Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The silver cord - Part 2
THE SILVER CORD.
BY SHIRLEY BROOKS.
When a Frenchman’s wife disappears (if the fact is likely to be known among his friends) he selects his seconds, and practises his thrust in tierce. When the same misfortune happens to an American, he fills his pockets with revolvers, and bides his time. When an Englishman is so unhappy as to find his castle left unto him desolate, he consults his solicitor.
Let it be distinctly understood at the outset of our narrative, that Arthur Lygon, shocked, staggering, bewildered, was loyal and true to the woman whom he loved. For not one moment did the husband of Laura admit to his heart a single thought that accused her honour and his own. The first idea that would occur to most men, surrounded by such circumstances as those described in our opening chapter, would be, not unnaturally, that conjugal relations between the wife and the husband were over for ever and ever. That first idea would have been the very last for Arthur Lygon, or, rather, it never arose to him at all. After a long and wearying night, during which every possibility that his brain could suggest as the cause of the sorrow that had come upon him presented itself with sickening iteration, until the gradually deadening faculty refused to be driven along the dreary paths of conjecture, and the bright dawn found him pale, nervous, and agitated, Lygon’s true heart was still brave and firm enough to resist, unconsciously, the entrance of any base thought. His wife had encountered some fearful misfortune, and to rescue her, and restore her to the home whence she had been lured, or forced, or driven by some agency which it was his to trace and punish—that was Arthur Lygon’s business. And when, after that terrible night-watch, he stood at his opened window, and cooled his forehead in the soft air of the summer morning, he had no angry words to utter, no sighs for his own tribulation, no reproaches against an undeserved destiny to pour out, after the fashion of heroes who are suddenly grieved or wronged. His one thought was for the delivery of Laura from the unknown enemy. A most unpicturesque, ineffective hero, indeed, and one upon whom such a chance of melting pathos and of fiery declamation was wantonly wasted, but you must take him as he is. The loss is mine. I mourn for the eloquence that he might have launched into the night, the vows which he might have called on the rising sun to attest and register. In lieu of such a record, I have to do the humblest duty, that of telling the exact truth. Miserable and disturbed, he waited for the day, and when the morning was somewhat advanced, he bathed, dressed, and left his room as calmly, to outward appearances, as he had done on the preceding day.
With prompt resolve that there should be no shadow of suspicion in his household, Mr. Lygon had, within an hour from receiving the mysterious message, gone down-stairs, and in the presence of the children, but not addressing the falsehood to them—we are strange creatures—had informed a servant that a very dear friend of himself and of Mrs. Lygon lay at the point of death in Herefordshire, and that she had most properly hurried off in hope to be in time to see the departing lady. He managed, as if accidentally, to drop into the explanation a word or two implying that the dying friend was rich, thus certain to convey an impression which would be at once acceptable to domestics, for whom the information was intended. He trusted that in five minutes they would be cunningly nodding their heads in approval of their mistress’s cleverness in looking after the interests of her family; and he was not deceived. He even went through the ceremony of the dinner, and his silence and thoughtfulness were easily accounted for by his servants. It had been cruel work, however, to contend against the chatter of the children.
“Has the lady ever been here, papa?” demanded Frederick. “Do we know her?”
“No, no, dear.”
“Have I seen her?” asked Walter, who, as the eldest, deemed that his prolonged experience had probably embraced the acquaintance in question.
“No, Walter. But we’ll not talk about it any more, dears. The loss of one whom we love is a very sad thing, and at present we do not know what it may please God should happen. So we will not speak any more about it until we hear from mamma.”
And, as may easily be supposed, the few hours during which it was necessary to support appearances seemed anything but few or brief to Arthur Lygon; but they passed. His children’s last kisses were warm upon his cheek when he once more locked himself into the room in which a happy father had, on three anxious, happy days, presented a newly-born child, for the kiss of a pale but smiling mother—of her who had left him, and all of them.
When Mr. Lygon, accompanied by little Clara, proud of being her father’s companion, and almost prouder of being placed in charge of carpet-bag and cloaks, reached Lipthwaite, he drove straight to the house of Mr. Berry, but found that the latter had taken his pony and ridden across to the Abbey. Mrs. Berry had gone into the town, but the servant, who knew Mr. Lygon well, and was rapturous at the sight of the little girl of whom much had been heard, but who had never visited the place where her beautiful mother had been married, was as ready with the hospitality of Cromwell Lodge as the owners could have been. Lunch was to be ready in ten minutes, and an early dinner should be got for Miss Clara, and, in the meantime, would she have some strawberries and cream after the journey?
“Thanks, Hester, thanks. But, no, we will not have anything at present. We’ll leave our things, and take a walk. I want to show my little girl the Hill and the view, and when we come back, I dare say that your master or mistress will have returned.”
Hester made another struggle to administer refreshment of some kind.
“Indeed she does not want anything,” said Mr. Lygon. “It is but two hours since we breakfasted. Look here, Hester, I see the great telescope is still sticking out at the library window.”
“Master is never tired of looking through that, sir, and finding out all that goes on up on the Hill.”
“Well, if he comes in before we return, tell him to look there for us. Now, Clara, darling.”
“But let me just cut a paper of sandwiches for Miss Clara,” pleaded Hester. “The air up there gives people such an appetite, if we might guess, master says, by the awful great baskets they take up with ’em.”
“We shall be all the readier for lunch, Hester, thank you,” said Mr. Lygon, leading Clara away with him.
The child was delighted with the walk, with the little tree bridge over the clear water, in which she actually saw a fish, and with the ascent of the height, and her merry chatter rattled out unceasingly. She was never much at a loss for talk, but the best orators are aided by accidents, and when Miss Clara’s discourse was helped by such sparkling incidents as the scramble of a real squirrel up a tree close to her, by the vision of a little snake writhing across the path, and the meeting a boy with a hedgehog, which he presented to her in the kindest and uncouthest manner, and which she carried a good way, to the extreme detriment of her prettily fitting little green gloves (when releasing it being utterly out of the question with her, her father transferred it to his pocket), it may easily be imagined that her voice was very busy with the echoes of our hill.
“Oh! if mamma could only see this lovely place,” she exclaimed, as they turned out of some shade, stood on the rocky edge, and saw the rich country below flooded with the sunshine of a summer noon.
“My child, she knows every bit of this hill, and all round it, as well as I do, and better.”
And indeed it was true, for it was around, and about, and over the hill that Laura Vernon had guided Arthur Lygon in the happy days when he was persuading her to let him be her guide over the Hill of Difficulty called Life.
“Oh! I wish she was here.”
“So do I, love,” said Mr. Lygon, in a voice which he endeavoured, not very successfully, to make a cheerful one.
They followed to its end a path which was about two-thirds up the hill, and which, winding through a thick shade, terminated on an open, on which the bright white light shone in all its power. Here Lygon stopped, pointed out to Clara a few of the points in the landscape, and then told her to wander about, if she liked, as he would lie down, and look at something he had to read.
“Don’t go too far from me, and keep out of the sun, darling. Call out to me, if you miss your way.”
“But you will take care of the poor little hedgehog, papa?”
“All care, dear.”
And the happy child departed on her exploration, singing gaily, and with her head full of hedgehogs, squirrels, snakes, caves, and all the wonders of the new world into which she had been brought.
It was, however, only a cry of delight and excitement that roused him from his own thoughts. A few steps brought him where he could see her, above him.
And a prettier little fairy of the forest had not been seen on the old hill. In a setting of green leaves, her light dress stood out like some strange new flower, and as her dark hair fell over her shoulders—the hat on the ground was much too full of wild-flowers, coloured stones, and other treasures, to be at all available for its ordinary purpose—and stirred in the slight breezes, her bright face, flushed with heat and delight, quite glowed while she stood intently watching some object below. Even her father’s troubled eye could not fail to note her rare beauty.
“I see the house, I see the telescope!” she cried, “and a gentleman at the door is waving a handkerchief at me.”
And she waved her own in return, with infinite energy, and her eyes sparkled as she perceived that her fairy signal was recognised.
They returned to the lodge, and found not only Mr. Berry but his wife, and were heartily welcomed by the former, and were received with all proper and decorous attention by the latter.
“But how shabby to come without Laura,” said Mr. Berry. “Clara, how could you let papa leave mamma behind?”
“But mamma has gone into the country herself, so we couldn’t bring her,” explained Clara.
Foreseeing the question, Mr. Lygon had prepared himself with the reply. Mr. and Mrs. Berry had known his wife from girlhood, and the half explanation which Lygon had made at home would, he felt, be hardly sufficient for the Berrys, who were tolerably well acquainted with the names, at least, of all her intimate friends. He had come down to give his full confidence to Mr. Berry, but had not the slightest intention of entrusting it to the solicitor’s wife, whom indeed he loved not.
“Yes,” said Mr. Lygon, promptly—perhaps a little more promptly than would have been quite natural had there been no secret to keep. “Poor j Mrs. Cateaton—did you not meet her at our house, Mrs. Berry, when you came to town the year before last—”
“I do not seem to remember the name,” said Mrs. Berry, looking him very straight in the face with her cold, light, but not very clear eyes.
Mrs. Berry was some ten or twelve years younger than her husband. In earlier life she had seemed passably pretty, when seen in a group of young girls, a sort of partnership which, to a careless eye, invests all the members of the firm with shares in the personal advantages of each. But when an observer, drawing back from the party, calmly and silently limited the partnership, and assigned to each young lady her own portion of the united assets, he did not make much of the contributions of Marion Wagstaffe. Against a pleasant though cold smile, a clear blonde complexion, rather a good figure, white, but not small hands, a readiness of speech, some neatness in language, and perfect self-composure, which one might transfer to the wrong side of the account by calling it self-complacency, the accountant had to set the light eyes that have been mentioned, and to add that they were objectionably watchful, and never in repose. He had also to note that the voice which proceeded from those unsympathetic-looking lips was, though clear, liable to become too high for a sensitive ear, and though this would have been of no consequence, had the habitual utterances been kindly, he would have remarked that Miss Wagstaffe’s forte was in retort, and that even in the lightest conversation her share was usually the detection of a friend’s ignorance, or the correction of a friend’s English. Marion was tall, and height is a merit in its way; but not especially so when one avails oneself of it as a tower of espial, and rejoices in the ability to look down with undue ease upon the misdoings of a shorter world;—and so did Marion Wagstaffe use those extra inches. Certainly she was not an amiable girl, but, dressing well, smiling readily, and keeping her light braided hair very neat, she somehow took her place among amiable girls, and used to be invited a good deal by people who would scarcely have cared to say that they liked her. She could not sing, but had grappled determinately with the keyboard, and what mechanical labour can attain there, Marion had seized, and marked the time with commendable precision when she played quadrilles—everybody has some virtue.
This was the account as it would have been made up, errors excepted, when she was two-and-twenty. In completing it, to be rendered at the date of our story, the age had to be doubled, and important additions had to be made. Among them was her having become possessed of about four hundred a year in her own right (by the bequest of a distant relative, who was most anxious to leave her property not only away from her near relations, but in a quarter whence it was morally certain that no weakness would send back a shilling to the baffled expectants), and her having secured the hand of the prosperous solicitor of Lipthwaite. How Edward Allingham Berry was induced to marry a woman who was certainly about as unlike himself in character as possible, it is not for me to try to explain. He was rich, and therefore the addition of riches might have been an aid in bringing about the union. But he was a thoughtful man, and could scarcely have admired her shallow smartness; a kindly man, and could not but dislike her incessant antagonism; a sincere man (attorneyism deducted), and must have been annoyed by her mysteries and reticences. However, they married, and it is just to say that the unamiable woman became a most foolishly indulgent and devoted mother, and that the blow which took her children from her was more terribly felt than the world believed that Marion Berry could feel. Nevertheless, it did not soften her, though it went well nigh to crush her. The cold smile was almost as ready on the thin lips as of old. Such was the person who was looking at Mr. Lygon, and waiting further explanation of Mrs. Lygon’s absence from London.
“Why, papa,” broke in Clara, “you told Walter that the lady had never been at our house.”
“No, no, dear,” said Mr. Lygon, calmly. “I told him that he did not know her. But I thought, Mrs. Berry, that you had met Mrs. Cateaton. What put that into my head? However, she is exceedingly—dangerously—ill, and she telegraphed for Laura to go down and see her.”
“What part of the country?”
“My aunt Empson comes from Herefordshire. She will be here in the course of the afternoon, and perhaps knows the lady. What—”
“Ah!” said Lygon, quickly, for he wanted, of course, to ask a question just here instead of answering one. “What part of the country does your aunt come from?”
Did he expect to win the trick? Mrs. Berry suspected nothing, but habit induced her always to take every conversational advantage.
“Why,” she said, “—um—dear me—tst—tst—I hope that I am not losing my memory as well as my eyesight—what is the place called? I shall be able to tell you in a minute. What is the name of Mrs. Cateaton’s place—that may bring it to me?”
“Long Edgecombe,” said Mr. Lygon, who thought an invented name was safer than a real one.
“I don’t remember that name; but we’ll look at the map presently, and that will remind me of aunt’s place.”
“Meantime we’ll have some lunch,” said Mr. Berry. “You can’t think how glad I am to see you, Arthur. And one word’s as good as a hundred—we’re not going to have a fly-a-way visit from you this time, especially as you have brought Miss to see her mamma’s country. To-day we’ll have a chat and a ramble, but to-morrow we’ll give her a long drive, perhaps to Bingley, and Saturday we’ll talk about by and by. Lord Annonbury’s grounds are open on Saturdays, but I’m afraid not the house, and that’s the best part of the sight—but I’ll ascertain.”
And over these and other of the kindly schemings of a host who is delighted to see his guests, Mr. Berry talked during the lunch.
“Do you like leaving your house to the care of servants only?” said Mrs. Berry. She did not mean to be inhospitable, but it was in her nature to take the least pleasant view of everything.
“One would rather not, of course,” replied Mr. Lygon. “But Price is quite a person to trust at need.”
“But there was no need for you to leave until Mrs. Lygon came back.”
“Civil speech, my dear,” said Mr. Berry, “considering that Arthur left town to come to us.”
“I don’t imagine that Mr. Lygon suspects me of intending to be uncivil, Edward,” said Mrs. Berry, putting on the grievance-look which some women assume with such promptness. “I suppose that he would have too much self-respect to visit where the lady of the house was capable of anything of the kind.”
“Well, take some wine with him, then,” said Mr. Berry, laughing, “and show him that you are very glad to see him.”
“I am taking bitter ale, as you know I always do in the morning, Mr. Berry, but Mr. Lygon wants no assurance that he is welcome.”
“Then he shall take wine with me,” said Mr. Berry. “Your health, Arthur, and the missus’s, and yours, Miss Clara, and may you make as pretty and good a woman as mamma.”
“As good and as pretty, I should have said,” observed Mrs. Berry, “if it had been necessary to say anything about prettiness at all. May you be a good girl, Clara, as far as any of us can be said to be good, and never mind about the looks.”
And Mrs. Berry sipped at her bitter mixture. Those may call it ale who have no national feelings, no love of national traditions, and no sense of the responsibilities of language, but there is one pen that shall never so disgrace its Mother Goose.
“Never mind about the looks!” repeated Mr. Berry, cheerily. “But I do mind about the looks, and I mind about them a great deal. I hate ugly people, and I always used to like them to be on the other side of a case in which I was engaged. One made out one’s costs with such gusto when one thought what a hideous face the enemy would twist over a good bouncing item.”
“Mr. Lygon knows best,” said Mrs. Berry; “but if I had a child of that age in the room I should desire her to go and walk in the garden rather than hear such teaching.”
Clara’s eyes turned to her father’s, and they exchanged that look of love and confidence, that all but suppressed smile, which mean perfect mutual understanding, and leave little need for words.
“Not a bad notion, though,” said Mr. Berry, “as we seem to have done lunch. Let us all go and look at the garden. Take another glass of the Madeira, first, Arthur. You may trust it.”
It might not appear to an ordinary observer to be of much consequence whether Mrs. Berry became freckled or not, but as that person herself entertained a different opinion, and saw fit to go away and provide herself with a brown hat and a blue sun-shade, she afforded Arthur Lygon an opportunity of saying a word or two, in an undertone, to Mr. Berry.
“Of course,” replied his friend.
“It is very rude to whisper in company, papa,” said Clara, laughing saucily.
“So it is,” said Mrs. Berry, re-entering, duly protected against the sun. “I am glad the little girls are taught good manners in these days.”
They went out into the garden, and Mr. Berry, in directing Clara to the path that led to the strawberry-beds, performed a clever manoeuvre, for the child went skimming away like a glad bird to the place he pointed out, and Mrs. Berry, in accordance with her nature, immediately followed the child to prevent her unrestrained enjoyment. Yet Mrs. Berry had been a mother, and, as has been said, a doting one.
“I am here to consult you,” said Arthur Lygon, hurriedly, the moment her sharp ears were out of range, “upon a sad affair. How can we speak without interruption?”
“Easily. But a word. Not an affair of your own?”
The elder man touched his friend’s hand for a second only.
“You want to telegraph to town,” he said. “I’ll drive you over to Marfield, as it is just as well that our Lipthwaite gossips—you understand.”
They walked to the strawberries, at which Clara had made her first dash with all the delight of a child who had never seen such things, except in dishes, and to whom, therefore, the red fruit, lurking under the leaves, seemed downright treasures—jewels.
“Come off the mould, dear,” Mrs. Berry was crying to her, “and come off at once, or you will stain your frock.”
“Let her stain it,” said Mr. Berry, deprecatingly
“That Mrs. Lygon may infer, even if she should not say, that I am incompetent to take the charge of a child for a single day. I am obliged to you, Mr. Berry.”
“Mrs. Lygon has not to form her opinion of you after all these years, my dear.”
“If she happen to have formed a good one, I prefer that she should retain it, Mr. Berry.”
“All right, my dear. But look here. Which of the horses had I better have put to the chaise? For here is Lygon, like all the Londoners I ever knew, no sooner gets out of town than he wants to be sending a message back, and so I must drive him to Marfield. There’s a telegraph station there.”
“But why not telegraph from Lipthwaite?” replied Mrs. Berry.
“Why,” replied Mr. Berry, artfully, “you put me on my guard there, with what you said about Thomas Letts being fool enough to let his young wife come into the office and learn things, and how that business of Wendale’s got wind. A message to Somerset House may not exactly concern little Mrs. Letts.”
“I am glad that a hint I take the liberty of giving may, sometimes, be worth attention,” said Mrs. Berry, immediately dispatching a gardener to order the chaise.
“I would go with you,” said she, “only aunt is coming over.”
Arthur Lygon felt more kindly towards that relative than he had done when her name was first mentioned. He hoped to see the lady on his return. Clara would stay, and say so.
Clara did not look exactly delighted at the idea of being left with Mrs. Berry, but was much too good a child to show discontent. In a few minutes more the gentlemen had driven off.
“That’s not the way to Marfield,” said Mrs. Berry, watching the chaise as it turned to the right, at the cross road, instead of keeping on straight, up Bolk’s Hill. That was an oversight of Mr. Berry’s, who was so anxious to hear what Arthur had to say, that he hurried on to Rinckley Common, the place he had mentally decided on for their conversation.
They were speedily at the Common, a wide, wild-looking, high-lying expanse, studded with gorse patches; and here Mr. Berry pulled up.
“We could as easily have shut ourselves up in the library, you know, but then it would have been known that we had been shut up for a talk,” he said.
They left the chaise, and the horse, accustomed to such intervals of work, set himself quietly to graze.
“Now, my dear Arthur, what is it?”
Much as Arthur Lygon had to tell, it needed but few words to tell it, and it was told.
Mr. Berry looked at him earnestly, sorrowfully, for a few moments.
“You have told me all?” he asked.
“All,” replied Lygon.
“And why have you told it me?”
“Why?” returned Arthur. “Are you surprised that in such a sorrow I should come to consult the oldest and the best friend I have in the world?”
“No,” said Berry, “I am not surprised, and if the word were not out of place on such an occasion, I would say that I am gratified. At all events you do what is both natural and wise. Of course I accept your confidence, and of course I will do my best for you. But now go on.”
“I do not understand. I have given you every detail.”
“Of Laura’s flight, yes. But come, be a man. You must speak out, if any good is to be done.”
“But I have no more to say,” said Lygon, surprised, and a little impatiently. “I repeat that I don’t understand you. Ask me any question.”
“That is just what I am doing, but you evade my question.”
“I evade a question! Put it again.”
“Why did Mrs. Lygon leave your home?”
“My God,” said Arthur, “is not that the mystery which you must help me to solve.”
“I repeat, be a man, Arthur. Come.”
“I swear,” said Lygon, “that your meaning is a mystery to me.”
“Arthur,” said Mr. Berry, “it is not kind of you to force me to use words that even hint at shame. But if you will have it so, tell me. Do you believe that Mrs. Lygon left your house with a lover, or to join one?”
The young husband turned a ghastly white, and he felt his limbs tremble under him at the presence of the foul phantom which these words had called up. But he confronted the phantom only to denounce it as a lie, and to trample through it on the instant. Another moment, and his eyes flashed with an honest anger, and the paleness had utterly disappeared, face and brow speaking as plainly as the eyes.
“I am answered,” said Mr. Berry.
“Take an answer in words, though,” said Arthur Lygon, in a hoarse voice. “If——” His friend interrupted him.
“Let no idle words pass between us,” said Mr. Berry, gravely. “We have bitterness enough to deal with. You would say that the idea I ventured to raise came before you for the first time, and is so false, so abhorrent to your nature, that nothing but your feeling that I did not speak in levity, but as an old man who would serve a young friend, prevented your striking me down upon this grass.”
“Something of that,” said Arthur, recovering himself. “Not the violent thought you would suggest—but—well, Berry, it is a wickedness to have spoken the words of her—in connection with her name.”
“It is,” said Mr. Berry, “and I feel it as deeply as you can do. But you forced me to put that wicked question by evading a more harmless one. You will not continue to do so.”
“Berry, you speak as if you thought I were keeping back something which I ought to say.”
“So you are.”
“Ask for it, and hear it.”
“If I put it again, it will be in words that may offend you.”
“Nothing that does not affect her can offend me—nothing from you can or shall.” And he held out his hand.
“A good woman,” said Mr. Berry, retaining his hold on Lygon’s hand, “does not leave her husband’s home for any fault of her own. In that case, if she leaves it, the fault must be his.”
Arthur Lygon looked the other full and fairly in the face.
“I answer your look,” said Mr. Berry. “I have seen a good deal of the world—both sides of it—and knowing how lightly people can absolve themselves from offences of their own, you will pardon me if I push my question. You have done nothing to drive Laura from her home?”
“I!” repeated Arthur. “I, who love her better than my life, and only ask to spend my life in making hers happy! I drive her away! Are you mad?”
“I believe all you say,” said the old lawyer. “But you need not be told that women have strange ideas, and that matters which we pass over as trifles sometimes determine their whole lives. You have nearly satisfied me, and yet I should like you to tell me, in plain English, one thing.”
“I beg of you—ask it.”
“You are a handsome man—you were a favourite with women—I do not believe that you would deliberately do wrong; but has anything survived from the old days, or is there any momentary folly that can have reached Laura’s ears?”
“On my honour,—no. On my honour,—no. And if it sounds foolishly when I say that not only do I love her heartily and thoroughly, but that she seems to me so incalculably superior, both in mind and body, to anything I have seen since my marriage, I can’t help that. I swear to you that you have got the truth.”
“And I am right glad to get it. That is enough, my dear Arthur. And now the ground is clear, in one sense, though the making it so increases our difficulties ten-fold. Husband and wife being alike without fault as regards one another, and yet being separated, we approach a mystery. I suppose we shall break into it, but we must see.”
“Remember, I have nothing else in life to live for,” said Arthur, passionately.
“Yes, you have, Arthur, much. Even if the mystery should baffle you to your dying hour, you have that child beyond the hill, and two other children in London to live for, besides your duty.”
“A cold word, that,” said Arthur, “and you must believe it very potent with me, when you, just now, imputed to me that I could be false to the best woman in the whole world for the sake of some wretched intrigue. But we will not talk of that now. Answer me, Berry, for my head has been in one whirl, and only the necessity of hypocrisy has kept me straight—answer me, what is the first thing that occurs to you as the key to this accursed mystery?”
“You must give me time.”
“No, but your first thought? Don’t refuse it. If you could know what kind of night I have spent, madly plunging my hand into darkness, as it were, to try to grapple with a belief, with an idea, you would not refuse it.”
“I have not a definite answer to make. I could, perhaps, say something; but it would, in all probability, be wrong, and to lead you astray, at such a moment, would be a sin. Yet—stay. I might be raising another horror, in simply telling you to dispel one idea which perhaps has not come across you. Tell me, Arthur—and do not think me fencing with your question—have you, yourself, settled, or tried to settle, upon any conviction?”
Arthur Lygon again turned pale.
“One thought,” he said, in a low voice, “came whispering near me in the darkness, and would not be driven away. It is not my thought, but it would come, and return, though I cursed it off. Mind, and for God’s sake remember, the thought is not mine, nor is there the slightest foundation for it in this world. I scarcely dare repeat it.”
Mr. Berry gazed earnestly into the pale agitated face, and in answer to his reiterated demand he saw the lips of Arthur Lygon form themselves for the utterance of one expected word.
“Do not say it,” said Berry.
“It has crossed your mind, too, then Arthur, his face becoming still ghastlier.
“Ah!” said Lygon, the tears almost forcing their way to his eyes, “then you have another solution.”
“Do not press me, that is a kind fellow, until I shall tell you that I am ready to speak. At present, and suddenly collecting all the reminiscences I can, and without time to marshal them, or to weigh their value, I think I may say—and I am really striving to use words that shall be as indefinite as I can make them—I think I may say that there are conjectures which we are bound to exhaust before we dare——”
“Stop,” said Arthur Lygon, “you have used a word which you would not use lightly—reminiscences. Are they connected with my life or hers? You can answer that without consideration.”
“Yours,” said Mr. Berry, quickly.
It was an untruth. The word on which Lygon had fixed, his friend had used unadvisedly. And before the last question was put, such thoughts came, darkening, around the memories which Berry spoke of, that he feared, without more cautious preparation, to let Lygon enter the circle. He judged it safer to exclude him by that single word of reply, which, however, should have been
“Mine?” said Lygon. “The weight that you would take from my mind, if you could show that anything in my life had been the spring of this. I should enter so cheerfully, or at least so courageously, upon the quest which we have now to begin.”
“In defiance of those words of warning in the parting note?”
“They are not her words. And if they were, they must have been forced from her by some strange and damnable cheat. While I speak—a light! Has some one lied to her in the spirit of what you were imputing just now?”
“Would Laura endure any charge against her husband—at least without laying her hand in his, and asking whether he dared retain it.”
“You are right, and my thought wrongs her,” said Arthur, slowly.
His lingering utterance did not escape the notice of his friend, who, however, made no remark upon it, then.
“You must give me time, I repeat,” said Mr. Berry. “A day is not now of consequence, as you allowed the first hours to pass without taking any active steps.”
“Would you have had me treat her as a criminal,” asked Arthur, “have had her described to the police, and notice given to stop her at the sea-ports, and on the railways?”
“You have not done it,” said Mr. Berry, “and as it is now too late, we need not consider what a husband might have been justified in doing. Such steps as you have taken seem very prudent, as there is nothing for any one to say against Mrs. Lygon, did she return to-morrow.”
“If she return to-morrow ten years, no one shall say a word against her,” said Arthur.
“I am a hard old lawyer,” said Berry, touched; “but I think I believe that love like that felt by you is too true to be ultimately unrewarded. Yes, I believe that you will be delivered out of this misery.”
“I pray that I may,” said Lygon, “for it is indeed a misery hard to be borne.”