The Fate of Fenella/Chapter 15
BY MRS. HUNGERFORD.
Fenella rose to her feet. There had been one terrible moment when all things faded from her, but she overcame that. She would not faint! She turned to the doctor, who, watching her anxiously, now came a step nearer to her. In truth, her face, always colorless, was now ghastly; but there was a sudden strength in her eyes, her whole demeanor, that betokened, as it were, a new life within her. Lately, so weak she had been, she had fainted at any small thing that fell into her path threatening to annoy her; but now, when she had reached the most momentous point of her life, her hardihood returned to her, and the old, sweet, girlish gayety, that might almost be termed audacity, developed into a courage true and noble.
This was no time for weakness. Now was the hour to rise and assert herself! If this devilish letter meant that evil machinations were at work to deprive her of her husband and her child, now was the time to fling aside all considerations and fight for her own.
Her own! were they her own? A terrible remembrance of the past when he, Frank, had been untrue to her, returned again. What if he should be untrue again! And again with that woman! Her heart for a second died within her, but another thought restored her to herself. Her child! Her darling! Her Ronny! He, at least, was all her own. She need fear no rival in his affections.
There was something so tragic in the expression of her young, beautiful face that the old doctor went closer to her and touched her arm as though to rouse her.
"What is it, my dear?" asked he nervously. He had grown very fond of her during these past weeks, when she hovered between life and death.
"Read that!" said she, holding out to him the fatal letter. She let her eyes rest full on his—the lovely eyes now so much too large for the pale, small face. Her long white robe fell to her feet, showing but too plainly the attenuation of her figure. She looked like some tall, sad, mediaeval saint, with her white clinging garments and her nimbus of red-brown hair.
"Good Heavens!" said the kind little doctor, letting the letter flutter to his feet. "But what can this mean? Your husband—so devoted as he seemed—and— Who is this woman, then? This Mme. de Vigny?"
"A fiend," said Fenella softly, bitterly. "But I shall overcome her yet. Give me a paper, a telegram form, ink—I"—excitedly—"I have a friend who will help me. One friend," she turned and looked piteously at the old man. "I have only one friend in all the world," said she, "and he—distrusts me."
"You have another," said the good old doctor stoutly, "in me. And I do not distrust you. Come! come now, my dear. Take courage. Here are pens and paper. Let us telegraph to this distrustful, if useful, friend of yours."
Fenella wrote rapidly, and handed the telegram to the doctor. He read it aloud:
"Come to me at once. Great trouble! Make no delay, I implore you?"
Having read it, he went back to the address—"Clitheroe Jacynth!"
"Jacynth!—a distinguished man. One almost unconquerable, they say now. I congratulate you if you have him on your side."
"Ah! but you forget!"
"Tut—when he comes I shall speak to him. I shall dissolve all doubts," said the little man kindly. "And now to dispatch this at once. I shall take it myself, if you will promise to lie down and try to rest for awhile."
"I promise," said she meekly, but it was a promise vain indeed. The door once closed behind him, she began her dreadful walk up and down, up and down the room. She felt half mad. Her child—her little one, in that woman's power. It was noticeable that in this hour all her thoughts went to the child.
"Hullo, Jacynth! This you? By Jove! what mad haste. Not even a word for an old friend?"
"Why, Castleton! What brings you here?"
"Folly! Folly only, if it must be told," said Lord Castleton, dismally. "Sentiment is folly; isn't it, Jacynth? Yet a sentimental desire to know how the Onslows are going on is driving me back to Guernsey—a spot I quitted a week ago."
"To Guernsey! Why, that is where I am going too. Have you heard anything?" He looked eagerly at his companion. "Do you know anything? I have had a telegram from—from her. Can you explain it?"
"A telegram! When?"
"A few hours ago. Look here, Castleton. I honestly think you are a friend of Lady Francis Onslow's—read this."
"I am a friend of both the Onslows," said Castleton deliberately. He meant what he said. He took the telegram and glanced at it.
"Same old game!" said he at last, lifting his brows. "Another quarrel, I suppose. I thought when they came together this time that they meant business, but it seems not. How few married people are suited to each other!"
"I never thought much of Onslow," said Jacynth slowly. "A weak character at all times, I suppose nobody would dispute the fact of his having been unfaithful to his wife?"
"With Mme. de Vigny? Pouf! There were faults on both sides."
"On Mme. de Vigny's and his? Certainly."
"Not at all. On his and Lady Francis'. She certainly led him a life."
"A life he deserved! He— married to her." He looked suddenly at his companion, and the touch of passion in his eyes revealed all things. "To that poor, sweet, pretty girl. He to play fast and loose with her, a child just out of her schoolroom. It"—he paused and commanded himself—"In my opinion it was contemptible."
"You give yourself away a good deal," said Castleton, who looked amused—who looked, indeed, as if he would like to laugh. He had a great affection for Jacynth, who was rather a special sort of man, and in spite of his mirth felt sorry for him. "You are, I presume, on the side of Lady Francis."
"That would be an impertinence from any man but you," said Jacynth moodily. "There is no need to go into it, however. Whether I love her or not is no matter. It"—miserably—"can never matter now. What I do is—to pity her with all my soul."
"Because of her marriage?"
Jacynth looked at him as if hesitating.
"For that too," said he deliberately. "She married, in my opinion, the last man in the world who would have made her really happy. But my pity did not run that way. I was thinking of that miserable trial and its consequences."
"Yes, she was a trifle too magnanimous there," said Castleton, believing the other knew all about it. "It would have been better, to my way of thinking, if she had told the broad truth, and let Onslow take his chance."
"His chance!" said Jacynth, staring at him.
"Certainly; it wasn't so bad a chance. He might, he positively would have got off all right. But she chose to take the guilt on her own shoulders, and now she has created an enigma very difficult of solution."
"You mean——" Jacynth paused; he seemed gasping for breath.
"I mean——" suddenly Lord Castleton grew silent, and gazed at his companion with a troubled countenance. "Do you mean," said he, "that you didn't know? Why, you conducted the case for her."
"I know nothing," said Jacynth, with great agitation. "If you can throw any honest light on the matter, do it, I entreat you."
"I hardly know whether I should. I"—Castleton drew back from him—"I was so sure you knew that——my dear fellow, pray forget what I have said."
"I shall forget nothing," said Jacynth sturdily. "I should advise you not to forget either. Look here, Castleton," catching his arm, "is it advisable to forget? Who knows what this telegram may mean? We are both friends of hers."
"Are you a friend of his?"
"No! Why should I disguise the truth? I have told you before how I regard him. But what has that got to do with it?"
"You are prejudiced."
"I am not. If you have anything to disclose, Castleton, disclose it! I may be of use to you——" He hesitated.
"Well, considering she has sent for you, I suppose she means to tell you herself," said Castleton. " And," reluctantly, "it is well you should know beforehand what there is to know, though I am surprised that she has not already told you." To him there was but one certainty, and that was that Fenella had betrayed to Onslow the part he took in the fatal night's work that murdered De Mürger. Probably Onslow had resented what she told him, and disbelieved it, and she had then sent for her lawyer. What else could demand so imperative a telegram? On the instant he opened his heart to Jacynth, and told him all his belief, all his doubts.
"I could never forget," said he, "how he looked in the last hypnotic fit, and hypnotic is the fashionable word for it, I know, but I call it madness. And his heart isn't sound, you know. He inherits disease in that direction. His father died of aneurism of the heart. Some day he will have a fashionable fit too strong for him, and there will be an end."
"The best thing that could happen for both of them," said Jacynth deliberately. He had been terribly upset by Castleton's revelation, and though hardly permitting himself to believe in it, still felt a wild, mad joy in the thought that she—she, the only woman the whole wide world contained for him—might be innocent of bloodshed after all. "See here," said he vehemently, "if this thing be true, if she saw him commit that crime—for crime it was— do you think they could ever live happily together in the future? Why, think, man, would she not see the color of blood upon his hands, would she fail to rank him among murderers? And he——"
"Why, he knows nothing."
"True; and therein lies the real tragedy. Knowing nothing, he thinks of her as a murderess. There it lies, you see, in a nutshell. He thinks her, she thinks him guilty of a ghastly crime, and you madly believe they could live together happily."
"It need not go on like that; she might tell him the truth."
"At all events, he might learn it."
"And if so, what would be gained? The world would shun them both; and they were made for the world. We are all made for the world."
"True." A shrill whistle aroused them both. "Come on, the train is about to start," said Castleton.
As Jacynth entered her sitting room, Fenella rose and ran toward him.
"At last, at last!" she said. The words came in a sort of gasp. Jacynth, holding her hands, stared at her, shocked at the change in her appearance. Every vestige of color was gone from her face, her eyes looked wild, and her parted lips were very pale. She had pushed back her hair from her forehead with a quick gesture, just as he entered the room. She was at her worst this moment, but the man's love was so strong that he failed to see that. He thought her lovely-lovely always, and what was strange, even younger than she used to be.
"You know, you have heard," she went on, her tone feverish.
"You forget!" said he gently, with a view to calming her agitation. "I know nothing. I have had only your telegram, and that was so vague."
"Ah! You shall see another telegram then. That," thrusting Mme. de Vigny's into his hand, "that is not vague at all events."
Jacynth read it carefully. He frowned. "That woman again!" he said.
"Yes. Again." She stood back from him. "Do you believe he has gone back to her? Do you? Do you?" The very vehemence of her question conveyed to him the knowledge that she thought he had gone back.
"There is only this," said he, striking the paper. "And it is from her. She is not the woman to believe in."
"No! But I have thought it out for all that, and——" She paused and pressed her hands to her head. Jacynth gently led her to a seat. She looked exhausted. "He left me," said she presently—"to find my child and bring him to me. He came back, and there was no child with him. I was ill then—very ill. I could not think, but for all that, I knew. Then he went away again, and I waited—waited. Great Heaven!" said she, clasping her hands, "if you only knew what it was to wait like that for a sight of your child! and then there came—that!" She pointed to the telegram that he still held. "Well, what do you think?" asked she in a low voice, bending forward.
"It is hard to think——"
"No, it is not!" He was horrified by the change in her tone, and looked at her. She was still bending forward, her hands clasped, her young, sweet face as hard as misery could make it. "It is the easiest thing," she said. "He met her again, I suppose—I think, and together they have gone away, taking my child with them. Oh!" She sprang to her feet, and flung out her arms. "Oh! the child! He might have gone—gone forever. It would be hard, for I loved him; but to take the child from me! The child! My darling! My baby! Do you know how many months I have lived without my little sweetheart? You, you of all men know!" She turned to him, and caught him by the arm. "Ever since that awful trial! I gave him up then, my little one; and for what?" she almost hissed out the words—to shield his father!"
"You mean——" said Jacynth, his heart beating; was he now to hear the truth from her own lips? But the sound of his voice broke in upon her passion, and checked her.
"Nothing," said she quickly, "except that—that he is false to me."
"I tell you again not to dwell too much on that," said Jacynth slowly. Although his whole life seemed to depend upon it, he could not refrain from pleading his rival's cause. "You have only that woman's word for it. This telegram may be a fabrication from beginning to end."
"A curiously well-timed one," she laughed, in a cruelly miserable way. "If she knew nothing of him, how did she learn that my child and my husband were now away from me?"
"More curious things have been explained," said he.
"You! you talk to me like this?" cried she passionately. "You would defend him! You! who knew he was once untrue? You"—faintly—"who once loved me?"
"I shall be your friend always," said he, putting a great constraint upon himself. "It is because I am your friend that I speak thus; why not look at it in another light? You say your husband left you hurriedly; you say that Mme. de Vigny must have known of his absence from you, and also of your boy's. It might be that she, out of revenge, stole the boy, and that your husband is now pursuing her with a view of restoring him to you."
He said this more to gain time than anything else, little thinking that he had guessed the truth, and had laid before her the exact facts of the case.
"A fairy tale," said she mournfully. "No! He lied to me the last time I saw him. When I asked him to bring me my child, he said he was tired—asleep. I, too, was tired, worn-out from sickness and a broken heart, and too weak to do aught but believe him. The child was not here at all!" She stepped back from Jacynth, and covered her face with her hands. "Oh, my Ronny! My beloved! Oh, my little child!" She took down her hands. Her lips were trembling. "Mr. Jacynth, what shall I do?" said she.
"The first thing to do," said he harshly, "is to keep up your courage." He spoke in a queer, grating tone. He knew if he once gave way, he should betray himself. Betray the wild, mad longing he felt to take her in his arms, and press her poor, sweet, pretty head down upon his breast, and try with all his soul to comfort her. "You are condemning your husband unheard. Is that fair? Is it just?"
"He has not been just to me!"
"True! And, therefore, you find it difficult in such a crisis as this to believe in him." He looked at her suddenly. "Still you love him?" said he. The words were a question.
"Do I?" said she. Her words were also a question addressed to her own heart. "I feel so tired, so tired," she said. "It has been a struggle always, and through many things I loved him, I—" She hesitated. "I despise myself," she said, "but I think I love him still!" A pang shot through Jacynth's heart. He did not note the suggestion of doubt in her voice. "I love him, I think," she went on slowly, "I think, but this I know, I distrust him."
"Distrust means ruin," said Jacynth.
"To what? To love?"
"To all things."
"Yes. To all things."
She went close to him.
"That is not true," she said. "You are befriending me now, yet you distrust me."
"I? No! You are thinking of that wretched trial!" He spoke with extreme agitation. "But I have heard all."
"Yes! All. And if ever a man craved another's pardon upon his knees, I crave yours."
"All?" repeated she faintly. She seemed to have heard that one word only.
"Yes," said he. He let his voice sink to a whisper, he leaned toward her. "Who killed De Mürger?" asked he.
"It is true!" said he presently, when she had told him all. " It is true that the world still produces heroines. It is now more imperative than ever that Lord Francis should be found."
"For what?" said she. " Do you think I should betray him now—even now? Ah! Mr. Jacynth, you do not know me. No! I shall go to my grave bearing this burthen. After all"—sadly—"he once did love me!"
"If he has gone off with that woman again I don't see why you should spare him," said Jacynth. "But, as I have said, I hope for the best about that. In the meantime——"
She interrupted him. "In the meantime, find my child!" said she. She was still ghastly pale, but a little fire had come into her eyes. "Bring him back to me, get him back from that woman. Oh!" a little nervously, "I have no right to speak to you like this. Why should I order you about? Only—only—you are kind—kind always, and—I have now no friends! And Ronny—Ronny always hated strangers! Oh! my child, my little heart!" She broke down suddenly, and burst into violent weeping. "O God!" cried she, "what shall I do? That woman! That woman, if she has him, she will kill him! He, who never knew anything but love? My little lamb! Oh! his eyes, his laugh! You saw him! Was there ever so pretty a boy? Oh! once—once"— —"you said you loved me! Help me now! Tell me how I shall begin to search for Ronny."
"You would go yourself?"
"Oh, yes, yes! Oh, if you only knew what this last day and night have been!" She was sobbing violently, but now, by a supreme effort, she controlled herself; she took down her hands from her face, and pressed them against her throbbing bosom. "I will be calm," she said, "this is no time for tears, and you must not think me weak. I am strong—very strong. Tell me now how I shall begin."
"I will tell you," said he, "but you must try and see my plan as I see it. Now, it seems to me impossible that you, in your weak health, just recovered from a dangerous illness, could possibly institute such a troublesome search as this is likely to prove."
"And if not?" began she despairingly.
"There is a substitute," said he. "I shall undertake this matter."
"Yes. If you will intrust this affair to me, I will promise to bring you back your—husband."
"Bring me back my child," said she.
"Fenella! your husband! you will want to have him back!"
"I have told you I am tired," said she coldly. "I have borne a great deal, and——" she paused.
"There is something on your mind," said he.
"His hands!" she said. She seemed to shrink visibly. She shuddered. "The blood! I was unconscious then, I think—and it is only now—now—— But his hands! and his face! Great Heavens, how he held him. He choked him! It was as if he was over there now," staring wildly at the far part of the room. "His fingers closed round his throat, and there was such a sound—a gurgle— Heaven, what a sound! and then he stabbed, and stabbed, and stabbed—he was mad. Oh!" with a long-drawn, piercing sigh, "I shall go mad if I think of it!"
"Then don't think," said Jacynth. He caught hold of her arm and shook her sharply.
"Whenever I see him I see blood," said she, still trembling.
"Never mind him, think of your child," said he, with a desire to rouse her. "Am I to start now? and when I find him, what message am I to give him from his mother?"
He had roused her indeed. "A message!" she said. The old, sad, dreadful fear in her face died away. Hope lit it into a lovely life. "A message to Ronny!" she cried.
She fell on her knees before Jacynth and took his hand and laid her cold cheek upon it, a cheek wet with tears. "Tell him his mother loves him," said she. "Tell him, too, that his mother will forever love the one who will restore him to her."