MoboReader > Literature > Armorel of Lyonesse

   Chapter 36 THE CUP AND THE LIP

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 33846

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Two days after the Private View Alec Feilding repaired, by special invitation, to Mr. Jagenal's office.

'I have sent for you, Alec,' said the solicitor, ami de famille, 'in continuance of our conversation of the other day-about that little windfall, you know.'

'I am not likely to forget it. Little windfalls of a thousand pounds do not come too often.'

'They do not. Meantime another very important event has happened. I saw the announcement in the paper, and I received your note--'

'You are the only person-believe me-to whom I have thought it right to explain the circumstances--'

'Yes? The explanation, at all events, is one that may be given in the same words-to all the world. I have no knowledge of Mrs. Feilding's friends, or of any obstacles that have been raised to her marriage! But I am rather sorry, Alec, that you sent her to me under a false name, because these things, if they get about, are apt to make mischief.'

'I assure you that this plan was only adopted in order the more effectually to divert suspicion. It was with the greatest reluctance that we consented to enter upon a path of deception. I knew, however, in whose hands I was. At any moment I was in readiness to confess the truth to you. In the case of a stranger the thing would have been impossible. You, however, I knew, would appreciate the motive of our action, and sympathise with the necessity.'

Mr. Jagenal laughed gently-behind the specious words he discerned-something-the shapeless spectre which suspicion calls up or creates. But he only laughed. 'Well, Alec,' he said, 'marriage is a perfectly personal matter. You are a married man. You had reasons of your own for concealing the fact. You are now enabled to proclaim the fact. That is all anybody need know. We condone the little pretence of the widowhood. Armorel Rosevean has lost her companion; whether she has also lost her friend I do not know. The rest concerns yourself alone. Very good. You are a married man. All the more reason that this little windfall should be acceptable.'

'It will be extremely acceptable, I assure you.'

'Whether it is money or money's worth?'

'To save trouble I should prefer money.'

'You must take it as it comes, my dear boy.'

'Well, what is it?'

'It is,' replied Mr. Jagenal solemnly, 'nothing short of the sea giving up its treasures, the dead giving up her secrets, and the restoration of what was never known to be lost.'

'You a maker of conundrums?'

'You shall hear. Before we come to the thing itself-the treasure, the windfall, the thing picked up on the beach-let me again recall to you two or three points in your own family history. Your mother's maiden name was Isabel Needham. She was the daughter of Henry Needham and Frances his wife. Frances was the daughter of Robert Fletcher.'

'Very good. I believe that is the case.'

'Your money came to you from this Robert Fletcher, your maternal great-grandfather. You should, therefore, remember him.'

'I recognise,' said Alec, sententiously, 'the respect that should be paid to the memory of every man who makes money for his children.'

'Very good. Now, this Robert Fletcher as a young man, went out to India in search of fortune. He was apparently an adventurous young man, not disposed to sit down at the desk after the usual fashion of young men who go out to India. We find him in Burmah, for instance-then a country little known by Englishmen. While there he managed to attract the notice and the favour of the King, who employed him in some capacity-traded with him, perhaps; and, at all events, advanced his interests-so that, while still a young man, he found himself in the possession of a fortune ample enough for his wants--'

'Which he left to his daughters.'

'Don't be in a hurry. That was quite another fortune.'

'Oh! Another fortune? What became of the first?'

'Having enough, he resolved to return to his native country. But in Burmah there were then no banks, merchants, drafts, or cheques. He therefore converted his fortune into portable property, which he carried about his person, no one, I take it, knowing anything at all about it. Thus, carrying his treasure with him, he sailed for England. Have you heard anything of this?'

'Nothing at all. The beginning of the story, however, is interesting.'

'You will enjoy the end still better. The ship in which he sailed met with disaster. She was wrecked on the Isles of Scilly. It is said-but this I do not know-that the only man saved from the wreck was your great-grandfather: he was saved by one Emanuel Rosevean, great-great-grandfather to Armorel, the girl whose charge your own wife undertook.'

'Always that cursed girl!' murmured Alec.

'Robert Fletcher was clinging to a spar when he was picked up and dragged ashore. He recovered consciousness after a long illness, and then found that the leather case in which all his fortune lay had slipped from his neck and was lost. Therefore, he had to begin the world again. He went away, therefore. He went away--' Mr. Jagenal paused at this point, rattled his keys, and looked about him. He was not a story-teller by profession, but he knew instinctively that every story, in order to be dramatic-and he wished this to be a very dramatic history-should be cut up into paragraphs, illustrated by dialogue, and divided into sections. Dialogue being impossible, he stopped and rattled his keys. This meant the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

'Do pray get along,' cried his client, now growing interested and impatient.

'He went away,' the narrator repeated, 'his treasure lost, to begin the world again. He came here, became a stockbroker, made money-and the rest you know. He appears never to have told his daughters of his loss. I have been in communication with the solicitors of the late Eleanor Fletcher, your great-aunt, and I cannot learn from them that she ever spoke of this calamity. Yet had she known of it she must have remembered it. To bring all your fortune-a considerable fortune-home in a bag tied round your neck, and to lose it in a shipwreck is a disaster which would, one thinks, be remembered to the third and fourth generations.'

'I should think so. But you said something about the sea giving up its treasure.'

'That we come to next. Five years ago, by the death of a very aged lady, her great-great-grandmother, Armorel Rosevean succeeded to an inheritance which turned out to be nothing less than the accumulated savings of many generations. Among other possessions she found in this old lady's room a sea-chest containing things apparently recovered from wrecks, or drowned men, or washed ashore by the sea-a very curious and interesting collection: there were snuff-boxes, watches, chains, rings, all kinds of things. Among these treasures she turned out, at the bottom of the chest, a case of shagreen with a leather thong. On opening this Armorel found it to contain a quantity of precious stones, and a scrap of paper which seemed to show that they had formerly been the property of one Robert Fletcher. We may suppose, if we please, that the case containing the jewels was cast up on the beach after the storm, and tossed into the chest without much knowledge of its contents or their value. We may suppose that Emanuel Rosevean found the case. We may suppose what we please, because we can prove nothing. For my own part, I think there is no reasonable doubt that the case actually contained the fortune of Robert Fletcher. The dates of the story seem to correspond: the handwriting appears to be his: we have letters of his speaking of his intention to return, and of his property being in convenient portable shape.'

'Well-then-this portable fortune belongs to Robert Fletcher's heirs.'

'Not so quick. How are you going to prove your claim? You have nothing to go by but a fragment of writing with part of his name on it. You cannot prove that he was shipwrecked, and if you could do that you could not prove that these jewels belonged to him.'

'If there is no doubt, she ought to give them up. She is bound in honour.'

'I said that in my mind there is no reasonable doubt. That is because I have heard a great deal more than could be admitted in evidence. But now-listen again without interrupting. When, five years ago, the young lady placed the management of her affairs in my hands through the Vicar of her parish, I had every part of her very miscellaneous fortune valued and a part of it sold. I had these rubies examined by a merchant in jewels.'

'And how much were they worth?'

'One with another-some being large and very valuable indeed, and others small-they were said, by my expert, to be worth thirty-five thousand pounds. They might, under favourable circumstances and if judiciously placed in the market realise much more. Thirty-five thousand pounds!'

'What?' He literally opened his mouth. 'How much do you say?'

'Thirty-five thousand pounds.'

'Oh! But the stones are not hers-they belong-they belong-to us-to the descendants of Robert Fletcher.' No one would have called that face wooden, now. It was full of excitement-the excitement of a newly awakened hope. 'Does she propose to buy me off with a thousand pounds? Does she think I am to be bought off at any price? The jewels are mine-mine-that is, I have a share in them.'

'Gently-gently-gently! What proof have you got of this story? Nothing. You never heard of it: your great-grandfather never spoke of it. Nothing would have been heard of it at all but for this old lady from whom Armorel inherited. The property is hers as much as anything else. If she gives up anything it is by her own free and uncompelled will. She need give nothing. Remember that.'

'Then she offers me a miserable thousand pounds for my share-which ought to be at least a third. Jagenal'-he turned purple and the veins stood out on his forehead-'That infernal girl hates me! She has done me-I cannot tell you how much mischief. She persecutes me. Now she offers to buy me out of my share of thirty-five thousand pounds-a third share-nay-a half, because my great-aunt left no children-for a thousand pounds down!'

'I did not say so.'

'You told me that the windfall would amount to a thousand pounds.'

'That was in joke, my boy. You are perfectly wrong about Armorel hating you. How can she hate you? You are so far wrong in this instance that she has instructed me to give you the whole of this fortune-actually to make you a free gift of the whole property-the whole, mind-thirty-five thousand pounds!'

'To me! Armorel gives me-me-the whole of this fortune?' Blank astonishment fell upon him. He stood staring-open-mouthed. 'To ME?' he repeated.

'To you. She does not, to be sure, know to whom she gives it. She is only desirous of restoring the jewels which she insists in believing to belong to Robert Fletcher's family. Therefore, as it would be obviously impossible to find out and to divide this fortune among all the descendants of Robert Fletcher, who are scattered about the globe, she was resolved to give them to the eldest descendant of the second daughter.'

'Oh!' Alec turned pale, and dropped into a chair, broken up. 'To the eldest descendant of the second-the second daughter. Then--'

'Then to you, as the only grandson of the second daughter-Frances.'

'The second daughter was--' He checked himself. He sighed. He sat up. His eyes, always small and too close together, grew smaller and closer together. 'The other branch of the family,' he said slowly, 'has vanished-as you say-it is scattered over the face of the globe. I do not know anything about my cousins-if I have any cousins. Perhaps when you have carried on the search a little further--'

'But I am not going to carry it on any further at all. Why should I? We have nothing more to learn. I am instructed by Armorel to give the rubies to you. It is a gift-not a right. It is not an inheritance, remember-it is a free gift. She says, "These rubies used to belong to Robert Fletcher. I will restore them to someone of his kin." You are that someone. Why should I inquire further?'

'Oh!' Alec sank back in his chair and closed his eyes as one who recovers from a sharp pang, and sighed deeply. 'If you are satisfied, then-- But if other cousins should turn up--'

'They will have nothing, because nobody is entitled to anything. Come Alec, my boy, you look a little overcome. It is natural. Pull yourself together, and look at the facts. You will have thirty-five thousand pounds-perhaps a little more. At four per cent.-I think I can put you in the way of getting so much with safety-you will have fourteen hundred a year. You will have that, apart from your literary and artistic income. It is not a gigantic fortune, it is true; but let me tell you that it is a very handsome addition indeed to any man's income. You will not be able to live in Kensington Palace Gardens, where your wife lived as a girl; but you can take a good house and see your friends, and have anything in reason. Well, that is all I have to say, except to congratulate you, which I do, my Alec'-he seized the fortunate young man's hand and shook it warmly-'most heartily. I do, indeed. You deserve your good luck-every bit of the good luck that has befallen you. Everybody who knows you will rejoice. And it comes just at the right moment-just when you have acknowledged your marriage and taken your wife home.'

'Really,' said Alec, now completely recovered, 'I am overwhelmed with this stroke of luck. It is the most unexpected thing in the world. I could never have dreamed of such a thing. To find out, on the same day, that one's great-grandfather once made a fortune and lost it, and that it has been recovered, and that it is all given to me-it naturally takes one's breath away at first.'

'You would like to gaze upon this fortune from the Ruby Mines of Burmah, would you not?' Mr. Jagenal threw open the door of a safe, and took out a parcel in brown paper. 'It is here.' He opened the parcel, and disclosed the shagreen case which we have already seen in the sea-chest. He laid it on the table, and unrolled the silk in which the stones were rolled. 'There they are-look common enough, don't they? One seems to have picked up stones twice as pretty on the sea-shore: here are two or three cut and polished-bits of red glass would look as pretty.'

'Thirty-five thousand pounds!' Alec cried, laying a hand, as if in episcopal benediction, upon the treasure. 'Is it possible that this little bundle of stones should be worth so much?'

'Quite possible. Now-they are yours-what will you do with them.'

'First, I will ask you to put them back in the safe.'

'I will send them to your bank if you please.'

'No-keep them here-I will consult you immediately about their disposition. Thirty-five thousand pounds! Thirty-five--perhaps we may get more for them. What am I to say to this girl? Perhaps when she learns who has got the rubies she will refuse to let them go. I am sure she would never consent.'

'Nonsense-about persecution and annoyance! Armorel hate you? Why should she hate you? The sweetest girl in the world. You men of genius are too ready to take offence. The things are yours. I have given them to you by her instructions. I have written you a letter, formally conveying the jewels to you. Here it is. And now go home, my dear fellow, and when you feel like taking a holiday, do it with a tranquil mind, remembering that you've got fourteen hundred pounds a year given you for nothing at all by this young lady, who wasn't obliged to give you a penny. Why, in surrendering these jewels, she has surrendered a good half of her whole fortune. Find me another girl, anywhere, who would give up half her fortune for a scruple. And now go away, and tell your wife. Let her rejoice. Tell her it is Armorel's wedding present.'

Alec Feilding walked home. He was worth thirty-five thousand pounds-fourteen hundred pounds a year. When one comes to think of it, though we call ourselves such a very wealthy country, there are comparatively few, indeed, among us who can boast that they enjoy an income of fourteen hundred pounds a year, with no duties, responsibilities, or cares about their income-and with nothing to do for it. Fourteen hundred pounds a year is not great wealth; but it will enable a man to keep up a very respectable style of living: many people in society have got to live on a great deal less. He and his wife were going to live on nothing a year, except what they could get by their wits. Fourteen hundred a year! They could still exercise their wits: that is to say, he should expect his wife, now the thinking partner, to exercise her wits with zeal. But what a happiness for a man to feel that he does not live by his wits alone! Alas! It is a joy that is given to few indeed of us.

As for his late lite

rary and artistic successes, how poor and paltry did they appear to this man, who had no touch of the artist nature, beside this solid lump of money, worth all the artistic or poetic fame that ever was achieved!

He went home dancing. He was at peace with all mankind. He found it in his heart to forgive everybody: Roland Lee, who had so basely deserted him: Effie, that snake in the grass: Lady Frances, the most treacherous of women: Armorel herself-- Oh! Heavens! what could not be forgiven to the girl who had made him such a gift? Even the revolt against his authority: even the broken panel, the shattered lock, and the earthquake.

In this mood he arrived home. His wife, the thinking partner, was hard at work in the interests of the new firm. In her hand was a manuscript volume of verse: on the table beside her lay an open portfolio of sketches and drawings.

'You see, Alec,' she looked up, smiling. 'Already the ghosts have begun to appear at my call. If you ask me where I found them, I reply, as before, that when one travels about with a country company one has opportunities. All kinds of queer people may be heard of. Your ghosts, in future, my dear boy, must be of the tribe which has broken down and given in, not of those who are still young and hopeful. I have found a man who can draw-here is a portfolio full of his things: in black and white: they can be reproduced by some photographic process: he is in an advanced stage of misery, and will never know or ask what becomes of his things. He ought to have made his fortune long ago. He hasn't, because he is always drunk and disreputable. It will do you good to illustrate the paper with your own drawings. There's a painter I have heard of. He drinks every afternoon and all the evening at a certain place, where you must go and find him. He has long since been turned out of every civilised kind of society, and you can get his pictures for anything you like; he can't draw much, I believe, but his colouring is wonderful. There is an elderly lady, too, of whom I have heard. She can draw, too, and she's got no friends, and can be got cheap. And this book is full of the verses of a poor wretch who was once a rising literary man, and now carries a banner at Drury-Lane Theatre whenever they want a super. As for your stories, I have got a broken-down actor-he writes better than he can act-to write stories of the boards. They will appear anonymously, and if people attribute them to you he will not be able to complain. Oh, I know what I am about, Alec! Your paper shall double its circulation in a month, and shall multiply its circulation by ten in six months, and without the least fear of such complications as have happened lately. They must lie avoided for the future-proposals as well as earthquakes-my dear Alec.'

Alec sat down on the table and laughed carelessly. 'Zoe,' he said, 'you are the cleverest woman in the world. It was a lucky day for us both when you came here. I made a big mistake for three years. Now I've got some news for you-good news--'

'That can only mean-money.'

'It does mean-money, as you say. Money, my dear. Money that makes the mare to go.'

'How much, Alec?'

'More than your four thousand. Twenty times as much as that little balance in your book.'

'Oh, Alec! is it possible? Twenty times as much? Eighty thousand pounds?'

'About that sum,' he replied, exaggerating with the instincts of the City, inherited, no doubt, from Robert Fletcher. 'Perhaps quite that sum if I manage certain sales cleverly.'

'Is it a legacy?-or an inheritance?-how did you get it?'

'It is not exactly a legacy: it is a kind of restoration to an unknown person: a gift not made to me personally, but to me unknown.'

'You talk to me in riddles, Alec.'

'I would talk in blank verse if I could. It is, indeed, literally true. I have received an-estate-in portable property worth nearly forty thousand pounds.'

'Oh! Then we shall be really rich, and not have to pretend quite so much? A little pretence, Alec, I like. It makes me feel like returning to society: too much pretence reminds one of the policeman.'

'Don't you want to know how I have come into this money?'

'I am not curious, Alec. I like everything to be done for me. When I was a girl there were carriages and horses and everything that I wanted-all ready-all done for me, you know. Then I was stripped of all. I had nothing to do or to say in the matter. It was done for me. Now, you tell me you have got eighty thousand pounds. Oh! Heavens! It is done for me. The ways of fate are so wonderful. Things are given and things are taken away. Why should I inquire how things come? Perhaps this will be taken away in its turn.'

'Not quite, Zoe. I have got my hand over it. You can trust your husband, I think, to keep what he has got.' Indeed, he looked at this moment cunning enough to be trusted with keeping the National Debt itself.

'Eighty thousand pounds!' she said. 'Let me write it down. Eighty thousand pounds! Eight and one, two, three, four oughts.' She wrote them down, and clasped her hands, saying, 'Oh! the beauty-the incomparable beauty-of the last ought!'

'Perhaps not quite so much,' said her husband, thinking that the exaggeration was a little too much.

'Don't take off one of my oughts-not my fourth: not my Napoleon of oughts!'

'No-no. Keep your four oughts. Well, my dear, if it is only sixty thousand or so, there is two thousand a year for us. Two thousand a year!'

'Don't, Alec; don't! Not all at once. Break it gently.'

'We will carry on the paper; and perhaps do something or other-carefully, you know-in Art. There is no need to knock things off. And if you can make the paper succeed, as you think, there will be so much the more. Well, we can use it all. For my part, Zoe, my dear, I don't care how big the income is. I am equal to ten thousand.'

'Of course, and you will still pronounce judgments and be a leader. Now let us talk of what we will do-where we will live-and all. Two thousand is pretty big to begin with, after three years' tight fit; but the paper will bring in another two thousand easily. I've been looking through the accounts-bills and returns-and I am sure it has been villanously managed. We will run it up: we will have ten thousand a year to spend. A vast deal may be done with ten thousand a year: we will have a big weekly dinner as well as an At Home. We will draw all the best people in London to the house: we will--'

She enlarged with great freedom on what could be done with this income: she displayed all the powers of a rich imagination: not even the milkmaid of the fable more largely anticipated the joys of the future.

'And, oh! Alec,' she cried. 'To be rich again! rich only to the limited extent of ten thousand a year, is too great happiness. When my father was ruined, I thought the world was ended. Well, it was ended for me, because you made me leave it and disappear. The last four years I should like to be clean forgotten and driven out of my mind-horrid years of failing and enduring and waiting! And now we are rich again! Oh! we are rich again! It is too much happiness!'

The tears rose to her eyes; her soft and murmuring voice broke.

'My poor Zoe,' her husband laid his hand on hers, 'I am rejoiced,' he said, 'as much for your sake as for my own.'

'How did you get this wonderful fortune, Alec?'

'Through Mr. Jagenal, the lawyer. It's a long story. A great-grandfather of mine was wrecked, and lost his property. That was eighty years ago. Now, his property was found. Who do you think found it? Armorel Rosevean. And she has restored it-to me.'

'What?' She sprang to her feet, her face suddenly turning white. 'What? Armorel?'

'Yes, certainly. Curious coincidence, isn't it? The very girl who has done me so much mischief. The man was wrecked on the island where her people lived.'

'Yes-yes-yes. The property-what was it? What was it? Quick!'

'It was a leather case filled with rubies-rubies worth at least thirty-five thousand pounds-- What's the matter?'

'Rubies! Her rubies! Oh! Armorel's rubies! No-no-no-not that! Anything-anything but that! Armorel's rubies-Armorel's rubies!'

'What is the matter, Zoe? What is it?'

She gasped. Her eyes were wild: her cheek was white. She was like one who is seized with some sudden horrible and unintelligible pain. Or she was like one who has suddenly heard the most dreadful and most terrible news possible.

'What is it, Zoe?' her husband asked again.

'You? Oh! you have brought me this news-you! I thought, perhaps, someone-Armorel-or some other might find me out. But you!-you!'

'Again, Zoe'-he tried to be calm, but a dreadful doubt seized him-'what does this mean?'

'I remember,' she laughed wildly, 'what I said when I gave you the bank-book. If you found me out, I said, we should be both on the same level. You would be able to hold out your arms, I said, and to cry, "You have come down to my level. Come to my heart, sister in wickedness." That is what I said. Oh! I little thought-it was a prophecy-my words have come true.'

She caught her head with her hand-it is a stagey gesture: she had learned it on the stage: yet at this moment of trouble it was simple and natural.

'What the Devil do you mean?' he cried with exasperation.

'They were your rubies all the time, and I did not know. Your rubies! If I had only known! Oh! what have I done? What have I done?

'Tell me quick, what you have done.' He caught her by the arm roughly. He actually shook her. His own face now was almost as white as hers. 'Quick-tell me-tell me-tell me!'

'You wanted money badly,' she gasped. Her words came with difficulty. 'You told me so every time I saw you. It was to get money that I went to live with Armorel. I could not get it in that way. But I found another way. She told me about the rubies. I knew where they were kept. In the bank. In a sealed packet. I had seen an inventory of the things in the bank. Armorel told me the story of the rubies, and I never believed it-I never thought that there would be any search for the man's heirs. I never thought the story was true. She told me, besides, all about her other things-her miniatures and snuff-boxes, and watches and rings. She showed me all her beautiful lace, worth thousands. And as for the gold things and the jewels, they were all in the bank, in separate sealed parcels, numbered. She showed me the bank receipts. Opposite each number was written the contents of each, and opposite Number Three was written "The case containing the rubies."'

'Well? Well?'

'Hush! What did I do? Let me think. I am going mad, I believe. It was for your sake-all for your sake, Alec! All for your sake that I have ruined you!'

'Ruined me? Quick! What have you done?'

'It was for your sake, Alec-all for your sake! Oh, for your own sake I have lost and ruined you!'

'You will drive me mad, I think!' he gasped.

'I wrote a letter, one day, to the manager of the bank. I wrote it in imitation of Armorel's hand. I signed her name at the end so that no one could have told it was a forgery. My letter told him to give the sealed packet numbered three to the bearer who was waiting. I sent the letter by a commissionaire. He returned bringing the packet with him.'

'And then?'

'Oh! Then-then-Alec, you will kill me-you will surely kill me when you know! You care for nothing in the world but for money-and I-I have stolen away your money! It is gone-it is gone!'

'You stole those rubies? But I have seen them. They are in Jagenal's safe. What do you mean?' he cried hoarsely.

'I have sold them. I stole them, and I sold them all-they were worth-how much did you say? Fifty-sixty-eighty thousand pounds? I sold them all, Alec, for four thousand two hundred and twenty-five pounds! I sold them to a Dutchman in Hatton Garden.'

'You are raving mad! You dream! I have seen them. I have handled them.'

'What you have seen were the worthless imitation jewels that I substituted. I found out where to get sham rubies made of paste, or something-some cut and some uncut. I bought them, and I substituted them in the case. Then I returned the packet to the bank. I had the packet in my possession no more than one morning. The man who bought the stones swore they were worth no more. He said he should lose money by them: he was going away to America immediately, and wanted to settle at once, otherwise he would not give so much. That is what I have done, Alec.'

'Oh!' he stood over her, his eyes glaring; he roared like a wild beast; he raised his hand as if to slay her with a single blow. But he could find no words. His hand remained raised-he was speechless-he was motionless-he was helpless with blind rage and madness.

His hand remained raised-he was speechless-he was motionless-he was helpless with blind rage and madness.

His wife looked up, and waited. Now that she had told her tale she was calm.

'If you are going to kill me,' she said, 'you had better do it at once. I think I do not care about living any longer. Kill me, if you like.'

He dropped his arm: he straightened himself, and stood upright.

'You are a Thief!' he said hoarsely. 'You are a wretched, miserable Thief!'

She pointed to the picture on the easel.

'And you-my husband?'

He threw himself into a chair. Then he got up and paced the room: he beat the air with his hands: his face was distorted: his eyes were wild: he abandoned himself to one of those magnificent rages of which we read in History. William the Conqueror-King Richard-King John-many medi?val kings used to fall into these rages. They are less common of late. But then such provocation as this is rare in any age.

When, at last, speech came to him, it was at first stuttering and broken: speech of the elementary kind: speech of primitive man in a rage: speech ejaculatory: speech interjectional: speech of railing and cursing. He walked-or, rather, tramped-about the room: he stamped with his foot: he banged the table with his fist: he roared: he threatened: he cleared the dictionary of its words of scorn, contempt, and loathing: he hurled all these words at his wife. As a tigress bereft of her young, so is such a man bereft of his money.

His wife, meantime, sat watching, silent. She waited for the storm to pass. As for what he said, it was no more than the rolling of thunder. She made no answer to his reproaches; but for her white face you would have thought she neither heard nor felt nor cared.

Outside the discreet man-servant heard every word. Once, when his master threatened violence, he thought it might be his duty to interfere. As the storm continued, he began to feel that this was no place for a man-servant who respected himself. He remembered the earthquake. He had then been called upon to remove from its hinges a door fractured in a row. That was a blow. He was now compelled to listen while a master, unworthy of such a servant, brutally swore at his wife. He perceived that his personal character and his dignity no longer allowed him to remain with such a person. He resigned, therefore, that very day.

When the bereaved sufferer could say no more-for there comes a time when even to shriek fails to bring relief-he threw himself into a chair and began to cry. Yes: he cried like a child: he wept and sobbed and lamented. The tears ran down his cheeks: his voice was choked with sobs. The discreet man-servant outside blushed with shame that such a thing should happen under his roof. The wife looked on without a sign or a word. We break down and cry when we have lost the thing which most we love-it may be a wife; it may be a child: in the case of this young man the thing which most he loved and desired was money. It had been granted to him-in large and generous measure. And, lo! it was torn from his hands before his fingers had even closed around it. Oh! the pity-the pity of it!

This fit, too, passed away.

Half an hour later, when he was quite quiet, exhausted with his rage, his wife laid her hand upon his shoulder.

'Alec,' she said, 'I have always longed for one thing most of all. It was the only thing, I once thought, that made it worth the trouble to live. An hour ago it seemed that the thing had been granted to me. And I was happy even with this guilt upon my soul. I know you for what you are. Yet I desired your love. Henceforth, this dreadful thing stands between us. You can no longer love me-that is certain, because I have ruined you-any more than I can hold you in respect. Yet we will continue to walk together-hand in hand-I will work and you shall enjoy. If we do not love each other, we can continue in partnership, and show to the world faces full of affection. At least you cannot reproach me. I am a thief, it is true-most true! And you-Alec! you-oh! my husband!-what are you?'

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares