Chapter 9 - Anne
"YE'LL just permit me to remind ye again, young leddy, that the hottle's full--exceptin' only this settin'-room, and the bedchamber yonder belonging to it."
So spoke "Mistress Inchbare," landlady of the Craig Fernie Inn, to Anne Silvester, standing in the parlor, purse in hand, and offering the price of the two rooms before she claimed permission to occupy them.
The time of the afternoon was about the time when Geoffrey Delamayn had started in the train, on his journey to London. About the time also, when Arnold Brinkworth had crossed the moor, and was mounting the first rising ground which led to the inn.
Mistress Inchbare was tall and thin, and decent and dry. Mistress Inchbare's unlovable hair clung fast round her head in wiry little yellow curls. Mistress Inchbare's hard bones showed themselves, like Mistress Inchbare's hard Presbyterianism, without any concealment or compromise. In short, a savagely-respectable woman who plumed herself on presiding over a savagely-respectable inn.
There was no competition to interfere with Mistress Inchbare. She regulated her own prices, and made her own rules. If you objected to her prices, and revolted from her rules, you were free to go. In other words, you were free to cast yourself, in the capacity of houseless wanderer, on the scanty mercy of a Scotch wilderness. The village of Craig Fernie was a collection of hovels. The country about Craig Fernie, mountain on one side and moor on the other, held no second house of public entertainment, for miles and miles round, at any point of the compass. No rambling individual but the helpless British Tourist wanted food and shelter from strangers in that part of Scotland; and nobody but Mistress Inchbare had food and shelter to sell. A more thoroughly independent person than this was not to be found on the face of the hotel-keeping earth. The most universal of all civilized terrors--the terror of appearing unfavorably in the newspapers--was a sensation absolutely unknown to the Empress of the Inn. You lost your temper, and threatened to send her bill for exhibition in the public journals. Mistress Inchbare raised no objection to your taking any course you pleased with it. "Eh, man! send the bill whar' ye like, as long as ye pay it first. There's nae such thing as a newspaper ever darkens my doors. Ye've got the Auld and New Testaments in your bedchambers, and the natural history o' Pairthshire on the coffee-room table--and if that's no' reading eneugh for ye, ye may een gae back South again, and get the rest of it there."
This was the inn at which Anne Silvester had appeared alone, with nothing but a little bag in her hand. This was the woman whose reluctance to receive her she innocently expected to overcome by showing her purse.
"Mention your charge for the rooms," she said. "I am willing to pay for them beforehand."
Her majesty, Mrs. Inchbare, never even looked at her subject's poor little purse.
"It just comes to this, mistress," she answered. "I'm no' free to tak' your money, if I'm no' free to let ye the last rooms left in the hoose. The Craig Fernie hottle is a faimily hottle--and has its ain gude name to keep up. Ye're ower-well-looking, my young leddy, to be traveling alone."
The time had been when Anne would have answered sharply enough. The hard necessities of her position made her patient now.
"I have already told you," she said, "my husband is coming here to join me." She sighed wearily as she repeated her ready-made story--and dropped into the nearest chair, from sheer inability to stand any longer.
Mistress Inchbare looked at her, with the exact measure of compassionate interest which she might have shown if she had been looking at a stray dog who had fallen footsore at the door of the inn.
"Weel! weel! sae let it be. Bide awhile, and rest ye. We'll no' chairge ye for that--and we'll see if your husband comes. I'll just let the rooms, mistress, to _him,_, instead o' lettin' them to _you._ And, sae, good-morrow t' ye." With that final announcement of her royal will and pleasure, the Empress of the Inn withdrew.
Anne made no reply. She watched the landlady out of the room--and then struggled to control herself no longer. In her position, suspicion was doubly insult. The hot tears of shame gathered in her eyes; and the heart-ache wrung her, poor soul--wrung her without mercy.
A trifling noise in the room startled her. She looked up, and detected a man in a corner, dusting the furniture, and apparently acting in the capacity of attendant at the inn. He had shown her into the parlor on her arrival; but he had remained so quietly in the room that she had never noticed him since, until that moment.
He was an ancient man--with one eye filmy and blind, and one eye moist and merry. His head was bald; his feet were gouty; his nose was justly celebrated as the largest nose and the reddest nose in that part of Scotland. The mild wisdom of years was expressed mysteriously in his mellow smile. In contact with this wicked world, his manner revealed that happy mixture of two extremes--the servility which just touches independence, and the independence which just touches servility--attained by no men in existence but Scotchmen. Enormous native impudence, which amused but never offended; immeasurable cunning, masquerading habitually under the double disguise of quaint prejudice and dry humor, were the solid moral foundations on which the character of this elderly person was built. No amount of whisky ever made him drunk; and no violence of bell-ringing ever hurried his movements. Such was the headwaiter at the Craig Fernie Inn; known, far and wide, to local fame, as "Maister Bishopriggs, Mistress Inchbare's right-hand man."
"What are you doing there?" Anne asked, sharply.
Mr. Bishopriggs turned himself about on his gouty feet; waved his duster gently in the air; and looked at Anne, with a mild, paternal smile.
"Eh! Am just doostin' the things; and setin' the room in decent order for ye."
"For _me?_ Did you hear what the landlady said?"
Mr. Bishopriggs advanced confidentially, and pointed with a very unsteady forefinger to the purse which Anne still held in her hand.
"Never fash yoursel' aboot the landleddy!" said the sage chief of the Craig Fernie waiters. "Your purse speaks for you, my lassie. Pet it up!" cried Mr. Bishopriggs, waving temptation away from him with the duster. "In wi' it into yer pocket! Sae long as the warld's the warld, I'll uphaud it any where--while there's siller in the purse, there's gude in the woman!"
Anne's patience, which had resisted harder trials, gave way at this.
"What do you mean by speaking to me in that familiar manner?" she asked, rising angrily to her feet again.
Mr. Bishopriggs tucked his duster under his arm, and proceeded to satisfy Anne that he shared the landlady's view of her position, without sharing the severity of the landlady's principles. "There's nae man livin'," said Mr. Bishopriggs, "looks with mair indulgence at human frailty than my ain sel'. Am I no' to be familiar wi' ye--when I'm auld eneugh to be a fether to ye, and ready to be a fether to ye till further notice? Hech! hech! Order your bit dinner lassie. Husband or no husband, ye've got a stomach, and ye must een eat. There's fesh and there's fowl--or, maybe, ye'll be for the sheep's head singit, when they've done with it at the tabble dot?"
There was but one way of getting rid of him: "Order what you like," Anne said, "and leave the room." Mr. Bishopriggs highly approved of the first half of the sentence, and totally overlooked the second.
"Ay, ay--just pet a' yer little interests in my hands; it's the wisest thing ye can do. Ask for Maister Bishopriggs (that's me) when ye want a decent 'sponsible man to gi' ye a word of advice. Set ye doon again--set ye doon. And don't tak' the arm-chair. Hech! hech! yer husband will be coming, ye know, and he's sure to want it!" With that seasonable pleasantry the venerable Bishopriggs winked, and went out.
Anne looked at her watch. By her calculation it was not far from the hour when Geoffrey might be expected to arrive at the inn, assuming Geoffrey to have left Windygates at the time agreed on. A little more patience, and the landlady's scruples would be satisfied, and the ordeal would be at an end.
Could she have met him nowhere else than at this barbarous house, and among these barbarous people?
No. Outside the doors of Windygates she had not a friend to help her in all Scotland. There was no place at her disposal but the inn; and she had only to be thankful that it occupied a sequestered situation, and was not likely to be visited by any of Lady Lundie's friends. Whatever the risk might be, the end in view justified her in confronting it. Her whole future depended on Geoffrey's making an honest woman of her. Not her future with _him_--that way there was no hope; that way her life was wasted. Her future with Blanche--she looked forward to nothing now but her future with Blanche.
Her spirits sank lower and lower. The tears rose again. It would only irritate him if he came and found her crying. She tried to divert her mind by looking about the room.
There was very little to see. Except that it was solidly built of good sound stone, the Craig Fernie hotel differed in no other important respect from the average of second-rate English inns. There was the usual slippery black sofa--constructed to let you slide when you wanted to rest. There was the usual highly-varnished arm-chair, expressly manufactured to test the endurance of the human spine. There was the usual paper on the walls, of the pattern designed to make your eyes ache and your head giddy. There were the usual engravings, which humanity never tires of contemplating. The Royal Portrait, in the first place of honor. The next greatest of all human beings--the Duke of Wellington--in the second place of honor. The third greatest of all human beings--the local member of parliament--in the third place of honor; and a hunting scene, in the dark. A door opposite the door of admission from the passage opened into the bedroom; and a window at the side looked out on the open space in front of the hotel, and commanded a view of the vast expanse of the Craig Fernie moor, stretching away below the rising ground on which the house was built.
Anne turned in despair from the view in the room to the view from the window. Within the last half hour it had changed for the worse. The clouds had gathered; the sun was hidden; the light on the landscape was gray and dull. Anne turned from the window, as she had turned from the room. She was just making the hopeless attempt to rest her weary limbs on the sofa, when the sound of voices and footsteps in the passage caught her ear.
Was Geoffrey's voice among them? No.
Were the strangers coming in?
The landlady had declined to let her have the rooms: it was quite possible that the strangers might be coming to look at them. There was no knowing who they might be. In the impulse of the moment she flew to the bedchamber and locked herself in.
The door from the passage opened, and Arnold Brinkworth--shown in by Mr. Bishopriggs--entered the sitting-room.
"Nobody here!" exclaimed Arnold, looking round. "Where is she?"
Mr. Bishopriggs pointed to the bedroom door. "Eh! yer good leddy's joost in the bedchamber, nae doot!"
Arnold started. He had felt no difficulty (when he and Geoffrey had discussed the question at Windygates) about presenting himself at the inn in the assumed character of Anne's husband. But the result of putting the deception in practice was, to say the least of it, a little embarrassing at first. Here was the waiter describing Miss Silvester as his "good lady;" and leaving it (most naturally and properly) to the "good lady's" husband to knock at her bedroom door, and tell her that he was there. In despair of knowing what else to do at the moment, Arnold asked for the landlady, whom he had not seen on arriving at the inn.
"The landleddy's just tottin' up the ledgers o' the hottle in her ain room," answered Mr. Bishopriggs. "She'll be here anon--the wearyful woman!--speerin' who ye are and what ye are, and takin' a' the business o' the hoose on her ain pair o' shouthers." He dropped the subject of the landlady, and put in a plea for himself. "I ha' lookit after a' the leddy's little comforts, Sir," he whispered. "Trust in me! trust in me!"
Arnold's attention was absorbed in the very serious difficulty of announcing his arrival to Anne. "How am I to get her out?" he said to himself, with a look of perplexity directed at the bedroom door.
He had spoken loud enough for the waiter to hear him. Arnold's look of perplexity was instantly reflected on the face of Mr. Bishopriggs. The head-waiter at Craig Fernie possessed an immense experience of the manners and customs of newly-married people on their honeymoon trip. He had been a second father (with excellent pecuniary results) to innumerable brides and bridegrooms. He knew young married couples in all their varieties:--The couples who try to behave as if they had been married for many years; the couples who attempt no concealment, and take advice from competent authorities about them. The couples who are bashfully talkative before third persons; the couples who are bashfully silent under similar circumstances. The couples who don't know what to do, the couples who wish it was over; the couples who must never be intruded upon without careful preliminary knocking at the door; the couples who _can_ eat and drink in the intervals of "bliss," and the other couples who _can't._ But the bridegroom who stood he lpless on one side of the door, and the bride who remained locked in on the other, were new varieties of the nuptial species, even in the vast experience of Mr. Bishopriggs himself.
"Hoo are ye to get her oot?" he repeated. "I'll show ye hoo!" He advanced as rapidly as his gouty feet would let him, and knocked at the bedroom door. "Eh, my leddy! here he is in flesh and bluid. Mercy preserve us! do ye lock the door of the nuptial chamber in your husband's face?"
At that unanswerable appeal the lock was heard turning in the door. Mr. Bishopriggs winked at Arnold with his one available eye, and laid his forefinger knowingly along his enormous nose. "I'm away before she falls into your arms! Rely on it I'll no come in again without knocking first!"
He left Arnold alone in the room. The bedroom door opened slowly by a few inches at a time. Anne's voice was just audible speaking cautiously behind it.
"Is that you, Geoffrey?"
Arnold's heart began to beat fast, in anticipation of the disclosure which was now close at hand. He knew neither what to say or do--he remained silent.
Anne repeated the question in louder tones:
"Is that you?"
There was the certain prospect of alarming her, if some reply was not given. There was no help for it. Come what come might, Arnold answered, in a whisper:
The door was flung wide open. Anne Silvester appeared on the threshold, confronting him.
"Mr. Brinkworth!!!" she exclaimed, standing petrified with astonishment.
For a moment more neither of them spoke. Anne advanced one step into the sitting-room, and put the next inevitable question, with an instantaneous change from surprise to suspicion.
"What do you want here?"
Geoffrey's letter represented the only possible excuse for Arnold's appearance in that place, and at that time.
"I have got a letter for you," he said--and offered it to her.
She was instantly on her guard. They were little better than strangers to each other, as Arnold had said. A sickening presentiment of some treachery on Geoffrey's part struck cold to her heart. She refused to take the letter.
"I expect no letter," she said. "Who told you I was here?" She put the question, not only with a tone of suspicion, but with a look of contempt. The look was not an easy one for a man to bear. It required a momentary exertion of self-control on Arnold's part, before he could trust himself to answer with due consideration for her. "Is there a watch set on my actions?" she went on, with rising anger. "And are _you_ the spy?"
"You haven't known me very long, Miss Silvester," Arnold answered, quietly. "But you ought to know me better than to say that. I am the bearer of a letter from Geoffrey."
She was an the point of following his example, and of speaking of Geoffrey by his Christian name, on her side. But she checked herself, before the word had passed her lips.
"Do you mean Mr. Delamayn?" she asked, coldly.
"What occasion have _I_ for a letter from Mr. Delamayn?"
She was determined to acknowledge nothing--she kept him obstinately at arm's-length. Arnold did, as a matter of instinct, what a man of larger experience would have done, as a matter of calculation--he closed with her boldly, then and there.
"Miss Silvester! it's no use beating about the bush. If you won't take the letter, you force me to speak out. I am here on a very unpleasant errand. I begin to wish, from the bottom of my heart, I had never undertaken it."
A quick spasm of pain passed across her face. She was beginning, dimly beginning, to understand him. He hesitated. His generous nature shrank from hurting her.
"Go on," she said, with an effort.
"Try not to be angry with me, Miss Silvester. Geoffrey and I are old friends. Geoffrey knows he can trust me--"
"Trust you?" she interposed. "Stop!"
Arnold waited. She went on, speaking to herself, not to him.
"When I was in the other room I asked if Geoffrey was there. And this man answered for him." She sprang forward with a cry of horror.
"Has he told you--"
"For God's sake, read his letter!"
She violently pushed back the hand with which Arnold once more offered the letter. "You don't look at me! He _has_ told you!"
"Read his letter," persisted Arnold. "In justice to him, if you won't in justice to me."
The situation was too painful to be endured. Arnold looked at her, this time, with a man's resolution in his eyes--spoke to her, this time, with a man's resolution in his voice. She took the letter.
"I beg your pardon, Sir," she said, with a sudden humiliation of tone and manner, inexpressibly shocking, inexpressibly pitiable to see. "I understand my position at last. I am a woman doubly betrayed. Please to excuse what I said to you just now, when I supposed myself to have some claim on your respect. Perhaps you will grant me your pity? I can ask for nothing more."
Arnold was silent. Words were useless in the face of such utter self-abandonment as this. Any man living--even Geoffrey himself--must have felt for her at that moment.
She looked for the first time at the letter. She opened it on the wrong side. "My own letter!" she said to herself. "In the hands of another man!"
"Look at the last page," said Arnold.
She turned to the last page, and read the hurried penciled lines. "Villain! villain! villain!" At the third repetition of the word, she crushed the letter in the palm of her hand, and flung it from her to the other end of the room. The instant after, the fire that had flamed up in her died out. Feebly and slowly she reached out her hand to the nearest chair, and sat down in it with her back to Arnold. "He has deserted me!" was all she said. The words fell low and quiet on the silence: they were the utterance of an immeasurable despair.
"You are wrong!" exclaimed Arnold. "Indeed, indeed you are wrong! It's no excuse--it's the truth. I was present when the message came about his father."
She never heeded him, and never moved. She only repeated the words
"He has deserted me!"
"Don't take it in that way!" pleaded Arnold--"pray don't! It's dreadful to hear you; it is indeed. I am sure he has _not_ deserted you." There was no answer; no sign that she heard him; she sat there, struck to stone. It was impossible to call the landlady in at such a moment as this. In despair of knowing how else to rouse her, Arnold drew a chair to her side, and patted her timidly on the shoulder. "Come!" he said, in his single-hearted, boyish way. "Cheer up a little!"
She slowly turned her head, and looked at him with a dull surprise.
"Didn't you say he had told you every thing?" she asked.
"Don't you despise a woman like me?"
Arnold's heart went back, at that dreadful question, to the one woman who was eternally sacred to him--to the woman from whose bosom he had drawn the breath of life.
"Does the man live," he said, "who can think of his mother--and despise women?"
That answer set the prisoned misery in her free. She gave him her hand--she faintly thanked him. The merciful tears came to her at last.
Arnold rose, and turned away to the window in despair. "I mean well," he said. "And yet I only distress her!"
She heard him, and straggled to compose herself "No," she answered, "you comfort me. Don't mind my crying--I'm the better for it." She looked round at him gratefully. "I won't distress you, Mr. Brinkworth. I ought to thank you--and I do. Come back or I shall think you are angry with me." Arnold went back to her. She gave him her hand once more. "One doesn't understand people all at once," she said, simply. "I thought you were like other men--I didn't know till to-day how kind you could be. Did you walk here?" she added, suddenly, with an effort to change the subject. "Are you tired? I have not been kindly received at this place--but I'm sure I may offer you whatever the inn affords."
It was impossible not to feel for her--it was impossible not to be interested in her. Arnold's honest longing to help her expressed itself a little too openly when he spoke next. "All I want, Miss Silvester, is to be of some service to you, if I can," he said. "Is there any thing I can do to make your position here more comfortable? You will stay at this place, won't you? Geoffrey wishes it."
She shuddered, and looked away. "Yes! yes!" she answered, hurriedly.
"You will hear from Geoffrey," Arnold went on, "to-morrow or next day. I know he means to write."
"For Heaven's sake, don't speak of him any more!" she cried out. "How do you think I can look you in the face--" Her cheeks flushed deep, and her eyes rested on him with a momentary firmness. "Mind this! I am his wife, if promises can make me his wife! He has pledged his word to me by all that is sacred!" She checked herself impatiently. "What am I saying? What interest can _you_ have in this miserable state of things? Don't let us talk of it! I have something else to say to you. Let us go back to my troubles here. Did you see the landlady when you came in?"
"No. I only saw the waiter."
"The landlady has made some absurd difficulty about letting me have these rooms because I came here alone."
"She won't make any difficulty now," said Arnold. "I have settled that."
Arnold smiled. After what had passed, it was an indescribable relief to him to see the humorous side of his own position at the inn.
"Certainly," he answered. "When I asked for the lady who had arrived here alone this afternoon--"
"I was told, in your interests, to ask for her as my wife."
Anne looked at him--in alarm as well as in surprise.
"You asked for me as your wife?" she repeated.
"Yes. I haven't done wrong--have I? As I understood it, there was no alternative. Geoffrey told me you had settled with him to present yourself here as a married lady, whose husband was coming to join her."
"I thought of _him_ when I said that. I never thought of _you."_
"Natural enough. Still, it comes to the same thing (doesn't it?) with the people of this house."
"I don't understand you. "
"I will try and explain myself a little better. Geoffrey said your position here depended on my asking for you at the door (as _he_ would have asked for you if he had come) in the character of your husband."
"He had no right to say that."
"No right? After what you have told me of the landlady, just think what might have happened if he had _not_ said it! I haven't had much experience myself of these things. But--allow me to ask--wouldn't it have been a little awkward (at my age) if I had come here and inquired for you as a friend? Don't you think, in that case, the landlady might have made some additional difficulty about letting you have the rooms?"
It was beyond dispute that the landlady would have refused to let the rooms at all. It was equally plain that the deception which Arnold had practiced on the people of the inn was a deception which Anne had herself rendered necessary, in her own interests. She was not to blame; it was clearly impossible for her to have foreseen such an event as Geoffrey's departure for London. Still, she felt an uneasy sense of responsibility--a vague dread of what might happen next. She sat nervously twisting her handkerchief in her lap, and made no answer.
"Don't suppose I object to this little stratagem," Arnold went on. "I am serving my old friend, and I am helping the lady who is soon to be his wife."
Anne rose abruptly to her feet, and amazed him by a very unexpected question.
"Mr. Brinkworth," she said, "forgive me the rudeness of something I am about to say to you. When are you going away?"
Arnold burst out laughing.
"When I am quite sure I can do nothing more to assist you," he answered.
"Pray don't think of _me_ any longer."
"In your situation! who else am I to think of?"
Anne laid her hand earnestly on his arm, and answered:
"Blanche?" repeated Arnold, utterly at a loss to understand her.
"Yes--Blanche. She found time to tell me what had passed between you this morning before I left Windygates. I know you have made her an offer: I know you are engaged to be married to her."
Arnold was delighted to hear it. He had been merely unwilling to leave her thus far. He was absolutely determined to stay with her now.
"Don't expect me to go after that!" he said. "Come and sit down again, and let's talk about Blanche."
Anne declined impatiently, by a gesture. Arnold was too deeply interested in the new topic to take any notice of it.
"You know all about her habits and her tastes," he went on, "and what she likes, and what she dislikes. It's most important that I should talk to you about her. When we are husband and wife, Blanche is to have all her own way in every thing. That's my idea of the Whole Duty of Man--when Man is married. You are still standing? Let me give you a chair."
It was cruel--under other circumstances it would have been impossible--to disappoint him. But the vague fear of consequences which had taken possession of Anne was not to be trifled with. She had no clear conception of the risk (and it is to be added, in justice to Geoffrey, that _he_ had no clear conception of the risk) on which Arnold had unconsciously ventured, in undertaking his errand to the inn. Neither of them had any adequate idea (few people have) of the infamous absence of all needful warning, of all decent precaution and restraint, which makes the marriage law of Scotland a trap to catch unmarried men and women, to this day. But, while Geoffrey's mind was incapable of looking beyond the present emergency, Anne's finer intelligence told her that a country which offered such facilities for private marriage as the facilities of which she had proposed to take advantage in her own case, was not a country in which a man could act as Arnold had acted, without danger of some serious embarrassment following as the possible result. With this motive to animate her, she resolutely declined to take the offered chair, or to enter into the proposed conversation.
"Whatever we have to say about Blanche, Mr. Brinkworth, must be said at some fitter time. I beg you will leave me."
"Yes. Leave me to the solitude that is best for me, and to the sorrow that I have deserved. Thank you--and good-by."
Arnold made no attempt to disguise his disappointment and surprise.
"If I must go, I must," he said, "But why are you in such a hurry?"
"I don't want you to call me your wife again before the people of this inn."
"Is _that_ all? What on earth are you afraid of?"
She was unable fully to realize her own apprehensions. She was doubly unable to express them in words. In her anxiety to produce some reason which might prevail on him to go, she drifted back into that very conversation about Blanche into which she had declined to enter but the moment before.
"I have reasons for being afraid," she said. "One that I can't give; and one that I can. Suppose Blanche heard of what you have done? The longer you stay here--the more people you see--the more chance there is that she _might_ hear of it."
"And what if she did?" asked Arnold, in his own straightforward way. "Do you think she would be angry with me for making myself useful to _you?_"
"Yes," rejoined Anne, sharply, "if she was jealous of me."
Arnold's unlimited belief in Blanche expressed itself, without the slightest compromise, in two words:
Anxious as she was, miserable as she was, a faint smile flitted over Anne's face.
"Sir Patrick would tell you, Mr. Brinkworth, that nothing is impossible where women are concerned." She dropped her momentary lightness of tone, and went on as earnestly as ever. "You can't put yourself in Blanche's place--I can. Once more, I beg you to go. I don't like your coming here, in this way! I don't like it at all!"
She held out her hand to take leave. At the same moment there was a loud knock at the door of the room.
Anne sank into the chair at her side, and uttered a faint cry of alarm. Arnold, perfectly impenetrable to all sense of his position, asked what there was to frighten her--and answered the knock in the two customary words: