Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Eleanor's victory - Part 26
BY THE AUTHOR OF “AURORA FLOYD,” “LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET,” &c.
CHAPTER XLIX. DESERTED.
The letter written by the old man to his three nieces was read aloud by Miss Sarah in the presence of the eager assembly. Amongst all those anxious listeners there was no one who listened more intently than Gilbert Monckton.
Maurice de Crespigny’s letter was not a long one.
“My dear Nieces—Sarah, Lavinia, and Ellen,—
“You will all three be perhaps much surprised at the manner in which I have disposed of my estate, both real and personal; but, believe me, that in acting as I have done I have been prompted by no unkind feeling against you; nor am I otherwise than duly grateful for the attention which I have received from you during my declining years.
“I think that I have done my duty; but be that as it may, I have done that which it has been my fixed intention to do for the last ten years. I have made several wills, and destroyed one after another, but they have all been in the main point to the same; effect and it has only been an old man’s whimsical fancy that has prompted me to make sundry alterations in minor details. The income of two hundred a year which I have left to each of you will, I know, be more than enough for your simple wants. The three incomes, by the wording of my will, will descend to my nephew, Launcelot Darrell, after your deaths.
“I have tried to remember many old friends who have perhaps long ere this forgotten me, or who may laugh at an old man’s foolish bequests.“I do not believe that I have wronged any one; and I trust that you will think kindly of me when I am in my grave, and never speak bitterly of
“Your affectionate uncle,
“Maurice de Crespigny.
“Woodlands, February 20th.”
This was the old man’s letter. There was not one syllable of its contents which in any way disagreed with the wording of the will.
Launcelot Darrell drew a long breath; and his mother, sitting close to him, with her hand in his, could feel the clammy coldness of his fingers, and hear the loud thumping of his heart against his breast.
Gilbert Monckton took up his hat and walked out of the room. He did not want to have any explanation with the man whom he fully believed—in spite of all Eleanor had said—to be the fortunate rival who had robbed him of every chance of ever winning his wife’s heart.
He had only one feeling now; and that was the same feeling which had taken possession of him twenty years before—an eager desire to run away; to escape from his troubles and perplexities, to get free of this horrible atmosphere of deceit and bewilderment; to cast every hope, every dream behind; and to go out into the world once more, joyless, unloved, hopeless; but at any rate, not the dupe of a false woman’s specious pretences.
He went straight back to Tolldale while the crowd at Woodlands slowly dispersed, more or less discontented with the day’s proceedings. He went back to the grand old mansion in which he had never known happiness. He asked whether his wife was with Miss Mason. No, the man told him; Mrs. Monckton was in her own room, lying down.
This was the very thing he wished. He didn’t want to see Eleanor’s beautiful face, framed in shining bands of hazel-brown hair; that irresistible face whose influence he dared not trust. He wanted to see his ward alone.
Laura ran out of her dressing-room at the sound of her guardian’s footstep.
“Well?” she cried, “is it a forgery?”
“Hush, Laura, go back into your room.”
Miss Mason obeyed, and Mr. Monckton followed her into the pretty little apartment, which was a modern bower of shining maple-wood and flowery chintz, and flimsy lace and muslin, frivolous and airy as the young lady herself.
“Sit down in a comfortable seat, guardian,” said Laura, offering the lawyer a slippery chintz-covered lounging-chair, so low as to bring Mr. Monckton’s knees inconveniently near his chin as he sat in it. “Sit down and tell me all about it, for goodness gracious sake. Is it forged?”
“I don’t know, my dear, whether the will is genuine or not. It would be a very difficult question to decide.”
“But oh! good gracious me,” exclaimed Miss Mason, “how can you be so unkind as to talk about it like that, as if it didn’t matter a bit whether the will is forged or not? If it isn’t forged, Launcelot isn’t bad; and if he isn’t bad, of course I may marry him, and the wedding things won’t be all wasted. I knew that something would happen to make everything come right.”
“Laura,” cried Mr. Monckton, “you must not talk like this. Do you know that you are no longer a child, and that you are dealing with the most solemn business in a woman’s life. I do not know whether the will by which Launcelot Darrell inherits the Woodlands property is genuine or not; I certainly have reason to think that it is genuine, but I will not take upon myself to speak positively. But however that may be, I know that he is not a good man, and you shall never marry him with my consent.”
The young lady began to cry, and murmured something to the effect that it was cruel to use her so when she was ill, and had been taking oceans of lime-draughts; but Mr. Monckton was inflexible. “If you were to have a dozen illnesses such as this,” he said, “they would not turn me from my purpose, or alter my determination. When I voluntarily took upon myself the custody of your life, Laura, I undertook that charge with the intention of accomplishing it as a sacred duty. I have faltered in that duty; for I suffered you to betroth yourself to a man whom I have never been able to trust. But it is not yet too late to repair that error. You shall never marry Launcelot Darrell.”
“Why not? If he didn’t commit a forgery, as Eleanor says he did, why shouldn’t I marry him?”
“Because he has never truly loved you, Laura. You admit that he was Eleanor’s suitor before he was yours? You admit that, do you not?”
Miss Mason pouted, and sobbed, and choked once or twice before she answered. Gilbert Monckton waited impatiently for her reply. He was about as fit to play the mentor as the young lady whom he had taken upon himself to lecture. He was blinded and maddened by passionate regret, cruel disappointment, wounded pride, every feeling which is most calculated to paralyse a man’s reasoning powers and transform a Solomon into a fool.
“Yes,” Laura gasped at last; “he did propose to Eleanor first, certainly. But, then, she led him on.”
“She led him on!” cried Mr. Monckton. “How?”
Laura looked at him with a perplexed expression of countenance, before she replied to this eager question.
“Oh, you know!” she said, after a pause; “I can’t exactly describe how she led him on, but she did lead him on. She walked with him, and she talked to him; they were always talking together and leaving me out of the conversation, which was very rude of them, to say the least, for if I wasn’t intellectual enough for them, and couldn’t quite understand what they were talking about—for Launcelot would talk meta——what’s its name? you know; and who could understand such conversation as that?—they might have talked about things I do understand, such as Byron and Tennyson. And then she took an interest in his pictures, and talked about chiaro—thingembob, and foreshortening, and middle distances, and things, just like an artist. And then she used to let him smoke in the breakfast parlour when she was giving me my music lessons; and I should like to know who could play cinquepated passages in time, with the smell of tobacco in their nose, and a fidgetty young man reading a crackling newspaper, and killing flies with his pocket handkerchief against the window. And then she sat for Rosalind in his picture. But, good gracious me, it’s no good going all over it; she led him on.”
Mr. Monckton sighed. There wasn’t much in what his ward had said, but there was quite enough. Eleanor and Launcelot had been happy and confidential together. They had talked of metaphysics, and literature, and poetry, and painting. The young artist had lounged away the summer mornings, smoking and idling, in Miss Vane’s society.
There was very little in all this, certainly, but quite as much as there generally is in the history of a modern love affair. The age of romance is gone, with tournaments, and troubadours, and knight errantry; and if a young gentleman now-a-days spends money in the purchase of a private box at Covent Garden, and an extra guinea for a bouquet, or procures tickets for a fashionable flower show, and is content to pass the better part of his mornings amidst the expensive litter of a drawing-room, watching the white fingers of his beloved in the messy mysteries of Decalcomanie, he may be supposed to be quite as sincerely devoted as if he were to plant his lady’s point-lace parasol cover in his helmet, and gallop away with a view to having his head split open in her service.
Mr. Monckton hid his face in his hands, and pondered over what he had heard. Yes, his ward’s foolish talk revealed to him all the secrets of his wife’s heart. He could see the pretty, sunny morning room, the young man lounging in the open window, with fluttering rose-leaves all about his handsome head. He could see Eleanor seated at the piano, making believe to listen to her pupil, and glancing back at her lover. He made the prettiest cabinet picture out of these materials for his own torment.
“Do you think Eleanor ever loved Launcelot Darrell?” he asked, by and by.
“Do I think so?” cried Miss Mason. “Why, of course I do; and that’s why she tries to persuade me not to marry him. I love her, and she’s very good to me,” Laura added, hastily, half-ashamed of having spoken unkindly of the friend who had been so patient with her during the last few days. “I love her very dearly; but if she hadn’t cared for Launcelot Darrell, why did she go against my marrying him?”
Gilbert Monckton groaned aloud. Yes, it must be so. Eleanor had loved Launcelot, and her sudden anger, her violent emotion, had arisen out of her jealousy. She was not a devoted daughter, nursing a dream of vengeance against her dead father’s foe; but a jealous and vindictive woman, bent upon avenging an infidelity against herself.
“Laura,” said Mr. Monckton, “call your maid, and tell her to pack your things without a moment’s delay.”
“I am going to take you abroad,—immediately.”
“Oh, good gracious! And Eleanor—”
“Eleanor will stay here. You and I will go to Nice, Laura, and cure ourselves of our follies—if we can. Don’t bring any unnecessary load of luggage. Have your most useful dresses and your linen packed in a couple of portmanteaus, and let all be ready in an hour’s time. We must leave Windsor by the four o’clock train.”
“And my wedding things—what am I to do with them?”
“Pack them up. Burn them, if you like,” answered Gilbert Monckton, leaving his ward to get over her astonishment as she best might.
He encountered her maid in the passage.
“Miss Mason’s portmanteau must be packed in an hour, Jane,” he said. “I am going to take her away at once for change of air.”
Mr. Monckton went down-stairs to his study, and shutting himself in, wrote a very long letter, the composition of which seemed to give him a great deal of trouble.
He looked at his watch when this letter was finished, folded, and addressed. It was a quarter past two. He went up-stairs once more to Laura’s dressing-room, and found that young lady in the wildest state of confusion, doing all in her power to hinder her maid, under the pretence of assisting her.
“Put on your bonnet and shawl and go down-stairs, Laura,” Mr. Monckton said decisively. “Jane will never succeed in packing those portmanteaus while you are fidgeting her. Go down into the drawing-room, and wait there till the boxes are packed and we’re ready to start.”
“But mustn’t I go and say good-bye to Eleanor?”
“Is she still in her own room?”
“Yes, sir,” the maid answered, looking up from the portmanteau before which she was kneeling. “I peeped into Mrs. Monckton’s room just now, and she was fast asleep. She has had a great deal of fatigue in nursing Miss Mason.”
“Very well, then, she had better not be disturbed.”
“But if I’m going to Nice,” remonstrated Laura, “I can’t go so far away without saying good-bye to Eleanor. She has been very kind to me, you know.”
“I have changed my mind,” Mr. Monckton said; “I’ve been thinking over the matter, and I’ve decided on not taking you to Nice. Torquay will do just as well.”
Miss Mason made a wry face.
“I thought I was to have change of scene,” she said; “Torquay isn’t change of scene, for I went there once when I was a child. I might have forgotten Launcelot in quite a strange place, where people talk bad French and wear wooden shoes, and everything is different; but I shall never forget him at Torquay.”
Gilbert Monckton did not notice his ward’s lamentation.
“Miss Mason will want you with her, Jane,” he said to the girl. “You will get yourself ready, please, as soon as you’ve packed those portmanteaus.”
He went down-stairs again, gave his orders about a carriage to take him to the station, and then walked up and down the drawing-room waiting for his ward.
In half-an-hour both she and her maid were ready. The portmanteaus were put into the carriage—the mail-phaeton which had brought Eleanor to Hazlewood two years before—and Mr. Monckton drove away from Tolldale Priory without having uttered a word of adieu to his wife.
CHAPTER L. GILBERT’S LETTER.
It was late in the afternoon when Eleanor awoke, aroused by the clanging of the dinner-bell in the cupola above her head. She had been worn out by her patient attendance upon Laura during the last week, and had slept very heavily, in spite of her anxiety to hear what had happened at the reading of the will. She had seen very little of her husband since the night of Mr. de Crespigny’s death, and, though the coldness and restraint of his manner had much distressed her, she had no idea that he was actually alienated from her, or that he had suffered his mind to become filled with suspicions against her.
She opened the door of her room, went out into the corridor, and listened. But all was very still. She could only hear the faint jingling of glass and silver in the hall below, as the old butler went to and fro putting the finishing touches to the dinner-table.
“Mr. Monckton might have come to me to tell me about the will,” she thought: “he must surely know how anxious I am to hear what has been done.”
She bathed her flushed face, and dressed for dinner as usual. She put on a black silk dress out of respect for her father’s friend, whose funeral had been solemnised during her sleep, and with a black lace shawl upon her shoulders she went down-stairs to look for her husband.
She found all very quiet—unnaturally quiet. It is strange how soon the absence of an accustomed inhabitant makes itself felt in a house, however quiet the habits of that missing person. Eleanor looked into the drawing-room and the study, and found them both empty.
“Where is Mr. Monckton?” she asked of the old butler.
“Yes, ma’am; two hours ago, a’most. You knew he was going, didn’t you, ma’am?”
The old man’s curiosity was excited by Eleanor’s look of surprise.
“Didn’t you know as master was a-going to take Miss Mason away to the seaside for change of air, ma’am?” he asked.
“Yes, yes, I knew that he was going to do so, but not immediately. Did Mr. Monckton leave no message for me?”
“He left a letter, ma’am. It’s on the mantelpiece in the study.”
Eleanor went to her husband’s room with her heart beating high, and her cheeks flushed with indignation against him for the slight he had put upon her. Yes; there was the letter, sealed with his signet-ring. He was not generally in the habit of sealing his letters, so he must have looked upon this as one of some importance. Mrs. Monckton tore open the envelope. She turned pale as she read the first few lines of the letter. It was written over two sheets of note paper, and began thus:
“When I asked you to be my wife, I told you that in my early youth I had been deceived by a woman whom I loved very dearly, though not as dearly as I have since loved you. I told you this, and I implored you to remember my blighted youth, and to have pity upon me. I entreated you to spare me the anguish of a second betrayal, a second awakening from my dream of happiness.
“Surely, if you had not been the most cruel of women, you would have been touched by the knowledge that I had already suffered so bitterly from a woman’s treachery, and you would have had mercy upon me. But you had no mercy. It suited you to come back to this neighbourhood, to be near your former lover, Launcelot Darrell.”
The letter dropped from Eleanor’s hands as she read these words.
“My former lover!” she cried; “my lover, Launcelot Darrell! Can my husband think that? Can he think that I ever loved Launcelot Darrell?”
She picked up the letter, and seated herself at her husband’s writing-table. Then she deliberately re-perused the first page of the lawyer’s epistle.
“How could he write such a letter?” she exclaimed, indignantly. “How could he think such cruel things of me after I had told him the truth—after I had revealed the secret of my life?”
She went on with the letter:
“From the hour of our return to Tolldale, Eleanor,” wrote Gilbert Monckton, “I knew the truth—the hard and cruel truth—very difficult for a man to believe, when he has built up his life and mapped out a happy future under the influence of a delusion which leaves him desolate when it melts away. I knew the worst. I watched you as a man only watches the woman upon whose truth his every hope depends, and I saw that you still loved Launcelot Darrell. By a hundred evidences, small in themselves, but damning when massed together, you betrayed your secret. You had made a mercenary marriage, looking to worldly advantages to counterbalance your sacrifice of feeling; and you found too late that the sacrifice was too hard for you to bear.
“I watched you day by day, and hour by hour; and I saw that as the time for Laura’s marriage approached, you grew hourly more unhappy, more restless, more impatient and capricious in your manner towards Launcelot.
“On the night of Maurice de Crespigny’s death the storm burst. You met Launcelot Darrell in the Woodlands garden—perhaps by chance, perhaps by appointment. You tried to dissuade him against the marriage with Laura, as you had tried to dissuade Laura from marrying him; and failing in this, you gave way to a frenzy of jealousy, and accused your false lover of an impossible crime.
“Remember, Eleanor, I accuse you of no deadly sin; no deliberate treachery to me. The wrong you have done me lies in the fact that you married me, while your heart was still given to another. I give you credit for having tried to conquer that fatal attachment, and I attribute your false accusations against Launcelot Darrell to a mad impulse of jealousy, rather than the studied design of a base woman. I try to think well of you, Eleanor, for I have loved you most dearly; and the new life that I had made for myself owed all its brightness to my hope of winning your regard. But it is not to be so. I bow my head to the decree, and I release you from a bond that has no doubt grown odious to you.
“I beg you, therefore, to write me a final letter, demanding such terms of separation as you may think fit. Let the ground of our parting be incompatibility of temper. Everything shall be done to render your position honourable; and I trust to you to preserve the name of Gilbert Monckton’s wife without taint or blemish. Signora Piccirillo will no doubt act for you in this business, and consent to assume the position of your guardian and friend. I leave you in full possession of Tolldale Priory, and I go to Torquay with my ward, whence I shall depart for the Continent as soon as our separation has been adjusted, and my business arrangements made.
“My address for the next fortnight will be the post-office, Torquay.
This was the letter which the lawyer had written to his young wife. Its contents were like a thunderbolt in the shock which they caused to Eleanor’s senses. She sat for a long time reading it over and over again. For the first time since her marriage she put aside the thought of her revenge, and began to think seriously of something else.
It was too cruel. Unmixed indignation was the feeling which took possession of her mind. She had no comprehension of the despair which had filled Gilbert Monckton’s breast as he wrote that farewell letter. She did not know how the strong man had done battle with his suspicions, struggling with every new doubt, and conquering it as it arose, only to be conquered himself at last, by the irresistible force of circumstances, every one of which seemed a new evidence against his wife. Eleanor could not know this. She only knew that her husband had most bitterly wronged her, and she could feel nothing but indignation—yet.
She tore the letter into a hundred fragments. She wanted to annihilate its insulting accusations. How dared he think so vilely of her? Then a feeling of despair sank into her breast, like some actual burden, chill and heavy, that bowed her down to the earth, and for the time paralysed her energies.
Nothing but failure had met her upon every side. She had been too late in her attempt to see Maurice de Crespigny before his death. She had failed to prove Launcelot Darrell’s guilt; though the evidence of his crime had been in her hands, though she had been herself the witness of his wrong-doing. Everything had been against her. The chance which had thrown her across the pathway of the very man she wished to meet, had only given rise to delusive hopes, and had resulted in utter defeat.
And now she found herself suspected and deserted by her husband,—the man whom she had loved and respected with every better feeling of a generous nature that had been warped and stunted by the all-absorbing motive of her life. In her indignation against Gilbert Monckton, her hatred of Launcelot Darrell became even more bitter than before, for it was he who had caused all this—it was he whose treachery had been the blight of her existence, from the hour of her father’s death until now.
While Eleanor sat thinking over her husband’s letter, the old butler came to announce dinner, which had been waiting some time for her coming. I fancy the worthy retainer had been prowling about the hall meanwhile, with the hope of reading the clue to some domestic mystery in his mistress’s face as she emerged from the study.
Mrs. Monckton went into the dining-room and made a show of eating her dinner. She had a motive for doing this, beyond the desire to keep up appearances, which seems natural even to the most impulsive people. She wanted to hear all about Mr. de Crespigny’s will, and she knew that Jeffreys, the butler, was sure to be pretty well informed upon the subject.
She took her accustomed seat at the dinner-table, and Mr. Jeffreys placed himself behind her. She took a spoonful of clear soup, and then began to trifle with her spoon.
“Have you heard about Mr. de Crespigny’s will, Jeffreys?” she asked.
“Well, ma’am, to tell the truth, we had Mr. Banks, the baker, from Hazlewood village, in the servants’ hall not a quarter of an hour ago, and he do say that Mr. Darrell has got all his great-uncle’s estate, real and personil,—leastways, with the exception of hannuities to the two old mai—the Miss de Crespignys, ma’am, and bein’ uncommon stingy in their dealin’s, no one will regret as they don’t come into the fortune. Sherry, ma’am, or ’ock?”
Eleanor touched one of the glasses before her almost mechanically, and waited while the old man—who was not so skilful and rapid as he had been in the time of Gilbert Monckton’s father—poured out some wine, and removed her soup-plate.
“Yes, ma’am,” he continued, “Banks of Hazlewood do say that Mr. Darrell have got the fortune. He heard it from Mrs. Darrell’s ’ousemaid, which Mrs. Darrell told all the servants directly as she come back from Woodlands, and were all of a tremble like with joy, the ’ousemaid said; but Mr. Launcelot, he were as white as a sheet, and hadn’t a word to say to any one, except the foreign gentleman that he is so friendly with.”
Eleanor paid very little attention to all these details. She only thought of the main fact. The desperate game which Launcelot had played had been successful. The victory was his.
Mrs. Monckton went from the dinner-table to her own room, and with her own hands dragged a portmanteau out of a roomy old-fashioned lumber-closet, and began to pack her plainest dresses, and the necessaries of her simple toilet.
“I will leave Tolldale to-morrow morning,” she said. “I will at least prove to Mr. Monckton that I do not wish to enjoy the benefits of a mercenary marriage. I will leave this place and begin the world again. Richard was right; my dream of vengeance was a foolish dream. I suppose it is right, after all, that wicked people should succeed in this world, and we must be content to stand by and see them triumph.”
Eleanor could not think without some bitterness of Laura’s abrupt departure. She could not have been actuated by the same motives that had influenced Gilbert Monckton. Why, then, had she left without a word of farewell? Why? Launcelot Darrell was the cause of this sorrow as well as of every other, for it was jealousy about him that had prejudiced Laura against her friend.
Early the next morning Eleanor Monckton left Tolldale Priory. She went to the station at Windsor in a pony carriage which had been reserved for the use of herself and Laura Mason. She took with her only one portmanteau, her desk, and dressing-case.
“I am going alone, Martin,” she said to the maid whom Mr. Monckton had engaged to attend upon her. “You know that I am accustomed to wait upon myself, and I do not think you could be accommodated where I am going.”
“But you will not be away long, ma’am, shall you?” the young woman asked.
“I don’t know. I cannot tell you. I have written to Mr. Monckton,” Eleanor answered hurriedly.
In the bleak early spring morning she left the home in which she had known very little happiness. She looked back at the stately old-fashioned mansion with a regretful sigh.
How happy she might have been within those ivied walls! How happy she might have been with her husband and Laura; but for the one hindering cause, the one fatal obstacle—Launcelot Darrell. She thought of what her life might have been, but for the remembrance of that solemn vow which was perpetually urging her on to its fulfilment. The love of a good man, the caressing affection of a gentle girl, the respect of every living creature round about her, might have been hers; but for Launcelot Darrell.
She looked back at the old house, gleaming redly behind the leafless branches of the bare oaks that sheltered it. She could see the oriel window of the morning room that Gilbert Monckton had furnished on purpose for her, the dark crimson of the voluminous curtains, and a Parian statuette, of his own choosing, glittering whitely against the red light of the fire within. She saw all this, and regretted it; but her pride was soothed by the thought that she was running away from this luxurious home and all its elegance, to go out alone into a bleak uncomfortable world.
“He shall know, at least, that I did not marry him for the sake of a fine house and horses and carriages,” she thought, as she watched the terrace chimneys disappear behind the trees. “However meanly he thinks of me, he shall have no cause to think that.”
It was still very early in the day when Eleanor arrived in London. She was determined not to go to the Signora, since she must relate all that had happened, and would no doubt have considerable difficulty in convincing her old friend that she had chosen the right course.
“The Signora would want me to go back to Tolldale, and to try and justify myself in the opinion of Gilbert Monckton,” Eleanor thought. “But I will never humiliate myself to him. He has wronged me; and the consequences of that wrong must rest upon his own head.”
You see this young lady’s nature was as undisciplined as it had been in her girlhood, when she flung herself on her knees in the little Parisian chamber to take an oath of vengeance against her father’s destroyer. She had not yet learnt to submit. She had not yet learnt the most sublime lesson that the Gospel teaches, to suffer unmerited wrong, and take it patiently.
The letter she had written to Gilbert Monckton was very brief.
“Gilbert,” she wrote, “you have most cruelly wronged me, and I cannot doubt that the day will come in which you will know how baseless your suspicions have been. Every word that I uttered in Mr. de Crespigny’s house upon the night of his death was true. I am quite powerless to prove my truth, and I cannot be content to see Launcelot Darrell triumph. The mystery of the lost will is more than I can comprehend, but I declare that it was in my possession five minutes before I met you in the garden. If ever that will should be found, my justification will be found with it. I look to you to watch my interests in this matter, but I am quite incapable of remaining an inmate of your house while you think me the base creature I should be if my accusations against Launcelot Darrell were in the slightest degree false. I will never return to Tolldale until my truth has been proved. You need not fear that I will do anything to bring discredit upon your name. I go out into the world to get my own living, as I have done before.
This letter expressed very little of the indignation which filled Eleanor’s breast. Her pride revolted against the outrage which her husband had inflicted upon her; and she suffered all the more acutely because beneath her apparent indifference there lurked, in the innermost recesses of her heart, a true and pure affection for this cruel Gilbert Monckton, whose causeless suspicions had so deeply wounded her.
In proportion to the strength of her love was the force of her indignation, and she went away from Tolldale with angry thoughts raging in her breast, and buoying her up with a most factitious courage.
This influence was still at work when she reached London. She had only a few pounds in her purse, and it was necessary therefore that she should begin to get her own living immediately. She had thought of this during her journey between Windsor and London, and had determined what to do. She took a cab, and drove to a quiet little hotel in the neighbourhood of the Strand, left her portmanteau and other packages there, and then walked to a certain institution for governesses in the neighbourhood of Cavendish Square. She had been there before, during her residence with the Signora, to make an inquiry about pupils for the pianoforte, but had never given her name to the principal.
“I must call myself by a new name,” she thought, “if I want to hide myself from Gilbert Monckton and from the Signora. I must write to her directly, by-the-bye, poor dear, and tell her that I am safe and well; or else she will be making herself unhappy about me, directly she hears I have left Tolldale.”
The principal of the Governess’ Institution was a stately maiden lady, with a rustling silk dress and glossy braids of gray hair under a cap of point lace. She received Eleanor with solemn graciousness, demanded her requirements and her qualifications, and then, with a gold pencil-case poised lightly between the tips of her taper fingers, deliberated for a few minutes.
Eleanor sat opposite to her, watching her face very anxiously. She wanted some home, some asylum, some hiding-place from a world that seemed altogether against her. She scarcely cared where or what the place of refuge might be. She wanted to get away from Gilbert Monckton, who had wronged and insulted her; and from Launcelot Darrell, whose treachery was always strong enough to triumph over the truth.
But of course she didn’t say this. She only said that she wanted a situation as musical governess, nursery governess, or companion, and that the amount of salary was of very little importance to her.
“I understand,” the lady principal replied, slowly, “I perfectly understand your feeling, Miss—Miss—”
“My name is Villars,” Eleanor answered quickly, looking down at her muff as she spoke.
The lady principal’s eyes followed hers, and looked at the muff too. It was a very handsome sable muff, which had cost five-and-twenty pounds, and had been given by Mr. Monckton to his wife at the beginning of the winter. It was not at all in accord with Eleanor’s plain merino dress and woollen shawl, or with her desire to go out as a governess without consideration of salary. Miss Barkham, the lady principal, began to look rather suspiciously at her visitor’s handsome face, and forgot to finish the sentence which she had only just commenced.
“You can command excellent references, Miss Villars, I suppose?” she said, coldly.
Eleanor flushed crimson. Here was an insurmountable difficulty at the very outset.
“References,” she stammered, “will references be necessary?”
“Most decidedly. We could not think of sending out any young lady from this establishment who could not command first-class references or testimonials. Some people are satisfied with written testimonials; for myself, I consider a personal reference indispensable, and I would not upon my own authority engage any lady without one.”
Eleanor looked very much distressed. She had no idea of diplomatising or prevaricating. She blurted out the truth all at once, unappalled by the stern glances of Miss Barkham.
“I can’t possibly give you a reference,” she said, “my friends do not know that I am in search of a situation, and they must not know it. I assure you that I belong to a very respectable family, and am quite competent to do what I profess to do.”