Part 9 out of 9
'It is a nervous complaint,' faltered Ida; 'he will soon get over it, I
hope and believe, if we take proper care of him. He is very excitable,
very unlike his old self; and you must not be astonished at anything he
may say or do.'
'You don't mean that he is out of his mind?' said Bessie, with an
'No, no; nothing of the kind--at least, nothing that is likely to be
lasting; but he has delusions sometimes--a kind of hysterical affection.
Oh, Bessie, I did not want you to know anything; I tried to keep you
Bessie had her arms round her old friend, and Ida, quite broken down by
the fears and agitations of the last six weeks, hid her face upon Mrs.
Jardine's shoulder and sobbed aloud. It was a complete collapse of heroic
resolutions, of that unflinching courage and strength of mind which had
sustained her so long; but it was also a blessed relief to the
overcharged heart and brain.
'It is very selfish of me to plague you with my troubles,' she said, when
Bessie had kissed and comforted her with every expression of sympathy and
tenderness in the gamut of womanly love, 'but I wanted you to be prepared
for the worst. And now, let me help you to change your gown, if you are
going to make any change for dinner. The gong will sound in less than
'Oh, those gongs, they always fill me with despair!' cried Bess. 'I am
never ready when ours begins to buzz through the house, like a gigantic,
melancholy-mad bumble bee. Of course I must change, dear; firstly,
because I am smothered with dust, and sixthly, as Dogberry says, because
I have brought a pretty gown to do honour to Wimperfield.'
And Bessie, rushing to her portmanteau, and tearing out its contents in a
frantic way, shook out the laces and ribbons of a gracious Watteau-like
arrangement in Madras muslin, while she chattered to her hostess.
'Shall I send for Jane Dyson?' the immaculate maid, who had lived with an
archbishop's wife. 'She can unpack your things.'
'Not for worlds. I have oceans to tell you, and I should hate that prim
personage looking on and listening. Such news, Ida: Urania is engaged.'
'That was what everybody said. This was her sixth season, and it
was rapidly becoming a case of real distress, and she was getting
blue, oh, to a frightful extent--a perambulatory epitome of
Huxley-cum-Darwin,--that's what our boys call her. And now, after
refusing ever so many nice young men in the Government offices because
they were not rich enough for her, she is going to make a great match,
and marry a nasty old man.'
'Oh, Bessie! nasty and old!'
'Strong language, isn't it? but the gentleman has been to Kingthorpe, and
there is no doubt about the fact. One wouldn't mind his being elderly if
he were only a gentleman; but he is not.'
'Then why in mercy's name does Miss Rylance marry him?'
'Because he is Sir Tobias Vandilk, one of the richest men on the Stock
Exchange. He is of Dutch extraction, they say; and this is supposed to
account for his utter destitution with regard to English aspirates. He
has a palace in Park Lane, and a park in Yorkshire; gives dinners of a
most _recherche_ description every Thursday in the season; and immense
shooting parties, at which I am told he and his friends slaughter
quintillions of pheasants, and flood the London market every autumn; and
it is whispered that he has lent money to royal personages.'
'Is Urania happy?'
'If she is not, I know who is. Dr. Rylance looks twenty years younger
since the engagement. He was beginning to get weighed down by Urania. You
remember with what a firm hand he managed her in days gone by! Well,
after she took to Huxley and Darwin, and the rest of them, that was all
over. She was always tripping him up with some little shred of scientific
knowledge, fresh from Tyndall; always attacking his old-fashioned notions
with some new light. He was as merry as a boy let loose from school when
he came down to Kingthorpe the other day. He went to one of our picnics,
and made himself tremendously agreeable. We took Sir Tobias to see the
Abbey, and had afternoon tea there. He pretended to admire everything,
but in a patronising way that made me savage; affected to think Wendover
Abbey a little bit of a place, as compared with his modern barrack in
Yorkshire, with its riding-school, tan gallop, range of orchard-houses,
picture-gallery, and so on. And Urania's grandeur is something too large
for words. "You and Mr. Jardine must come and stay with us at Hanborough
some day," she said, as if she were promising me a treat; so I told her
plainly that my husband's parish work made such a visit impossible. "Oh,
but some day," she said sweetly. "Never," said I; "we are rooted in the
chalk of Salisbury Plain." "Poor things!" she sighed, "what a destiny!"'
'And you all drank tea at the Abbey,' said Ida, musingly; 'dear old
Abbey! I can fancy you there, in the long low library, with the afternoon
sunlight shining in at the open windows, and Mary Stuart smiling at you
from the panelling over one fire-place, and crafty Elizabeth looking
sideways at you from over the other, and the Dijon roses clambering and
twining round every lattice.'
'How well you remember the old place. Isn't it horrid of Brian to stay
away all these years?'
'It is--rather eccentric.'
'Eccentric! It is positively wicked, when we know how agreeable he can
make himself. Why, in that happy summer we spent at the Abbey he
brightened all our lives. Didn't he, now, Ida?'
'He was very kind,' faltered Ida, like a slave giving evidence under
torture. 'Have you heard from him lately?'
'Not for more than a year, but father hears of him through his London
agent, and we know he is well. He sent us all lovely presents last
Christmas--Indian shawls, prayer-rugs, ivories, carved sandalwood boxes.
The Vicarage is glorified by his gifts.'
The gong began booming and buzzing as Bessie pinned a big yellow rose
among the folds of her Madras fichu, and Mrs. Jardine and her hostess
went down to the drawing-room lovingly arms entwined, as in that long-ago
holiday, when Ida was a guest at Kingthorpe.
Lady Palliser and Mr. Jardine were in the drawing-room talking to each
other, while Brian paced up and down the room, pale and wan, as he had
looked yesterday in the church. He offered his arm to Bessie at his
wife's bidding, without a word. Mr. Jardine followed, with Lady Palliser
and Ida; and the little party of five sat down to dinner with a blight
upon them, the awful shadow of domestic misery. There are many such
dinners eaten every day in England--than which the Barmecide's was a more
cheerful feast, a red herring and bread and butter in a garret a banquet
of sweeter savour.
For the first two courses Brian preserved a sullen silence. He ate
nothing--did not even pretend to eat--and drank the sherry and soda-water
which were offered to him without comment. With the third course the
butler, who had supplied him with the prescribed amount of sherry, gave
him plain soda-water. He looked at his tumbler for a moment or so, and
burst out laughing.
'Byron used to drink soda-water at dinners when he was the rage in London
society,' he said. 'It was _chic_, and Byron was like Sara Bernhardt--he
would have done anything to get himself talked about.'
'I should have thought the fame he won by "Childe Harold" would have
satisfied him, without any outside notoriety as a total abstainer,' said
'Oh, if you think that, you don't know Byron,' exclaimed Brian. 'He
wanted people always to be talking of him. A man may write the greatest
book that was ever written, and the world will accept it, and put him on
a pinnacle; but they soon leave off talking about him unless he does
something. He must keep a bear in his rooms--quarrel with his wife--wear
a pea-green overcoat--cross the Channel in a balloon--and go on doing
queer things--if he wants to be famous. Byron was an adept in the art of
_reclame_--just as Whistler is on his smaller scale. It wasn't enough for
Byron to be the greatest poet of modern Europe, he wanted to be the most
notorious rake and _roue_ into the bargain.'
'It was a curious nature,' said Mr. Jardine--'half gold and half tinsel.'
'Ah, but the tinsel caught the public. I really don't think, for a man
who wants to make a stir in his generation, a fellow could have played
his cards better than Byron did.'
'It is a life that one can only contemplate with infinite pity and
regret--a great nature, wrecked by small vices and smaller follies,' said
Mr. Jardine; and then Brian took up the strain, and talked with loud
assertiveness of the right of genius to do what it likes in the world,
launching out into a broad declaration of infidelity and rank
materialism, which shocked and scared the three women who heard him.
Ida gave an imploring look at her stepmother, and they all three rose
simultaneously, and hastily retired, driven away by that blatant
blasphemy. John Jardine closed the door upon the ladies, and then went
quietly back to his seat. He heard all that Brian had to say--he listened
to his wild ramblings as to the voice of an oracle; and then, when Brian
had poured out his little stock of argument in favour of materialism, had
quoted Aristotle, and Holbach, and Hume, and Comte, and Darwin, and had
perverted their arguments against a personal God into the divine right of
man to ruin his soul and body, John Jardine, who had read more of
Aristotle than Brian knew of all the metaphysicians put together, and who
had Plato, Kant, and Dugald Stewart in his heart of hearts, gravely took
up the strain, and made mincemeat of Mr. Wendover's philosophy.
Brian listened meekly, and did not appear to take offence when the Vicar
went on to warn him against the peril here and hereafter of a life
misspelt, a constitution ruined by self-indulgence, talents unused,
opportunities neglected. The pale and haggard wretch sat cowering, as the
voice of reproof and warning went on, solemnly, earnestly, with the warm
sympathy which springs from perfect pity, from the Christian's wide love
of his fellow-men.
'For your wife's--for your own sake--for the love of Him in whose image
you were made--wrestle with the devil that possesses you,' said John
Jardine, when they had risen to leave the room, laying his hand
affectionately upon Brian's shoulder. 'Believe me, victory is possible.'
'Not now,' Brian answered, with a semi-hysterical laugh. 'It is too late.
There comes an hour, you know, even in your all-merciful creed, when the
door is shut. "Too late, ye cannot enter now." The door is shut upon me.
I fooled my life away in London. It was pleasant enough while it lasted,
but it's over now. I can say with Cleopatra--"O my life in Egypt, O, the
dalliance and the wit."'
They were in the hall by this time. The broad marble-paved hall, with its
marble figures of gods and goddesses, of which nobody ever took any more
notice than if they had been umbrella stands. They were crossing the hall
on their way to the drawing-room, when Brian suddenly clutched John
Jardine's arm and reeled heavily against him, with an appalling cry.
'Hold me!' he screamed; 'hold me! I am going down!'
It was one of the dreadful symptoms of his dreadful disease. All at once,
with the solid black and white marble beneath his feet, he felt himself
upon the edge of a precipice, felt himself falling, falling, falling,
into a bottomless pit.
It was an awful feeling, a waking nightmare. He sank exhausted into John
Jardine's arms, panting for breath.
'You are safe, it is only a momentary delusion,' said Mr. Jardine. 'Have
you had that feeling often before?'
'Yes--sometimes--pretty often,' gasped Brian.
Mr. Jardine's wide reading and large experience as a parish priest had
made him half a doctor. He knew that this was one of the symptoms of
delirium tremens, and a symptom seen mostly in cases of a dangerous type.
He had suspected the nature of Mr. Wendover's disease before now; but now
he was certain of it.
He went with Brian to his room, advising him to lie down and rest. Brian
appearing consentient, Mr. Jardine left him, with Towler in attendance.
In the drawing-room the Vicar contrived to get a little quiet talk with
Ida, while at the other end of the room Lady Palliser was expatiating to
Bessie upon the minutest details of her boy's illness. He invited Ida's
confidence, and frankly told her that he had fathomed the nature of
'I have seen too many cases in the course of my parochial experience not
to recognise the painful symptoms. I am so sorry for you and for him. It
is a bright young life thrown away.'
'Do you think he will not recover?'
'I think it is a very bad case. He is wasted to a shadow, and has a worn,
haggard look that I don't like. And then he has those painful
hallucinations--that idea of falling down a precipice, for instance,
which are oftenest seen in fatal cases.'
Ida told him of the scene in the church yesterday--she confided in him
fully--telling him all that Dr. Mallison had said of the case.
'What can I do?' she asked, piteously.
'I don't think you can do more than you are doing. That man who waits
upon your husband is a nurse, I suppose?'
'Yes. Dr. Mallison sent him.'
'And care is taken that the patient gets no stimulants supplied to him?'
'Every care--and yet--'
'And yet what?'
'I have a suspicion--and I think Towler suspects too--that Brian does get
'But how can that be, if your servants are honest, and this attendant is
to be depended upon?'
'I can't tell you. I believe the servants are incapable of deceiving me.
Towler, the attendant, comes to us with the highest character.'
'Well, I will be on the alert while I am with you,' said Mr. Jardine; and
Ida felt as if he were a tower of strength. 'I have seen these sad cases,
and had to do with them, only too often. On some occasions I have been
happy enough to be the means of saving a man from his own folly.'
'Pray stop as long as you can with us, and do all you can,' entreated
Ida. 'I wish I had asked you to come sooner, only I was so ashamed for
him, poor creature. I thought it would be a wrong to him to let anyone
know how low he had fallen.'
'It is part of my office to know how low humanity can fall and yet be
raised up again,' said Mr. Jardine.
'You won't tell Bessie--she would be so grieved for her cousin.'
'I will tell her nothing more than she can find out for herself. But you
know she is very quick-witted.'
There was a change for the worse in Towler's charge next morning, when
Ida, who still occupied the room adjoining her husband's bedchamber,
went in at eight o'clock to inquire how he had passed the night. Brian
was up, half dressed, pacing up and down the room, and talking
incoherently. He had been up ever since five o'clock, Towler said; but
it was impossible to get him to dress himself, or suffer himself to be
dressed. A frightful restlessness had taken possession of him, more
intense than any previous restlessness, and it was impossible to do
anything for him. His hallucinations since daybreak had taken a frightful
form; he had seen poisonous snakes gliding in and out of the folds of the
bedclothes; he had fancied every kind of hideous monster--the winged
reptiles of the jura formation--the armour-plated fish of the old red
sandstone--everything that is grotesque, revolting, terrible--skeletons,
poison-spitting toads, vampires, were-wolves, flying cats--they had all
lurked amidst the draperies of bed or windows, or grinned at him through
the panes of glass.
'Look!' he shrieked, as Ida approached him, soothing, pleading in
gentlest accents; 'look! don't you see them?' he cried, pointing to the
shapes that seemed to people the room, and trying to push them aside with
a restless motion of his hands; 'don't you see them, the lares and
lemures? Look, there is Cleopatra with the asp at her breast! That bosom
was once beautiful, and see now what a loathsome spectacle death has made
it--the very worms recoil from that corruption. See, there is Canidia,
the sorceress, who buried the boy alive! Look at her hair flying loose
about her head! hair, no, those locks are living vipers! and Sagana, with
hair erect, like the bristles of a wild boar! See, Ida, how she rushes
about, sprinkling the room with water from the rivers of hell! And Veia,
whose cruel heart never felt remorse! Yes, he knew them well, Horace.
These furies were the women he had loved and wooed!'
Fancies, memories flitted across his disordered brain, swift as lightning
flashes. In a moment Canidia was forgotten, and he was Pentheus,
struggling with Agave and her demented crew. They were tearing him to
pieces, their fingers were at his throat. Then he was in the East, a
defenceless traveller in the tropical desert, surrounded by Thugs. He
pointed to one particular spot where he saw his insidious foe--he
described the dusky supple figure, the sinuous limbs, gliding
serpent-like towards him, the oiled body, the dagger in the uplifted
hand. An illustration in Sir Charles Bell's classic treatise had flashed
into his brain. So, from memory to memory, with a frightful fertility of
fancy, his unresting brain hurried on; while his wife could only watch
and listen, tortured by an agony greater than his own. To look on, and to
be powerless to afford the slightest help was dreadful. Up and down, and
round about the room he wandered, talking perpetually, perpetually waving
aside the horrid images which pursued and appalled him, his eyeballs in
constant motion, the pupils dilated, his hollow cheeks deadly pale, his
face bathed in perspiration.
'Send for Mr. Fosbroke,' said Ida, speaking on the threshold of the
adjoining room, to the maid who brought her letters; and, in the midst of
his distraction, Brian's quick ear caught the name.
'Fosbroke me no Fosbrokes!' he said. 'I will have no village apothecaries
diagnosing my disease, no ignorant quack telling me how to treat myself.'
'I will telegraph for Dr. Mallison, if you like, Brian,' Ida answered,
gently; 'but I know Mr. Fosbroke is a clever man, and he perfectly
'Yes, he will have the audacity to tell you he knows what is the matter
with me. He will say this is _delirium tremens_--a lie, and you must know
it is a lie!'
To her infinite relief, Mr. Jardine appeared at this moment He questioned
Towler as to the possibility of tranquillising his patient; and he found
that the sedatives prescribed by Dr. Mallison had ceased to exercise any
beneficial effect. Nights of insomnia and restlessness had been the rule
with the patient ever since Towler had been in attendance upon him.
'I never knew such a brain, or such invention!' exclaimed Towler; 'the
people and the places, and the things he talks about is enough to make a
man's hair stand on end.'
'The natural result of a vivid memory, and a good deal of desultory
'Most patients takes an idea and harps upon it,' said Towler. 'It's the
multiplication table--or the day of judgment--or the volcanoes and
hot-springs, and what-you-may-call-ems, in the centre of the earth; and
they'll go on over and over again--always coming back to the same point,
like a merry-go-round; but this one is quite different. There's no bounds
to his delusions. We're at the North Pole one minute, and digging up
diamonds in Africa the next.'
Brian had flung himself upon his bed, rolled in the damask curtain, like
Henry Plantagenet, what time he went off into one of his fury-fits about
Thomas Becket; and Mr. Jardine and Towler were able to talk
confidentially at a respectful distance.
'Are you sure that he does not get brandy without your knowledge?'
'No, sir,' said Towler; 'that is what I am not sure about. It's a
puzzling case. He didn't ought to be so bad as he is after my care of
him. There ought to be some improvement by this time; instead of which
it's all the other way.'
'What precautions have you taken?'
'I've searched his rooms, and not a thing have I found stowed away
anywhere. It isn't often that he's left to himself, for when I get my
midday sleep Mrs. Wendover sits with him; or, if he's cranky, and wants
to be alone, she stays in the next room, with the door ajar between them;
and Robert, the groom, is on duty in the passage, in case the patient
should get unmanageable.'
'I see--you have been very careful; but practically your patient has been
often alone--the half-open door signifies nothing--he was unobserved, and
free to do what he pleased all the same.'
'But he couldn't drink if there was no liquor within reach.'
'Was there none? that is the question!' answered Mr. Jardine.
'Look about the rooms yourself, sir, and see if he could hide anything,
except in such places as I've overhauled every morning,' said Towler,
with an offended air; and then, swelling with outraged dignity, he flung
open doors of wardrobes and closets, pulled out drawers, and otherwise
demonstrated the impossibility of anything remaining secret from his
'What about the next room?' asked Mr. Jardine, going into the adjoining
room, which was Brian's study.
The room was littered with books and papers heaped untidily upon tables
and chairs, and even strewn upon the carpet. Brian had objected to any
attempt at setting this apartment in order--the servants were to leave
all books and papers untouched, on pain of his severe displeasure. Thus
everything in the shape of litter had been allowed to accumulate, with
its natural accompaniment, dust. Everyone knows the hideous confusion
which the daily and weekly newspapers alone can make in a room if left
unsorted and unarranged for a mouth or so; and mixed with these there
were pamphlets, magazines, manuscripts, and piles of more solid
literature in the shape of books brought up from the library for
reference and consultation.
In one corner there were a pile of empty boxes, and on one of these Mr.
Jardine's eye lighted instantly, on account of its resemblance to a wine
He pulled this box out from the others--a plain deal box, roughly
finished, just the size of a two-dozen case. One label had been pulled
off, but there was a railway label which gave the data of delivery, just
three weeks back.
'Have you any idea what this box contained?' inquired Mr. Jardine.
'No, sir. It was here when I came, just as you see it now.'
'It looks very like a wine merchant's box.'
'Well, it might be a wine-case, sir, as far as the look of it but it
might have held anything. It was empty when I came here, and there's no
stowage for wine bottles in these rooms, as you have seen with your own
'Don't be too sure of that; and now go back to your patient, and get him
to eat some breakfast, if you can, while I go downstairs.'
'He can't eat, sir. It's pitiful; he don't eat enough, for a robin. We
try to keep up his strength with strong soups, and such like; but it's
hard work to get him to swallow anything.'
Mr. Jardine went down to the family breakfast room, where his wife, Ida,
and her stepmother were sitting at table, with pale perturbed faces, and
very little inclination for that excellent fare which the Wimperfield
housekeeper provided with a kind of automatic regularity, and would have
continued to provide on the eve of a deluge or an earthquake. He told Ida
that all was going on quietly upstairs, and that he would share Towler's
task as nurse all that day, so that she might be quite easy in her mind
as to the patient. And then the servants came trooping in, as the clock
struck nine, and they all knelt down, and John Jardine read the daily
portion of prayer and praise.
It had been decreed by medical authority that on this day, provided the
sky were propitious and the wind in a warm quarter, Vernon was to go out
for his first drive. Mr. Jardine accordingly entreated that the three
ladies would accompany him, and that Ida would have no fear as to her
husband's welfare during her absence.
'I don't like to leave him,' she said, in confidence, to Mr. Jardine;
'he seems so much worse this morning--wilder than I have ever seen him
yet--and so white and haggard.'
'He is very bad, but your remaining indoors will do him no good. I will
not leave him while you are away.'
Ida yielded. It was a relief to her to submit to authority--to have some
one able to tell her to do this or that. She felt utterly worn out in
body and mind--all the energy, the calm strength of purpose, which had
sustained her up to a certain point, was now exhausted. Despair had taken
possession of her, and with despair came that dull apathy which is like
death in life.
John Jardine took his wife aside before he went back to Brian's rooms.
'I want you to take care of Ida, to keep with her all day. She has been
sorely tried, poor soul, and needs all your love.'
'She shall have it in full measure,' answered Bessie. 'How grave and
anxious you look! Is Brian very ill?'
'I am afraid so. I shall hear what Mr. Fosbroke says presently, and if
his report be bad, I shall telegraph for the physician.'
'Poor Brian! How strangely he talked at dinner last night! Oh, John, I
hardly dare say it--but--is he out of his mind?'
'Temporarily--but it is the delirium of a kind of brain fever, not
'And he will recover?'
'Please God; but he is very low. I am seriously alarmed about him.'
'Poor dear Brian!' sighed Bess. 'He was once my favourite cousin. But I
must go back to Ida. You need not be afraid of my neglecting her. I
shan't leave her all day.'
Mr. Jardine went to the housekeeper's room to make an inquiry. He wanted
to know what that box from London had contained, a box delivered upon
such and such a date.
The housekeeper's mind was dark, or worse than dark upon the subject--an
obscurity enlightened by flashes of delusive light. Two housemaids, and
an odd man who looked after the coal scuttles, were produced, and gave
their evidence in a manner which would have laid them open to the charge
of rank prevarication and perjury, as to the receipt of a certain wooden
box, which at some stages of the inquiry became hopelessly entangled with
a hamper from the Petersfield fishmonger, and a band-box from Lady
Palliser's Brighton milliner.
'The carriage must have been paid,' said the housekeeper, 'that's the
difficulty. If there'd been anything to pay, it would have been entered
in my book; but when the carriage is paid, don't you see, sir, it's out
of my jurisdiction, as you may say,' with conscious pride in a free use
of the English language, 'and I may hear nothing about it.'
But now the odd man, after much thoughtful 'scratching of his head, was
suddenly enlightened by a flash of memory from the paleozoic darkness
of three weeks ago. He remembered a heavy wooden box that had come in
his dinner-time--the fact of its coming at that eventful hour had
evidently impressed him--and he had carried it up to Mr. Wendover's own
It was very heavy, and Mr. Wendover had told him that it contained books.
'Did you open it for Mr. Wendover?'
'No, sir; I offered to open it, but Mr. Wendover says he'd got the tools
himself, and would open it at his leisure. He had no call for the books
yet awhile, he says, and didn't want it opened.
'I see, the box contained books. Thank you, that's all I wanted to know.'
John Jardine had very little doubt in his mind now as to the actual
contents of the box. He had no doubt that Brian, finding himself refused
drink, for which he suffered the drunkard's incessant craving, had
contrived to get himself supplied from London; and that if the fire of
his disease had known no abatement it was because the fuel that fed the
flame had not been wanting.
The only question that remained to be answered was how Brian, carefully
attended as he had been, had managed to dispose of his secret store of
drink, under the very eyes, as it were, of his keeper. But Mr. Jardine
knew that the sufferer from alcoholic poison is no less cunning than the
absolute lunatic, and that falsehood, meanness, and fraud seem to be
symptoms of the disease.
When he went back to Brian's rooms, he found the patient lying on his
bed, exhausted by the agitation and restlessness of the last few hours.
He was not asleep, but was quieter than usual, in a semi-conscious state,
muttering to himself now and then. Towler was sitting at a little table
by the open window, breakfasting comfortably; his enjoyment of the
coffee-pot, and a dish of ham and eggs, being in no manner lessened by
the neighbourhood of the patient.
'Haven't been able to get him to take any nourishment,' whispered Towler,
as Mr. Jardine came quietly into the room 'He's uncommon bad.'
'Mr. Fosbroke will be here presently, I hope.'
'I don't think he'll be able to do much good when he does come,' said
Towler; 'doctors ain't in it with a case of this kind. If he don't go off
into a good sleep by-and-by, I'm afraid this will be a fatal case.'
Mr. Jardine made no reply to this discouraging observation. There are
times when speech is worse than useless. He stood by the window, looking
over at that shrunken figure on the groat old-fashioned four-post bed,
with its voluminous drab damask curtains, its cords, fringes, tassels,
and useless decorations--the nerveless, helpless figure of wasted youth,
the wreckage of an ill-spent life. The haggard countenance, damp with
the dews of mental agony, and of a livid pallor, looked like the face
of death. What could medicine do for this man beyond diagnosing his case,
and giving an opinion about it, for the satisfaction--God save the
mark!--of his friends? John Jardine knew in his heart that not all the
doctors in Christendom could pick this shattered figure up again, and
replace it in its former position among mankind.
Still intent upon solving that mystery about the contents of the
wine-case, Mr. Jardine's eyes wandered about the room, trying to discover
some hiding-place which the careful had overlooked. But so far he could
see no such thing There was the tall four-poster, with its square
cornice, a ponderous mahogany frame with fluted damask stretched across
it. Could Brian have hidden his brandy up yonder, behind the mahogany
cornice? Surely not. First the damask would have bulged with the weight
of the bottles, and, secondly, the place was not accessible enough. He
must have hidden his poison in some spot where he could apply himself to
it furtively, hurriedly twenty, fifty, a hundred times in the day or
Presently Mr. Jardine's glance fell on the half-open door of the
bath-room. It was a slip of a room cut off the study, a room that had
been created within the last twenty years. It was the only room which Mr.
Jardine had not inspected before he went down to breakfast.
He pushed open the door, and went in, followed by Towler, wiping the
egginess and haminess from his mouth as he went.
'You kept your eye upon this room as well as the others, I suppose,' said
Mr. Jardine, looking about him.
'Yes, sir, I have kept an eye upon everything.'
The apartment was not extensive. A large copper bath with a ponderous
mahogany case, panelled, moulded, bevelled, the elaborate workmanship
of local cabinet-makers; a row of brass hooks hung with bath towels,
which looked like surplices pendent in a vestry; a washstand in a corner,
a dressing-table and glass, with its belongings, in the window, and a
wicker arm-chair, comprised the whole extent of furniture. No
hiding-place here, one would suppose.
Mr. Jardine looked about the room thoughtfully. It was the one apartment
in which the patient could hardly be intruded upon by his attendant. Here
he could be sure of privacy.
'Did you examine the case of the bath,' he inquired presently, his
mathematical eye quick to take in the difference between the inner shell
of copper and the outer husk of mahogany.
'No, sir,' answered Towler, briskly. 'Is it 'oller?'
'Of course it's hollow. Surely your eye tells you that.'
'Yes, sir; but there's the hot-water pipes inside--and there's no getting
at it, except for a plumber.'
'Nonsense,' said Mr. Jardine, kneeling down at one end of the bath, where
there was a convenient mahogany door for the accommodation of the
plumber, a door which lay somewhat in shadow, and had escaped Towler's
'Bring me a candle,' said Mr. Jardine, unconsciously imitating the
brotherhood of plumbers, whose consumption of candles is a household
Towler returned to fetch a candle, while Mr. Jardine with cautious hand
explored the cavern-like recesses between the bath and its outer shell,
recesses in which lurked serpent-like convolutions of hot-water pipes and
cold-water pipes, waste and overflow.
Yes, before Towler could arrive with the candle, he had fathomed the
mystery. Three or four full bottles, and a large number of empties, were
stowed away in this dusty receptacle. He drew one of the full bottles out
into the light. 'Hennessy's Fine Old Cognac,' said the label. This had
been the secret source of fever and delirium--here had lurked the evil
which had made all remedial measures vain.
Mr. Fosbroke was announced while John Jardine was washing the dust and
the stains of rusty iron from his hands. Brian was in too low a condition
to be rude to the country practitioner, much as he had protested against
his interference. He suffered the apothecary to sit by his bed and feel
his pulse, without a word of remonstrance.
'How do you find him?' asked Mr. Jardine, when Mr. Fosbroke had left the
'Very bad; pulse small and thready--a hundred and forty in the minute;
violent throbbing in the temporal and carotid arteries; profuse
perspiration--all bad signs. What medicines has he been taking?'
He was shown the prescriptions.
'Hum--hum--digitalis--bromide of potassium. I should like to inject
chloral; but as the case is in Dr. Mallison's hands--'
'If you think there is danger I will telegraph for Mallison.'
'There is always danger in this stage of the malady, especially in the
case of a patient of Mr. Wendover's age. The season, too, is
unfavourable--the mortality in this complaint is nearly double in summer.
If we can get him into a sound sleep of some hours he may wake with a
decided turn for the better--the delirium subjugated; but in his low
state, even sleep may be fatal--there is so little vital power. Yes, I
should certainly telegraph for Dr. Mallison; and in the meantime I'll try
what can be done with chloral.'
'You must do the utmost you can. Mrs. Wendover has implicit faith in
'I'll drive back and get the chloral.'
When the apothecary was gone, Mr. Jardine's first act was to telegraph to
the London physician, his next, to put the unused bottles of cognac under
lock and key, and, with Towler's help, to clear away the empty bottles
without the knowledge of the servants. No doubt every member of the
household knew the nature of Mr. Wendover's illness; but it was well to
spare him the exposure of these degrading details.
AN ENGLISHMAN'S HOUSE IS HIS CASTLE.
Ida felt a strange relief to her spirits, despite the absolute blackness
of her domestic horizon, when the carriage drove away from Wimperfield.
She had left the house very seldom of late, feeling that duty chained her
to the joyless scene of home; and there was an infinite relief in turning
her back upon that stately white building in which was embodied all the
misery of her blighted life. No charnel-house could be fuller of ghastly,
unspeakable horrors than Wimperfield had become to her since that long,
never-to-be-forgotten night when she had listened to her husband's
ravings, and when all the loathsome objects his distracted fancy had
conjured into being, and his never-resting tongue had described, had been
only a little less real to her mind than they had been to his. Could she
ever again know peace and rest in those rooms; ever tread those corridors
without shuddering and dread, ever know happiness again in all the days
of her life? She leaned back in the carriage as they drove along the
avenue, and rested with half-closed eyes, her soul heavy within her, her
body weighed down by the soreness and weariness of her mind. If life
could but end now! She felt that she could be of no more use in the
world. She could do nothing to help her wretched husband. He had chosen
to go his own way to destruction, and he was too near the edge of the pit
now to be snatched back by any friendly hand. She felt that his fate had
passed beyond the regions of hope. God might pity the self-destroyer, and
deal lightly with him at the great audit; but on this earth there was no
hope of cure. Brian Wendover was going down to the pit.
Bessie sat by Ida's side tenderly watching her worn white face, while
Lady Palliser was entirely absorbed by the delight of administering
fussily to her boy, who was well enough to laugh her shawls and
comforters and motherly precautions to scorn, and to jump about in the
carriage, as at each break in the wood some new object of interest caught
his eye--a rabbit, a squirrel, a hawk high up in the blue, invisible to
any gaze less eager than his own. He was in wild spirits at being out of
doors again, a restless eager soul, not to be restrained by any medical
ordinances or maternal anxieties.
They went for a long drive, the horses, very fresh after the little
exercise of the last month, devouring the ground under them--the summer
breeze brisk and inspiring--the country beautiful beyond measure--an
ever-varying landscape of hill and wood and valley, green pastures and
Bessie chatted gaily in her desire to distract Ida's mind, and the boy's
vivacity never flagged; but Ida sat silent, feeling the blessedness of
this brief respite from the horror of home, but quite unable to talk of
indifferent subjects. She was haunted by the image of her husband as she
had seen him that morning--his ashen countenance, the perpetual movement
of his eyes, those nervous attenuated hands, almost transparent in their
bloodlessness, for ever pushing aside the formless horrors that crowded
round him--pictures painted on the empty air, pictures for ever changing,
yet hideously real to that disorganised brain pictures that spoke and
gibbered at him, shadows with which he carried on conversations.
With this awful image fresh in her mind, Ida could not even pretend to be
cheerful, or interested in common things.
'Don't be unhappy about me, dear,' she said once when Bessie squeezed her
hand, and looked at her with tender anxiety; 'I must bear my burden.
Nobody can help me.'
'Except God,' whispered the Vicar's faithful wife. 'He lightens all
burdens, in His good time.'
On the homeward road they wound near the base of Blackman's Hanger, and
at this point Vernon got up and ordered the coachman to drive as near as
he could to the old gamekeeper's cottage.
'We can walk the rest of the way,' said the boy.
'Walk!' shrieked Lady Palliser. 'Oh, Vernie, what are you dreaming about?
Mr. Fosbroke never said you might walk.'
'Very likely not,' retorted the boy; 'but you don't suppose I'm going to
ask old Fosbroke's leave before I use my legs. Look here, mother dear,
I'm as well as ever I was, and I'm not going to be mollicoddled any
'I am not going to be mollicoddled any more, and I'm going to see old
'He came to see me, and I'm going to see him,' said Vernon, resolutely.
'Remember what your favourite author, the Countess of Seven Stars, says
about the necessity of returning a call--"and if the person calling
happen to be your inferior in social status, the obligation to return the
visit within a reasonable time will be so much the stronger." There,
mother; there are the very words of your "Creme de la Creme" for you.'
'But, Vernon, the countess would never have imagined such a person as a
Cheap Jack calling upon anyone for whom her book was intended.'
'The book was intended for a parcel of stuck-up cads,' said Vernon. 'Get
This to the coachman, who was driving slowly, perfectly conscious of the
squabble going on behind him, and anticipating the reversal of Sir
Vernon's order. But Lady Palliser said nothing, so Jackson quickened his
pace a little, and drove along the rough winding road which skirted the
base of the hill.
Directly he drew up his horses Vernon leapt out, and the three women
followed him. After all, the mother inwardly argued, it were a pity to
thwart her darling. He was in such high spirits, and seemed so thoroughly
himself again. His very wilfulness was delightful, for it told of renewed
They all climbed the hill together, by a cork-screw track which was not
too distressing. The atmosphere was cool and fresh at this altitude, the
odour of the pines ambrosial.
'I suppose we had better wait a little way off, Vernie,' said Ida, when
they were within a dozen yards of the hut. 'Your friend is so very
uncivil to ladies.'
'Yes, you'd better rest yourselves on that fir tree,' answered Vernon,
pointing to prostrate giant of the grove which had been Lilely felled,'
while I run on and see him.'
They obeyed, but in less than five minutes Vernon came back.
'Jack is out, but his house is open,' he said, eagerly, 'and I want you
all to come and see it. I want you to see the house that my Jack built.'
'But would it be right to go into his cottage when he is away?' asked
'Of course it would,' cried her brother, dancing along before them. 'You
must come--there's nothing to be ashamed of, I can tell you. Mother will
see that my Jack isn't a vulgar person, that he can read and write, and
has the ways of a gentleman.'
'I should certainly like to see what kind of person my son associates
with,' said Lady Palliser, who, in common with the non-studious class of
mankind, was a keen inquirer into the details of daily life.
She liked to know where her acquaintance had their gowns made, and what
wages they gave their cooks, and to be the first to hear of matrimonial
engagements and dangerous illnesses.
The cottage door stood wide open, and as there was neither hall nor
passage, the moment the three Fatimas had crossed the threshold they were
standing in the innermost sanctuary of Mr. Cheap Jack's private life, and
the character of the man stood revealed to them, so far as surroundings
can reveal a man's character.
He was a smoker, for the room, albeit the lattice stood wide open, smelt
strongly of tobacco, and over the narrow wooden mantelpiece were slung
three pipes, one a long cherry-wood tube of decidedly Oriental
'Quite gentlemanly looking pipes,' said Lady Palliser.
The room was in perfect order, everything arranged with an exquisite
neatness. The floor was covered with a coarse, substantial matting,
spotlessly clean. The furniture consisted of a clumsy old walnut-wood
table, evidently picked up at some farmhouse or cottage in the
neighbourhood, a heavy piece of cabinet work of the same order, half
secretaire half bookcase, a couple of substantial arm-chairs, and a
ponderous old oak chest--also the relic of some dismantled homestead.
There was a brass clock on the chimney-piece, and there were a number of
rather dingy-looking volumes in the bookcase, while the floor under the
table was piled with quartos and thick octavos, which looked like books
of reference. An old leathern despatch box, much the worse for wear,
stood on the table. Ornaments, pictures, or photographs there were none.
'It really looks like a gentleman's room,' said Lady Palliser, after her
eyes had devoured every detail.
'It _is_ a gentleman's room,' answered Vernon, decisively. 'Didn't I tell
you my friend Jack is a gentleman?'
'Vernie dear, a man who goes about the country in a cart selling things
can't be a gentleman!' said his mother.
'I don't quite see that, Lady Palliser,' exclaimed Bessie, who was
inspecting the book-shelves. 'A gentleman may fall upon evil days, and
have to earn his living somehow, don't you know; and why shouldn't he
have a cart, and go about selling things? There's nothing disreputable in
it, though he could hardly go into society, perhaps, while he was driving
the cart, because the mass of mankind are such fools. Why shouldn't
Vernie's instinct be right, and this Cheap Jack be a reduced gentleman?
Froude says that in the colonies Oxford men may be seen mending the
roads. Why shouldn't one man in the world have the courage to do humble
work in his own country? This Jack is a University man.'
'How do you know that?' asked Lady Palliser, eagerly. She was ready to
bow down before a University man as a necessarily superior being. There
had never been such a person of her own blood.
'Here is a volume of AEschylus--the Clarendon Press--with his college
arms. He is a Balliol man, the same college as my cousin Brian's.'
'That proves nothing,' said Lady Palliser, contemptuously. 'He may have
bought the book at a stall. All his furniture is second-hand, why not his
'Oh, but here are more books with the Balliol arms--Pindar, Theocritus,
Catullus, Horace, Virgil.'
'Can't you find his name in any of them?'
'No; that has been erased in some of the books, and has never been
written in the others. Poor fellow! I daresay he would not like his real
name to be known.'
'Didn't I tell you he was a gentleman, mother?' exclaimed Vernon,
Lady Palliser was almost convinced. The neat, substantially furnished
room--so free from frippery or foppishness--the queer Oriental pipes--the
well-used books in sober calf bindings, which had once been splendid--the
college arms on almost every volume--these details impressed her in spite
'Poor young man! I should like to send him some money,' she said.
'He would not take it; he would scorn your money,' said Vernon. 'What
does he want with pounds, shillings, and pence? He told me that so long
as he has his books to read, his pipe to smoke, and a fine country to
roam about, he cares for nothing else. Your money wouldn't buy him
'You don't understand, Vernie dear. We might do something substantial for
him--set him up in a nice little shop at Petersfield, perhaps a
stationer's, or,' with a glance at the rack of pipes, 'a tobacconist's.'
'My Jack keeping a shop! my Jack behind a counter!' cried Vernon: 'if you
knew anything about him you would never talk of such a thing. Why he
likes to be as free as the birds of the air--to roam about all day--and
sit up reading half the night.'
They were all clustered in front of the bookcase, Bessie and Ida looking
at the books, Lady Palliser and her boy intent on their own talk, when
the door was flung open, and the master of the house suddenly appeared
amidst them--a tall, broad-shouldered figure, roughly clad in shooting
jacket, corduroy, and leather, like a gamekeeper--a dark bearded face
under a slouched hat. But the intruders had only the briefest time in
which to observe his appearance. At sight of the group by the bookcase,
Jack tilted his felt hat further over his brows, and strode across the
room to that corner whence a cork-screw stair led to the upper story. He
went up these stairs in three or four bounds, banged and bolted the door
of the upper chamber; and his unbidden guests were left looking at each
other in bewildered silence.
Lady Palliser, after a gasp or two, was the first to speak.
'Did you ever see such manner?' she exclaimed; 'such a perfect brute?
Vernie, you must never speak to that horrid feature again. I never want
to have anything more to do with University men if this is a specimen of
their manners! Never so much as to take off his hat to us!'
'We had no right to come crowding into his room,' said Bessie, who could
seldom find it in her heart to be angry with anyone. 'I daresay the poor
thing feels the change in his position. When Brian, of the Abbey, comes
home--if ever he does come home--I'll ask him to hunt this poor fellow
out, and help him in some way. One Balliol man ought to help another.'
'Let us go back to the carriage instantly,' said Lady Palliser, almost
shouting the substantive, in order that Jack might be reminded what kind
of people he had insulted by his ruffianly bearing. 'I feel that I am
bemeaning myself every moment I stay in this house.'
They hurried down the sandy hill path to the road where they had left the
carriage, and Lady Palliser hustled them into it, breathless, with the
combined effect of the rapid descent and her indignation.
'Why, Ida, how deadly pale you are!' exclaimed Bessie. 'I hope you are
not ill. Have we walked too fast for you?'
'No, dear--only--that man's face reminded me--'
'Of Brian's when he first came home from Norway, and was so dreadfully
sunburnt?' said Bessie; 'so it did me. The idea flashed upon me, as the
rude wretch rushed past us, that he had a sort of look of Brian. Just the
way he carried his head, you know, and something in the shape of his
shoulders--not a real resemblance.'
'Of course not.'
'AS ONE DEAD IN THE BOTTOM OF A TOMB.'
Dr. Mallison came to Wimperfield at the same hour as on the occasion of
his first visit. He was with the patient for nearly half-an-hour, and he
confabulated with Mr. Fosbroke for at least another half hour, so it
could not be said that he performed the physician's duty in a careless or
perfunctory manner. But his opinion was not hopeful; and there was a
gravity in his manner when he talked to Ida and her stepmother which was
evidently intended to prepare them for the worst. He gave a peremptory
order for a second nurse, an able-bodied experienced woman, who could
relieve Towler in his now most onerous duties--duties growing hourly more
painful, since the last development of the patient's delirium was a
violent hatred of his attendant, who, as he believed, was always lying in
wait to do him some injury. Dr. Mallison also advised that Mrs. Wendover
should no longer occupy the bedroom adjoining her husband's. Upon this
point he was very firm, when Ida urged her anxiety to forego no duty
which she owed to her husband.
'I am so sorry for him,' she said. 'I would do anything in the world to
help or to comfort him.'
'Unhappily, dear madam, you can do neither. 'When these paroxysms are
upon him he will mistake his best friend for his worst enemy--he was
quite violent to Towler just now. You can do absolutely nothing, and your
presence is even likely to irritate him. He must be given over entirely
to his nurses. Towler will obey my directions implicitly, and the female
attendant--Mr. Fosbroke tells me he can find a thoroughly competent
person--will assist him in carrying them out. If we can stimulate the
patient's vital power, which is just now at the lowest ebb, and if we can
induce natural sleep, why, there may still be a favourable result. But I
do not conceal from you that Mr. Wendover's condition is critical--very
critical. Lady Palliser, you will insist, I hope, that your daughter
removes to an apartment at some distance from her husband's for the
present. A few days hence, when the delirium is subjugated, as I trust it
may be, by--ahem--the removal of the exciting cause, Mrs. Wendover may
resume her attendance upon her husband. Just at present the less she sees
of him the better for both.'
Ida could not disobey this injunction, especially as Lady Palliser and
Mrs. Jardine took the matter into their own hands. Jane Dyson was ordered
to convey all Mrs. Wendover's belongings to a room on the second and
topmost floor of the mansion, exactly over that she now occupied--a fine
airy apartment, with a magnificent view, but less lofty, and less
ponderously furnished than the apartments of the first floor. Bessie
vowed that this upper chamber, with its French bedstead, and light
chintz draperies, and maple furniture, was a much prettier room than the
one below. She ran up and down stairs carrying flowers, Japanese fans,
tea-tables, and other frivolities, until she made the new room a perfect
bower, and then carried Ida off triumphantly to inspect her new quarters.
'Isn't it lovely,' she said, 'such a nice change? Do let us have our tea
up here, if that good Dyson won't mind bringing it. Nearly six o'clock,
and we haven't had a cup of tea! I do so enjoy thoroughly new
surroundings. We'll have the table just in front of this window. What a
sweet architect to give this room windows down to the ground, and a
lovely balcony! You must have some large Japanese vases in the balcony,
Ida. That lovely deep red, or orange tawny. Oh, you poor pet, how
wretched you look!'
'I have just been talking to the new nurse, Bessie. She seems a good,
honest creature. She has nursed other people in the same complaint,
and--and--she thinks Brian is desperately ill.'
'Oh, but he may get over it dear! The London doctor did not give him up;
and there is no good in your making yourself ill with worry and fear. If
you do, you won't be able to wait upon Brian when he begins to get
better; and convalescents want so much attention, don't you know.'
The tea came, and Bessie persuaded her friend to take some, prattling on
all the time in the hope of diverting Ida from the silent contemplation
of her trouble. But the horror of the case had taken too stern a hold
upon Ida's brain. It was the dominant idea; as with the somnambulist
whose perceptions are dead to every other subject save the one absorbing
thought, and all subsidiary ideas linked with it by the subtle chain of
association. Ida smiled a wan smile, and pretended to be interested in
Bessie's parochial anecdotes--the idiosyncrasies of the new curate, the
fatuity of every young woman in the parish in running after him.
'He is such a perfect stick; but then certainly there is no other single
man in the parish under forty. He is like Robinson Crusoe. It is an
awfully deceptive position for a young man to occupy. I know he is
beginning to think himself quite handsome, while as for pimples--well,
his face is like a Wiltshire meadow before it has been bush-harrowed.'
Ida did not go down to dinner that evening. She felt utterly unequal to
the effort of pretended cheerfulness, and she did not want to inflict a
countenance of stony gloom upon Mr. and Mrs. Jardine, or on Vernie, who
was going to dine late for the first time since his illness. So she sat
by the open window overlooking the woods, gray in the universal twilight
grayness, and she read Victor Cousin's 'History of Philosophy,' which was
a great deal more comforting than fiction or poetry wou'd have been, as
it carried her into regions of abstract thought where human troubles
For the next three days things went on quietly enough. Brian never left
his own apartments, now an ample range, since Ida's bedroom had been
thrown into the suite, so as to give him space and verge enough for his
roaming when the restless fit was on him: and, alas! how seldom did he
cease from his restlessness. He now saw scarcely anyone but his nurses
and Mr. Fosbroke, who called three times a day, and was altogether
devoted in his watchfulness of the case.
Ida had not ceased from visiting the invalid until it became too obvious
that her presence was irritating to him. He recalled the most painful
scenes of their past experience, raved about his marriage, and accused
his wife of cruelty and greed of wealth, wept, stormed, blasphemed, until
Ida rushed shuddering from the room. To the nurses this wild talk was
only part and parcel of the patient's hallucinations; to Ida it was too
Mr. Jardine and his wife stayed till the end of the week, but on Saturday
the Vicar was compelled to go back to his parishioners; and although
Bessie wanted to remain at Wimperfield, separating herself from her
husband for the first time in her wedded life, Ida would not consent to
such a sacrifice. Vernon, who was pronounced thoroughly convalescent, was
to go back to Salisbury Plain with the Jardines, everybody being agreed
that Wimperfield Park was no place for him under existing circumstances.
If Brian's malady were doomed to end fatally, it was well that the boy
should be gone before the dreaded guest crossed the threshold.
Ida saw her friends depart with a sense of despair too deep for words.
She hugged Vernie with the passionate fervour of one who never hoped to
see him more. She felt as if it were she whose hours were numbered, she
for whom the thin thread of life was gradually dwindling to nothingness.
The very atmosphere was charged with the odour of death. The light was
shadowed by the gloom of the grave. Again and again in troubled dreams
she had recalled that dreadful scene in the church with Brian; and she
had seen the worms crawling out through the mouldering timbers of the
church-floor--she had smelt the sickening taint of corruption.
She stood in the portico in the early summer morning, watching Mr.
Jardine's phaeton dwindle to a speck in the distance of the avenue, and
then she went slowly back to the house, feeling as if she were quite
alone in her misery. It was not that Fanny Palliser was wanting in
kindness or sympathy, but she was wanting in comprehension of Ida's
feelings, and the stronger nature could not lean upon the weaker; and
then the mother would be absorbed in her grief at the loss of her boy,
who had become doubly precious since his illness. No, Ida felt that now
John Jardine was gone she must bear her burden alone. Help for her,
strength outside her own courageous nature, there was none.
She longed on this exquisite morning to be roaming about the park and
woods, or riding far afield; but she had made up her mind that, so long
as her husband remained in his present critical condition, it was her
duty to stay close at hand, within call, lest at any moment there might
be a return to reason, and she might again have power to soothe and
support him, as she had done many a time in the long down-hill progress
of his malady.
With this idea she spent the greater part of her day in the bedroom which
Bessie had made so bright and so comfortable. Here she was within easy
reach of the nurse in the rooms below, and could be summoned to her
husband without a minute's delay. Here she had her favourite books, and
the view of park and woods in all their summer glory. She could sit out
in her balcony, reading, or looking idly at the wide expanse of hill and
valley, brooding sadly over days that were gone, full of fear for the
immediate present, and not daring to face the dreaded future.
'Don't think me unsociable,' she said to Lady Palliser, before going back
to her room after a hasty breakfast; 'but I am too completely miserable
to put on the faintest show of cheerfulness, and I should only make you
wretched if I were with you. Go out for a drive, and pay a few visits,
mamma. You have had a trying time, and you must want a little change of
'I believe I do, Ida,' replied Lady Palliser, gravely. 'I feel that I am
below par, and that I really want sea air. What should you think of our
going to Bournemouth directly after the funeral?'
'The funeral!' murmured Ida, pale as death.
'Yes, dear. Mr. Fosbroke has quite given up all hope, I know; and after
the funeral you will want a change as badly as I do. I thought it would
be as well to write to the Bournemouth agent to secure nice apartments,
for I shouldn't care about staying at an hotel.'
'Oh, mamma, don't make your plans so much beforehand! Wait till he is
dead,' said Ida, bitterly.
There seemed to her something ghoulish and stony-hearted in this
prevision of coming doom, this arrangement for making the best of life
and being comfortable when the sufferer upstairs should have ceased from
the struggle with man's last foe.
Lady Palliser contrived to get on without her step-daughter's society.
She had Jane Dyson, who was a person of considerable conversational
powers, and who had an inexhaustible well-spring of interesting discourse
in her recollections of the Archbishop's wife's lingering illness. The
mistress and maid spent the morning not unpleasantly in conversation of
the charnel house order, and in looking over Lady Palliser's wardrobe,
with a view to discovering what new mourning she would require in the
event of Brian's death. She had liked him, and had been kind to him in
life, and she was not going to stint him in death by any false economy in
crape or bugles.
A FIERY DAWN.
The Jardines had been gone three days, and there was no change either for
good or evil in Brian's condition. Mr. Fosbroke admitted that he was as
ill as he could possibly be--the malady must either take a turn for the
better, or end fatally within a day or two. The servants all talked of
the impending funeral as complacently as Lady Palliser. The event must
happen; and it would be as well to make the best of it. They had not yet
gone out of mourning for Sir Reginald; and here was another death at hand
to start them again with new suits of black. This was one of the
advantages of service in a really good family, where the King of Terrors
was treated with proper distinction.
It was eleven o'clock at night, and the house was hushed in silence--save
in that suite of rooms where the invalid and his nurses were hardly ever
at rest. One of the men servants slept in his clothes on a truckle bed in
the corridor, ready for service in any emergency. Every one else had gone
to bed, except Ida, who sat at her window, looking out at the wild windy
sky and the forest trees swaying in the gale.
The day had been rainy and tempestuous, and the wind was still
raging--just such a wind as Ida remembered upon Bessie's birthday, the
day of that terrible storm which had cost so many lives, and had made
Reginald Palliser master of Wimperfield.
She sat gazing idly at the sky, in sheer despondency and weariness. Her
devotional books, which had been her chief comfort in these dark days and
nights, lay unopened on her table. The effort to read any other kind of
literature had been abandoned for the last day or two. Her mind refused
to understand the words which her eyes mechanically perused. She could
only read such books as spoke of comfort to a weary soul, of hope beyond
a sinful world.
She had eaten hardly anything for the last few days, living on cups of
tea, and semi-transparent slices of bread and butter. Her nights had been
almost sleepless, her brief snatches of slumber disturbed by hideous
dreams. She was thoroughly worn out in body and mind, and as she sat by
the open window loosely dressed in a tea gown, with a china-crape shawl
wrapped round her shoulders, the monotonous moaning of the wind in the
elms had a soothing sound like a lullaby, and hushed her to sleep. She
lay back in her low luxurious chair, with her head half buried in the
comfortable down pillow, and slept as she had not slept for a month. It
was the slumber of sheer exhaustion, deep and sweet, and long--very long;
for when she opened her eyes and looked about her, awakened by a strange
oppression of the chest, there was the livid light of earliest dawn in
the room--a light that changed all at once to a bright red glow, vivid as
the sky at sundown.
The oppression of her breath increased, she felt suffocated. The livid
dawn, the crimson sunset, changed to gray; the atmosphere around her grew
thick; there was a smarting sensation in her eyes, a stifling sensation
in her throat. Mechanically, not knowing what she did, she began to grope
her way to the door. But in that thickening atmosphere she did not know
which was the door--her outspread arms clasped some heavy piece of
furniture--the wardrobe. She leaned against, it exhausted, helpless
stupified by that horrible smoke; and as she leaned there a wild shrill
shriek pealed out from below--the cry of 'Fire!' Again and again that
dreadful cry resounded, in a woman's pearcing treble. Then came a hubbub
of other voices--without, within--she could not tell where, or how near,
or how far--but all the sounds seemed distant.
She could just see the open window by which she had been sleeping a few
minutes ago--she could distinguish it by the red light outside, which was
just visible through the dense smoke within, momently thickening.
She made for the window--anything to escape from that suffocating
atmosphere; but just as she was approaching that red patch of light
shining amidst the blackness, a sudden tongue of flame shot up from
below, caught the light chintz drapery, and in an instant the window was
framed in fire, The flame ran from one curtain to another; fanned by the
wind which was still blowing--valence, draperies, all the ornamentation
of the three windows were in a blaze. Ida stood helpless, motionless as
Lot's wife, confronting the flames. To rush through them, to leap through
the open window although it were to certain death, was her first impulse.
Any death must be better than to fall down suffocated on the floor, and
to be burned alive.
Then came the thought of her husband--so weak, and mad, and helpless--of
her stepmother. Were they, too, in danger of instant death? Or was she on
this upper floor the only victim?
The thin chintz curtains flamed and blazed into nothingness while she was
looking at them. The wood-work round the windows crackled and blistered,
but the flame died out into ashes. Only the intolerable smoke remained,
and the ever-increasing glow of the fire below, more vivid with every
moment. She made one mad rush for the balcony. Great Heaven, what a scene
greeted her eyes as she looked downwards! Masses of flame, mingled with
black smoke clouds, were being vomited out of the lower-windows. There
was a little crowd of men below--gardeners, stablemen, who lived close at
hand. Some of these were making feeble efforts with garden engines,
sending out little jets of water which seemed only to feed the flames as
if the water had been oil, while others were trying to adjust a fire
escape, deposited in the stables years ago, in the reign of Sir
Reginald's father, and out of working order from long disuse. Three or
four grooms were rushing to and fro with buckets, and splashing water
against the stone walls, with an utter absence of any effect whatever.
Ida stood in the balcony, leaning against the iron-work, waiting for
rescue or death. The atmosphere was a little less stifling here, but
every now and then a dense cloud of smoke rolled over her and almost
suffocated her before the wind drove it upward. The sky was alight with
reflected fire. The burning pyre of Dido or Sardanapalus could hardly
have made a grander effect--and far away in the east, against the dark
undulations of wooded hills there was another light--the tender roseate
flush of summer dawn, full of promise and peace.
Ida stood with clasped hands, and lips moving dumbly in prayer. She gave
her soul back to her Creator; she prayed for pardon for her sins; she
closed her eyes waiting meekly for death.
Suddenly, as she prayed, full of resignation, the balcony creaked under a
footstep--a strong arm was wound round her waist--she was lifted bodily
over the iron rail and carried carefully, firmly, easily down a ladder,
amidst a shout of rapture from the little crowd below.
Every Englishman is not heroic, but every Englishman knows how to admire
heroism in his fellow-man.
Before the bearer of his burden reached the lowest rung of the ladder,
Ida was unconscious. She lay lifeless and helpless in her preserver's
arms. When they were on the solid ground, he bent his bare head over
hers, which rested on his shoulder, and kissed her on the forehead.
The crowd saw and did not condemn the action.
'It might be a liberty,' said the head gardener, 'but he'd earned the
right to do it. None of us could have done what he did.'
When Ida awakened to consciousness she was lying in the lodge-keeper's
little bedroom at the Park gates, and her stepmother was seated at the
bedside ready to offer her the usual remedy for all feminine woes--a cup
'Thank God, you are safe!' said Ida, the memory of that terrible dawn
quickly recurring to her mind, a little bewildered at the first moment by
her strange surroundings. 'Where is Brian?'
Fanny Palliser burst into tears.
'Oh, Ida, it was Brian set the house on fire, in one of his mad
fits--hunting for some horrible thing behind his bed-curtains; and poor
Towler and the nurse were both asleep when it happened--at least, Towler,
who was sitting up with him had fallen into a doze, and heard Brian talk
about looking for serpents in the curtains, and then about flames and
fire--but didn't take any notice, or so much as open his eyes--for his
talk had been so often of fire and flames--poor creature!--and when he
woke the whole room was in a blaze, and the fire had spread through the
open door to the window curtains in the next room. Towler and the nurse,
and Rogers, all did their uttermost, and risked their lives trying to get
Brian away; but he wouldn't leave the burning rooms. He got wilder and
wilder; and then, just as they were calling a couple of the stablemen to
help them, meaning to get him away by main force, he rushed to the window
and threw himself out.'
'And he was killed!' cried Ida.
'Yes; the shock killed him. But you know, dear, there's no use in
fretting. Mr. Fosbroke says that he could not have lived till the end of
the week. His constitution was quite gone. It was a happy release.'
'Not such a death,' murmured Ida, tears streaming down her wan cheeks;
'such a death could not be a happy release.'
Lady Palliser shook her head, and sighed plaintively. Perhaps she had
been inclined to take the survivor's view of the question. Euthanasia to
Fanny Palliser's mind meant a death which relieves the family of the
deceased from the burden of a long illness.
'He did not suffer at all, dearest,' she said, soothingly.
'Mr. Fosbroke said the shock killed him. There were no bones broken. He
fell on the grass in front of the library windows. And oh, Ida, what a
blessing that everything at Wimperfield is fully insured! The house is
Ida could not feel sorry about Wimperfield. The place had been to her of
late the abode of horror. If she could be glad of anything in her present
frame of mind, it would have been to know that Wimperfield House was
razed to the ground.
'The portico and the walls are standing,' pursued Lady Palliser; 'and no
doubt a clever architect will be able to build the house up again in the
'But, mamma, it was an ugly, uninteresting house--not a hundred years
'Exactly so. If it had been really an old house, one would be glad to get
rid of it; but it was all as good as new, and so thoroughly substantial!
and how you can call it ugly, with such a portico, I can't imagine. I
wonder you have not more classical taste. I love anything Grecian. The
only thing I ever felt proud of at Les Fontaines was the plaster urns
with scarlet geraniums in them!'
'Mamma, how was I saved? Who was it saved me?' asked Ida, presently, when
she had taken her cup of tea, and the Swiss clock over the chimney-piece
had struck nine.
The sun was shining through the open lattice and upon the roses and the
lilies in the little lodge garden. Everything wore a glad and cheerful
aspect in the summer morning.
'Ah, my dear, that _is_ a story!' exclaimed Lady Palliser, nodding her
head with intense significance, and pleased at being able to divert Ida's
thoughts from her husband's miserable end; 'I never did! You will be
surprised! Oh, my dear, I thought it was all over with you! All the
gardeners and stablemen were there--and Rogers--and John and William--and
Henry--half dressed and in slippers, poor creatures; and I begged and
implored of them to save you--to get to your room somehow--inside or out.
But the staircase to the second floor was choked with smoke and flame,
and falling timbers; one of the men tried to go up, but he came back and
said he must wait for the firemen--nobody but a fireman could do it. And
then they got ladders, but the first ladder wasn't long enough, and
nobody seemed to be in their proper senses. Thomas rode off to
Petersfield for the engine directly the fire broke out, but that's eight
miles off, as you know, and it all seemed hopeless. I was running about
among them all like a mad woman, in my dressing-gown and slippers; and as
for Jane Dyson, she sat on the lowest step of the portico, and went out
of one fit of hysterics into another, just as she did when the
Archbishop's wife died; and I thought all hope was over, when a man
rushed in among us, snatched the longest ladder from the men who were
bringing it from the walled garden, and put it up against the balcony. He
went up it just like a sailor, and before I could hardly breathe he was
coming down again with you in his arms, safe and sound. And who do you
think the man was?'
'The fire-brigade man, I suppose.'
'Not a bit of it. The man who saved you was Vernie's friend, Cheap Jack.'
'SOLE PARTNER AND SOLE PART OF ALL THESE JOYS.'
More than a year had gone by since that awful night, and a new
Wimperfield House was slowly rising from the ashes of the Bath stone
mansion with the Grecian portico. Only the walls and the portico had
remained intact after the fire, and these had been pulled down to make
room for a spacious edifice in the Early English manner, the heavy
insurances on the old building providing for the cost of this newer and
more beautiful Wimperfield. But Ida was not near to watch the new
Wimperfield in the progress of erection. She had spent the greater part
of the last year at the Homestead with Miss Wendover, and the residue
with her stepmother at Bournemouth, where Lady Palliser had taken and
furnished for herself one of the pretty villas on the Boscomb estate, a
pleasant home for the placid joys of widowhood, and a nice place for
Vernon's holidays, were he contented to spend them there, which he was
not, greatly preferring the more rustic life of Kingthorpe. Here he was a
welcome guest both at the Knoll and at the Homestead; while there was a
third house open to him within a walk of the village, for Mr. Wendover
had returned from his distant wanderings, and he and Vernie were on very
Ida had as yet seen but little of the master of the Abbey, albeit she
heard of him almost daily from some of The Knoll family. He had returned
at Easter, unexpectedly, as usual, and much to the surprise of a
neighbourhood which had grown accustomed to the idea of his never coming
back at all. But although he had settled himself at the Abbey, declaring
that he had made an end of his wanderings, seen all he wanted to see, and
never meant to go far afield any more, he had taken no share in the
picnics and rustic festivities with which the Knoll family celebrated
their worship of the great god Pan; whereupon Blanche informed her cousin
frankly that he was not half so nice as he had been seven years ago, when
he had joined in their fungus hunts and barrow hunts and blackberry
gatherings, just as if he had been one of themselves.
'Seven years ago I was seven years younger, Blanche. We were all children
Blanche sighed, and shook her head despondently.
'As for me, I feel centuries old,' she said; 'but that is only natural in
such a dead-and-alive hole as Kingthorpe.'
Which speech being interpreted meant that Miss Wendover had not had a new
frock or an invitation to a garden party for the last fortnight.
'Still,' she argued,' one ought to make the best of one's life even at
Kingthorpe, and picnics and rambles help one to endure existence. You
used to be such a delightful companion, and now no one but little Vernie
ever seems to get any fun out of you. He is always talking of the larks
he has at the Abbey.'
'Sir Vernon is good enough to call the mildest form of diversion a lark!'
said Brian Wendover, smiling at her.
'Come now, I will make a bargain with you,' said Blanche.
'John Jardine and Bess are coming over next week to spend Bessie's
birthday with us, which, as you know, is a family festival that we never
allow to be celebrated anywhere else. Bess and John and the babies are
coming to us, and Vernon Palliser is going to the Homestead, and his
mother is coming over from Bournemouth to stay a few days with Aunt
Betsy; so you see it will be a grand family gathering of Wendovers and
Pallisers. Now, if you are anything like the man you were seven years
ago, prove it by joining us on this occasion.'
'I cannot refuse; and I will try my uttermost to forget that I have lived
seven lonely years since that happy summer.'
'Ah, it was a happy summer!' sighed Blanche, who affected to be weighed
down by the burden of mature years. 'I wasn't _out_ in those days, and I
hadn't a care.'
'What form does your festival take this year? and where do you mean to
'Oh, a picnic, of course, if this lovely weather only holds out. We have
not had one really proper picnic this year.'
'But don't you think the seventh of September is just a little late for
an _al fresco_ feast? Suppose we were to make it luncheon and afternoon
tea at the Abbey, with unlimited tennis in the afternoon.'
'That would be simply delicious,' said Blanche, concluding that Mr.
Wendover intended to invite all the eligible young men of his
acquaintance to be found within twenty miles.
'Then it is agreed. You need give yourself no further trouble. You have
only to bring your people--the Knoll party, and the Homestead party.'
'Precisely. Of course _you_ can ask as many as you like.'
The year which was gone had been one of perfect peace for Ida, peace
overshadowed by the memories of pain and horror; but those memories had
been lightened, and her mind had been comforted, and soothed, and
fortified by Aunt Betsy's loving companionship, by that common-sense and
broad way of thinking which was as a tower of strength in the day of
trouble. Yet for months after that awful time at Wimperfield her nights
had been broken by dreadful dreams or too vivid reminiscences of her
husband's evil fate, that terrible decay of mind and body, that gradual
annihilation of the energies and powers of manhood which it had been her
painful lot to witness.
Aunt Betsy took care that the young widow's days should be too busy for
much thought. She found constant occupation for her. She sent her about
to the remotest corners of the parish to minister to the sorrows of
others; she gave her the sick to nurse, and the old and feeble to care
for, and the young to teach; so that there should be no leisure left from
dawn to sunset for futile lamenting over the irrevocable past. But in the
silence of night those dreaded memories crept out of their hiding-places,
as other vermin creep out of their holes under cover of darkness, and it
was long before they began to grow less vivid and let a terrible.
From the moment Miss Wendover appeared at Wimperfield on the afternoon
after the fire, coming as quickly after the receipt of the news as horses
could convey her, Ida had been sheltered and protected by her love. No
sooner was Brian laid at rest in his grave in Wimperfield churchyard than
Aunt Betsy carried off the hopeless, broken-down widow to the Homestead,
where Ida resumed all her old duties; so that there were times when it
seemed as if all the years of her married life were but a dream from
which she had awakened, a dream which had subdued and saddened her whole
nature, and had made her feel old and weary.
But there was much of happiness in her life, so much that she was fain to
put aside all signs and tokens of grief except her dense black gowns and
crape bonnets, and to rejoice with those who rejoiced; for here was Aunt
Betsy, the most cheery and unselfish of women, whose life ought to be all
sunshine, inasmuch as she spent so large a portion of it in brightening
the lives of others; and here were the boys and girls from the Knoll,
always in uproarious spirits, and wanting Ida's sympathy in all their
delights; and here was Vernon coming over from the Vicarage on Salisbury
Plain, at all times and seasons, for a few days' holiday, rosier and
stronger and more sporting every time she saw him, great upon hawking and
hunting, and full of grand schemes for his future life at the new
Wimperfield. He had forgotten Brian's melancholy doom, as easily as youth
is apt to forget everything, in the hurry and ardour of life's morning;
but his love for his sister knew no abatement. He wanted her to share in
all his future joys.
'You are not going to stay at the Homestead all your life, are you?' he
asked one day. 'Of course you are going back to Wimperfield directly the
new house is finished?'
'No, dear, I could never live at Wimperfield again,--it would recall too
many sad scenes. When Aunt Betsy is tired of me I shall go abroad. I have
seen so little of the world, you know.'
'Oh, if you want to travel, you can go with me when I come of age; but in
the meantime you must help mother to keep house at Wimperfield. It will
be quite a new place--everything new--nothing to remind you of father or
Brian. And then in a few years I shall be of age, and then we can go off
to the Rockies together.'
'With Cheap Jack for our guide, philosopher and friend.' said Ida.
'Well, no; I'm afraid Cheap Jack won't go with us!' answered Vernon,
'I have such a reason to be grateful to him that I could hardly object to
his company,' said Ida; 'and I am quite unhappy at never having been able
to thank him or reward him for saving my life.'
'He didn't want to be thanked or rewarded. Didn't I tell you that he was
not that kind of man?'
'But why should any man go through life doing good to others, and never
getting thanks or praise for his goodness,' said Ida. 'It is a most
unpleasant form of misanthropy. I feel quite uncomfortable under the
burden of my obligations to Mr. Jack; and though I have made every effort
to put myself in communication with him, through Mr. Mason and others, I
have not been able to find out where he is or anything about him.'
'Odd, isn't it?' said Vernon. 'He left the cottage on the day after the
fire, didn't he? shut it up, and took the key to Lord Pontifex's steward,
and drove off with his books and things packed in his cart, goodness
knows where, after having made a free gift of his stock to the
'Not a very profitable way of carrying on business,' said Ida. 'He must
have had means independent of his trade.'
'Well, I don't suppose we shall ever see him again,' returned Vernon,
cheerfully, somewhat to Ida's disgust; for this indifference to the
sudden close of a once enthusiastic friendship argued a lightness and
fickleness of disposition in Sir Vernon Palliser.
And now it was again the eve of Bessie's birthday, that day which had
twice been fraught with fatal influences for Bessie's friend; and Ida
could not put away the feeling that this seventh of September, finding
her once again on the scene of past fatalities, must needs bring her some
new evil, some undreamed of crisis in her life. Yet what would happen to
her now? She asked herself. The play was played out. She had lived her
life. For her tragedy and comedy were alike over and done with.
The morning of the seventh dawned fair and bright. If there were any omen
in those pinky clouds which flecked the tender gray of early morning,
surely it must be a portent of good and not of evil; although Lady
Palliser, who was not given to over-cheerful views, declared at breakfast
that such roseate hues in early morning meant bad weather before noon.
'Let the weather be never so unkind, we'll find a way of enjoying
ourselves at the Abbey,' said Aunt Betsy, who was in tremendous
spirits--'Won't we, Vernie?'
'Of course,' answered Vernon. 'Mother has a new bonnet, and is afraid of
getting it spoiled. The weather won't interfere with us. We can play
hide-and-seek in the Abbey cellars.'
'Oh, Vernie! and get shut behind a secret panel or in a chest, like that
poor girl in the poem Ida used to read to us.'
'Don't be afraid, mother. If I get into a chest, you may depend I shall
know how to get out of it. That girl in the poem was a duffer for not
having made more row; and her lover was a beastly sneak for not ferreting
out her hiding-place.'
'They ought to have had a detective down from London,' remarked Lady
Palliser, ignoring both the scene and the date of the story.
Her reading had lain much among novels in which the private detective was
omnipotent, the unraveller of all mysteries, the avenger of every wrong.
Miss Wendover drove Lady Palliser to the Abbey in her phaeton, and the
party from the Knoll went in the roomy family waggonette; but Vernon and
his sister walked across the fields and the common, by that path which
Ida had trodden on the day she first saw the master of the Abbey. How
vividly she recalled her feelings on that day--the pain and embarrassment
she felt in Brian Wendover's presence, the agony of humiliation! And then
had followed the too happy, too perilous days in which he had been her
familiar friend, the fatal night on which he had declared himself her
Well, she was free now. She could meet him and think of him without sin;
but since his return she had met him at most half a dozen times, and then
always in the company of other people. He had greeted her cordially, as
friend should greet friend, but he had not sought her society. He knew
that she was living in his aunt's house, but he had only been to that
house once since his return.
'Time was, time is, time's past,' said the brazen oracle. Ida began to
tell herself that for her time was verily past. Life, and youth, and love
had been hers; but fate had been adverse, and she had wasted them, and
they were over and gone.
She had some time for pensive reverie, as she walked to the Abbey, Vernon
being as usual more occupied by the inhabitants of the hedges and ditches
than by his companion; but once arrived at the Abbey, there was no time
for sadness. Bessie was on the threshold to welcome her, and the whole
Knoll family were swarming in the great hall, where Brian, standing under
the picture of the famous Sir Tristram, was giving cordial welcome to
How handsome he looked under the likeness of his ancestor! and how
vividly the modern face recalled the ancestral lineaments! Time had only
deepened the noble lines of his countenance, and added dignity to his
figure and bearing. He looked happy, too, like a man upon whom the future
smiles assuringly. The fancy flashed across Ida's mind that he was
engaged to be married, and that he meant to announce the fact to his
family to-day, perhaps, and to introduce the lady. She looked hastily
round the hall, almost expecting to see some new face, young, lovely,
beaming with smiles--the face of the chosen one. But there was no one
except Lady Palliser and the house of Wendover.
'I have not asked any strangers, Blanche,' said Brian. 'I thought we
should all have more fun if we had the old place to ourselves.'
'How good of you!' replied the matronly Bess. 'I'm sure we shall all
enjoy ourselves ever so much more.'
Blanche was disappointed. Lawn-tennis among relations was all very
well, but she had plenty of that at the Knoll. She felt sorry she had
put on her best hat and Indian silk frock, elaborately frilled with
twine-coloured lace. A cotton gown, and the oldest thing in garden hats,
would have been good enough for such an assembly.
The Colonel and Mrs. Wendover had driven over with their children. It was
quite a family party--Bessie's babies, a girl able to toddle, and a boy
in the nurse's arms, were the great features of the entertainment, the
grandmother openly worshipping them, the grandfather condescending to
occasional patronage of this third generation, but evidently anxious to
dissemble his pride.
'Bessie makes such a preposterous fuss about her babies,' said Blanche,
after declining lawn-tennis with Eva and her two brothers. 'I hope if
ever I am deluded into marrying, I shall not degenerate into an upper
The Abbey had been swept and garnished in honour of the occasion, every
room brightened with flowers--even that sacred apartment, Brian's study,
thrown open to the public. After luncheon it happened somehow--Ida could
hardly have explained how--that she and Brian were alone together in this
very room, the afternoon sunlight shining on them--for in spite of Lady
Palliser's prophecy the day had been lovely--the scent of stocks and
mignonette and sweet-peas blowing in upon them from the old-fashioned
garden at the back of the Abbey. They had strayed to this spot with the
others; and the others had strayed off and left them, Ida looking
absently at the backs of the Greek dramatists, Brian looking intently at
'I don't think you have been in this house since the day we first met in
the hall below?' he said, interrogatively.
'No, I have never been here since.'
'And yet you were once fond of the Abbey. You used to like wandering
about the old house and gardens. You would sit reading in the library.
The housekeeper has often talked to me about you.'
She stood before him with lowered eyelids, pale and dumb, shrinking from
him almost as she had shrunk from him seven years ago by the old sundial
in the moonlit garden, when it was a sin to listen to his ardent avowal.
'Ida, why are you silent? Why will you not speak of the past?'
'The past is past!' she said, falteringly. 'It was full of grief and
shame for me. I want to forget it if I can.'
'Forget all that is bitter, remember all that is sweet!' he pleaded,
drawing nearer to her. 'There is much of that old time which is
unspeakably dear to me--the happy time in which I first loved you,
deeming you were free to be loved and won. You are free now, Ida, sole
mistress of your fate and mine; and I love you as dearly now as I loved
you seven years ago. More I could not love you, for I loved you then with
all my heart and mind. Ida, you once talked of being mistress of Wendover
Abbey. Its master is at your feet, your faithful slave to the end of his
life. Will you have this old house for your own, Ida, and thus, and thus
only, make it home for me?
His arm was round her, gently, experimentally, the answer not being quite
certain, even yet.
She slowly lifted the dark-fringed lids, looked at him with adoring
eyes--eyes which never before had looked thus upon the face of man.
'Can you be in earnest?' she asked, in a low sweet voice. 'Can you lift
me so high--I, that had fallen so low?'
He clasped her to his heart, and sealed the promise of their unclouded
future with a passionate kiss.
'At last, at last, I hold you in my arms!' he said, fondly; 'but not for
the first time, my angel!'
'What do you mean?'
'Who was it carried you out of the burning house last year?' he asked,
smiling at her.
'I was Cheap Jack.'
'Yes. I lived far from the sight of this dear face, as long as I could
bear my life, and then after five years of exile in far lands, where my
soul sickened for the sight of you, I came back to England, heard in
London that your husband was an idler and a drunkard, and foresaw evil
days for my darling. I could be nothing to her; but at least I could
watch over her, near at hand, yet unknown. So I took up my abode on the
Hanger within a mile or so of her dwelling. Don't pity me, dearest. It
was not a hard life after all. I had my books and Nature for my
companions, all the joy I could have, not having you.'
'However shall I repay you?'
'Only look up to me as you looked just now, and let me feel you are my
own for ever.'