The House by the Lock/Chapter 27
We had a stormy passage, and arrived at Southampton four-and-twenty hours later than we should have done. It was Cunningham who bought a paper as we got into the train. I was too completely preoccupied to have absorbed a line of news, even had my eyes mechanically perused the printed matter. Cunningham (who was always restless, and could not bear to be left at the mercy of his own thoughts) read incessantly, however, and at the end of half an hour or so handed over his paper to me.
"Look at this," he said, with some eagerness, pointing out a paragraph. I glanced at it carelessly at first, but in an instant I was as keen as Cunningham had been.
"Another Fortune for a Millionaire," the paragraph was headed, and beneath was set forth the interesting fact that Mr. Carson Wildred, who was shortly to marry Miss Cunningham, the celebrated beauty and heiress, had just heard of a legacy of half a million pounds, left him by an American friend, Mr. Harvey Farnham, lately burned to death in a San Francisco hotel.
"So you see it wasn't only the mine, and the money he should have paid for the mine, he wanted," said Cunningham. "Oh, he's a marvellous chap, this Wildred!"
I acquiesced in this opinion, and recalled a remark made in the club by a mutual acquaintance. "Carson Wildred is always inheriting fortunes from chaps that die at the four corners of the globe," he had curiously announced. I wondered grimly, as I remembered the speech, whether all these benefactors had met their death after the manner of poor Harvey Farnham.
Time was pressing now, and our idea was to go straight to Karine, I to appear only as the supporter of her brother. A desire for the punishment of Wildred might have held a prominent place both in Cunningham's mind and mine, but our first thought was to save Karine from becoming the murderer's wife.
She must be disabused of the belief that her brother was in any way in Wildred's power. She must know that, as Cunningham expressed it, the "shoe was on the other foot." She must be shown the black depths of Carson Wildred's villainy, and be dragged back from the brink of the precipice on which she had stood.
Ours was a quick train, and went straight through to London without stopping. After arriving at Waterloo station, therefore, we were obliged to wait for nearly an hour before we could get another which would take us to Haslemere.
A curious feeling that I had passed through all this before came over me, and as we stepped out of our carriage on the platform of the Haslemere station it seemed but yesterday that I had arrived at the same place, intent on bidding Karine that farewell which never had been spoken.
The time of day gave me the only sense of difference. We had left the ship early in the morning, had made our first journey in two hours, and now it was only very little past noon.
I had wished (considering the reception I had met at Sir Walter Tressidy's on my first and last visit at his country house) to remain at an hotel in Haslemere, there to await such news as Cunningham might have to bring. For Karine's sake, I thought, it would be better for me not to appear openly in the matter, unless it proved that the influence of her brother and his narrative were not as potent in their effect as I anticipated. Should he require any attestations from me, I was only too glad to be on the spot and to be called upon to give them.
Cunningham, however, had overruled this programme of mine. No one could tell, he said, how he might be received. He might be sorely in need of me to back him up–perhaps even to prove the truth of his otherwise unsupported assertions.
The Tressidys, he alleged, were peculiar. Though his sister had not confided in him, he knew that she was unhappy with them. They had very little money of their own on which to keep up the appearance they wished to make in the eyes of their world, and Cunningham did not believe that Lady Tressidy would be above accepting a heavy bribe from Wildred for furthering his suit, by almost any means, with poor Karine.
Half against my will, therefore, yet not wholly with reluctance, I must confess, I entered the carriage which was to drive us both to the house where a few weeks ago I had been so ruthlessly repulsed.
"Thank heaven!" I said, as we rattled up the hill (perhaps in the same vehicle which had driven me before), "that the storm wasn't just a degree more severe in crossing. It was touch and go with us one day, at all events, I believe; but a fraction worse, and we shouldn't have been here now to stand between Miss Cunningham and that villain. A week or ten days more, perhaps, and even if we'd reached her we might have been too late."
There was a certain tumultuous joy in my heart, far removed from happiness, yet intoxicating as new wine. Karine might never be mine, but she was saved, and it would be I who had saved her. I could never be regarded by her quite with indifference after this day.
As we drove we made various hurried plans as to what we should do if we were refused admittance. We were determined at least to see Karine, even if we were obliged to force our way into her presence.
As we got out of the carriage and ran up the four or five broad stone steps that led to the front door, something crackled under our feet like exaggerated grains of sand. We were far enough, however, from guessing the nature of the foreign substance that was thus crushed beneath our disregarding boot-soles.
The door was opened by a smiling footman. He was not the man I had previously seen, and evidently, judging from the genial flush on his face and the twinkle in his eye, something agreeable or amusing had recently taken place. He tried to draw his countenance into the conventional lines of footman-like solemnity, but, his eyes lighting upon Cunningham, the expression changed to one of surprise. Very possibly he noted the similarity of colouring between the brother and sister, and a certain vague haunting likeness that would show itself at times.
"If Miss Cunningham is at home, tell her that her brother has come and wishes to see her immediately on a matter of importance," said my companion, valiantly taking the bull by the horns.
"Miss Cunningham is not at home, sir," replied the servant. "She–that is–in fact, sir, she has just left us for good and all. She–she was married, sir, at half-past ten o'clock this morning, and the wedding breakfast's only been over since an hour ago."
The gritty substance under our feet had been the rice thrown, as though in mockery, after Karine as she passed to her carriage on her husband's arm.