for God's sake don't talk in that way! I used to have to tell you to calm yourself, you know; but now you must rouse up--you must indeed."
"O no, Dr. Wilmot; not rouse myself to any action, not wake up again to the dreary struggle of life! O no; let me sink quietly into my grave, but--"
His hand trembled with emotion as he laid his finger lightly on her lip, and his voice was choked and husky as he said: "I must insist! You used to obey me implicitly, you recollect; and you must show that you have not forgotten your old ways. And now tell me all about yourself."
Half an hour afterwards, as Wilmot was descending the stairs, he met Kilsyth at the drawing-room door, with haggard looks and trembling hands, waiting for him. They went into the drawing-room together; and the old man, carefully closing the door behind him, turned to his friend, and said in broken accents; "Well, what do you say? what--what do you think?"
Wilmot's face was very grave, graver than Kilsyth had ever seen it, even at the worst time of the fever, as he said: "I think it is a very serious case, my dear friend--a very serious case."
"Has the--the mischief increased much since you detected it--up in Scotland?"
"The disease has spread very rapidly--very rapidly indeed."
"And you--you think that she is--in danger?"
"I think--it would be useless, it would be unmanly in me to withhold the truth from you; I fear that Mrs. Caird's state is imminently dangerous, and that--"
Wilmot stopped, for Kilsyth reeled and almost fell. Recovering himself after a moment, he said, in a low hoarse whisper: "Change of climate--Madeira--Egypt--anywhere?"
"No; she has not sufficient strength to bear the journey. If she had spent last winter at Cannes, and had gone on in the spring to Egypt--but it is too late."
"Too late!" shrieked Kilsyth, bursting into an agony of grief; "too late! My darling child! my darling, darling child!"
"My poor friend," said Wilmot, himself deeply affected, "what can I say to comfort you in this awful trial? what can I do?"
"One thing!" said the old man, rising from the sofa on which he had thrown himself, "there is one thing you can do--visit her, watch her, attend her; you'll see her again, won't you, Wilmot?"
"Constantly--and to the end. She knows that. I made her that promise just now;" and he wrung his friend's hand and left him.
"Dr. Wilmot, I believe? Will you oblige me by two minutes' conversation? You don't remember me? I am Mr. Caird. In this room, if you please."
Wilmot, thus inducted into the dining-room, bowed, and took the chair pointed out to him. He had not recognised Mr. Caird at the first glance in the dim little passage; but he knew him again now, albeit Mr. Caird's style of dress and general bearing were very different from what they had been in the old days. Mr. Caird had just come in, and brought a great quantity of tobacco-smoke in with him; and a decanter of brandy, an empty soda-water bottle, and a fizzing tumbler, were on the table before him.
"I beg your pardon for troubling you, Dr. Wilmot; but I didn't know you were expected, or I should of course have been here to meet you. The people in Brook-street manage all these matters in--well, to say the least of it, in a curious way. You have seen Mrs. Caird--what is your opinion of her?"
What Wilmot knew of this man was that he was courteous, gentlemanly, and good-tempered--all in his favour. He had heard the rumours current in society about Caird, but they had passed unheeded by him; men of Wilmot's calibre pay little attention to rumours. So he said, "Do you wish me to tell you my real opinion, Mr. Caird?"
"Your real, candid opinion."
Then Wilmot repeated what he had said to Kilsyth.
The young man looked at him earnestly for a moment; shook his head as though he had been struck a sudden, stunning blow; then muttered involuntarily, as it were, "Poor Maddy!"
Wilmot rose to go, but Caird stopped him. "One question more, Dr. Wilmot--how long may--may the end be deferred?"
"I should fear not more than a few--three or four--months."
When Wilmot was gone, Ramsay Caird, having lit a fresh cigar, said "Poor Maddy!" again; but this time he added, "since it was to be, it will be, about the time;" and for the next hour he occupied himself with arithmetical calculations in his pocketbook.
CHAPTER XIII. Quand même!
In years to come it was destined to be a marvel to Wilmot how he lived through the days and the weeks of that time. If they had not been so entirely filled with supreme suffering, with despairing effort--if there had been any interval, any relaxation from the immense task imposed upon him, he might have broken down under it. He might have said, "I will not stay here, and see this woman whom I love die in her youth, in her beauty, in the very springtide of her life. I will go away. I will not see it, at least; I who have not the right to shut out all others, and gather up the last days of her life into a treasury of remembrance, in which no other shall have a share. No man is called upon to suffer that which he can avoid. I will go!" But there was no time for Wilmot, no chance for him to reach such a conclusion, to take this supreme resolution of despair. The whole weight of the family trouble was thrown upon him; and he, in comparison with whose grief that of all the others, except Kilsyth's, was insignificant, was the one to whom all looked for support and hope. As for Ramsay Caird, he adopted the easy and plausible _rôle_ of a sanguine man. He had the greatest possible respect for Dr. Wilmot's opinion, the utmost confidence in his ability; but the doctor's talent gave him the very best grounds for security. He was quite sure Wilmot would set Madeleine all right. She had youth on her side--and only just think how Wilmot had "pulled her through" at Kilsyth! And as nobody occupied themselves particularly with what Ramsay thought, he was permitted to indulge his incorrigible _insouciance_, and to render to Dr. Wilmot's talent the original homage of believing it superior to his judgment and his avowed conviction. For the rest, Ramsay professed himself, and with reason, to be the worst person in the world in a sickroom--no use, and "awfully frightened;" and accordingly he seldom made his appearance in Madeleine's room, after the daily visit of a few minutes, which was _de rigueur_, and during which he invariably received the same answer to his inquiries, that she was better--a statement which it suited him to receive as valid, and which he therefore did so receive. Wilmot saw very little of him; no part of the hardness of his task came to him from Madeleine's husband. It was at her father's hands that Wilmot suffered most, and most constantly. Kilsyth held two articles of faith in connection with Wilmot: the first, that he was infallible in judgment; the second, that he was inexhaustible in skill and resources. And now these articles of belief clashed, and Kilsyth was swayed about between them,--a prey now to helpless grief, again to groundless and unreasonable hope. Certainly Madeleine was very ill. Wilmot was right, no doubt; but then Wilmot would save her: he had saved her before, when she was also very ill. Then the poor father would have the difference between fever and consumption, in point of assured fatality, forced upon his attention, and an interval of despair would set in. But whether his mood was hope or despair, an effort to attain resignation, or a mere stupor of fear and grief, Wilmot had to witness, Wilmot had to combat them all. The old man clung to the doctor with piteous eagerness and tenacity on his way to begin the watch over his patient which he maintained daily for hours, as he had done in the old time at Kilsyth--time in reality so lately past, but seeming like an entire lifetime ago. When he left her to take the short and troubled sleep which fell upon her in the afternoon; in the evening, when he came again; at night, after he had administered the medicine which was to procure her a temporary reprieve from the cough, which her father could no longer endure to hear, Kilsyth would waylay him, beset him with questions, with entreaties--or, worse still, look speechless into his face with imploring haggard eyes.
This to the man for whom the young life ebbing away, with terrific rapidity indeed, but with merciful ease on the whole, was the one treasure held by the earth, so rich for others, such a wilderness for him! Yes--her life! When he knew she was married, and thus parted from him for ever, he had thought the worst that could have come to him had come. But from the moment he had looked again into the innocent sweet blue eyes, and read, with the unerring glance of the practised physician, that death was looking out at him from them, he learned his error. Then too he learned how much, and with what manner of love, he loved Madeleine Kilsyth.
"Give her life, and not death, O gracious Disposer of both! and I am satisfied--and I am happy! Life, though I never see her face again; life, though she never hears my name spoken, or remembers me in her lightest thought; life, though it be to bless her husband, and to transmit her name to his children; life, though mine be wasted at the ends of the earth!" This was the cry of his soul, the utterance of the strong man's anguish. But he knew it was not to be; the physician's eye had been unerring indeed.
Lady Muriel bore herself on this, as on every other occasion, irreproachably. The first enunciation of the doctor's opinion had startled her. She did not love her stepdaughter, but of late she had been on more affectionate terms with her; and it was not possible that she could learn that she was doomed to an early death without terror and grief. Lady Muriel knew well how unspeakably dear to Kilsyth his daughter was; and apart from her keen womanly sympathies all enlisted for the fair young sufferer, she felt with agonising acuteness for her husband's suffering. The first meeting between Lady Muriel and Wilmot had been under agitating circumstances; and the appeal made to him by Kilsyth had at once established him on the old footing with them--a footing which had not existed previously in London, having been interrupted by Wilmot's domestic affliction, and the tacit but resolute opposition of Ronald. But even then, in that first interview, when emotion was permissible, when Dr. Wilmot was forced by his position to make a communication to the father and brother which even a stranger must necessarily have found painful, and though he imposed superhuman control over his feelings, Lady Muriel had seen the truth, or as much of the truth as one human being can ever see of the verities of the heart of another. She had received him gravely, but so that, had he eared to interpret her manner, it might have told him he was welcome in more than the sense of his value in this dread emergency; and it had been a sensible relief to Ronald to perceive that Lady Muriel had not suffered the pride and suspicion which had dictated her remonstrance to him to appear in any word or look of hers which Wilmot could perceive. But when Lady Muriel was alone she said to herself bitterly:
"He did love her, then; he does love her! He is awfully changed; and this has changed him--to her illness, not the fear of her death--the change is the work of months--but the loss of her. Her marriage--this has made his life valueless, this has made him what he is." Then she remained for a long time sunk in thought, her dark eyes shaded by her hand. At length she said, half aloud,
"She is not all to be pitied, even if this be indeed true and past remedy. She has been well beloved."
There was a whole history of solitude and vain aspiration in the words. Had not she too, Lady Muriel Kilsyth, been well beloved? True; but all the homage, all the devotion of an inferior nature could not satisfy hers. This woman would be content only with the love of a man her intellectual superior, her master in strength of purpose and of will. She had seen him; he had come; and he loved not her, but the simple girl with blue eyes and golden hair who was dying, and whom he would love faithfully when she should be dead. Lady Muriel did not deceive herself. She had the perfect comprehension of Wilmot which occult sympathy gives--she knew that he would never love another woman. She knew, when she recalled the ineffable mournfulness which sat upon his face, not the garment of an occasion, but the habitual expression which it had taken, that the hope which but for her might have been realised, had been the forlorn hope of his life. It was over now; and he was beaten by fate, by death, by Lady Muriel's will. He would lay down his arms; he would never struggle again.
Knowing this, Lady Muriel Kilsyth dreamed no more. The vision of a love which, pure and blameless, would have elevated, fortified, and sweetened her life, faded never to return. Her gentle stepdaughter, who would have been incapable of such a thought or such a wish, had she known how Lady Muriel had acted towards her, was at that moment amply avenged.
In vain she had laboured to effect this loveless marriage; in vain she had placed in the untrustworthy hands of Ramsay Caird the happiness and the fortune of her husband's beloved daughter; in vain had she been deaf to the truer, better promptings of her conscience, to the haunting thought of the responsibility which she had undertaken towards the girl, to the remembrance of Madeleine's dead mother, which sometimes came to her and troubled her sorely; in vain had she tempted that dread and inexorable law of retribution, which might fall upon the heads of her own children. How mad, how guilty, she had been! She saw it all now; she understood it all now. How could she, who had learned to comprehend, to appreciate Wilmot,--how could she have imagined for a moment that any sentiment once really entertained by him could be light and passing! She recognised, with respect at least, if with an abiding sense of humiliation, the truth, the strength, the eternal duration of Wilmot's love for Madeleine. Truly, many things, in addition to the beautiful young form, were destined to go down into the grave of Madeleine Kilsyth.
There was so much similarity between the thoughts of Lady Muriel and those of Chudleigh Wilmot, that he too, after that first visit, which had shown him the dying girl and revealed to him how he loved her, pondered also upon an unconscious vengeance fulfilled.
Mabel! She had died in his absence, neglected by him, inflicting upon him an agonising doubt, almost a certainty, but at least a doubt never to be resolved in this world--a dread never to be set at rest. He did not believe that had he been with her he could have saved her; but no matter: he had stayed away; he had given to another the love, the care, the time, the skill that should have been hers, that were her right by every law human and divine. And now! The woman he had preferred to her, the woman by whose side he had lingered, the woman he loved, was dying, and he had come to her aid too late! He could see her, it was true; he might be with her; it was possible he might hear her last words--might see her draw her last breath; but she was lost to him, lost unwon, lost for ever, as Mabel had been! It was late in the night before Wilmot had sufficiently mastered these thoughts and the emotions which they aroused to be able to apply himself to studying the details of Madeleine's ease, and arranging his plan, not indeed of cure, but of alleviation.
Among the letters awaiting his attention there was one from Mrs. Prendergast. She requested him to call on her; she wished to consult him concerning the matter they had talked of. The following morning he wrote her a line saying he could not attend to anything for the present; and subsequently Henrietta learned from Mrs. Charlton, through Mrs. M'Diarmid, that Wilmot had consented to act as physician to Mrs. Caird, whom he pronounced to be in hopeless consumption.
Henrietta went home grave and pensive, thinking much of her dead friend, Mabel Wilmot.
Time had gone inexorably on since that day, laden every hour of it with grief to Wilmot, with immense and complicated responsibility, with the dread of the rapidly-approaching end. There had been hours--no, not hours, moments--when he almost persuaded himself that he might be wrong, that it was still time, that a warm climate might yet avail. But the delusion was only momentary; and he had told Madeleine's father and brother from the first that she was unfit for a journey, that the most merciful course was to let her die at home in peace, among the people and the things to whom and to which she was accustomed. He understood the attachment of an invalid to the inanimate objects around her; an attachment strongly developed in Madeleine, whose dressing-room, where she lay on the sofa all day, contained all her girlish treasures. She was always awake early in the morning, and anxious to be carried from her bed to her sofa, whence she would wistfully watch the door until it opened and admitted Wilmot. Then she would smile--such a happy smile too! Only a pale reflection in point of brightness, it is true, of the radiant smile of the past, but full of the old trust and happiness and peace. Her father came early too, and received the report of how she had passed the night, and controlled himself wonderfully, poor old man! for agitation and disquiet were very bad for his darling; and he was strengthened by Wilmot's example. It never occurred to Kilsyth to remember that Wilmot was "only the doctor," and therefore might well be calm; he never reasoned about Wilmot at all--he only felt and trusted. The world outside the sickroom went on as usual. Within it Madeleine Caird lay dying, not poetically, not of the fanciful extinction which consumption becomes in the hands of the poet and the romancer, but of the genuine, veritable, terrible disease, not to be robbed by wealth, or even by comfort or skill, of its terrors. Those who know what is meant when a person is said to be dying of consumption need no amplification of the awful significance of the phrase. Those who do not--may they remain in their ignorance!
And Madeleine? And the contending emotions, amid the varied suffering which surrounded her, and had all its origin in her, how was it with Madeleine? On the whole, it was well. A strange phrase to apply to a young woman, a young wife, an idolised daughter, who was dying thus, of a disease which kills more thoroughly, so to speak, than any other, doing its dread office with slowness, and marking its progress day by day. She knew she was dying, though sometimes she did not feel it very keenly; the idea did not come to her as relating to herself, but with a sort of outside meaning. This dulness would last for days, and then she would be struck by the truth again, and would realise it with all the strength of mind and body left to her. Realise it, not to be terrified by it, not to resist it, not to appeal against it, but to accept it, to acquiesce in it, to be satisfied and profoundly quiet. Madeleine's notions of God and eternity were vague, like those of most young people. She had been brought up in a careful observance of the forms of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, and she had always had a certain devotional turn, which accompanies good taste and purity of mind in young girls. But she had never looked at life or death seriously, in the true sense, at all. Sentimentally she had considered both, extensively of course; had she not read all the poetry she could lay her hands on, and a vast number of essays? Of late a voice whose tones she had never before heard, still and small, had spoken to her--spoken much and solemnly in her girlish heart, and had taught her, in the silent suffering and doubt, the unseen struggle she had undergone, great things. She kept her own counsel; she listened, and was still; and the chain of earth fell from her fair soul while yet it held her fair form in its coil a little longer. Madeleine had looked into her life to find the meaning of her Creator in it. She had found it, and she was ready for the summons, which was not to tarry long.
One day, when she had told Wilmot that she was wonderfully easy, had had quite a good night, and had hardly coughed at all since morning, he was sitting by her sofa, and she, lying with her face turned towards him, had fallen into a light sleep. He drew a coverlet closely round her, and signed to the nurse that she might leave the room. Then he sat quite still, his face rigid, his hands clasped, looking at her; looking at the thin pale face, with the blazing spots of red upon the cheekbones, with the darkened eyelids, the sunken temples, the dry red lips, the damp, limp, golden hair. As in a phantasmagoria, the days at Kilsyth passed before him; the day of his arrival, the day the nurse had asked him whether the golden hair must be cut off, the day he had pronounced her out of danger. Outwardly calm and stern, what a storm of anguish he was tossed upon! Words and looks and little incidents--small things, but infinite to him--came up and tormented him. Then came a sense of unreality; it could not be, it was not the same Madeleine; this was not Kilsyth's beautiful daughter. His hands went up to his face, and a groan burst from his lips. The sound frightened him. He looked at her again; and as he looked, her eyes opened, and she began to speak. Then came the frightful, the inevitable cough. He lifted her upon his arm, kneeling by her side, and the paroxysm passed over. Then she looked at him very gently and sweetly, and said:
"Are we quite alone?"
"Do you remember one night at Kilsyth, when I was very ill, I asked you whether I was going to die?"
"I remember," he said, with a desperate effort to keep down a sob.
"And I told you I was very glad when you said, 'No.' Do you remember?"
She paused and looked at him; her blue eyes were as steady as they were bright. "If I asked you, but I don't--I don't"--she put out her wasted hand. He took the thin fingers in his, and trembled at their touch--"because I know--but if I did, you would not make me the same answer now."
He did not speak, he did not look at her; but her eyes pertinaciously sought his, and he was forced to meet them. She smiled again, and her fingers clasped themselves round his.
"You will always be papa's friend," she said. "Poor papa--he will miss me very much; the girls are too young as yet. And Ronald--I have something to say to you about Ronald. Sit here, close to me, in papa's chair, and listen."
He changed his seat in obedience to her, and listened; his head bent down, and her golden hair almost touching his shoulder.
"Something came between Ronald and me for a little while," she said, her low voice, which had hardly lost its sweetness at all, thrilling the listener with inexpressible pain. "I cannot tell what exactly; but it is all over now, and he is--as he used to be--the best and kindest of brothers. But there is someone--not papa; I am not talking of poor papa now--better and kinder still. Do you know whom I mean?" The sweet steady blue eyes looked at him quite innocent and unabashed. "I Mean _you_."
"Me!" he said, looking up hastily; "me!"
"Yes; best and kindest of all to me. And when Ronald will not have me any longer, I want you to promise me to be his friend too. They say he is hard in his disposition and his ways; he never was to me, but once for a little while; and I should like him to see you often, and be with you much, that he may be reminded of me. As long as he remembers me he will not be hard to anyone; and he will remember me whenever he sees you."
Thus the sister interpreted the brother's late repentance, and endeavoured to render it a source of blessing to the two men whom she loved.
"When you left Kilsyth," she said, "and came here, and when I heard the dreadful affliction that had befallen you, it made me very unhappy. It seemed, somehow, awful to me that sorrow should have come to you through me."
"It did not," he replied. "Don't think so; don't say so! Did anyone tell you so? It would have come all the same--"
"It would not," she said solemnly; "it would not. If I never felt it before, I must have come to feel it now, that I caused unconsciously a dreadful misfortune. You are here with me; you make suffering, you make death, light and easy to me. And you were away from _her_ when she was dying who had a right to look for you by her side. I hope she has forgiven me where all is forgiven."
There was silence between them for a while. Wilmot's agony was quite beyond description, and almost beyond even his power of self-control. Madeleine was quite calm; but the bright red spots had faded away from her cheekbones, and she was deadly pale. His eyes were fixed upon her face--eagerly, despairingly, as though he would have fixed it before them for ever, a white phantom to beset, of his free will, all his future life. Another racking fit of coughing came on, and then, when it had subsided, Madeleine fell again into one of the sudden short sleeps which had become habitual to her, and which told Wilmot so plainly of the progress of exhaustion. It was only of a few minutes' duration; and when she again awoke, her cheeks had the red spots on them once more. He watched her more and more eagerly, to see if she would resume the tone in which she had been speaking, and which, while it tortured him to listen to it, he had not the courage to interrupt or interdict. There was a little, a very little more excitement in the voice and in the eyes as she said,
"You are not going to be a doctor any more, they tell me, now that you are a rich man."
"No," he said, in a low but bitter tone. "I am done with doctoring. All my skill and knowledge have availed me nothing, and they are nothing to me any more."
"Nothing! And why?"
"O Madeleine," he said,--and as he spoke he fell on his knees beside the sofa on which she lay--"how can you ask me? What have they done for me? They have not saved you. I asked nothing else--no other reward for all my years of labour and study and poverty and insignificance--nothing but this. Even at Kilsyth, when you had the fever, I asked nothing else. I got it then, for they did save you. Yes, thank God; they did save you then for a little time! But now, now--" And, forgetful of the agitation of his patient, forgetful of everything in this supreme agony, Chudleigh Wilmot hid his face in the coverlet of the sofa and wept--wept the burning and distracting tears it is so dreadful to see a man shed. Madeleine raised herself up, and tried to lift his head in her feeble, wasted hands. Then he recovered himself with a tremendous effort, and was calm.
"I must tell you," he said, "having said what you have heard. Madeleine, there is no sin, no shame in what I am going to tell you. I will tell it to your father and your brother yet; I would tell it to your husband, Madeleine. When I went away from England, I took a vision with me. It was, that I might return some time and ask for your love. It faded, Madeleine; but I claim, as the one solitary consolation which life can ever bring me, to tell you this: you are the only woman I have ever loved."
Madeleine looked at him still; the colour rose higher and brighter on her wasted cheeks; the light blazed up in her blue eyes.
"Did you love me," she said, "because you saved my life?"
"I don't know, child. I loved you--I loved you! That is all I know. I know I ought not to say it now; but I must, I must!"
"Hush!" she said; "and don't shiver there, and don't cry. It is not for such as you to do either!" He resumed his seat; she gave him her hand again, and lay still looking at him--looking at him with her blue eyes full of the inexplicably awful look which comes into the eyes of the dying. After a while she smiled.
"I am very glad you told me," she said. "People said you never cared for the patient, only for the _case_; but since you have been here I have known that was not true. It is better as it is. If your vision had come true, I must have died all the same, and then it would have been harder. It is easier now."
Another fit of coughing--a frightful paroxysm this time. Wilmot rang for the nurse, and Kilsyth and Lady Muriel entered the room with her.
* * * * *
Several hours later Madeleine was lying in the same place, still, tranquil, and at ease. She had had a long interval of respite from the cough, and was cheerful, even bright. Her father was there, and Ronald; Lady Muriel also, but sitting at some distance from her, and looking very sad.
When the time came at which Madeleine was to be removed to her bed, Ronald and Wilmot took leave; the first for the night, the second to return an hour later, and give final instructions to the nurse.
Wilmot's left hand hung down by his side as he stood near her, and Madeleine touched a ring upon his little finger.
"What is the motto on that ring?" she asked.
"The untranslateable French phrase, which I always think is like a shrug in words: _Quand même_," he replied.
The ring was the seal-ring which his wife had been used to wear. It struck him with a new and piercing pain, amid all the pains of this dreadful day, that Madeleine should have noticed it, and reminded him of it then.
"_Quand même_," she said softly. "Notwithstanding, even so--ah, it can't be said in English, but it means the same in every tongue." He bent over her, no one was near, her eyes met his; she said, "I am very happy--very happy, _Quand même!_"
* * * * *
Wilmot went home and sat down to think--to think over the words he had spoken and heard. He was overpowered with the fatigue, the excitement, the emotion of the day. A thousand confused images floated before his weary eyes; the room seemed full of phantoms. Was this illness? Could it be possible? No, that must not be; he could not be ill; he had not time. After--yes, after, illness--anything! but not yet. He called for wine and bread, and ate and drank. His thoughts became clearer, and arranged themselves; then he became absorbed in reflection. He had told his servant he should require the carriage in an hour, and, hearing a noise in the hall, he started up, thinking the time had come. He opened his study-door, and called--
"Is that the brougham, Stephen?"
"No, sir," said the man, presenting himself with an air of having something important to say.
"What is it, then?" said Wilmot impatiently. "A messenger from Brook-street, sir; Captain Kilsyth's man, sir."
Wilmot went out into the hall. The man was there, looking pale and frightened.
"What is it, Martin? what is it?"
"Captain Kilsyth sent me, sir, to let you know that Mrs. Caird is dead, sir,--a few minutes after you left, sir. Went off like a lamb. They didn't know it, sir; till the nurse came to lift her into bed."
CHAPTER XIV. Forlorn.
Yes, she was dead; had died with a smile upon her lips; had died at peace and charity with all; had died knowing that the man whom she had looked up to and reverenced, had loved with all the pure and guileless love of her young heart, had loved her also, and had so loved her that he had suffered in silence, and only spoken when the confession could bring no remorse to her, even no longing regret for what might have been. Even no longing regret? No! "Happy, _quand même_," were the last words that ever passed her lips; "happy, _quand même_,"--she had been something to him after all! In the few short and fleeting hours which she had passed between hearing Chudleigh Wilmot's confession, wrung from his heart by the great agony which possessed him, she had pondered over the words which he had spoken with inexpressible delight. What can we tell, we creatures moulded in coarser clay, creatures of baser passions, soiled in the perpetual contact with earth, its mean fears and gross aspirations, if aspirations they may be called,--what can we tell of the feelings of a young girl like this? Death, which we contemplate as the King of Terrors, threatening us with his uplifted dart, and destined to drag us away from the stage of life, bright with its tawdry tinsel, and its garish splendour, came to her in softer and more kindly guise. For months she had been expecting the advent of the "shadow cloaked from head to foot," in whose gentle embrace she knew that she must shortly find herself. Those around her, her loving, doating father, Lady Muriel, Ronald, softened by the silent contemplation of her gradually-decreasing strength, the daily ebbing of physical force, the daily loosening of even the slight hold on life which she possessed, visible even to his unpractised eyes,--none of these had the smallest idea that the frail delicate creature, round whose couch they stood day by day with forced smiles and feigned hope, knew better than any of them, better even than he whose professional skill had never been brought into such play, how swiftly the current of her life was bearing her on to the great rapids of Eternity. And if before she had heard those burning words, intensified by the agony shown in the choking voice in which they found their utterance, she had been able calmly and not unwillingly to contemplate her fate, how much greater had been her resignation, how much more readily did she accept the fiat when she learned that the one love of her life had been returned; and that, despite of all that had come between them, despite the interposition of the dread barrier which had apparently so effectually separated them from each other, the man who had been to her far beyond all others, had singled her out as the object of his adoration!
In those few last earthly hours the "what might have been" had passed through her mind, and passed away again, leaving behind it no trace of anguish or remorse. Not only to Wilmot had the time since their first acquaintance at Kilsyth passed in review in phantasmagoric semblance; Madeleine had often gone through such scenes in the short drama, recollecting every detail, remembering much which had been overlooked even in his rapid summary. "What might have been!" Even suppose the dearest, the only real aspiration of her heart had been accomplished, and sire had become Chudleigh Wilmot's wife, would not the inevitable end have had additional distress and misery to both of them? The inevitable end! for she must have died--she knew that; not for one instant did she imagine that any combination of circumstances different from what had actually occurred could have averted or postponed the fulfilment of the dread decree. Her married life had not been specially happy; then should she not have less regret in leaving it? Would not the pangs of parting be robbed of half their bitterness by the knowledge that her husband left behind would not sink under the blow? What might have been? Ah, Wilmot would feel her loss acutely, she knew that; the one outburst of grief, of passionate tenderness and heartfelt agony which had escaped him had told her that; but he would feel it less than if what might have been had been, and she had been taken away from him in the early days of their love and happiness.
A notion that such thoughts as these might have filled the mind of her for whom they mourned occurred to each of those by whom the dead girl was really loved, not indeed at once nor simultaneously, but at divers times, as they pondered over the blank which her loss had left in their lives. Among this number Mr. Ramsay Caird was not to be reckoned. The solemn announcement which, at his own request, Dr. Wilmot had made to him as to the impossibility of his wife's recovery and the probable short duration of her illness had had very little effect on the young man. What were the motives which prompted him were known to himself alone; but the _insouciance_, to use the mildest term for it, which had prompted him during the whole of his short married life seemed in no way diminished even by the dread news which had been communicated to him. He acknowledged that he had seen Dr. Wilmot, and had asked him his opinion; that that opinion had been very serious, and to some persons would have been alarming, but that he was not easily alarmed, and that he was utterly and entirely incredulous in the present instance. Madeleine had a bad cough, and was naturally delicate on her chest, and that sort of thing; she did not wrap up enough when she went out, and sat in draughts: but as to the way in which they all went on about her--well, they would find that he was right, and then they would be sorry they had listened to any such nonsense. He said this to Lady Muriel; for both Kilsyth and Ronald shrunk from any communication with him. Bitterest among all the bitter feelings which oppressed these two men, so different in mind and spirit, but with their love centred on the same object, was the thought that they had given up the guardianship of their treasure to one who was utterly unworthy of it, and, as one of them at least confessed to himself with keen remorse, had blighted two lives by unreasoning and short-sighted pride.
So, while his young wife had been gradually declining, Ramsay Caird had made very little alteration in the mode of life which he had thought fit to pursue since the earliest days of his marriage. Relying principally on the fact, which he was constantly urging, that he was of "no use," he absented himself more and more from his home; and when "doing duty" there, as he phrased it, strove in no way to hide the dislike with which he regarded the irksome task. Companionship was necessary to Ramsay Caird, and was not to be obtained, he found, among the class with whom since his arrival in London and his domestication in Brook-street he had been accustomed to associate. The men who had been pleasantly familiar with him in those days stood aloof, and seemed by no means anxious to continue the acquaintance. They had come, soon after his marriage, and dined in the little red-flocked tank in Squab-street, but that was principally for Madeleine's sake; and when rumours as to the newly-founded _ménage_ grew rife, and more especially after Tommy Toshington's delightful story of seeing Caird at Madame Favorita's door had got wind, the men generally agreed that he was a bad lot, and fought as shy of him as was compatible with common politeness. For it is to be noted that the loose-living Benedick, the married man who glories in his own escapades and talks with unctuous smack of his dissipations, is generally shunned by those men of his own set, who are by no means strait-laced, and forced to seek his company in a lower grade.
Ramsay Caird began to be bored and oppressed by his wife's illness, and by the constant presence of her father and brother at his house. It is true that he never saw these unwelcome visitors--on both sides any meeting was studiously avoided--but he could not help knowing of their being constantly with the invalid; and his own conscience, as much of it as he had ever possessed, did not fail to tell him what must be their indubitable opinion of him and his conduct. The companions too with whom he had taken up--for Ramsay Caird was essentially gregarious, and especially during the last few months had found the impossibility of living without excitement--the new companions with whom he consorted, and who were principally half-sporting, half-military, whole raffish adventurers, always well dressed, and retaining a certain hold on society, where they once had been well received,--these men encouraged Caird in his dislike to his home, and assisted him in the invention of plausible excuses to get away from it. The fact that he had "gone on to the turf," which he had at first taken every precaution to prevent his connections in Brook-street from becoming acquainted with, and which, when some kind common friend had told them of it, struck Kilsyth with silent horror, and aroused much burning and outspoken indignation in Ronald, was now put forward on every occasion, just as though it had been a legitimate business on which he was employed. "Meetings" were constantly taking place all over the country at which his attendance was indispensable, and he was soon well known as one of the regular frequenters of the betting-ring. On his return the servants in Squab-street could generally tell what had been the result of his betting speculations; but only to them and to one other person did he ever show his temper. And that one other person was Lady Muriel--the proud Lady Muriel--who in all matters between her husband and this man, who by her instrumentality had become the husband of her husband's daughter, had to be the go-between; to her it was left to soften his irregularities and gloss them over as best she might, and she alone possessed his confidence. To be the _confidante_ of a gambler and the apologist for a debauchee was scarcely what Lady Muriel had expected when she gave her pledge to dying Stewart Caird, and when she intrigued and manoeuvred so successfully in gaining her stepdaughter's hand for Ramsay.
Three days before Madeleine's death Ramsay Caird announced to Lady Muriel, whom he stopped as she was about to ascend the stairs to the invalid's room, that he wanted to speak to her, and, on joining him in the red-flocked tank, told her that he was about to start that night for Paris. There were races at Chantilly in which he was very much interested, having a large sum at stake, and it was absolutely necessary that he should be on the spot to watch and avail himself of the fluctuations in the betting-ring. Then, for the first time during their acquaintance, Lady Muriel spoke out to her quondam protégé. The long-repressed emotions under which she was suffering seemed to have given her eloquence; she drew a vivid picture of "what might have been" if Ramsay's conduct had been different, and lashed his present life and pursuits, the company he kept, and the general degradation into which he had fallen, with an unsparing tongue. She implored him to give up his intended journey, assuring him that he either would not or could not understand the extreme danger of his wife's position, pointing out to him what scandal must necessarily arise from his absenting himself at such a time, and telling him that his past conduct during his married life, already sufficiently commented upon by the world, might to a certain extent be condoned by his doing his duty and devoting himself to his home for the future. Ramsay listened impatiently, as men of his stamp always listen to such advice, and then he in his turn spoke out. He said that he would be his own master, that he would brook no interference with his plans, that already he was a mere cipher in his own house, which was invaded and occupied by other people at their own pleasure, and that he would stand it no longer; then, after this outburst, he moderated his tone, apologised to Lady Muriel for his violence, and told her that, though the importance of his business arrangements and the largeness of his venture made it absolutely necessary for him to go to Paris on this occasion, yet it should be the last; he would do as her ladyship wished him, as he felt he ought to do, and his enemies should find that he was not so black as by some persons he had been painted.
So Ramsay Caird and a select circle of British turfites took their departure by that night's mail, and enjoyed themselves very much, smoking, drinking, and playing cards whenever it was practicable on the journey. Most of them were men whose acquaintance Caird had made some time previously; but amongst them there was a Frenchman, a M. Leroux, whom Ramsay had never previously seen, although the little gentleman said he had frequently been in England, and seemed perfectly conversant with the English language, manners, and customs. He was a lively, vivacious, gasconading little fellow; and any temporary depression of spirits which Ramsay Caird may have felt after his interview with Lady Muriel quite vanished under the influence of M. Leroux's conversation. He and M. Leroux seemed to have taken a mutual liking to each other; they went together to the races, where Caird won a large sum of money, Leroux not being quite so fortunate; and on their return to Paris, Ramsay declined to join his English friends, and dined with Leroux and some very agreeable Frenchmen to whom Leroux had introduced him at the races. The dinner was excellent; and after they had done full justice to it, and to the wines which accompanied it, they all adjourned so some neighbouring rooms belonging to one of their number, where cards and dice were speedily introduced. Again Ramsay Caird's luck stood by him. _Malheureux en amour_, he was destined to be _heureux en jeu_ on this occasion at least. Nothing could alter or diminish his flow of success; no matter what he played, lansquenet, baccarat, hazard, he won largely at them all; and when at a very late hour he left the rooms in company with Leroux and two of his friends, his pockets were filled with notes and gold. They were quite empty when they were examined about noon the next day by the attendants at the Morgue, whither Ramsay Caird's dead body, found in the Seine with a deep gash in its breast, had been conveyed.
M. Leroux and his friends did not come so well out of this little affair as they had expected. They knew that Ramsay was a stranger in Paris, known only to the English sporting-men in whose company he had arrived there, and who had probably returned to England. But they did not make allowance for the fact that of all cities Paris has a charm for the "English division," who, if they have won any money, linger for a few days amongst its pleasures, one of which undoubtedly is a frequent visit to the Morgue. By one of these late lingerers, no less a person than Captain Severn, the body of Ramsay Caird was seen and recognised; inquiries were at once set on foot; the waiter at the restaurant, the _concierge_ at the house where the play had taken place, were examined, and gave their evidence. M. Leroux and his two friends were apprehended; one of the friends turned traitor (his share of the spoil had been too small), and Leroux and the other, being found guilty of murder under extenuating circumstances, were sentenced to the galleys for life.
The news of this catastrophe was conveyed to the Kilsyth family in a letter addressed by Captain Severn to Ronald, which letter lay unopened in Brook-street for several days. Ronald Kilsyth was far too much crushed and broken by the blow, which, for all their long expectation of its advent, had yet fallen suddenly upon them at the last, to attend to anything unconnected, as he imagined, with the dead. He had indeed carelessly glanced at the cover of this letter, with several others; but the handwriting was unfamiliar to him, and he put it aside, to be opened at a later opportunity. It was not until two or three days afterwards, when Ramsay Caird had been sought in vain, and when Lady Muriel had confessed that he had confided to her his intention of going to Paris, that Ronald recollected the letter in the strange handwriting with the Paris postmark. He sent for the letter, and read it through without the smallest sign of emotion. He was a hard man, Ronald Kilsyth, and the softening effect of his sister's illness only included her and those who were fond of her. Ronald knew well enough that Ramsay Caird did not come within this category, and he felt no pity for his fate.
He communicated the news to his father more as a matter of form than anything else; for the shock of his beloved child's death had almost deprived Kilsyth of his reason. Like Rachel, he refused to be comforted, and would sit hour after hour in one position on his chair, his eyes fixed on vacancy, his chin resting on his breast, his hands idly clasped before him. Nothing seemed to rouse him,--not even the news which had been conveyed to Ronald in Captain Severn's letter. He comprehended it, for he said "Poor Ramsay!" once, and once only; then heaved a deep sigh, and never alluded to his dead son-in-law again. His thoughts were filled with reminiscences of his lost darling, and he had none to bestow on anyone else. "My poor Maddy!" "My bonnie lass!" "My own childie!"--he would sit and repeat these phrases over and over again; then steal away down to the house where all that was left of her still lay, and remain on his knees by the coffin, until Ronald would come and half forcibly lead him away. He left London immediately after the funeral, and never could be persuaded to return to it. After a while, the fresh mountain air, to which he had been so accustomed, and away from which he was never well, had some of its old restorative effect, and Kilsyth recovered most of his physical strength and some of his old pleasure in field sports; but his zest for life was gone, and the gullies mourned the alteration in the chief whom they loved so much.
The death of Ramsay Caird under such horrible circumstances was a crushing blow to Lady Muriel. This, then, was the end of all her schemes and plots; this the result of so much mental agony and remorse endured by herself--of so much grief and cruel injustice inflicted by her on others. She had kept the promise she had made to Stewart Caird on his deathbed, two lives had been sacrificed, two loves had been blighted--but she had kept her promise. For the first time in her life "my lady's" courage failed her; and her conscience showed her how recklessly she had availed herself of the means to gain her ends. For the first time in her life she dreaded meeting the glances of the world. More than all men she dreaded Ronald Kilsyth, knowing as she did full well how she had used him for her own purposes, and with what lamentable results. She had been seriously affected by Madeleine's death--like many worldly people, never knowing how much she had loved the girl until she lost her; and now the fact of Ramsay's murder under such discreditable circumstances--a story which had been made public in the newspapers, where the world could glean the undeniable truth that the murdered man had left what was actually his wife's deathbed to attend some races--seemed to overwhelm her The young men who visited at the house had been in the habit of expressing to each other great admiration of Lady Muriel's "pluck"--that quality did not desert her even at her worst. She made head against her troubles, and never gave in; but those intimate enemies who saw her before she left London with her husband declared Lady Muriel to be "quite broken" and a "thorough wreck."
And Chudleigh Wilmot? He lived, of course; lived, and ate and drank, and pursued very much his usual course of life. Well, no; not quite his usual course of life. The effect of the death of the one woman whom in his lifetime he had loved was to him much as are the gunshot wounds of which we sometimes hear officers and army surgeons tell; wounds where the hit man feels a slight concussion at the moment, and does not know until a short time afterwards that he is stunned, paralysed for ever. While Wilmot had been watching the insidious progress of Madeleine's disease, his mental misery at times was most acute; every variation in her was apparent to his practised eye; and day by day he saw the destroyer creeping stealthily onward in his attack, without the smallest power to resist him. When the bitter tidings of her death were brought by Ronald's servant, the words fell upon Chudleigh Wilmot's ear and smote him as if a sharp cut from a whip had fallen upon him. She whom he had loved so devotedly, so hopelessly, so selflessly, was dead--he realised that. He knew that he should never see the light in her blue eyes, never hear the sweet soft tones of her voice again. He was thankful that, under the impulse of his grief, he had spoken to her out of his overcharged heart and told her how he loved her. He dared not have done it before, he dared not under any other circumstances have confessed the passion for her that had so long been the motive-power of his life; but then--"Happy, _quand même!_" Her last words--she never had spoken after that--her last words were addressed to him, and told him of her happiness.
It was not until after the funeral that Wilmot experienced the full effect of the blow, experienced it in the dead dull blankness which seemed for the second time to have fallen upon his life. He had had something of the kind before, but nothing equal in intensity to what he now suffered. He felt as though the light had died out, and that henceforward he was to walk in darkness, without care, without hope, without interest in any mortal thing. Previously he had found some relief in hard study; now he found it impossible to fix his attention on his hooks. The awful sense of something impending was perpetually upon him; the more awful sense of something wanting in his life never left him. The only time that a ray of comfort broke in upon him was when Ronald Kilsyth would come and sit with him, and they would talk of the dead girl for hours together, as Madeleine had predicted they would do. They are very much together now, these two men; Ronald has risen in the service, and he and Wilmot are engaged in ameliorating the condition of the common soldiers and their families, It was a work in which Madeleine at one time took much interest; and this was sufficient to recommend it to Wilmot, who at once took it up.
He is a middle-aged man now, with a grizzled head and a worn grave face. He has wealth and fame, and might have any position; but the world can offer him nothing that arouses in him the slightest interest, unless it be associated with the memory of his lost love.