Phantom Fortune, A Novel
M. E. Braddon
Part 10 out of 10
she floated round the room, with her head inclined towards her lover's
breast, the strong pulsation of his heart sounding in her ear, like the
rhythmical beat of the basses yonder in Waldteufel's last waltz? Was
there still the uncertainty as to the _denouement_ which marks the third
act of a good play? or was there the dread foreboding, the sense of
impending doom which should stir the spectators with pity and terror as
the fourth act hurries to its passionate close? Who could tell? She had
been full of life and energy to-day on board the yacht during the
racing, in which she seemed to take an ardent interest. The _Cayman_ had
followed the racers for three hours through a freshening sea, much to
Lady Kirkbank's disgust, and Lesbia had been the soul of the party.
The same yesterday. The yacht had only got back to Cowes in time for the
ball, and all had been hurry and excitement while the ladies dressed and
crossed to the club, the spray dashing over their opera mantles, poor
Lady Kirkbank's complexion yellow with _mal de mer_, in spite of a
double coating of _Blanc de Fedora_, the last fashionable cosmetic.
To-night Lesbia was curiously silent, depressed even, as it seemed to
those who were interested in observing her; and all the world is
interested in a famous beauty. She was very pale, even her lips were
colourless, and the large violet eyes and firmly pencilled brows alone
gave colour to her face. She looked like a marble statue, the eyes and
eyebrows accentuated with touches of colour. Those lovely eyes had a
heavy look, as of trouble, weariness; nay, absolute distress.
Never had she looked less brilliant than to-night; never had she looked
more beautiful. It was the loveliness of a newly-awakened soul. The
wonderful Pandora-casket of life, with its infinite evil, its little
good, had given up its secret. She knew what passionate love really
means. She knew what such love mostly means--self-sacrifice, surrender
of the world's wealth, severance from friends, the breaking of all old
ties. To love as she loved means the crossing of a river more fatal than
the Rubicon, the casting of a die more desperate than that which Caesar
flung upon the board when he took up arms against the Republic.
The river was not yet crossed, but her feet were on the margin, wet with
the ripple of the stream. The fatal die was not yet cast, but the
dice-box was in her hand ready for the throw. Lesbia and Montesma danced
together--not too often, three waltzes out of sixteen--but when they
were so waltzing they were the cynosure of the room. That betting of
which Maulevrier had heard was rife to-night, and the odds upon the
Cuban had gone up. It was nine to four now that those two would be over
the border before the week was out.
Mr. Smithson was not neglectful of his affianced. He took her into the
supper-room, where she drank some Moselle cup, but ate nothing. He sat
out three or four waltzes with her on the lawn, listening to the murmer
of the sea, and talking very little.
'You are looking wretchedly ill to-night, Lesbia,' he said, after a
'I am sorry that I should put you to shame by my bad looks,' she
answered, with that keen acidity of tone which indicates irritated
'You know that I don't mean anything of the kind; you are always lovely,
always the loveliest everywhere; but I don't like to see you so ghastly
'I suppose I am over-fatigued: that I have done too much in London and
here. Life in Westmoreland was very different,' she added, with a sigh,
and a touch of wonder that the Lesbia Haselden, whose methodical life
had never been stirred by a ruffle of passion, could have been the same
flesh and blood--yes, verily, the same woman, whose heart throbbed so
vehemently to-night, whose brain seemed on fire.
'Are you sure there is nothing the matter?' he asked, with a faint
quiver in his voice.
'What should there be the matter?'
'Who can say? God knows that I know no cause for evil. I am honest
enough, and faithful enough, Lesbia. But your face to-night is like a
presage of calamity, like the dull, livid sky that goes before a
'I hope there is no thunderbolt coming,' she answered, lightly. 'What
very tall talk about a headache, for really that is all that ails me.
Hark, they have begun "My Queen." I am engaged for this waltz.'
'I am sorry for that.'
'So am I. I would ever so much rather have stayed out here.'
Two hours later, in the steely morning light, when sea and land and sky
had a metallic look as if lit by electricity, Lady Lesbia stood with her
chaperon and her affianced husband on the landing stage belonging to the
club, ready to step into the boat in which six swarthy seamen in red
shirts and caps were to row them back to the yacht. Mr. Smithson drew
the warm _sortie de bal_, with its gold-coloured satin lining and white
fox border, closer round Lesbia's slender form.
'You are shivering,' he said; 'you ought to have warmer wraps.
'This is warm enough for St. Petersburg. I am only tired--very tired.'
'The _Cayman_ will rock you to sleep.'
Don Gomez was standing close by, waiting for his host. The two men were
to walk up the hill to Formosa, a village with a classic portico,
delightfully situated above the town.
'What time are we to come to breakfast? asked Mr. Smithson.
'Not too early, in mercy's name. Two o'clock in the afternoon, three,
four;--why not make it five--combine breakfast with afternoon tea,'
exclaimed Lady Kirkbank, with a tremendous yawn. 'I never was so
thoroughly fagged; I feel as if I had been beaten with sticks,
basti--what's its name.'
She was leaning all her weight upon Mr. Smithson, as he handed her down
the steps and into the boat. Her normal weight was not a trifle, and
this morning she was heavy with champagne and sleep. Carefully as
Smithson supported her she gave a lurch at the bottom of the steps, and
plunged ponderously into the boat, which dipped and careened under her,
whereat she shrieked, and implored Mr. Smithson to save her.
All this, occupied some minutes, and gave Lesbia and the Cuban just
time for a few words that had to be said somehow.
'Good-night,' said Montesma, as they clasped hands; 'good-night;' and
then in a lower voice he said, 'Well, have you decided at last? Shall it
She looked at him for a moment or so, pale in the starlight, and then
murmured an almost inaudible syllable.
He bent quickly and pressed his lips upon her gloved hand, and when Mr.
Smithson looked round they two were standing apart, Montesma in a
listless attitude, as if tired of waiting for his host.
It was Smithson who handed Lesbia into the boat and arranged her wraps,
and hung over her tenderly as he performed those small offices.
'Now really,' he asked, just before the boat put off, 'when are we to be
with you to-morrow?'
'Lady Kirkbank says not till afternoon tea, but I think you may come a
few hours earlier. I am not at all sleepy.'
'You look as if you needed sleep badly,' answered Smithson. 'I'm afraid
you are not half careful enough of yourself. Good-night.'
The boat was gliding off, the oars dipping, as he spoke. How swiftly it
shot from his ken, flashing in and out among the yachts, where the lamps
were burning dimly in that clear radiance of new-born day.
Montesma gave a tremendous yawn as he took out his cigar-case, and he
and Mr. Smithson did not say twenty words between them during the walk
to Formosa, where servants were sitting up, lamps burning, a great
silver tray, with brandy, soda, liqueurs, coffee, in readiness.
'ALAS, FOR SORROW IS ALL THE END OF THIS'
Lady Kirkbank retired to her cabin directly she got on board the
'Good-night, child! I am more than half asleep,' she said; 'and I think
if there were to be an earthquake an hour hence I should hardly hear it.
Go to your berth directly, Lesbia; you look positively awful. I have
seen girls look bad after balls before now, but I never saw such a
spectre as you look this morning.'
Poor Georgie's own complexion left something to be desired. The _Blanc
de Fedora_ had been a brilliant success for the first two hours: after
that the warm room began to tell upon it, and there came a greasiness,
then a streakiness, and now all that was left of an alabaster skin was a
livid patch of purplish paint here and there, upon a crow's-foot ground.
The eyebrows, too, had given in, and narrow lines of Vandyke brown
meandered down Lady Kirkbank's cheeks. The frizzy hair had gone
altogether wrong, and had a wild look, suggestive of the witches in
Macbeth, and the scraggy neck and poor old shoulders showed every year
of their age in the ghastly morning light.
Lesbia waited in the saloon till Lady Kirkbank had bolted herself into
her cabin, and then she went up to the deck wrapped in her satin-lined,
fur-bordered cloak, and coiled herself in a bamboo arm-chair, and
nestled her bare head into a Turkish pillow, and tried to sleep, there
with the cool morning breeze blowing upon her burning forehead, and the
plish-plash of seawater soothing her ear.
There were only three or four sailors on deck, weird, almost
diabolical-looking creatures, Lesbia thought, in striped shirts, with
bare arms, of a shining bronze complexion, flashing black eyes, sleek
raven hair, a sinister look. What species of men they were--Mestizoes,
Coolies, Yucatekes--she knew not, but she felt that they were something
wild and strange, and their presence filled her with a vague fear. _He_,
whose influence now ruled her life, had told her that these men were
born mariners, and that she was twenty times safer with them than when
the yacht had been under the control of those honest, grinning
red-whiskered English Jack Tars. But she liked the English sailors best,
all the same; and she shrank from the faintest contact with these
tawny-visaged strangers, plucking away the train of her gown as they
passed her chair, lest they should brush against her drapery.
On deck this morning, with only those dark faces near, she had a sense
of loneliness, of helplessness, of abandonment even. Unbidden the image
of her home at Grasmere flashed into her mind--all things so calm, so
perfectly ordered, such a sense of safety, of home--no peril, no
temptation, no fever--only peace: and she had grown sick to death of
peace. She had prayed for tempest: and the tempest had come.
There was a heavenly quiet in the air in the early summer morning, only
the creaking of a spar, the scream of a seagull now and then. How pale
the lamps were growing on board the yachts. Paler still, yellow, and
dim, and blurred yonder in the town. The eastward facing windows were
golden with the rising sun. Yes, this was morning. The yachts were
moving away yonder, majestical, swan-like, white sails shining against
She closed her eyes, and tried to sleep; but sleep would not come. She
was always listening--listening for the dip of oars, listening for a
snatch of melody from a mellow baritone whose every accent she knew so
It came at last, the sound her soul longed for. She lay among her
cushions with closed eyes, listening, drinking in those rich ripe notes
as they came nearer and nearer, to the measure of dipping oars, _'La
donna e mobile--'_
Nearer and nearer, until the little boat ground against the hull. She
lifted her heavy eyelids as Montesma leapt over the gunwale, almost into
her arms. He was at her side, kneeling by her low chair, kissing the
little hands, chill with the freshness of morning.
'My own, my very own,' he murmured, passionately.
He cared no more for those copper-faced Helots yonder than if they had
been made of wood. He had fate in his own hands now, as it seemed to
him. He went to the skipper and gave him some orders in Spanish, and
then the sails were unfurled, the _Cayman_ spread her broad white wings,
and moved off among those other yachts which were gliding, gliding,
gliding out to sea, melting from Cowes Roads like a vision that fadeth
with the broad light of morning.
When the sails were up and the yacht was running merrily through the
water, Montesma went back to Lady Lesbia, and they two sat side by side,
gilded and glorified in the vivid lights of sunrise, talking as they had
never talked before, her head upon his shoulder, a smile of ineffable
peace upon her lips, as of a weary child that has found rest.
They were sailing for Havre, and at Havre they were to be married by the
English chaplain, and from Havre they were to sail for the Havana, and
to live there ever afterwards in a fairy-tale dream of bliss, broken
only by an annual visit to Paris, just to buy gowns and bonnets.
Surrendered were all Lesbia's ambitious hopes--forgotten--gone; her
desire to reign princess paramount in the kingdom of fashion--her thirst
to be wealthiest among the wealthy--gone--forgotten. Her dreams now were
of the _dolce far niente_ of a tropical climate, a boudoir giving on the
Caribbean sea, cigarettes, coffee, nights spent in a foreign opera
house, the languid, reposeful existence of a Spanish dama--with him,
with him. It was for his sake that she had modified all her ideas of
life. To be with him she would have been content to dwell in the tents
of the Patagonians, on the wild and snow-clad Pampas. A love which was
strong enough to make her sacrifice duty, the world, her fair fame as a
well-bred woman, was a love that recked but little of the paths along
which her lover's hand was to lead. For him, to be with him, she
renounced the world. The rest did not count.
The summer hours glided past them. The _Cayman_ was far out at sea; all
the other yachts had vanished, and they were alone amidst the blue,
with only a solitary three-master yonder, on the edge of the horizon.
More than once Lesbia had talked of going below to change her ball gown
for the attire of everyday life; but each time her lover had detained
her a little longer, had pleaded for a few more words. Lady Kirkbank
would be astir presently, and there would be no more solitude for them
till they were married, and could shake her off altogether. So Lesbia
stayed, and those two drank the cup of bliss, hushed by the monotonous
sing-song of the sea, the rhythm of the swinging sails. But now it was
broad morning. The hour when society, however late it may keep its
revels overnight, is apt to awaken, were it only to call for a cup of
strong tea and to turn again on the pillow of lassitude, after that
refreshment, like the sluggard of Holy Writ. At ten o'clock the sun sent
his golden arrows across the silken coverlet of her berth and awakened
Lady Kirkbank, who opened her eyes and looked about languidly. The
little cabin was heaving itself up and down in a curious way; Mr.
Smithson's cigar-cases were sloping as if they were going to fall upon
Lady Kirkbank's couch, and the looking-glass, with all its dainty
appliances, was making an angle of forty-five degrees. There was more
swirling and washing of water against the hull than ever Georgie
Kirkbank had heard in Cowes Roads.
'Mercy on me! this horrid thing must be moving,' she exclaimed to the
empty air. 'It must have broken loose in the night.'
She had no confidence in those savage-looking sailors, and she had a
vision of the yacht drifting at the mercy of winds and waves, drifting
for days, weeks, and months; drifting to the German Ocean, drifting to
the North Pole. Mr. Smithson and Montesma on shore--no one on board to
exercise authority over those fearful men.
Perhaps they had mutinied, and were carrying off the yacht as their
booty, with Lesbia and her chaperon, and all their gowns.
'I am almost glad that harpy Seraphine has my diamonds,' thought poor
Georgie, 'or I should have had them with me on board this hateful boat.'
And then she rapped vehemently against the panel of the cabin, and
screamed for Rilboche, whose den was adjacent.
Rilboche, who detested the sea, made her appearance after some delay,
looking even greener than her mistress, who, in rising from her berth,
already began to suffer the agonies of sea-sickness.
'What does this mean?' exclaimed Lady Kirkbank; 'and where are we
'That's what I should like to know, my lady. But I daresay Lady Lesbia
and Mr. Montesma can tell you. They are both on deck.'
'Montesma! Why, we left him on shore!'
'Yes, my lady, but he came on board at five o'clock this morning. I
looked at my watch when I heard him land, and he and Lady Lesbia have
been sitting on deck ever since.'
'And now it is ten. Five hours on deck--impossible!'
'Time doesn't seem long when one is happy, my lady,' murmured Rilboche,
in her own language.
'Help me to dress this instant,' screamed her mistress: 'that dreadful
Spaniard is eloping with us.'
Despite the hideous depression of that malady which strikes down Kaiser
and beggar with the same rough hand, Lady Kirkbank contrived to get
herself dressed decently, and to stagger up the companion to that part
of the deck where the Persian carpet was spread, and the bamboo chairs
and tables were set out under the striped awning. Lesbia and her lover
were sitting together, he giving her a first lesson in the art of
smoking a cigarette. He had told her playfully that every man, woman,
and child in Cuba was a smoker, and she had besought him to let her
begin, and now, with infinite coquetry, was taking her first lesson.
'You shameless minx!' exclaimed Georgie, pale with anger.
'Where is Smithson--my poor, good Smithson?'
'Fast asleep in his bed at Formosa, I hope, dear Lady Kirkbank,' the
Cuban answered, with perfect _sang froid_. 'Smithson is out of it, as
you idiomatic English say. I hope, Lady Kirkbank, you will be as kind to
me as you have been to Smithson; and depend upon it I shall make Lady
Lesbia as good a husband as ever Smithson could have done.'
'You!' exclaimed the matron, contemptuously. 'You!--a foreigner, an
adventurer, who may be as poor as Job, for anything I know about you.'
'Job was once rather comfortably off, Lady Kirkbank; and I can answer
for it that Montesma's wife will know none of the pangs of poverty.'
'If you were a beggar I would not care,' said Lesbia, drawing nearer to
They had both risen at Lady Kirkbank's approach, and were standing side
by side, confronting her. Lesbia had shrunk from the idea of poverty
with John Hammond; yet, for this man's sake, she was ready to face
penury, ruin, disgrace, anything.
'Do you mean to tell me that Lord Maulevrier's sister, a young lady
under my charge, answerable to me for her conduct, is capable of jilting
the man to whom she has solemnly bound herself, in order to marry you?'
demanded Lady Kirkbank, turning to Montesma.
'Yes; that is what I am going to do,' answered Lesbia, boldly. 'It would
be a greater sin to keep my promise than to break it. I never liked that
man, and you know it. You badgered me into accepting him, against my own
better judgment. You drifted me so deeply into debt that I was willing
to marry a man I loathed in order to get my debts paid. _This_ is what
you did for the girl placed under your charge. But, thank God, I have
released myself from your clutches. I am going far away to a new world,
where the memory of my old life cannot follow me. People may be angry or
pleased! I do not care. I shall be the wife of the man I have chosen out
of all the world for my husband--the man God made to be my master.'
'You are----' gasped Lady Kirkbank. 'I can't say what you are. I never
in my life felt so tempted to use improper language.'
'Dear Lady Kirkbank, be reasonable,' pleaded Montesma; 'you can have no
interest in seeing Lesbia married to a man she dislikes.'
Georgia reddened a little, remembering that she was interested to the
amount of some thousands in the Smithson and Haselden alliance; but she
took a higher ground than mercenary considerations.
'I am interested in doing the very best for a young lady who has been
entrusted to my care, the granddaughter of an old friend,' she answered,
with dignity. 'I have no objection to you in the abstract, Don Gomez.
You have always been vastly civil, I am sure----'
'Stand by us in our day of need, Lady Kirkbank, and you will find me the
staunchest friend you ever had.'
'I am bound in honour to consider Mr. Smithson, Lesbia,' said Lady
Kirkbank. 'I wonder that a decently-brought up girl can behave so
'It would be more abominable to marry a man I detest. I have made up my
mind, Lady Kirkbank. We shall be at Havre to-morrow morning, and we
shall be married to-morrow--shall we not, Gomez?'
She let her head sink upon his breast, and his arm enfold her. Thus
sheltered, she felt safe, thus and thus only. She had thrown her cap
over the mills; snapped her fingers at society; cared not a jot what the
world might think or say of her. This man would she marry and no other;
this man's fortune would she follow for good or evil. He had that kind
of influence with women which is almost 'possession.' It smells of
'Come, my dear good soul,' said Montesma, smiling at the angry matron,
'why not take things quietly? You have had a good many girls under your
wing; and you must know that youth and maturity see life from a
different standpoint. In your eyes my old friend Smithson is an
admirable match. You measure him by his houses, his stable, his banker's
book; but Lesbia would rather marry the man she loves, and take the
risks of his fate. I am not a pauper, Lady Kirkbank, and the home to
which I shall take my love is pretty enough for a princess of the blood
royal, and for her sake I shall grow richer yet,' he added, with his
eyes kindling; 'and if you care to pay us a visit next February in our
Parisian apartment I will promise you as pleasant a nest as you can wish
'How do I know that you will ever bring her back to Europe?' said Lady
Kirkbank, piteously. 'How do I know that you will not bury her alive in
your savage country, among blackamoors, like those horrid sailors, over
there--kill her, perhaps, when you are tired of her?'
At these words of Lady Kirkbank's, flung out at random, Montesma
blanched, and his deep black eye met hers with a strangely sinister
'Yes,' she cried, hysterically--'kill her, kill her! You look as if you
could do it.'
Lesbia nestled closer to her lover's heart.
'How dare you say such things to him,' she cried, angrily. '_I_ trust
him, don't you see; trust him with my whole heart, with all my soul. I
shall be his wife to-morrow, for good or evil.'
'Very much for evil, I'm afraid,' said Lady Kirkbank. 'Perhaps you will
be kind enough to come to your cabin and take off that ball gown, and
make yourself just a little less disreputable in outward appearance,
while I get a cup of tea.'
Lesbia obeyed, and went down to her cabin, where Kibble was waiting with
a fresh white muslin frock and all its belongings, laid out ready for
her mistress, sorely perplexed at the turn which affairs were taking.
She had never liked Horace Smithson, although he had given her tips
which were almost a provision for her old age; but she had thought it a
good thing that her mistress, who was frightfully extravagant, should
marry a millionaire; and now they were sailing over the sea with a lot
of coloured sailors, and the millionaire was left on shore.
Lady Kirkbank went into the saloon, where breakfast was laid ready, and
where the steward was in attendance with that air of being absolutely
unconscious of any domestic disturbance, which is the mark of a
Lesbia appeared in something less than an hour, newly dressed and fresh
looking, in her pure white gown, her brown hair bound in a coronet round
her small Greek head. She sat down by Lady Kirkbank's side, and tried to
coax her into good humour.
'Why can't you take things pleasantly, dear?' she pleaded. 'Do now, like
a good soul. You heard him say he was well off, and that he will take me
to Paris next winter, and you can come to us there on your way from
Cannes, and stay with us till Easter. It will be so nice when the Prince
and all the best people are in Paris. We shall only stay in Cuba till
the fuss about my running away is all over, and people have forgotten,
don't you know. As for Mr. Smithson, why should I have any more
compunction about jilting him than he had about that poor Miss Trinder?
By-the-bye, I want you to send him back all his presents for me. They
are almost all in Arlington Street. I brought nothing with me except my
engagement ring,' looking down at the half-hoop of diamonds, and pulling
it off her fingers as she talked. 'I had a kind of presentiment----'
'You mean that you had made up your mind to throw him over.'
'No. But I felt there were breakers ahead. It might have come to
throwing myself into the sea. Perhaps you would have liked that better
than what has happened.'
'I don't know, I'm sure. The whole thing is disgraceful. London will
ring with the scandal. What am I to say to Lady Maulevrier, to your
brother? And pray how do you propose to get married at Havre? You cannot
be married in a French town by merely holding up your finger. There are
no registry offices. I am sure I have no idea how the thing is done.'
'Don Gomez has arranged all that--everything has been thought
of--everything has been planned. A steamer will take us to St. Thomas,
and another steamer will take us on to Cuba.'
'But the marriage--the licence?'
'I tell you everything has been provided for. Please take this ring and
send it to Mr. Smithson when you go back to England.'
'Send it to him yourself. I will have nothing to do with it.'
'How dreadfully disagreeable you are,' said Lesbia, pouting, 'just
because I am marrying to please myself, instead of to please you. It is
frightfully selfish of you.'
Montesma came in at this moment. He, too, had dressed himself freshly,
and was looking his handsomest, in that buccaneer style of costume which
he wore when he sailed the yacht. He and Lesbia breakfasted at their
ease, while Lady Kirkbank reclined in her bamboo arm-chair, feeling very
unhappy in her mind and far from well. Neptune and she could not
After a leisurely breakfast, enlivened by talk and laughter, the cabin
windows open, the sun shining, the freshening breeze blowing in, Lesbia
and Don Gomez went on deck, and he reclined at her feet while she read
to him from the pages of her favourite Keats, read languidly, lazily,
yet exquisitely, for she had been taught to read as well as to sing. The
poetry seemed to have been written on purpose for them; and the sky and
the atmosphere around them seemed to have been made for the poetry. And
so, with intervals of strolling on the deck, and an hour or so dawdled
away at luncheon, and a leisurely afternoon tea, the day wore on to
sunset, and they went back to Keats, while Lady Kirkbank sulked and
slept in a corner of the saloon.
'This is the happiest day of my life,' Lesbia murmured, in a pause of
their reading, when they had dropped Endymion's love to talk of their
'But not of mine, my angel. I shall be happier still when we are far
away on broader waters, beyond the reach of all who can part us.'
'Can any one part us, Gomez, now that we have pledged ourselves to each
other?' she asked, incredulously.
'Ah, love, such pledges are sometimes broken. All women are not
lion-hearted. While the sea is smooth and the ship runs fair, all is
easy enough; but when tempest and peril come--that is the test, Lesbia.
Will you stand by me in the tempest, love?'
'You know that I will,' she answered, with her hand locked in his two
hands, clasped as with a life-long clasp.
She could not imagine any severe ordeal to be gone through. If
Maulevrier heard of her elopement in time for pursuit, there would be a
fuss, perhaps--an angry bother raging and fuming. But what of that? She
was her own mistress. Maulevrier could not prevent her marrying
whomsoever she pleased.
'Swear that you will hold to me against all the world,' he said,
passionately, turning his head to look across the stern of the vessel.
'Against all the world,' she answered, softly.
'I believe your courage will be tested before long,' he said; and then
he cried to the skipper, 'Crowd on all sail, Tomaso. That boat is
Lesbia sprang to her feet, looking as he looked to a spot of vivid white
on the horizon. Montesma had snatched up a glass and was watching that
'It is a steam-yacht,' he said. 'They will catch us.'
He was right. Although the _Cayman_ strained every timber so that her
keel cut through the water like a boomerang, wind and steam beat wind
without steam. In less than an hour the steam-yacht was beside the
_Cayman_, and Lord Maulevrier and Lord Hartfield had boarded Mr.
'I have come to take you and Lady Kirkbank back to Cowes, Lesbia,' said
Maulevrier. 'I'm not going to make any undue fuss about this little
escapade of yours, provided you go back with Hartfield and me at once,
and pledge yourself never to hold any further communication with Don
Gomez de Montesma.'
The Spaniard was standing close by, silent, white as death, but ready to
make a good fight. That pallor of the clear olive skin was not from want
of pluck; but there was the deadly knowledge of the ground he stood
upon, the doubt that any woman, least of all such a woman as Lady Lesbia
Haselden, could be true to him if his character and antecedents were
revealed to her. And how much or how little these two men could tell her
about himself or his past life was the question which the next few
minutes would solve.
'I am not going back with you,' answered Lesbia. 'I am going to Havre
with Don Gomez de Montesma. We are to be married there as soon as we
'To be married--at Havre,' cried Maulevrier. 'An appropriate place. A
sailor has a wife in every port, don't you know.'
'We had better go down to the cabin,' said Hartfield, laying his hand
upon his friend's shoulder. 'If Lady Lesbia will be good enough to come
with us we can tell her all that we have to tell quietly there.'
Lord Hartfield's tone was unmistakeable. Everything was known.
'You can talk at your ease here,' said Montesma, facing the two men with
a diabolical recklessness and insolence of manner. 'Not one of these
fellows on board knows a dozen sentences of English.'
'I would rather talk below, if it is all the same to you, Senor; and I
should be glad to speak to Lady Lesbia alone.'
'That you shall not do unless she desires it,' answered Montesma.
'No, he shall hear all that you have to say. He shall hear how I answer
you,' said Lesbia.
Lord Hartfield shrugged his shoulders.
'As you please,' he said. 'It will make the disclosure a little more
painful than it need have been; but that cannot be helped.'
'OH, SAD KISSED MOUTH, HOW SORROWFUL IT IS!'
They all went down to the saloon, where Lady Kirkbank sat, looking the
image of despair, which changed to delighted surprise at sight of Lord
Hartfield and his friend.
'Did you give your consent to my sister's elopement with this man, Lady
Kirkbank?' Maulevrier asked, brusquely.
'I give my consent! Good gracious! no. He has eloped with me ever so
much more than with your sister. She knew all about it, I've no doubt:
but the wretch ran away with me in my sleep.'
'I am glad, for your own self-respect, that you had no hand in this
disgraceful business,' replied Maulevrier; and then turning to Lord
Hartfield, he said, 'Hartfield, will you tell my sister who and what
this man is? Will you make her understand what kind of pitfall she has
escaped? Upon my soul, I cannot speak of it.'
'I recognise no right of Lord Hartfield's to interfere with my actions,
and I will hear nothing that he may have to say,' said Lesbia, standing
by her lover's side, with head erect and eyes dark with anger.
'Your sister's husband has the strongest right to control your actions,
Lady Lesbia, when the family honour is at stake,' answered Hartfield,
with grave authority. 'Accept me at least as a member of your family, if
you will not accept me as your disinterested and devoted friend.'
'Friend!' echoed Lesbia, scornfully. 'You might have been my friend
once. Your friendship then would have been of some value to me, if you
had told me the truth, instead of approaching me with a lie upon your
lips. You talk of honour, Lord Hartfield; you, who came to my
grandmother's house as an impostor, under a false name!'
'I went there as a man standing on his own merits, assuming no rank save
that which God gave him among his fellow-men, claiming to be possessed
of no fortune except intellect and industry. If I could not win a wife
with such credentials, it were better for me never to marry at all, Lady
Lesbia. But we have no time to speak of the past. I am here as your
brother's friend, here to save you.'
'To part me from the man to whom I have given my heart. That you cannot
do. Gomez, why do you not speak? Tell him, tell him!' cried Lesbia, with
a voice strangled by sobs; 'tell him that I am to be your wife
to-morrow, at Havre. Your wife!'
'Dear Lady Lesbia, that cannot be,' said Lord Hartfield, sorrowfully,
pitying her in her helplessness, as he might have pitied a young bird in
the fowler's net. 'I am assured upon undeniable authority that Senor
Montesma has a wife living at Cuba; and even were this not so--were he
free to marry you--his character and antecedents would for ever forbid
such a marriage.'
'A wife! No, no, no!' shrieked Lesbia, looking wildly from one to the
other. 'It is a lie--a lie, invented by my brother, who always hated
me--by you, who fooled and deceived me! It is a lie, an infamous
invention! Don Gomez, speak to them: for pity's sake answer them! Don't
you see that they are driving me mad?'
She flung herself into his arms, she buried her dishevelled head upon
his breast; she clung to him with hands that writhed convulsively in her
Maulevrier sprang across the cabin and wrenched her from her lover's
'You shall not pollute her with your touch,' he cried; 'you have
poisoned her mind already. Scoundrel, seducer, slave-dealer! Do you
hear, Lesbia? Shall I tell you what this man is--what trade he followed
yonder, on his native island--this Spanish hidalgo--this
all-accomplished gentleman--lineal descendant of the Cid--fine flower
of Andalusian chivalry? It was not enough for him to cheat at cards, to
float bubble companies, bogus lotteries. His profligate extravagance,
his love of sybarite luxury, required a larger resource than the petty
schemes which enrich smaller men. A slave ship, which could earn nearly
twenty thousand pounds on every voyage, and which could make two runs in
a year--that was the trade for Don Gomez de Montesma, and he carried it
on merrily for six or seven years, till the British cruisers got too
keen for him, and the good old game was played out. You see that scar
upon the hilalgo's forehead, Lesbia--a token of knightly prowess, you
think, perhaps. No, my girl, that is the mark of an English cutlass in a
scuffle on board a slaver. A merry trade, Lesbia--the living cargo
stowed close under hatches have rather a bad time of it now and
then--short rations of food and water, yellow Jack. They die like rotten
sheep sometimes--bad then for the dealer. But if he can land the bulk of
his human wares safe and sound the profits are enormous. The
Captain-General takes his capitation fee, the blackies are drafted off
to the sugar plantations, and everybody is satisfied; but I think,
Lesbia, that your British prejudices would go against marriage with a
slave-trader, were he ever so free to make you his wife, which this
particular dealer in blackamoors is not.'
'Is this true, this part of their vile story?' demanded Lesbia, looking
at her lover, who stood apart from them all now, his arms folded, his
face deadly pale, the lower lip quivering under the grinding of his
strong white teeth.
'There is some truth in it,' he answered, hoarsely. 'Everybody in Cuba
had a finger in the African trade, before your British philanthropy
spoiled it. Mr. Smithson made sixty thousand pounds in that line. It was
the foundation of his fortune. And yet he had his misfortunes in running
his cargo--a ship burnt, a freight roasted alive. There are some very
black stories in Cuba against poor Smithson. He will never go there
'Mr. Smithson may be a scoundrel; indeed, I believe he is a pretty bad
specimen in that line,' said Lord Hartfield. 'But I doubt if there is
any story that can be told of him quite so bad as the history of your
marriage, and the events that went before it. I have been told the story
of the beautiful Octoroon, who loved and trusted you, who shared your
good and evil fortunes for the most desperate years of your life, was
almost accepted as your wife, and whose strangled corpse was found in
the harbour while the bells were ringing for your marriage with a rich
planter's heiress--the lady who, no doubt, now patiently awaits your
return to her native island.'
'She will wait a long time,' said Montesma, 'or fare ill if I go back to
her. Lesbia, his lordship's story of the Octoroon is a fable--an
invention of my Cuban enemies, who hate us old Spaniards with a
poisonous hatred. But this much is true. I am a married man--bound,
fettered by a tie which I abhor. Our Havre marriage would have been
bigamy on my part, a delusion on yours. I could not have taken you to
Cuba. I had planned our life in a fairer, more civilised world. I am
rich enough to have surrounded you with all that makes life worth
living. I would have given you love as true and as deep as ever man gave
to woman. All that would have been wanting would have been the legality
of the tie: and as law never yet made a marriage happy which lacked the
elements of bliss, our lawless union need not have missed happiness.
Lesbia, you said that you would hold by me, come what might. The worst
has come, love; but it leaves me not the less your true lover.'
She looked at him with wild despairing eyes, and then, with a hoarse
strange cry, rushed from the cabin, and up the companion, with a
desperate swiftness which seemed like the flight of a bird. Montesma,
Hartfield, Maulevrier, all followed her, heedless of everything except
the dire necessity of arresting her flight. Each in his own mind had
divined her purpose.
They were not too late. It was Hartfield's strong arm that caught her,
held her as in a vice, dragged her away from the edge of the deck, just
where there was a space open to the waves. Another instant and she would
have flung herself overboard. She fell back into Lord Hartfield's arms,
with a wild choking cry: 'Let me go! Let me go!' Another moment, and a
flood of crimson stained his shirt-front, as she lay upon his breast,
with closed eyelids and blood-bedabbled lips, in blessed
They carried her on to the steam-yacht, and down to the cabin, where
there was ample accommodation and some luxury, although not the elegance
of Bond Street upholstery. Rilboche, Lady Kirkbank, Kibble, luggage of
all kinds were transferred from one yacht to the other, even to the
vellum bound Keats which lay face downwards on the deck, just where
Lesbia had flung it when the _Cayman_ was boarded. The crew of the
steam-yacht _Philomel_ helped in the transfer: there were plenty of
hands, and the work was done quickly; while the Meztizoes, Yucatekes,
Caribs, or whatever they were, looked on and grinned; and while Montesma
stood leaning against the mast, with folded arms and sombre brow, a
cigarette between his lips.
When the women and all their belongings were on board the _Philomel_,
Lord Hartfield addressed himself to Montesma.
'If you consider yourself entitled to call me to account for this
evening's work you know where to find me,' he said.
Montesma shrugged his shoulders, and threw away his cigarette with a
_'Ce n'est pas la peine,'_ he said; 'I am a dead shot, and
should be pretty sure to send a bullet through you if you gave me
the chance; but I should not be any nearer winning her if I killed
you: and it is she and she only that I want. You may think me an
adventurer--swindler--gambler--slave-dealer--what you will--but I love her
as I never thought to love a woman, and I should have been true as steel,
if she had been plucky enough to trust me. But, as I told her an hour ago,
women have not lion hearts. They can talk tall while the sky is clear and
the sun shines, but at the first crack of thunder--_va te promener_.'
'If you have killed her--' began Hartfield.
'Killed her! No. Some small bloodvessel burst in the agitation of that
terrible scene. She will be well in a week, and she will forget me. But
I shall not forget her. She is the one flower that has sprung on the
barren plain of my life. She was my Picciola.'
He turned his back on Lord Hartfield and walked to the other end of the
deck. Something in his face, in the vibration of his deep voice,
convinced Hartfield of his truth. A bad man undoubtedly--steeped to the
lips in evil--and yet so far true that he had passionately, deeply,
devotedly loved this one woman.
It was the dead of night when Lesbia recovered consciousness, and even
then she lay silent, taking no heed of those around her, in a state of
utter prostration. Kibble nursed her carefully, tenderly, all through
the night; Maulevrier hardly left the cabin, and Lady Kirkbank, always
more or less a victim to the agonies of sea-sickness, still found time
to utter lamentations and wailings over the ruin of her protegee's
'Never had a girl such a chance,' she moaned. 'Quite the best match in
society. The house in Park Lane alone cost a fortune. Her diamonds would
have been the finest in London.'
'They would have been stained with the blood of the niggers he traded in
out yonder,' answered Maulevrier. 'Do you think I would have let my
sister marry a slave-dealer?'
'I don't believe a syllable of it,' protested Lady Kirkbank, dabbing her
brow with a handkerchief steeped in eau de Cologne. 'A vile fabrication
of Montesma's, who wanted to blacken poor Smithson's character in order
to extenuate his own crimes.'
'Well, we won't go into that question,' said Maulevrier wearily. 'The
Smithson match is off, anyhow; and it matters very little to us whether
he made most money out of niggers or bubble companies, or lotteries or
'I am convinced that Smithson made his fortune in a thoroughly
gentlemanlike manner,' argued Lady Kirkbank. 'Look at the people who
visit him, and the houses he goes to. And I don't see why the match need
be off. I'm sure, if Lesbia plays her cards properly, he will look over
Maulevrier contemplated the worldly old face with infinite scorn.
'Does she look like a girl who will play her cards in your fashion?' he
asked, pointing to his sister, whose white face upon the pillow seemed
like a mask cut out of marble. 'Upon my soul, Lady Kirkbank, I consider
my sister's elopement with this Spanish adventurer, with whom she was
over head and ears in love, a far more respectable act than her
engagement to Smithson, for whom she cared not a straw.'
'Well, I hope if you so approve of her conduct you will help her to pay
her dressmaker, and the rest of them,' retorted Lady Kirkbank. 'She has
been plunging rather deeply, I believe, under the impression that
Smithson would pay all her bills when she was married. Your grandmother
may not quite like the budget.'
'I will do all I can for her,' answered Maulevrier. 'I would do a great
deal to save her from the degradation to which your teaching has brought
Lady Kirkbank looked at him for a moment or so with reproachful eyes,
and then shrugged her shoulders contemptuously.
'If I ever expected gratitude from people I might feel the
injustice--the insolence--of your last remark,' she said; 'but as I
never do expect gratitude, I am not disappointed in this case. And now I
think if there is a cabin which I can have to myself I should like to
retire to it,' she added. 'My cares are thrown away here.'
There was a cabin at Lady Kirkbank's disposal. It had been already
appropriated by Rilboche, and smelt of cognac; but Rilboche resigned her
berth to her mistress, and laid herself meekly on the floor for the rest
of the voyage.
They were in Cowes Roads at eight o'clock next morning, and Lord
Hartfield went on shore for a doctor, whom he brought back before nine,
and who pronounced Lady Lesbia to be in a very weak and prostrate
condition, and forbade her being moved within the next two days. Happily
Lord Hartfield had borrowed the _Philomel_ and her crew from a friend
who had given him _carte blanche_ as to the use he made of her, and who
freely left her at his disposal so long as he and his party should need
the accommodation. Lesbia could nowhere be better off than on the yacht,
where she was away from the gossip and tittle-tattle of the town.
The roadstead was quiet enough now. All the racing yachts had melted
away like a dream, and most of the pleasure yachts were off to Ryde.
Lady Lesbia lay in her curtained cabin, with Kibble keeping watch beside
her bed, while Maulevrier came in every half-hour to see how she
was--sitting by her a little now and then, and talking of indifferent
things in a low kind voice, which was full of comfort.
She seemed grateful for his kindness, and smiled at him once in a way,
with a piteous little smile; but she had the air of one in whom the
mainspring of life is broken. The pallid face and heavy violet eyes,
the semi-transparent hands which lay so listlessly upon the crimson
coverlet, conveyed an impression of supreme despair. Hartfield, looking
down at her for the last time when he came to say good-bye before
leaving for London, was reminded of the story of one whose life had been
thus rudely broken, who had loved as foolishly and even more fondly, and
for whom the world held nothing when that tie was severed.
'She looked on many a face with vacant eye,
On many a token without knowing what;
She saw them watch her, without asking why,
And recked not who around her pillow sat.'
But Lesbia Haselden belonged to a wider and more sophisticated world
than that of the daughter of the Grecian Isle, and for her existence
offered wider horizons. It might be prophesied that for her the dark
ending of a girlish dream would not be a life-long despair. The
passionate love had been at fever point; the passionate grief must have
its fever too, and burn itself out.
'Do all you can to cheer her,' said Lord Hartfield to Maulevrier, 'and
bring her to Fellside as soon as ever she is strong enough to bear the
journey. You and Kibble, with your own man, will be able to do all that
'That's right. I must be in the House for the expected division
to-night, and I shall go back to Grasmere to-morrow morning. Poor Mary
is horribly lonely.'
Lord Hartfield went off in the boat to catch the Southampton steamer;
and Maulevrier was now sole custodian of the yacht and of his sister. He
and the doctor had agreed to keep her on board, in the fresh sea air,
till she was equal to the fatigue of the journey to Grasmere. There was
nothing to be gained by taking her on to the island or by carrying her
to London. The yacht was well found, provided with all things needful
for comfort, and Lesbia could be nowhere better off until she was safe
in her old home:--that home she had left so gaily, in the freshness of
her youthful inexperience, nearly a year ago, and to which she would
return so battered and broken, so deeply degraded by the knowledge of
Lady Kirkbank had started for London on the previous day.
'I am evidently not wanted _here_,' she said, with an offended air; 'and
I must have everything at Kirkbank ready for a house full of people
before the twelfth of August, so the sooner I get to Scotland the
better. I shall make a _detour_ in order to go and see Lady Maulevrier
on my way down. It is due to myself that I should let her know that _I_
am entirely blameless in this most uncomfortable business.'
'You can tell her ladyship what you please,' answered Maulevrier,
bluntly. 'I shall not gainsay you, so long as you do not slander my
sister; but as long as I live I shall regret that I, knowing something
of London society, did not interfere to prevent Lesbia being given over
to your keeping.'
'If I had known the kind of girl she is I would have had nothing to do
with her,' retorted Lady Kirkbank with exasperation; and so they parted.
The _Philomel_ had been lying off Cowes three days before Mr. Smithson
appeared upon the scene. He had got wind somehow from a sailor, who had
talked with one of the foreign crew, of the destination of the _Cayman_,
and he had crossed from Southampton to Havre on the steamer _Wolf_
during that night in which Lesbia had been carried back to Cowes on the
He was at Havre when the _Cayman_ arrived, with Montesma and his
tawny-visaged crew on board, no one else.
'You may examine every corner of your ship,' Montesma cried, scornfully,
when Smithson came on board and swore that Lesbia must be hidden
somewhere in the vessel. 'The bird has flown: she will shelter in
neither your nest nor in mine, Smithson. You have lost her--and so have
I. We may as well be friends in misfortune.'
He was haggard, livid with grief and anger. He looked ten years older
than he had looked the other night at the ball, when his dash and
swagger, and handsome Spanish head had been the admiration of the room.
Smithson was very angry, but he was not a fighting man. He had enjoyed
various opportunities for distinguishing himself in that line in the
island of Cuba; but he had always avoided such opportunities. So now,
after a good deal of bluster and violent language, which Montesma took
as lightly as if it had been the whistling of the wind in the shrouds,
poor Smithson calmed down, and allowed Gomez de Montesma to leave the
yacht, with his portmanteaux, unharmed. He meant to take the first
steamer for the Spanish Main, he told Smithson. He had had quite enough
'I daresay it will end in your marrying her,' he said, at the last
moment. 'If you do, be kind to her.'
His voice faltered, choked by a sob, at those last words. After all, it
is possible for a man without principle, without morality, to begin to
make love to a woman in a mere spirit of adventure, in sheer devilry,
and to be rather hard hit at the last.
Horace Smithson sailed his yacht back to Cowes without loss of time, and
sent his card to Lord Maulevrier on board the _Philomel_. His lordship
replied that he would wait upon Mr. Smithson that afternoon at four
o'clock, and at that hour Maulevrier again boarded the _Cayman_; but
this time very quietly, as an expected guest.
The interview that followed was very painful. Mr. Smithson was willing
that this unhappy episode in the life of his betrothed, this folly into
which she had been beguiled by a man of infinite treachery, a man of
all other men fatal to women, should be forgotten, should be as if it
had never been.
'It was her very innocence which made her a victim to that scoundrel,'
said Smithson, 'her girlish simplicity and Lady Kirkbank's folly. But I
love your sister too well to sacrifice her lightly, Lord Maulevrier; and
if she can forget this midsummer madness, why, so can I.'
'She cannot forget, Mr. Smithson,' answered Maulevrier, gravely. 'She
has done you a great wrong by listening to your false friend's
addresses; but she did you a still greater wrong when she accepted you
as her husband without one spark of love for you. She and you are both
happy in having escaped the degradation, the deep misery of a loveless
union. I am glad--yes, glad even of this shameful escapade with
Montesma--though it has dragged her good name through the gutter,--glad
of the catastrophe that has saved her from such a marriage. You are very
generous in your willingness to forget my sister's folly. Let your
forgetfulness go a step further, and forget that you ever met her.'
'That cannot be, Lord Maulevrier. She has ruined my life.'
'Not at all. An affair of a season,' answered Maulevrier, lightly. 'Next
year I shall hear of you as the accepted husband of some new beauty. A
man of Mr. Smithson's wealth--and good nature--need not languish in
With this civil speech Lord Maulevrier went back to the _Philomel's_
gig, and this was his last meeting with Mr. Smithson, until they met a
year later in the beaten tracks of society.
'THAT FELL ARREST, WITHOUT ALL BAIL.'
It was the beginning of August before Lesbia was pronounced equal to the
fatigue of a long journey; and even then it was but the shadow of her
former self which returned to Fellside, the pale spectre of joys
departed, of trust deceived.
Maulevrier had been very good to her, patient, unselfish as a woman, in
his ministering to the broken-hearted girl. That broken heart would be
whole again, no doubt, in the future, as many other broken hearts have
been; but the grief, the despair, the sense of hopelessness and
aimlessness in life were very real in the present. If the picturesque
seclusion of Fellside had seemed dull and joyless to Lesbia in days gone
by, it was much duller to her now. She was shocked at the change in her
grandmother, and she showed a good deal of feeling and affection in her
intercourse with the invalid; but once out of her presence Lady
Maulevrier was forgotten, and Lesbia's thoughts drifted back into the
old current. They dwelt obstinately, unceasingly upon Montesma, the man
whose influence had awakened the slumbering soul from its torpor, had
stirred the deeps of a passionate nature.
Slave-dealer, gambler, adventurer, liar--his name blackened by the
suspicion of a still darker crime. She shuddered at the thought of the
villain from whose snare she had been rescued: and yet, his image as he
had been to her in the brief golden time when she believed him noble,
and chivalrous, and true, haunted her lonely days, mixed itself with her
troubled dreams, came between her and every other thought.
Everybody was good to her. That pale and joyless face, that look of
patient, hopeless suffering which she tried to disguise every now and
then with a faint forced smile; and silvery little ripple of society
laughter, seemed unconsciously to implore pity and pardon. Lady
Maulevrier uttered no word of reproach. 'My dearest, Fate has not been
kind to you,' she said, gently, after telling Lesbia of Lady Kirkbank's
visit. 'The handsomest women are seldom the happiest. Destiny seems to
have a grudge against them. And if things have gone amiss it is I who am
most to blame. I ought never to have entrusted you with such a woman as
Georgina Kirkbank. But you will be happier next season, I hope, dearest.
You can live with Mary and Hartfield. They will take care of you.'
'Do you think I am going back to the society treadmill?' she exclaimed.
'No, I have done with the world. I shall end my days here, or in a
'You think so now, dear, but you will change your mind by-and-by. A
fancy that has lasted only a few weeks cannot alter your life. It will
pass as other dreams have passed. At your age you have the future before
'No, it is the past that is always before me,' answered Lesbia. 'My
future is a blank.'
The bills came pouring in; dressmaker, milliner, glover, bootmaker,
tailor, stationer, perfumer; awful bills which made Lady Maulevrier's
blood run cold, so degrading was their story of selfish self-indulgence,
of senseless extravagance. But she paid them all without a word. She
took upon her shoulders the chief burden of Lesbia's wrongdoing. It was
her indulgence, her weak preference which had fostered her
granddaughter's selfishness, trained her to vanity and worldly pride.
The result was ignominious, humiliating, bitter beyond all common
bitterness; but the cup was of her own brewing, and she drank it without
Parliament was prorogued; the season was over; and Lord Hartfield was
established at Fellside for the autumn--he and his wife utterly happy in
their affection for each other, but not without care as to their
surroundings, which were full of trouble. First there was Lesbia's
sorrow. Granted that it was a grief which would inevitably wear itself
out, as other such griefs have done from time immemorial; but still the
sorrow was there, at their doors. Next, there was the state of Lady
Maulevrier's health, which gave her old medical adviser the gravest
fears. At Lord Hartfield's earnest desire a famous doctor was summoned
from London; but the great man could only confirm Mr. Horton's verdict.
The thread of life was wearing thinner every day. It might snap at any
hour. In the meantime the only regime was repose of body and mind, an
all-pervading calm, the avoidance of all exciting topics. One moment of
violent agitation might prove fatal.
Knowing this, how could Lord Hartfield call her ladyship to account for
the presence of that mysterious old man under Steadman's charge?--how
venture to touch upon a topic which, by Mary's showing, had exercised a
most disturbing influence upon her ladyship's mind on that solitary
occasion when the girl ventured to approach the subject?
He felt that any attempt at an explanation was impossible. It was not
for him to precipitate Lady Maulevrier's end by prying into her secrets.
Granted that shame and dishonour of some kind were involved in the
existence of that strange old man, he, Lord Hartfield, must endure his
portion in that shame--must be content to leave the dark riddle
He resigned himself to this state of things, and tried to forget the
cloud that hung over the house of Haselden; but the sense of a mystery,
a fatal family secret, which must come to light sooner or later--since
all such secrets are known at last--known, sifted, and bandied about
from lip to lip, and published in a thousand different newspapers, and
cried aloud in the streets--the sense of such a secret, the dread of
such a revelation weighed upon him heavily.
Maulevrier, the restless, was off to Argyleshire for the grouse shooting
as soon as he had deposited Lady Lesbia comfortably at Fellside.
'I should only be in your way if I stopped,' he said, 'for you and Molly
have hardly got over the honeymoon stage yet, though you put on the airs
of Darby and Joan. I shall be back in a week or ten days.'
'In Lady Maulevrier's state of health I don't think you ought to stay
away very long,' said Hartfield.
'Poor Lady Maulevrier! She never cared much for me, don't you know. But
I suppose it would seem unkind if I were to be out of the way when the
end comes. The end! Good heavens! how coolly I talk of it; and a year
ago I thought she was as immortal as Fairfield yonder.'
He went away, his spirits dashed by that awful thought of death, and
Lord and Lady Hartfield had the house to themselves, since Lesbia hardly
counted. She seldom left her own rooms, except to sit with her
grandmother for an hour. She lay on her sofa--or sat in a low arm-chair
by the window, reading Keats or Shelley--or only dreaming--dreaming over
the brief golden time of her life, with its fond delusions, its false
brightness. Mr. Horton went to see her every day--felt the feeble little
pulse which seemed hardly to have force enough to beat--urged her to
struggle against apathy and inertia, to walk a little, to go for a long
drive every day, to live in the open air--to which instructions she paid
not the slightest attention. The desire for life was gone. Disappointed
in her ambition, betrayed in her love, humiliated, duped, degraded--a
social failure. What had she to live for? She felt as if it would have
been a good thing, quite the best thing that could happen, if she could
turn her face to the wall and die. All that past season, its triumphs,
its pleasures, its varieties, was like a garish dream, a horror to look
back upon, hateful to remember.
In vain did Mary and Hartfield urge Lesbia to join in their simple
pleasures, their walks and rides and drives, and boating excursions. She
'You know I never cared much for roaming about these everlasting hills,'
she told Mary. 'I never had your passion for Lakeland. It is very good
of you to wish to have me, but it is quite impossible. I have hardly
strength enough for a little walk in the garden.'
'You would have more strength if you went out more,' pleaded Mary,
almost with tears. 'Mr. Horton says sun and wind are the best doctors
for you. Lesbia, you frighten me sometimes. You are just letting
yourself fade away.'
'If you knew how I hate the world and the sky, Mary, you wouldn't urge
me to go out of doors,' Lesbia answered, moodily. 'Indoors I can read,
and get away from my own thoughts somehow, for a little while. But out
yonder, face to face with the hills and the lake--the scenes I have
known all my life--I feel a heart-sickness that is worse than death. It
maddens me to see that old, old picture of mountain and water, the same
for ever and ever, no matter what hearts are breaking.'
Mary crept close beside her sister's couch, put her arm round her neck,
laid her cheek--rich in the ruddy bloom of health--against Lesbia's
pallid and sunken cheek, and comforted her as much as she could with
tender murmurs and loving kisses. Other comfort, she could give none.
All the wisdom in the world will not cure a girl's heart-sickness when
she has flung away the treasures of her love upon a worthless object.
And so the days went by, peacefully, but sadly; for the shadow of doom
hung heavily over the house upon the Fell. Nobody who looked upon Lady
Maulevrier could doubt that her days were numbered, that the oil was
waxing low in the lamp of life. The end, the awful, mysterious end, was
drawing near; and she who was called was making no such preparations as
the Christian makes to answer the dread summons. As she had lived, she
meant to die--an avowed unbeliever. More than once Mary had taken
courage, and had talked to her grandmother of the world beyond, the
blessed hope of re-union with the friends we have lost, in a new and
brighter life, only to be met by the sceptic's cynical smile, the
materialist's barren creed.
'My dearest, we know nothing except the immutable laws of material life.
All the rest is a dream--a beautiful dream, if you like--a consolation
to that kind of temperament which can take comfort from dreams; but for
anyone who has read much, and thought much, and kept as far as possible
on a level with the scientific intellect of the age--for such an one,
Mary, these old fables are too idle. I shall die as I have lived, the
victim of an inscrutable destiny, working blindly, evil to some, good to
others. Ah! love, life has begun very fairly for you. May the fates be
kind always to my gentle and loving girl!'
There was more talk between them on this dark mystery of life and death.
Mary brought out her poor little arguments, glorified by the light of
perfect faith; but they were of no avail against opinions which had been
the gradual growth of a long and joyless life. Time had attuned Lady
Maulevrier's mind to the gospel of Schopenhauer and the Pessimists, and
she was contented to see the mystery of life as they had seen it. She
had no fear, but she had some anxiety as to the things that were to
happen after she was gone. She had taken upon herself a heavy burden,
and she had not yet come to the end of the road where her burden might
be laid quietly down, her task accomplished. If she fell by the wayside
under her load the consequences for the survivors might be full of
Her anxieties were increased by the fact that her faithful servant and
adviser, James Steadman, was no longer the man he had been. The change
in him was painfully evident--memory failing, energy gone. He came to
his mistress's room every morning, received her orders, answered her
questions; but Lady Maulevrier felt that he went through the old duties
in a mechanical way, and that his dull brain but half understood their
One evening at dusk, just as Hartfield and Mary were leaving Lady
Maulevrier's room, after dinner, an appalling shriek ran through the
house--a cry almost as terrible as that which Lord Hartfield heard in
the summer midnight just a year ago. But this time the sound came from
the old part of the house.
'Something has happened,' exclaimed Hartfield, rushing to the door of
It was bolted inside. He knocked vehemently; but there was no answer. He
ran downstairs, followed by Mary, breathless, in an agony of fear. Just
as they approached the lower door, leading to the old house, it was
flung open, and Steadman's wife stood before them pale with terror.
'The doctor,' she cried; 'send for Mr. Horton, somebody, for God's sake.
Oh, my lord,' with a sudden burst of sobbing, 'I'm afraid he's dead.'
'Mary, despatch some one for Horton,' said Lord Hartfield. Keeping his
wife back with one hand, he closed the door against her, and then
followed Mrs. Steadman through the long low corridor to her husband's
James Steadman was lying upon his back upon the hearth, near the spot
were Lord Hartfield had seen him sleeping in his arm-chair a month ago.
One look at the distorted face, dark with injected blood, the dreadful
glassy glare of the eyes, the foam-stained lips, told that all was over.
The faithful servant had died at his post. Whatever his charge had been,
his term of service was ended. There was a vacancy in Lady Maulevrier's
THE DAY OF RECKONING.
Lord Hartfield stayed with the frightened wife while she knelt beside
that awful figure on the hearth, wringing her hands with piteous
bewailings and lamentations over the unconscious clay. He had always
been a good husband to her, she murmured; hard and stern perhaps, but a
good man. And she had obeyed him without a question. Whatever he did or
said she had counted right.
'We have not had a happy life, though there are many who have envied us
her ladyship's favour,' she said in the midst of her lamentations. 'No
one knows where the shoe pinches but those who have to wear it. Poor
James! Early and late, early and late, studying her ladyship's
interests, caring and thinking, in order to keep trouble away from her.
Always on the watch always on the listen. That's what wore him out, poor
'My good soul, your husband was an old man,' argued Lord Hartfield, in
a consolatory tone, 'and the end must come to all of us somehow.'
'He might have lived to be a much older man if he had had less worry,'
said the wife, bending her face to kiss the cold dead brow. 'His days
were full of care. We should have been happier in the poorest cottage in
Grasmere than we ever were in this big grand house.'
Thus, in broken fragments of speech, Mrs. Steadman lamented over her
dead, while the heavy pendulum of the eight-day clock in the hall
sounded the slowly-passing moments, until the coming of the doctor broke
upon the quiet of the house, with the noise of opening doors and
James Steadman was dead. Medicine could do nothing for that lifeless
clay, lying on the hearth by which he had sat on so many winter nights,
for so many years of faithful unquestioning service. There was nothing
to be done for that stiffening form, save the last offices for the dead;
and Lord Hartfield left Mr. Horton to arrange with the weeping woman as
to the doing of these. He was anxious to go to Lady Maulevrier, to break
to her, as gently as might be, the news of her servant's death.
And what of that strange old man in the upper rooms? Who was to attend
upon him, now that the caretaker was laid low?
While Lord Hartfield lingered on the threshold of the door that led from
the old house to the new, pondering this question, there came the sound
of wheels on the carriage drive, and then a loud ring at the hall door.
It was Maulevrier, just arrived from Scotland, smelling of autumn rain
and cool fresh air.
'Dreadfully bored on the moors,' he said, as they shook hands. 'No
birds--nobody to talk to--couldn't stand it any longer. How are the
sisters? Lesbia better? Why, man alive, how queer you look! Nothing
amiss, I hope?'
'Yes, there is something very much amiss. Steadman is dead.'
'Steadman! Her ladyship's right hand. That's rather bad. But you will
drop into his stewardship. She'll trust your long head, I know. Much
better that she should look to her granddaughter's husband for advice in
all business matters than to a servant When did it happen?'
'Half an hour ago. I was just going to Lady Maulevrier's room when you
rang the bell. Take off your Inverness, and come with me.'
'The poor grandmother,' muttered Maulevrier. 'I'm afraid it will be a
He had much less cause for fear than Lord Hartfield, who knew of deep
and secret reasons why Steadman's death should be a calamity of dire
import for his mistress, Maulevrier had been told nothing of that scene
with the strange old man--the hidden treasures--the Anglo-Indian
phrases--which had filled Lord Hartfield's mind with the darkest doubts.
If that half-lunatic old man, described by Lady Maulevrier as a kinsman
of Steadman's, were verily the person Lord Hartfield believed, his
presence under that roof, unguarded by a trust-worthy attendant, was
fraught with danger. It would be for Lady Maulevrier, helpless, a
prisoner to her sofa, at death's door, to face that danger. The very
thought of it might kill her. And yet it was imperative that the truth
should be told her without delay.
The two young men went to her ladyship's sitting room. She was alone, a
volume of her favourite Schopenhauer open before her, under the light of
the shaded reading-lamp. Sorry comfort in the hour of trouble!
Maulevrier went over to her and kissed her; and then dropped silently
into a chair near at hand, his face in shadow. Hartfield seated himself
nearer the sofa, and nearer the lamp.
'Dear Lady Maulevrier, I have come to tell you some very bad news--'
'Lesbia?' exclaimed her ladyship, with a frightened look.
'No, there is nothing wrong with Lesbia. It is about your old servant
'Dead?' faltered Lady Maulevrier, ashy pale, as she looked at him in the
He bent his head affirmatively.
'Yes. He was seized with apoplexy--fell from his chair to the hearth,
and never spoke or stirred again.'
Lady Maulevrier uttered no word of sorrow or surprise. She lay, looking
straight before her into vacancy, the pale attenuated features rigid as
if they had been marble. What was to be done--what must be told--whom
could she trust? Those were the questions repeating themselves in her
mind as she stared into space. And no answer came to them.
No answer came, except the opening of the door opposite her couch. The
handle turned slowly, hesitatingly, as if moved by feeble fingers; and
then the door was pushed slowly open, and an old man came with shuffling
footsteps towards the one lighted spot in the middle of the room.
It was the old man Lord Hartfield had last seen gloating over his
treasury of gold and jewels--the man whom Maulevrier had never
seen--whose existence for forty years had been hidden from every
creature in that house, except Lady Maulevrier and the Steadmans, until
Mary found her way into the old garden.
He came close up to the little table in front of Lady Maulevrier's
couch, and looked down at her, a strange, uncanny being, withered and
bent, with pale, faded eyes in which there was a glimmer of unholy
'Good-evening to you, Lady Maulevrier,' he said in a mocking voice. 'I
shouldn't have known you if we had met anywhere else. I think, of the
two of us, you are more changed than I.'
She looked up at him, her features quivering, her haughty head drawn
back; as a bird shrinks from the gaze of a snake, recoiling, but too
fascinated to fly. Her eyes met his with a look of unutterable horror.
For some moments she was speechless, and then, looking at Lord
Hartfield, she said, piteously--
'Why did you let him come here? He ought to be taken care of--shut up.
It is Steadman's old uncle--a lunatic--I sheltered. Why is he allowed to
come to my room?'
'I am Lord Maulevrier,' said the old man, drawing himself up and
planting his crutch stick upon the floor; 'I am Lord Maulevrier, and this
woman is my wife. Yes, I am mad sometimes, but not always, I have my bad
fits, but not often. But I never forget who and what I am, Algernon,
Earl of Maulevrier, Governor of Madras.'
'Lady Maulevrier, is this horrible thing true?' cried her grandson,
'He is mad, Maulevrier. Don't you see that he is mad?' she exclaimed,
looking from Hartfield to her grandson, and then with a look of loathing
and horror at her accuser.
'I tell you, young man, I am Maulevrier,' said the accuser; 'there is no
one else who has a right to be called by that name, while I live. They
have shut me up--she and her accomplice--denied my name--hidden me from
the world. He is dead, and she lies there--stricken for her sins.'
'My grandfather died at the inn at Great Langdale, faltered Maulevrier.
'Your grandfather was brought to this house--ill--out of his wits. All
cloud and darkness here,' said the old man, touching his forehead. 'How
long has it been? Who can tell? A weary time--long, dark nights, full of
ghosts. Yes, I have seen him--the Rajah, that copper-faced scoundrel,
seen him as she told me he looked when she gave the signal to her slaves
to strangle him, there in the hall, where the grave was dug ready for
the traitor's carcass. She too--yes, she has haunted me, calling upon me
to give up her treasure, to restore her son.'
'Yes,' cried the paralytic woman, suddenly lifted out of herself, as it
were, in a paroxysm of fury, every feature convulsed, every nerve
strained to its utmost tension; 'yes, this is Lord Maulevrier. You have
heard the truth, and from his own lips. You, his only son's only son.
You his granddaughter's husband. You hear him avow himself the
instigator of a diabolical murder; you hear him confess how his
paramour's husband was strangled at his false wife's bidding, in his own
palace, buried under the Moorish pavement in the hall of many arches.
You hear how he inherited the Rajah's treasures from a mistress who
died strangely, swiftly, conveniently, as soon so he had wearied of her,
and a new favourite had begun to exercise her influence. Such things are
done in the East--dynasties annihilated, kingdoms overthrown, poison or
bowstring used at will, to gratify a profligate's passion, or pay for a
spendthrift's extravagances. Such things were done when that man was
Governor of Madras as were never done by an Englishman in India before
his time. He went there fettered by no prejudices--he was more Mussulman
than the Mussulmen themselves--a deeper, darker traitor. And it was to
hide such crimes as these--to interpose the great peacemaker Death
between him and the Government which was resolved upon punishing him--to
save the honour, the fortune of my son, and the children who were to
come after him, the name of a noble race, a name that was ever stainless
until he defiled it--it was for this great end I took steps to hide that
feeble, useless life of his from the world he had offended; it was for
this end that I caused a peasant to be buried in the vault of the
Maulevriers, with all the pomp and ceremony that befits the funeral of
one of England's oldest earls. I screened him from his enemies--I saved
him from the ignominy of a public trial--from the execration of his
countrymen. His only punishment was to eat his heart under this roof, in
luxurious seclusion, his comfort studied, his whims gratified so far as
they could be by the most faithful of servants. A light penance for the
dark infamies of his life in India, I think. His mind was all but gone
when he came here, but he had his rational intervals, and in these the
burden of his lonely life may have weighed heavily upon him. But it was
not such a heavy burden as I have borne--I, his gaoler, I who have
devoted my existence to the one task of guarding the family honour.'
He, whom she thus acknowledged as her husband, had sunk exhausted into a
chair near her. He took out his gold snuff-box, and refreshed himself
with a leisurely pinch of snuff, looking about him curiously all the
while, with a senile grin. That flash of passion which for a few minutes
had restored him to the full possession of his reason had burnt itself
out, and his mind had relapsed into the condition in which it had been
when he talked to Mary in the garden.
'My pipe, Steadman,' he said, looking towards the door; 'bring me my
pipe,' and then, impatiently, 'What has become of Steadman? He has been
getting inattentive--very inattentive.'
He got up, and moved slowly to the door, leaning on his crutch-stick,
his head sunk upon his breast, muttering to himself as he went; and thus
he vanished from them, like the spectre of some terrible ancestor which
had returned from the grave to announce the coming of calamity to a
doomed race. His grandson looked after him, with an expression of
'And so, Lady Maulevrier,' he exclaimed, turning to his grandmother, 'I
have borne a title that never belonged to me, and enjoyed the possession
of another man's estates all this time, thanks to your pretty little
plot. A very respectable position for your grandson to occupy, upon my
Lord Hartfield lifted his hand with a warning gesture.
'Spare her,' he said. 'She is in no condition to endure your
Spare her--yes. Fate had not spared her. The beautiful face--beautiful
even in age and decay--changed suddenly as she looked at them--the mouth
became distorted, the eyes fixed: and then the heavy head fell back upon
the pillow--the paralysed form, wholly paralysed now, lay like a thing
of stone. It never moved again. Consciousness was blotted out for ever
in that moment. The feeble pulses of heart and brain throbbed with
gradually diminishing power for a night and a day; and in the twilight
of that dreadful day of nothingness the last glimmer of the light died
in the lamp, and Lady Maulevrier and the burden of her sin were beyond
Viscount Haselden, _alias_ Lord Maulevrier, held a long consultation
with Lord Hartfield on the night of his grandmother's death, as to what
steps ought to be taken in relation to the real Earl of Maulevrier: and
it was only at the end of a serious and earnest discussion that both
young men came to the decision that Lady Maulevrier's secret ought to be
kept faithfully to the end. Assuredly no good purpose could be achieved
by letting the world know of old Lord Maulevrier's existence. A
half-lunatic octogenarian could gain nothing by being restored to rights
and possessions which he had most justly forfeited. All that justice
demanded was that the closing years of his life should be made as
comfortable as care and wealth could make them; and Hartfield and
Haselden took immediate steps to this end. But their first act was to
send the old earl's treasure chest under safe convoy to the India House,
with a letter explaining how this long-hidden wealth, brought from India
by Lord Maulevrier, had been discovered among other effects in a
lumber-room at Lady Maulevrier's country house. The money so delivered
up might possibly have formed part of his lordship's private fortune;
but, in the absence of any knowledge as to its origin, his grandson, the
present Lord Maulevrier, preferred to deliver it up to the authorities
of the India House, to be dealt with as they might think fit.
The old earl made no further attempt to assert himself. He seemed
content to remain in his own rooms as of old, to potter about the
garden, where his solitude was as complete as that of a hermit's cell.
The only moan be made was for James Steadman, whose services he missed
sorely. Lord Hartfield replaced that devoted servant by a clever
Austrian valet, a new importation from Vienna, who understood very
little English, a trained attendant upon mental invalids, and who was
quite capable of dealing with old Lord Maulevrier.
Lord Hartfield went a step farther; and within a week of those two
funerals of servant and mistress, which cast a gloom over the peaceful
valley of Grasmere, he brought down a famous mad-doctor to diagnose his
lordship's case. There was but little risk in so doing, he argued with
his friend, and it was their duty so to do. If the old man should assert
himself to the doctor as Lord Maulevrier, the declaration would pass as
a symptom of his lunacy. But it happened that the physician arrived at
Fellside on one of Lord Maulevrier's bad days, and the patient never
emerged from the feeblest phase of imbecility.
'Brain quite gone,' pronounced the doctor, 'bodily health very poor.
Take him to the South of France for the winter--Hyeres, or any quiet
place. He can't last long.'
To Hyeres the old man was taken, with Mrs. Steadman as nurse, and the
Austrian valet as body-servant and keeper. Mary, for whom, in his
brighter hours he showed a warm affection, went with him under her
Lord Hartfield rented a chateau on the slope of an olive-clad hill,
where he and his young wife, whose health was somewhat delicate at this
time, spent a winter in peaceful seclusion; while Lesbia and her brother
travelled together in Italy. The old man's strength improved in that
lovely climate. He lived to see the roses and orange blossoms of the
early spring, and died in his arm-chair suddenly, without a pang, while
Mary sat at his feet reading to him: a quiet end of an evil and troubled
life. And now he whom the world had known as Lord Maulevrier was verily
the earl, and could hear himself called by his title once more without a
touch of shame.
The secret of Lady Maulevrier's sin had been so faithfully kept by the
two young men that neither of her granddaughters knew the true story of
that mysterious person whom Mary had first heard of as James Steadman's
uncle. She and Lesbia both knew that there were painful circumstances of
some kind connected with this man's existence, his hidden life in the
old house at Fellside; but they were both content to learn no more.
Respect for their grandmother's memory, sorrowful affection for the
dead, prevailed over natural curiosity.
Early in February Maulevrier sent decorators and upholsterers into the
old house in Curzon Street, which was ready before the middle of May to
receive his lordship and his young wife, the girlish daughter of a
Florentine nobleman, a gazelle-eyed Italian, with a voice whose every
tone was music, and with the gentlest, shyest, most engaging manners of
any girl in Florence. Lady Lesbia, strangely subdued and changed by the
griefs and humiliations of her last campaign, had been her brother's
counsellor and confidante throughout his wooing of his fair Italian
bride. She was to spend the season under her brother's roof, to help to
initiate young Lady Maulevrier in the mysterious rites of London
society, and to warn her of those rocks and shoals which had wrecked her
The month of May brought a son and heir to Lord Hartfield; and it was
not till after his birth that Mary, Countess of Hartfield, was presented
to her sovereign, and began her career as a matron of rank and standing,
very much overpowered by the weight of her honours, and looking forward
with delight to the end of the season and a flight to Argyleshire with
her husband and baby.
Back to Full Books