Charlotte M. Braeme
Part 2 out of 2
burned brightly in the grate; the lamps were lighted, and gleamed like
huge, soft, warm, pearls; the air of the room was heavy with sweet and
subtle perfume. I have seen no woman who could arrange flowers like
Coralie. The way in which she gathered them and placed each fragrant
flower so that it could be most perfectly seen was wonderful. Great
masses of crimson against white, amber and blue. She had the instinctive
elegance of a true Parisienne.
It struck me as I entered that I had never seen so many lovely flowers;
the vases and the stands were all full. Coralie herself sat in a large
velvet fauteuil, the rich color of which formed a magnificent background
to her bright face and golden-brown hair. She was dressed with unusual
elegance; a robe of soft, black crape fell in graceful folds around her.
I never shall understand ladies' dresses, but this was made so that the
beautiful, white neck and arms were bare.
I remember, too, that she had great sprays of heliotrope in the bodice
of her dress and in her hair. She looked more lovely, more seductive,
than any words of mine could describe, if I wrote for six months.
On the table by her side was a tray set with delicate china and silver,
over which the firelight played cheerily. It was a picture of luxurious
home comfort. She looked up as I entered with a grave, sweet smile.
"Your coffee is ready, Sir Edgar."
There was my favorite chair drawn up to the table. As I sat down I said
"This is comfortable."
Her smile brightened and deepened.
"You are like Miles, Sir Edgar. No matter where he went, he always said
coming home was the most pleasant part of the day."
Then, with her white, jeweled hand, she poured out my coffee, and
certainly the aromatic fragrance was very pleasant.
"You must be like Miles in something else," she said. "He always
declared that I made better coffee than anyone else--better than he
tasted in all his travels. Do you not think the same?" And she looked at
me as anxiously as though the making of coffee to please me were the
chief aim of life.
"Was Sir John at home?" she asked, after a few minutes.
Then I had to describe my day, to give her a history of the coming fair,
in which she affected great interest.
"I should like to go very much," she said. "I have read in fashionable
novels of fancy fairs, but I have never seen one. Are you going, Sir
"Lady Thesiger has asked my assistance, and I have promised it. We shall
make up a party. If you wish to go, Coralie, you shall."
She thanked me, and when I had finished my coffee, rang the bell and
ordered it to be cleared away.
"I am going to sing to you," she said. "I know you are tired. Throw your
head back, shut your eyes and listen. Do not speak, because I am going
to weave a charm for you."
I declare before Heaven that when I remember the magic of that charm my
heart beats even now with fear!
Are you keenly sensitive to music, reader? If so, you will understand.
I could neither sing nor play, but I loved music with a perfect passion.
There was not a nerve or pulse in my body, not a thrill in my heart,
that did not answer it. Listening to beautiful music, sweet, soothing
and sad, this world fell from me. I was in an ideal life, with vague,
glorious fancies floating round me, beautiful, lofty dreams filling my
In this higher world Coralie's music wrapped me; then I came to myself
with a sudden start, for there was Coralie half kneeling by my side,
covering my hand with kisses and tears.
"Coralie!" I cried, in surprise. "What is the matter? What are you
She looked up at me, the fire of her eyes flashing through the mist of
"Don't scold me, Edgar; it is the fault of the music. It sent me here to
tell you how dearly I love you, and to ask from you one kind word."
I was terribly embarrassed. Could it be possible this beautiful woman
was confessing her love for me?
"Do not judge me hastily," she said. "I am not like the fair, cold girls
of this northern clime. My father had Spanish blood in his veins, and
some of it flows in mine. My music went deep into my heart, and my heart
cried aloud for one kind word from you."
"Am I not always kind, Coralie?"
"Ah, yes, with that cold, English kindness which kills even sooner than
your keen frost and biting winds. I want something more than this cruel
kindness. Oh, cousin, can you not see I love you? I love you--ah,
heaven, how dearly!--and I want your love in return."
Believe me, reader, I was speechless. I would fain have raised her, have
told her, in short, sharp words, that what she was saying branded her as
unmaidenly and indiscreet; but I was powerless either to move or to
"I loved you," she said, "the first moment I saw you. You are not like
other men, Sir Edgar. You are so generous, so simply truthful, so noble.
No wonder that I love you; no wonder that I look proud of my love. Ah,
me! ah, me! would that I knew how to tell you! Give me your love; you
shall never repent it. I will make home heaven for you. Men say that I
have beauty and talent. Ah, me! I would use every gift I have for you;
help you to win high honors that cold, unambitious natures never dream
of. Ah, love me; love me, cousin! You will find no one else so true!"
Her face paled with passion; her glorious eyes, dim with tears, were
raised to mine.
"Forgive me that I have spoken first. I should have died with my love. I
know that other women in my place would have done so. I could not; life
is strong within me. I could not die here, tortured to death by inches,
without telling you. Ah, say to me that I shall not die!"
Weak words of mine cannot tell the passionate music of her voice, the
passionate beauty of her face.
"You do not speak to me; you cannot forgive me that I have not borne my
love and sorrow in silence until it killed me. Ah, see what love must
mine be to make me to speak to you, to make me kneel to you, asking for
my life, my life!" and as she uttered the words her head dropped on my
arm, and her wealth of golden-brown hair fell over me.
God knows I would have given worlds to have rushed away. Never was man
more unwillingly drawn into an embarrassing situation. And that very day
Agatha had promised to be my wife. It was high time I said something.
Gently as my patience and embarrassment would allow me, I raised the
"Coralie," I said, gravely, "you are not yourself, I am sure."
"It is for my life," she said. "I am asking for my life!"
"You are easily excited and impulsive," I said; "that music has
bewildered you. I do love you, Coralie; so does Clare. You are our
kinswoman and our charge. How can we help loving you?"
"Ah, me!" she moaned, "you will not understand; it is not that love,
Edgar. I want to pass my life by your side. I want your joys to be
mine--your sorrows to be mine, darling; I want to share your interests.
Will you not understand?"
"I do understand, Coralie. All the love of my heart is given--gone from
me. Only this day I asked Miss Thesiger to be my wife, and she
consented. All my love, my faith, my loyalty are hers."
I shall never forget how that fair woman rose and looked at me. The
love-light and the mist of tears died from her eyes. All the lovely
color faded from her face.
"You have slain me; you have given me, my death-blow!"
"Nay, Coralie; you are too sensible and brave."
She waved her hand with a gesture commanding silence.
"Do not seek to comfort me," she said. "You cannot. I have humiliated
myself in vain. I have shown the depth of my heart, the very secrets of
my soul, only that you may laugh at me with your fair-faced Agatha."
"Hush, Coralie; you have no right to say such things; what you have just
said will never pass my lips. I shall not even think of it. You cannot
suspect me of the meanness to talk to Miss Thesiger of anything of the
She looked at me with a dazed face, as though she could barely grasp my
"Tell me it again," she said. "I cannot believe it."
"Listen, Coralie: I love Agatha Thesiger with all my heart, and hope
very soon to make her my wife. I love her so dearly that I have no room
in my heart for even a thought of any other woman."
Her face grew ghastly in its pallor.
"That is sufficient," she said; "now I understand."
"We will both forget what has been said tonight, Coralie; we will never
think of it, but for the future be good cousins and good friends."
"No," she said, proudly; "there can be no friendship between us."
"You will think better of it; believe me, you have no truer friends than
Clare and myself."
"If I ask for bread and you give me a stone, is that anything to make me
grateful? But I declare to you, Sir Edgar Trevelyan, that you have
slain me; you have slain the womanhood in me tonight by the most cruel
She looked so wild, so white, so despairing, I went up to her.
"Coralie," I said, "forget all this nonsense and be your own bright self
"My own bright self will never live again; a man's scorn has killed me."
Suddenly, before I knew what she was doing, she had flung herself in a
fearful passion of tears in my arms. She was sobbing with her face close
to mine and her hot hands clinging to me.
"With it all, Edgar, she does not love you; she loved Miles; she loves
Crown Anstey, and not you. Forget her, dear; give her up. I love you.
She is cold and formal and prudish; she is not capable of loving you as
I do. She loves your fortune, not you, and I--oh, I would die if you bid
me! Give her up, Edgar, and love me!"
When the passionate outburst of tears had had full vent, I unclasped her
arms and placed her in a chair.
"Let us talk reasonably, Coralie. You ask me what is impossible. I shall
never, with life, give up my engagement to Miss Thesiger."
A strange, bitter smile parted her white lips. I knew afterward what
"It is better to speak plainly," I continued, "in a case like
this--better for both. Listen to me, and believe, Coralie, that even had
I never seen Miss Thesiger, I--forgive me, but it is the truth--I should
never have loved you with more than a cousin's love; my friendship, my
esteem, my care, are all yours; more I can never give you."
Pray God I may never see another woman as I saw her then. She rose; with
her white face and glittering eyes. Then came to mind that line:
"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
"You throw the love I have offered you back in my face, Sir Edgar?"
"No, dear; I lay it kindly and gratefully in your hands, to make the joy
and happiness of some good man's life."
"You distinctly tell me that you never did--never could love me?"
"I love you as my cousin, Coralie--not in any other way."
"You would never, never, under any circumstances, make me your wife?"
"Why do you pain me so, Coralie?"
"I want a plain answer--you would never marry me? Say 'yes' or 'no.'"
"No--since you force me into ungracious speech."
"Thank you," she said, bitterly; "I am answered--there can be no
mistake. Sir Edgar, you speak your mind with honorable frankness. I have
given you every chance to correct yourself, should you be mistaken. I
am, perhaps, more richly endowed than you think for. Would my dowry make
"No," I replied, sternly; "and, Coralie, pray pardon me; it is high time
that this should end."
"It shall end at once," she replied. "It is to be war between us, Sir
Edgar--war to the knife!"
"There is no need for war," I said, wearily. "Let us forget all about
it. There will be no need for you to do anything romantic, Coralie.
Stay on at Crown Anstey, and make yourself happy with Clare."
"Yes," she replied, with that strange smile, "I shall remain at Crown
Anstey--I have no thought of going away."
She turned as though she would quit the room. I went up to her.
"Good night, Coralie. Shake hands, and let us part friends."
"When I touch your hand again, Sir Edgar, it will be under very
different circumstances. Good night."
She swept from the room with the dignity of an outraged queen, leaving
me unhappy, bewildered and anxious.
I had the most chivalrous love and devotion for all womankind, and I
must confess to feeling most dreadfully shocked. It seemed almost
Then I tried to forget it--the passionate words, the pale, tearful
beauty of that wonderful face. Strange that Clare's conviction should so
soon be realized. What of that nervous conviction she had that evil
would come of this fair woman's love? What if that were realized, too?
I sat late that night, dreaming not only of the pure, sweet girl I had
won, but of the woman whose burning tears had fallen on my hands. What
harm could she do if she tried? What did she mean by being richly
dowered? Had she any fortune that I did not know of? Her words were
mysterious. Strange to say, the same nervous forebodings that had seized
Clare seized me.
Evil would come of it; how or why I could not imagine, but it would
come. I felt it gathering round me; then I laughed at myself, at my own
Yet the same fancy had shaken me so that when I went into Clare's room
to say "Good night," she asked me if I were ill, and would not be
satisfied until I laughingly told her my happiness had been too much for
I felt shy as a girl the next morning at the thought of coming
downstairs to meet mademoiselle. Nor was I quite devoid of some little
fear. Would she be sorrowful, resigned, pathetic, angry, or what? It was
impossible to tell.
Imagine my surprise on opening the breakfast-room door to find her
already at the table, looking blooming and beautiful as a June rose. She
greeted me gayly, with bright smiles and bright words. I might have
thought all the passion, the sorrow and despair of last night a dream.
Only too happy to imitate her, I began to talk of a score of indifferent
matters. About everything she had some piquant, bright words to say. By
the time breakfast was ended I had really begun to think I must have
dreamed the most unpleasant scene.
Yet I thought to myself that I must be guarded. I must continue to be
kind to her because she had no other friends, but all kindness shown to
her must be of the true, cousinly type.
This morning, instead of lingering with her while she went through the
conservatories, as had been my idle fashion, I went at once into Clare's
room. Coralie noticed the change, for her face grew pale as I quitted
Some weeks passed without anything happening. I went over to Harden
Manor every day. The sun never set without my seeing Agatha, and every
day I loved her more and more.
She was so simple, so tender, so true; now that she had promised to be
my wife, there was no idle coquetry about her, no affection of shyness.
She was simply perfect, and it seemed to me that by some wonderful
miracle I had reached the golden land at last.
Then I began to agitate for an early marriage. Why wait? Lady Thesiger
told me laughingly that there was much to do at Crown Anstey before I
could take my wife home.
"Remember," she said, "that before your sister came there had been no
ladies at the Hall for some years. The late Lady Trevelyan died sixteen
I saw that she had completely forgotten the existence of mademoiselle,
and did not care to remind her of it.
"You will want to refurnish a suite of rooms for Agatha," she continued;
"and there will really be so much to do that if we say Christmas for the
wedding, that will be quite soon enough."
"It seems like an eternity!" I said, discontentedly.
"It is the most picturesque season of the year for a wedding," said Lady
Thesiger, "I like the holly and evergreens even better than summer
So it was settled; Clare agreed with Lady Thesiger that Crown Anstey
required preparation for a bride.
"Those reception rooms want refurnishing," said my sister. "Of course,
after your marriage you will give parties and balls. You will have to
show hospitality to all the county, Edgar."
Half to my consternation, she said this before Coralie. I looked at her
hastily, wondering how she would take it. Her beautiful face was quite
calm, and wore an expression of pleased interest.
"Do you agree with me, Coralie?" asked my unsuspecting sister.
"Certainly; there is no position in the county equal to that of Lady
Trevelyan of Crown Anstey."
"How strange it is, Edgar, that you should be married, and your wife
Lady Trevelyan! Sometimes it seems to me all a dream."
"Dreams come and go so lightly," said Coralie, with that smile which
always made me slightly afraid.
The remainder of that day we spent in making out a long list of all
things needful. Coralie's taste was paramount. She decided upon little
matters of elegance we never even thought of. It was she who strongly
advised me to send to London for Mr. Dickson, the well-known decorator.
"He will arrange a suite of rooms so perfectly that you will hardly know
them," she said.
So it was decided. Mr. Dickson came, and when he found there was to be
no limit either to time, expense, money, or anything else, he promised
me something that should make Crown Anstey famous. All things went on
perfectly. The magnificent preparations making for my darling occupied
my time most happily. It was now almost the end of November, and our
marriage was to take place on the 26th of December. Mr. Dickson and his
army of workmen had taken their departure, and the rooms prepared for my
wife were beyond all praise.
The boudoir was hung in blue and silver; it was a perfect little
fairyland; nothing was wanting to make it a nest of luxury. The boudoir
opened into a pretty little library, where all the books that I thought
would please Agatha were arranged. There was a dressing-room, a
bath-room and a sleeping-room, all en suite. Mr. Dickson had improvised
a pretty flight of stairs leading into a small conservatory, and that
opened into the garden.
When the pictures, the flowers, the statues, the rich hangings and the
graceful ornaments were all arranged, I was more pleased than I had been
for some time. Lady Thesiger came over to look at them, but my darling
was not to see them until they were her own.
There was an unpleasant duty to perform. What was to be done with
Coralie? Knowing Lady Thesiger's opinion of her, I felt sure she would
never allow her daughter to live in the same house. What was to be done
with her? Where was she to go? I did not know in the least what to
suggest. I was perfectly willing to offer her a very handsome allowance,
knowing that, as Sir Barnard's charge, she had some claim on me.
I might have spared myself all the trouble of thinking and deciding. One
morning Mrs. Newsham, a pretty young matron, very popular in our
neighborhood, paid us a visit.
Coralie, as usual, received her, and did the honors of the house. A very
beautiful fountain had just been placed in the lawn, and we went to look
at it. I had left the two ladies looking over the basin of the fountain
while I raised the branches of a rare and valuable plant.
Stooping down, I did not hear the commencement of the conversation. When
my attention was attracted, Mrs. Newsham was concluding a sentence with
these words: "If ever you leave Crown Anstey."
I saw Coralie d'Aubergne look up at her with a quiet smile.
"I shall never leave Crown Anstey," she said, "under any possible
Mrs. Newsham laughed.
"You may be married, or Lady Trevelyan may not like the place and wish
it closed--a thousand things may happen to prevent you remaining here
But I saw Coralie d'Aubergne shake her head, while she replied, calmly:
"No, Mrs. Newsham, I shall never leave Crown Anstey."
I cannot tell how the words impressed me. I found myself repeating them
over and over again--"I shall never leave Crown Anstey."
Yet she must have known that when my young wife came home, Crown Anstey
would be no place for her.
Was there any meaning in the words she repeated so often, or did she say
them merely with an idea of comforting herself?
It was that very evening that I sat by myself in the library arranging
some papers, and thinking at the same time what I must say to Coralie,
and how I must say it, when the door suddenly opened and she entered.
I looked at her, surprised, for she did not often intrude when I was
alone and occupied. She was very pale. With quiet determination on her
beautiful face, she walked up to me and leaned her arm on the back of my
"So, cousin," she said, "this marriage is going on?"
"Certainly, Coralie. I pray to God nothing may prevent it."
"You would lose your reason, I suppose, if you lost Agatha?"
"I cannot tell. I only know that, no matter how long I lived, life would
have no further charm for me."
She bent her head caressingly over me; her perfumed hair touched my
"Edgar," she whispered, "once more I lose sight of my woman's pride;
once more I come to you and ask you--ah! do not turn from me--I ask you
to give up Agatha, and"--
She paused, for very shame, I hope.
"Give up Agatha and marry you, you would say, Coralie?"
"Ah, dear, I love you so! You would never repent it. I would make you
happy as a crowned king."
I stopped her.
"Say no more, Coralie! I am grieved and shocked that you should renew
the subject. I told you before I should never love any woman, save
Agatha Thesiger, were I to live forever."
"Nothing will ever induce you to change your mind?" she asked, slowly.
"No, nothing in the wide world."
She paused for a few minutes, then she quietly lifted her arm from the
"Has it ever struck you," she said, "it may be in my power to do you
"I never thought you capable of such a thing, nor do I believe that it
is in your power."
"It is," she said; "you and your sister are both in my power. If you are
a wise man, you will take my terms and save yourself while there is
time. Of course, if I were Lady Trevelyan, my interests would be yours;
then, if I knew anything against your welfare, I should keep the secret
faithfully--ah! a thousand times more faithfully than if it concerned my
She looked earnestly at me.
"You hold no secrets of mine, Coralie. I have no secrets. Thank God, my
life is clear and open--a book any one may read. Supposing I had a
secret, I should not purchase the keeping of it by any such compromise
as you suggest. I detest all mysteries, Coralie--all underhand doings,
all deceit. Speak out and tell me, Coralie, what you mean."
"I shall speak out when the time comes. Once more, Cousin Edgar, be
reasonable; save yourself--save me."
She withdrew some steps from me, and looked at me with her whole soul in
"I will not hear another word, Coralie. I do not wish to offend you, or
to speak harshly to you; but this I do say--if ever you mention this, to
me, hateful subject, I will never voluntarily address you again--never
while I live."
She made no answer. She turned, with a dignified gesture, and quitted
I never gave one serious thought to her threats, looking upon them as
the angry words of an angry woman. They did not even remain upon my mind
or disturb my rest.
On the following day Lady Thesiger had arranged to come to Crown Anstey
with Agatha, for the purpose of choosing from some very choice
engravings that had been sent to me from London. I asked Sir John to
accompany them and stay at lunch. It was always a red-letter day to me
when my darling came to my house, and I remember this one--ah, me!--so
well. It was fine, clear and frosty; the sky was blue; the sun shone
with that clear gold gleam it has in winter; the hoar frost sparkled on
the leafless trees and hedges; the ground was hard and seemed to ring
beneath one's feet.
"A bright, clear day," said Coralie, as we sat at breakfast together.
"Yes," I replied. "Coralie, will you see that a good luncheon is served
today? Sir John and Lady Thesiger are coming--Miss Thesiger, too--and
they will remain for lunch."
Her face cleared and brightened.
"Coming today, are they? I am very glad."
I looked upon this as an amiable wish to atone for the unpleasantness of
last night, and answered her in the same good spirit.
I am half ashamed to confess that when Agatha was coming I seldom did
anything but stand, watch in hand, somewhere near the entrance gates.
That I did today, and was soon rewarded by seeing the Harden carriage.
Ah, me! will the memory of that day ever die with me? My darling came
and seemed to me more beautiful than ever. Her sweet, frank eyes looked
into mine; her pure, beautiful face had a delicate flush of delight, and
I--God help me!--forgot everything while by her side.
We were all in the library. How I thanked God afterward that Clare had
not felt well enough to have the engravings sent to her room, as I
proposed! We sat round the large center-table on which the folios lay
open, Sir John, who took great delight in such things, explaining to
Lady Thesiger. I was showing Agatha those I liked best, when quite
unexpectedly, Coralie entered the room.
The moment I saw her face I knew that she meant mischief. Surely,
woman's face never had so hard, so wicked a look before.
Sir John rose and bowed. Lady Thesiger looked, as she always did in the
presence of mademoiselle, constrained and annoyed. Agatha's look was one
of sheer surprise, for Coralie walked up to the table.
"Choosing engravings, Miss Thesiger?" she said, with an easy smile. "I
must ask you to give me your attention for a short time. Perhaps you
will not think the engravings of much importance after that."
She declined the chair Sir John placed for her with the hauteur of a
grand duchess. As she stood there, calmly surveying us, she looked the
most beautiful yet the most determined of women.
"May I ask," she said, "the exact date fixed for the marriage?"
Sir John answered her:
"The 26th of December, mademoiselle."
"May I ask," she said, "what Sir Edgar has thought of doing for me?
Doubtless Lady Thesiger will have advised him. This has been my home for
many years, and is my only home now. Has the question been considered?
In the event of Sir Edgar bringing a young wife here, what is to become
There was a mocking smile on her beautiful face; her dark eyes flashed
from one to the other of us; we felt uncomfortable. She had just hit
upon the weak point that disturbed us all, the one cloud in a clear sky.
As no one else seemed inclined to speak, I answered:
"Everything will be done for your comfort, Coralie; you may be sure of
that, for Sir Barnard's sake."
"And not for my own?" she said. "What is your idea of comfort, Sir
Edgar? Do you propose offering me a little cottage and a few pounds per
week? That would not content me."
She looked so imperial, so beautiful, that I wondered involuntarily what
would content her, she who might have anything.
"Whatever you yourself think right, Coralie, you shall have."
I saw a strong disapproval in Lady Thesiger's face, and Coralie's quick
eyes, following mine, read the same.
"Ah!" she said, hastily, "Lady Thesiger does not approve of carte
blanche to ambitious cousins."
Lady Thesiger really restrained herself; she was tempted to speak--I saw
"The best plan," said Sir John, calmly, "would be for Mademoiselle
d'Aubergne to say what she herself wishes."
"I will tell you," she replied, "what I claim."
Then, as we looked up at her in wonder, she continued, with bland
"I claim as my own and right, on the part of my infant son, the whole of
the estate and revenues of Crown Anstey. I claim, as widow of the late
Miles Trevelyan, Esq., my share of all due to me at his death."
A thunder-bolt falling in our midst would not have alarmed us as those
words did. Sir John looked sternly at her.
"In the name of heaven, what do you mean?"
"Just what I say, Sir John. I was the wife, and am now the widow, of the
late Miles Trevelyan, Esq."
"But that is monstrous!" he cried. "Miles was never married."
"Miles was married to me, Sir John."
"But we must have proof; your word goes for nothing. There must be
indisputable proof of such an assertion."
She smiled with quiet superiority.
"Knowing with whom I have to contend, it is not probable that I should
assert anything false. I am prepared to prove everything I say."
My darling's face grew white as death. I was bewildered. If this were
true--oh, my God! if it were true--fortune, love and everything else
"Where were you married?" asked Sir John.
"At Edgerton--St. Helen's, Edgerton. The Rev. Henry Morton married us,
and the two witnesses were Sarah Smith, who was my maid, and Arthur
Ireton, who was head game-keeper here at Crown Anstey."
It was so quickly told and so seemingly correct, we looked at each other
"We must examine into it," said Sir John, "before going any further."
"That will be best," she replied, composedly. "I had better explain that
Miles, poor fellow, fell in love with me the first time he saw me. Sir
Barnard would not hear of such a thing. He told Miles that if he
persisted in marrying me he would curse him. Perhaps he had his own
reasons for not liking me. His son tried to obey him, but I am proud to
say that the love Miles had for me was far stronger than fear of his
father. Still, for pecuniary reasons he did not care to offend him, so
we were married privately the second year of my stay at Crown Anstey."
She turned to Lady Thesiger with a mocking smile.
"I know perfectly well," she said, "why your ladyship has never liked
me. You met me walking one evening with Miles Trevelyan in the Anstey
woods; you saw him kiss me. You know, now, that he was my husband and
had a right to kiss me if he chose."
Lady Thesiger bowed very stiffly.
"Two years after our marriage," Coralie continued, "my little son,
called Rupert, after the Crusader Trevelyan, was born. Under the
pretense of visiting some of my relations, I went to Lincoln. In the
registry of the church of St. Morton Friars you will find the proper
attestation of my son's birth."
"Where is that son?" asked Sir John, incredulously.
"At Lincoln. I can send for him. You can go there and see him; he is
under the care of Sarah Smith, my nurse. He is living and well, and he,
not Mr. Edgar, is the heir of Crown Anstey."
"But why," asked Sir John, incredulously, "why have you never told this
story before? It seems incredible that you should have waited until
"I have my own reasons," she replied. "I waited first to see what Sir
Edgar would be like; then, when I saw him--I--I need not be ashamed to
own it, even before Miss Thesiger--I liked him, and if he had been
reasonable I should never have told my story at all."
"That is," said Sir John, with supreme disgust, "if Edgar had been duped
by you and had married you, you would have defrauded your son of his
"Yes," she replied, with a smile; "it is Crown Anstey I love, and I
would rather be the wife than the mother of the master of Crown Anstey."
"You are a wicked woman," he said, sternly.
"I am a successful one," she retorted. "Pray, Sir John, examine all
these proofs at your earliest convenience; I am anxious to take my place
as mistress of my own house; I am anxious to have my child here in his
We all rose; no words can express my emotions. It was not the fortune,
God knows--not the fortune; but I knew when I lost that I lost Agatha.
I felt my face growing white as death itself and my hands trembled.
"One moment," I said. "A year ago the doctor told me if my sister kept
up her strength, and had nothing to make her either anxious nor unhappy,
she would in all probability recover. Now, whether this story be true or
false, I pray you all, for God's sake, keep it from her!"
"I shall not mention it," said Coralie.
"Do not despair, Edgar," said Sir John. "I do not believe--I never
"I wrote to London last night," continued Coralie, "for Mr. Dempster,
who was Sir Barnard's lawyer on one or two occasions. You, of course,
Mr. Edgar Trevelyan, will retain the services of the family solicitors."
"I shall need no solicitors if your story be true. I shall not seek to
defraud Miles' son of his birthright; I shall yield it to him."
"You will find it true in every particular," she said; "and remember
always that it is your own fault I have told it."
With that parting shot she quitted the room.
"My poor boy," said Sir John, "this is a terrible blow to you."
"I am afraid," said Lady Thesiger, "that this abominable woman has
spoken the truth. I always thought poor Miles had something on his
mind--some secret. I told him so one day, and he did not deny it."
My darling came up to me with her sweet, pale face and outstretched
"Never mind, Edgar," she said. "If you lose Crown Anstey I will try to
love you all the more to make up for it."
What could I do but bless her and thank her? Yet I knew--God help me, I
knew in losing my fortune I lost her!
The little party that had so gayly assembled in the old library broke up
in the deepest gloom. Sir John was the only one who seemed at all
"Rely upon it," he said, "that, after all, it is some trick of the
But Lady Thesiger had no such hope.
"I felt sure there was something wrong with Miles," she said. "He was
not happy. He had married in haste and repented at leisure."
For my own part, I had no hope. Remembering the subtle, seductive beauty
of the woman, I could well imagine Miles being led, even against
himself, into a marriage or anything else.
When they were gone I went back to the library. I wanted to face this
terrible blow alone, to realize the possibility that instead of being
Sir Edgar Trevelyan, of Crown Anstey, wealthy, honored and powerful, I
was Edgar Trevelyan, poor, homeless and penniless.
Could it be possible that after this life of ease, luxury and happiness,
I was to fall back into the old position--hard, monotonous labor, with
eighty pounds per annum?
It seemed too hard. Do not think any the worse of me, reader, if I own
that the tears came into my eyes. It was bitterly hard.
Without warning Coralie entered the room. It must have been a triumph to
her to see the tears in my eyes. She stood at some little distance from
"Edgar," she asked, "do you hate me?"
"No! I am too just to hate you for claiming what is your own. You ought
to have told me before, Coralie. It has been most cruel to let me live
in this delusive dream. If you had told me that night when I came here
first, it would have been a momentary disappointment, but I should have
gone back to my work none the worse for it."
"I might have done it, but I saw in this, my secret power, the means of
winning you. Edgar, it is not too late even now. Make me mistress of
Crown Anstey, and I will find the means of restoring your lost position
I turned from her in unutterable loathing. She was so lost to all
womanly honor and delicacy, my whole soul revolted against her.
"Not another word, Coralie. I would not take Crown Anstey from you if
the alternative were death!"
"That is very decisive," she replied, with the mocking smile I dreaded.
"We shall see."
"You will keep your word to me?" I cried, hastily. "You will say nothing
to Clare? She will soon be well. I could not bear to have any obstacles
thrown in the way of her recovery. When I leave her, my friends will
make some arrangements to spare her the shock of knowing why--at least,
for a time."
"I shall respect your wishes, Edgar. I have no desire to hurt your
sister. She is quite safe, so far as I am concerned."
It may be imagined that I did not sleep very well that night. Early on
the following morning Sir John rode over.
"The sooner we look into this affair the better," he said. "We will ride
over to Edgerton today and examine the church register."
We did so. Alas! there was no mistake; the marriage had been celebrated
on the 14th of June. The two witnesses, as she said, were Sarah Smith
and Arthur Ireton. The marriage service had been performed by the
Reverend Henry Morton.
The entry was perfectly regular, no flaw in it. Sir John's face fell as
he read it.
"Now," he said, "the marriage laws in England are very strict; there is
no evading them. If this marriage is perfectly legal we shall find an
entry of it in the registrar's books. We must pay for a copy of the
We went to the registrar's office. There, sure enough, was the entry,
all perfectly legal and straightforward.
"Now," said Sir John, "before we rest let us find out the Reverend Henry
Morton, and see what he knows about it."
That involved a journey to Leamington, where he was then residing. We
found him without difficulty. He remembered the marriage, and had no
hesitation in answering any questions about it. He knew Miles Trevelyan,
and had remonstrated with him over the marriage. But what could he do?
Miles was of full age, and told him frankly that if he refused to marry
him someone else would.
"I have been ill and occupied," he said, "and have heard nothing of the
Trevelyans since I left Edgerton. However, if my evidence and solemn
assurance are of any service, you have them. They were properly and
legally married; nothing in the world can upset that fact."
"So it seems," said Sir John, with a deep sigh, "Edgar, you have lost
The next day I wrote to Moreland & Paine, asking one or both to come
over at once. Mr. Paine arrived the same evening, and looked very grave
when he was in full possession of the case. He had a long interview with
Mrs. Trevelyan, as we called her now; also with her solicitor, Mr.
Dempster. Then he sought me.
"This is a bad business, Mr. Trevelyan," he said; and by his ceasing to
use the title, I knew he had given up all hope of my cause. "Of course,"
he continued, "you can go to law if you like, but I tell you quite
honestly you have no chance. The evidence is clear and without a flaw;
nothing can shake it. If you have a lawsuit you will lose it, and
probably have to pay all costs."
I told him that I had no such intention; that if the estate were not
legally mine, I had no wish to claim it.
"It was a very sad thing for you, Mr. Trevelyan. I am heartily grieved
"I must bear it like a man. I am not the first who has lost a fortune."
But Sir John would not hear of my final arrangements until we had been
to Lincoln and had seen the child.
"No one knows the depth of those French women," he said. "It is possible
there may be no child. Let us take her by surprise this very day, and
ask her to accompany us to the house where the nurse lives."
Both lawyers applauded the idea.
"If there be any imposture we are sure to find it out," they said.
Without a minute's loss of time, Mrs. Trevelyan was asked to join us in
the library. She complied at once.
"We want you to go with us to Lincoln to show us the child," said Sir
She consented at once so readily that I felt certain that our quest was
useless. We started in an hour's time, my poor Clare being led to
believe that we had gone to Harden on a visit.
We reached Lincoln about six o'clock at night. While we stood in the
station waiting for a cab Mr. Paine turned suddenly to Coralie.
"What is the address?" he asked.
Again there was not a moment's hesitation.
"No. 6 Lime Cottages, Berkdale Road," she replied; and fast as a
somewhat tired horse could take us we went there.
We reached the place at last; a row of pretty cottages that in summer
must have been sheltered by the lime trees, and the door of No. 6 was
quickly opened to us--opened by a woman with a pleasant face, who looked
exceedingly astonished at seeing us. Coralie came forward.
"I had no time to write and warn you of this visit, Mrs. Smith. Be kind
enough to answer any questions these gentlemen may wish to ask you."
We all made way for Mr. Paine. I shall never forget the group, the
anxiety and suspense on each face.
"Have you a child here in your charge?" asked the lawyer.
But she looked at Coralie.
"Am I to answer, madam?"
"You are to answer any questions put to you; my story is known."
"Have you a child here in your charge?" he repeated.
"I have," she repeated.
"Who is it? Tell us in your own words, if you please."
"He is the son of the late Mr. Miles Trevelyan and his wife, who was
"Where were they married?" he asked.
"They were married at the Church of St. Helen's, Edgerton. I was one
witness; the other was Arthur Ireton, the head game-keeper."
"Where was this child born?" he asked again.
"Here, sir, at this house. Mrs. Trevelyan left home, it was believed, to
visit some friends. She came here and took this house. I remained with
her, and have had charge of little Master Rupert ever since."
He asked fifty other questions; they were answered with equal clearness
"Let us see the child," said Sir John, impatiently.
She went into the next room and brought out a lovely little boy. He was
asleep, but at the sound of strange voices opened his eyes.
"Mamma!" he cried when he saw Coralie, and she took him in her arms.
Sir John looked earnestly at him.
"There is no mistake," he said; "we want no further evidence. I can tell
by his face this is poor Miles' son."
He was a lovely, bright-eyed boy; he had Coralie's golden-brown hair,
which fell in thick ringlets down his pretty neck.
"But it is Miles' face," Sir John repeated, and we did not doubt him.
"There remains but one thing more to make the whole evidence complete.
We must see the registration of the birth of the child, and it would be
better to see the doctor who attended you, madam."
We did both on the following day. The registration of the child's birth
was right, perfect and without a flaw.
The doctor, a highly respectable medical practitioner, offered us his
evidence on oath.
There was nothing left, then, but to return to Crown Anstey and give up
I loved the little boy. It was too absurd to feel any enmity against
him. He was so bright and clever; it would have been unmanly not to have
loved dead Miles' son.
Of Coralie Trevelyan I asked but one favor; that she would allow me one
week in which to make some arrangement for Clare before she brought the
young heir home. She cheerfully agreed to this.
"You bear your reverses very bravely," she said.
"Better than I bore prosperity," I replied, and that, God knows, was
This new trial had braced my nerves and made me stronger than I had ever
been in my whole life before.
The arrangement made for my sister was one I knew not how to be grateful
enough for. Lady Thesiger insisted that she should go to Harden and
remain there until she was well.
"She need know nothing of your misfortune yet. We have but to say that
she must be kept quiet and admit no visitors except such as we can trust
to say nothing to her. Agatha and myself will take the greatest care of
her, and when she has recovered we will break the news to her."
I was deeply grateful. It was all arranged without exciting my sister's
suspicions. She told her that for many reasons it had been considered
better to put off the marriage for some time; that I was going abroad
for a year, and that she was to spend the year with Lady Thesiger.
She looked wistfully at me.
"It's all very sudden, Edgar. Are you sure it is for the best?"
I steadied my voice and told her laughingly it was all for the best.
She asked where Coralie would be, and I told her that when she returned
from the visit she was paying she would remain at Crown Anstey.
There was not a dry eye among the servants when my sister was carried
from the home where she had been so happy. Of course, they all knew the
story--it had spread like wild fire all over the neighborhood--yet every
one understood how vitally important it was that it should be kept from
Can I ever tell in words how kindly Lady Thesiger received her? True
friends, they took no note of altered fortunes. My sister was
comfortably installed in the charming rooms they had prepared for her.
Her favorite maid was to stay with her.
Then came the agony I had long known must come. I must give up Agatha.
How could I, who had not one shilling in my pocket, marry the daughter
of Sir John Thesiger, a girl, delicate and refined, who had been brought
up in all imaginable luxury? Let me work hard as I might, I could hardly
hope to make two hundred a year. In all honor and in all conscience I
was bound to give her up.
I had no prospect before me save that of returning to my former position
as clerk. Agatha Thesiger must never be a clerk's wife, she who could
marry any peer in the land!
Talk of waiting and hoping! I had nothing to hope for. The savings of my
whole life would not keep her, as she had been kept, for even one year.
I must give her up. Ah, my God! It was hard--so bitterly hard! I told
Sir John, and he looked wretched as myself.
"I see, I see. It is the only thing to be done. If I could give her a
fortune you should not lose her; but I cannot, and she must not come to
Lady Thesiger wept bitterly over me.
"I foresaw it from the first," she said. "I knew it was not the loss of
Crown Anstey, but the loss of Agatha, that would be your sorest trial."
Then I said "good-by" to her whom I had hoped so soon to call my wife. I
kissed her white face and trembling hands for the last time.
But the dear soul clung to me, weeping.
"You may say you must leave me a thousand times, Edgar, but I shall
never be left. I shall wait for you; and if it be never in your power
to claim me, I shall marry no other man. I will be yours in death as in
And though I tried to shake her resolution, I knew that it would be so.
I knew that no other man would ever call her wife.
The day before I left, Mrs. Trevelyan, with her little Sir Rupert, took
possession of the Hall. She must have found many thorns in her path,
for, although she had attained her heart's desire, and was now mistress
of Crown Anstey, she was shunned and disliked by all the neighborhood.
"An adventuress," they called her, and as such refused to receive her
into their society. Perhaps she had foreseen this when she wished to
By Sir John's influence, the post of secretary was found for me with an
English nobleman residing in Paris. I was to live in the house; my
duties were sufficiently onerous, and I was to receive a salary of one
hundred and fifty pounds per annum; so that, after all, I was better off
than I had once expected to be.
I bade farewell to Agatha, to Clare, to my kind friends Sir John and
Lady Thesiger. God knew the grief that filled my heart; I cannot
On my road to the station I met the Crown Anstey carriage. Mrs Trevelyan
bowed to me from it. She was taking a drive with the little Sir Rupert.
"God bless the child!" I said, as his little face smiled from the
carriage window. "God bless him and send him a happy life!"
It took me some little time to settle down to my new life. My employer,
Lord Winter, lived in the Champs Elysees. He preferred Paris to England,
because it was brighter and gayer. I often wondered how that mattered to
him, for he lived only in his books.
I was required to assist him in making extracts, answering letters,
searching for all kinds of odd information, and I do believe I learned
more in that time than I should have done in a lifetime differently
I became reconciled to it after a hard struggle. From Harden Manor I
constantly received the kindest letters. Agatha wrote to me, and
although the word "love" seldom occurred in her letters, I knew her
heart was, and always would be mine. She would never forget me, nor
would that crown of all sorrows be mine--I should never have to give her
up to a wealthier rival. Although she said nothing of the kind in her
letters, I felt that it was true.
A year passed, and at last came good tidings of my sister; she was able
to sit up, even to walk across the room, and the doctor said that in
another month she would in all probability be able to take her place in
the world again.
How that gladdened my heart! Lady Thesiger said she had not the least
idea yet of the change in my fortunes, although she wondered incessantly
why I was absent.
"Have no fear for your sister's future," wrote kind Lady Thesiger.
"While Agatha lives at home she is a most charming companion for her.
Should she ever leave home, she would be the same to me. We shall only
be too happy if she will spend the rest of her life at Harden Manor."
I was grateful for that. Now, then, fate seemed kinder. I could fight
through for myself, providing that my fragile, delicate Clare was safely
taken care of.
Another six months passed. Clare knew all then and was resigned. God had
been very good to her. She could walk; distance did not fatigue her, and
the doctors thought it was very unlikely that the same disease would
attack her again.
She wrote and told me about it.
"I was out yesterday," she said, "with Agatha, and we met the Crown
Anstey carriage. Coralie was most gracious--overwhelmed me with
congratulations, invited me to the Hall. And I saw little Sir Rupert. He
is so bright and beautiful--the most princely boy I ever beheld. 'I am
going to have a white pony,' he said to me, and I kissed him, Edgar,
with all my heart. Coralie inquired very minutely after you, and asked
me if I owed her any ill-will for what she had done. I said no, not in
the least, and that I hoped little Sir Rupert would live to make her
very happy. I am not quite sure, but I think there were tears glistening
in her eyes when she drove away."
Some weeks afterward I received the following letter from Mrs.
"My Dear Edgar--Once again, I address you--once again, setting
pride and all things aside, I offer you Crown Anstey. You have been
away some time now, and know how different is your present hard
life from the happy, luxurious one you led here. Your engagement
with Miss Thesiger is, of course, broken off. I hear she has a
wealthy suitor--Lord Abberley. It will be a good match for her.
Edgar, you will find no one in the world so true to you as myself.
See, I forgot all the past. Once more I offer you my love, my hand,
and with it, until my son is of age, Crown Anstey. I never intended
you to give it up as you have done. I always wished to offer
yourself and your sister an income sufficient for your maintenance.
I have not done so before because I hoped that poverty would seem
so hateful to you you would gradually come to think better of my
offer. Is it so, Edgar? Will you recognize my love, my fidelity, my
devotion at last? One word and all your troubles cease, you are
back again in the beautiful old home, and I am happy. Only one
word. From your ever loving, devoted
I need not repeat my answer. It was, No! I was no more free, no more
inclined to return to Crown Anstey than I had been to remain there.
After that there was a long silence. Agatha told me herself all about
Lord Abberley; that he had been very kind to her, was very fond of her,
but she had told him our story, and he had most generously forborne to
press his suit.
Time was doing much for me; every hour was golden in its acquisition of
blanks in my life were filled by books. God sent every one the same
comfort I had.
[Transcriber's note: One or more lines appear to be missing from the
It was just three years since I had left Crown Anstey. Lord Winter told
me I should have some weeks to myself, but he was so incessantly
occupied I never liked to ask for them.
I had never seen or heard anything of Crown Anstey since I left it. At
Harden Manor all was the same, unchanged and unaltered.
One morning, when I went into the library, a letter lay waiting for me.
I saw that it was Coralie's handwriting, and my first impulse was to
burn it unread. Why should she write to me again? Her letters only
pained me. I threw it aside and began to work--in the busy occupation of
the morning I forgot all about it.
I did not open it until evening. It was from Coralie, but it only held
these few words:
"Edgar--My boy--my beautiful boy--is dying. Come to me; for if I
lose him I shall die, too. In my distress I would rather have you
near me than any one else.
Was it true, or was it an invention? Poor little Rupert dying! Why, no
one had even told me he was ill. Perhaps I had better go. No mother
could be so cold and so wicked as to feign death for her only child.
Lord Winter raised no objections.
"It was not very convenient," he said, but of course he "must bow to
I was in time to catch the mail train. Eight o'clock found me the next
morning in London, and, without waiting for rest or refreshment, I
started at once for Crown Anstey.
It was only too true. I found my old home full of the wildest confusion;
women were weeping and wringing their hands--the whole place was in
I was shown into the library, and in a few minutes Coralie came to me. I
hardly recognized her; her face was white, her eyes were dim with long
watching and bitter tears.
"I knew you would come," she said. "He is dying, Edgar; nothing in the
world can save him. Come with me."
I followed her to the pretty chamber where little Sir Rupert lay. Yes,
he was dying, poor child! He lay on the pretty, white bed; a grave-faced
doctor was near; the nurse, Sarah Smith, sat by his side.
His mother went up to him.
"No better! No change!" she cried, wringing her hands. "Oh, my God! must
I lose him? Must he die?"
He was my unconscious rival; his little life stood between me and all I
valued most, yet I knelt and prayed God, as I had never prayed before,
that He would spare him. I would have given Crown Anstey twice over for
that life; but it was not to be.
"Do not disturb him with cries," said the doctor to his mother; "he has
not long to live."
She knelt by his side in silence, her face colorless as that of a marble
statue, the very picture of desolation, the very image of woe.
So for some minutes we sat; the little breath grew fainter and more
feeble, the gray shadow deepened on the lovely face.
"Mamma!" he cried. "I see! I see!"
She bent over him, and at that moment he died.
I can never forget it--the wild, bitter anguish of that unhappy woman,
how she wept, how she tore her hair, how she called her child back by
every tender name a mother's love could invent.
It was better, the doctor said, that the first paroxysm of grief should
have full vent. All attempts at comfort and consolation were unavailing.
I raised her from the ground, and when she saw my face she cried:
"Oh, Edgar! Edgar! it is my just punishment!"
I did my best to console her. I told her that her little child would be
better off in heaven than were he master of fifty Crown Ansteys. But I
soon found that my words fell on deaf ears; she was unconscious.
"I do not like the look of Mrs. Trevelyan," said the doctor. "I should
not be surprised to find that she has caught the fever herself. If so,
in her present state of agitation, it will go hard with her."
He was right; before sunset Coralie lay in the fierce clutches of the
fever, insensible to everything.
I do not like dwelling on this part of the story; it is so long, long
since it all happened, but the memory of it stings like a sharp pain.
Clare came to nurse her, and everything that human science and skill
could suggest was done to save her. It was all in vain.
We buried the little child on the Tuesday morning, when the sun was
shining and the birds were singing in the trees, and on the Saturday
they told us his mother could not live.
It was early on the dawn of the Sunday morning when they sent for me.
She was dying, and wished to speak to me.
I went into her room. Clare knelt by her side. She turned her white face
to me with a smile.
"Edgar," she said, "I am glad you have come. I want to--to die in your
arms. Bend down to me," she whispered. "I want to speak to you. Will you
forgive me? I can see now how wrong I was, how wicked to love you so
much, and how wicked to tell you so. Will you forgive me, and now that I
am dying say one kind word to me, and tell me you can respect me in
I pillowed that dying head on my arm, and told her I should only
remember of her what had been kind and good.
"You will only remember that I loved you, Edgar, not that I was
unwomanly and wicked?"
"I will forget everything, except that you were my dear cousin and dear
"You will marry Agatha," she said, faintly, "and bring her home here. I
hope you will be happy; but, oh! Edgar--Edgar--when she is your wife,
and you are so happy together, you will not forget me; you will stroll
out sometimes when the dew is falling to look at my grave and say, 'Poor
Coralie! how well she loved me--so well--so dearly!' You will do that,
My tears were falling warm and fast on her face.
"Are these your tears? Then you care a little for me. Ah, then, I am
willing to die!"
And so, with her head pillowed on my arm, and a smile on her lips, she
We buried her by the side of Miles Trevelyan. After life's fitful fever
she sleeps well.
From the first hour of her illness the doctor had no hope for her. I
learned afterward that for some time before the child took the fever she
had been ailing and ill.
It was such a strange life. Thinking over it afterward, it seemed to me
more like romance than reality.
A year passed before the dream of my life was fulfilled and Agatha came
to Crown Anstey. I need not to say how happy we were.
Lady Trevelyan is the most beloved and popular lady in the county; our
children are growing up good and happy; we have not a care or trouble in
the world, and the sharpest pain I have is the memory of Coralie.
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