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will but I direct my executrix to present to her a diamond-ring which I wish her to wear in memory of her loving father so that she may always have me in her thoughts and particularly of these my wishes as to her future life until she shall be of age and capable of acting on her own judgment I also request my executrix to present my young friend Edward Arundel also with a diamond-ring of the value of at least one hundred guineas as a slight tribute of the regard and esteem which I have ever entertained for him ... As to all the property as well real as personal over which I may at the time of my death have any control and capable of claiming or bequeathing I give devise and bequeath to my wife Olivia absolutely And I appoint my said wife sole executrix of this my will and guardian of my dear little Mary"
There were a few very small legacies, a mourning-ring to the expectant clerk; and this was all. Paul Marchmont had been quite right. Nobody could be less interested than himself in this will.
But he was apparently very much interested in John's widow and daughter. He tried to enter into conversation with Mary; but the girl's piteous manner seemed to implore him to leave her unmolested; and Mr. Bolton approached his patient almost immediately after the reading of the will, and in a manner took possession of her. Mary was very glad to leave the room once more, and to go back into the dim chamber where Hester Pollard sat at needlework. Olivia left her stepdaughter to the care of this humble companion, and went back to the long dining-room, where the gentlemen still hung listlessly over the fire, not knowing very well what to do with themselves.
Mrs. Marchmont could not do less than invite Paul to stay a few days at the Towers. She was virtually mistress of the house during Mary's minority, and on her devolved all the troubles, duties, and responsibilities attendant on such a position. Her father was going to stay with her till the end of the week; and he therefore would be able to entertain Mr. Marchmont. Paul unhesitatingly accepted the widow's hospitality. The old place was picturesque and interesting, he said ; there were some genuine Holbeins in the ball and dining-room, and one good Lely in the drawing-room. He would give himself a couple of days' holiday, and go to Stanfield by an early train on Saturday.
“I have not seen my sister for a long time,” he said; “ her life is dull enough and hard enough, Heaven knows, and she will be glad to see me upon my way back to London.”
Olivia bowed. She did not persuade Mr. Marchmont to extend his visit. The common courtesy she offered him was kept within the narrowest limits. She spent the best part of the time in the dead man's study during Paul's two days' stay, and left the artist almost entirely to her father's companionship.
But she was compelled to appear at dinner, when she took her accustomed place at the head of the table; and Paul therefore had some opportunity of sounding the depths of the strangest nature he had ever tried to fathom. He talked to her very much, listening with unvarying attention to every word she uttered. He watched her—but with no obtrusive gaze-almost incessantly; and when he went away from Marchmont Towers, without having seen Mary since the reading of the will, it was of Olivia he thought; it was the recollection of Olivia which interested as much as it perplexed him.
The few people waiting for the London train looked at the artist as he strolled up and down the quiet platform at Kemberling Station, with his head bent and his eyebrows slightly contracted. He had a certain easy, careless grace of dress and carriage, which harmonised well
, with his delicate face, his silken silvery hair, his carefully-trained auburn moustache, and rosy, womanish mouth. He was a romantic-looking man. He was the beau-ideal of the hero in a young lady's novel. He was a man whom schoolgirls would have called “a dear." But it had been better, I think, for any helpless wretch to be in the bull-dog hold of the sturdiest Bill Sykes ever loosed upon society by right of his ticket-ofleave, than in the power of Paul Marchmont, artist and teacher of drawing, of Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square.
He was thinking of Olivia as he walked slowly up and down the bare platform, only separated by a rough wooden paling from the flat open fields on the outskirts of Kemberling.
“The little girl is as feeble as a pale February butterfly," he thought; “a puff of frosty wind might wither her away. But that woman, that woman-how handsome she is, with her accurate profile and iron mouth; but what a raging fire there is hidden somewhere in her breast, and de vouring her beauty by day and night! If I wanted to paint the sleeping scene in Macbeth, I'd ask her to sit for the Thane's wicked wife. Perhaps she has some bloody secret as deadly as the murder of a gray-headed Durcan upon her conscience, and leaves her bedchamber in the stillness of the night to walk up and down those long oaken corridors at the Towers, and wring her hands and wail aloud in her sleep. Why did she marry John Marchmont? His life gave her little more than a fine house to live in. His death leaves her with nothing but ten or twelve thousand pounds in the Three per Cents. What is her mystery? wbat is her secret, I wonder? for she must surely have one."
Such thoughts as these filled his mind as the train carried him away from the lonely little station, and away from the neighbourhood of Marchmont Towers, within whose stony walls Mary lay in her quiet chamber, weeping for her dead father, and wishing-God knows in what utter singleness of heart—that she had been buried in the vault by his side.
OLIVIA'S DESPAIR. The life which Mary and her stepmother led at Marchmont Towers after
poor John's death was one of those tranquil and monotonous exist ences that leave very little to be recorded, except the slow progress
was no one.
the weeks and months, the gradual changes of the seasons. Mary bore her sorrows quietly, as it was her nature to bear all things. The doctor's advice was taken, and Olivia removed her stepdaughter to Scarborough soon after the funeral. But the change of scene was slow to effect any change in the state of dull despairing sorrow into which the girl had fallen. The sea-breezes brought no colour into her pale cheeks. She obeyed her stepmother's behests unmurmuringly, and wandered wearily by the dreary seashore in the dismul November weather in search of health and strength. But wherever she went, she carried with her the awful burden of her grief; and in every changing cadence of the low winter winds, in every varying murmur of the moaning waves, she seemed to hear her dead father's funeral dirge.
I think that, young as Mary Marchmont was, this mournful period was the great crisis of her life. The past, with its one great affection, had been swept away from her, and as yet there was no friendly figure to fill the dismal blank of the future. Had any kindly matron, any gentle Christian creature, been ready to stretch out her arms to the desolate orphan, Mary's heart would have melted, and she would have crept to the shelter of that womanly embrace, to nestle there for ever. But there
Olivia Marchmont obeyed the letter of her husband's solemn appeal, as she had obeyed the letter of those Gospel sentences that had been familiar to her from her childhood, but was utterly unable to comprehend its spirit. She accepted the charge intrusted to her. She was unflinching in the performance of her duty; but no one glimmer of the holy light of motherly love and tenderness, the semi-divire compassion of womanhood, ever illumined the dark chambers of her heart. Every night she questioned herself upon her knees as to her rigid performance of the level round of duty she had allotted to herself; every night-scrupulous and self-relentless as the hardest judge who ever pronounced sentence upon a criminal—she took note of her own shortcomings, and acknowledged her deficiencies.
But, unhappily, this self-devotion of Olivia's pressed no less heavily upon Mary than on the widow herself. The more rigidly Mrs. Marchmont performed the duties which she understood to be laid upon her by her dead husband's last will and testament, the harder became the orphan's life. The weary treadmill of education worked on, when the young student was well-nigh fainting upon every step on that hopeless ladder of knowledge. If Olivia, on communing with herself at night, found that the day just done had been too easy a one for both mistress and pupil, the morrow's allowance of Roman emperors and French grammar was made to do penance for yesterday's shortcomings.
“This girl has been intrusted to my cere, and one of my first ies is to give her a good education," Olivia Marchmont thought. “She is inclined to be idle; but I must fight against her inclination, whatever trouble the struggle entails upon myself
. The harder the battle, the better for me, if I am conqueror.”
It was only thus that Olivia Marchmont could hope to be a good woman. It was only by the rigid performance of hard duties, the patient practice of tedious rites, that she could hope to attain that eternal crown which simpler Christians seem to win so easily.
Morning and night the widow and her stepdaughter read the Bible together; morning and night they knelt side by side to join in the same familiar prayers : yet all these readings, and all these prayers, failed to bring them any nearer together. No tender sentence of inspiration, not the words of Christ Himself, ever struck the same chord in these two women's hearts, bringing both into sudden unison. They went to church three times upon each dreary Sunday—dreary from the terrible uniformity which made one day a mechanical repetition of another, and sat together in the same pew; and there were times when some solemn word, some sublime injunction, seemed to fall with a new meaning upon the orphan girl's heart; but if she looked at her stepmother's face, thinking to see some ray of that sudden light which had newly shone into her own mind reflected there, the blank gloom of Olivia's countenance seemed like a dead wall, across which no glimmer of radiance ever shone.
They went back to Marchmont Towers in the early spring. People imagined that the young widow would cultivate the society of her husband's old friends, and that morning callers would be welcome at the Towers, and the stately dinner-parties would begin again, when Mrs. Marchmont's year of mourning was over. But it was not so; Olivia closed her doors upon almost all society, and devoted lierself entirely to the education of her stepdaughter. The gossips of Swampington and Kemberling; the county gentry who had talked of her piety and patience ; her unflinching devotion to the poor of her father's parish; talked now of her self-abnegation; the sacrifices she made for her stepdaughter's sake; the noble manner in which she justified John Marchmont's confidence in her goodness. Other women would have intrusted the heiress's education to some hired governess, people said; other women would have been upon the look-out for a second husband; other women would have grown weary of the dullness of that lonely Lincolnshire mansion, the monotonous society of a girl of sixteen. They were never tired of lauding Mrs. Marchmont as a model for all stepmothers in time to come.
Did she sacrifice much, this woman, whose spirit was a raging fire, who had the ambition of a Semiramis, the courage of a Boadicea, the resolution of a Lady Macbeth ? Did she sacrifice much in resigning such provincial gaieties as might have adorned her life,—a few dinner-parties, an occasional county-ball, a flirtation with some ponderous landed gentleman or hunting squire ?
No; these things would very soon have grown odious to her; more odious than the monotony of her empty life, more wearisome even than the perpetual weariness of her own spirit. I said that, when she accepted a new life by becoming the wife of John Marchmont, she acted in the spirit of a prisoner who is glad to exchange his old dungeon for a new
one. But, alas, the novelty of the prison-house had very speedily worn off, and that which Olivia Arundel had been at Swampington Rectory, Olivia Marchmont was now in the gaunt country mansion,-a wretched woman, weary of herself and all the world, devoured by a slow-consuming and perpetual fire.
This woman was for two long melancholy years Mary Marchmont's sole companion and instructress. I say sole companion advisedly; for the girl was not allowed to become intimate with the younger members of such few county families as still called occasionally at the Towers, lest she should become empty-headed and frivolous by such companionship, Olivia said. Alas, there was little fear of Mary's becoming empty-leaded. As she grew taller and more slender, she seemed to get weaker and paler, and her heavy head drooped wearily under the load of knowledge which it had been made to carry, like some poor sickly flower oppressed by the weight of the dew-drops which would have revivified a hardier blossom.
Heaven knows to what end Mrs. Marchmont educated her stepdaughter. Poor Mary could have told the precise date of any event in universal history, ancient or modern ; she could have named the exact latitude and longitude of the remotest island in the least navigable ocean, and might have given an accurate account of the manners and customs of its inhabitants, had she been called upon to do so. alarmingly learned upon the subject of tertiary and old red sandstone, and could have told you almost as much as Mr. Charles Kingsley himself about the history of a gravel-pit,—though I doubt if she could have conveyed her information in quite such a pleasant manner ; she could have pointed out every star in the broad heavens above Lincolnshire, and could have told the history of its discovery; she knew the hardest names that science had given to the familiar field-flowers she met in her daily walks ;
- yet I cannot say that her conversation was any the more brilliant because of this, or that her spirits grew any the lighter under the influence of this general mental illumination.
But Mrs. Marchmont did most earnestly believe that this laborious educationary process was one of the duties she owed her stepdaughter; and when, at seventeen years of age, Mary emerged from the struggle, laden with such intellectual spoils as I have described above, the widow felt a quiet satisfaction as she contemplated her work, and said to herself, “ In this, at least, I have done my duty."
Amongst all the dreary mass of instruction beneath which her health had very nearly succumbed, the girl had learned one thing that was a source of pleasure to herself. She had learned to become a very brilliant musician. She was not a musical genius, remember; for no such vivid flame as the fire of genius had ever burned in her gentle breast; but all the tenderness of her nature, all the poetry of a hyper-poetical mind, centred in this one accomplishment, and, condemned to perpetual silence in every other tongue, found a new and glorious language here. The