Chapter 21 - Done!
ARNOLD was a little surprised by the curt manner in which Geoffrey answered him.
"Has Sir Patrick said any thing unpleasant?" he asked.
"Sir Patrick has said just what I wanted him to say."
"No difficulty about the marriage?"
"No fear of Blanche--"
"She won't ask you to go to Craig Fernie--I'll answer for that!" He said the words with a strong emphasis on them, took his brother's letter from the table, snatched up his hat, and went out.
His friends, idling on the lawn, hailed him. He passed by them quickly without answering, without so much as a glance at them over his shoulder. Arriving at the rose-garden, he stopped and took out his pipe; then suddenly changed his mind, and turned back again by another path. There was no certainty, at that hour of the day, of his being left alone in the rose-garden. He had a fierce and hungry longing to be by himself; he felt as if he could have been the death of any body who came and spoke to him at that moment. With his head down and his brows knit heavily, he followed the path to see what it ended in. It ended in a wicket-gate which led into a kitchen-garden. Here he was well out of the way of interruption: there was nothing to attract visitors in the kitchen-garden. He went on to a walnut-tree planted in the middle of the inclosure, with a wooden bench and a broad strip of turf running round it. After first looking about him, he seated himself and lit his pipe.
"I wish it was done!" he said.
He sat, with his elbows on his knees, smoking and thinking. Before long the restlessness that had got possession of him forced him to his feet again. He rose, and paced round and round the strip of greensward under the walnut-tree, like a wild beast in a cage.
What was the meaning of this disturbance in the inner man? Now that he had committed himself to the betrayal of the friend who had trusted and served him, was he torn by remorse?
He was no more torn by remorse than you are while your eye is passing over this sentence. He was simply in a raging fever of impatience to see himself safely la nded at the end which he had in view.
Why should he feel remorse? All remorse springs, more or less directly, from the action of two sentiments, which are neither of them inbred in the natural man. The first of these sentiments is the product of the respect which we learn to feel for ourselves. The second is the product of the respect which we learn to feel for others. In their highest manifestations, these two feelings exalt themselves, until the first he comes the love of God, and the second the love of Man. I have injured you, and I repent of it when it is done. Why should I repent of it if I have gained something by it for my own self and if you can't make me feel it by injuring Me? I repent of it because there has been a sense put into me which tells me that I have sinned against Myself, and sinned against You. No such sense as that exists among the instincts of the natural man. And no such feelings as these troubled Geoffrey Delamayn; for Geoffrey Delamayn was the natural man.
When the idea of his scheme had sprung to life in his mind, the novelty of it had startled him--the enormous daring of it, suddenly self-revealed, had daunted him. The signs of emotion which he had betrayed at the writing-table in the library were the signs of mere mental perturbation, and of nothing more.
That first vivid impression past, the idea had made itself familiar to him. He had become composed enough to see such difficulties as it involved, and such consequences as it implied. These had fretted him with a passing trouble; for these he plainly discerned. As for the cruelty and the treachery of the thing he meditated doing--that consideration never crossed the limits of his mental view. His position toward the man whose life he had preserved was the position of a dog. The "noble animal" who has saved you or me from drowning will fly at your throat or mine, under certain conditions, ten minutes afterward. Add to the dog's unreasoning instinct the calculating cunning of a man; suppose yourself to be in a position to say of some trifling thing, "Curious! at such and such a time I happened to pick up such and such an object; and now it turns out to be of some use to me!"--and there you have an index to the state of Geoffrey's feeling toward his friend when he recalled the past or when he contemplated the future. When Arnold had spoken to him at the critical moment, Arnold had violently irritated him; and that was all.
The same impenetrable insensibility, the same primitively natural condition of the moral being, prevented him from being troubled by the slightest sense of pity for Anne. "She's out of my way!" was his first thought. "She's provided for, without any trouble to Me! was his second. He was not in the least uneasy about her. Not the slightest doubt crossed his mind that, when once she had realized her own situation, when once she saw herself placed between the two alternatives of facing her own ruin or of claiming Arnold as a last resource, she would claim Arnold. She would do it as a matter of course; because _he_ would have done it in her place.
But he wanted it over. He was wild, as he paced round and round the walnut-tree, to hurry on the crisis and be done with it. Give me my freedom to go to the other woman, and to train for the foot-race--that's what I want. _They_ injured? Confusion to them both! It's I who am injured by them. They are the worst enemies I have! They stand in my way.
How to be rid of them? There was the difficulty. He had made up his mind to be rid of them that day. How was he to begin?
There was no picking a quarrel with Arnold, and so beginning with _him._ This course of proceeding, in Arnold's position toward Blanche, would lead to a scandal at the outset--a scandal which would stand in the way of his making the right impression on Mrs. Glenarm. The woman--lonely and friendless, with her sex and her position both against her if _she_ tried to make a scandal of it--the woman was the one to begin with. Settle it at once and forever with Anne; and leave Arnold to hear of it and deal with it, sooner or later, no matter which.
How was he to break it to her before the day was out?
By going to the inn and openly addressing her to her face as Mrs. Arnold Brinkworth? No! He had had enough, at Windygates, of meeting her face to face. The easy way was to write to her, and send the letter, by the first messenger he could find, to the inn. She might appear afterward at Windygates; she might follow him to his brother's; she might appeal to his father. It didn't matter; he had got the whip-hand of her now. "You are a married woman." There was the one sufficient answer, which was strong enough to back him in denying any thing!
He made out the letter in his own mind. "Something like this would do," he thought, as he went round and round the walnut-tree: "You may be surprised not to have seen me. You have only yourself to thank for it. I know what took place between you and him at the inn. I have had a lawyer's advice. You are Arnold Brinkworth's wife. I wish you joy, and good-by forever." Address those lines: "To Mrs. Arnold Brinkworth;" instruct the messenger to leave the letter late that night, without waiting for an answer; start the first thing the next morning for his brother's house; and behold, it was done!
But even here there was an obstacle--one last exasperating obstacle--still in the way.
If she was known at the inn by any name at all, it was by the name of Mrs. Silvester. A letter addressed to "Mrs. Arnold Brinkworth" would probably not be taken in at the door; or if it was admitted. and if it was actually offered to her, she might decline to receive it, as a letter not addressed to herself. A man of readier mental resources would have seen that the name on the outside of the letter mattered little or nothing, so long as the contents were read by the person to whom they were addressed. But Geoffrey's was the order of mind which expresses disturbance by attaching importance to trifles. He attached an absurd importance to preserving absolute consistency in his letter, outside and in. If he declared her to be Arnold Brinkworth's wife, he must direct to her as Arnold Brinkworth's wife; or who could tell what the law might say, or what scrape he might not get himself into by a mere scratch of the pen! The more he thought of it, the more persuaded he felt of his own cleverness here, and the hotter and the angrier he grew.
There is a way out of every thing. And there was surely a way out of this, if he could only see it.
He failed to see it. After dealing with all the great difficulties, the small difficulty proved too much for him. It struck him that he might have been thinking too long about it--considering that he was not accustomed to thinking long about any thing. Besides, his head was getting giddy, with going mechanically round and round the tree. He irritably turned his back on the tree and struck into another path: resolved to think of something else, and then to return to his difficulty, and see it with a new eye.
Leaving his thoughts free to wander where they liked, his thoughts naturally busied themselves with the next subject that was uppermost in his mind, the subject of the Foot-Race. In a week's time his arrangements ought to be made. Now, as to the training, first.
He decided on employing two trainers this time. One to travel to Scotland, and begin with him at his brother's house. The other to take him up, with a fresh eye to him, on his return to London. He turned over in his mind the performances of the formidable rival against whom he was to be matched. That other man was the swiftest runner of the two. The betting in Geoffrey's favor was betting which calculated on the unparalleled length of the race, and on Geoffrey's prodigious powers of endurance. How long he should "wait on" the man? Whereabouts it would be safe to "pick the man up?" How near the end to calculate the man's exhaustion to a nicety, and "put on the spurt," and pass him? These were nice points to decide. The deliberations of a pedestrian-privy-council would be required to help him under this heavy responsibility. What men coul d he trust? He could trust A. and B.--both of them authorities: both of them stanch. Query about C.? As an authority, unexceptionable; as a man, doubtful. The problem relating to C. brought him to a standstill--and declined to be solved, even then. Never mind! he could always take the advice of A. and B. In the mean time devote C. to the infernal regions; and, thus dismissing him, try and think of something else. What else? Mrs. Glenarm? Oh, bother the women! one of them is the same as another. They all waddle when they run; and they all fill their stomachs before dinner with sloppy tea. That's the only difference between women and men--the rest is nothing but a weak imitation of Us. Devote the women to the infernal regions; and, so dismissing _them,_ try and think of something else. Of what? Of something worth thinking of, this time--of filling another pipe.
He took out his tobacco-pouch; and suddenly suspended operations at the moment of opening it.
What was the object he saw, on the other side of a row of dwarf pear-trees, away to the right? A woman--evidently a servant by her dress--stooping down with her back to him, gathering something: herbs they looked like, as well as he could make them out at the distance.
What was that thing hanging by a string at the woman's side? A slate? Yes. What the deuce did she want with a slate at her side? He was in search of something to divert his mind--and here it was found. "Any thing will do for me," he thought. "Suppose I 'chaff' her a little about her slate?"
He called to the woman across the pear-trees. "Hullo!"
The woman raised herself, and advanced toward him slowly--looking at him, as she came on, with the sunken eyes, the sorrow-stricken face, the stony tranquillity of Hester Dethridge.
Geoffrey was staggered. He had not bargained for exchanging the dullest producible vulgarities of human speech (called in the language of slang, "Chaff") with such a woman as this.
"What's that slate for?" he asked, not knowing what else to say, to begin with.
The woman lifted her hand to her lips--touched them--and shook her head.
The woman bowed her head.
"Who are you?"
The woman wrote on her slate, and handed it to him over the pear-trees. He read:--"I am the cook."
"Well, cook, were you born dumb?"
The woman shook her head.
"What struck you dumb?"
The woman wrote on her slate:--"A blow."
"Who gave you the blow?"
She shook her head.
"Won't you tell me?"
She shook her head again.
Her eyes had rested on his face while he was questioning her; staring at him, cold, dull, and changeless as the eyes of a corpse. Firm as his nerves were--dense as he was, on all ordinary occasions, to any thing in the shape of an imaginative impression--the eyes of the dumb cook slowly penetrated him with a stealthy inner chill. Something crept at the marrow of his back, and shuddered under the roots of his hair. He felt a sudden impulse to get away from her. It was simple enough; he had only to say good-morning, and go on. He did say good-morning--but he never moved. He put his hand into his pocket, and offered her some money, as a way of making _her_ go. She stretched out her hand across the pear-trees to take it--and stopped abruptly, with her arm suspended in the air. A sinister change passed over the deathlike tranquillity of her face. Her closed lips slowly dropped apart. Her dull eyes slowly dilated; looked away, sideways, from _his_ eyes; stopped again; and stared, rigid and glittering, over his shoulder--stared as if they saw a sight of horror behind him. "What the devil are you looking at?" he asked--and turned round quickly, with a start. There was neither person nor thing to be seen behind him. He turned back again to the woman. The woman had left him, under the influence of some sudden panic. She was hurrying away from him--running, old as she was--flying the sight of him, as if the sight of him was the pestilence.
"Mad!" he thought--and turned his back on the sight of her.
He found himself (hardly knowing how he had got there) under the walnut-tree once more. In a few minutes his hardy nerves had recovered themselves--he could laugh over the remembrance of the strange impression that had been produced on him. "Frightened for the first time in my life," he thought--"and that by an old woman! It's time I went into training again, when things have come to this!"
He looked at his watch. It was close on the luncheon hour up at the house; and he had not decided yet what to do about his letter to Anne. He resolved to decide, then and there.
The woman--the dumb woman, with the stony face and the horrid eyes--reappeared in his thoughts, and got in the way of his decision. Pooh! some crazed old servant, who might once have been cook; who was kept out of charity now. Nothing more important than that. No more of her! no more of her!
He laid himself down on the grass, and gave his mind to the serious question. How to address Anne as "Mrs. Arnold Brinkworth?" and how to make sure of her receiving the letter?
The dumb old woman got in his way again.
He closed his eyes impatiently, and tried to shut her out in a darkness of his own making.
The woman showed herself through the darkness. He saw her, as if he had just asked her a question, writing on her slate. What she wrote he failed to make out. It was all over in an instant. He started up, with a feeling of astonishment at himself--and, at the same moment his brain cleared with the suddenness of a flash of light. He saw his way, without a conscious effort on his own part, through the difficulty that had troubled him. Two envelopes, of course: an inner one, unsealed, and addressed to "Mrs. Arnold Brinkworth;" an outer one, sealed, and addressed to "Mrs. Silvester:" and there was the problem solved! Surely the simplest problem that had ever puzzled a stupid head.
Why had he not seen it before? Impossible to say.
How came he to have seen it now?
The dumb old woman reappeared in his thoughts--as if the answer to the question lay in something connected with _her._
He became alarmed about himself, for the first time in his life. Had this persistent impression, produced by nothing but a crazy old woman, any thing to do with the broken health which the surgeon had talked about? Was his head on the turn? Or had he smoked too much on an empty stomach, and gone too long (after traveling all night) without his customary drink of ale?
He left the garden to put that latter theory to the test forthwith. The betting would have gone dead against him if the public had seen him at that moment. He looked haggard and anxious--and with good reason too. His nervous system had suddenly forced itself on his notice, without the slightest previous introduction, and was saying (in an unknown tongue), Here I am!
Returning to the purely ornamental part of the grounds, Geoffrey encountered one of the footmen giving a message to one of the gardeners. He at once asked for the butler--as the only safe authority to consult in the present emergency.
Conducted to the butler's pantry, Geoffrey requested that functionary to produce a jug of his oldest ale, with appropriate solid nourishment in the shape of "a hunk of bread and cheese."
The butler stared. As a form of condescension among the upper classes this was quite new to him.
"Luncheon will be ready directly, Sir."
"What is there for lunch?"
The butler ran over an appetizing list of good dishes and rare wines.
"The devil take your kickshaws!" said Geoffrey. "Give me my old ale, and my hunk of bread and cheese."
"Where will you take them, Sir?"
"Here, to be sure! And the sooner the better."
The butler issued the necessary orders with all needful alacrity. He spread the simple refreshment demanded, before his distinguished guest, in a state of blank bewilderment. Here was a nobleman's son, and a public celebrity into the bargain, filling himself with bread and cheese and ale, in at once the most voracious and the most unpretending manner, at _his_ table! The butler ventured on a little complimentary familiarity. He smiled, and touched the betting-book in his breast-pocket. "I've put six pound on you, Sir, for the Race." "All right, old boy! you shall win your money!" With those noble words the honorable gentleman clapped him on the back, and held out his tumbler for some more ale. The butler felt trebly an Englishman as he filled the foaming glass. Ah! foreign nations may have their revolutions! foreign aristocracies may tumble down! The British aristocracy lives in the hearts of the people, and lives forever!
"Another!" said Geoffrey, presenting his empty glass. "Here's luck!" He tossed off his liquor at a draught, and nodded to the butler, and went out.
Had the experiment succeeded? Had he proved his own theory about himself to be right? Not a doubt of it! An empty stomach, and a determination of tobacco to the head--these were the true causes of that strange state of mind into which he had fallen in the kitchen-garden. The dumb woman with the stony face vanished as if in a mist. He felt nothing now but a comfortable buzzing in his head, a genial warmth all over him, and an unlimited capacity for carrying any responsibility that could rest on mortal shoulders. Geoffrey was himself again.
He went round toward the library, to write his letter to Anne--and so have done with that, to begin with. The company had collected in the library waiting for the luncheon-bell. All were idly talking; and some would be certain, if he showed himself, to fasten on _him._ He turned back again, without showing himself. The only way of writing in peace and quietness would be to wait until they were all at luncheon, and then return to the library. The same opportunity would serve also for finding a messenger to take the letter, without exciting attention, and for going away afterward, unseen, on a long walk by himself. An absence of two or three hours would cast the necessary dust in Arnold's eyes; for it would be certainly interpreted by him as meaning absence at an interview with Anne.
He strolled idly through the grounds, farther and farther away from the house.
The talk in the library--aimless and empty enough, for the most part--was talk to the purpose, in one corner of the room, in which Sir Patrick and Blanche were sitting together.
"Uncle! I have been watching you for the last minute or two."
"At my age, Blanche? that is paying me a very pretty compliment."
"Do you know what I have seen?"
"You have seen an old gentleman in want of his lunch."
"I have seen an old gentleman with something on his mind. What is it?"
"Suppressed gout, my dear."
"That won't do! I am not to be put off in that way. Uncle! I want to know--"
"Stop there, Blanche! A young lady who says she 'wants to know,' expresses very dangerous sentiments. Eve 'wanted to know'--and see what it led to. Faust 'wanted to know'--and got into bad company, as the necessary result."
"You are feeling anxious about something," persisted Blanche. "And, what is more, Sir Patrick, you behaved in a most unaccountable manner a little while since."
"When you went and hid yourself with Mr. Delamayn in that snug corner there. I saw you lead the way in, while I was at work on Lady Lundie's odious dinner-invitations."
"Oh! you call that being at work, do you? I wonder whether there was ever a woman yet who could give the whole of her mind to any earthly thing that she had to do?"
"Never mind the women! What subject in common could you and Mr. Delamayn possibly have to talk about? And why do I see a wrinkle between your eyebrows, now you have done with him?--a wrinkle which certainly wasn't there before you had that private conference together?"
Before answering, Sir Patrick considered whether he should take Blanche into his confidence or not. The attempt to identify Geoffrey's unnamed "lady," which he was determined to make, would lead him to Craig Fernie, and would no doubt end in obliging him to address himself to Anne. Blanche's intimate knowledge of her friend might unquestionably be made useful to him under these circumstances; and Blanche's discretion was to be trusted in any matter in which Miss Silvester's interests were concerned. On the other hand, caution was imperatively necessary, in the present imperfect state of his information--and caution, in Sir Patrick's mind, carried the day. He decided to wait and see what came first of his investigation at the inn.
"Mr. Delamayn consulted me on a dry point of law, in which a friend of his was interested," said Sir Patrick. "You have wasted your curiosity, my dear, on a subject totally unworthy of a lady's notice."
Blanche's penetration was not to be deceived on such easy terms as these. "Why not say at once that you won't tell me?" she rejoined. "_You_ shutting yourself up with Mr. Delamayn to talk law! _You_ looking absent and anxious about it afterward! I am a very unhappy girl!" said Blanche, with a little, bitter sigh. "There is something in me that seems to repel the people I love. Not a word in confidence can I get from Anne. And not a word in confidence can I get from you. And I do so long to sympathize! It's very hard. I think I shall go to Arnold."
Sir Patrick took his niece's hand.
"Stop a minute, Blanche. About Miss Silvester? Have you heard from her to-day?"
"No. I am more unhappy about her than words can say."
"Suppose somebody went to Craig Fernie and tried to find out the cause of Miss Silvester's silence? Would you believe that somebody sympathized with you then?"
Blanche's face flushed brightly with pleasure and surprise. She raised Sir Patrick's hand gratefully to her lips.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "You don't mean that _you_ would do that?"
"I am certainly the last person who ought to do it--seeing that you went to the inn in flat rebellion against my orders, and that I only forgave you, on your own promise of amendment, the other day. It is a miserably weak proceeding on the part of 'the head of the family' to be turning his back on his own principles, because his niece happens to be anxious and unhappy. Still (if you could lend me your little carriage), I _might_ take a surly drive toward Craig Fernie, all by myself, and I _might_ stumble against Miss Silvester--in case you have any thing to say."
"Any thing to say?" repeated Blanche. She put her arm round her uncle's neck, and whispered in his ear one of the most interminable messages that ever was sent from one human being to another. Sir Patrick listened, with a growing interest in the inquiry on which he was secretly bent. "The woman must have some noble qualities," he thought, "who can inspire such devotion as this."
While Blanche was whispering to her uncle, a second private conference--of the purely domestic sort--was taking place between Lady Lundie and the butler, in the hall outside the library door.
"I am sorry to say, my lady, Hester Dethridge has broken out again."
"What do you mean?"
"She was all right, my lady, when she went into the kitchen-garden, some time since. She's taken strange again, now she has come back. Wants the rest of the day to herself, your ladyship. Says she's overworked, with all the company in the house--and, I must say, does look like a person troubled and worn out in body and mind."
"Don't talk nonsense, Roberts! The woman is obstinate and idle and insolent. She is now in the house, as you know, under a month's notice to leave. If she doesn't choose to do her duty for that month I shall refuse to give her a character. Who is to cook the dinner to-day if I give Hester Dethridge leave to go out?"
"Any way, my lady, I am afraid the kitchen-maid will have to do her best to-day. Hester is very obstinate, when the fit takes her--as your ladyship says."
"If Hester Dethridge leaves the kitchen-maid to cook the dinner, Roberts, Hester Dethridge leaves my service to-day. I want no more words about it. If she persists in setting my orders at defiance, let her bring her account-book into the library, while we are at lunch, and lay it out my desk. I shall be back in the library after luncheon--and if I see the account-book I shall know what it means. In that case, you will receive my directions to settle with her and send her away. Ring the luncheon-bell."
The luncheon-bell rang. The guests all took the direction of the dining -room; Sir Patrick following, from the far end of the library, with Blanche on his arm. Arrived at the dining-room door, Blanche stopped, and asked her uncle to excuse her if she left him to go in by himself.
"I will be back directly," she said. "I have forgotten something up stairs."
Sir Patrick went in. The dining-room door closed; and Blanche returned alone to the library. Now on one pretense, and now on another, she had, for three days past, faithfully fulfilled the engagement she had made at Craig Fernie to wait ten minutes after luncheon-time in the library, on the chance of seeing Anne. On this, the fourth occasion, the faithful girl sat down alone in the great room, and waited with her eyes fixed on the lawn outside.
Five minutes passed, and nothing living appeared but the birds hopping about the grass.
In less than a minute more Blanche's quick ear caught the faint sound of a woman's dress brushing over the lawn. She ran to the nearest window, looked out, and clapped her hands with a cry of delight. There was the well-known figure, rapidly approaching her! Anne was true to their friendship--Anne had kept her engagement at last!
Blanche hurried out, and drew her into the library in triumph. "This makes amends, love for every thing! You answer my letter in the best of all ways--you bring me your own dear self."
She placed Anne in a chair, and, lifting her veil, saw her plainly in the brilliant mid-day light.
The change in the whole woman was nothing less than dreadful to the loving eyes that rested on her. She looked years older than her real age. There was a dull calm in her face, a stagnant, stupefied submission to any thing, pitiable to see. Three days and nights of solitude and grief, three days and nights of unresting and unpartaken suspense, had crushed that sensitive nature, had frozen that warm heart. The animating spirit was gone--the mere shell of the woman lived and moved, a mockery of her former self.
"Oh, Anne! Anne! What _can_ have happened to you? Are you frightened? There's not the least fear of any body disturbing us. They are all at luncheon, and the servants are at dinner. We have the room entirely to ourselves. My darling! you look so faint and strange! Let me get you something."
Anne drew Blanche's head down and kissed her. It was done in a dull, slow way--without a word, without a tear, without a sigh.
"You're tired--I'm sure you're tired. Have you walked here? You sha'n't go back on foot; I'll take care of that!"
Anne roused herself at those words. She spoke for the first time. The tone was lower than was natural to her; sadder than was natural to her--but the charm of her voice, the native gentleness and beauty of it, seemed to have survived the wreck of all besides.
"I don't go back, Blanche. I have left the inn."
"Left the inn? With your husband?"
She answered the first question--not the second.
"I can't go back," she said. "The inn is no place for me. A curse seems to follow me, Blanche, wherever I go. I am the cause of quarreling and wretchedness, without meaning it, God knows. The old man who is head-waiter at the inn has been kind to me, my dear, in his way, and he and the landlady had hard words together about it. A quarrel, a shocking, violent quarrel. He has lost his place in consequence. The woman, his mistress, lays all the blame of it to my door. She is a hard woman; and she has been harder than ever since Bishopriggs went away. I have missed a letter at the inn--I must have thrown it aside, I suppose, and forgotten it. I only know that I remembered about it, and couldn't find it last night. I told the landlady, and she fastened a quarrel on me almost before the words were out of my mouth. Asked me if I charged her with stealing my letter. Said things to me--I can't repeat them. I am not very well, and not able to deal with people of that sort. I thought it best to leave Craig Fernie this morning. I hope and pray I shall never see Craig Fernie again."
She told her little story with a total absence of emotion of any sort, and laid her head back wearily on the chair when it was done.
Blanche's eyes filled with tears at the sight of her.
"I won't tease you with questions, Anne," she said, gently. "Come up stairs and rest in my room. You're not fit to travel, love. I'll take care that nobody comes near us."
The stable-clock at Windygates struck the quarter to two. Anne raised herself in the chair with a start.
"What time was that?" she asked.
Blanche told her.
"I can't stay," she said. "I have come here to find something out if I can. You won't ask me questions? Don't, Blanche, don't! for the sake of old times."
Blanche turned aside, heart-sick. "I will do nothing, dear, to annoy you," she said, and took Anne's hand, and hid the tears that were beginning to fall over her cheeks.
"I want to know something, Blanche. Will you tell me?"
"Yes. What is it?"
"Who are the gentlemen staying in the house?"
Blanche looked round at her again, in sudden astonishment and alarm. A vague fear seized her that Anne's mind had given way under the heavy weight of trouble laid on it. Anne persisted in pressing her strange request.
"Run over their names, Blanche. I have a reason for wishing to know who the gentlemen are who are staying in the house."
Blanche repeated the names of Lady Lundie's guests, leaving to the last the guests who had arrived last.
"Two more came back this morning," she went on. "Arnold Brinkworth and that hateful friend of his, Mr. Delamayn."
Anne's head sank back once more on the chair. She had found her way without exciting suspicion of the truth, to the one discovery which she had come to Windygates to make. He was in Scotland again, and he had only arrived from London that morning. There was barely time for him to have communicated with Craig Fernie before she left the inn--he, too, who hated letter-writing! The circumstances were all in his favor: there was no reason, there was really and truly no reason, so far, to believe that he had deserted her. The heart of the unhappy woman bounded in her bosom, under the first ray of hope that had warmed it for four days past. Under that sudden revulsion of feeling, her weakened frame shook from head to foot. Her face flushed deep for a moment--then turned deadly pale again. Blanche, anxiously watching her, saw the serious necessity for giving some restorative to her instantly.
"I am going to get you some wine--you will faint, Anne, if you don't take something. I shall be back in a moment; and I can manage it without any body being the wiser."
She pushed Anne's chair close to the nearest open window--a window at the upper end of the library--and ran out.
Blanche had barely left the room, by the door that led into the, hall, when Geoffrey entered it by one of the lower windows opening from the lawn.
With his mind absorbed in the letter that he was about to write, he slowly advanced up the room toward the nearest table. Anne, hearing the sound of footsteps, started, and looked round. Her failing strength rallied in an instant, under the sudden relief of seeing him again. She rose and advanced eagerly, with a faint tinge of color in her cheeks. He looked up. The two stood face to face together--alone.
He looked at her without answering--without advancing a step, on his side. There was an evil light in his eyes; his silence was the brute silence that threatens dumbly. He had made up his mind never to see her again, and she had entrapped him into an interview. He had made up his mind to write, and there she stood forcing him to speak. The sum of her offenses against him was now complete. If there had ever been the faintest hope of her raising even a passing pity in his heart, that hope would have been annihilated now.
She failed to understand the full meaning of his silence. She made her excuses, poor soul, for venturing back to Windygates--her excuses to the man whose purpose at that moment was to throw her helpless on the world.
"Pray forgive me for coming here," she said. "I have done nothing to compromise you, Geoffrey. Nobody but Blanche knows I am at Windygates. And I have contrived to make my inquiri es about you without allowing her to suspect our secret." She stopped, and began to tremble. She saw something more in his face than she had read in it at first. "I got your letter," she went on, rallying her sinking courage. "I don't complain of its being so short: you don't like letter-writing, I know. But you promised I should hear from you again. And I have never heard. And oh, Geoffrey, it was so lonely at the inn!"
She stopped again, and supported herself by resting her hand on the table. The faintness was stealing back on her. She tried to go on again. It was useless--she could only look at him now.
"What do you want?" he asked, in the tone of a man who was putting an unimportant question to a total stranger.
A last gleam of her old energy flickered up in her face, like a dying flame.
"I am broken by what I have gone through," she said. "Don't insult me by making me remind you of your promise."
"For shame, Geoffrey! for shame! Your promise to marry me."
"You claim my promise after what you have done at the inn?"
She steadied herself against the table with one hand, and put the other hand to her head. Her brain was giddy. The effort to think was too much for her. She said to herself, vacantly, "The inn? What did I do at the inn?"
"I have had a lawyer's advice, mind! I know what I am talking about."
She appeared not to have heard him. She repeated the words, "What did I do at the inn?" and gave it up in despair. Holding by the table, she came close to him and laid her hand on his arm.
"Do you refuse to marry me?" she asked.
He saw the vile opportunity, and said the vile words.
"You're married already to Arnold Brinkworth."
Without a cry to warn him, without an effort to save herself, she dropped senseless at his feet; as her mother had dropped at his father's feet in the by-gone time.
He disentangled himself from the folds of her dress. "Done!" he said, looking down at her as she lay on the floor.
As the word fell from his lips he was startled by a sound in the inner part of the house. One of the library doors had not been completely closed. Light footsteps were audible, advancing rapidly across the hall.
He turned and fled, leaving the library, as he had entered it, by the open window at the lower end of the room.