A WOMAN'S HEART.
Two or three notices, which, Mr. Jarlcot said, would not cost five pounds, were served on behalf of Mr. Marston, and with these the faint echo of his thunders subsided. There was, in fact, no material for litigation.
"The notices," Mr. Jarlcot said, "came from Marshall and Whitaker, the solicitors who had years before submitted the cases for him, upon his uncle's t.i.tle, and upon the question of his own position as nearest of kin and heir-at-law. He was very carefully advised as to how exactly he should stand in the event of his uncle's dying intestate."
I was stunned when I heard of my enormous fortune, involving, as it did, his ruin. I would at once have taken measures to deal as generously with him as the other will, of which I then knew no more than that Sir Harry must have contemplated, at one time, the possibility at least of signing it.
When I left Golden Friars I did so with an unalterable resolution never to see Richard Marston again. But this was compatible with the spirit of my intention to provide more suitably for him. I took Mr. Blount into council; but I was disappointed. The will had been made during my father's lifetime, and in evident apprehension of his influence over me, and deprived me of the power of making any charge upon the property, whether land or money. I could do nothing but make him a yearly present of a part of my income, and even that was embarra.s.sed by many ingenious conditions and difficulties.
It was about this time that a letter reached me from Richard Marston, the most extraordinary I had ever read--a mad letter in parts, and wicked--a letter, also, full of penitence and self-upbraiding. "I am a fiend. I have been all cruelty and falsehood, you all mercy and truth,"
it said. "I have heard of your n.o.ble wishes--I know how vain they are.
You can do nothing that I would accept. I am well enough. Think no more of the wretch. I have found, too late, I cannot live without you. You shall hear of me no more; only forgive me."
There are parts of this strange letter that I never understood, that may bear many interpretations, no one distinctly.
When Mr. Blount spoke of him he never gave me his conclusions, and it was always in the sad form "Let us hope;" he never said exactly what he suspected. Mr. Jarlcot plainly had but one opinion of him, and that the worst.
I agreed, I think, with neither. I relied on instinct, which no one can a.n.a.lyse or define--the wild inspiration of nature--the saddest, and often the truest guide. Let me not condemn, then, lest I be condemned.
The good here are not without wickedness, nor the wicked without goodness. With death begins the defection. Each character will be sifted as wheat. The eternal Judge will reduce each, by the irresistible chemistry of his power and truth, to its basis, for neither h.e.l.l nor heaven can receive a mixed character.
I did hear of Richard Marston again once more--it was about five months later, when the news of his death by fever, at Ma.r.s.eilles, reached Mr.
Since then my life has been a retrospect. Two years I pa.s.sed in India with my beloved friend, Laura. But my melancholy grew deeper; the shadows lengthened--and an irrepressible yearning to revisit Golden Friars and Malory seized me. I returned to England.
I am possessed of fortune. I thank G.o.d for its immunities--I well know how great they are. For its pleasures, I have long ceased to care. To the poor, I try to make it useful--but I am quite conscious that in this there is no merit. I have no pleasure in money. I think I have none in flattery. I need deny myself nothing, and yet be in the eyes of those who measure charity arithmetically a princely Christian benefactress. I wish I were quite sure of having ever given a cup of cold water in the spirit that my Maker commends.
A few weeks after my return, Mr. Blount showed me a letter. The signature startled me. It was from Monsieur Droqville, and a very short one. It was chiefly upon some trifling business, and it said, near the end:
"You sometimes see Miss Ware, I believe; she will be sorry to hear that her old friend, Mr. Carmel, died last summer at his missionary post in South America. A truer soldier of Christ never fell in the field of his labours. Requiescat!"
There was a tremble at my heart, and a swelling. I held the sentence before my eyes till they filled with tears.
My faithful, n.o.ble friend! At my side in every trouble. The one of all mortals I have met who strove with his whole heart to win me, according to his lights, to G.o.d. May G.o.d receive and for ever bless you for it, patient, gentle Edwyn Carmel! His griefs are over. To me there seems an angelic light around him--the pale enthusiast in the robe of his purity stands saint-like before me. I remember all your tender care. I better understand, too, the wide differences that separated us, now, than in my careless girlhood--but these do not dismay me. I know that "in my father's house are many mansions," and I hope that when the clouds that darken this life are pa.s.sed, we may yet meet and thank and bless you, my n.o.ble-hearted friend, where, in one love and light, the redeemed shall walk for evermore.
At Golden Friars I lived again for a short time. But the a.s.sociations of Dorracleugh were too new and harrowing. I left that place to the care of good Mr. Blount, who loves it better than any other. He pays me two or three visits every year at Malory, and advises me in all matters of business.
I do not affect the airs of an anchorite. But my life is, most people would think, intolerably monotonous and lonely. To me it is not only endurable, but the sweetest that, in my peculiar state of mind, I could have chosen.
With the flight of my years, and the slow approach of the hour when dust will return to dust, the love of solitude steals on me, and no regrets for the days I have lost, as my friends insist, and no yearnings for a return to an insincere and tawdry world, have ever troubled me. In girlhood I contracted my love of this simple rural solitude, and my premature experience of all that is disappointing and deplorable in life confirms it. But the spell of its power is in its recollections. It is a place, unlike Dorracleugh, sunny and cheerful, as well as beautiful, and this tones the melancholy of its visions, and prevents their sadness from becoming overpowering.
I wonder how many people are living, like me, altogether in the past, and in hourly communion with visionary companions?
Richard Marston, does awaking hour ever pa.s.s without, at some moment, recalling your image? I do not mistake you; I have used no measured language in describing you. I know you for the evil, fascinating, reckless man you were. Such a man as, had I never seen you, and only known the sum of his character, I ought to have hated. A man who, being such as he was, meditated against me a measureless wrong. I look into my heart, is there vengeance there against you? Is there judgment? Is there even alienation?
Oh! how is it that reason, justice, virtue, all cannot move you from a secret place in my inmost heart? Can any man who has once been an idol, such as you were, ever perish utterly in that mysterious shrine--a woman's heart? In solitary hours, as I, unseen, look along the sea, my cheeks are wet with tears; in the wide silence of the night my lonely sobs are heard. Is my grief for you mere madness? Why is it that man so differs from man? Why does he often so differ from the n.o.ble creature he might have been, and sometimes almost was?
Over an image partly dreamed and partly real, shivered utterly, but still in memory visible, I pour out the vainest of all sorrows.
In the wonderful working that subdues all things to itself--in all the changes of spirit, or the s.p.a.ces of eternity, is there, shall there never be, from the first failure, evolved the n.o.bler thing that might have been? I care for no other. I can love no other; and were I to live and keep my youth through eternity, I think I never could be interested or won again. Solitude has become dear to me, because he is in it. Am I giving this infinite true love in vain? I comfort myself with one vague hope. I cannot think that nature is so cynical. Does the loved phantom represent nothing? And is the fidelity that nature claims, but an infatuation and a waste?
London: Swift and Co., 1 to 5, Newton Street, High Holborn, W.C.
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