Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The silver cord - Part 5
THE SILVER CORD.
BY SHIRLEY BROOKS.
The boat from Folkstone to Boulogne was making excellent progress, the water was what people choose to call “glass,” and even the foreigners who were returning from insulation, and who, in spite of the glorious weather, wrapped and shawled themselves, and lay at full length, scowling at the sea as an ally of perfidious Albion, could not manage to get into their faces that curious hue of mottled whitey-brown paper, which is usually discernible on the alien countenance when the alien is on the ocean. There was scarcely a tolerable excuse for the kind tremors and slight faintnesses of the pretty bride, away for her honey month, and affectionately desirous to afford her Algernon the happiness of paying her all the petits soins of a voyage. The day was as beautiful on La Manche as at Lipthwaite.
Mrs. Lygon was sitting as far apart as possible from other passengers, but not in that part of the vessel where her place would naturally be. Plainly dressed, and veiled, she occupied a camp-stool “forward,” among the humbler class of passengers. She sat by the side of the vessel, and held a book, less for reading than as an assistance in repelling any well-meant attentions from good-natured women, who, happy in their holiday with their families, pitied her supposed loneliness, and any impertinence from young shopmen and the like, who, “cutting over to Boolone for a lark,” might desire to commence it by no end of a flirtation with a deuced pretty-looking Party who was sitting solus all alone by herself, until your humble took compassion on her. A little knot of smokers occasionally lounged near her, and chatted, but it is needless to say that no smile at their fun encouraged them to draw round her, and her look and manner were so unmistakeably those of a lady that she escaped all the small molestations which underbred Englishmen, less from viciousness than ill-breeding, have a habit of inflicting on a solitary female traveller. Laura was permitted to remain silent and thoughtful, until addressed by one who had a claim to be heard.
This was Ernest Adair, the Ernest Hardwick of the garden and the arbour at Mr. Vernon’s house in Lipthwaite.
He had been slightly, if at all aged or altered, to appearance, by the lapse of the years that had passed since that meeting with Mr. Vernon’s daughter. His step was as light and confident, his eye as glittering, his features as pale as ever, but perhaps on a closer regard it might have been seen that the lines were a little harder, and the face somewhat more resolved, though the smile was as ready as ever, and the voice as irritatingly pleasant. His dress, still dark, had a certain military compactness, which was not impaired by the effect of a loose white overcoat of the lightest material, and a stiff travelling cap, of a more elegant kind than is generally adopted by the Briton, who looks very respectable at home, but manifests extremely wild notions of the picturesque when he adorns himself for foreign conquest.
Ernest Adair had kept himself entirely aloof from Mrs. Lygon, since the vessel had left harbour. After providing her with a seat, and placing a book in her hand, he had gone further forward, and establishing himself in the narrowest part of the boat, with his back to the bowsprit, he had devoted himself to his favourite cigarettes, but always keeping a careful watch upon Laura.
Once she drew out a pencil, and a note, and seemed about to write. At that moment Adair’s watchfulness was redoubled, and, as a passenger, walking the deck, accidentally paused and screened Laura from his view, his lips compressed with sudden anger. But the next moment the passenger passed on, and Laura’s pencil had not touched the paper. Apparently, she abandoned her idea of writing, and returned the pencil to a very small pocket at her waist.
“What an objectionable place to put a pocket,” said Ernest Adair to himself. “I shall have to ask her for that pencil, and to fabricate a false pretence for doing so, an immorality which I hereby transfer to the account of her sinful milliner.”
Half an hour later, he approached her, bringing with him a little black sac-de-nuit, glistening with newness.
“Merely a word or two,” he said, respectfully—almost deferentially.
Mrs. Lygon looked up for a moment, but made no reply.
“I have not intruded conversation upon you.” he said, in the same tone. “I have scarcely spoken twenty words to you since yesterday afternoon, and those only from necessity. But we shall land in a quarter of an hour, and it may be better to speak here than elsewhere.”
Laura listened, but did not answer.
“You have been in Boulogne before,” he said.
“Nay, I was not asking a question. I know that you have, and that you are well acquainted with the neighbourhood. At this moment you are troubled at the thought of the crowd on the pier, and the eyes of the people who watch the disembarkation. Have no fear on that account. I have arranged for your being spared all annoyance.”
“When we approach the harbour, have the kindness to go down into the fore cabin, and do not come up again until I let you know that it is time to do so.”
“When will that be?”
“When all the passengers have landed and passed the douane, and crowd, toutcrs, and everybody are gone.”
“I thought that the police—”
“The police are good enough to waive rules in my case,” said Ernest Adair, with the slightest symptom of return to his old manner. But he at once resumed his respectful tone.
“A carriage shall be ready on the quay, and we shall be out of the town in a few minutes.”
“And where next?”
“That will entirely depend upon yourself at the expiration of a short interview between us at a house well known to yourself—a most respectable house, I should have said, but that Mrs. Lygon could not by possibility know any other.”
“I will go down at once,” she said, rising from her seat.
“If you please. Only one thing more. You left—this agreeable journey was undertaken somewhat hastily, and though delightful as all improvised pleasures are, hurry has its inconveniences—so against one of them, the entire absence of luggage, I have ventured to provide, and this little bag will supply any temporary wants. My own inexperience in such matters has been assisted by more competent judgment.”
He took the book gently from her hand, and placed in it the handle of the small sac.
“By the way,” he said, “I must give my name in writing to the police, that it may not be blundered. I have no pencil; you have one. Favour me with it for a few moments.”
Mrs. Lygon mechanically complied; her mind was, at the instant, in another direction, or she might not have done so.
“I will write it in the chief cabin,” he said. “We are nearing port—perhaps the sooner you go down the better.”
Having the pencil, he did not fear to hasten away.
Her next act was one that might have befitted Laura Vernon better than the matured Laura Lygon, schooled in self-restraint, and habituated to the calm manners of the world.
With a look of anger that could have been seen through the veil she wore, Mrs. Lygon dashed the bag across the vessel’s side into the sea—watched it for an instant as it sank—and hurried down the stairs of the cabin.
Ernest Adair was as good as his word. Mrs. Lygon was left undisturbed in possession of the fore cabin until the last of the wild cries, and shouts, and howls, with which a steam-boat is emptied at a French port, was silenced, and the vessel was finally moored in waiting for her next trip. A few minutes later, and a gendarme descended, and with the utmost politeness apprised Madame that her carriage awaited her. Whatever question of police had required answer had evidently been met satisfactorily by Adair, for the single duty which the officer permitted himsei was the handing Mrs. Lygon to the quay, where Ernest stood holding the door of a close carriage. She entered it without touching the offered hand of Adair, and was somewhat surprised that he immediately closed the door, and mounted beside the driver, who instantly set his horses in motion. Perhaps, also, she remarked that the vigilant Adair made no inquiry after the sac de nuit, which he might have supposed she had forgotten. But Ernest had seen the action which consigned it to the sea, and believed that he appreciated all the impulse which had induced her to send it thither, a belief in which he was mistaken, as a man of evil morals, no matter how subtle may be his mind, very frequently is, when seeking to solve the delicate problem called a woman’s heart.
Arthur Lygon rose early on the following morning, and indeed some considerable time before the hour at which his host and hostess were usually in the habit of making their appearance, and after a glance into the little room in which Clara was sleeping the still calm sleep of childhood, he went out into the garden. Perhaps he hoped that Mr. Berry would join him, and by communicating at once the old solicitor’s view of the case, would leave his friend free to take some decided course of action, which Lygon now began to feel was absolutely necessary to his own existence. But he could see that the curtains of Mr. Berry’s dressing-room window remained closed, and Arthur, feverish, impatient, irritable, wandered around the garden, and felt more despondent than he had hitherto permitted himself to be.
At a turn of one of the walks Mrs. Berry suddenly confronted him.
This apparition would not have been pleasing to the most indifferent spectator, for Mrs. Berry’s loose dust-coloured morning gown, ugly slippers, and favourite hat did not compose an agreeable picture, but to Arthur Lygon the presence of Mrs. Berry was at that moment more objectionable than th it of any created being could have been. His hat, of course, rose mechanically in greeting to his hostess, but it would have been difficult to render his “Good morning,” less like the cordial expression of a guest thankful for hospitality.
But to his surprise, and not much to the increase of his content, Mrs. Berry came up to him with a smile that was almost affectionate, and placed her hand in his, which she detained in a friendlier clasp than she was often in the habit of according.
“I am glad to have an opportunity of speaking to you, dear Mr. Lygon, before Mr. Berry comes down. I hope you heard me say good night to you, as I went upstairs last night. I would not come in, for gentlemen do not like to be disturbed when they get into close chat.”
Nothing could be kinder than her words, and her manner was as friendly as she could possibly make it. Arthur Lygon, however, could not help contrasting their meeting with their parting overnight, and scarcely knew whether he ought to be apologetic, or only reserved. His companion left him little time for reflection.
“First of all,” she continued, “I want to say a word to you from poor dear aunty, who fears she gave you offence by her oddity of talk, and charged me with all kinds of explanations to you. If you knew her as well as we do, and what she has suffered, and still has to suffer, you would soon forgive her anything that seemed like petulance, but I am sure you will take it from me that the poor old lady had no intention to be unkind.”
“On the contrary, Mrs. Berry,” said Lygon, “I fear Mrs. Empson may have reason to think that I was not so forbearing as I ought to have been, and except that I was anything but well, and——”
“Nota syllable of apology from you,” said Mrs. Berry, in a low compassionating tone. “Give aunt, give me credit for being able to lay aside any thought of ourselves under such circumstances.”
Arthur Lygon looked at her with a keen glance, and was answered by the hand being again placed in his, with a warm pressure.
“Please,” said Mrs. Berry, “come with me to the book-room. We shall not be disturbed there.”
Lygon, a good deal surprised, could only assent, and follow his hostess into the house.
They entered the library, and Mrs. Berry, signing to Arthur to take a chair, closed the door, and actually drew a small brass bolt with which her husband was in the habit of occasionally securing his afternoon reading, or nap, from interruption.
If Arthur Lygon’s mind had at that moment been in any condition to receive a ludicrous impression—or a smile could have arisen to his lips at so determined an enforcement of an assignation—smile and impression would have instantly vanished at his companion’s next act.
She pushed a footstool towards the table, glanced at Arthur as if to intimate that he well knew what to do, and, taking up a large prayer-book, she knelt down at a chair, and deliberately read out, in a very excellent manner, the sacramental prayer for the church-militant here on earth, laying especial emphasis on the beautiful petition for succour to those who in this transitory life are in trouble or adversity.
At the first moment of her commencing the prayer, Lygon formed a sort of idea that his hostess was merely performing what might be a substitute for family worship as practised in religious families, and at which it might not be Mr. Berry’s habit to assist. This idea was of course quickly dispelled. Mrs. Berry might not be able to induce her husband to join in such a rite, but she was mistress in her own house, and would naturally require the attendance of her servants. Then came the emphatic delivery of the portion we have alluded to, and Lygon felt that he was present at a special service connected with himself. He hastily accused Mr. Berry of having either gratuitously revealed the secret in his charge, or of having surrendered it as a peace-offering after the scene of the previous night. He had not obeyed his hostess’s intimation that he should kneel, but he remained standing until she had concluded, and then it was with a heightened colour and a rapidly beating pulse that he awaited her next proceeding.
This was to replace the broad red ribbon with which the page in the prayer-book had been marked, and to restore the book itself to the shelf whence it had been taken. Mrs. Berry then came up to Arthur, as he stood by the lire-place, and looking him kindly in the face, said,
“Now, dear friend, we understand one another.”
“Yes,” said Lygon, with some presence of mind. “And now any little unkindness of language last night is forgotten for ever. What a lovely morning, again,” he added, walking to the window, and opening it.
Mrs. Berry stepped rapidly to his side.
“Nay, Arthur—you must let me call you so, when in trouble, at all events—this is not well. I will not say that in this world it is not sometimes a duty to avoid intruding one’s sorrows upon others, and though we are enjoined to bear one another’s burdens, we are not always required to impose our own. But if friendship, Christian friendship, means anything, it means that we are to seek counsel and comfort one of another. You came hither for that purpose; do not be afraid to carry it out. You will find no cold hearts here, in the hour of your sorrow, Arthur.”
“I am grateful, Mrs. Berry, for kindness supposed to be needful to me,” said Lygon, still desirous to hold out, and in his soul reviling Mr. Berry for not being present to make him aware how much and how little had been revealed, “and if——”
“I will not have you say that for which you will reproach yourself hereafter,” said Mrs. Berry, earnestly. “If I have not hitherto had your confidence, it is perhaps because I am not one of those who seek a trust not willingly given, and perhaps, too, and very naturally, because my husband has been your friend for so many years more than myself; but this is not a time for worldly etiquette, or indeed for worldly feeling. You may trust me as a friend, Arthur.”
“And I am most grateful for your friendship, Mrs. Berry,” said Lygon, struggling between discordant emotions.
“If that is from your heart, I am satisfied,” said his companion, “and I hope and believe that it is. Poor darling little Clara!”
And Mrs. Berry hid her eyes in her handkerchief, and sobbed.
“He must have told her,” said Arthur to himself, for the words, touching upon a chord on which he had himself been harping throughout another miserable night, went straight to his heart. But again he rallied, aided by his instinctive dislike of the woman beside him, and resolved to resist her as long as he could.
“Have you seen her this morning?” he asked. “Does she not look lovely in her sleep, with all that dark hair about her young face?”
“I would not disturb her,” said Mrs. Berry, wiping her eyes. “To think what she may have to undergo, poor baby,” and again she wept.
“Not much, I trust,” said Arthur, determinately, and thinking, justly, how true and strong a friend and protector Clara had in himself.
“As for any plans for that dear child,” said Mrs. Berry, “they must, of course, be the subject of deep consideration, and for myself, I will say, of prayerful consideration, but they are not, perhaps, immediately necessary. But as regards Mrs. Lygon—”
Laura’s name and fame in Mrs. Berry’s keeping! The thought passing through Arthur’s mind caused a shudder like that given by the first wound from the surgeon’s steel. In a forced voice, he said,
“I have arranged with Berry for a conversation by-and by. It will, perhaps, be better not to speak upon its subject in the meantime.”
“You are quite right, quite right,” said Mrs. Berry, “and it was with no intention of increasing your trouble that I have endeavoured to prepare you for that conversation by the best means in our power”—a glance at the place where she had knelt explained her meaning. “And if you hear that which may wound your very heart to its depths, you will remember, dear Arthur, where I would guide you for healing.”
He turned upon her with irrepressible emotion.
“What should I hear,” he said, “that can give me such a wound?”
“Nay,” said Mrs. Berry, sorrowfully, “sterner lips than mine must tell you. I cannot undertake a task above my poor strength.”
“Do not fear to speak plainly to me,” said Arthur Lygon, suddenly forgetting his desire to postpone the conversation, and overmastered by his eagerness to snatch at the key of the mystery that was torturing him; “what I may have done, I can bear to hear.”
“You, my poor Arthur!” repeated Mrs. Berry, in a tone between surprise and compassion. “If there is anything to lay to your charge, I, at least, know nothing of it.”
“To my charge?” said Lygon, impetuously. “He has said so—or if not to my charge, there is something to be told of me—but we will speak of it presently—I would rather not talk now, if you please, Mrs. Berry,” he said, hurriedly, “and yet—yes—the sooner the better—if you can light up this strange mystery, do so, and pardon my abruptness.”
“Pardon, never ask pardon of me,” said Mrs. Berry, “but take this comfort to yourself, Arthur, that this sorrow is none of your causing, except in the sense in which we have all deserved affliction. There is not a word to be said against you, so far as I have ever heard.”
“Then for what am I to prepare myself—what is this wound you speak of?” he said, vehemently. “Ah I forgive me. I perceive that you have as much to learn as myself. Mr. Berry has not taken you into further confidence than he has given to me. Pardon my excitement. I have been exceedingly ill, and my nerves are not steady. I must try a course of walks in your Lipthwaite air, and see what that will do for me.”
“Arthur Lygon,” said Mrs. Berry, “it is impossible for me, with any poor words I may possess, to tell you how my heart bleeds for you. What you have just said about Mr. Berry, and about his withholding confidence from me is, I grieve to assure you, utterly beside the mark. All else that I would say to you, dear friend, is that you must nerve yourself to learn, not from me, but from my husband, that which will grieve you to the soul. But if, through his worldly, or shall I say his professional notion of a kindness, which unhappily will be a mistaken one, he should deem it right not to lay the whole truth before you——”
“You intend to do so?”
“Grievous, bitterly grievous, dear Arthur, as such a duty would be, and much as I hope that I shall not be called upon to perform it, I feel that from it, if it must be done, I ought not to shrink.”
“Mr. Berry has confided to you, Mrs. Berry, the circumstances that have brought me to Lipthwaite?” asked Lygon, agitated.
“I have learned your sorrow from Mr. Berry’s lips,” said his companion, slowly, and then she touched his hand in sympathy.
“Ah, he is in the garden,” said Lygon, perceiving his friend. “I must speak to him on the instant.” And he hastened to the door.
“A moment,” said Mrs. Berry, with her hand at the bolt. “Listen to me.”
“I am listening.”
“You know my husband’s true friendship for you.”
“I have known it for years. I am here because I know it,” said Lygon impatiently.
“That is right, that is well. You have trusted him fully?”
“Do not hurry. A minute more or less is not of importance, and I am speaking for your good, believe me, I am. Go into the garden, and have your interview. I am only too thankful that I have not to be present at it. But remember what I have said of his possible reserve.”
“He will have none from me, I hope and believe, or, I repeat it, I would not be here.”
“Of all persons in the world, Arthur, I am the last who would cast a doubt upon his earnestness to serve you. But while I believe that truth and straightforwardness are not only the commanded ways of serving a friend, but the best and kindest, my husband has some of the ways of his old calling—all I would say is that I do not think he is prepared to tell you all that you should know.”
“Why do you say this to me?”
“Because it is right to say it. I have no sentimental reasons to give you, Arthur Lygon. I profess no ardent love for those of whom I know but little—now—and if my heart has warmed to your child, it is for her own sake, not that of others. But you shall not be deceived, if I can prevent it. Go to my husband—hear what he has to say to you, and I, when we meet, shall know, without any words from you, whether he has been candid. If not——”
“You will be.”
“Again, I say, from the bottom of my heart, may I be spared the necessity! But do not manifest to him any conviction that he is not telling you the truth. Go, and may you be strengthened for your trial, my poor Arthur!”
She released him, and in a few moments he had joined Mr. Berry. She saw them shake hands, and turn towards the little wooden bridge over the boundary stream.
But concealment or reserve, where he professed to give faith and heart, were not in Arthur Lygon’s nature, and he resolved, whether his friend had or had not adhered to their compact, that Mr. Berry should have no right to complain of withheld confidence.
“I have been speaking with Mrs. Berry in the library,” said Lygon; and then paused to give Mr. Berry the opportunity of placing himself so far right as he could do by explaining that he had thought it best to take his wife into the secret.
“Ah,” said Mr. Berry, “that is well. You have smoothed over any little irritation from last night.”
“That was instantly put out of the way,” replied Lygon, “as you must be sure it would,” he added, warmly. “And now, my dear Berry, speak out, and speak quickly. I am manned for anything but suspense. There is something I am to hear, which I am told you will hardly dare to tell me. You should have dared to do so yesterday; but now, in a word, tell me.”
He nerved himself, as—once more to borrow comparison from the surgeon’s art—the blindfold patient sets himself to receive the steel. But the stroke did not come.
“Arthur,” said Mr. Berry, in a troubled voice, “are you repeating my wife’s words?”
“Their meaning, at least,” said the younger man. “You would expect to hear them. Now, then, for the truth.”
“Mrs. Berry has given you to understand that I have a painful secret which you ought to hear, and which I may be reluctant to disclose.”
“Yes, yes. But no more preliminaries. I tell you that I can bear it.”
“There is no such secret, Arthur.”
“This denial, too, I was told to expect. Berry you have proved yourself my friend too often for me to doubt you. It is only that you think I am too cowardly to hear bad news. I am no coward, and I am ready for the worst. In Heaven’s name, speak!”
“And as Heaven is my judge, Arthur Lygon,” said the old man, earnestly, “I have no such secret to reveal.”
“You had yesterday,” said Lygon, almost fiercely. “You told me that there was something in my past life that bore upon the disappearance of my wife. I knew not how to believe that; but I trust your word as I would have trusted my father’s. Berry, you are paltering with me, out of kindness—that must end now. Tell me the truth.”
“What I said yesterday, Arthur,” replied Mr. Berry, “was said upon the spur of the moment, and when you pressed me for some help to your own mind. It was based upon something that occurred to me as possible, but which, upon reviewing it calmly, I perceive must have been an utterly foolish fancy. I will tell it you, or not, as you please: it is not worth a moment’s serious thought. But it gave us time for reflection—”
“And you for consultation with Mrs. Berry.”
“Arthur, do you mean upon your affairs?”
“Mrs. Berry has just told me so. I am not complaining—but I would have given the world that you had not done so.”
“And I have not done so,” said Mr. Berry, with dignity, and speaking in the undertone in which a man of advanced age, indignant, and conscious that he is in the right, usually replies to an accusation.
“What am I to think?” said Lygon. “It is not half an hour since I received Mrs. Berry’s solemn assurance that she had learned my sorrow from your own lips.”
Berry’s face grew ashy white, and his lips quivered.
“Arthur,” he said, “spare me words on this; spare me the pain of saying what a husband is loth to say. But believe two things: first, that I have not spoken a syllable to Mrs. Berry on your affairs; and secondly, that I have no secret of any kind to impart. You have known me from your childhood.”
There was something pathetic in the appeal of the old man to be saved from the humiliation of accusing his wife of falsehood. But Arthur Lygon was by this time wrought to a pitch of excitement that deprived him of sensitiveness to the emotion of another.
“Berry,” he said, sternly, “I would not willingly wrong you by word or deed, but my own position is too terribly painful to allow me to waste time on a mere matter of delicacy. It is evident that you and Mrs. Berry, or one of you, know that which I ought to know, and that you disagree as to the fitness of letting me hear the truth. If I am not to hear it from you, Mrs. Berry permits me to ask it of her, but deprecates the being compelled to reveal it. You force that painful duty upon her.”
“Mr. Lygon,” said the old man, “at whatever cost of feeling, we will at once give you the satisfaction you require.”
“Is that the way to put it, Berry?” said Arthur, hurt at his old friend’s tone, but too much agitated to pause and remonstrate. “I am offered the confidence which you seem to wish to deny me.”
“Let us go to Mrs. Berry,” was her husband’s only answer.
And as if she had foreseen the result of their conference, or had been watching it, Mrs. Berry came from the house to meet them on their way. There was just distance enough to be crossed to leave each party time to consider how the conversation should begin, but Arthur Lygon, as most impatient, was naturally most prompt, when they met.
“May I recal to you, Mrs. Berry, the conversation we had, a short time ago, in the library?”
“I expected to have it recalled,” was the reply.
“Before which, Marion,” said Mr. Berry, with severity, “you will have the kindness to disabuse Mr. Lygon, before my face, of a mistake which he has founded upon some words of yours.”
“It is my misfortune if I express myself inadequately,” said Mrs. Berry, with something of her manner of over-night—a manner which she had discarded during her interview with Lygon. In truth, at this instant, though she came to do that which it was near her heart to do, she felt more nervous than was her custom, and took refuge in her artificial defences.
“Mr. Lygon, Marion, came down here upon a painful errand. Be good enough to assure him that you now hear this, for the first time, from me.”
“I cannot state a falsehood, Edward, even to please you. My duty to you is solemn, but I owe a still higher duty.”
“Dare you assert,” said Mr. Berry, “that I told you why Arthur Lygon was here?” And his tone evinced a concentrated anger which his wife had never seen him manifest during all the years of their union. She would have trembled, perhaps, but had that to say which sustained her.
“I made no such assertion,” she answered, “nor will Mr. Lygon allege that I made it. What I said I am prepared to justify, if justification is required of me; but it appears to me, and if a woman’s feelings lead me astray I cannot help it, that we are wasting time over a comparatively insignificant question, and neglecting a very important one.”
“Marion,” said her husband, “you do not see, or you will not see, that I am accused of violating a confidence reposed in me by a friend and a client; yet you dare to speak of the charge as an unimportant one.”
“Edward!” said Mrs. Berry, almost passionately, “that you should think of a mere quarrel of words when Arthur Lygon is waiting to hear a revelation that so deeply affects his happiness and his home! I know that he is waiting for it. I know that you have not had the courage to make it. Is it worthy of you, is it kind to him, to say nothing of so insignificant a person as myself, that he should come here for counsel, and should have it kept from him?”
“Is this madness?” said Mr. Berry, in apparent bewilderment.
“No,” said Mrs. Berry, “this is not madness. The madness was some years ago, when two friends of Mr. Arthur Lygon’s—they stand, I shame to say, upon this grass plot—allowed him to enter into the most sacred relation of life without apprising him of things within their knowledge. If one of those two friends is self-forgiven the other is not, and never will be.”
Arthur Lygon could but turn from one face to the other, in his bewilderment. Mrs. Berry’s countenance was as pale as woman’s could well be, and she seemed prostrated by the weight of the revelation she was endeavouring to make. Mr. Berry’s face had assumed a certain appearance of terror which Arthur Lygon had neither will nor leisure to analyse.
“What is your dearest wish at this instant, Arthur?” she asked suddenly.
“To discover her—can you ask?” was his equally rapid reply.
O the light that gleamed once more in those light eyes! It could not have escaped either of the spectators. It did not. But each had his own excitement, and had no leisure to heed hers. Nor could either, if possessing the finest ear ever bestowed, have caught that low hiss that followed, and the woman herself could not have certified whether two words were spoken or only thought.
But all this took but a second, and Mrs. Berry was instant in answer:
“Let Mr. Berry give you his clue.”
“This malice is actually criminal!” exclaimed Mr. Berry. He would have given anything to recal the word the moment after it had been said. It was the enemy’s prize.
“Malice! No, no,” said Mrs. Berry, mournfully. “That is not the word to apply, though you have always insisted, Edward, on wronging me in connection with the unhappy history. I have never had any malice. If I had borne any, which Heaven forbid, I might have induced you to make better use of the knowledge you possessed, before it was too late. But if Arthur is bent upon discovering what has been—what has become——”
Feeling her way very carefully, and with slow utterance, even in the hour of victory.
“Of his wife,” said Arthur, “and why she left his home. Speak out, Mrs. Berry—it is no time to pick words.”
O how her heart beat then! She had the whole key.
“Then, Arthur,” she said, “it is better that such a story should be told by a man than by a woman. Let Mr. Berry tell you what he knows.”