Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Eleanor's victory - Part 15
BY THE AUTHOR OF “AURORA FLOYD,” “LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET,” &c.
CHAPTER XXVII. SLOW FIRES.
The new life which began for Eleanor Monckton at Tolldale Priory seemed very strange to her. The prim respectability of the old mansion weighed heavily upon her spirits. The best part of her existence had been spent in a very free-and-easy and Bohemian manner; and her improved position was at first more strange than pleasant to her. The well-trained servants who waited upon her in respectful silence, acknowledging her as their mistress, and obsequiously eager to give her pleasure, were very different people to the familiar landladies of those lodgings in which she had lived with her father, or the good-natured shoemaker-landlord at the Pilasters.
At Hazlewood she had been only a dependant; and those who served her had given her their service out of love for her brightness and beauty; rendering her little benefits with frank smiles and familiar greetings. But the mistress of Tolldale had a certain dignity to support; and new duties to learn in her new position.
At first those duties seemed very hard to the impulsive girl, who had a sort of instinctive contempt for all ceremonial usages and stereotyped observances. They seemed more especially hard, perhaps, because Gilbert Monckton expected his young wife to assume her new position as a thing of course, and was inclined to be very jealous of any omission that derogated from her dignity.
He was inclined to be jealous of her girlish inconstancy of thought and action, seeing in all this an evidence that she regretted the freedom of her girlhood. He was inclined to be jealous. That one sentence reveals the secret of a great deal of misery which this gentleman made for himself. He was inclined to be jealous of anything and everything, where his young wife was concerned.
It was thus that Gilbert Monckton began his married life. It was thus that, of his own doing, he set a breach between himself and the woman he idolised. And when the breach was made, and the dreary gulf of distrust and misapprehension stretched black and impassable between this weak man and that which he loved dearest in all the world, he could only cast himself down beside the yawning ravine and bemoan his desolation.
I have called Gilbert Monckton a weak man advisedly. In all the ordinary business of life, and in all the extraordinary businesses that fell in his professional pathway, the lawyer’s clearness of perception and power of intellect were unsurpassed by any of his compeers. Strong; stern; decided and unyielding, where his judgment was once formed; he was trusted as an oracle by those who had dealings with him. But in his love for his wife he was weaker and more irresolute than any desponding swain of five-and-twenty.
He had been deceived once by a woman whom he had loved as he now loved Eleanor; and he could not forget that early deception. The shadow that had fallen upon his life was not to be lifted off by any sunshine of trust and love. He had been deceived once, and he might be deceived again.
The wrong which a woman’s falsehood does to the man whom she betrays is a lasting and sometimes irrecoverable wrong. The wound festers, deep down below the outer scar; and while sympathetic friends are rejoicing in the slow obliteration of that surface evidence of the past, the poison’s corroding power still endures, gaining force by time.
The secret sorrow of Gilbert Monckton’s youth had made him suspicious of all womanly truth and purity. He watched his wife, as it had been his habit to watch his ward, doubtfully and fearfully: even when he most admired her, regarding her in some wise as a capricious and irresponsible being, who might at any moment turn upon him and betray him.
He had fought against his love for his ward’s beautiful companion. He had tried to shut his mind against all consciousness of her fascinations; he had endeavoured not to believe in her. If she had stayed at Hazlewood, that silent struggle might have gone on in the lawyer’s breast for years; but her sudden departure had taken the grave man of forty off his guard: hurried away by an impulse, he had revealed the secret that had been so skilfully repressed, and, for the second time in his life, perilled his happiness upon the hazard of a woman’s truth.
“What do I know of her more than I knew of Margaret Ravenshaw?” he thought, sometimes; “can I trust her because she looks full in my face, with eyes that are as clear as the sky above my head? There is generally some landmark by which a man’s character can be understood, however practised he may be in hypocrisy; but a woman—— Bah! a woman’s beauty defies a physiognomist. We trust and believe because we admire. ‘She can’t be wicked with such a Grecian nose,’ we say. ‘Those exquisitely-moulded lips cannot speak anything but the truth!’”
If Gilbert Monckton’s young wife had seemed happy in her new home, he would have accepted the fair omen, and would have sunned himself in the brightness of her gaiety. But she was not happy; he could clearly see that; and day and night he tormented himself with vain endeavours to find out the cause of her uncertain spirits, her fits of abstraction, her long pauses of thoughtful silence.
And while Mrs. Monckton’s husband was nursing all these tortures, and every day widening the gulf of his own making, his wife, absorbed by her own secret purpose, was almost unconscious of all else in the world. If she saw the lawyer’s face thoughtful or gloomy, she concluded that his moodiness arose from business anxieties with which she had no concern. If he sighed, she set down his melancholy to the same professional causes. A tiresome will-case, a troublesome chancery suit—something in those dusty offices had annoyed him; and that professional something had of course no concern for her.
Eleanor Monckton had taken upon herself an unnatural office; she had assumed an abnormal duty; and her whole life fashioned itself to fit that unwomanly purpose. She abnegated the privileges, and left unperformed the duties, of a wife—true to nothing except to that fatal promise made in the first madness of her grief for George Vane’s death.
She had been more than a week at Tolldale Priory, and she had not advanced one step upon the road which she had so desperately determined to pursue. She had not yet seen Launcelot Darrell.
Gilbert Monckton had spent the day after his return to Berkshire in riding about the neighbourhood, calling upon those few people with whom he kept up any acquaintance, and informing them of his marriage with the young lady who, a few weeks before, had been the companion of his ward. Of course he received friendly congratulations and good wishes from every one to whom he imparted this intelligence; and of course when his back was turned, the same people who had tendered those good wishes set to work to wonder at his folly, and to prognosticate all manner of evil from his absurd and imprudent marriage.
His longest visit was paid to Hazlewood, and here his tidings afforded real and unmixed satisfaction. Launcelot Darrell was at work in his painting-room, and was therefore out of the way of hearing the news. The widow was pleased to think that Eleanor’s marriage would secure her son against the immediate danger of taking a penniless wife; and Laura was sincerely rejoiced at the idea of seeing her friend again.
“I may come to Tolldale soon, mayn’t I, Mr. Monckton?” she asked. “Dear Nelly, I do so long to see her! But to think of her being married to you! I never was so surprised in my life. Why you must be old enough to be her father. It does seem so funny!”
Gilbert Monckton did not feel particularly grateful to his ward for the extreme candour of these remarks, but he invited the young lady to spend the following day with Eleanor.
“I shall be in town to-morrow,” he said, “and I dare say Mrs. Monckton will find the Priory dull.”
“Mrs. Monckton!” cried Laura; “oh, to be sure; why, that’s Nelly, of course! Find the Priory dull? Yes, I should think she would indeed! Poor Eleanor, in those damp, over-grown gardens, with the high walls all round, and the tops of the trees above the walls. How lonely she’ll be.”
“Lonely! I shall come home to dinner every day.”
“Yes, at seven o’clock; and from breakfast-time till seven poor Nell must amuse herself in the best way she can. But I’m not going to grumble; I’m only too happy to think she will be near me.”
Mr. Monckton stood by the garden-gate—that gate near which he had so often loitered with Eleanor—listening with no very great satisfaction to his ward’s frivolous prattle. His young wife would feel unhappy in the dulness of her new life, perhaps. If that were to be so, it would be proof positive that she did not love him. He could never have felt dull or lonely in her society, though Tolldale had been some grim and isolated habitation in the middle of an African desert.
“So you think she will be dull, Laura?” he said, rather despondently.
“Why of course she will,” answered the young lady; “but now don’t think me inquisitive, please,” she added, in a very insinuating tone, “but I do so much want you to tell me something.”
“You want me to tell you what?” asked the lawyer, rather sharply.
Laura linked her hand through his arm, and raising herself on tip-toe, so as to bring her rosy lips within easier reach of his ear, whispered archly,
“Does she really love you? Was it really a love-match?”
Gilbert Monckton started as violently as if that infantine whisper had been the envenomed hiss of a snake.
“What do you mean, child?” he said, turning sharply upon his ward; “of course Eleanor and I married because we loved each other? Why else should we have married?”
“No, to be sure. Girls marry for money sometimes. I heard Mrs. Darrell say that one of the Penwoods, of Windsor, married a horrid, old, rich city man for the sake of his money. But I don’t think Eleanor would do that sort of thing. Only it seems so funny that she should have been in love with you all the time.”
“All what time?”
“Why all the time she and I were together. How could she help talking of you, I wonder?”
The lawyer bit his lip.
“She never talked of me, then?” he said, with a feeble attempt to make his tone careless.
“Oh, yes, she spoke of you sometimes, of course; but not in that way.”
“Not in what way? When will you learn to express yourself clearly, Miss Mason? Are you going to be a child all your life?”
Gilbert Monckton’s ward looked up at him with a half comic look of terror. He was not accustomed to speak so sharply to her.
“Don’t be angry, please,” she said, “I know I don’t always express myself clearly. I dare say it’s because I used to get other girls to do my themes—they call exercises in composition themes, you know—when I was at school. I mean that Eleanor didn’t talk of you as if she was in love with you—not as I talk—not as I should talk of any one if I were in love with them,” added the young lady, blushing very much as she corrected herself.
Miss Mason had only one idea of the outer evidences of the master-passion. A secret or unrequited affection which did not make itself known by copious quotations of Percy Shelley and Letitia Landon, was in her mind a very common-place affair.
Mr. Monckton shrugged his shoulders.
“Who set you up as a judge of how a woman should speak of a man she loves?” he said, sharply. “My wife has too much modesty to advertise her affection for any man. By-the-bye, Miss Mason, would you like to come and live at Tolldale?”
Laura looked at her guardian with unmitigated surprise.
“Come and live at Tolldale!” she said; “I thought you didn’t like me; I thought you despised me because I’m so frivolous and childish.”
“Despise you, Laura,” cried Gilbert Monckton, “not like you! My poor dear child, what a brute I must have been if I ever have given you such an impression as that. I am very fond of you, my dear,” he added, gravely, laying his hand upon the girl’s head as he spoke, and looking down at her with sorrowful tenderness. “I am very much attached to you, my poor dear child. If I ever seem vexed with your girlish frivolity, it is only because I am anxious about your future. I am very, very anxious about your future.”
“But why are you so anxious?”
“Because your mother was childish and light-hearted like you, Laura, and her life was not a happy one.”
“My poor mother. Ah, how I wish you would tell me about her.”
Laura Mason looked very serious as she said this. Her hands were folded round the lawyer’s arm, her bright blue eyes seemed to grow of a more sombre colour as she looked earnestly upward to his grave face.
“Not now, my dear; some day, some day, perhaps, we’ll talk about all that. But not now. You haven’t answered my question, Laura. Would you like to live at Tolldale?”
The young lady blushed crimson and dropped her eyelids.
“I should dearly like to live with Eleanor,” she said. “But—”
“I don’t think it would be quite right to leave Mrs. Darrell, would it? The money you pay her is of great use to her, you know; I have heard her say she could scarcely get on without it, especially now that Launcelot—now that Mr. Darrell has come home.”
The blushes deepened as Laura Mason said this.
The lawyer watched those deepening blushes with considerable uneasiness. “She is in love with this dark-eyed young Apollo,” he thought.
“You are very scrupulous about Mrs. Darrell and her convenience, Laura,” he said. “I should have fancied you would have been delighted to live with your old friend and companion. You’ll come to-morrow to spend the day with Eleanor, I suppose?”
“Oh, yes; if you please.”
“I’ll send the carriage for you, after it has taken me to Slough. Good-bye.”
Mr. Monckton rode slowly homewards. His interview with Laura had not been altogether agreeable to him. The girl’s surprise at his marriage with Eleanor had irritated and disturbed him. It seemed like a protest against the twenty years that divided his age from that of his young wife. There was something abnormal and exceptionable in the marriage, it seemed, then; and the people who had congratulated him and wished him well, were so many bland and conventional hypocrites, who no doubt laughed in their sleeves at his folly.
The lawyer rode back to Tolldale Priory with a moody and overclouded brow.
“That girl is in love with Launcelot Darrell,” he thought. “She betrayed her secret in her childish transparence. The young man must be wonderfully attractive, since people fall in love with him in this manner. I don’t like him; I don’t believe in him; I should not like Laura to be his wife.”
Yet in the next moment Mr. Monckton reflected that, after all, a marriage between his ward and Launcelot might not be altogether unadvisable. The young man was clever and gentlemanly. He came of a good stock, and had at least brilliant expectations. He might marry Laura and go to Italy, where he could devote a few years to the cultivation of his art.
“If the poor child is really very much in love with him, and he returns her affection, it would be cruel to come between them with any prudential tyranny,” thought Mr. Monckton. “The young man seems really anxious to achieve success as an artist, and if he is to do so he ought certainly to study abroad.”
The lawyer’s mind dwelt upon this latter point throughout the remainder of his ride, and when he crossed the stone-paved hall where the cavalier’s boots and saddles hung in the mysterious coloured light that stole through the emblazoned windows, he had almost come to the determination that Laura Mason and Launcelot Darrell ought to be married forthwith. He found his wife sitting in one of the windows of the library, with her hands lying idle in her lap, and her eyes fixed upon the garden before her. She started as he entered the room, and looked up at him with a bright eagerness in her face.
“You have been to Hazlewood?” she said.
“Yes, I have just come from there.”
“And you have seen—?”
She stopped suddenly. Launcelot Darrell’s name had risen to her lips, but she checked herself before uttering it, lest she should betray her eager interest in him. She had no fear of that interest being misconstrued; no idea of such a possibility had ever entered her head. She only feared that some chance look or word might betray her vengeful hatred of the young man.
“You saw Laura—and—and Mrs. Darrell, I suppose?” she said.
“Yes, I saw Laura and Mrs. Darrell,” answered Gilbert Monckton, watching his wife’s face. He had perceived the hesitation with which she had asked this question. He saw now that she was disappointed in his reply.
Eleanor was incapable of dissimulation, and her disappointment betrayed itself in her face. She had expected to hear something of Launcelot Darrell, something which would have at least given her an excuse for questioning her husband about him.
“You did not see Mr. Darrell, then?” she said, after a pause, during which Mr. Monckton had placed himself opposite to her in the open window. The afternoon sunshine fell full upon Eleanor’s face; lighting up every change of expression; revealing every varying shade of thought that betrayed itself unconsciously in a countenance whose mobility was one of its greatest charms.
“No, Mr. Darrell was in his painting-room; I did not see him.”
There was a pause. Eleanor was silent, scarcely knowing how to fashion any question that might lead to her gaining some information about the man whose secrets she had set herself to unravel.
“Do you know, Eleanor,” said the lawyer after this pause, during which he had kept close watch upon his wife’s face, “I think I have discovered a secret that concerns Launcelot Darrell.”
Sudden blushes lit up Eleanor Monckton’s cheeks like a flaming fire.
“A secret!” she repeated. “You have found out a secret!”
“Yes, I believe that my ward, Laura Mason, has fallen in love with the young man.”
Eleanor’s face changed. Her feverish eagerness gave place to a look of indifference.
“Is that all?” she said.
She had no very great belief in the intensity of Miss Mason’s feelings. The girl’s sentimental talk and demonstrative admiration had to her mind something spurious in their nature; Mrs. Monckton was ready to love Laura very dearly when the business of her life should be done, and she could have time to love anybody, but in the meantime she gave herself no uneasiness about Miss Mason’s romantic passion for the young painter.
“Laura is as inconstant as the wind,” she thought. “She will hate Launcelot Darrell when I tell her how base he is.”
But what was Eleanor’s surprise when Mr. Monckton said, very quietly.
“If the girl is really attached to this young man, and he returns her affection—she is so pretty and fascinating, that I should think he could scarcely help being in love with her—I don’t see why the match should not take place.”
Eleanor looked up suddenly.
“Oh, no, no, no,” she cried; “you would never let Laura marry Launcelot Darrell.”
“And why not, Mrs. Monckton?”
The insidious imp which the lawyer had made his bosom companion of late, at this moment transformed itself into a raging demon, and gnawed ravenously at the vitals of its master.
“Why shouldn’t Laura marry Launcelot Darrell?”
“Because you have a bad opinion of him. What did you say to me by the garden-gate at Hazlewood, when Mr. Darrell first came home? You said he was selfish, shallow, frivolous; false, perhaps. You said there was a secret in his life.”
“I thought so then.”
“And have you ceased to think so now?”
“I don’t know. I may have been prejudiced against the young man,” answered Mr. Monckton, doubtfully.
“I don’t think you were,” Eleanor said; “I don’t think he is a good man. Pray, pray don’t let Laura marry him.”
She clasped her hands in her eagerness, as she looked up in her husband’s face.
Gilbert Monckton’s brow darkened.
“What does it matter to you?” he asked.
Eleanor looked surprised at the almost angry abruptness of her husband’s manner.
“It matters a great deal to me,” she said; “I should be very sorry if Laura were to make an unhappy marriage.”
“But must her marriage with Launcelot Darrell be necessarily unhappy?”
“Yes; because he is a bad man.”
“What right have you to say that, unless you have some special reason for thinking it?”
“I have a special reason.”
“I cannot tell you—now.”
The ravenous demon’s tooth grew sharper than usual when Eleanor said this.
“Mrs. Monckton,” the lawyer said, sternly, “I am afraid that there can be very little happiness in store for you and me if you begin your married life by keeping secrets from your husband.”
Gilbert Monckton was too proud to say more than this. A dull despair was creeping into his breast, a sick loathing of himself and of his folly. Every one of those twenty years which made him his young wife’s senior rose up against him, and gibed and twitted him.
What right had he to marry a young wife, and believe that she could love him? What justification could he find for his own folly in taking this girl from poverty and obscurity, and then expecting that she should feel any warmer sentiment than some feeble gratitude to him for having given her an advantageous bargain? He had given her a handsome house and attentive servants, carriages and horses, prosperity and independence, in exchange for her bright youth and beauty, and he was angry with her because she did not love him.
Looking back at that interview in the Pilasters—every circumstance of which was very clear to him now, by the aid of a pair of spectacles lent him by the jealous demon his familiar—Mr. Monckton remembered that no confession of love had dropped from Eleanor’s lips. She had consented to become his wife, nothing more. She had, no doubt—in those moments of maidenly hesitation, during which he had waited so breathlessly—deliberately weighed and carefully balanced the advantages that were to be won from the sacrifice demanded of her.
Of course the perpetual brooding upon such fancies as these very much tended to make Gilbert Monckton an agreeable and lively companion for an impulsive girl. There is something remarkable in the persistency with which the sufferer from that terrible disease called jealousy strives to aggravate the causes of his torture.
CHAPTER XXVIII. BY THE SUNDIAL.
Laura Mason came to live at Tolldale. Gilbert Monckton argued with himself that his most reasonable motive for marrying Eleanor Vane had lain in his desire to provide a secure home and suitable companionship for his ward. The girl was very glad to be with Eleanor; but a little sorry to leave Hazlewood, now that Mr. Launcelot Darrell’s presence gave a new charm to the place.
“Not that he is very lively, you know, Nelly,” Miss Mason remarked to her guardian’s wife in the course of a long discussion of Mr. Darrell’s merits. “He never seems happy. He’s always roaming about the place, looking as if he had something upon his mind. It makes him look very handsome, though, you know; I don’t think he’d look half so handsome if he hadn’t anything on his mind. He was awfully dull and gloomy after you went away, Nell; I’m sure he must have been in love with you. Mrs. Darrell says he wasn’t; and that he admires another person; quite a different person. Do you think I’m the person, Eleanor dear?” asked the young lady, blushing and smiling, as she looked shyly up at her companion’s grave face.
“I don’t know, Laura; but I almost hope not, for I should be very sorry if you were to marry Launcelot Darrell,” Eleanor said.
“But why should you be sorry, Nelly?”
“Because I don’t think he’s a good man.”
Miss Mason pouted her under lip and shrugged her shoulders, with the prettiest air of impatience.
“It’s very unkind of you to say so, Nell,” she exclaimed. “I’m sure he’s good! Or if he isn’t good, I like him all the better for it,” she added, with charming inconsistency. “I don’t want to marry a good man, like my guardian, or Mr. Neate, the curate of Hazlewood parish. The Corsair wasn’t good; but see how fond Gulnare and Medora were of him. I don’t suppose it was good of the Giaour to kill Hassan; but who could have had the heart to refuse to marry the Giaour?”
Mrs. Monckton did not attempt to argue with a young lady who expressed such opinions as these. Laura’s romantic infatuation only made Eleanor more impatient for the coming of that hour in which she should be able to denounce Launcelot Darrell as a cheat and a traitor.
“He shall be disinherited, and through me,” she thought. “He shall be cast off by the woman who has loved him, and through me. And when he suffers most, I will be as pitiless to his sufferings, as he was pitiless to the old man whom he cheated and abandoned to despair.”
A fortnight passed after Eleanor’s arrival at the Priory before she had any opportunity of seeing Launcelot Darrell. She had proposed going to Hazlewood several times, but upon each occasion Mr. Monckton had contrived to interpose some objection to her visit. She began to despair of entering upon the silent struggle with her father’s destroyer. It seemed as if she had come to Tolldale for no purpose. In her impatience she dreaded that Maurice de Crespigny would die, leaving his fortune to his nephew. She knew that the old man’s life hung by a slender thread, which at any moment might be severed.
But at last the opportunity she had so anxiously awaited arrived unexpectedly, not brought about by any scheming or foresight upon her part. Laura had been a few days at the Priory, and the two girls were walking in one of the sheltered pathways of the old-fashioned garden, waiting for Gilbert Monckton’s arrival, and the clanging summons of the great dinner-bell.
The October sunshine was bright and pleasant, the autumn flowers enlivened the dark luxuriance of the garden with their gaudy splendour. The tall hollyhocks waved in the breeze.
The two girls had walked up and down the smooth gravel path for some time in silence. Eleanor was absorbed in her own thoughts, and even Laura could not talk for ever without encouragement.
But presently this latter young lady stopped with a blush and a start, clasping her hand tightly about her companion’s wrist. At the other end of the sheltered walk, amongst the flickering patches of sunshine that trembled on the filbert-trees, she had perceived Launcelot Darrell advancing towards them.
Eleanor looked up.
“What is the matter, Laura?” she asked.
In the next moment she recognised Mr. Darrell. The chance had come at last.
The young man advanced to meet Mrs. Monckton and her companion. He was pale, and had a certain gravity in his face expressive of some hidden sorrow. He had been in love with Eleanor Vane, after his own fashion, and was very much disposed to resent her desertion of him. His mother had told him the reason of that desertion very frankly, after Eleanor’s marriage.
“I come to offer you my congratulations, Mrs. Monckton,” he said, in a tone which was intended to wound the young wife to the quick, but which, like everything else about this young man, had a certain spuriousness, a tone of melodrama that robbed it of all force. “I should have accompanied my mother when she called on you the other day—but—”
He paused abruptly, looking at Laura with an air of ill-concealed vexation.
“Can I speak to you alone, Mrs. Monckton?” he asked; “I have something particular to say to you.”
“But you can say it before Laura, I suppose?”
“No, not before Laura, or before any one. I must speak to you alone.”
Miss Mason looked at the object of her admiration with a piteous expression in her childish face.
“How cruel he is to me,” she thought; “I do believe he is in love with Eleanor. How wicked of him to be in love with my guardian’s wife.
Mrs. Monckton did not attempt to refuse the privilege which the young man demanded of her.
“I am quite willing to hear anything you may have to say to me,” she said.
“Oh, very well!” cried Laura. “I’m sure I’ll go away if you want to talk about secrets that I musn’t hear. Only I don’t see how you can have any secrets. You haven’t known Mr. Darrell a day longer than I have, Eleanor, and I can’t imagine what he can have to say to you.”
After this protest Miss Mason turned her back upon her companions, and ran away towards the house. She shed a few silent tears behind the shelter of a great clump of chrysanthemums.
“He doesn’t care for me a bit,” she muttered, as she dried her eyes; “Mrs. Darrell is a wicked old storyteller. I feel just as poor Gulnare must have felt when the Corsair was so rude to her, after she’d committed a murder for his sake.”
Eleanor and Launcelot left the sheltered pathway, and walked slowly across the broad lawn towards an old sundial, quaint in shape, and covered with the moss that had slowly crept over the gray stonework. Here the young man stopped, lounging against the mossgrown pedestal and resting his elbow upon the broken dial.
“I have come here to-day to tell you that you have treated me very ill, Eleanor Monckton,” he said.
The young wife drew herself up proudly.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I mean that you jilted me.”
“Yes. You played fast and loose with me. You listened to my declaration of love. You suffered me to believe that you loved me.”
“You did more, Eleanor,” cried the young man, passionately; “you did love me. This marriage with Gilbert Monckton, a man twenty years your senior, is a marriage prompted by base and mercenary motives. You loved me, Eleanor; your silence admitted it that day, if your words did not. You had no right to be cajoled by my mother; you had no right to leave Hazlewood without a word of explanation to me. You are falsehearted and mercenary, Mrs. Monckton; and you have married this man here because he is the owner of a fine house, and can give you money to spend upon your womanly caprices—your selfish vanities.”
He pointed scornfully to her silk dress as he spoke, and to the golden trinkets that glittered at her waist.
She looked at him with a strange expression in her face.
“Think of me as you please,” she said; “think that I was in love with you, if you like.”
It was as if she had said to him, “Fall into a trap of your own setting, if you please. I am not base enough to lay such a snare for you.”
“Yes, Eleanor, you were false and mercenary. You were foolish, perhaps, as well; for I may be a rich man before very long. I may be master of the Woodlands property.
“I don’t think you ever will inherit that fortune,” Eleanor said, slowly. “You talk of my being base and mercenary; you are at liberty to think so if you please. But have you never done base things for the sake of money, Launcelot Darrell?”
The young man’s face darkened.
“Nobody is immaculate, I dare say,” he answered. “I have been very poor, and have been obliged to do what the rest of the world does when its purse is empty.”
As Eleanor watched his moody face she suddenly remembered that this was not the way her cards must be played. The task which she had set herself to perform was not to be accomplished by candour and openness. This man had betrayed her father, and she must betray him.
She held out her hand to Launcelot Darrell.
“Let us be friends,” she said; “I wish to be friends with you.”
There were two witnesses looking on at this gesture. Laura Mason was standing by her guardian, watching the group beside the sundial. Gilbert Monckton had returned from town, and had come into the garden in search of his wife.
“They sent me away from them,” Laura said, as her guardian looked at Launcelot and Eleanor. “He had something particular to say to her; so I wasn’t to hear it, and they sent me away. You’ll ask him to dinner, I suppose?”
“No,” answered the lawyer, sharply.
Launcelot Darrell held Eleanor’s hand some moments before he released it.
“I wish to be friends with you, Mr. Darrell,” she said; “I’ll come to Hazlewood to-morrow to see your pictures, if you please. I want to see how the Rosalind and Celia goes on.”
She hated herself for her hypocrisy. Every generous impulse of her soul revolted against her falsehood. But these things were only a natural part of the unnatural task which she had set herself to perform.