Part 1 out of 9
[Prepared by John Hamm and James Rusk (email@example.com).
Italics are indicated by underscores.]
The Law and the Lady
by Wilkie Collins
ADDRESSED TO THE READER.
IN offering this book to you, I have no Preface to write. I have
only to request that you will bear in mind certain established
truths, which occasionally escape your memory when you are
reading a work of fiction. Be pleased, then, to remember (First):
That the actions of human beings are not invariably governed by
the laws of pure reason. (Secondly): That we are by no means
always in the habit of bestowing our love on the objects which
are the most deserving of it, in the opinions of our friends.
(Thirdly and Lastly): That Characters which may not have
appeared, and Events which may not have taken place, within the
limits of our own individual experience, may nevertheless be
perfectly natural Characters and perfectly probable Events, for
all that. Having said these few words, I have said all that seems
to be necessary at the present time, in presenting my new Story
to your notice.
LONDON, February 1, 1875.
THE LAW AND THE LADY.
THE BRIDE'S MISTAKE.
"FOR after this manner in the old time the holy women also who
trusted in God adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their
own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord;
whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well, and are not afraid
with any amazement."
Concluding the Marriage Service of the Church of England in those
well-known words, my uncle Starkweather shut up his book, and
looked at me across the altar rails with a hearty expression of
interest on his broad, red face. At the same time my aunt, Mrs.
Starkweather, standing by my side, tapped me smartly on the
shoulder, and said,
"Valeria, you are married!"
Where were my thoughts? What had become of my attention? I was
too bewildered to know. I started and looked at my new husband.
He seemed to be almost as much bewildered as I was. The same
thought had, as I believe, occurred to us both at the same
moment. Was it really possible--in spite of his mother's
opposition to our marriage--that we were Man and Wife? My aunt
Starkweather settled the question by a second tap on my shoulder.
"Take his arm!" she whispered, in the tone of a woman who had
lost all patience with me.
I took his arm.
"Follow your uncle."
Holding fast by my husband's arm, I followed my uncle and the
curate who had assisted him at the marriage.
The two clergymen led us into the vestry. The church was in one
of the dreary quarters of London, situated between the City and
the West End; the day was dull; the atmosphere was heavy and
damp. We were a melancholy little wedding party, worthy of the
dreary neighborhood and the dull day. No relatives or friends of
my husband's were present; his family, as I have already hinted,
disapproved of his marriage. Except my uncle and my aunt, no
other relations appeared on my side. I had lost both my parents,
and I had but few friends. My dear father's faithful old clerk,
Benjamin, attended the wedding to "give me away," as the phrase
is. He had known me from a child, and, in my forlorn position, he
was as good as a father to me.
The last ceremony left to be performed was, as usual, the signing
of the marriage register. In the confusion of the moment (and in
the absence of any information to guide me) I committed a
mistake--ominous, in my aunt Starkweather's opinion, of evil to
come. I signed my married instead of my maiden name.
"What!" cried my uncle, in his loudest and cheeriest tones, "you
have forgotten your own name already? Well, well! let us hope you
will never repent parting with it so readily. Try again,
With trembling fingers I struck the pen through my first effort,
and wrote my maiden name, very badly indeed, as follows:
When it came to my husband's turn I noticed, with surprise, that
his hand trembled too, and that he produced a very poor specimen
of his customary signature:
My aunt, on being requested to sign, complied under protest. "A
bad beginning!" she said, pointing to my first unfortunate
signature with the feather end of her pen. "I hope, my dear, you
may not live to regret it."
Even then, in the days of my ignorance and my innocence, that
curious outbreak of my aunt's superstition produced a certain
uneasy sensation in my mind. It was a consolation to me to feel
the reassuring pressure of my husband's hand. It was an
indescribable relief to hear my uncle's hearty voice wishing me a
happy life at parting. The good man had left his north-country
Vicarage (my home since the death of my parents) expressly to
read the service at my marriage; and he and my aunt had arranged
to return by the mid-day train. He folded me in his great strong
arms, and he gave me a kiss which must certainly have been heard
by the idlers waiting for the bride and bridegroom outside the
"I wish you health and happiness, my love, with all my heart. You
are old enough to choose for yourself, and--no offense, Mr.
Woodville, you and I are new friends--and I pray God, Valeria, it
may turn out that you have chosen well. Our house will be dreary
enough without you; but I don't complain, my dear. On the
contrary, if this change in your life makes you happier, I
rejoice. Come, come! don't cry, or you will set your aunt
off--and it's no joke at her time of life. Besides, crying will
spoil your beauty. Dry your eyes and look in the glass there, and
you will see that I am right. Good-by, child--and God bless you!"
He tucked my aunt under his arm, and hurried out. My heart sank a
little, dearly as I loved my husband, when I had seen the last of
the true friend and protector of my maiden days.
The parting with old Benjamin came next. "I wish you well, my
dear; don't forget me," was all he said. But the old days at home
came back on me at those few words. Benjamin always dined with us
on Sundays in my father's time, and always brought some little
present with him for his master's child. I was very near to
"spoiling my beauty" (as my uncle had put it) when I offered the
old man my cheek to kiss, and heard him sigh to himself, as if he
too were not quite hopeful about my future life.
My husband's voice roused me, and turned my mind to happier
"Shall we go, Valeria?" he asked.
I stopped him on our way out to take advantage of my uncle's
advice; in other words, to see how I looked in the glass over the
What does the glass show me?
The glass shows a tall and slender young woman of
three-and-twenty years of age. She is not at all the sort of
person who attracts attention in the street, seeing that she
fails to exhibit the popular yellow hair and the popular painted
cheeks. Her hair is black; dressed, in these later days (as it
was dressed years since to please her father), in broad ripples
drawn back from the forehead, and gathered into a simple knot
behind (like the hair of the Venus de Medicis), so as to show the
neck beneath. Her complexion is pale: except in moments of
violent agitation there is no color to be seen in her face. Her
eyes are of so dark a blue that they are generally mistaken for
black. Her eyebrows are well enough in form, but they are too
dark and too strongly marked. Her nose just inclines toward the
aquiline bend, and is considered a little too large by persons
difficult to please in the matter of noses. The mouth, her best
feature, is very delicately shaped, and is capable of presenting
great varieties of expression. As to the face in general, it is
too narrow and too long at the lower part, too broad and too low
in the higher regions of the eyes and the head. The whole
picture, as reflected in the glass, represents a woman of some
elegance, rather too pale, and rather too sedate and serious in
her moments of silence and repose--in short, a person who fails
to strike the ordinary observer at first sight, but who gains in
general estimation on a second, and sometimes on a third view. As
for her dress, it studiously conceals, instead of proclaiming,
that she has been married that morning. She wears a gray cashmere
tunic trimmed with gray silk, and having a skirt of the same
material and color beneath it. On her head is a bonnet to match,
relieved by a quilling of white muslin with one deep red rose, as
a morsel of positive color, to complete the effect of the whole
Have I succeeded or failed in describing the picture of myself
which I see in the glass? It is not for me to say. I have done my
best to keep clear of the two vanities--the vanity of
depreciating and the vanity of praising my own personal
appearance. For the rest, well written or badly written, thank
Heaven it is done!
And whom do I see in the glass standing by my side?
I see a man who is not quite so tall as I am, and who has the
misfortune of looking older than his years. His forehead is
prematurely bald. His big chestnut-colored beard and his long
overhanging mustache are prematurely streaked with gray. He has
the color in the face which my face wants, and the firmness in
his figure which my figure wants. He looks at me with the
tenderest and gentlest eyes (of a light brown) that I ever saw in
the countenance of a man. His smile is rare and sweet; his
manner, perfectly quiet and retiring, has yet a latent
persuasiveness in it which is (to women) irresistibly winning. He
just halts a little in his walk, from the effect of an injury
received in past years, when he was a soldier serving in India,
and he carries a thick bamboo cane, with a curious crutch handle
(an old favorite), to help himself along whenever he gets on his
feet, in doors or out. With this one little drawback (if it is a
drawback), there is nothing infirm or old or awkward about him;
his slight limp when he walks has (perhaps to my partial eyes) a
certain quaint grace of its own, which is pleasanter to see than
the unrestrained activity of other men. And last and best of all,
I love him! I love him! I love him! And there is an end of my
portrait of my husband on our wedding-day.
The glass has told me all I want to know. We leave the vestry at
The sky, cloudy since the morning, has darkened while we have
been in the church, and the rain is beginning to fall heavily.
The idlers outside stare at us grimly under their umbrellas as we
pass through their ranks and hasten into our carriage. No
cheering; no sunshine; no flowers strewn in our path; no grand
breakfast; no genial speeches; no bridesmaids; no fathers or
mother's blessing. A dreary wedding--there is no denying it--and
(if Aunt Starkweather is right) a bad beginning as well!
A _coup_ has been reserved for us at the railway station. The
attentive porter, on the look-out for his fee pulls down the
blinds over the side windows of the carriage, and shuts out all
prying eyes in that way. After what seems to be an interminable
delay the train starts. My husband winds his arm round me. "At
last!" he whispers, with love in his eyes that no words can
utter, and presses me to him gently. My arm steals round his
neck; my eyes answer his eyes. Our lips meet in the first long,
lingering kiss of our married life.
Oh, what recollections of that journey rise in me as I write! Let
me dry my eyes, and shut up my paper for the day.
THE BRIDE'S THOUGHTS.
WE had been traveling for a little more than an hour when a
change passed insensibly over us both.
Still sitting close together, with my hand in his, with my head
on his shoulder, little by little we fell insensibly into
silence. Had we already exhausted the narrow yet eloquent
vocabulary of love? Or had we determined by unexpressed consent,
after enjoying the luxury of passion that speaks, to try the
deeper and finer rapture of passion that thinks? I can hardly
determine; I only know that a time came when, under some strange
influence, our lips were closed toward each other. We traveled
along, each of us absorbed in our own reverie. Was he thinking
exclusively of me--as I was thinking exclusively of him? Before
the journey's end I had my doubts; at a little later time I knew
for certain that his thoughts, wandering far away from his young
wife, were all turned inward on his own unhappy self.
For me the secret pleasure of filling my mind with him, while I
felt him by my side, was a luxury in itself.
I pictured in my thoughts our first meeting in the neighborhood
of my uncle's house.
Our famous north-country trout stream wound its flashing and
foaming way through a ravine in the rocky moorland. It was a
windy, shadowy evening. A heavily clouded sunset lay low and red
in the west. A solitary angler stood casting his fly at a turn in
the stream where the backwater lay still and deep under an
overhanging bank. A girl (myself) standing on the bank, invisible
to the fisherman beneath, waited eagerly to see the trout rise.
The moment came; the fish took the fly.
Sometimes on the little level strip of sand at the foot of the
bank, sometimes (when the stream turned again) in the shallower
water rushing over its rocky bed, the angler followed the
captured trout, now letting the line run out and now winding it
in again, in the difficult and delicate process of "playing" the
fish. Along the bank I followed to watch the contest of skill and
cunning between the man and the trout. I had lived long enough
with my uncle Starkweather to catch some of his enthusiasm for
field sports, and to learn something, especially, of the angler's
art. Still following the stranger, with my eyes intently fixed on
every movement of his rod and line, and with not so much as a
chance fragment of my attention to spare for the rough path along
which I was walking, I stepped by chance on the loose overhanging
earth at the edge of the bank, and fell into the stream in an
The distance was trifling, the water was shallow, the bed of the
river was (fortunately for me) of sand. Beyond the fright and the
wetting I had nothing to complain of. In a few moments I was out
of the water and up again, very much ashamed of myself, on the
firm ground. Short as the interval was, it proved long enough to
favor the escape of the fish. The angler had heard my first
instinctive cry of alarm, had turned, and had thrown aside his
rod to help me. We confronted each other for the first time, I on
the bank and he in the shallow water below. Our eyes encountered,
and I verily believe our hearts encountered at the same moment.
This I know for certain, we forgot our breeding as lady and
gentleman: we looked at each other in barbarous silence.
I was the first to recover myself. What did I say to him?
I said something about my not being hurt, and then something
more, urging him to run back and try if he might not yet recover
He went back unwillingly. He returned to me--of course without
the fish. Knowing how bitterly disappointed my uncle would have
been in his place, I apologized very earnestly. In my eagerness
to make atonement, I even offered to show him a spot where he
might try again, lower down the stream.
He would not hear of it; he entreated me to go home and change my
wet dress. I cared nothing for the wetting, but I obeyed him
without knowing why.
He walked with me. My way back to the Vicarage was his way back
to the inn. He had come to our parts, he told me, for the quiet
and retirement as much as for the fishing. He had noticed me once
or twice from the window of his room at the inn. He asked if I
were not the vicar's daughter.
I set him right. I told him that the vicar had married my
mother's sister, and that the two had been father and mother to
me since the death of my parents. He asked if he might venture to
call on Doctor Starkweather the next day, mentioning the name of
a friend of his, with whom he believed the vicar to be
acquainted. I invited him to visit us, as if it had been my
house; I was spell-bound under his eyes and under his voice. I
had fancied, honestly fancied, myself to have been in love often
and often before this time. Never in any other man's company had
I felt as I now felt in the presence of _this_ man. Night seemed
to fall suddenly over the evening landscape when he left me. I
leaned against the Vic arage gate. I could not breathe, I could
not think; my heart fluttered as if it would fly out of my
bosom--and all this for a stranger! I burned with shame; but oh,
in spite of it all, I was so happy!
And now, when little more than a few weeks had passed since that
first meeting, I had him by my side; he was mine for life! I
lifted my head from his bosom to look at him. I was like a child
with a new toy--I wanted to make sure that he was really my own.
He never noticed the action; he never moved in his corner of the
carriage. Was he deep in his own thoughts? and were they thoughts
I laid down my head again softly, so as not to disturb him. My
thoughts wandered backward once more, and showed me another
picture in the golden gallery of the past.
The garden at the Vicarage formed the new scene. The time was
night. We had met together in secret. We were walking slowly to
and fro, out of sight of the house, now in the shadowy paths of
the shrubbery, now in the lovely moonlight on the open lawn.
We had long since owned our love and devoted our lives to each
other. Already our interests were one; already we shared the
pleasures and the pains of life. I had gone out to meet him that
night with a heavy heart, to seek comfort in his presence and to
find encouragement in his voice. He noticed that I sighed when he
first took me in his arms, and he gently turned my head toward
the moonlight to read my trouble in my face. How often he had
read my happiness there in the earlier days of our love!
"You bring bad news, my angel," he said, lifting my hair tenderly
from my forehead as he spoke. "I see the lines here which tell me
of anxiety and distress. I almost wish I loved you less dearly,
"I might give you back your freedom. I have only to leave this
place, and your uncle would be satisfied, and you would be
relieved from all the cares that are pressing on you now."
"Don't speak of it, Eustace! If you want me to forget my cares,
say you love me more dearly than ever."
He said it in a kiss. We had a moment of exquisite forgetfulness
of the hard ways of life--a moment of delicious absorption in
each other. I came back to realities fortified and composed,
rewarded for all that I had gone through, ready to go through it
all over again for another kiss. Only give a woman love, and
there is nothing she will not venture, suffer, and do.
"No, they have done with objecting. They have remembered at last
that I am of age, and that I can choose for myself. They have
been pleading with me, Eustace, to give you up. My aunt, whom I
thought rather a hard woman, has been crying--for the first time
in my experience of her. My uncle, always kind and good to me,
has been kinder and better than ever. He has told me that if I
persist in becoming your wife, I shall not be deserted on my
wedding-day. Wherever we may marry, he will be there to read the
service, and my aunt will go to the church with me. But he
entreats me to consider seriously what I am doing--to consent to
a separation from you for a time--to consult other people on my
position toward you, if I am not satisfied with his opinion. Oh,
my darling, they are as anxious to part us as if you were the
worst instead of the best of men!"
"Has anything happened since yesterday to increase their distrust
of me?" he asked.
"What is it?"
"You remember referring my uncle to a friend of yours and of
"Yes. To Major Fitz-David."
"My uncle has written to Major Fitz-David "
He pronounced that one word in a tone so utterly unlike his
natural tone that his voice sounded quite strange to me.
"You won't be angry, Eustace, if I tell you?" I said. "My uncle,
as I understood him, had several motives for writing to the
major. One of them was to inquire if he knew your mother's
Eustace suddenly stood still.
I paused at the same moment, feeling that I could venture no
further without the risk of offending him.
To speak the truth, his conduct, when he first mentioned our
engagement to my uncle, had been (so far as appearances went) a
little flighty and strange. The vicar had naturally questioned
him about his family. He had answered that his father was dead;
and he had consented, though not very readily, to announce his
contemplated marriage to his mother. Informing us that she too
lived in the country, he had gone to see her, without more
particularly mentioning her address. In two days he had returned
to the Vicarage with a very startling message. His mother
intended no disrespect to me or my relatives, but she disapproved
so absolutely of her son's marriage that she (and the members of
her family, who all agreed with her) would refuse to be present
at the ceremony, if Mr. Woodville persisted in keeping his
engagement with Dr. Starkweather's niece. Being asked to explain
this extraordinary communication, Eustace had told us that his
mother and his sisters were bent on his marrying another lady,
and that they were bitterly mortified and disappointed by his
choosing a stranger to the family. This explanation was enough
for me; it implied, so far as I was concerned, a compliment to my
superior influence over Eustace, which a woman always receives
with pleasure. But it failed to satisfy my uncle and my aunt. The
vicar expressed to Mr. Woodville a wish to write to his mother,
or to see her, on the subject of her strange message. Eustace
obstinately declined to mention his mother's address, on the
ground that the vicar's interference would be utterly useless. My
uncle at once drew the conclusion that the mystery about the
address indicated something wrong. He refused to favor Mr.
Woodville's renewed proposal for my hand, and he wrote the same
day to make inquiries of Mr. Woodville's reference and of his own
friend Major Fitz-David.
Under such circumstances as these, to speak of my uncle's motives
was to venture on very delicate ground. Eustace relieved me from
further embarrassment by asking a question to which I could
"Has your uncle received any answer from Major Fitz-David?" he
"Were you allowed to read it?" His voice sank as he said those
words; his face betrayed a sudden anxiety which it pained me to
"I have got the answer with me to show you," I said.
He almost snatched the letter out of my hand; he turned his back
on me to read it by the light of the moon. The letter was short
enough to be soon read. I could have repeated it at the time. I
can repeat it now.
"DEAR VICAR--Mr. Eustace Woodville is quite correct in stating
to you that he is a gentleman by birth and position, and that he
inherits (under his deceased father's will) an independent
fortune of two thousand a year.
"Can anybody wish for a plainer answer than that?" Eustace
asked, handing the letter back to me.
"If _I_ had written for information about you," I answered, "it
would have been plain enough for me."
"Is it not plain enough for your uncle?"
"What does he say?"
"Why need you care to know, my darling?"
"I want to know, Valeria. There must be no secret between us in
this matter. Did your uncle say anything when he showed you the
"What was it?"
"My uncle told me that his letter of inquiry filled three pages,
and he bade me observe that the major's answer contained one
sentence only. He said, 'I volunteered to go to Major Fitz-David
and talk the matter over. You see he takes no notice of my
proposal. I asked him for the address of Mr. Woodville's mother.
He passes over my request, as he has passed over my proposal--he
studiously confines himself to the shortest possible statement of
bare facts. Use your common-sense, Valeria. Isn't this rudeness
rather remarkable on the part of a man who is a gentleman by
birth and breeding, and who is also a friend of mine?'"
Eustace stopped me there.
"Did you answer your uncle's question?" he asked.
"No," I replied. "I only said that I did not understand the
"And what did your uncle say next? If you love me, Valeria, tell
me the truth."
"He used very stron g language, Eustace. He is an old man; you
must not be offended with him."
"I am not offended. What did he say?"
"He said, 'Mark my words! There is something under the surface in
connection with Mr. Woodville, or with his family, to which Major
Fitz-David is not at liberty to allude. Properly interpreted,
Valeria, that letter is a warning. Show it to Mr. Woodville, and
tell him (if you like) what I have just told you--'"
Eustace stopped me again.
"You are sure your uncle said those words?" he asked, scanning my
face attentively in the moonlight.
"Quite sure. But I don't say what my uncle says. Pray don't think
He suddenly pressed me to his bosom, and fixed his eyes on mine.
His look frightened me.
"Good-by, Valeria!" he said. "Try and think kindly of me, my
darling, when you are married to some happier man."
He attempted to leave me. I clung to him in an agony of terror
that shook me from head to foot.
"What do you mean?" I asked, as soon as I could speak. "I am
yours and yours only. What have I said, what have I done, to
deserve those dreadful words?"
"We must part, my angel," he answered, sadly. "The fault is none
of yours; the misfortune is all mine. My Valeria! how can you
marry a man who is an object of suspicion to your nearest and
dearest friends? I have led a dreary life. I have never found in
any other woman the sympathy with me, the sweet comfort and
companionship, that I find in you. Oh, it is hard to lose you! it
is hard to go back again to my unfriended life! I must make the
sacrifice, love, for your sake. I know no more why that letter is
what it is than you do. Will your uncle believe me? will your
friends believe me? One last kiss, Valeria! Forgive me for having
loved you--passionately, devotedly loved you. Forgive me--and let
I held him desperately, recklessly. His eyes, put me beside
myself; his words filled me with a frenzy of despair.
"Go where you may," I said, "I go with you!
Friends--reputation--I care nothing who I lose, or what I lose!
Oh, Eustace, I am only a woman--don't madden me! I can't live
without you. I must and will be your wife!"
Those wild words were all I could say before the misery and
madness in me forced their way outward in a burst of sobs and
He yielded. He soothed me with his charming voice; he brought me
back to myself with his tender caresses. He called the bright
heaven above us to witness that he devoted his whole life to me.
He vowed--oh, in such solemn, such eloquent words!--that his one
thought, night and day, should be to prove himself worthy of such
love as mine. And had he not nobly redeemed the pledge? Had not
the betrothal of that memorable night been followed by the
betrothal at the altar, by the vows before God! Ah, what a life
was before me! What more than mortal happiness was mine!
Again I lifted my head from his bosom to taste the dear delight
of seeing him by my side--my life, my love, my husband, my own!
Hardly awakened yet from the absorbing memories of the past to
the sweet realities of the present, I let my cheek touch his
cheek, I whispered to him softly, "Oh, how I love you! how I love
The next instant I started back from him. My heart stood still. I
put my hand up to my face. What did I feel on my cheek? (_I_ had
not been weeping--I was too happy.) What did I feel on my cheek?
His face was still averted from me. I turned it toward me, with
my own hands, by main force.
I looked at him--and saw my husband, on our wedding-day, with his
eyes full of tears.
EUSTACE succeeded in quieting my alarm. But I can hardly say
that he succeeded in satisfying my mind as well.
He had been thinking, he told me, of the contrast between his
past and his present life. Bitter remembrance of the years that
had gone had risen in his memory, and had filled him with
melancholy misgivings of his capacity to make my life with him a
happy one. He had asked himself if he had not met me too late--if
he were not already a man soured and broken by the
disappointments and disenchantments of the past? Doubts such as
these, weighing more and more heavily on his mind, had filled his
eyes with the tears which I had discovered--tears which he now
entreated me, by my love for him, to dismiss from my memory
I forgave him, comforted him, revived him; but there were moments
when the remembrance of what I had seen troubled me in secret,
and when I asked myself if I really possessed my husband's full
confidence as he possessed mine.
We left the train at Ramsgate.
The favorite watering-place was empty; the season was just over.
Our arrangements for the wedding tour included a cruise to the
Mediterranean in a yacht lent to Eustace by a friend. We were
both fond of the sea, and we were equally desirous, considering
the circumstances under which we had married, of escaping the
notice of friends and acquaintances. With this object in view,
having celebrated our marriage privately in London, we had
decided on instructing the sailing-master of the yacht to join us
at Ramsgate. At this port (when the season for visitors was at an
end) we could embark far more privately than at the popular
yachting stations situated in the Isle of Wight.
Three days passed--days of delicious solitude, of exquisite
happiness, never to be forgotten, never to be lived over again,
to the end of our lives!
Early on the morning of the fourth day, just before sunrise, a
trifling incident happened, which was noticeable, nevertheless,
as being strange to me in my experience of myself.
I awoke, suddenly and unaccountably, from a deep and dreamless
sleep with an all-pervading sensation of nervous uneasiness which
I had never felt before. In the old days at the Vicarage my
capacity as a sound sleeper had been the subject of many a little
harmless joke. From the moment when my head was on the pillow I
had never known what it was to awake until the maid knocked at my
door. At all seasons and times the long and uninterrupted repose
of a child was the repose that I enjoyed.
And now I had awakened, without any assignable cause, hours
before my usual time. I tried to compose myself to sleep again.
The effort was useless. Such a restlessness possessed me that I
was not even able to lie still in the bed. My husband was
sleeping soundly by my side. In the fear of disturbing him I
rose, and put on my dressing-gown and slippers.
I went to the window. The sun was just rising over the calm gray
sea. For a while the majestic spectacle before me exercised a
tranquilizing influence on the irritable condition of my nerves.
But ere long the old restlessness returned upon me. I walked
slowly to and fro in the room, until I was weary of the monotony
of the exercise. I took up a book, and laid it aside again. My
attention wandered; the author was powerless to recall it. I got
on my feet once more, and looked at Eustace, and admired him and
loved him in his tranquil sleep. I went back to the window, and
wearied of the beautiful morning. I sat down before the glass and
looked at myself. How haggard and worn I was already, through
awaking before my usual time! I rose again, not knowing what to
do next. The confinement to the four walls of the room began to
be intolerable to me. I opened the door that led into my
husband's dressing-room, and entered it, to try if the change
would relieve me.
The first object that I noticed was his dressing-case, open on
I took out the bottles and pots and brushes and combs, the knives
and scissors in one compartment, the writing materials in
another. I smelled the perfumes and pomatums; I busily cleaned
and dusted the bottles with my handkerchief as I took them out.
Little by little I completely emptied the dressing-case. It was
lined with blue velvet. In one corner I noticed a tiny slip of
loose blue silk. Taking it between my finger and thumb, and
drawing it upward, I discovered that there was a false bottom to
the case, forming a secret compartment for letters and papers. In
my strange condition--capricious, idle, inquisitive--it was an
amusement to me to take out the papers, just as I had taken out
everything else .
I found some receipted bills, which failed to interest me; some
letters, which it is needless to say I laid aside after only
looking at the addresses; and, under all, a photograph, face
downward, with writing on the back of it. I looked at the
writing, and saw these words:
"To my dear son, Eustace."
His mother! the woman who had so obstinately and mercilessly
opposed herself to our marriage!
I eagerly turned the photograph, expecting to see a woman with a
stern, ill-tempered, forbidding countenance. To my surprise, the
face showed the remains of great beauty; the expression, though
remarkably firm, was yet winning, tender, and kind. The gray hair
was arranged in rows of little quaint old-fashioned curls on
either side of the head, under a plain lace cap. At one corner of
the mouth there was a mark, apparently a mole, which added to the
characteristic peculiarity of the face. I looked and looked,
fixing the portrait thoroughly in my mind. This woman, who had
almost insulted me and my relatives, was, beyond all doubt or
dispute, so far as appearances went, a person possessing unusual
attractions--a person whom it would be a pleasure and a privilege
I fell into deep thought. The discovery of the photograph quieted
me as nothing had quieted me yet.
The striking of a clock downstairs in the hall warned me of the
flight of time. I carefully put back all the objects in the
dressing-case (beginning with the photograph) exactly as I had
found them, and returned to the bedroom. As I looked at my
husband, still sleeping peacefully, the question forced itself
into my mind, What had made that genial, gentle mother of his so
sternly bent on parting us? so harshly and pitilessly resolute in
asserting her disapproval of our marriage?
Could I put my question openly to Eustace when he awoke? No; I
was afraid to venture that length. It had been tacitly understood
between us that we were not to speak of his mother--and, besides,
he might be angry if he knew that I had opened the private
compartment of his dressing-case.
After breakfast that morning we had news at last of the yacht.
The vessel was safely moored in the inner harbor, and the
sailing-master was waiting to receive my husband's orders on
Eustace hesitated at asking me to accompany him to the yacht. It
would be necessary for him to examine the inventory of the
vessel, and to decide questions, not very interesting to a woman,
relating to charts and barometers, provisions and water. He asked
me if I would wait for his return. The day was enticingly
beautiful, and the tide was on the ebb. I pleaded for a walk on
the sands; and the landlady at our lodgings, who happened to be
in the room at the time, volunteered to accompany me and take
care of me. It was agreed that we should walk as far as we felt
inclined in the direction of Broadstairs, and that Eustace should
follow and meet us on the sands, after having completed his
arrangements on board the yacht.
In half an hour more the landlady and I were out on the beach.
The scene on that fine autumn morning was nothing less than
enchanting. The brisk breeze, the brilliant sky, the flashing
blue sea, the sun-bright cliffs and the tawny sands at their
feet, the gliding procession of ships on the great marine highway
of the English Channel--it was all so exhilarating, it was all so
delightful, that I really believe if I had been by myself I could
have danced for joy like a child. The one drawback to my
happiness was the landlady's untiring tongue. She was a forward,
good-natured, empty-headed woman, who persisted in talking,
whether I listened or not, and who had a habit of perpetually
addressing me as "Mrs. Woodville," which I thought a little
overfamiliar as an assertion of equality from a person in her
position to a person in mine.
We had been out, I should think, more than half an hour, when we
overtook a lady walking before us on the beach.
Just as we were about to pass the stranger she took her
handkerchief from her pocket, and accidentally drew out with it a
letter, which fell unnoticed by her, on the sand. I was nearest
to the letter, and I picked it up and offered it to the lady.
The instant she turned to thank me, I stood rooted to the spot.
There was the original of the photographic portrait in the
dressing-case! there was my husband's mother, standing face to
face with me! I recognized the quaint little gray curls, the
gentle, genial expression, the mole at the corner of the mouth.
No mistake was possible. His mother herself!
The old lady, naturally enough, mistook my confusion for shyness.
With perfect tact and kindness she entered into conversation with
me. In another minute I was walking side by side with the woman
who had sternly repudiated me as a member of her family; feeling,
I own, terribly discomposed, and not knowing in the least whether
I ought or ought not to assume the responsibility, in my
husband's absence, of telling her who I was.
In another minute my familiar landlady, walking on the other side
of my mother-in-law, decided the question for me. I happened to
say that I supposed we must by that time be near the end of our
walk--the little watering-place called Broadstairs. "Oh no, Mrs.
Woodville! cried the irrepressible woman, calling me by my name,
as usual; "nothing like so near as you think!"
I looked with a beating heart at the old lady.
To my unutterable amazement, not the faintest gleam of
recognition appeared in her face. Old Mrs. Woodville went on
talking to young Mrs. Woodville just as composedly as if she had
never heard her own name before in her life!
My face and manner must have betrayed something of the agitation
that I was suffering. Happening to look at me at the end of her
next sentence, the old lady started, and said, in her kindly way,
"I am afraid you have overexerted yourself. You are very
pale--you are looking quite exhausted. Come and sit down here;
let me lend you my smelling-bottle."
I followed her, quite helplessly, to the base of the cliff. Some
fallen fragments of chalk offered us a seat. I vaguely heard the
voluble landlady's expressions of sympathy and regret; I
mechanically took the smelling-bottle which my husband's mother
offered to me, after hearing my name, as an act of kindness to a
If I had only had myself to think of, I believe I should have
provoked an explanation on the spot. But I had Eustace to think
of. I was entirely ignorant of the relations, hostile or
friendly, which existed between his mother and himself. What
could I do?
In the meantime the old lady was still speaking to me with the
most considerate sympathy. She too was fatigued. she said. She
had passed a weary night at the bedside of a near relative
staying at Ramsgate. Only the day before she had received a
telegram announcing that one of her sisters was seriously ill.
She was herself thank God, still active and strong, and she had
thought it her duty to start at once for Ramsgate. Toward the
morning the state of the patient had improved. "The doctor
assures me ma'am, that there is no immediate danger; and I
thought it might revive me, after my long night at the bedside,
if I took a little walk on the beach."
I heard the words--I understood what they meant--but I was still
too bewildered and too intimidated by my extraordinary position
to be able to continue the conversation. The landlady had a
sensible suggestion to make--the landlady was the next person who
"Here is a gentleman coming," she said to me, pointing in the
direction of Ramsgate. You can never walk back. Shall we ask him
to send a chaise from Broadstairs to the gap in the cliff?"
The gentleman advanced a little nearer.
The landlady and I recognized him at the same moment. It was
Eustace coming to meet us, as we had arranged. The irrepressible
landlady gave the freest expression to her feelings. Oh, Mrs.
Woodville, ain't it lucky? here is Mr. Woodville himself ."
Once more I looked at my mother-in-law. Once more the name failed
to produce the slightest effect on her. Her sight was not so keen
as ours; she had not recognized her son yet. He had young eyes
like us, and he recognized his mother. For a mome nt he stopped
like a man thunderstruck. Then he came on--his ruddy face white
with suppressed emotion, his eyes fixed on his mother.
"You here!" he said to her.
"How do you do, Eustace?" she quietly rejoined. "Have _you_ heard
of your aunt's illness too? Did you know she was staying at
He made no answer. The landlady, drawing the inevitable inference
from the words that she had just heard, looked from me to my
mother-in-law in a state of amazement, which paralyzed even her
tongue. I waited with my eyes on my husband, to see what he would
do. If he had delayed acknowledging me another moment, the whole
future course of my life might have been altered--I should have
He did _not_ delay. He came to my side and took my hand.
"Do you know who this is?" be said to his mother.
She answered, looking at me with a courteous bend of her head:
"A lady I met on the beach, Eustace, who kindly restored to me a
letter that I dropped. I think I heard the name" (she turned to
the landlady): Mrs. Woodville, was it not?"
My husband's fingers unconsciously closed on my hand with a grasp
that hurt me. He set his mother right, it is only just to say,
without one cowardly moment of hesitation.
"Mother," he said to her, very quietly, "this lady is my wife."
She had hitherto kept her seat. She now rose slowly and faced her
son in silence. The first expression of surprise passed from her
face. It was succeeded by the most terrible look of mingled
indignation and contempt that I ever saw in a woman's eyes.
"I pity your wife," she said.
With those words and no more, lifting her hand she waved him back
from her, and went on her way again, as we had first found her,
ON THE WAY HOME.
LEFT by ourselves, there was a moment of silence among us.
Eustace spoke first.
"Are you able to walk back?" he said to me. "Or shall we go on to
Broadstairs, and return to Ramsgate by the railway?"
He put those questions as composedly, so far as his manner was
concerned, as if nothing remarkable had happened. But his eyes
and his lips betrayed him. They told me that he was suffering
keenly in secret. The extraordinary scene that had just passed,
far from depriving me of the last remains of my courage, had
strung up my nerves and restored my self-possession. I must have
been more or less than woman if my self-respect had not been
wounded, if my curiosity had not been wrought to the highest
pitch, by the extraordinary conduct of my husband's mother when
Eustace presented me to her. What was the secret of her despising
him, and pitying me? Where was the explanation of her
incomprehensible apathy when my name was twice pronounced in her
hearing? Why had she left us, as if the bare idea of remaining in
our company was abhorrent to her? The foremost interest of my
life was now the interest of penetrating these mysteries. Walk? I
was in such a fever of expectation that I felt as if I could have
walked to the world's end, if I could only keep my husband by my
side, and question him on the way.
"I am quite recovered," I said. "Let us go back, as we came, on
Eustace glanced at the landlady. The landlady understood him.
"I won't intrude my company on you, sir," she said, sharply. "I
have some business to do at Broadstairs, and, now I am so near, I
may as well go on. Good-morning, Mrs. Woodville."
She laid a marked emphasis on my name, and she added one
significant look at parting, which (in the preoccupied state of
my mind at that moment) I entirely failed to comprehend. There
was neither time nor opportunity to ask her what she meant. With
a stiff little bow, addressed to Eustace, she left us as his
mother had left us taking the way to Broadstairs, and walking
At last we were alone.
I lost no time in beginning my inquiries; I wasted no words in
prefatory phrases. In the plainest terms I put the question to
"What does your mother's conduct mean?"
Instead of answering, he burst into a fit of laughter--loud,
coarse, hard laughter, so utterly unlike any sound I had ever yet
heard issue from his lips, so strangely and shockingly foreign to
his character as _I_ understood it, that I stood still on the
sands and openly remonstrated with him.
"Eustace! you are not like yourself," I said. You almost frighten
He took no notice. He seemed to be pursuing some pleasant train
of thought just started in his mind.
"So like my mother!" he exclaimed, with the air of a man who felt
irresistibly diverted by some humorous idea of his own. "Tell me
all about it, Valeria!"
"Tell _you_!" I repeated. "After what has happened, surely it is
your duty to enlighten _me_."
"You don't see the joke," he said.
"I not only fail to see the joke," I rejoined, "I see something
in your mother's language and your mother's behavior which
justifies me in asking you for a serious explanation."
"My dear Valeria, if you understood my mother as well as I do, a
serious explanation of her conduct would be the last thing in the
world that you would expect from me. The idea of taking my mother
seriously!" He burst out laughing again. "My darling, you don't
know how you amuse me."
It was all forced: it was all unnatural. He, the most delicate,
the most refined of men--a gentleman in the highest sense of the
word--was coarse and loud and vulgar! My heart sank under a
sudden sense of misgiving which, with all my love for him, it was
impossible to resist. In unutterable distress and alarm I asked
myself, "Is my husband beginning to deceive me? is he acting a
part, and acting it badly, before we have been married a week?" I
set myself to win his confidence in a new way. He was evidently
determined to force his own point of view on me. I determined, on
my side, to accept his point of view.
"You tell me I don't understand your mother," I said, gently.
"Will you help me to understand her?"
"It is not easy to help you to understand a woman who doesn't
understand herself," he answered. "But I will try. The key to my
poor dear mother's character is, in one word--Eccentricity."
If he had picked out the most inappropriate word in the whole
dictionary to describe the lady whom I had met on the beach,
"Eccentricity" would have been that word. A child who had seen
what I saw, who had heard what I heard would have discovered that
he was trifling--grossly, recklessly trifling--with the truth
"Bear in mind what I have said," he proceeded; "and if you want
to understand my mother, do what I asked you to do a minute
since--tell me all about it. How came you to speak to her, to
"Your mother told you, Eustace. I was walking just behind her,
when she dropped a letter by accident--"
"No accident," he interposed. "The letter was dropped on
"Impossible!" I exclaimed. "Why should your mother drop the
letter on purpose?"
"Use the key to her character, my dear. Eccentricity! My mother's
odd way of making acquaintance with you."
"Making acquaintance with me? I have just told you that I was
walking behind her. She could not have known of the existence of
such a person as myself until I spoke to her first."
"So you suppose, Valeria."
"I am certain of it."
"Pardon me--you don't know my mother as I do."
I began to lose all patience with him.
"Do you mean to tell me," I said, "that your mother was out on
the sands to-day for the express purpose of making acquaintance
"I have not the slightest doubt of it," he answered, coolly.
"Why, she didn't even recognize my name!" I burst out. "Twice
over the landlady called me Mrs. Woodville in your mother's
hearing, and twice over, I declare to you on my word of honor, it
failed to produce the slightest impression on her. She looked and
acted as if she had never heard her own name before in her life."
"'Acted' is the right word," he said, just as composedly as
before. "The women on the stage are not the only women who can
act. My mother's object was to make herself thoroughly acquainted
with you, and to throw you off your guard by speaking in the
character of a stranger. It is exactly like her to take that
roundabout way of satisfying her curiosity about a
daughter-in-law she disapproves of . If I had not joined you when
I did, you would have been examined and cross-examined about
yourself and about me, and you would innocently have answered
under the impression that you were speaking to a chance
acquaintance. There is my mother all over! She is your enemy,
remember--not your friend. She is not in search of your merits,
but of your faults. And you wonder why no impression was produced
on her when she heard you addressed by your name! Poor innocent!
I can tell you this--you only discovered my mother in her own
character when I put an end to the mystification by presenting
you to each other. You saw how angry she was, and now you know
I let him go on without saying a word. I listened--oh! with such
a heavy heart, with such a crushing sense of disenchantment and
despair! The idol of my worship, the companion, guide, protector
of my life--had he fallen so low? could he stoop to such
shameless prevarication as this?
Was there one word of truth in all that he had said to me? Yes!
If I had not discovered his mother's portrait, it was certainly
true that I should not have known, not even have vaguely
suspected, who she really was. Apart from this, the rest was
lying, clumsy lying, which said one thing at least for him, that
he was not accustomed to falsehood and deceit. Good Heavens! if
my husband was to be believed, his mother must have tracked us to
London, tracked us to the church, tracked us to the railway
station, tracked us to Ramsgate! To assert that she knew me by
sight as the wife of Eustace, and that she had waited on the
sands and dropped her letter for the express purpose of making
acquaintance with me, was also to assert every one of these
monstrous probabilities to be facts that had actually happened!
I could say no more. I walked by his side in silence, feeling the
miserable conviction that there was an abyss in the shape of a
family secret between my husband and me. In the spirit, if not in
the body, we were separated, after a married life of barely four
"Valeria," he asked, "have you nothing to say to me?"
"Are you not satisfied with my explanation?"
I detected a slight tremor in his voice as he put that question.
The tone was, for the first time since we had spoken together, a
tone that my experience associated with him in certain moods of
his which I had already learned to know well. Among the hundred
thousand mysterious influences which a man exercises over a woman
who loves him, I doubt if there is any more irresistible to her
than the influence of his voice. I am not one of those women who
shed tears on the smallest provocation: it is not in my
temperament, I suppose. But when I heard that little natural
change in his tone my mind went back (I can't say why) to the
happy day when I first owned that I loved him. I burst out
He suddenly stood still, and took me by the hand. He tried to
look at me.
I kept my head down and my eyes on the ground. I was ashamed of
my weakness and my want of spirit. I was determined not to look
In the silence that followed he suddenly dropped on his knees at
my feet, with a cry of despair that cut through me like a knife.
"Valeria! I am vile--I am false--I am unworthy of you. Don't
believe a word of what I have been saying--lies, lies, cowardly,
contemptible lies! You don't know what I have gone through; you
don't know how I have been tortured. Oh, my darling, try not to
despise me! I must have been beside myself when I spoke to you as
I did. You looked hurt; you looked offended; I didn't know what
to do. I wanted to spare you even a moment's pain--I wanted to
hush it up, and have done with it. For God's sake don't ask me to
tell you any more! My love! my angel! it's something between my
mother and me; it's nothing that need disturb you; it's nothing
to anybody now. I love you, I adore you; my whole heart and soul
are yours. Be satisfied with that. Forget what has happened. You
shall never see my mother again. We will leave this place
to-morrow. We will go away in the yacht. Does it matter where we
live, so long as we live for each other? Forgive and forget! Oh,
Valeria, Valeria, forgive and forget!"
Unutterable misery was in his face; unutterable misery was in his
voice. Remember this. And remember that I loved him.
"It is easy to forgive," I said, sadly. "For your sake, Eustace,
I will try to forget."
I raised him gently as I spoke. He kissed my hands with the air
of a man who was too humble to venture on any more familiar
expression of his gratitude than that. The sense of embarrassment
between us as we slowly walked on again was so unendurable that I
actually cast about in my mind for a subject of conversation, as
if I had been in the company of a stranger! In mercy to _him_, I
asked him to tell me about the yacht.
He seized on the subject as a drowning man seizes on the hand
that rescues him.
On that one poor little topic of the yacht he talked, talked,
talked, as if his life depended upon his not being silent for an
instant on the rest of the way back. To me it was dreadful to
hear him. I could estimate what he was suffering by the violence
which he--ordinarily a silent and thoughtful man--was now doing
to his true nature, and to the prejudices and habits of his life.
With the greatest difficulty I preserved my self-control until we
reached the door of our lodgings. There I was obliged to plead
fatigue, and ask him to let me rest for a little while in the
solitude of my own room.
"Shall we sail to-morrow?" he called after me suddenly, as I
ascended the stairs.
Sail with him to the Mediterranean the next day? Pass weeks and
weeks absolutely alone with him, in the narrow limits of a
vessel, with his horrible secret parting us in sympathy further
and further from each other day by day? I shuddered at the
thought of it.
"To-morrow is rather a short notice," I said. "Will you give me a
little longer time to prepare for the voyage?"
"Oh yes--take any time you like," he answered, not (as I thought)
very willingly. "While you are resting--there are still one or
two little things to be settled--I think I will go back to the
yacht. Is there anything I can do for you, Valeria, before I go?"
"Nothing--thank you, Eustace."
He hastened away to the harbor. Was he afraid of his own
thoughts, if he were left by himself in the house. Was the
company of the sailing-master and the steward better than no
company at all?
It was useless to ask. What did I know about him or his thoughts?
I locked myself into my room.
THE LANDLADY'S DISCOVERY.
I SAT down, and tried to compose my spirits. Now or never was
the time to decide what it was my duty to my husband and my duty
to myself to do next.
The effort was beyond me. Worn out in mind and body alike, I was
perfectly incapable of pursuing any regular train of thought. I
vaguely felt--if I left things as they were--that I could never
hope to remove the shadow which now rested on the married life
that had begun so brightly. We might live together, so as to save
appearances. But to forget what had happened, or to feel
satisfied with my position, was beyond the power of my will. My
tranquillity as a woman--perhaps my dearest interests as a
wife--depended absolutely on penetrating the mystery of my
mother-in-law's conduct, and on discovering the true meaning of
the wild words of penitence and self-reproach which my husband
had addressed to me on our way home.
So far I could advance toward realizing my position--and no
further. When I asked myself what was to be done next, hopeless
confusion, maddening doubt, filled my mind, and transformed me
into the most listless and helpless of living women.
I gave up the struggle. In dull, stupid, obstinate despair, I
threw myself on my bed, and fell from sheer fatigue into a
broken, uneasy sleep.
I was awakened by a knock at the door of my room.
Was it my husband? I started to my feet as the idea occurred to
me. Was some new trial of my patience and my fortitude at hand?
Half nervously, half irritably, I asked who was there.
The landlady's voice answered me.
"Can I speak to you for a moment, if you please?"
I opened the door. There is no
disguising it--though I loved him so dearly, though I had left
home and friends for his sake--it was a relief to me, at that
miserable time, to know that Eustace had not returned to the
The landlady came in, and took a seat, without waiting to be
invited, close by my side. She was no longer satisfied with
merely asserting herself as my equal. Ascending another step on
the social ladder, she took her stand on the platform of
patronage, and charitably looked down on me as an object of pity.
"I have just returned from Broadstairs," she began. "I hope you
will do me the justice to believe that I sincerely regret what
I bowed, and said nothing.
"As a gentlewoman myself," proceeded the landlady--"reduced by
family misfortunes to let lodgings, but still a gentlewoman--I
feel sincere sympathy with you. I will even go further than that.
I will take it on myself to say that I don't blame _you_. No, no.
I noticed that you were as much shocked and surprised at your
mother-in-law's conduct as I was; and that is saying a great
deal--a great deal indeed. However, I have a duty to perform. It
is disagreeable, but it is not the less a duty on that account. I
am a single woman; not from want of opportunities of changing my
condition--I beg you will understand that--but from choice.
Situated as I am, I receive only the most respectable persons
into my house. There must be no mystery about the positions of
_my_ lodgers. Mystery in the position of a lodger carries with
it--what shall I say? I don't wish to offend you--I will say, a
certain Taint. Very well. Now I put it to your own common-sense.
Can a person in my position be expected to expose herself
to--Taint? I make these remarks in a sisterly and Christian
spirit. As a lady yourself--I will even go the length of saying a
cruelly used lady--you will, I am sure, understand--"
I could endure it no longer. I stopped her there.
"I understand," I said, "that you wish to give us notice to quit
your lodgings. When do you want us to go?"
The landlady held up a long, lean, red hand, in a sorrowful and
"No," she said. "Not that tone; not those looks. It's natural you
should be annoyed; it's natural you should be angry. But do--now
do please try and control yourself. I put it to your own
common-sense (we will say a week for the notice to quit)--why not
treat me like a friend? You don't know what a sacrifice, what a
cruel sacrifice, I have made--entirely for your sake.
"You?" I exclaimed. "What sacrifice?"
"What sacrifice?" repeated the landlady. "I have degraded myself
as a gentlewoman. I have forfeited my own self-respect." She
paused for a moment, and suddenly seized my hand in a perfect
frenzy of friendship. "Oh, my poor dear!" cried this intolerable
person. "I have discovered everything. A villain has deceived
you. You are no more married than I am!"
I snatched my hand out of hers, and rose angrily from my chair.
"Are you mad?" I asked.
The landlady raised her eyes to the ceiling with the air of a
person who had deserved martyrdom, and who submitted to it
"Yes," she said. "I begin to think I _am_ mad--mad to have
devoted myself to an ungrateful woman, to a person who doesn't
appreciate a sisterly and Christian sacrifice of self. Well, I
won't do it again. Heaven forgive me--I won't do it again!"
"Do what again?" I asked.
"Follow your mother-in-law," cried the landlady, suddenly
dropping the character of a martyr, and assuming the character of
a vixen in its place. "I blush when I think of it. I followed
that most respectable person every step of the way to her own
Thus far my pride had held me up. It sustained me no longer. I
dropped back again into my chair, in undisguised dread of what
was coming next.
"I gave you a look when I left you on the beach," pursued the
landlady, growing louder and louder and redder and redder as she
went on. "A grateful woman would have understood that look. Never
mind! I won't do it again I overtook your mother-in-law at the
gap in the cliff. I followed her--oh, how I feel the disgrace of
it _now!_--I followed her to the station at Broadstairs. She went
back by train to Ramsgate. _I_ went back by train to Ramsgate.
She walked to her lodgings. _I_ walked to her lodgings. Behind
her. Like a dog. Oh, the disgrace of it! Providentially, as I
then thought--I don't know what to think of it now--the landlord
of the house happened to be a friend of mine, and happened to be
at home. We have no secrets from each other where lodgers are
concerned. I am in a position to tell you, madam, what your
mother-in-law's name really is. She knows nothing about any such
person as Mrs. Woodville, for an excellent reason. Her name is
_not_ Woodville. Her name (and consequently her son's name) is
Macallan--Mrs. Macallan, widow of the late General Macallan. Yes!
your husband is _not_ your husband. You are neither maid, wife,
nor widow. You are worse than nothing, madam, and you leave my
I stopped her as she opened the door to go out. She had roused
_my_ temper by this time. The doubt that she had cast on my
marriage was more than mortal resignation could endure.
"Give me Mrs. Macallan's address," I said.
The landlady's anger receded into the background, and the
landlady's astonishment appeared in its place.
"You don't mean to tell me you are going to the old lady
herself?" she said.
"Nobody but the old lady can tell me what I want to know," I
answered. "Your discovery (as you call it) may be enough for
_you_; it is not enough for _me_. How do we know that Mrs.
Macallan may not have been twice married? and that her first
husband's name may not have been Woodville?"
The landlady's astonishment subsided in its turn, and the
landlady's curiosity succeeded as the ruling influence of the
moment. Substantially, as I have already said of her, she was a
good-natured woman. Her fits of temper (as is usual with
good-natured people) were of the hot and the short-lived sort,
easily roused and easily appeased.
"I never thought of that," she said. "Look here! if I give you
the address, will you promise to tell me all about it when you
I gave the required promise, and received the address in return.
"No malice," said the landlady, suddenly resuming all her old
familiarity with me.
"No malice," I answered, with all possible cordiality on my side.
In ten minutes more I was at my mother-in-law's lodgings.
MY OWN DISCOVERY.
FORTUNATELY for me, the landlord did not open the door when I
rang. A stupid maid-of-all-work, who never thought of asking me
for my name, let me in. Mrs. Macallan was at home, and had no
visitors with her. Giving me this information, the maid led the
way upstairs, and showed me into the drawing-room without a word
My mother-in-law was sitting alone, near a work-table, knitting.
The moment I appeared in the doorway she laid aside her work,
and, rising, signed to me with a commanding gesture of her hand
to let her speak first.
"I know what you have come here for," she said. "You have come
here to ask questions. Spare yourself, and spare me. I warn you
beforehand that I will not answer any questions relating to my
It was firmly, but not harshly said. I spoke firmly in my turn.
"I have not come here, madam, to ask questions about your son," I
answered. "I have come, if you will excuse me, to ask you a
question about yourself."
She started, and looked at me keenly over her spectacles. I had
evidently taken her by surprise.
"What is the question?" she inquired.
"I now know for the first time, madam, that your name is
Macallan," I said. "Your son has married me under the name of
Woodville. The only honorable explanation of this circumstance,
so far as I know, is that my husband is your son by a first
marriage. The happiness of my life is at stake. Will you kindly
consider my position? Will you let me ask you if you have been
twice married, and if the name of your first husband was
She considered a little before she replied.
"The question is a perfectly natural one in your position," she
said. "But I think I had better not answer it."
"May I as k why?"
"Certainly. If I answered you, I should only lead to other
questions, and I should be obliged to decline replying to them. I
am sorry to disappoint you. I repeat what I said on the beach--I
have no other feeling than a feeling of sympathy toward _you._ If
you had consulted me before your marriage, I should willingly
have admitted you to my fullest confidence. It is now too late.
You are married. I recommend you to make the best of your
position, and to rest satisfied with things as they are."
"Pardon me, madam," I remonstrated. "As things are, I don't know
that I _am_ married. All I know, unless you enlighten me, is that
your son has married me under a name that is not his own. How can
I be sure whether I am or am not his lawful wife?"
"I believe there can be no doubt that you are lawfully my son's
wife," Mrs. Macallan answered. "At any rate it is easy to take a
legal opinion on the subject. If the opinion is that you are
_not_ lawfully married, my son (whatever his faults and failings
may be) is a gentleman. He is incapable of willfully deceiving a
woman who loves and trusts him. He will do you justice. On my
side, I will do you justice, too. If the legal opinion is adverse
to your rightful claims, I will promise to answer any questions
which you may choose to put to me. As it is, I believe you to be
lawfully my son's wife; and I say again, make the best of your
position. Be satisfied with your husband's affectionate devotion
to you. If you value your peace of mind and the happiness of your
life to come, abstain from attempting to know more than you know
She sat down again with the air of a woman who had said her last
Further remonstrance would be useless; I could see it in her
face; I could hear it in her voice. I turned round to open the
"You are hard on me, madam," I said at parting. "I am at your
mercy, and I must submit."
She suddenly looked up, and answered me with a flush on her kind
and handsome old face.
"As God is my witness, child, I pity you from the bottom of my
After that extraordinary outburst of feeling, she took up her
work with one hand, and signed to me with the other to leave her.
I bowed to her in silence, and went out.
I had entered the house far from feeling sure of the course I
ought to take in the future. I left the house positively
resolved, come what might of it, to discover the secret which the
mother and son were hiding from me. As to the question of the
name, I saw it now in the light in which I ought to have seen it
from the first. If Mrs. Macallan _had_ been twice married (as I
had rashly chosen to suppose), she would certainly have shown
some signs of recognition when she heard me addressed by her
first husband's name. Where all else was mystery, there was no
mystery here. Whatever his reasons might be, Eustace had
assuredly married me under an assumed name.
Approaching the door of our lodgings, I saw my husband walking
backward and forward before it, evidently waiting for my return.
If he asked me the question, I decided to tell him frankly where
I had been, and what had passed between his mother and myself.
He hurried to meet me with signs of disturbance in his face and
"I have a favor to ask of you, Valeria," he said. "Do you mind
returning with me to London by the next train?"
I looked at him. In the popular phrase, I could hardly believe my
"It's a matter of business," he went on, "of no interest to any
one but myself, and it requires my presence in London. You don't
wish to sail just yet, as I understand? I can't leave you here by
yourself. Have you any objection to going to London for a day or
I made no objection. I too was eager to go back.
In London I could obtain the legal opinion which would tell me
whether I were lawfully married to Eustace or not. In London I
should be within reach of the help and advice of my father's
faithful old clerk. I could confide in Benjamin as I could
confide in no one else. Dearly as I loved my uncle Starkweather,
I shrank from communicating with him in my present need. His wife
had told me that I made a bad beginning when I signed the wrong
name in the marriage register. Shall I own it? My pride shrank
from acknowledging, before the honeymoon was over, that his wife
In two hours more we were on the railway again. Ah, what a
contrast that second journey presented to the first! On our way
to Ramsgate everybody could see that we were a newly wedded
couple. On our way to London nobody noticed us; nobody would have
doubted that we had been married for years.
We went to a private hotel in the neighborhood of Portland Place.
After breakfast the next morning Eustace announced that he must
leave me to attend to his business. I had previously mentioned to
him that I had some purchases to make in London. He was quite
willing to let me go out alone, on the condition that I should
take a carriage provided by the hotel.
My heart was heavy that morning: I felt the unacknowledged
estrangement that had grown up between us very keenly. My husband
opened the door to go out, and came back to kiss me before he
left me by myself. That little after-thought of tenderness
touched me. Acting on the impulse of the moment, I put my arm
round his neck, and held him to me gently.
"My darling," I said, "give me all your confidence. I know that
you love me. Show that you can trust me too."
He sighed bitterly, and drew back from me--in sorrow, not in
"I thought we had agreed, Valeria, not to return to that subject
again," he said. "You only distress yourself and distress me."
He left the room abruptly, as if he dare not trust himself to say
more. It is better not to dwell on what I felt after this last
repulse. I ordered the carriage at once. I was eager to find a
refuge from my own thoughts in movement and change.
I drove to the shops first, and made the purchases which I had
mentioned to Eustace by way of giving a reason for going out.
Then I devoted myself to the object which I really had at heart.
I went to old Benjamin's little villa, in the by-ways of St.
As soon as he had got over the first surprise of seeing me, he
noticed that I looked pale and care-worn. I confessed at once
that I was in trouble. We sat down together by the bright
fireside in his little library (Benjamin, as far as his means
would allow, was a great collector of books), and there I told my
old friend, frankly and truly, all that I have told here.
He was too distressed to say much. He fervently pressed my hand;
he fervently thanked God that my father had not lived to hear
what he had heard. Then, after a pause, he repeated my
mother-in-law's name to himself in a doubting, questioning tone.
"Macallan?" he said. "Macallan? Where have I heard that name? Why
does it sound as if it wasn't strange to me?"
He gave up pursuing the lost recollection, and asked, very
earnestly, what he could do for me. I answered that he could help
me, in the first place, to put an end to the doubt--an
unendurable doubt to _me_--whether I were lawfully married or
not. His energy of the old days when he had conducted my father's
business showed itself again the moment I said those words.
"Your carriage is at the door, my dear," he answered. "Come with
me to my own lawyer, without wasting another moment."
We drove to Lincoln's Inn Fields.
At my request Benjamin put my case to the lawyer as the case of a
friend in whom I was interested. The answer was given without
hesitation. I had married, honestly believing my husband's name
to be the name under which I had known him. The witnesses to my
marriage--my uncle, my aunt, and Benjamin--had acted, as I had
acted, in perfect good faith. Under those circumstances, there
was no doubt about the law. I was legally married. Macallan or
Woodville, I was his wife.
This decisive answer relieved me of a heavy anxiety. I accepted
my old friend's invitation to return with him to St. John's Wood,
and to make my luncheon at his early dinner.
On our way back I reverted to the one other subject which was now
uppermost in my mind. I reiterated my resolution to discover why
not married me under the name that was really his own.
My companion shook his head, and entreated me to consider well
beforehand what I proposed doing. His advice to me--so strangely
do extremes meet!--was my mother-in-law's advice, repeated almost
word for word. "Leave things as they are, my dear. In the
interest of your own peace of mind be satisfied with your
husband's affection. You know that you are his wife, and you know
that he loves you. Surely that is enough?"
I had but one answer to this. Life, on such conditions as my good
friend had just stated, would be simply unendurable to me.
Nothing could alter my resolution--for this plain reason, that
nothing could reconcile me to living with my husband on the terms
on which we were living now. It only rested with Benjamin to say
whether he would give a helping hand to his master's daughter or
The old man's answer was thoroughly characteristic of him.
"Mention what you want of me, my dear," was all he said.
We were then passing a street in the neighborhood of Portman
Square. I was on the point of speaking again, when the words were
suspended on my lips. I saw my husband.
He was just descending the steps of a house--as if leaving it
after a visit. His eyes were on the ground: he did not look up
when the-carriage passed. As the servant closed the door behind
him, I noticed that the number of the house was Sixteen. At the
next corner I saw the name of the street. It was Vivian Place.
"Do you happen to know who lives at Number Sixteen Vivian Place?"
I inquired of my companion.
Benjamin started. My question was certainly a strange one, after
what he had just said to me.
"No," he replied. "Why do you ask?"
"I have just seen Eustace leaving that house."
"Well, my dear, and what of that?"
"My mind is in a bad way, Benjamin. Everything my husband does
that I don't understand rouses my suspicion now."
Benjamin lifted his withered old hands, and let them drop on his
knees again in mute lamentation over me.
"I tell you again," I went on, "my life is unendurable to me. I
won't answer for what I may do if I am left much longer to live
in doubt of the one man on earth whom I love. You have had
experience of the world. Suppose you were shut out from Eustace's
confidence, as I am? Suppose you were as fond of him as I am, and
felt your position as bitterly as I feel it--what would you do?"
The question was plain. Benjamin met it with a plain answer.
"I think I should find my way, my dear, to some intimate friend
of your husband's," he said, "and make a few discreet inquiries
in that quarter first."
Some intimate friend of my husband's? I considered with myself.
There was but one friend of his whom I knew of--my uncle's
correspondent, Major Fitz-David. My heart beat fast as the name
recurred to my memory. Suppose I followed Benjamin's advice?
Suppose I applied to Major Fitz-David? Even if he, too, refused
to answer my questions, my position would not be more helpless
than it was now. I determined to make the attempt. The only
difficulty in the way, so far, was to discover the Major's
address. I had given back his letter to Doctor Starkweather, at
my uncle's own request. I remembered that the address from which
the Major wrote was somewhere in London--and I remembered no
"Thank you, old friend; you have given me an idea already," I
said to Benjamin. "Have you got a Directory in your house?"
"No, my dear," he rejoined, looking very much puzzled. "But I can
easily send out and borrow one."
We returned to the villa. The servant was sent at once to the
nearest stationer's to borrow a Directory. She returned with the
book just as we sat down to dinner. Searching for the Major's
name under the letter F, I was startled by a new discovery.
"Benjamin!" I said. "This is a strange coincidence. Look here!"
He looked where I pointed. Major Fitz-David's address was Number
Sixteen Vivian Place--the very house which I had seen my husband
leaving as we passed in the carriage!
ON THE WAY TO THE MAJOR.
"YES, said Benjamin. "It _is_ a coincidence certainly. Still--"
He stopped and looked at me. He seemed a little doubtful how I
might receive what he had it in his mind to say to me next.
"Go on," I said.
"Still, my dear, I see nothing suspicious in what has happened,"
he resumed. "To my mind it is quite natural that your husband,
being in London, should pay a visit to one of his friends. And
it's equally natural that we should pass through Vivian Place on
our way back here. This seems to be the reasonable view. What do
"I have told you already that my mind is in a bad way about
Eustace," I answered. "_I_ say there is some motive at the bottom
of his visit to Major Fitz-David. It is not an ordinary call. I
am firmly convinced it is not an ordinary call!"
"Suppose we get on with our dinner?" said Benjamin, resignedly.
"Here is a loin of mutton, my dear--an ordinary loin of mutton.
Is there anything suspicious in _that?_ Very well, then. Show me
you have confidence in the mutton; please eat. There's the wine,
again. No mystery, Valeria, in that claret--I'll take my oath
it's nothing but innocent juice of the grape. If we can't believe
in anything else, let's believe in juice of the grape. Your good
health, my dear."
I adapted myself to the old man's genial humor as readily as I
could. We ate and we drank, and we talked of by-gone days. For a
little while I was almost happy in the company of my fatherly old
friend. Why was I not old too? Why had I not done with love, with
its certain miseries, its transient delights, its cruel losses,
its bitterly doubtful gains? The last autumn flowers in the
window basked brightly in the last of the autumn sunlight.
Benjamin's little dog digested his dinner in perfect comfort on
the hearth. The parrot in the next house screeched his vocal
accomplishments cheerfully. I don't doubt that it is a great
privilege to be a human being. But may it not be the happier
destiny to be an animal or a plant?
The brief respite was soon over; all my anxieties came back. I
was once more a doubting, discontented, depressed creature when I
rose to say good-by.
"Promise, my dear, you will do nothing rash, "said Benjamin, as
he opened the door for me.
"Is it rash to go to Major Fitz-David?" I asked.
"Yes--if you go by yourself. You don't know what sort of man he
is; you don't know how he may receive you. Let me try first, and
pave the way, as the saying is. Trust my experience, my dear. In
matters of this sort there is nothing like paving the way."
I considered a moment. It was due to my good friend to consider
before I said No.
Reflection decided me on taking the responsibility, whatever it
might be, upon my own shoulders. Good or bad, compassionate or
cruel, the Major was a man. A woman's influence was the safest
influence to trust with him, where the end to be gained was such
an end as I had in view. It was not easy to say this to Benjamin
without the danger of mortifying him. I made an appointment with
the old man to call on me the next morning at the hotel, and talk
the matter over again. Is it very disgraceful to me to add that I
privately determined (if the thing could be accomplished) to see
Major Fitz-David in the interval?
"Do nothing rash, my dear. In your own interests, do nothing
Those were Benjamin's last words when we parted for the day.
I found Eustace waiting for me in our sitting-room at the hotel.
His spirits seemed to have revived since I had seen him last. He
advanced to meet me cheerfully, with an open sheet of paper in
"My business is settled, Valeria, sooner than I had expected," he
began, gayly. "Are your purchases all completed, fair lady? Are
_you_ free too?"
I had learned already (God help me!) to distrust his fits of
gayety. I asked, cautiously,
"Do you mean free for to-day?"
"Free for to-day, and to-morrow, and next week, and next
month--and next year too, for all I know to the contrary," he
answered, putting his arm boisterously round my waist. "Look
He lifted the open sheet of paper which I had noticed in his
hand, and held it for me to read. It was a telegram to the
sailing-m aster of the yacht, informing him that we had arranged
to return to Ramsgate that evening, and that we should be ready
to sail for the Mediterranean with the next tide.
"I only waited for your return," said Eustace, "to send the
telegram to the office."
He crossed the room as he spoke to ring the bell. I stopped him.
"I am afraid I can't go to Ramsgate to-day," I said.
"Why not?" he asked, suddenly changing his tone, and speaking
I dare say it will seem ridiculous to some people, but it is
really true that he shook my resolution to go to Major Fitz-David
when he put his arm round me. Even a mere passing caress from
_him_ stole away my heart, and softly tempted me to yield. But
the ominous alteration in his tone made another woman of me. I
felt once more, and felt more strongly than ever, that in my
critical position it was useless to stand still, and worse than
useless to draw back.
"I am sorry to disappoint you," I answered. It is impossible for
me (as I told you at Ramsgate) to be ready to sail at a moment's
notice. I want time."
Not only his tone, but his look, when he put that second
question, jarred on every nerve in me. He roused in my mind--I
can't tell how or why--an angry sense of the indignity that he
had put upon his wife in marrying her under a false name. Fearing
that I should answer rashly, that I should say something which my
better sense might regret, if I spoke at that moment, I said
nothing. Women alone can estimate what it cost me to be silent.
And men alone can understand how irritating my silence must have
been to my husband.
"You want time?" he repeated. "I ask you again--what for?"
My self-control, pushed to its extremest limits, failed me. The
rash reply flew out of my lips, like a bird set free from a cage.
"I want time," I said, "to accustom myself to my right name."
He suddenly stepped up to me with a dark look.
"What do you mean by your 'right name?'"
"Surely you know," I answered. "I once thought I was Mrs.
Woodville. I have now discovered that I am Mrs. Macallan."
He started back at the sound of his own name as if I had struck
him--he started back, and turned so deadly pale that I feared he
was going to drop at my feet in a swoon. Oh, my tongue! my
tongue! Why had I not controlled my miserable, mischievous
"I didn't mean to alarm you, Eustace," I said. "I spoke at
random. Pray forgive me."
He waved his hand impatiently, as if my penitent words were
tangible things--ruffling, worrying things, like flies in
summer--which he was putting away from him.
"What else have you discovered?" he asked, in low, stern tones.
"Nothing?" He paused as he repeated the word, and passed his hand
over his forehead in a weary way. "Nothing, of course," he
resumed, speaking to himself, "or she would not be here." He
paused once more, and looked at me searchingly. "Don't say again
what you said just now," he went on. "For your own sake, Valeria,
as well as for mine." He dropped into the nearest chair, and said
I certainly heard the warning; but the only words which really
produced an impression on my mind were the words preceding it,
which he had spoken to himself. He had said: "Nothing, of course,
_or she could not be here."_ If I had found out some other truth
besides the truth about the name, would it have prevented me from
ever returning to my husband? Was that what he meant? Did the
sort of discovery that he contemplated mean something so dreadful
that it would have parted us at once and forever? I stood by his
chair in silence, and tried to find the answer to those terrible
questions in his face. It used to speak to me so eloquently when
it spoke of his love. It told me nothing now.
He sat for some time without looking at me, lost in his own
thoughts. Then he rose on a sudden and took his hat.
"The friend who lent me the yacht is in town," he said. "I
suppose I had better see him, and say our plans are changed." He
tore up the telegram with an air of sullen resignation as he
spoke. "You are evidently determined not to go to sea with me,"
he resumed. "We had better give it up. I don't see what else is
to be done. Do you?"
His tone was almost a tone of contempt. I was too depressed about
myself, too alarmed about _him,_ to resent it.
"Decide as you think best, Eustace," I said, sadly. "Every way,
the prospect seems a hopeless one. As long as I am shut out from
your confidence, it matters little whether we live on land or at
sea--we cannot live happily."
"If you could control your curiosity." he answered, sternly, "we
might live happily enough. I thought I had married a woman who
was superior to the vulgar failings of her sex. A good wife
should know better than to pry into affairs of her husband's with
which she had no concern."
Surely it was hard to bear this? However, I bore it.
"Is it no concern of mine?" I asked, gently, "when I find that my
husband has not married me under his family name? Is it no
concern of mine when I hear your mother say, in so many words,
that she pities your wife? It is hard, Eustace, to accuse me of
curiosity because I cannot accept the unendurable position in
which you have placed me. Your cruel silence is a blight on my
happiness and a threat to my future. Your cruel silence is
estranging us from each other at the beginning of our married
life. And you blame me for feeling this? You tell me I am prying
into affairs which are yours only? They are _not_ yours only: I
have my interest in them too. Oh, my darling, why do you trifle
with our love and our confidence in each other? Why do you keep
me in the dark?"
He answered with a stern and pitiless brevity,
"For your own good."
I turned away from him in silence. He was treating me like a