Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Eleanor's victory - Part 14
BY THE AUTHOR OF “AURORA FLOYD,” “LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET,” &c.
CHAPTER XXV. ACCEPTED.
When a man sets his happiness in the balance, he is apt to be contented with a very slight turning of the scale. He is not likely to be critical as to the wording of the verdict which gives him the prize he has asked for.
Mr. Gilbert Monckton had no contemptible opinion of his own judgment and deliberation, his perceptive faculties and powers of reasoning; but as blindly as Macbeth accepted the promises of the oracular voices in the witches’ cave, so did this grave and eminent lawyer receive those few cold words in which Eleanor Vane consented to be his wife.
Not that he refrained from reflecting upon the girl’s manner of accepting his offer. He did reflect upon it; and proved to himself, by unerring logic, that she could scarcely have spoken in any other way. There were a thousand reasons why she should have employed those very words, and pronounced them in that very tone. Maidenly modesty, innocent surprise, inexperience, girlish timidity:—he ran over a whole catalogue of causes, naming every possible cause, save one, and that one was the thing he had most dreaded—indifference, or even repugnance to himself. He looked into her face. His professional career had given him the faculty of putting together the evidences of smiles and frowns, involuntary contractions of the eyebrows, scarcely perceptible compressions of the lips, every tone and semi-tone in the facial diapason. He looked at Eleanor Vane’s face, and said to himself:
“This girl cannot be mercenary. She is as pure as an angel; as unselfish as Jephtha’s daughter; as brave as Judith, or Joan of Arc. She cannot be anything but a good wife. The man who wins her has reason to thank God for His bounty.”
It was with such thoughts as these that the lawyer received the feminine decision which was to influence his future life. He bent over the girl’s fair head—tall as she was, her face was only on a level with Gilbert Monckton’s shoulder—and pressed his lips to her forehead, solemnly, almost as if setting a seal upon his own.
“My darling,” he said, in a low voice, “my darling, you have made me very happy; I dare not tell you how much I love you. I struggled against my love, Eleanor. I once meant to have kept the secret till I went down to my grave. I think I could have kept silence so long as you remained within my reach, protected and sheltered by people whom I could trust, happy in the bright years of your innocent girlhood. But when you left Hazlewood, when you went out into the world, my courage failed. I wanted to give you my love as a shield and a defence. Better that I should be deceived, I thought; better that I should be miserable, than that she should be undefended.”
Eleanor Vane listened to the lawyer’s happy talk. He could have talked to her for ever, now that the ice was broken, and the important step—so long considered, so long avoided—actually taken. It seemed as if his youth came back to him, bestowed by some miraculous power; invisible, but most palpably present in that shabby Bloomsbury dwelling. His youth came back: the intellectual cobwebs of twenty years were swept away by one stroke of some benevolent witch’s broomstick. Cherished prejudices, fondly nursed doubts and suspicions, were blotted out of his mind, leaving the tablet fair and bright as it had been before the coming of that shadow which had darkened so much of this man’s life. Sudden almost as the conversion of Saul, was this transformation of the misanthropical solicitor under the master influence of a true and pure affection.
For twenty years he had sneered at women, and at men’s belief in them; and now, at the end of twenty years, he believed; and, escaping out of the prison which he had made for himself, he spread his recovered wings and was free.
A sigh escaped from Eleanor’s lips as she listened to her lover. The time in which she could have hoped to pay him back all this great debt which he was heaping upon her, was past and gone. She felt a sense of oppression beneath the load of this obligation. She began to perceive—as yet only dimly, so intense was the egotism engendered out of the single purpose of her life—that she was binding herself to something that she might not be able to perform; she was taking upon herself a debt that she could scarcely hope to pay. For a moment she thought this, and was ready, under this new impulse, to draw back and say, “I cannot become your wife; I am too much tied and bound by the obligations of the past, to be able to fulfil the duties of the present. I am set apart from other women, and must stand alone until the task I have set myself is accomplished, or the hope of its fulfilment abandoned.”
She thought this, and the words trembled on her lips; but in the next moment the image of her father arose angry and reproachful, as if to say to her, “Have you so little memory of my wrongs and my sorrows that you can shrink from any means of avenging me?”
This idea banished every other consideration.
“I will keep my promise first, and do my duty to Gilbert Monckton afterwards,” thought Eleanor. “It will be easy to be a good wife to him. I used to like him very much.”
She recalled the old days in which she had sat a little way apart from the lawyer and his ward, envying Laura Mason her apparent influence over Mr. Monckton; and for a moment a faint thrill of pleasure and triumph vibrated through her veins as she remembered that henceforth her claim upon him would be higher than that of any other living creature. He would be her own—her lover, her husband—adviser, friend, instructor; everything in the wide world to her.
“Oh, let me avenge my father’s cruel death,” she thought, “and then I may be a good and happy wife.”
Mr. Monckton could have stood for ever by the side of his betrothed wife in the sunny window looking out upon the mews. The prospect of a few stable doors, lounging grooms smoking and drinking in the intervals of their labour, scantily draperied women hanging out newly-washed linen, and making as it were triumphal arches of wet garments across the narrow thoroughfare, the children playing hopscotch, or called away from that absorbing diversion to fetch damp steaming quartern loaves and jugs of beer for their elders,—all these things were beautiful in the eyes of the owner of Tolldale Priory. An overplus of that sunshine which filled his breast glorified these common objects, and Mr. Monckton gazed upon the angular proportions of the bony Roman-nosed horses, the classic outlines of decrepit Hansom cabs, and all the other objects peculiar to the neighbourhood of the Pilasters, with such a radiance of contentment and delight upon his face as might have induced the observer, looking at his face and not at the prospect, to believe that the bay of Naples was spread out in purple splendour under the open window of Miss Vane’s sitting-room.
Signora Picirillo returned from her day’s labours, and found the lawyer thus absorbed; but he understood directly who she was, and greeted her with a cordiality that very much astonished the music mistress. Eleanor Vane slipped out of the room while Mr. Monckton was explaining himself to the Signora. She was only too glad to get away from the man to whom she had so rashly bound herself. She went to the glass to brush her hair away from her hot forehead, and then threw herself on the bed, prostrated by all the excitement she had undergone, powerless even to think.
“I almost wish I could lie here for ever,” she thought; “it seems so like peace to lie still and leave off thinking.” Her youth had held out bravely against the burdens she had put upon her strength and spirits, but the young energies had given way at last, and she fell into a heavy dreamless slumber; a blessed and renovating sleep from which nature takes compensation for the wrongs that have been done her.
Gilbert Monckton told his story very briefly and simply. He had no occasion to say much himself, for Eleanor had written a great deal about him in her letters to the Signora, and had often talked of him during her one holiday at the Pilasters.
Eliza Picirillo was too entirely unselfish to feel otherwise than pleased at the idea that Eleanor Vane had won the love of a good man whose position in life would remove her from every danger and from every trial; but, mingled with this unselfish delight, there was a painful recollection. The music mistress had fathomed her nephew’s secret, and she felt that Eleanor’s marriage would be a sad blow to Richard Thornton.
“I don’t believe poor Dick ever hoped to win her love,” Signora Picirillo thought; “but if he could have gone on loving her and admiring her, and associating with her, in a frank brotherly way, he might have been happy. Perhaps it’s better as it is, though; perhaps that very uncertainty might have blighted his life and shut him out from some possible happiness.”
“As my dear girl is an orphan,” Gilbert Monckton said, “I feel that you, Madame Picirillo, are the only person I need consult. I have heard from Eleanor how much she owes you; and believe me that when I ask her to become my wife, I do not wish her to be less your adopted daughter. She has told me that in the greatest miseries of her life, you were as true a friend to her as her own mother could have been. She has never told me what those miseries were, but I trust her so fully that I do not care to torment her with questions about a past which she tells me was sorrowful.”
Eliza Picirillo’s eyelids fell under the earnest gaze of the lawyer; she remembered the deception that had been practised upon Mrs. Darrell in deference to the pride of Eleanor’s half-sister.
“This Mr. Monckton must know Nelly’s story before he marries her,” thought the straightforward Signora. She explained this to Eleanor the next morning when the girl rose, invigorated by a long sleep, and inspired by a desperate hopefulness—the hope of avenging her father’s wrongs speedily.
For some time Miss Vane passionately combated the Signora’s arguments. Why should she tell Gilbert Monckton her real name? she demanded. She wished to keep it a secret from Mr. de Crespigny; from the people at Hazlewood. She must keep it a secret, she said.
But little by little Eliza Picirillo overcame this determination. She explained to the passionate girl that if her marriage was to be legally unassailable, she must be married in her true name. She explained this; and she said a great deal about the moral wrong which would be done if Eleanor persisted in deceiving her future husband.
The marriage was pushed on with terrible haste, as it seemed to Richard Thornton and the Signora; but even the brief delay that occurred between Gilbert Monckton’s declaration of his love and the day fixed for the wedding was almost intolerable to Eleanor. The all-important step which was to make her the lawyer’s wife seemed nothing to her. She ignored this great crisis of her life altogether, in her desire to return to Hazlewood, to discover and denounce Launcelot Darrell’s treachery before Maurice de Crespigny’s death.
There were preparations to be made, and a trousseau to be provided. It was a very simple trousseau, fitter for the bride of some young curate with seventy pounds a year, than for the lady who was to be mistress of Tolldale Priory. Eleanor took no interest in the pretty girlish dresses, pale and delicate in colour, simple and inexpensive in texture and fashion, which the Signora chose for her protégée. There was a settlement to be drawn up also; for Gilbert Monckton insisted upon treating his betrothed as generously as if she had been a woman of distinction, with an aristocratic father to bargain and diplomatise for her welfare; but Eleanor was as indifferent to the settlement as about the trousseau, and could scarcely be made to understand that, on and after her wedding-day, she would be the exclusive possessor of a small landed estate worth three hundred a year.
Once, and once only, she thanked Gilbert Monckton for his generosity; and this was when, for the first time, the thought flashed into her mind, that this three hundred a year, to which she was so indifferent, would enable her to place Eliza Picirillo in a position of independence.
“Dear Signora,” she cried, “you shall never work after I am married. How good it is of you to give me this money, Mr. Monckton,” she added, her eyes filling with sudden tears; “I will try to deserve your goodness, I will, indeed.”
It was upon the evening on which Eleanor spoke these few grateful and earnest words to her betrothed husband, that the revelation of her secret was made.
“I am going to Doctors’ Commons to-morrow morning, Signora,” the lawyer said, as he rose to leave the little sitting-room,—he had spent his evenings in the Pilasters during his brief courtship, perfectly at home, and unspeakably happy in that shabby and Bohemian colony. “Eleanor and I have determined that our marriage is to take place at St. George’s, Bloomsbury. A very quiet wedding. My two partners, yourself, and Mr. Thornton, are to be the only witnesses. The Berkshire people will be surprised when I take my young wife back to Tolldale.”
He was going away, when the Signora laid her hand on Eleanor’s shoulder.
“You must tell him to-night, Nelly,” she whispered; “he must not be allowed to take out the licence in a false name.”
The girl bent her head.
“I will do as you wish, Signora,” she said.
Five minutes afterwards, when Gilbert Monckton gave Eleanor his hand, she said, quietly:
“Do not say good night yet. I will come downstairs with you, I have something to say to you.”
She went down the narrow staircase, and out into the colonnade with Mr. Monckton. It was ten o’clock; the shops were closed, and the public-house was quiet. Under the August moonlight the shabby tenements looked less common-place, the dilapidated wooden colonnade was almost picturesque. Miss Vane stood with her face turned frankly towards her lover, her figure resting slightly against one of the slender pillars before the shoemaker’s emporium.
“What is it that you want to tell me, Eleanor dearest?” Mr. Monckton asked, as she paused, looking half-doubtfully in his face, as if uncertain what she should say to him.
“I want to tell you that I have done very wrong—I have deceived you.”
“Deceived me! Eleanor! Eleanor!”
She saw the lawyer’s face turn pale under the moonlight. That word deception had such a terrible meaning to him.
“Yes, I have deceived you. I have kept a secret from you, and I can only tell it to you now upon one condition.”
“Upon what condition?”
“That you do not tell it to Mr. de Crespigny, or to Mrs. Darrell, until you have my permission to do so.”
Gilbert Monckton smiled. His sudden fears fled away before the truthfulness of the girl’s voice, the earnestness of her manner.
“Not tell Mr. de Crespigny, or Mrs. Darrell?” he said, “of course not, my dear. Why should I tell them anything which concerns you, and that you wish me to keep from them?”
“You promise, then?”
“You give me your solemn promise that you will not tell Mr. de Crespigny, or any member of his family, the secret which I am going to confide to you; under no circumstances whatever, will you be tempted to break that promise?”
“Why, Nelly,” cried Mr. Monckton, “you are as serious as if you were administering some terrible oath to the neophyte in a political society. I shall not break my promise, my dear, believe me. My profession has accustomed me to keeping secrets. What is it, Eleanor; what is this tremendous mystery?”
Miss Vane lifted her eyes, and looked full in her lover’s face, upon the watch for any change of expression that might indicate displeasure or contempt. She was very fearful of losing the lawyer’s confidence and esteem.
“When I went to Hazlewood,” she said, “I went in a false name, not at my own wish, but to please my sister, who did not want Mrs. Darrell to know that any member of her family could be in a dependent position. My name is not Vincent. I am Eleanor Vane, the daughter of Mr. de Crespigny’s old friend.”
Gilbert Monckton’s astonishment was unbounded. He had heard George Vane’s history from Mrs. Darrell, but he had never heard of the birth of the old man’s youngest daughter.
“Eleanor Vane,” he said; “then Mrs. Bannister is your sister.”
“She is my half-sister, and it was at her wish that I went to Hazlewood under a false name. You are not angry with me for having done so, are you?”
“Angry with you? No, my dear, the deception was harmless enough; though it was a piece of foolish pride upon your sister’s part. My Eleanor was in no way degraded by having to turn her accomplishments to use and profit. My poor self-reliant girl,” he added, tenderly, “going out into the world with a secret to keep. But why do you wish this secret to be still preserved, Eleanor; you are not ashamed of your father’s name?”
“Ashamed of his name? Oh, no, no!”
“Why keep your real name a secret, then?”
“I can’t tell you why. But you’ll keep your promise. You are too honourable to break your promise.”
Mr. Monckton looked wonderingly at the girl’s earnest face.
“No, my dear, I won’t break my promise,” he said. “But I can’t understand your anxiety for this concealment. However, we will say nothing more about it, Nelly,” he added, as if in reply to an appealing look from Miss Vane; “your name will be Monckton when you go back to Berkshire; and nobody will dare to question your right to that name.”
The lawyer put his lips to the girl’s forehead, and bade her good night upon the threshold of the shoemaker’s door.
“God bless you, my own darling!” he, said in a very low voice, “and preserve our faith in each other. There must be no secrets between you and me, Nelly.”
CHAPTER XXVI. AN INSIDIOUS DEMON.
On a bright September morning a hired carriage took Miss Vane and her friends to the quiet old church in Hart Street, Bloomsbury. There was a little crowd assembled about the door of the shoemaker’s dwelling, and sympathetic spectators were scattered here and there in the mews, for a marriage is one of those things which the cleverest people can never contrive to keep a secret.
Miss Eleanor Vane’s pale fawn-coloured silk dress, black mantle, and simple white bonnet did not form the established costume of a bride, but the young lady looked so very beautiful in her girlish dress and virginal innocence, that more than one of the lounging grooms who came out of the stables to see her go by to her hired carriage, confidentially remarked to an acquaintance that he only wished he could get such a young woman for his missus. Richard Thornton was not in attendance upon the fair young bride. There was a scene to be painted for Spavin and Cromshaw upon that particular day which was more important than any scene Dick had ever painted before. So the young man set out early upon that September bridal morning, after saluting Eleanor Vane in the most tender and brotherly fashion: but I am sorry to say that instead of going straight to the Royal Phœnix Theatre, Mr. Thornton walked with a slow and listless gait across Westminster Bridge, then plunged with a sudden and almost ferocious impetus into the remotest intricacies of Lambeth, scowling darkly at the street boys who came in his way, skirting the Archbishop’s palace, glowering at the desolation of Vauxhall, and hurrying far away into the solitudes of Battersea-fields, where he spent the better part of the afternoon in the dreary parlour of an obscure public-house, drinking adulterated beer and smoking bad tobacco.
The Signora wore a rustling black silk dress—Eleanor’s present of the previous Christmas—in honour of her protégé’s wedding; but Eliza Picirillo’s heart was sadly divided upon this quiet bridal day, half rejoicing in Miss Vane’s fortune and advancement, half sorrowful for poor desolate Dick wandering away amongst the swamps by the waterside.
Mr. Monckton and his two partners were waiting for the bride in the portico of the church. The senior partner, an old man with white hair, was to give Eleanor away, and paid her many appropriate though rather obsolete compliments upon the occasion. Perhaps it was now for the first time that Miss Vane began to regard the step she was about to take as one of a somewhat serious and indeed awful nature; perhaps it was now for the first time that she began to think she had committed a sin in accepting Gilbert Monckton’s love so lightly.
“If he knew that I did not promise to marry him because I loved him, but because I wanted to get back to Hazlewood,” she thought.
But presently the grave shadows passed away from her face and a faint blush rose to her cheek and brow.
“I will love him by-and-bye, when I have avenged my father’s death,” she thought.
Some such thought as this was in her mind when she took her place beside Gilbert Monckton at the altar.
The autumn sunshine streamed in upon them through the great windows of the church, and wrapped them in yellow light, like the figures of Joseph and Mary in an old picture. The bride and bridegroom looked very handsome standing side by side in this yellow sunshine. Gilbert Monckton’s twenty years’ seniority only dignified and exalted him, investing the holy marriage promise of love and protection with a greater solemnity than it could have had when spoken by a stripling of one or two and twenty.
Everything seemed auspicious upon this wedding morning. The lawyer’s partners were in the highest spirits, the beadle and pew-opener were elevated by the idea of prospective donations. The Signora wept quietly while the marriage service was being read, picturing to herself her nephew Richard, smoking and drinking desperately in his desolate painting-room: but when the ceremony was over the good music mistress dried her tears, banishing all traces of sorrow before she kissed and complimented the bride.
“You are to come and see us at the Priory, dear Signora,” Eleanor said, as she clung about her friend before leaving the vestry; “Gilbert says so, you know.”
Her voice faltered a little, and she glanced shyly at her husband as she spoke of him by his Christian name. It seemed as if she had no right to allude so familiarly to Mr. Monckton, of Tolldale Priory. And presently Eliza Picirillo stood alone—or attended only by the beadle, obsequiously attentive in proportion to the liberality of the donation he had just received—under the portico of the Bloomsbury church, watching the lawyer’s carriage drive away towards the Great Northern railway station. Mr. Monckton, in the absence of any preference upon Eleanor’s part, had chosen a quiet Yorkshire watering-place as the scene of his honeymoon.
Signora Picirillo sighed as she went down the steps before the church, and took her seat in the hired vehicle that was to take her back to the Pilasters.
“So Bloomsbury has seen the last of Eleanor,” she thought, sadly; “we may go down to see her, perhaps, in her grand new house, but she will never come back to us. She will never wash the tea-things and make tea and toast again for a tired-out old music mistress.”
The low gleams of red and orange in the last sunset of September sank behind the grey line of the German Ocean, after the closing day of Gilbert Monckton’s honeymoon. Upon the first of October the lawyer was to take his young wife to Tolldale Priory. Mr. and Mrs. Monckton walked upon the broad sands as that low orange light faded out of the western sky. The lawyer was grave and silent, and every now and then cast a furtive glance at his companion’s face. Sometimes that glance was succeeded by a sigh.
Eleanor was paler and more careworn than she had looked since the day after her visit to the shipbroker’s office. The quiet and seclusion of the place to which Gilbert Monckton had brought his bride had given her ample opportunity of brooding on the one idea of her life. Had he plunged her into a vortex of gaiety, it is possible that she might have been true to that deep-rooted purpose which she had so long nursed in her breast; but, on the other hand, there would have been some hope that the delights of change and novelty, delights to which youth cannot be indifferent—might have beguiled the bride from that for-ever-recurring train of thought which separated her from her husband as effectually as if an ocean had rolled between them.
Yes, Gilbert Monckton had discovered the fatal truth that marriage is not always union, and that the holiest words that were ever spoken cannot weave the mystic web which makes two souls indissolubly one, if there be one inharmonious thread in the magical fabric. Gilbert Monckton felt this, and knew that there was some dissonant note in the chord which should have been such a melodious unison.
Again and again, while talking to his wife, carried away, perhaps, by the theme of which he was speaking, counting on her sympathy as a certainty, he had looked into Eleanor’s face, and seen that her thoughts had wandered far away from him and his conversation, into some unknown region. He had no clue by which he could follow those wanderings; no chance word ever fell from his wife’s lips which might serve as the traitor silk that guided ruthless Eleanor to Rosamond’s hiding-place. So thus, before the honeymoon was over, Gilbert Monckton began to be jealous of his bride, thereby fostering for himself a nest of scorpions, or a very quarry of young vultures, which were henceforth to make their meals off his entrails.
But it was not the ferocious or Othello-like jealousy. The green-eyed monster did not appear under his more rugged and uncivilised form, finding a vent for his passions in pillows, poison, and poniards. The monster disguised himself as a smooth and philosophical demon. He hid his diabolical attributes under the gravity and wisdom of a friendly sage. In other words, Gilbert Monckton, feeling disappointed at the result of his marriage, set himself to reason upon the fact, and was for ever torturing himself with silent arguments and mute conjectures as to the cause of that indescribable something in his young wife’s manner which told him there was no perfect union between them. The lawyer reproached himself for his weak folly in having built a fairy palace of hope upon the barren fact of Eleanor’s acceptance of his hand. Did not girls, situated as George Vane’s daughter had been situated, marry for money, again and again, in these mercenary days? Who should know this better than Gilbert Monckton the solicitor, who had drawn up so many marriage settlements, been concerned in so many divorces, and assisted at so many matrimonial bargains, whose sordid motives were as undisguised as in any sale of cattle transacted in the purlieus of Smithfield? Who should know better than he, that beautiful and innocent girls every day bartered their beauty and innocence for certain considerations set down by grave lawyers, and engrossed upon sheets of parchment at so much per sheet?
He did know this, and in his mad arrogance he had said to himself, “I—amongst all other men—will be an exception to the common rule. The girl I marry is poor; but she will give herself to me for no meaner consideration than my love and my truth and my devotion; and those shall be hers until my dying day.”
Gilbert Monckton had said this; and already a mocking demon had made a permanent perch for himself upon this wretched man’s shoulders, for ever whispering insidious doubts into his ear, for ever instilling shadowy fears into his mind.
Eleanor had not seemed happy during those few honeymoon weeks. She had grown weary of the broad sands stretching far away, flat and desolate under the September sky, and weary of the everlasting and unbroken line that bounded that wide gray sea. This weariness she had displayed frankly enough; but she had not revealed its hidden source, which lay in her feverish impatience to go back to the neighbourhood of Hazlewood, and to make the discovery she wished to make before Maurice de Crespigny’s death.
She had sounded her husband upon the subject of the old man’s health.
“Do you think Mr. de Crespigny will live long?” she asked, one day.
“Heaven knows, my dear,” the lawyer answered, carelessly. “He has been an invalid for nearly twenty years now, and he may go on being an invalid for twenty years more, perhaps. I fancy that his death will be very sudden whenever it does happen.”
“And do you think that he will leave his money to Launcelot Darrell?”
Eleanor’s face grew a little paler as she mentioned the young man’s name. The invisible familiar perched upon Mr. Monckton’s shoulder directed the lawyer’s attention to that fact.
“I don’t know. Why should you be interested in Mr. Darrell’s welfare?”
“I am not interested in his welfare, I only asked you a question, Gilbert.”
Even the malice of the familiar could take no objection to the tone in which Eleanor said this: and Mr. Monckton was ashamed of the passing twinge which Launcelot Darrell’s name had caused him.
“I dare say De Crespigny will leave his money to young Darrell, my dear,” he said, in a more cordial voice; “and though I have no very high opinion of the young man’s character, I think he ought to have the fortune. The maiden ladies should have annuities, of course. Goodness knows they have fought hard enough for the prize.”
“How can people act so contemptibly for the sake of money!” cried Eleanor, with sudden indignation.
The lawyer looked admiringly at her glowing face, which had crimsoned with the intensity of her feeling. She was thinking of her father’s death, and of that hundred pounds which had been won from him on the night of his suicide.
“No,” thought Mr. Monckton, “she cannot be mercenary. That bright, impulsive creature could never be guilty of any deliberate meanness,—and what could be a worse meanness than that of the woman who could marry a man out of sordid and mercenary motives, beguiling him by a simulated affection, and thereby compassing her own advancement?
“If I have won her heart, in its untainted freshness,” thought Gilbert Monckton, “I must be content, though that girlish heart may seem cold. She will love me better by-and-by. She will learn to confide in me; she will learn to sympathise with me.”
By such arguments as these Mr. Monckton endeavoured to satisfy himself, and sometimes, indeed, succeeded in doing so,—that his young wife’s absent and thoughtful manner was a matter of course; the thoughtfulness of a girl unused to her new position, and perhaps a little bewildered by its strangeness. But on the morning of the 1st of October, Gilbert Monckton perceived a change in Eleanor’s manner, and on that morning the demon familiar took up a permanent station upon the lawyer’s shoulder.
Mrs. Monckton was no longer grave and listless. A feverish impatience, a sudden flow of high spirits, seemed to have taken possession of her.
“You observe,” whispered the familiar spirit, as Mr. Monckton sat opposite his wife in a compartment of the express train that was to take them to London, en route for Berkshire, “you observe the glow in her cheeks, the brightness of her eyes. You saw her turn pale the other day when she mentioned Launcelot Darrell’s name. You know what the young man’s mother told you. You can do the commonest sum in logical arithmetic, I suppose. You can put two and two together. Your wife has been wearied to death of the North, and the sea, and the sands, and you. She is in high spirits to-day, and it is very easy to account for the change in her manner. She is glad to go back to Berkshire—she is glad to go back there, because she will see Launcelot Darrell.”
Mr. Monckton, with a cambric handkerchief thrown over his face, kept a covert watch upon his wife from between its artfully-adjusted folds, and enjoyed such converse as this with the spirit he had chosen for his companion.