H. Rider Haggard
Part 5 out of 7
Beatrice's face grew quite pale, her lips twitched and her grey eyes
"Really," she said, "and have /you/ any advice to give on the subject,
"Yes, Beatrice, I have. I have thought it over, and I think that--
forgive me again--that if you can bring yourself to it, perhaps you
had better marry him. He is not such a bad sort of man, and he is well
They had been walking rapidly, and now they were reaching the spot
known as the "Amphitheatre," that same spot where Owen Davies had
proposed to Beatrice some seven months before.
Beatrice passed round the projecting edge of rock, and walked some way
towards the flat slab of stone in the centre before she answered.
While she did so a great and bitter anger filled her heart. She saw,
or thought she saw, it all. Geoffrey wished to be rid of her. He had
discerned an element of danger in their intimacy, and was anxious to
make that intimacy impossible by pushing her into a hateful marriage.
Suddenly she turned and faced him--turned like a thing at bay. The
last red rays of the sunset struck upon her lovely face made more
lovely still by its stamp of haughty anger: they lay upon her heaving
breast. Full in the eyes she looked him with those wide angry eyes of
hers--never before had he seen her so imperial a mien. Her dignity and
the power of her presence literally awed him, for at times Beatrice's
beauty was of that royal stamp which when it hides a heart, is a
compelling force, conquering and born to conquer.
"Does it not strike you, Mr. Bingham," she said quietly, "that you are
taking a very great liberty? Does it not strike you that no man who is
not a relation has any right to speak to a woman as you have spoken to
me?--that, in short, you have been guilty of what in most people would
be an impertinence? What right have you to dictate to me as to whom I
should or should not marry? Surely of all things in the world that is
my own affair."
Geoffrey coloured to the eyes. As would have been the case with most
men of his class, he felt her accusation of having taken a liberty, of
having presumed upon an intimacy, more keenly than any which she could
have brought against him.
"Forgive me," he said humbly. "I can only assure you that I had no
such intention. I only spoke--ill-judgedly, I fear--because--because I
felt driven to it."
Beatrice took no notice of his words, but went on in the same cold
"What right have you to speak of my affairs with Mr. Davies, with an
old boatman, or even with my father? Had I wished you to do so I
should have asked you. By what authority do you constitute yourself an
intermediary for the purpose of bringing about a marriage which you
are so good as to consider would be to my pecuniary interest? Do you
not know that such a matter is one which the woman concerned, the
woman whose happiness and self-respect are at stake, alone can judge
of? I have nothing more to say except this. I said just now that you
had been guilty of what would in most people be an impertinence. Well,
I will add something. In this case, Mr. Bingham, there are
circumstances which make it--a cruel insult!"
She stopped speaking, then suddenly, without the slightest warning,
burst into passionate weeping. As she did so, the first rush of the
storm passed over them, winnowing the air as with a thousand eagles'
wings, and was lost on the moaning depths beyond.
The light went out of the sky. Now Geoffrey could only see the faint
outlines of her weeping face. One moment he hesitated and one only;
then Nature prevailed against him, for the next she was in his arms.
Beatrice scarcely resisted him. Her energies seemed to fail her, or
perhaps she had spent them in her bitter words. Her head fell upon his
shoulder, and there she sobbed her fill. Presently she lifted it and
their lips met in a first long kiss. It was finished; this was the end
of it--and thus did Geoffrey prosper Owen Davies's suit.
"Oh, you are cruel, cruel!" he whispered in her ear. "You must have
known I loved you, Beatrice, that I spoke against myself because I
thought it to be my duty. You must have known that, to my sin and
sorrow, I have always loved you, that you have never been an hour from
my mind, that I have longed to see your face like a sick man for the
light. Tell me, did you not know it, Beatrice?"
"How should I know?" she answered very softly; "I could only guess,
and if indeed you love me how could you wish me to marry another man?
I thought that you had learned my weakness and took this way to
reproach me. Oh, Geoffrey, what have we done? What is there between
you and me--except our love?"
"It would have been better if we had been drowned together at the
first," he said heavily.
"No, no," she answered, "for then we never should have loved one
another. Better first to love, and then to die!"
"Do not speak so," he said; "let us sit here and be happy for a little
while to-night, and leave trouble till to-morrow."
And, where on a bygone day Beatrice had tarried with another wooer,
side by side they sat upon the great stone and talked such talk as
Above them moaned the rising gale, though sheltered as they were by
cliffs its breath scarcely stirred their hair. In front of them the
long waves boomed upon the beach, while far out to sea the crescent
moon, draped in angry light, seemed to ride the waters like a boat.
And were they alone with their great bliss, or did they only dream?
Nay, they were alone with love and lovers' joys, and all the truth was
told, and all their doubts were done. Now there was an end of hopes
and fears; now reason fell and Love usurped his throne, and at that
royal coming Heaven threw wide her gates. Oh, Sweetest and most dear!
Oh, Dearest and most sweet! Oh, to have lived to find this happy hour
--oh, in this hour to die!
See heaviness is behind us, see now we are one. Blow, you winds, blow
out your stormy heart; we know the secret of your strength, you rush
to your desire. Fall, deep waters of the sea, fall in thunder at the
feet of earth; we hear the music of your pleading.
Earth, and Seas, and Winds, sing your great chant of love! Heaven and
Space and Time, echo back the melody! For Life has called to us the
answer of his riddle! Heart to heart we sit, and lips to lips, and we
are more wise than Solomon, and richer than barbarian kings, for
Happiness is ours.
To this end were we born, Dearest and most sweet, and from all time
predestinate! To this end, Sweetest and most dear, do we live and die,
in death to find completer unity. For here is that secret of the world
which wise men search and cannot find, and here too is the gate of
Look into my eyes, and let me gaze on yours, and listen how these
things shall be. The world is but a mockery, and a shadow is our
flesh, for where once they were there shall be naught. Only Love is
real; Love shall endure till all the suns are dead, and yet be young.
Kiss me, thou Conqueror, for Destiny is overcome, Sorrow is gone by;
and the flame that we have hallowed upon this earthly altar shall
still burn brightly, and yet more bright, when yonder stars have lost
But alas! words cannot give a fitting form to such a song as this. Let
music try! But music also folds her wings. For in so supreme an hour
"A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,"
and through that opened door come sights and sounds such as cannot be
They tell us it is madness, that this unearthly glory is but the
frenzy of a passion gross in its very essence. Let those think it who
will, but to dreamers let them leave their dreams. Why then, at such a
time, do visions come to children of the world like Beatrice and
Geoffrey? Why do their doubts vanish, and what is that breath from
heaven which they seem to feel upon their brow? The intoxication of
earthly love born of the meeting of youth and beauty. So be it! Slave,
bring more such wine and let us drink--to Immortality and to those
dear eyes that mirror forth a spirit's face!
Such loves indeed are few. For they must be real and deep, and natures
thus shaped are rare, nor do they often cross each other's line of
life. Yes, there are few who can be borne so high, and none can
breathe that ether long. Soon the wings which Love lent them in his
hour of revelation will shrink and vanish, and the borrowers will fall
back to the level of this world, happy if they escape uncrushed.
Perchance even in their life-days, they may find these spirit wings
again, overshadowing the altar of their vows in the hour of earthly
marriage, if by some happy fate, marriage should be within their
reach, or like the holy pinions of the goddess Nout, folded about a
coffin, in the time of earthly death. But scant are the occasions, and
few there are who know them.
Thus soared Beatrice and Geoffrey while the wild night beat around
them, making a fit accompaniment to their stormy loves. And thus they
too fell from heaven to earth.
"We must be going, Geoffrey; it grows late," said Beatrice. "Oh,
Geoffrey, Geoffrey, what have we done? What can be the end of all
this? It will bring trouble on you, I know that it must. The old
saying will come true. I saved your life, and I shall bring ruin on
It is characteristic of Beatrice that already she was thinking of the
consequences to Geoffrey, not of those to herself.
"Beatrice," said Geoffrey, "we are in a desperate position. Do you
wish to face it and come away with me, far away to the other side of
"No, no," she answered vehemently, "it would be your ruin to abandon
the career that is before you. What part of the world could you go to
where you would not be known? Besides there is your wife to think of.
Ah, God, your wife--what would she say of me? You belong to her, you
have no right to desert her. And there is Effie too. No, Geoffrey, no,
I have been wicked enough to learn to love you--oh, as you were never
loved before, if it is wicked to do what one cannot help--but I am not
bad enough for this. Walk quicker, Geoffrey; we shall be late, and
they will suspect something."
Poor Beatrice, the pangs of conscience were finding her out!
"We are in a dreadful position," he said again. "Oh, dearest, I have
been to blame. I should never have come back here. It is my fault; and
though I never thought of this, I did my best to please you."
"And I thank you for it," she answered. "Do not deceive yourself,
Geoffrey. Whatever happens, promise me never for one moment to believe
that I reproached or blamed you. Why should I blame you because you
won my heart? Let me sooner blame the sea on which we floated, the
beach where we walked, the house in which we lived, and the Destiny
that brought us together. I am proud and glad to love you, dear, but I
am not so selfish as to wish to ruin you: Geoffrey--I had rather die."
"Don't talk so," he said, "I cannot bear it. What are we to do? Am I
to go away and see you no more? How can we live so, Beatrice?"
"Yes, Geoffrey," she answered heavily, taking him by the hand and
gazing up into his face, "you are to go away and see me no more, not
for years and years. This is what we have brought upon ourselves, it
is the price that we must pay for this hour which has gone. You are to
go away to-morrow, that we may be put out of temptation, and you must
come back no more. Sometimes I shall write to you, and sometimes
perhaps you will write to me, till the thing becomes a burden, then
you can stop. And whether you forget me or not--and, Geoffrey, I do
not think you will--you will know that I shall never forget you, whom
I saved from the sea--to love me."
There was something so sweet and infinitely tender about her words,
instinct as they were with natural womanly passion, that Geoffrey bent
at heart beneath their weight as a fir bends beneath the gentle,
gathering snow. What was he to do, how could he leave her? And yet she
was right. He must go, and go quickly, lest his strength might fail
him, and hand in hand they should pass a bourne from which there is no
"Heaven help us, Beatrice," he said. "I will go to-morrow morning and,
if I can, I will keep away."
"You /must/ keep away. I will not see you any more. I will not bring
trouble on you, Geoffrey."
"You talk of bringing trouble on me," he said; "you say nothing of
yourself, and yet a man, even a man with eyes on him like myself, is
better fitted to weather such a storm. If it ruined me, how much more
would it ruin you?"
They were at the gate of the Vicarage now, and the wind rushed so
strongly through the firs that she needed to put her lips quite close
to his ear to make her words heard.
"Stop, one minute," she said, "perhaps you do not quite understand.
When a woman does what I have done, it is because she loves with all
her life and heart and soul, because all these are a part of her love.
For myself, I no longer care anything--I have /no/ self away from you;
I have ceased to be of myself or in my own keeping. I am of you and in
yours. For myself and my own fate or name I think no more; with my
eyes open and of my own free will I have given everything to you, and
am glad and happy to give it. But for you I still do care, and if I
took any step, or allowed you to take any that could bring sorrow on
you, I should never forgive myself. That is why we must part,
Geoffrey. And now let us go in; there is nothing more to say, except
this: if you wish to bid me good-bye, a last good-bye, dear Geoffrey,
I will meet you to-morrow morning on the beach."
"I shall leave at half-past eight," he said hoarsely.
"Then we will meet at seven," Beatrice said, and led the way into the
Elizabeth and Mr. Granger were already seated at supper. They supped
at nine on Sunday nights; it was just half-past.
"Dear me," said the old gentleman, "we began to think that you two
must have been out canoeing and got yourselves drowned in good earnest
this time. What have you been doing?"
"We have had a long walk," answered Geoffrey; "I did not know that it
was so late."
"One wants to be pleased with one's company to walk far on such a
night as this," put in Elizabeth maliciously.
"And so we were--at least I was," Geoffrey answered with perfect
truth, "and the night is not so bad as you might think, at least under
the lee of the cliffs. It will be worse by and by!"
Then they sat down and made a desperate show of eating supper.
Elizabeth, the keen-eyed, noticed that Geoffrey's hand was shaking.
Now what, she wondered, would make the hand of a strong man shake like
a leaf? Deep emotion might do it, and Elizabeth thought that she
detected other signs of emotion in them both, besides that of
Geoffrey's shaking hand. The plot was working well, but could it be
brought to a climax? Oh, if he would only throw prudence to the winds
and run away with Beatrice, so that she might be rid of her, and free
to fight for her own hand.
Shortly after supper both Elizabeth and Beatrice went to bed, leaving
their father with Geoffrey.
"Well," said Mr. Granger, "did you get a word with Beatrice? It was
very kind of you to go that long tramp on purpose. Gracious, how it
blows! we shall have the house down presently. Lightning, too, I
"Yes," answered Geoffrey, "I did."
"Ah, I hope you told her that there was no need for her to give up
hope of him yet, of Mr. Davies, I mean?"
"Yes, I told her that--that is if the greater includes the less," he
added to himself.
"And how did she take it?"
"Very badly," said Geoffrey; "she seemed to think that I had no right
"Indeed, that is strange. But it doesn't mean anything. She's grateful
enough to you at heart, depend upon it she is, only she did not like
to say so. Dear me, how it blows; we shall have a night of it, a
regular gale, I declare. So you are going away to-morrow morning.
Well, the best of friends must part. I hope that you will often come
and see us. Good-bye."
Once more a sense of the irony of the position overcame Geoffrey, and
he smiled grimly as he lit his candle and went to bed. At the back of
the house was a long passage, which terminated at one end in the room
where he slept, and at the other in that occupied by Elizabeth and
Beatrice. This passage was lit by two windows, and built out of it
were two more rooms--that of Mr. Granger, and another which had been
Effie's. The windows of the passage, like most of the others in the
Vicarage, were innocent of shutters, and Geoffrey stood for a moment
at one of them, watching the lightning illumine the broad breast of
the mountain behind. Then looking towards the door of Beatrice's room,
he gazed at it with the peculiar reverence that sometimes afflicts
people who are very much in love, and, with a sigh, turned and sought
He could not sleep, it was impossible. For nearly two hours he lay
turning from side to side, and thinking till his brain seemed like to
burst. To-morrow he must leave her, leave her for ever, and go back to
his coarse unprofitable struggle with the world, where there would be
no Beatrice to make him happy through it all. And she, what of her?
The storm had lulled a little, now it came back in strength, heralded
by the lightning. He rose, threw on a dressing-gown, and sat by a
window watching it. Its tumult and fury seemed to ease his heart of
some little of its pain; in that dark hour a quiet night would have
In eight hours--eight short hours--this matter would be ended so far
as concerned their actual intercourse. It would be a secret locked for
ever in their two breasts, a secret eating at their hearts, cruel as
the worm that dieth not. Geoffrey looked up and threw out his heart's
thought towards his sleeping love. Then once more, as in a bygone
night, there broke upon his brain and being that mysterious spiritual
sense. Stronger and more strong it grew, beating on him in heavy
unnatural waves, till his reason seemed to reel and sink, and he
remembered naught but Beatrice, knew naught save that her very life
was with him now.
He stretched out his arms towards the place where she should be.
"Beatrice," he whispered to the empty air, "Beatrice! Oh, my love! my
sweet! my soul! Hear me, Beatrice!"
There came a pause, and ever the unearthly sympathy grew and gathered
in his heart, till it seemed to him as though separation had lost its
power and across dividing space they were mingled in one being.
A great gust shook the house and passed away along the roaring depths.
Oh! what was this? Silently the door opened, and a white draped form
passed its threshold. He rose, gasping; a terrible fear, a terrible
joy, took possession of him. The lightning flared out wildly in the
eastern sky. There in the fierce light she stood before him--she,
Beatrice, a sight of beauty and of dread. She stood with white arms
outstretched, with white uncovered feet, her bosom heaving softly
beneath her night-dress, her streaming hair unbound, her lips apart,
her face upturned, and a stamp of terrifying calm.
"In the wide, blind eyes uplift
Thro' the darkness and the drift."
Great Heaven, she was asleep!
Hush! she spoke.
"You called me, Geoffrey," she said, in a still, unnatural voice. "You
called me, my beloved, and I--have--come."
He rose aghast, trembling like an aspen with doubt and fear, trembling
at the sight of the conquering glory of the woman whom he worshipped.
See! She drew on towards him, and she was /asleep/. Oh, what could he
Suddenly the draught of the great gale rushing through the house
caught the opened door and crashed it to.
She awoke with a wild stare of terror.
"Oh, God, where am I?" she cried.
"Hush, for your life's sake!" he answered, his faculties returning.
"Hush! or you are lost."
But there was no need to caution here to silence, for Beatrice's
senses failed her at the shock, and she sank swooning in his arms.
A DAWN OF RAIN
That crash of the closing door did not awake Beatrice only; it awoke
both Elizabeth and Mr. Granger. Elizabeth sat up in bed straining her
eyes through the gloom to see what had happened. They fell on
Elizabeth slipped up, cat-like she crept across the room and felt with
her hand at the bed. Beatrice was not there. She sprang to the blind
and drew it, letting in such light as there was, and by it searched
the room. She spoke: "Beatrice, where are you?"
"Ah--h," said Elizabeth aloud; "I understand. At last--at last!"
What should see do? Should she go and call her father and put them to
an open shame? No. Beatrice must come back some time. The knowledge
was enough; she wanted the knowledge to use if necessary. She did not
wish to ruin her sister unless in self-defence, or rather, for the
cause of self-advancement. Still less did she wish to injure Geoffrey,
against whom she had no grudge. So she peeped along the passage, then
returning, crept back to her bed like a snake into a hole and watched.
Mr. Granger, hearing the crash, thought that the front door had blown
open. Rising, he lit a candle and went to see.
But of all this Geoffrey knew nothing, and Beatrice naturally less
She lay senseless in his arms, her head rested on his shoulder, her
heavy hair streamed down his side almost to his knee. He lifted her,
touched her on the forehead with his lips and laid her on the bed.
What was to be done? Bring her back to life? No, he dared not--not
here. While she lay thus her helplessness protected her; but if once
more she was a living, loving woman here and so--oh, how should they
escape? He dared not touch her or look towards her--till he had made
up his mind. It was soon done. Here she must not bide, and since of
herself she could not go, why he must take her now, this moment!
However far Geoffrey fell short of virtue's stricter standard, let
this always be remembered in his favour.
He opened the door, and as he did so, thought that he heard some one
stirring in the house. And so he did; it was Mr. Granger in the
sitting-room. Hearing no more, Geoffrey concluded that it was the
wind, and turning, groped his way to the bed where Beatrice lay as
still as death. For one moment a horrible fear struck him that she
might be dead. He had heard of cases of somnambulists who, on being
startled from their unnatural sleep, only woke to die. It might be so
with her. Hurriedly he placed his hand upon her breast. Yes, her heart
stirred--faintly indeed, but still it stirred. She had only swooned.
Then he set his teeth, and placing his arms about her, lifted her as
though she were a babe. Beatrice was no slip of a girl, but a well-
grown woman of full size. He never felt her weight; it seemed nothing
to him. Stealthily as one bent on midnight murder, he stepped with her
to the door and through it into the passage. Then supporting her with
one arm, he closed the door with his left hand. Stealthily in the
gloom he passed along the corridor, his bare feet making no noise upon
the boarded floor, till he reached the bisecting passage leading from
He glanced up it apprehensively, and what he saw froze the blood in
his veins, for there coming down it, not eight paces from him, was Mr.
Granger, holding a candle in his hand. What could be done? To get back
to his room was impossible--to reach that of Beatrice was also
impossible. With an effort he collected his thoughts, and like a flash
of light it passed into his mind that the empty room was not two paces
from him. A stride and he had reached it. Oh, where was the handle?
and oh, if the room should be locked! By a merciful chance it was not.
He stepped through the door, knocking Beatrice's feet against the
framework as he did so, closed it--to shut it he had no time--and
stood gasping behind it.
The gleam of light drew nearer. Merciful powers! he had been seen--the
old man was coming in. What could he say? Tell the truth, that was
all; but who would believe such a story? why, it was one that he
should scarcely care to advance in a court of law. Could he expect a
father to believe it--a father finding a man crouched like a thief
behind a door at the dead of night with his lovely daughter senseless
in his arms? He had already thought of going straight to Mr. Granger,
but had abandoned the idea as hopeless. Who would believe this tale of
sleep-walking? For the first time in his life Geoffrey felt terribly
afraid, both for Beatrice and himself; the hair rose on his head, his
heart stood still, and a cold perspiration started on to his face.
"It's very odd," he heard the old man mutter to himself; "I could
almost swear that I saw something white go into that room. Where's the
handle? If I believed in ghosts--hullo! my candle has blown out! I
must go and hunt for a match. Don't quite like going in there without
For the moment they were saved. The fierce draught rushing through the
open crack of the door from the ill-fitting window had extinguished
Geoffrey waited a few seconds to allow Mr. Granger to reach his room,
and then once more started on his awful journey. He passed out of the
room in safety; happily Beatrice showed no signs of recovery. A few
quick steps and he was at her own door. And now a new terror seized
him. What if Elizabeth was also walking the house or even awake? He
thought of putting Beatrice down at the door and leaving her there,
but abandoned the idea. To begin with, her father might see her, and
then how could her presence be accounted for? or if he did not, she
would certainly suffer ill effects from the cold. No, he must risk it,
and at once, though he would rather have faced a battery of guns. The
door fortunately was ajar. Geoffrey opened it with his foot, entered,
and with his foot pushed it to again. Suddenly he remembered that he
had never been in the room, and did not know which bed belonged to
Beatrice. He walked to the nearest; a deep-drawn breath told him that
it was the wrong one. Drawing some faint consolation from the fact
that Elizabeth was evidently asleep, he groped his way to the second
bed through the deep twilight of the room. The clothes were thrown
back. He laid Beatrice down and threw them over her. Then he fled.
As he reached the door he saw Mr. Granger's light disappear into his
own room and heard his door close. After that it seemed to him that he
took but two steps and was in his own place.
He burst out laughing; there was as much hysteria in the laugh as a
man gives way to. His nerves were shattered by struggle, love and
fear, and sought relief in ghastly merriment. Somehow the whole scene
reminded him of one in a comic opera. There was a ludicrous side to
it. Supposing that the political opponents, who already hated him so
bitterly, could have seen him slinking from door to door at midnight
with an unconscious lady in his arms--what would they have said?
He ceased laughing; the fit passed--indeed it was no laughing matter.
Then he thought of the first night of their strange communion, that
night before he had returned to London. The seed sown in that hour had
blossomed and borne fruit indeed. Who would have dreamed it possible
that he should thus have drawn Beatrice to him? Well, he ought to have
known. If it was possible that the words which floated through her
mind could arise in his as they had done upon that night, what was not
possible? And were there not other words, written by the same master-
hand, which told of such things as these:
"'Now--now,' the door is heard;
Hark, the stairs! and near--
'Now'! and at call the third,
She enters without a word.
Like the doors of a casket shrine,
See on either side,
Her two arms divide
Till the heart betwixt makes sign,
'Take me, for I am thine.'
First, I will pray. Do Thou
That ownest the soul,
Yet wilt grant control
To another, nor disallow
For a time, restrain me now!"
Did they not run thus? Oh, he should have known! This he could plead,
and this only--that control had been granted to him.
But how would Beatrice fare? Would she come to herself safely? He
thought so, it was only a fainting fit. But when she did recover, what
would she do? Nothing rash, he prayed. And what could be the end of it
all? Who might say? How fortunate that the sister had been so sound
asleep. Somehow he did not trust Elizabeth--he feared her.
Well might Geoffrey fear her! Elizabeth's sleep was that of a weasel.
She too was laughing at this very moment, laughing, not loud but long
--the laugh of one who wins.
She had seen him enter, his burden in his arms; saw him come with it
to her own bedside, and had breathed heavily to warn him of his
mistake. She had watched him put Beatrice on her bed, and heard him
sigh and turn away; nothing had escaped her. As soon as he was gone,
she had risen and crept up to Beatrice, and finding that she was only
in a faint had left her to recover, knowing her to be in no danger.
Elizabeth was not a nervous person. Then she had listened till at
length a deep sigh told her of the return of her sister's
consciousness. After this there was a pause, till presently Beatrice's
long soft breaths showed that she had glided from swoon to sleep.
The slow night wore away, and at length the cold dawn crept through
the window. Elizabeth still watching, for she was not willing to lose
a single scene of a drama so entrancing in itself and so important to
her interests, saw her sister suddenly sit up in bed and press her
hands to her forehead, as though she was striving to recall a dream.
Then Beatrice covered her eyes with her hands and groaned heavily.
Next she looked at her watch, rose, drank a glass of water, and
dressed herself, even to the putting on of an old grey waterproof with
a hood to it, for it was wet outside.
"She is going to meet her lover," thought Elizabeth. "I wish I could
be there to see that too, but I have seen enough."
She yawned and appeared to wake. "What, Beatrice, going out already in
this pouring rain?" she said, with feigned astonishment.
"Yes, I have slept badly and I want to get some air," answered
Beatrice, starting and colouring; "I suppose that it was the storm."
"Has there been a storm?" said Elizabeth, yawning again. "I heard
nothing of it--but then so many things happen when one is asleep of
which one knows nothing at the time," she added sleepily, like one
speaking at random. "Mind that you are back to say good-bye to Mr.
Bingham; he goes by the early train, you know--but perhaps you will
see him out walking," and appearing to wake up thoroughly, she raised
herself in bed and gave her sister one piercing look.
Beatrice made no answer; that look sent a thrill of fear through her.
Oh; what had happened! Or was it all a dream? Had she dreamed that she
stood face to face with Geoffrey in his room before a great darkness
struck her and overwhelmed her? Or was it an awful truth, and if a
truth, how came she here again? She went to the pantry, found a morsel
of bread and ate it, for faintness still pursued her. Then feeling
better, she left the house and set her face towards the beach.
It was a dreary morning. The great wind had passed; now it only blew
in little gusts heavy with driving rain. The sea was sullen and grey
and grand. It beat in thunder on the shore and flew over the sunken
rocks in columns of leaden spray. The whole earth seemed one
desolation, and all its grief was centred in this woman's broken
Geoffrey, too, was up. How he had passed the remainder of that tragic
night we need not inquire--not too happily we may be sure. He heard
the front door close behind Beatrice, and followed out into the rain.
On the beach, some half of a mile away, he found her gazing at the
sea, a great white gull wheeling about her head. No word of greeting
passed between them; they only grasped each other's hands and looked
into each other's hollow eyes.
"Come under the shelter of the cliff," he said, and she came. She
stood beneath the cliff, her head bowed low, her face hidden by the
hood, and spoke.
"Tell me what has happened," she said; "I have dreamed something, a
worse dream than any that have gone before--tell me if it is true. Do
not spare me."
And Geoffrey told her all.
When he had finished she spoke again.
"By what shall I swear," she said, "that I am not the thing which you
must think me? Geoffrey, I swear by my love for you that I am
innocent. If I came--oh, the shame of it! if I came--to your room last
night, it was my feet which led me, not my mind that led my feet. I
went to sleep, I was worn out, and then I knew no more till I heard a
dreadful sound, and saw you before me in a blaze of light, after which
there was darkness."
"Oh, Beatrice, do not be distressed," he answered. "I saw that you
were asleep. It is a dreadful thing which has happened, but I do not
think that we were seen."
"I do not know," she said. "Elizabeth looked at me very strangely this
morning, and she sees everything. Geoffrey, for my part, I neither
know nor care. What I do care for is, what must /you/ think of me? You
must believe, oh!--I cannot say it. And yet I am innocent. Never,
never did I dream of this. To come to you--thus--oh, it is shameless!"
"Beatrice, do not talk so. I tell you I know it. Listen--I drew you. I
did not mean that you should come. I did not think that you would
come, but it was my doing. Listen to me, dear," and he told her that
which written words can ill express.
When he had finished, she looked up, with another face; the deep
shadow of her shame had left her. "I believe you, Geoffrey," she said,
"because I know that you have not invented this to shield me, for I
have felt it also. See by it what you are to me. You are my master and
my all. I cannot withstand you if I would. I have little will apart
from yours if you choose to gainsay mine. And now promise me this upon
your word. Leave me uninfluenced; do not draw me to you to be your
ruin. I make no pretence, I have laid my life at your feet, but while
I have any strength to struggle against it, you shall never take it up
unless you can do so to your own honour, and that is not possible. Oh,
my dear, we might have been very happy together, happier than men and
women often are, but it is denied to us. We must carry our cross, we
must crucify the flesh upon it; perhaps so--who can say?--we may
glorify the spirit. I owe you a great deal. I have learnt much from
you, Geoffrey. I have learned to hope again for a Hereafter. Nothing
is left to me now--but that--that and an hour hence--your memory.
"Oh, why should I weep? It is ungrateful, when I have your love, for
which this misery is but a little price to pay. Kiss me, dear, and go
--and never see me more. You will not forget me, I know now that you
will /never/ forget me all your life. Afterwards--perhaps--who can
tell? If not, why then--it will indeed be best--to die."
* * * * *
It is not well to linger over such a scene as this. After all, too, it
is nothing. Only another broken heart or so. The world breaks so many
this way and the other that it can have little pleasure in gloating
over such stale scenes of agony.
Besides we must not let our sympathies carry us away. Geoffrey and
Beatrice deserved all they got; they had no business to put themselves
into such a position. They had defied the customs of their world, and
the world avenged itself upon them and their petty passions. What
happens to the worm that tries to burrow on the highways? Grinding
wheels and crushing feet; these are its portion. Beatrice and Geoffrey
point a moral and adorn a tale. So far as we can see and judge there
was no need for them to have plunged into that ever-running river of
human pain. Let them struggle and drown, and let those who are on the
bank learn wisdom from the sight, and hold out no hand to help them.
Geoffrey drew a ring from his finger and gave it to his love. It was a
common flat-sided silver ring that had been taken from the grave of a
Roman soldier: one peculiarity it had, however; on its inner surface
were roughly cut the words, "ave atque vale." Greeting and farewell!
It was a fitting gift to pass between people in their position.
Beatrice, trembling sorely, whispered that she would wear it on her
heart, upon her hand she could not put it yet awhile--it might be
Then thrice did they embrace there upon the desolate shore, once, as
it were, for past joy, once for present pain, and once for future
hope, and parted. There was no talk of after meetings--they felt them
to be impossible, at any rate for many years. How could they meet as
indifferent friends? Too much they loved for that. It was a final
parting, than which death had been less dreadful--for Hope sits ever
by the bed of death--and misery crushed them to the earth.
He left her, and happiness went out of his life as at nightfall the
daylight goes out of the day. Well, at least he had his work to go to.
But Beatrice, poor woman, what had she?
Geoffrey left her. When he had gone some thirty paces he turned again
and gazed his last upon her. There she stood or rather leant, her hand
resting against the wet rock, looking after him with her wide grey
eyes. Even through the drizzling rain he could see the gleam of her
rich hair, the marking of her lovely face, and the carmine of her
lips. She motioned to him to go on. He went, and when he had traversed
a hundred paces looked round once more. She was still there, but now
her face was a blur, and again the great white gull hovered about her
Then the mist swept up and hid her.
Ah, Beatrice, with all your brains you could never learn those simple
principles necessary to the happiness of woman; principles inherited
through a thousand generations of savage and semi-civilized
ancestresses. To accept the situation and the master that situation
brings with it--this is the golden rule of well-being. Not to put out
the hand of your affection further than you can draw it back, this is
another, at least not until you are quite sure that its object is well
within your grasp. If by misfortune, or the anger of the Fates, you
are endowed with those deeper qualities, those extreme capacities of
self-sacrificing affection, such as ruined your happiness, Beatrice,
keep them in stock; do not expose them to the world. The world does
not believe in them; they are inconvenient and undesirable; they are
even immoral. What the world wants, and very rightly, in a person of
your attractiveness is quiet domesticity of character, not the
exhibition of attributes which though they might qualify you for the
rank of heroine in a Greek drama, are nowadays only likely to qualify
you for the reprobation of society.
What? you would rather keep your love, your reprehensible love which
never can be satisfied, and bear its slings and arrows, and die
hugging a shadow to your heart, straining your eyes into the darkness
of that beyond whither you shall go--murmuring with your pale lips
that /there/ you will find reason and fulfilment? Why it is folly.
What ground have you to suppose that you will find anything of the
sort? Go and take the opinion of some scientific person of eminence
upon this infatuation of yours and those vague visions of glory that
shall be. He will explain it clearly enough, will show you that your
love itself is nothing but a natural passion, acting, in your case, on
a singularly sensitive and etherealised organism. Be frank with him,
tell him of your secret hopes. He will smile tenderly, and show you
how those also are an emanation from a craving heart, and the innate
superstitions of mankind. Indeed he will laugh and illustrate the
absurdity of the whole thing by a few pungent examples of what would
happen if these earthly affections could be carried beyond the grave.
Take what you can /now/ will be the burden of his song, and for
goodness' sake do not waste your precious hours in dreams of a To Be.
Beatrice, the world does not want your spirituality. It is not a
spiritual world; it has no clear ideas upon the subject--it pays its
religious premium and works off its aspirations at its weekly church
going, and would think the person a fool who attempted to carry
theories of celestial union into an earthly rule of life. It can
sympathise with Lady Honoria; it can hardly sympathise with /you/.
And yet you will still choose this better part: you will still "live
and love, and lose."
"With blinding tears and passionate beseeching,
And outstretched arms through empty silence reaching."
Then, Beatrice, have your will, sow your seed of tears, and take your
chance. You may find that you were right and the worldlings wrong, and
you may reap a harvest beyond the grasp of their poor imaginations.
And if you find that they are right and /you/ are wrong, what will it
matter to you who sleep? For of this at least you are sure. If there
is no future for such earthly love as yours, then indeed there is none
for the children of this world and all their troubling.
LADY HONORIA TAKES THE FIELD
Geoffrey hurried to the Vicarage to fetch his baggage and say good-
bye. He had no time for breakfast, and he was glad of it, for he could
not have eaten a morsel to save his life. He found Elizabeth and her
father in the sitting-room.
"Why, where have you been this wet morning, Mr. Bingham?" said Mr.
"I have been for a walk with Miss Beatrice; she is coming home by the
village," he answered. "I don't mind rain, and I wanted to get as much
fresh air as I could before I go back to the mill. Thank you--only a
cup of tea--I will get something to eat as I go."
"How kind of him," reflected Mr. Granger; "no doubt he has been
speaking to Beatrice again about Owen Davies."
"Oh, by the way," he added aloud, "did you happen to hear anybody
moving in the house last night, Mr. Bingham, just when the storm was
at its height? First of all a door slammed so violently that I got up
to see what it was, and as I came down the passage I could almost have
sworn that I saw something white go into the spare room. But my candle
went out and by the time that I had found a light there was nothing to
"A clear case of ghosts," said Geoffrey indifferently. It was indeed a
"case of ghosts," and they would, he reflected, haunt him for many a
"How very odd," put in Elizabeth vivaciously, her keen eyes fixed
intently on his face. "Do you know I thought that I twice saw the door
of our room open and shut in the most mysterious fashion. I think that
Beatrice must have something to do with it; she is so uncanny in her
Geoffrey never moved a muscle, he was trained to keep his countenance.
Only he wondered how much this woman knew. She must be silenced
"Excuse me for changing the subject," he said, "but my time is short,
and I have none to spare to hunt the 'Vicarage Ghost.' By the way,
there's a good title for somebody. Mr. Granger, I believe that I may
speak of business matters before Miss Elizabeth?"
"Certainly, Mr. Bingham," said the clergyman; "Elizabeth is my right
hand, and has the best business head in Bryngelly."
Geoffrey thought that this was very evident, and went on. "I only want
to say this. If you get into any further difficulties with your
rascally tithe-payers, mind and let me know. I shall always be glad to
help you while I can. And now I must be going."
He spoke thus for two reasons. First, naturally enough, he meant to
make it his business to protect Beatrice from the pressure of poverty,
and well knew that it would be useless to offer her direct assistance.
Secondly, he wished to show Elizabeth that it would not be to the
advantage of her family to quarrel with him. If she /had/ seen a
ghost, perhaps this fact would make her reticent on the subject. He
did not know that she was playing a much bigger game for her own hand,
a game of which the stakes were thousands a year, and that she was
moreover mad with jealousy and what, in such a woman, must pass for
Elizabeth made no comment on his offer, and before Mr. Granger's
profuse thanks were nearly finished, Geoffrey was gone.
Three weeks passed at Bryngelly, and Elizabeth still held her hand.
Beatrice, pale and spiritless, went about her duties as usual.
Elizabeth never spoke to her in any sense that could awaken her
suspicions, and the ghost story was, or appeared to be, pretty well
forgotten. But at last an event occurred that caused Elizabeth to take
the field. One day she met Owen Davies walking along the beach in the
semi-insane way which he now affected. He stopped, and, without
further ado, plunged into conversation.
"I can't bear it any longer," he said wildly, throwing up his arms. "I
saw her yesterday, and she cut me short before I could speak a word. I
have prayed for patience and it will not come, only a Voice seemed to
say to me that I must wait ten days more, ten short days, and then
Beatrice, my beautiful Beatrice, would be my wife at last."
"If you go on in this way, Mr. Davies," said Elizabeth sharply, her
heart filled with jealous anger, "you will soon be off your head. Are
you not ashamed of yourself for making such a fuss about a girl's
pretty face? If you want to get married, marry somebody else."
"Marry somebody else," he said dreamily; "I don't know anybody else
whom I could marry except you, and you are not Beatrice."
"No," answered Elizabeth angrily, "I should hope that I have more
sense, and if you wanted to marry me you would have to set about it in
a different way from this. I am not Beatrice, thank Heaven, but I am
her sister, and I warn you that I know more about her than you do. As
a friend I warn you to be careful. Supposing that Beatrice were not
worthy of you, you would not wish to marry her, would you?"
Now Owen Davies was at heart somewhat afraid of Elizabeth, like most
other people who had the privilege of her acquaintance. Also, apart
from matters connected with his insane passion, he was very fairly
shrewd. He suspected Elizabeth of something, he did not know of what.
"No, no, of course not," he said. "Of course I would not marry her if
she was not fit to be my wife--but I must know that first, before I
talk of marrying anybody else. Good afternoon, Miss Elizabeth. It will
soon be settled now; it cannot go on much longer now. My prayers will
be answered, I know they will."
"You are right there, Owen Davies," thought Elizabeth, as she looked
after him with ineffable bitterness, not to say contempt. "Your
prayers shall be answered in a way that will astonish you. You shall
not marry Beatrice, and you shall marry /me/. The fish has been on the
line long enough, now I must begin to pull in."
Curiously enough it never really occurred to Elizabeth that Beatrice
herself might prove to be the true obstacle to the marriage she
plotted to prevent. She knew that her sister was fond of Geoffrey
Bingham, but, when it came to the point that she would absolutely
allow her affection to interfere with so glorious a success in life,
she never believed for one moment. Of course she thought it was
possible that if Beatrice could get possession of Geoffrey she might
prefer to do so, but failing him, judging from her own low and vulgar
standard, Elizabeth was convinced that she would take Owen. It did not
seem possible that what was so precious in her own eyes might be
valueless and even hateful to those of her sister. As for that little
midnight incident, well, it was one thing and marriage was another.
People forget such events when they marry; sometimes even they marry
in order to forget them.
Yes, she must strike, but how? Elizabeth had feelings like other
people. She did not mind ruining her sister and rival, but she would
very much prefer it should not be known that hers was the hand to cut
her down. Of course, if the worst came to the worst, she must do it.
Meanwhile, might not a substitute be found--somebody in whom the act
would seem not one of vengeance, but of virtue? Ah! she had it: Lady
Honoria! Who could be better for such a purpose than the cruelly
injured wife? But then how should she communicate the facts to her
ladyship without involving herself? Again she hit upon a device much
favoured by such people--"un vieux truc mais toujours bon"--the
pristine one of an anonymous letter, which has the startling merit of
not committing anybody to anything. An anonymous letter, to all
appearance written by a servant: it was the very thing! Most likely it
would result in a searching inquiry by Lady Honoria, in which event
Elizabeth, of course against her will, would be forced to say what she
knew; almost certainly it would result in a quarrel between husband
and wife, which might induce the former to show his hand, or even to
take some open step as regards Beatrice. She was sorry for Geoffrey,
against whom she had no ill feeling, but it could not be helped; he
must be sacrificed.
That very evening she wrote her letter and sent it to be posted by an
old servant living in London. It was a master-piece in its way,
especially phonetically. This precious epistle, which was most
exceedingly ill writ in a large coarse hand, ran thus:
"My Ladi,--My consence druvs me to it, much again my will. I've
tried hard, my ladi, not to speek, first acorse of miss B. as i
heve knowed good and peur and also for the sakes of your evil
usband that wulf in scheeps cloathin. But when i think on you my
ladi a lorful legel wife gud and virtus and peur and of the things
as i hev seen which is enuf to bring a blush to the face of a
stater, I knows it is my holy dooty to rite your ladishipp as
follers. Your ladishipp forgif me but on the nite of whittsundey
last Miss B. Grainger wint after midnite inter the room of your
bad usband--as I was to mi sham ther to se. Afterward more nor an
hour, she cum out ain being carred /in his harmes/. And if your
ladishipp dont believ me, let your ladishipp rite to miss
elizbeth, as had this same misfortune to see as your tru frend,
In due course this charming communication reached Lady Honoria,
bearing a London post-mark. She read and re-read it, and soon mastered
its meaning. Then, after a night's thought, she took the "Riter's"
advice and wrote to Elizabeth, sending her a copy of the letter (her
own), vehemently repudiating all belief in it, and asking for a reply
that should dissipate this foul slander from her mind for ever.
The answer came by return. It was short and artful.
"Dear Lady Honoria Bingham," it ran, "you must forgive me if I
decline to answer the questions in your letter. You will easily
understand that between a desire to preserve a sister's reputation
and an incapacity (to be appreciated by every Christian) to speak
other than the truth--it is possible for a person to be placed in
the most cruel of positions--a position which I am sure will
command even your sympathy, though under such circumstances I have
little right to expect any from a wife believing herself to have
been cruelly wronged. Let me add that nothing short of the
compulsion of a court of law will suffice to unseal my lips as to
the details of the circumstances (which are, I trust,
misunderstood) alluded to in the malicious anonymous letter of
which you inclose a copy."
That very evening, as the Fates would have it, Lady Honoria and her
husband had a quarrel. As usual, it was about Effie, for on most other
subjects they preserved an armed neutrality. Its details need not be
entered into, but at last Geoffrey, who was in a sadly irritable
condition of mind, fairly lost his temper.
"The fact is," he said, "that you are not fit to look after the child.
You only think of yourself, Honoria."
She turned on him with a dangerous look upon her cold and handsome
"Be careful what you say, Geoffrey. It is you who are not fit to have
charge of Effie. Be careful lest I take her away from you altogether,
as I can if I like."
"What do you mean by that threat?" he asked.
"Do you want to know? Then I will tell you. I understand enough law to
be aware that a wife can get a separation from an unfaithful husband,
and what is more, can take away his children."
"Again I ask what you mean," said Geoffrey, turning cold with anger.
"I mean this, Geoffrey. That Welsh girl is your mistress. She passed
the night of Whit-Sunday in your room, and was carried from it in your
"It is a lie," he said; "she is nothing of the sort. I do not know who
gave you this information, but it is a slanderous lie, and somebody
shall suffer for it."
"Nobody will suffer for it, Geoffrey, because you will not dare to
stir the matter up--for the girl's sake if not for your own. Can you
deny that you were seen carrying her in your arms from your room on
Whit-Sunday night? Can you deny that you are in love with her?"
"And supposing that I am in love with her, is it to be wondered at,
seeing how you treat me and have treated me for years?" he answered
furiously. "It is utterly false to say that she is my mistress."
"You have not answered my question," said Lady Honoria with a smile of
triumph. "Were you seen carrying that woman in your arms and from your
room at the dead of night? Of course it meant nothing, nothing at all.
Who would dare to asperse the character of this perfect, lovely, and
intellectual schoolmistress? I am not jealous, Geoffrey----"
"I should think not, Honoria, seeing how things are."
"I am not jealous, I repeat, but please understand that I will not
have this go on, in your own interests and mine. Why, what a fool you
must be. Don't you know that a man who has risen, as you have, has a
hundred enemies ready to spring on him like a pack of wolves and tear
him to pieces? Why many even of those who fawn upon you and flatter
you to your face, hate you bitterly in secret, because you have
succeeded where they have failed. Don't you know also that there are
papers here in London which would give hundreds of pounds for the
chance of publishing such a scandal as this, especially against a
powerful political opponent. Let it once come out that this obscure
girl is your mistress----"
"Honoria, I tell you she is nothing of the sort. It is true I carried
her from my room in a fainting fit, but she came there in her sleep."
Lady Honoria laughed. "Really, Geoffrey, I wonder that you think it
worth while to tell me such nonsense. Keep it for the divorce court,
if ever we get there, and see what a jury says to it. Look here; be
sensible. I am not a moralist, and I am not going to play the outraged
wife unless you force me to it. I do not mean to take any further
notice of this interesting little tale as against you. But if you go
on with it, beware! I will not be made to look a fool. If you are
going to be ruined you can be ruined by yourself. I warn you frankly,
that at the first sign of it, I shall put myself in the right by
commencing proceedings against you. Now, of course, I know this, that
in the event of a smash, you would be glad enough to be rid of me in
order that you might welcome your dear Beatrice in my place. But there
are two things to remember: first, that you could not marry her,
supposing you to be idiot enough to wish to do so, because I should
only get a judicial separation, and you would still have to support
me. Secondly, if I go, Effie goes with me, for I have a right to claim
her at law; and that fact, my dear Geoffrey, makes me mistress of the
situation, because I do not suppose that you would part with Effie
even for the sake of Miss Beatrice. And now I will leave you to think
And with a little nod she sailed out of the room, completely
victorious. She was indeed, reflected Geoffrey, "mistress of the
situation." Supposing that she brought a suit against him where would
he be? She must have evidence, or she would not have known the story.
The whole drama had clearly been witnessed by someone, probably either
by Elizabeth or the servant girl, and that some one had betrayed it to
Honoria and possibly to others. The thought made him sick. He was a
man of the world, and a practical lawyer, and though, indeed, they
were innocent, he knew that under the circumstances few would be found
to believe it. At the very best there must be a terrible and shocking
scandal, and Beatrice would lose her good name. He placed himself in
the position of counsel for the petitioner in a like case, and thought
how he would crush and crumple such a defence in his address to the
jury. A probable tale forsooth!
Undoubtedly, too, Honoria would be acting wisely from her point of
view. Public sympathy would be with her throughout. He knew that, as
it was, he was believed generally to owe much of his success to his
handsome and high-born wife. Now it would be said that he had used her
as a ladder and then thrown her over. With all this, however, he might
cope; he could even bear with the vulgar attacks of a vulgar press,
and the gibes and jeers of his political and personal enemies, but to
lose Effie he could not bear. And if such a case were brought against
him it was almost certain that he would lose her, for, if he was
worsted, custody of the child would be given to the injured wife.
Then there was Beatrice to be considered. The same malicious tongue
that had revealed this matter to Honoria would probably reveal it to
the rest of the world, and even if he escaped the worst penalties of
outraged morality, they would certainly be wreaked upon her.
Beatrice's reputation would be blasted, her employment lost, and her
life made a burden to her. Yes, decidedly, Honoria had the best of the
position; decidedly, also, she spoke words of weight and common sense.
What was to be done? Was there no way out of it? All that night as
Geoffrey sat in the House, his arms folded on his breast, and to
appearance intently listening to the long harangues of the Opposition,
this question haunted him. He argued the situation out this way and
that way, till at the last he came to a conclusion. Either he must
wait for the scandal to leak out, let Beatrice be ruined, and direct
his efforts to the softening of Honoria, and generally to self-
preservation, or he must take the bull by the horns, must abandon his
great career and his country and seek refuge in another land, say
America, taking Beatrice and Effie with him. Once the child was out of
the jurisdiction, of course no court could force her from him.
Of the two courses, even in so far as he himself was concerned, what
between the urgency of the matter and the unceasing pressure of his
passion, Geoffrey inclined to the latter. The relations between
himself and Honoria had for years been so strained, so totally
different from those which should exist between man and wife, that
they greatly mitigated in his mind the apparent iniquity of such a
step. Nor would he feel much compunction at removing the child from
her mother, for there was no love lost between the two, and as time
went on he guessed shrewdly there would be less and less. For the
rest, he had some seventeen thousand pounds in hand; he would take
half and leave Honoria half. He knew that he could always earn a
living wherever he went, and probably much more than a living, and of
whatever he earned a strict moiety should be paid to Honoria. But
first and above everything, there was Beatrice to be considered. She
must be saved, even if he ruined himself to save her.
Lady Honoria, it is scarcely necessary to say, had little idea that
she was driving her husband to such dangerous and determined councils.
She wanted to frighten Geoffrey, not to lose him and all he meant to
her; this was the last thing that she would wish to do. She did not
greatly care about the Beatrice incident, but her shrewd common sense
told her that it might well be used as an engine to ruin them all.
Therefore she spoke as she did speak, though in reality matters would
have to be bad indeed before she sought the aid of a court of law,
where many things concerning herself might come to the light of day
which she would prefer to leave in darkness.
Nor did she stop here; she determined to attack Geoffrey's position in
another way, namely, through Beatrice herself. For a long time Honoria
hesitated as to the method of this attack. She had some knowledge of
the world and of character, and from what she knew of Beatrice she
came to the sound conclusion that she was not a woman to be
threatened, but rather one to be appealed to. So after much thought
she wrote to her thus:--
"A story, which I still hesitate to believe, has come to me by
means of anonymous letters, as to your conduct with my husband. I
do not wish to repeat it now, further than to say that, if true,
it establishes circumstances which leave no doubt as to the
existence of relations so intimate between you as to amount to
guilt. It may not be true or it may, in which latter event I wish
to say this: With your morality I have nothing to do; it is your
affair. Nor do I wish to plead to you as an injured wife or to
reproach you, for there are things too wicked for mere reproach.
But I will say this: if the story is true, I must presume that you
have some affection for the partner of your shame. I put myself
out of the question, and in the name of that affection, however
guilty it may be, I ask you to push matters no further. To do so
will be to bring its object to utter ruin. /If you care for him,
sever all connection with him utterly and for ever./ Otherwise he
will live to curse and hate you. Should you neglect this advice,
and should the facts that I have heard become public property, I
warn you, as I have already warned him, that in self-preservation
and for the sake of self-respect, I shall be forced to appeal to
the law for my remedy. Remember that his career is at stake, and
that in losing it and me he will lose also his child. Remember
that if this comes about it will be through /you/. Do not answer
this, it will do no good, for I shall naturally put no faith in
your protestations, but if you are in any way or measure guilty of
this offence, appealing to you as one woman to another, and for
the sake of the man who is dear to both, I say do your best to
redeem the evil, /by making all further communication between
yourself and him an impossibility/. H.B."
It was a clever letter; Lady Honoria could not have devised one more
powerful to work on a woman like Beatrice. The same post that took it
to her took another from Geoffrey himself. It was long, though
guarded, and need not be quoted in its entirety, but it put the whole
position before her in somewhat veiled language, and ended by saying,
"Marriage I cannot give you, only life-long love. In other
circumstances to offer this would be an insult, but if things should
be as a I fear, it is worth your consideration. I do not say to you
/come/, I say come /if you wish/. No, Beatrice, I will not put this
cruel burden of decision upon you. I say /come!/ I do not command you
to come, because I promised to leave you uninfluenced. But I pray you
to do so. Let us put an end to this wretchedness, and count the world
well lost as our price of love. Come, dearest Beatrice--to leave me no
more till death. I put my life in your hands; if you take it up,
whatever trouble you may have to face, you will never lose my
affection or esteem. Do not think of me, think of yourself. You have
given me your love as you once gave me my life. I owe something in
return; I cannot see you shamed and make no offer of reparation.
Indeed, so far as I am concerned, I shall think all I lose as nothing
compared to what I gain in gaining you. Will you come? If so, we will
leave this country and begin afresh elsewhere. After all, it matters
little, and will matter less when everything is said and done. My life
has for years been but as an unwholesome dream. The one real thing,
the one happy thing that I have found in it has been our love. Do not
let us throw it away, Beatrice."
By return of post he received this answer written in pencil.
"No, dear Geoffrey. Things must take their course.--B."
That was all.
ELIZABETH SHOWS HER TEETH
Hard had been Beatrice's hours since that grey morning of separation.
She must bear all the inner wretchedness of her lot; she must conceal
her grief, must suffer the slings and arrows of Elizabeth's sharp
tongue, and strive to keep Owen Davies at a distance. Indeed, as the
days went on, this last task grew more and more portentous. The man
was quite unmanageable; his passion, which was humiliating and hateful
to Beatrice, became the talk of the place. Everybody knew of it,
except her father, and even his eyes began to be opened.
One night--it was the same upon which Geoffrey and Honoria
respectively had posted their letters to Beatrice--anybody looking
into the little room at Bryngelly Castle, which served its owner for
all purposes except that of sleeping, would have witnessed a very
strange sight. Owen Davies was walking to and fro--walking rapidly
with wild eyes and dishevelled hair. At the turn of each length of the
apartment he would halt, and throwing his arms into the air ejaculate:
"Oh, God, hear me, and give me my desire! Oh, God, answer me!"
For two long hours thus he walked and thus cried aloud, till at length
he sank panting and exhausted into a chair. Suddenly he raised his
head, and appeared to listen intently.
"The Voice," he said aloud; "the Voice again. What does it say?
To-morrow, to-morrow I must speak; and I shall win her."
He sprang up with a shout, and once more began his wild march. "Oh,
Beatrice!" he said, "to-morrow you will promise to marry me; the Voice
says so, and soon, soon, perhaps in one short month, you will be my
own--mine only! Geoffrey Bingham shall not come between us then, for I
will watch you day and night. You shall be my very, very own--my own
beautiful Beatrice," and he stretched out his arms and clasped at the
empty air--a crazy and unpleasant sight to see.
And so he walked and spoke till the dawn was grey in the east. This
occurred on the Friday night. It was on the following morning that
Beatrice, the unfortunate and innocent object of these amorous
invocations, received the two letters. She had gone to the post-office
on her way to the school, on the chance of there being a note from
Geoffrey. Poor woman, his letters were the one bright thing in her
life. From motives of prudence they were written in the usual semi-
formal style, but she was quick to read between the lines, and,
moreover, they came from his dear hand.
There was the letter sure enough, and another in a woman's writing.
She recognised the hand as that of Lady Honoria, which she had often
seen on envelopes directed to Geoffrey, and a thrill of fear shot
through her. She took the letters, and walking as quickly as she could
to the school, locked herself in her own little room, for it was not
yet nine o'clock, and looked at them with a gathering terror. What was
in them? Why did Lady Honoria write to her? Which should she read
first? In a moment Beatrice had made up her mind. She would face the
worst at once. With a set face she opened Lady Honoria's letter,
unfolded it, and read. We already know its contents. As her mind
grasped them her lips grew ashy white, and by the time that the
horrible thing was done she was nigh to fainting.
Anonymous letters! oh, who could have done this cruel thing?
Elizabeth, it must be Elizabeth, who saw everything, and thus stabbed
her in the back. Was it possible that her own sister could treat her
so? She knew that Elizabeth disliked her; she could never fathom the
cause, still she knew the fact. But if this were her doing, then she
must hate her, and most bitterly; and what had she done to earn such
hate? And now Geoffrey was in danger on her account, danger of ruin,
and how could she prevent it? This was her first idea. Most people
might have turned to their own position and been content to leave
their lover to fight his own battle. But Beatrice thought little of
herself. He was in danger, and how could she protect him? Why here in
the letter was the answer! "If you care for him sever all connection
with him utterly, and for ever. Otherwise, he will live to curse and
hate you." No, no! Geoffrey would never do that. But Lady Honoria was
quite right; in his interest, for his sake, she must sever all
connection with him--sever it utterly and for ever. But how--how?
She thrust the letter into her dress--a viper would have been a more
welcome guest--and opened Geoffrey's.
It told the same tale, but offered a different solution. The tears
started to her eyes as she read his offer to take her to him for good
and all, and go away with her to begin life afresh. It seemed a
wonderful thing to Beatrice that he should be willing to sacrifice so
much upon such a worthless altar as her love--a wonderful and most
generous thing. She pressed the senseless paper to her heart, then
kissed it again and again. But she never thought of yielding to this
great temptation, never for one second. He prayed her to come, but
that she would not do while her will remained. What, /she/ bring
Geoffrey to ruin? No, she had rather starve in the streets or perish
by slow torture. How could he ever think that she would consent to
such a scheme? Indeed she never would; she had brought enough trouble
on him already. But oh, she blessed him for that letter. How deeply
must he love her when he could offer to do this for her sake!
Hark! the children were waiting; she must go and teach. The letter,
Geoffrey's dear letter, could be answered in the afternoon. So she
thrust it in her breast with the other, but closer to her heart, and
That afternoon as Mr. Granger, in a happy frame of mind--for were not
his debts paid, and had he not found a most convenient way of
providing against future embarrassment?--was engaged peaceably in
contemplating his stock over the gate of his little farm buildings, he
was much astonished suddenly to discover Owen Davies at his elbow.
"How do you do, Mr. Davies?" he said; "how quietly you must have
"Yes," answered Owen absently. "The fact is, I have followed you
because I want to speak to you alone--quite alone."
"Indeed, Mr. Davies--well, I am at your service. What is wrong? You
don't look very well."
"Oh, I am quite well, thank you. I never was better; and there's
nothing wrong, nothing at all. Everything is going to be bright now, I
know that full surely."
"Indeed," said Mr. Granger, again looking at him with a puzzled air,
"and what may you want to see me about? Not but what I am always at
your service, as you know," he added apologetically.
"This," he answered, suddenly seizing the clergyman by the coat in a
way that made him start.
"What--my coat, do you mean?"
"Don't be so foolish, Mr. Granger. No, about Beatrice."
"Oh. indeed, Mr. Davies. Nothing wrong at the school, I hope? I think
that she does her duties to the satisfaction of the committee, though
I admit that the arithmetic----"
"No! no, no! It is not about the school. I don't wish her to go to the
school any more. I love her, Mr. Granger, I love her dearly, and I
want to marry her."
The old man flushed with pleasure. Was it possible? Did he hear
aright? Owen Davies, the richest man in that part of Wales, wanted to
marry his daughter, who had nothing but her beauty. It must be too
good to be true!
"I am indeed flattered," he said. "It is more than she could expect--
not but what Beatrice is very good-looking and very clever," he added
hastily, fearing lest he was detracting from his daughter's market
"Good-looking--clever; she is an angel," murmured Owen.
"Oh, yes, of course she is," said her father, "that is, if a woman--
yes, of course--and what is more, I think she's very fond of you. I
think she is pining for you. I've though so for a long time."
"Is she?" said Owen anxiously. "Then all I have to say is that she
takes a very curious way of showing it. She won't say a word to me;
she puts me off on every occasion. But it will be all right now--all
"Oh, there, there, Mr. Davies, maids will be maids until they are
wives. We know about all that," said Mr. Granger sententiously.
His would-be son-in-law looked as though he knew very little about it
indeed, although the inference was sufficiently obvious.
"Mr. Granger," he said, seizing his hand, "I want to make Beatrice my
wife--I do indeed."
"Well, I did not suppose otherwise, Mr. Davies."
"If you help me in this I will do whatever you like as to money
matters and that sort of thing, you know. She shall have as fine a
settlement as any woman in Wales. I know that goes a long way with a
father, and I shall raise no difficulties."
"Very right and proper, I am sure," said Mr. Granger, adopting a
loftier tone as he discovered the advantages of his position. "But of
course on such matters I shall take the advice of a lawyer. I daresay
that Mr. Bingham would advise me," he added, "as a friend of the
family, you know. He is a very clever lawyer, and, besides, he
wouldn't charge anything."
"Oh, no, not Mr. Bingham," answered Owen anxiously. "I will do
anything you like, or if you wish to have a lawyer I'll pay the bill
myself. But never mind about that now. Let us settle it with Beatrice
first. Come along at once."
"Eh, but hadn't you better arrange that part of the business
"No, no. She always snubs me when I try to speak to her alone. You had
better be there, and Miss Elizabeth too, if she likes. I won't speak
to her again alone. I will speak to her in the face of God and man, as
God directed me to do, and then it will be all right--I know it will."
Mr. Granger stared at him. He was a clergyman of a very practical
sort, and did not quite see what the Power above had to do with Owen
Davies's matrimonial intentions.
"Ah, well," he said, "I see what you mean; marriages are made in
heaven; yes, of course. Well, if you want to get on with the matter, I
daresay that we shall find Beatrice in."
So they walked back to the Vicarage, Mr. Granger exultant and yet
perplexed, for it struck him that there was something a little odd
about the proceeding, and Owen Davies in silence or muttering
occasionally to himself.
In the sitting-room they found Elizabeth.
"Where is Beatrice?" asked her father.
"I don't know," she answered, and at that moment Beatrice, pale and
troubled, walked into the room, like a lamb to the slaughter.
"Ah, Beatrice," said her father, "we were just asking for you."
She glanced round, and with the quick wit of a human animal, instantly
perceived that some new danger threatened her.
"Indeed," she said, sinking into a chair in an access of feebleness
born of fear. "What is it, father?"
Mr. Granger looked at Owen Davies and then took a step towards the
door. It struck him forcibly that this scene should be private to the
two persons principally concerned.
"Don't go," said Owen Davies excitedly, "don't go, either of you; what
I have to say had better be said before you both. I should like to say
it before the whole world; to cry it from the mountain tops."
Elizabeth glared at him fiercely--glared first at him and then at the
innocent Beatrice. Could he be going to propose to her, then? Ah, why
had she hesitated? Why had she not told him the whole truth before?
But the heart of Beatrice, who sat momentarily expecting to be
publicly denounced, grew ever fainter. The waters of desolation were
closing in over her soul.
Mr. Granger sat down firmly and worked himself into the seat of his
chair, as though to secure an additional fixedness of tenure.
Elizabeth set her teeth, and leaned her elbow on the table, holding
her hand so as to shade her face. Beatrice drooped upon her seat like
a fading lily, or a prisoner in the dock. She was opposite to them,
and Owen Davies, his face alight with wild enthusiasm, stood up and
addressed them all like the counsel for the prosecution.
"Last autumn," he began, speaking to Mr. Granger, who might have been
a judge uncertain as to the merits of the case, "I asked your daughter
Beatrice to marry me."
Beatrice gave a sigh, and collected her scattered energies. The storm
had burst at last, and she must face it.
"I asked her to marry me, and she told me to wait a year. I have
waited as long as I could, but I could not wait the whole year. I have
prayed a great deal, and I am bidden to speak."
Elizabeth made a gesture of impatience. She was a person of strong
common sense, and this mixture of religion and eroticism disgusted
her. She also know that the storm had burst, and that /she/ must face
"So I come to tell you that I love your daughter Beatrice, and want to
make her my wife. I have never loved anybody else, but I have loved
her for years; and I ask your consent."
"Very flattering, very flattering, I am sure, especially in these hard
times," said Mr. Granger apologetically, shaking his thin hair down
over his forehead, and then rumpling it up again. "But you see, Mr.
Davies, you don't want to marry me" (here Beatrice smiled faintly)--
"you want to marry my daughter, so you had better ask her direct--at
least I suppose so."
Elizabeth made a movement as though to speak, then changed her mind
"Beatrice," said Owen Davies, "you hear. I ask you to marry me."
There was a pause. Beatrice, who had sat quite silent, was gathering
up her strength to answer. Elizabeth, watching her from beneath her
hand, thought that she read upon her face irresolution, softening into
consent. What she really saw was but doubt as to the fittest and most
certain manner of refusal. Like lightning it flashed into Elizabeth's
mind that she must strike now, or hold her hand for ever. If once
Beatrice spoke that fatal "yes," her revelations might be of no avail.
And Beatrice would speak it; she was sure she would. It was a golden
road out of her troubles.
"Stop!" said Elizabeth in a shrill, hard voice. "Stop! I must speak;
it is my duty as a Christian. I must tell the truth. I cannot allow an
honest man to be deceived."
There was an awful pause. Beatrice broke it. Now she saw all the
truth, and knew what was at hand. She placed her hand upon her heart
to still its beating.
"Oh, Elizabeth," she said, "in our dead mother's name----" and she
"Yes," answered her sister, "in our dead mother's name, which you have
dishonoured, I will do it. Listen, Owen Davies, and father: Beatrice,
who sits there"--and she pointed at her with her thin hand--"/Beatrice
is a scarlet woman!/"
"I really don't understand," gasped Mr. Granger, while Owen looked
round wildly, and Beatrice sunk her head upon her breast.
"Then I will explain," said Elizabeth, still pointing at her sister.
"She is Geoffrey Bingham's /mistress/. On the night of Whit-Sunday
last she rose from bed and went into his room at one in the morning. I
saw her with my own eyes. Afterwards she was brought back to her bed
in his arms--I saw it with my own eyes, and I heard him kiss her."
(This was a piece of embroidery on Elizabeth's part.) "She is his
lover, and has been in love with him for months. I tell you this, Owen
Davies, because, though I cannot bear to bring disgrace upon our name
and to defile my lips with such a tale, neither can I bear that you
should marry a girl, believing her to be good, when she is what
"Then I wish to God that you had held your wicked tongue," said Mr.
"No, father. I have a duty to perform, and I will perform it at any
cost, and however much it pains me. You know that what I say is true.
You heard the noise on the night of Whit-Sunday, and got up to see
what it was. You saw the white figure in the passage--it was Geoffrey
Bingham with Beatrice in his arms. Ah! well may she hang her head. Let
her deny if it she can. Let her deny that she loves him to her shame,
and that she was alone in his room on that night."
Then Beatrice rose and spoke. She was pale as death and more beautiful
in her shame and her despair than ever she had been before; her
glorious eyes shone, and there were deep black lines beneath them.
"My heart is my own," she said, "and I will make no answer to you
about it. Think what you will. For the rest, it is not true. I am not
what Elizabeth tells you that I am. I am /not/ Geoffrey Bingham's
mistress. It is true that I was in his room that night, and it is true
that he carried me back to my own. But it was in my sleep that I went
there, not of my own free will. I awoke there, and fainted when I
woke, and then at once he bore me back."
Elizabeth laughed shrill and loud--it sounded like the cackle of a
"In her sleep," she said; "oh, she went there in her sleep!"
"Yes, Elizabeth, in my sleep. You do not believe me, but it is true.
You do not wish to believe me. You wish to bring the sister whom you
should love, who has never offended against you by act or word, to
utter disgrace and ruin. In your cowardly spite you have written
anonymous letters to Lady Honoria Bingham, to prevail upon her to
strike the blow that should destroy her husband and myself, and when
you fear that this has failed, you come forward and openly accuse us.
You do this in the name of Christian duty; in the name of love and
charity, you believe the worst, and seek to ruin us. Shame on you,
Elizabeth! shame on you! and may the same measure that you have meted
out to me never be paid back to you. We are no longer sisters.
Whatever happens, I have done with you. Go your ways."
Elizabeth shrank and quailed beneath her sister's scorn. Even her
venomous hatred could not bear up against the flash of those royal
eyes, and the majesty of that outraged innocence. She gasped and bit
her lip till the blood started, but she said nothing.
Then Beatrice turned to her father, and spoke in another and a
pleading voice, stretching out her arms towards him.
"Oh, father," she said, "at least tell me that /you/ believe me.
Though you may think that I might love to all extremes, surely, having
known me so many years, you cannot think that I would lie even for my
The old man looked wildly round, and shook his head.
"In his room and in his arms," he said. "I saw it, it seems. You, too,
who have never been known to walk in your sleep from a child; and you
will not say that you do not love him--the scoundrel. It is wicked of
Elizabeth--jealousy bitter as the grave. It is wicked of her to tell
the tale; but as it is told, how can I say that I do not believe it?"
Then Beatrice, her cup being full, once more dropped her head, and
turned to go.
"Stop," said Owen Davies in a hoarse voice, and speaking for the first
time. "Hear what /I/ have to say."
She lifted her eyes. "With you, Mr. Davies, I have nothing to do; I am
not answerable to you. Go and help your accomplice," and she pointed
to Elizabeth, "to cry this scandal over the whole world."
"Stop," he said again. "I will speak. I believe that it is true. I
believe that you are Geoffrey Bingham's mistress, curse him! but I do
not care. I am still willing to marry you."
Elizabeth gasped. Was this to be the end of her scheming? Would the
blind passion of this madman prevail over her revelations, and
Beatrice still become his rich and honoured wife, while she was left
poor and disgraced? Oh, it was monstrous! Oh, she had never dreamed of
"Noble, noble!" murmured Mr. Granger; "noble! God bless you!"
So the position was not altogether beyond recovery. His erring
daughter might still be splendidly married; he might still look
forward to peace and wealth in his old age.
Only Beatrice smiled faintly.
"I thank you," she said. "I am much honoured, but I could never have
married you because I do not love you. You must understand me very
little if you think that I should be the more ready to do so on
account of the danger in which I stand," and she ceased.
"Listen, Beatrice," Owen went on, an evil light shining on his heavy
face, while Elizabeth sat astounded, scarcely able to believe her
ears. "I want you, and I mean to marry you; you are more to me than
all the world. I can give you everything, and you had better yield to
me, and you shall hear no more of this. But if you won't, then this is
what I will do. I will be revenged upon you--terribly revenged."
Beatrice shook her head and smiled again, as though to bid him do his
"And look, Beatrice," he went on, waxing almost eloquent in his
jealous despair, "I have another argument to urge on you. I will not
only be revenged on you, I will be revenged upon your lover--on this
"/Oh!/" said Beatrice sharply, like one in pain. He had found the way
to move her now, and with the cunning of semi-madness he drove the
"Yes, you may start--I will. I tell you that I will never rest till I
have ruined him, and I am rich and can do it. I have a hundred
thousand pounds, that I will spend on doing it. I have nothing to
fear, except an action for libel. Oh, I am not a fool, though you
think I am, I know. Well, I can pay for a dozen actions. There are
papers in London that will be glad to publish all this--yes, the whole
story--with plans and pictures too. Just think, Beatrice, what it will
be when all England--yes, and all the world--is gloating over your
shame, and half-a-dozen prints are using the thing for party purposes,
clamouring for the disgrace of the man who ruined you, and whom you
will ruin. He has a fine career; it shall be utterly destroyed. By
God! I will hunt him to his grave, unless you promise to marry me,
Beatrice. Do that, and not a word of this shall be said. Now answer."
Mr. Granger sank back in his chair; this savage play of human passions
was altogether beyond his experience--it overwhelmed him. As for
Elizabeth, she bit her thin fingers, and glared from one to the other.
"He reckons without me," she thought. "He reckons without me--I will
marry him yet."
But Beatrice leant for a moment against the wall and shut her eyes to
think. Oh, she saw it all--the great posters with her name and
Geoffrey's on them, the shameless pictures of her in his arms, the
sickening details, the letters of the outraged matrons, the "Mothers
of ten," and the moral-minded colonels--all, all! She heard the
prurient scream of every male Elizabeth in England; the allusions in
the House--the jeers, the bitter attacks of enemies and rivals. Then
Lady Honoria would begin her suit, and it would all be dragged up
afresh, and Geoffrey's fault would be on every lip, till he was
/ruined/. For herself she did not care; but could she bring this on
one whose only crime was that she had learned to love him? No, no; but
neither could she marry this hateful man. And yet what escape was
there? She flung herself upon her woman's wit, and it did not fail
her. In a few seconds she had thought it all out and made up her mind.
"How can I answer you at a moment's notice, Mr. Davies?" she said. "I
must have time to think it over. To threaten such revenge upon me is
not manly, but I know that you love me, and therefore I excuse it.
Still, I must have time. I am confused."
"What, another year? No, no," he said. "You must answer."
"I do not ask a year or a month. I only ask for one week. If you will
not give me that, then I will defy you, and you may do your worst. I
cannot answer now."
This was a bold stroke, but it told. Mr. Davies hesitated.
"Give the girl a week," said her father to him. "She is not herself."
"Very well; one week, no more," said he.
"I have another stipulation to make," said Beatrice, "You are all to
swear to me that for that week no word of this will pass your mouths;
that for that week I shall not be annoyed or interfered with, or
spoken to on the subject, not by one of you. If at the end of it I
still refuse to accept your terms, you can do your worst, but till
then you must hold your hand."
Owen Davies hesitated; he was suspicious.
"Remember," Beatrice went on, raising her voice, "I am a desperate
woman. I may turn at bay, and do something which you do not expect,
and that will be very little to the advantage of any of you. Do you
"Yes," said Owen Davies.
Then Beatrice looked at Elizabeth, and Elizabeth looked at her. She
saw that the matter had taken a new form. She saw what her jealous
folly had hitherto hidden from her--that Beatrice did not mean to
marry Owen Davies, that she was merely gaining time to execute some
purpose of her own. What this might be Elizabeth cared little so that
it did not utterly extinguish chances that at the moment seemed faint
enough. She did not want to push matters against her sister, or her
lover Geoffrey, beyond the boundary of her own interests. Beatrice
should have her week, and be free from all interference so far as she
was concerned. She realised now that it was too late how great had
been her error. Oh, if only she had sought Beatrice's confidence at
first! But it had seemed to her impossible that she would really throw
away such an opportunity in life.
"Certainly I promise, Beatrice," she said mildly. "I do not swear, for
'swear not at all,' you know. I only did what I thought my duty in
warning Mr. Davies. If he chooses to go on with the matter, it is no
affair of mine. I had no wish to hurt you, or Mr. Bingham. I acted
solely from my religious convictions."
"Oh, stop talking religion, Elizabeth, and practise it a little more!"
said her father, for once in his life stirred out of his feeble
selfishness. "We have all undertaken to keep our mouths sealed for
Then Beatrice left the room, and after her went Owen Davies without
"Elizabeth," said her father, rising, "you are a wicked woman! What
did you do this for?"
"Do you want to know, father?" she said coolly; "then I will tell you.
Because I mean to marry Owen Davies myself. We must all look after
ourselves in this world, you know; and that is a maxim which you never
forget, for one. I mean to marry him; and though I seem to have
failed, marry him I will, yet! And now you know all about it; and if
you are not a fool, you will hold your tongue and let me be!" and she
went also, leaving him alone.
Mr. Granger held up his hands in astonishment. He was a selfish,
money-seeking old man, but he felt that he did not deserve to have
such a daughter as this.
WHAT BEATRICE SWORE
Beatrice went to her room, but the atmosphere of the place seemed to
stifle her. Her brain was reeling, she must go out into the air--away
from her tormentors. She had not yet answered Geoffrey's letter, and
it must be answered by this post, for there was none on Sunday. It was
half-past four--the post went out at five; if she was going to write,
she should do so at once, but she could not do so here. Besides, she
must find time for thought. Ah, she had it; she would take her canoe
and paddle across the bay to the little town of Coed and write her
letter there. The post did not leave Coed till half-past six. She put
on her hat and jacket, and taking a stamp, a sheet of paper, and an
envelope with her, slipped quietly from the house down to old Edward's
boat-house where the canoe was kept. Old Edward was not there himself,
but his son was, a boy of fourteen, and by his help Beatrice was soon
safely launched. The sea glittered like glass, and turning southwards,
presently she was paddling round the shore of the island on which the
Castle stood towards the open bay.
As she paddled her mind cleared, and she was able to consider the
position. It was bad enough. She saw no light, darkness hemmed her in.
But at least she had a week before her, and meanwhile what should she
write to Geoffrey?
Then, as she thought, a great temptation assailed Beatrice, and for
the first time her resolution wavered. Why should she not accept
Geoffrey's offer and go away with him--far away from all this misery?
Gladly would she give her life to spend one short year at his dear
side. She had but to say the word, and he would take her to him, and
in a month from now they would be together in some foreign land,
counting the world well lost, as he had said. Doubtless in time Lady
Honoria would get a divorce, and they might be married. A day might
even come when all this would seem like a forgotten night of storm and
fear; when, surrounded by the children of their love, they would wend
peaceably, happily, through the evening of their days towards a bourne
robbed of half its terrors by the fact that they would cross it hand-
Oh, that would be well for her; but would it be well for him? When the
first months of passion had passed by, would he not begin to think of
all that he had thrown away for the sake of a woman's love? Would not
the burst of shame and obloquy which would follow him to the remotest
corners of the earth wear away his affection, till at last, as Lady
Honoria said, he learned to curse and hate her. And if it did not--if
he still loved her through it all--as, being what he was, he well
might do--could she be the one to bring this ruin on him? Oh, it would
have been more kind to let him drown on that night of the storm, when
fate first brought them together to their undoing.
No, no; once and for all, once and for ever, she would /not/ do it.
Cruel as was her strait, heavy as was her burden, not one feather's
weight of it should he carry, if by any means in her poor power she
could hold it from his back. She would not even tell him of what had
happened--at any rate, not now. It would distress him; he might take
some desperate step; it was almost certain that he would do so. Her
answer must be very short.
She was quite close to Coed now, and the water lay calm as a pond. So
calm was it that she drew the sheet of paper and the envelope from her
pocket, and leaning forward, rested them on the arched covering of the
canoe, and pencilled those words which we have already read.
"No, dear Geoffrey. Things must take their course.--B."
Thus she wrote. Then she paddled to the shore. A fisherman standing on
the beach caught her canoe and pulled it up. Leaving it in his charge,
she went into the quaint little town, directed and posted her letter,
and bought some wool. It was an excuse for having been there should
any one ask questions. After that she returned to her canoe. The
fisherman was standing by it. She offered him sixpence for his
trouble, but he would not take it.
"No, miss," he said, "thanking you kindly--but we don't often get a
peep at such sweet looks. It's worth sixpence to see you, it is. But,
miss, if I may make so bold as to say so, it isn't safe for you to
cruise about in that craft, any ways not alone."
Beatrice thanked him and blushed a little. Vaguely it occurred to her
that she must have more than a common share of beauty, when a rough
man could be so impressed with it. That was what men loved women for,
their beauty, as Owen Davies loved and desired her for this same cause
and this only.
Perhaps it was the same with Geoffrey--no, she did not believe it. He
loved her for other things besides her looks. Only if she had not been
beautiful, perhaps he would not have begun to love her, so she was
thankful for her eyes and hair, and form.
Could folly and infatuation go further? This woman in the darkest hour
of her bottomless and unhorizoned despair, with conscience gnawing at
her heart, with present misery pressing on her breast, and shame to
come hanging over her like a thunder cloud, could yet feel thankful
that she had won this barren love, the spring of all her woe. Or was
her folly deep wisdom in disguise?--is there something divine in a
passion that can so override and defy the worst agonies of life?
She was at sea again now, and evening was falling on the waters softly
as a dream. Well, the letter was posted. Would it be the last, she
wondered? It seemed as though she must write no more letters. And what
was to be done? She would /not/ marry Owen Davies--never would she do
it. She could not so shamelessly violate her feelings, for Beatrice
was a woman to whom death would be preferable to dishonour, however
legal. No, for her own sake she would not be soiled with that
disgrace. Did she do this, she would hold herself the vilest of the
vile. And still less would she do it for Geoffrey's sake. Her instinct
told her what he would feel at such a thing, though he might never say
a word. Surely he would loathe and despise her. No, that idea was done
with--utterly done with.
Then what remained to her? She would not fly with Geoffrey, since to
do so would be to ruin him. She would not marry Owen, and not to do so
would still be to ruin Geoffrey. She was no fool, she was innocent in
act, but she knew that her innocence would indeed be hard to prove--
even her own father did not believe in it, and her sister would openly
accuse her to the world. What then should she do? Should she hide
herself in some remote half-civilised place, or in London? It was
impossible; she had no money, and no means of getting any. Besides,
they would hunt her out, both Owen Davies and Geoffrey would track her
to the furthest limits of the earth. And would not the former think
that Geoffrey had spirited her away, and at once put his threats into
execution? Obviously he would. There was no hope in that direction.
Some other plan must be found or her lover would still be ruined.
So argued Beatrice, still thinking not of herself, but of Geoffrey, of
that beloved one who was more to her than all the world, more, a
thousand times, than her own safety or well-being. Perhaps she
overrated the matter. Owen Davies, Lady Honoria, and even Elizabeth
might have done all they threatened; the first of them, perhaps the
first two of them, certainly would have done so. But still Geoffrey
might have escaped destruction. Public opinion, or the sounder part of
it, is sensibly enough hard to move in such a matter, especially when
the person said to have been wronged is heart and soul on the side of
him who is said to have wronged her.
Moreover there might have been ways out of it, of which she knew
nothing. But surrounded as she was by threatening powers--by Lady
Honoria threatening actions in the Courts on one side, by Owen Davies
threatening exposure on another, by Elizabeth ready and willing to
give the most damning evidence on the third, to Beatrice the worst
consequences seemed an absolutely necessary sequence. Then there was
her own conscience arrayed against her. This particular charge was a
lie, but it was not a lie that she loved Geoffrey, and to her the two
things seemed very much the same thing. Hers was not a mind to draw
fine distinctions in such matters. /Se posuit ut culpabilem/: she
"placed herself as guilty," as the old Court rolls put it in miserable
Latin, and this sense of guilt disarmed her. She did not realise the
enormous difference recognised by the whole civilised world between
thought and act, between disposing mind and inculpating deed. Beatrice
looked at the question more from the scriptural point of view,
remembering that in the Bible such fine divisions are expressly stated
to be distinctions without a difference.
Had she gone to Geoffrey and told him her whole story it is probable
that he would have defied the conspiracy, faced it out, and possibly
come off victorious. But, with that deadly reticence of which women
alone are capable, this she did not and would not do. Sweet loving
woman that she was, she would not burden him with her sorrows, she
would bear them alone--little reckoning that thereby she was laying up
a far, far heavier load for him to carry through all his days.
So Beatrice accepted the statements of the plaintiff's attorney for
gospel truth, and from that false standpoint she drew her auguries.
Oh, she was weary! How lovely was the falling night, see how it
brooded on the seas! and how clear were the waters--there a fish
passed by her paddle--and there the first start sprang into the sky!
If only Geoffrey were here to see it with her. Geoffrey! she had lost
him; she was alone in the world now--alone with the sea and the stars.
Well, they were better than men--better than all men except one.
Theirs was a divine companionship, and it soothed her. Ah, how hateful
had been Elizabeth's face, more hateful even than the half-crazed
cunning of Owen Davies, when she stretched her hand towards her and
called her "a scarlet woman." It was so like Elizabeth, this mixing up
of Bible terms with her accusation. And after all perhaps it was true.
--What was it, "Though thy sins be as scarlet, yet shall they be white
as snow." But that was only if one repented. She did not repent, not
in the least. Conscience, it is true, reproached her with a breach of
temporal and human law, but her heart cried that such love as she had
given was immortal and divine, and therefore set beyond the little
bounds of time and man. At any rate, she loved Geoffrey and was proud
and glad to love him. The circumstances were unfortunate, but she did
not make the world or its social arrangements any more than she had
made herself, and she could not help that. The fact remained, right or
wrong--she loved him, loved him!
How clear were the waters! What was that wild dream which she had
dreamt about herself sitting at the bottom of the sea, and waiting for
him--till at last he came. Sitting at the bottom of the sea--why did
it strike her so strangely--what unfamiliar thought did it waken in
her mind? Well, and why not? It would be pleasant there, better at any
rate than on the earth. But things cannot be ended so; one is burdened
with the flesh, and one must wear it till it fails. Why must she wear
it? Was not the sea large enough to hide her bones? Look now, she had
but to slip over the edge of the canoe, slip without a struggle into
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