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   Chapter 34 THE END OF WORLDLY TROUBLES

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 25773

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Not more than five minutes afterwards, Mrs. Elstree arrived upon this scene of wreck. The splintered panels, the broken lock, the axe lying on the floor, proclaimed aloud that there had been an Incident of some gravity-certainly what we have called a Deplorable Incident.

Such a thing as a Deplorable Incident in such a place and with such a man was, indeed, remarkable. Mrs. Elstree gazed upon the wreck with astonishment unfeigned: she turned to the tenant of the studio, who stood exactly where Armorel had left him. As the sea when the storm has ceased continues to heave in sullen anger, so that majestic spirit still heaved with wrath as yet unappeased.

In answer to the mute question of her eyes, he growled, and threw himself into his study-chair. When she picked up the axe and bore it back to its place, he growled. When she pointed to the door, he growled again.

She looked at his angry face, and she laughed gently. The last time we saw her she was pale and hysterical. She was now smiling, apparently in perfect health of body and ease of mind. Perhaps she was a very good actress-off the stage: perhaps she shook off things easily. Otherwise one does not always step from a highly nervous and hysterical condition to one of happiness and cheerfulness.

'There appears to have been a little unpleasantness,' she said softly. 'Something, apparently an axe-something hard and sharp-has been brought into contact with the door. It has been awkward for the door. There has been, I suppose, an earthquake.'

He said nothing, but drummed the table with his fingers-a sign of impatient and enforced listening.

'Earthquakes are dangerous things, sometimes. Meanwhile, Alec, if I were you I would have the broken bits taken away.' She touched the bell on the table. 'Ford'-this was the name of the discreet man-servant-'will you kindly take the door, which you see is broken, off its hinges and send it away to be mended. We will manage with the curtain.'

'What do you want, Zoe?'-when this operation had been effected-'what is the important news you have to bring me? And why have you given up your berth? I suppose you think I am able to find you a place just by lifting up my little finger? And I hear you have gone without a moment's notice, just as if you had run away?'

'I did run away, Alec,' she replied. 'After what has-been done'-she caught her breath-'I was obliged to run away. I could no longer stay.'

'What has been done, then? Did Armorel tell you? No-she couldn't.'

'She has told me nothing. I have hardly seen her at all during the last few days. Of course, I know that you proposed to her-because you went off with that purpose; and that she refused you-because that was certain. And, now, don't begin scolding and questioning, because we have got something much more important to discuss. I have given up my charge of Armorel, and I have come here. If you possibly can, Alec, clear up your face a little, forget the earthquake, and behave with some attempt at politeness. I insist,' she added sharply, 'upon being treated with some pretence at politeness.'

'Mind, I am in no mood to listen to a pack of complaints and squabbles and jealousies.'

'Whatever mind you are in, my dear Alec, it wants the sweetening. You shall have no squabbles or jealousies. I will not even ask who brought along the earthquake-though, of course, it was an Angel in the House. They are generally the cause of all the earthquakes. Fortunately for you, I am not jealous. The important thing about which I want to talk to you is money, Alec-money.'

Something in her manner seemed to hold out promise. A drowning man catches at a straw. Alec lifted his gloomy face.

'What's the use?' he said. 'You have failed to get money in the way I suggested. I haven't got any left at all. And we are now at the very end. All is over and done, Zoe. The game is ended. We must throw up the sponge.'

'Not just yet, dear Alec,' she said softly.

'Look here, Zoe'-he softened a little. 'I have thought over things. I shall have to disappear for a while, I believe, till things blow over. Now, here's just a gleam of luck. Jagenal the lawyer has been here to-day. He came to tell me that he has discovered, somehow, something belonging to me. He says it will run up to nearly a thousand pounds. It isn't much, but it is something. Now, Zoe, I mean to convert that thousand into cash-notes-portable property-and I shall keep it in my pocket. Don't think I am going to let the creditors have much of that! If the smash has to come off, I will then give you half, and keep the other half myself. Meantime, the possession of the money may stave off the smash. But if it comes, we will go away-different ways, you know-and own each other no more.'

'Not exactly, my dear Alec. You may go away, if you please, but I shall go with you. For the future, I mean to go the same way as you-with you-beside you.'

'Oh!' His face did not betray immoderate joy at this prospect. 'I suppose you have got something else to say. If that was all, I should ask how you propose to pay for your railway ticket and your hotel bill.'

'Of course, I have got something else to say.'

'It must be something substantial, then. Look here, Zoe: this is really no time for fooling. Everything, I tell you, has gone, and all at once. I can't explain. Credit-everything!'

'I have read,' said Zoe, taking the most comfortable chair and lying well back in it, 'that the wise man once discovered that everybody must be either a hammer or an anvil. I think it was Voltaire. He resolved on becoming the hammer. You, Alec, made the same useful discovery. You, also, became a hammer. So far, you have done pretty well, considering. But now there is a sudden check, and you are thrown out altogether.'

'Well?'

'That seems to show that your plans were incomplete. Your ideas were sound, but they were not fully developed.'

'I don't know you this morning, Zoe. I have never heard you talk like this before.'

'You have never known me, Alec,' she replied, perhaps a little sadly. 'You have never tried to know me. Well-I know all. Mr. Roland Lee, the painter, was one anvil-you played upon him very harmoniously. Effie Wilmot was another. Now, Alec, don't'-she knew the premonitory symptoms-'don't begin to deny, either with the "D" or without, because, I assure you, I know everything. You are like the ostrich, who buries his head in the sand and thinks himself invisible. Don't deny things, because it is quite useless. Before we go a step farther I am going to make you understand exactly. I know the whole story. I have suspected things for a long time, and now I have learned the truth. I learned it bit by bit through the fortunate accident of living with Armorel, who has been the real discoverer. First I saw the man's work, and I saw at once where you got your pictures from, and what was the meaning of certain words that had passed from Armorel. Why, Armorel was the model-your model, and you didn't know it. And the coast scenery is her scenery-the Scilly Isles, where you have never been. I won't tell you how I pieced things together till I had made a connected story and had no longer any doubt. But remember the night of the Reading. Why did Armorel hold that Reading? Why did she show the unfinished picture? Why did she sing that song? It was for you, Alec. It was to tell you a great deal more than it told the people. It was to let you know that everything was discovered. Do you deny it now?'

'I suppose that infernal girl-she is capable of everything--'

'Even of earthquakes? No, Alec, she has told me nothing. They've got into the habit of talking-she and Effie and the painter man-as if I was asleep. You see I lie about a good deal by the fireside, and I don't want to talk, and so I lie with my eyes shut and listen. Then Armorel leaves everything about-manuscript poems, sketches, letters-everything, and I read them. A companion, of course, must see that her ward is not getting into mischief. It is her duty to read private letters. When they talk in the evening, Effie, who worships Armorel, tells her everything, including your magnificent attempt to become a dramatic poet, my dear boy-wrong-wrong-you should not get more than one ghost from one family. You should not put all your ghosts into one basket. When the painter comes-Armorel is in love with him, and he is in love with her; but he has been a naughty boy, and has to show true repentance before.... Oh! It's very pretty and sentimental: they play the fiddle and talk about Scilly and the old times, and Effie sighs with sympathy. It is really very pretty, especially as it all helped me to understand their ghostlinesses and to unravel the whole story. Fortunately, my dear Alec, you have had to do with a girl who is not of the ordinary society stamp, otherwise your story would have been given to the society papers long ago, and then even I could have done nothing for you. Armorel is a girl of quite extinct virtues-forbearing, unrevengeful, honourable, unselfish. You, my dear Alec, could never appreciate or understand such a girl.'

'The girl is-a girl. What is there to understand in one girl more than in another?'

'Nothing-nothing. O great Poet and greater Painter!-Nothing. O man of fine insight, and delicate fancy, and subtle intellect!-Nothing. Only a girl.'

'I know already that they are not going to say anything more about it. They are going to let the whole business be forgotten. If anything comes out through you--'

'Nothing will come out. I told you because it is well that we should perfectly understand each other. You will never again be able to parade before me in the disguise of genius. This is a great pity, because you have always enjoyed playing the part. Never again, Alec, because I have found you out. Should you ever find me out, I shall not be able to walk with you in the disguise of ... but you must find out first.'

'What do you mean?'

'Oh! you must find out first. When you do find out, you will be able to hold out your arms and cry, "We are alike at last. You have come down to my level: we are now in the same depths. Come to my arms, sister in pretence! Come, my bride!"' She spread out her arms with an exaggerated gesture and laughed, but not mirthfully.

'What on earth do you mean, Zoe? I never saw you like this before.'

'No, we change sometimes, quite suddenly. It is very unaccountable. And now I shall never be anything else than what I am now-what you have made me.'

'What have you done, then?'

'Done? Nothing. To do something is polite for committing a crime. Could I have done something, do you think? Could I actually commit a crime? O Alec!-my dear Alec!-a crime? Well, the really important thing is that your troubles are over.'

'By Jove! They are only just beginning.'

'It is only money that troubles you. If it was conscience, or the sense of honour, I could not help you. As it is only money--how much, actually, will put a period to the trouble?'

'If I were to use Jagenal's promised thousand, I could really manage with two thousand more.'

'Oh! Then, my dear Alec, what do you think of this?'

She drew out of her pocket a new clean white bank-book, and handed it to him.

He opened it. 'Heavens, Zoe! What is the meaning of this?'

'You can read, Alec: it means what it says. Four thousand two hundred and twenty-five pounds standing to my credit. Observe the name-Mrs. Alexander Feilding-Mrs. Alexander Feilding-wife, that is, of Alec! Mrs. Elstree has vanished. She has gone to join the limbo of ghosts who never existed. Her adored Jerome is there, too.'

'What does it mean?'

'It means, again, that I have four thousand two hundred and twenty-five pounds of my own, who, the day before yesterday, had nothing. Where I got that money from is my own business. Perhaps Armorel relented and has advanced this money-perhaps some old friends of my father's-he had friends, though he was reputed so rich and died so miserably-have quietly subscribed this amount-perhaps my cousins, whom you forced me to abandon, have found me out and endowed me with this sum-a late but still acceptable act of generosity-perhaps my mother's sister, who swore she would never forgive me for going on the stage, has given way at last! In short, my dear Alec--'

'Four thousand pounds! Where could you raise that money?'

'Make any conjecture you please. I shall not tell you. The main point is that the money is here-safely deposited in my name and to my credit. It is mine, you see, my dear Alec; and it can only be used for your purposes with my consent-under my conditions.'

'How on earth,' he repeated slowly, 'did you get four thousand pounds?'

'It is difficult for you to find an answer to that question,' she replied, 'isn't it? Especially as I shall not answer it. Abou

t my conditions now.'

'What conditions?'

'The possession of this capital-I have thought it all out-will enable us, first of all, to pay off your creditors in full if you must-or at least to satisfy them. Next, it will restore your credit. Thirdly, it will enable you to live while I am laying the foundations of a new and more stable business.'

'You?'

'I, my dear boy. I mean in future to be the active working and contriving partner in the firm. I have the plans and method worked out already in my head. You struck out, I must say, a line of audacity. There is something novel about it. But your plan wanted elasticity. You kept a ghost. Well, I suppose other people have done this before. You kept three or four ghosts, each in his own line. Nobody thought of setting up as the Universal Genius before-at least, not to my knowledge. But, then, you placed your whole dependence upon your one single family of ghosts. Once deprived of him-whether your painter, your poet, your story-teller-and where were you? Lost! You are stranded. This has happened to you now. Your paper is to come out as usual, and you have got nothing to put into it. Your patrons will be flocking to your studio, and you have got nothing to show. You have made a grievous blunder. Now, Alec, I am going to remedy all this.'

'You?'

'You shall see what I am capable of doing. You shall no longer waste your time and money in going about to great houses. Your wife shall have her salon, which shall be a centre of action far more useful and effective. You shall become, through her help, a far greater leader, with a far greater name, than you have ever dreamed of. And your paper shall be a bigger thing.'

'You, Zoe? You to talk like this?'

'You thought I was a helpless creature because I never succeeded on the stage, and could not even carry out your poor little schemes upon Armorel's purse, I suppose, and because I-- Well, you shall be undeceived.'

'If I could only believe this!'

'You will find, Alec, that my stage experiences will not go for nothing. Why, even if I was a poor actress, I did learn the whole business of stage management. I am going to transfer that business from the stage to the drawing-room, which shall be, at first, this room. We shall play our little comedy together, you and I.' She sprang to her feet, and began to act as if she was on the stage-'It will be a duologue. Your r?le will still be that of the Universal Genius; mine will be that of the supposed extinct Lady-the Lady of the Salon-I shall be at home one evening a week-say on Sunday. And it shall be an evening remembered and expected. We shall both take Art seriously: you as the Master, I as the sympathetic and intelligent worshipper of Art. We shall attract to our rooms artists of every kind and those who hang about artistic circles: our furniture shall show the latest artistic craze: foreigners shall come here as to the art centre of London-we will cultivate the foreign element: young people shall come for advice, for encouragement, for introduction: reputations shall be made and marred in this room: you shall be the Leader and Chief of the World of Art. If there is here and there one who knows that you are a humbug, what matters? Alec'-she struck a most effective attitude-'rise to the prospect! Have a little imagination! I see before me the most splendid future-oh! the most splendid future!'

'All very well. But there's the present staring us in the face. How and where are we to find the-the successors to Lady Frances and Effie and--'

'Where to find ghosts? Leave that to me. I know where there are plenty only too glad to be employed. They can be had very cheap, my dear Alec, I can assure you. Oh! I have not been so low down in the social levels for nothing. You paid a ridiculous price for your ghosts-quite ridiculous. I will find you ghosts enough, never fear.'

'Where are they?'

'When one goes about the country with a travelling company one hears strange things. I have heard of painters-good painters-who once promised to become Royal Academicians, and anything you please, but took to ways-downward ways, you know-and now sit in public-houses and sell their work for fifteen shillings a picture. I will find you such a genius, and will make him take pains and produce a picture worthy of his better days, and you shall have it for a guinea and a pint of champagne.'

Alec Feilding gasped. The vista before him was too splendid.

'Or, if you want verses, I know of a poet who used to write little dainty pieces-levers de rideau, libretti for little operettas, and so forth. He carries the boards about the streets when he is very hard up. I can catch that creature and lock him up without drink till he has written a poem far better-more manly-than anything that girl of yours could ever produce, for half-a-crown. And he will never ask what becomes of it. If you want stories, I know a man-quite a young fellow-who gets about fifteen shillings a week in his travelling company. This fellow is wonderful at stories. For ten shillings a column he will reel you out as many as you want-good stuff, mind-and the papers have never found him out: and he will never ask what has become of them, because he is never sober for more than an hour or two at a time in the middle of the day, and he will forget his own handiwork. Alec, I declare that I can find you as many ghosts as you like, and better-more popular-more interesting than your old lot.'

'If I could only believe--' he repeated.

'You say that because you have never even begun to believe that a woman can do anything. Well, I do not ask you to believe. I say that you shall see. I owe to you the idea. All the working out shall be my own. All the assistance you can give me will be your own big and important presence and your manner of authority. Yes; some men get rich by the labours of others: you, Alec, shall become famous-perhaps immortal-by the genius-the collected genius, of others.'

His imagination was not strong enough to understand the vision that she spread out before him. In a wooden way, he saw that she intended something big. He only half believed it: he only half understood it: but he did understand that ghosts were to be had.

'There's next week's paper, Zoe,' he said helplessly. 'Nothing for it yet! We mustn't have a breakdown-it would be fatal!'

'Breakdown! Of course not, even if I write it all myself. You don't believe that I can write even, I suppose?'

'Well, you shall do as you like.' He got up and stood over the fire again, sighing his relief. 'At all events, we have got this money. Good Heavens! What a chance! And what a day! I stood here this morning, Zoe, thinking all was lost. Then old Jagenal comes in and tells me of a thousand pounds-said it would run to nearly a thousand. And then you come in with a bank-book of four thousand! Oh! it's Providential! It's enough to make a man humble. Zoe, I confess'-he took her hands in his, stooped, and kissed her tenderly-'I don't deserve such treatment from you. I do not, indeed. Are you sure about those ghosts? As for me, of course you are right. I can't paint a stroke. I can't make a rhyme. I can't write stories. I can do nothing-but live upon those who can do everything. You are quite sure about those ghosts?'

'Oh, yes! Quite sure. Of course I knew all along. But you must keep it up more religiously than ever, because the business is going to be so much-so very much-bigger. Now for my conditions.'

'Any conditions-any!'

'You will insert this advertisement for six days, beginning to-morrow, in the Times.'

He read it aloud. He read it without the least change of countenance, so wooden was his face, so hard his heart.

'On Wednesday, April 21, 1887, at St. Leonard's, Worthing, Alexander Feilding, of the Grove Studio, Marlborough Road, to Zoe, only daughter of the late Peter Evelyn, formerly of Kensington Palace Gardens.'

'I believe,' he said, folding the paper, 'that was the date. It was three years ago, wasn't it? I say, Zoe, won't it be awkward having to explain things-long interval, you know-engagement as companion-wrong name?'

'I have thought of that. But it would be more awkward pretending that we were married to-day and being found out. No. There are not half-a-dozen people who will ever know that I was Armorel's companion. Then, a circumstance, which there is no need ever to explain, forbade the announcement of our marriage-hint at a near relation's will-I was compelled to assume another name. Cruel necessity!'

'You are a mighty clever woman, Zoe.'

'I am. If you are wise, now, you will assume a joyful air. You will go about rejoicing that the bar to this public announcement has been at length removed. Family reasons-you will say-no fault of yours or of mine. It is your business, of course, how you will look-but I recommend this line. Be the exultant bridegroom, not the downcast husband. Will you walk so?'-she assumed a buoyant dancing step with a smiling face-'or so?' she hung a dejected head and crawled sadly.

'By gad, it's wonderful!' he cried, looking at her with astonishment. And, indeed, who would recognise the quiet, sleepy, indolent woman of yesterday in the quick, restless, and alert woman of to-day?

'Henceforth I must work, Alec. I cannot sit down and go to sleep any longer. That time has gone. I think I have murdered sleep.'

'Work away, my girl. Nobody wants to prevent you. Are there any other conditions?'

'You will sell your riding-horses and buy a Victoria. Your wife must have something to drive about in. And you will lead, in many respects, an altered life. I must have, for the complete working out of my plans, an ideal domestic life. Turtle-doves we must be for affection, and angels incarnate for propriety. The highest Art in the home is the highest standard of manners that can be set up.'

'Very good. Any more conditions?'

'Only one more condition. J'y suis. J'y reste. You will call your servant and inform him that I am your wife, and the mistress of this establishment. I think there will be no more earthquakes and broken panels. Alec'-she laid her hand upon his arm-'you should have done this three years ago. I should have saved you. I should have saved myself. Now, whatever happens, we are on the same level-we cannot reproach each other. We shall walk hand in hand. It was done for you, Alec. And I would do it again. Yes-yes-yes. Again!' She repeated the words with flashing eyes. 'Fraud-sham-pretence-these are our servants. We command them. By them we live, and by them we climb. What matter-so we reach the top-by what ladders we have climbed?' She looked around with a gesture of defiance, fine and free. 'The world is all alike,' she said. 'There is no truth or honour anywhere. We are all in the same swim.'

The man dropped into his vacant chair. 'We are saved!' he cried.

'Saved!' she echoed. 'Saved! Did you ever see a Court of Justice, Alec? I have. Once, when our company was playing at Winchester, I went to see the Assizes. I remember then wondering how it would feel to be a prisoner. Henceforth I shall understand his sensations. There they stand, two prisoners, side by side-a man and a woman-a pair of them. Found out at last, and arrested and brought up for trial. There sits the Judge, stern and cold: there are the twelve men of the jury, grave and cold: there are the policemen, stony-hearted: there are the lawyers, laughing and talking: there are the people behind, all grave and cold. No pity in any single face-not a gleam of pity-for the poor prisoners. Some people go stealing and cheating because they are driven by poverty. These people did not: they were driven by vanity and greed. Look at them in the box: they are well dressed. See! they are curiously like you and me, Alec'-she was acting now better than she ever acted on the stage-'The man is like you, and the woman-oh! you poor, unlucky wretch!-is like me-curiously, comically like me. They will be found guilty. What punishment will they get? As for her, it was for her husband's sake that she did it. But, I suppose, that will not help her. What will they get, Alec?'

He sat up in the chair and heaved a great sigh of relief.

'What are you talking about, my dear? I was not listening. Well; we are saved. It has been a mighty close shave. Another day, and I must have thrown up the sponge. We have a world of work before us; but if you are only half or quarter as clever as you think yourself, we shall do splendidly.' He laid his arm round her waist, and drew her gently and kissed her again. 'So-now you are sensible-what were you talking about prisoners for? No more separations now. Let me kiss away these tears. And now, Zoe-now-time presses. I am anxious to repair my losses. Where are we to find these ghosts? Sit down. To work! To work!'

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