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What was she doing now, he wondered; reading his loveletter, or writing him one; or kissing those boys who, after all, were his own; or in thought standing beside him in this chamber, as in spirit he had left it to seek her ?
Self-controlled as he was, the blood rose to his temples and his heart thrilled with a nearer and more vivid sensation of her presence as his father's servant approached bearing a telegramfrom her, of course—a little message to keep him from growing too hungry before he could receive her letter. He tore it open, and without heeding to look from whom it came, read the context:
“Hester Clarke, mother to the child born six years ago, and drowned by her servant, Janet Stork, in the Shifting Pool, is here; she has seen and spoken with your wife. Meet me at Lord A—'s at one to-morrow, as without you no reprieve can be obtained."
He read it straight through without a muscle of his face changing, then walked like a drunken man to the next room, where he sat down and remained quite motionless for perhaps a minute, when he looked up, and seeing the man who still lingered by the door, certain of disaster, yet not daring to ask a single question, he bade him prepare him at once for his departure, as he would be setting out for England immediately.
"And is it so bad that you can't wait till the breath's out of master's body, sir?" said the old servant, in amazement.
To this Mr. Eyre vouchsafed no reply, but sat without movement of any kind at the table for about ten minutes, when he rose, and entering his father's room, stood for a moment looking down on him.
He was on the point of turning to go, when the old man opened his eyes, reasonable and mocking as they had been yesterday.
“Father,” said Mr. Eyre, the word rising unbidden to his lips that had not passed them for thirty years, “ I must leave you, and at once."
“Has your wife gone off with your best friend?” said the old man cynically; “better stay with me a wife is never worth running after unless she happens to belong to another man, and not always then. Stay where you are—I shall want you to protect me against that Abigail's rapacity by-and-by; besides, you know there are fifty roads to town, and rather more to Heaven, and it is your duty to stay and see that I don't take the wrong turning," he added, with a sardonic smile.
*You spoke last night of something you must tell me before you died,” said Mr. Eyre, looking at his watch ; "in three minutes I shall have left this house."
“ Probably to fulfil a worse fate than ever befell an Eyre yet, said the old man significantly; "it never threatened meBarrington escaped it by death ; but I've seen some dangerous signs in you-odd that it never occurred to anybody, and odder still the way I found out the old Jezebel's secret; so you'll stay,” he added sharply, “or rue it to the last day of your life.”
“Farewell, then," said Mr. Eyre, turning on his father a look of which he knew not the strangeness, and moving to the door.
Stay !” cried the old man, struggling to rise ; “you are going to your doom-it is written on your face"-but Mr. Eyre did not hear him, nor if he had heard, would he have returned; till the moment that he should find himself face to face with Madcap, he would be as one in whom the very life itself is suspended.
As he stood with his foot on the carriage-step, giving directions that any letters that should arrive for him should be re-directed to Lovel, a confusion made itself heard in the house behind him, in the midst of which rose a woman's affected shriek. “Your master is dead," said Mr. Eyre calmly, “tell Saunders to make all arrangements for the funeral to take place at Lovel ;” then gave the signal to drive on, and was gone.
Since in the toils of Fate Thou art enclos’d, submit, if thou canst brook submission. MR. EYRE arrived in town shortly after twelve next day (Friday), and proceeded immediately to the transaction of one of the most difficult businesses it had ever been his lot to undertake.
He was expected, and shown immediately into the presence of the man whose hand held the scales in which more than one life was trembling; and after a quarter of an hour's interview, left, not waiting for Lord Lovel, who was expected in ten minutes. Mr. Eyre had telegraphed from Paris for a special train to be in readiness at one o'clock to take him to Lovel, there being no ordinary one for some hours; and as it left the
great city behind, he threw himself back on the cushions, and for the first time absolutely alone since he had received Frank's telegram, began consecutively to think. He had neither broken bread nor tasted wine since that time the day before, but no signs of fatigue were visible in his face or bearing. His brow was still of rock, his lips of adamant. He looked a man bucklered and panoplied against Fate-a target whence her poisoned arrows must glance aside, perchance wounding others, but never himself. Presently he rose, and began to pace the saloon carriage from end to end.
Action of some kind ever seemed indispensable to this man, but all his deeds were as free from hurry, his powerful will as little influenced by outward causes, as the onward, effortless sweep of the albatross is affected by the winds that play around it.
An enemy had once likened him to Etna as described by Pindar, “the nurse of everlasting frost concealing within deep caverns the fountains of unapproachable fire;” and it was partly perhaps this conviction that beneath an habitual reserve he harboured profound passions that made him the force among men that he undoubtedly was.
As he approached Lovel one or two signs of impatience escaped him ; but no one who saw him alight would have dreamed that there went a man whose every hope of earthly happiness hung on the issues of the next half-hour.
“You have the reprieve, sir ?” the station-master ventured to say when he had recovered from his amazement.
“Not I," said Mr. Eyre, looking at the man as though he would read his very soul.
“But Lord Lovel—" said the man, trembling at his own audacity.
“Oh! he's coming," said Mr. Eyre carelessly. “You may expect him by the last train;" and he went his way on foot.
“It's all over with her," said the man, as he went back to the station ; and in less than half an hour every soul in Lovel and Marmiton alike knew that all hope for the condemned woman was past.
Mr. Eyre walked across the fields with his usual firmi step, and observed one or two instances of neglect that would ensure a sharp rebuke to a tenant on the morrow. He noted, too, the old thorn beneath which Madcap loved to sit, and the hedge in which, at a certain time of the year, she never failed to search for moss-cups.
At every step of the way, indeed, he was reminded of his wife, and yet he had no definite thought of her as he went. I suppose the man led out to be hanged does not think of the gallows that rear themselves before him against the pale morning sky; his intense consciousness of them goes deeper than mere sight or thought .... and it was with no distinct impression of Madcap in his mind that Mr. Eyre crossed his own threshold, and through the open door went in search of her. It seemed natural to him that the house should be still and quiet as a grave. He did not even seek for her in the lower rooms, but went upstairs, knowing that he would find her there ; and only when he found himself in her chamber, and looking at something white stretched on the distant bed, acknowledged to himself the awful fear that had haunted his journey. He looked at it awhile in the dim misleading light, then forced himself to come nearer; and seeing what it was, put a fold of it to his lips, then crossed the room to his own that lay beyond.
Through the open doorway he saw her as she knelt close to the window-pane-her curly head looked dark against it, as the young curves of her shape seemed white as an angel's, while her voice had the sweetness of one, as with eyes fixed on the pages she whispered aloud the concluding line of his last letter: “Good night! good night! don't fear but that this and every night I stand beside you ; and when you fall asleep, be sure that I think you dream of me.
“Only good night!” she said aloud, as she folded the letter; “I thought it had been 'Good-bye' yesterday!”
She knew then, and it had broken neither her heart nor her love .... he had not understood her, and for the first time it occurred to Mr. Eyre whether his passion for her were not out of some proportion to its object . . . . and yet it had never entered into his calculations to give all, where less might have contented.
Suddenly she looked up and saw him standing in the doorway -silent, dark, even terrible in the gloom—and for a moment, in that great stound of wonder that almost touched fear, she had not power to move, then ran to him, and as his arms closed about her, realised what her life must have been without him.
It was as executioner rather than criminal that he took her face in his hands and lifted it to his own.
“And so-Madcap,” he said; "and so—” She clasped both hands about that iron one, and looked up
in his face as he had told himself she would look when they were face to face, and said,
“But you'll forgive me?”
He loosed her suddenly. It must always be a wry moment for the murderer when his victim asks his forgiveness .. Madcap it was a frightful one when she stood alone, feeling like a child that, having dreamed itself lost, and wakened sobbing to the clasp of its mother's arms, is all at once thrust out to the ice-cold, desolate wild. .
“I have been very wicked," she said, feeling that he was a hundred miles away as he stood with fixed gaze bent upon her; "I have dishonoured you in my thoughts. . . . I was going away
but it was his fault—a word would have saved me, and he would not speak it; but at last, at last he told me the truth.”
“And what was the truth, Madcap?” said Mr. Eyre calmly.
“He had loved her once," said Madcap, trembling, and perhaps-perhaps for love of me, he did not love her any more
and so left her ... and her little baby was born on what she thought to be our weddingday.”
“And was it not ?” he said, almost harshly.
" and it died .... and it was like Dody and she said the father of one must be the father of both and it was strange, was it not, that Frank's child should be so like yours?"
“ Frank's ?" said Mr. Eyre, recoiling.
“He says that she is mad on that point," said Madcap wistfully. And I am glad now that I was able to be kind to her—that I kissed her ... did you not think him honest and brave and true?"-she went on with a sudden catch in her breath-"I could not have believed it of him if he had not told me with his own lips .... and he was so young toosomehow I never thought of the man she loved as being like Frank—but like you
you will never love him again, and I despise him” she added passionately, “when he stood before me and said that he would not marry her, would not retrieve the awful irreparable wrong he had done her, I hated him-I compared him with you—your honour with his dishonour, and I taunted him with being what he was, a liar and a coward; and yet he could tell me another lie after that, that I must not go to Hester, for that she would not see me me to whom she had told the whole story; and we had cried