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time when Mary might be disposed to talk to her. The farmer's daughter was a gentle, unobtrusive creature, very well fitted for the duty imposed upon her.
Olivia MARCHMONT sat in her late husband's study while John's funeral train was moving slowly along under the misty October sky. A long stream of carriages followed the stately bearse, with its four black horses, and its voluminous draperies of rich velvet, and nodding plumes that were damp and heavy, with the autumn atmosphere. The unassuming master of Marchmont Towers had won for himself a quiet popularity amongst the simple country gentry, and the best families in Lincolnshire had sent their chiefs to do honour to his burial, or at the least their empty carriages to represent them at that mournful ceremonial. Olivia sat in her dead husband's favourite chamber. Her head lay back upon the cushion of the roomy morocco-covered arm-chair in which he had so often sat. She had been working hard that morning, and indeed every morning since John Marchmont's death, sorting and arranging papers, with the aid of Richard Paulette, the Lincoln's Inn solicitor, and James Gormby, the land-steward. She knew that she had been left sole guardian of ber stepdaughter, and executrix to her husband's will; and she had lost no time in making herself acquainted with the business details of the estate, and the full nature of the responsibilities intrusted to her.
She was resting now. She had done all that could be done until after the reading of the will. She had attended to her stepdaughter. She had stood in one of the windows of the western drawing-room, watching the departure of the funeral cortége; and now she abandoned herself for a brief space to that idleness which was so unusual to her.
A fire burned in the low grate at her feet, and a rough cur—half shepherd's dog, half Scotch deer-hound, who had been fond of John, but was not fond of Olivia-lay at the further extremity of the hearthrug, watching her suspiciously.
Mrs. Marchmont's personal appearance had not altered during the two years of her married life. Her face was thin and haggard; but it had been thin and haggard before her marriage. And yet no one could deny that the face was handsome, and the features beautifully chisled. But the gray eyes were hard and cold, the line of the faultless eyebrows gave a stern expression to the countenance; the thin lips were rigid and compressed. The face wanted both light and colour. A sculptor copying it line by line would have produced a beautiful head. A painter must have lent his own glowing tints if he wished to represent Olivia Marchmont as a lovely woman.
Her pale face looked paler, and her dead black hair blacker, against the blank whiteness of her widow's cap. Her mourning dress clung closely to her tall, slender figure. She was little more than twentyfive, but she looked a woman of thirty. It had been her misfortune to look older than she was from a very early period in her life.
She had not loved her husband when she married him, nor had she ever felt for him that love which in most womanly natures grows out of custom and duty. It was not in her nature to love. Her passionate idolatry of her boyish cousin had been the one solitary affection that had ever held a place in her cold heart. All the fire of her nature had been concentrated in this one folly, this one passion, against which only heroic self-tortures had been able to prevail.
Mrs. Marchmont felt no grief, therefore, at her husband's loss. She had felt the shock of his death, and the painful oppression of his dead presence in the house. She had faithfully nursed him through many illnesses; she had patiently tended him until the very last; she had done her duty. And now, for the first time, she had leisure to contemplate the past, and look forward to the future.
So far this woman had fulfilled the task which she had taken upon herself; she had been true and loyal to the vow she had made before God's altar, in the church of Swampington. And now she was free. No, not quite free; for she had a heavy burden yet upon her hands; the solemn charge of her stepdaughter during the girl's minority. But as regarded marriage-vows and marriage-ties she was free.
She was free to love Edward Arundel again.
The thought came upon her with a rush and an impetus wild and strong as the sudden uprising of a whirlwind, or the loosing of a mountain-torrent that had long been bound. She was a wife no longer. It was no longer a sin to think of the bright-haired soldier, fighting far away. She was free. When Edward returned to England by and by, he would find her free once more; a young widow,-young, handsome, and rich enough to be no bad prize for a younger son. He would come back and find her thus; and then and then-!
She flung one of her clenched hands up into the air, and struck it on her forehead in a sudden paroxysm of rage. What then? Would he love her any better then than he had loved her two years ago? No; he would treat her with the same cruel indifference, the same commonplace cousinly friendliness, with which he bad mocked and tortured her before. Oh, shame! Oh, misery! Was there no pride in women, that there could be one among them fallen so low as her ; ready to grovel at the feet of a fair-haired boy, and to cry aloud, "Love me, love me! or be pitiful, and strike me dead !"
Better that John Marchmont had lived for ever, better that Edward Arundel should die far away upon some Eastern battle-field, before some Affghan fortress, than that he should return to inflict
her the same tortures she had writhed under two years before.
“God grant that he may never come back !" she thought. “God
grant that he may marry out yonder, and live and die there! God keep him from me for ever and for ever in this weary world !"
And yet in the next moment, with the inconsistency which is the chief attribute of that madness we call love, her thoughts 'wandered away dreamily into visions of the future; and she pictured Edward Arundel back again at Swampington, at Marchmont Towers. Her soul burst its bonds and expanded, and drank in the sunlight of gladness, and she dared to think that it might be so—there might be happiness yet for her. He had been a boy when he went back to India, -careless, indifferent. He would return a man,-graver, wiser, altogether changed; changed so much as to love her, perhaps.
She knew that, at least, no rival bad shut her cousin's heart against her, when she and he had been together two years before. He had been indifferent to her; but he had been indifferent to others also. There was comfort in that recollection. She had questioned him very sharply as to his life in India and at Dangerfield, and she had discovered no trace of any tender memory of the past, no bint of a cherished dream of the future. His heart had been empty: a boyish, unawakened heart; a temple in which the niches were untenanted, the shrine unballowed by the goddess.
Olivia Marchmont thought of these things. For a few moments, if only for a few moments, she abandoned herself to such thoughts as these. She let herself go. She released the stern hold which it was her habit to keep upon her own mind; and in those bright moments of delicious abandonment the glorious sunshine streamed in upon her narrow life, and visions of a possible future expanded before her like a fairy panorama, stretching away into realms of vague light and splendour. It was possible; it was at least possible.
But, again, in the next moment the magical panorama collapsed and shrivelled away, like a burning scroll; the fairy picture, whose gorgeous colouring she had looked upon with dazzled eyes, almost blinded with overpowering glory, shrank into a handful of black ashes, and was gone. The woman's strong nature reasserted itself; the iron will rose up, ready to do battle with the foolish heart.
“I will not be fooled a second time," she cried. “Did I suffer so little when I blotted that image out of my heart? Did the destruction of my cruel Juggernaut cost me so small an agony that I must needs be ready to elevate the false god again, and crush out my heart once more under the brazen wheels? He will never love me!"
Sbe writhed; this self-sustained and resolute woman writhed in her anguish as she uttered those five words, “He will never love me!" She knew that they were true; that of all the changes that Time could bring to pass, it would never bring such a change as that. There was not one element of sympathy between herself and the young soldier ; they had not one thought in common. Nay, more; there was an absolute antagonism between them, which, in spite of her love, Olivia fully recognised.
Over the gulf that separated them no coincidence of thought or fancy, no sympathetic emotion, ever stretched its electric chain to draw them together in mysterious union. They stood aloof, divided by the width of an intellectual universe. The woman knew this, and hated herself for her folly, scorning alike her love and its object; but her love was not the less because of her scorn. It was a madness, an isolated madness, which stood alone in her soul, and fought for mastery over her better aspirations, her wiser thoughts. We are all familiar with strange stories of wise and great minds which have been ridden by some hobgoblin fancy, some one horrible monomania. Had Olivia Marchmont lived a couple of centuries before, she would
a have gone straight to the nearest old crone, and would have boldly accused the wretched woman of being the author of her misery.
“You harbour a black cat and other noisome vermin, and you prowl about muttering to yourself o' nights," she might have said. “You have been seen to gather herbs, and you make strange and uncanny signs with your palsied old fingers. The black cat is the devil, your colleague; and the rats under your tumble-down roof are his imps, your associates. It is who have instilled this horrible madness into my soul; for it could not come of itself.”
And Olivia Marchmont, being resolute and strong-minded, would not bave rested until her tormentor had paid the penalty of her foul work at a stake in the nearest market-place.
And indeed some of our madnesses are so mad, some of our follies are so foolish, that we might almost be forgiven if we believed that there was a company of horrible crones meeting somewhere on an invisible Brocken, and making incantations for our destruction. Take up a newspaper and read its hideous revelations of crime and folly, and it will be scarcely strange if you involuntarily wonder whether witchcraft is a dark fable of the middle ages, or a dreadful truth of the nineteenth century. Must not some of these miserable creatures whose stories we read be possessed; possessed by eager, relentless demons, who lash and goad them onward, until no black abyss of vice, no hideous gulf of crime, is black or hideous enough to content them?
Olivia Marchmont might have been a good and great woman. She had all the elements of greatness. She had genius, resolution, an indomitable courage, an iron will, perseverance, self-denial, temperance, chastity. But against all these qualities was set a fatal and foolish love for a boy's handsome face and frank and genial manner. If Edward Arundel had never crossed her path, her unfettered soul might have taken the highest and grandest flight; but, chained down, bound, trammelled by her love for him, she grovelled on the earth like some maimed and wounded eagle, who sees his fellows afar off, high in the purple empyrean, and loathes himself for his impotence.
“What do I love him for?” she thought. « Is it because he has blue eyes and chestnut hair, with wandering gleams of golden light in it? Is
it because he has gentlemanly manners, and is easy and pleasant, genial and light-hearted? Is it because he has a dashing walk, and the air of a man of fashion? It must be for some of these attributes, surely; for I kaow nothing more in hin. Of all the things he has ever said, I can remember nothing-and I remember his smallest words, Heaven help me! -that any sensible person could think worth repeating. He is brave, I dare say, and generous; but neither braver nor more generous than other men of his rank and position.”
She sat lost in such a reverie as this while her dead husband was being carried to the roomy vault set apart for the owners of Marchmont Towers and their kindred; she was absorbed in some such thoughts as these, when one of the grave, gray-headed old servants brought her a card upon a heavy salver emblazoned with the Marchmont arms.
Olivia took the card almost mechanically. There are some thoughts whick carry us a long way from the ordinary occupations of every day life, and it is not easy to return to the dull jog-trot routine. The widow passed her left hand across her brow before she looked at the name inscribed upon the card in her right.
“Mr. Paul Marchmont.”
She started as she read the name. Paul Marchmont! She remembered what her husband had told her of this man. It was not much; for John's feelings on the subject of his cousin had been of so vague a nature that he had shrunk from expounding them to his stern, practical wife. He had told her, therefore, that he did not very much care for Paul, and that he wished no intimacy ever to arise between the artist and Mary; but he had said nothing more than this.
“ The gentleman is waiting to see me, I suppose ?" Mrs. Marchmont said.
“Yes, ma'am. The gentleman came to Kemberling by the 11.5 train from London, and has driven over here in one of Harris's flys.”
Tell him I will come to him immediately. Is he in the drawingroom ?"
The man bowed and left the room. Olivia lingered by the fireplace with her foot on the fender, her elbow resting on the carved-oak chimneypiece.
“Paul Marchmont! He has come to the funeral, I suppose. And he expects to find himself mentioned in the will, I dare say. I think, from what my husband told me, he will be disappointed in that. Paul March
, mont! If Mary were to die unmarried, this man or his sisters would inherit Marchmont Towers."
There was a looking-glass over the mantelpiece; a narrow, oblong glass, in an old-fashioned carved-ebony frame, which was inclined forward. Olivia looked musingly in this glass, and smoothed the heavy bands of dead-black hair under her cap.
“ There are people who would call me handsome,” she thought, as