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and the chill and bitter fury with which his features seemed to change into the set coldness of stone, as he motioned him away, too low and too contemptible a foe to honour by laying his hand upon him.
“ Begone, or your insolence will cost you dear. How dare you, you hound, come before me again.”
“ Hound! Humph! Wasn't it true what I said, Major ?" asked Raymond, with a smile. “Wouldn't you give a good deal to anybody who made a free man of you again ?"
Without stopping for a minute to consider what might be the import of his words, stung past endurance by the impudent leer with which the man dared to address him, De Vigne, ever quick to make his muscle do battle for him, and apt to revenge insults as his ancestors had used to do in ages less polite and perhaps-less cowardly, seized Raymond by his coat-collar--the man's presence was sacrilege beside his mother's grave - lifted him up, and Aung him across the fence on to the grass and ferns and wild thyme of the churchyard beyond.
" Learn how I bear insult from curs like you! A month at the treadmill will do you good.”
“Bien obligé, monsieur,” muttered Raymond, as he gathered himself slowly up from his turfy bed. “Your grasp is no child's play, Major ! But listen one moment, sir; do listen. I mean you no insult, by Heaven I don't! I ask, because I can tell you what may be of great importance. If I could make your wife not your wife, would you listen to me then, sir ?"
Like lightning the blood leapt through his veins at the words “ your wife not your wife.” The simple thought put suddenly before him brought with it too strong a rush of possible joy, too delicious a vision of what might be, for him to hear it calmly or retain his self-possession and reserve!
“ Not my wife!” he muttered, his voice hoarse and stifed in its agony of suspense. “Good God! Have you warrant for what you say?"
“ Full warrant, Major. I can do for you what no divorce laws can, thanks to the timorous fools that frame them. If those gentlemen were all fettered themselves, they'd make the gate go a little easier to open. I can set you free, but how I won't tell you till we come a little to terms."
Free! Not to Bonnevard, pining in the darkness and wretchedness of Chillon, did freedom, even in its simple suggestion, bring such a flood of delirious joy as it brought to him. Free! Great Heaven! the very thought maddened him with eager, impatient, breathless thirst for certainty, mingled with the cold, chill, horrible doubt that the man was cheating, misleading, and deceiving him. He sprang over the fence to his side, and seized him in a grasp that he would have vainly striven to shake off.
“ Great Heaven! If you have truth in what you say, tell me all-all -at once; do you hear?-all !"
“Gently, gently, Major,” said Raymond, wincing under the grasp that held him as firmly as an iron vice, “or I shall have no breath to tell you anything. I can set you free, sir; and I don't wonder you wish to be rid of her! But before I tell you how, you must tell me if you will give me the proper price for information.”
De Vigne shook him like a little dog.
“Scoundrel! Do you think I will make a compact with such as you ? Out with all you know, and I will reward you for it afterwards; out with it, or if it be a hoax it will be the worse for you !"
“But, Major,” persisted the man, halting for breath, “ if I tell you all first, what gage have I that you will not act on my information, and never give me a farthing ?”
“My word!" gasped De Vigne, hurling the answer down his throat. “Do you think me such another scoundrel as yourself? Speak; do you hear? Is she not my wife?"
“No, Major; because she was mine first !"
De Vigne staggered against the fence, dizzy and blind with the delirium of his sudden liberty, the unloosing of those cruel fetters fastened on him by Church and Law, which had clung to him, festering to his very bone, and bowing him down with their unbearable weight Free! from the curse that had so long pursued him; free from that hateful tie that had so long made life loathsome to him ; free from that she devil who so long had made him shun all of her sex, as men shun poisons they have once imbibed to the ruin of health and strength! Free, his name once more his own, purified from the taint of her claim upon it; free !--his home once more his own, purged from the dark and haunting memories of an irremediable past; free from the bitterness of his own folly, so long repented of in agony and solitude; free to cast from him by law, as he had long done from heart and mind, the woman whom he loathed and hated; free to recompense with honour in the sight of men the strong and faithful love which would have given up all for his sake, and followed him withersoever he should choose to lead, content if she were by his side to go with him to any fate.
Dizzy and blind and breathless with the strength of the new-born hope, he staggered against the grey and ivy-tangled wall of the church, and forgetful of Raymond's presence, seeing, hearing, heeding nothing, save that one word - free! the blood flowing with fever-heat through all his veins, every nerve in his body throbbing and thrilling with the electric shock.
He covered his eyes with his hand, like a man dazzled with the sudden radiance of a noontide sun. Then he grasped Raymond's arın again.
“Will you swear that?"
“ Yes, sir, on the Bible, and before all the courts and judges in the - land, if you like."
De Vigne gave one quick, deep sigh, flinging off from him for ever the iron burden of many years.
“ Tell me all, then, quick, from beginning to end, and give me all your proofs.”
He spoke with all the eager, wayward, restless impatience of his boyhood; the old light gleamed in his eyes, the old music rang in his voice. The chains were struck off; he was free!
“Very well, sir. I must go back a good many years, and make a long story of it. Nineteen years ago--'tisn't pleasant to look back so long, sir -Lucy Davis, the handsome milliner of Frestonhills, was a very dashing-looking girl-as you thought, Major, at that time-and I was twentytwo, always weak where women were concerned, and much more easily taken in than I was when I had seen a little more of human nature. My name was Trefusis, sir, not Raymond at all. I took an alias when I entered your service. My father was a Newmarket leg, and he made a good pot of money one way and another; and he had more gentlemen in his power, and more of your peerage swells, sir, under his dirty old thumb, knowing all that he knew, and having done for 'em all that he had done, than you'd believe if I was to swear it to you. He wanted to make a gentleman of me. 'Charlie, my boy,' he used to say, with brains and tin you may be as good as them swells any day; they hain't no sort of business to look down on you. I've done dirty work enough to serve them, I reckon. He wanted to make a gentleman of me, and he gave me a capital education, and more money and fine clothes than any boy in the school. But what's bred in the bone, sir, will come out in the flesh. He went to glory when I was about eighteen, sir, leaving me all his tin to do just whatever I liked with, and not a soul to say me nay. I soon spent it, sir ; every stiver was gone in no time. I bought horses, and jewellery, and wine. I betted, I played ; in short, I made ducks and drakes with it in a very few years with a lot of idle young dogs like myself; for though the money would have bought me a very good business, or kept me straight if I'd lived closely and quietly, it wasn't enough to dash with as if I'd had a fortune at my fingers' ends, like yours, sir. But I was a weak young fool in those days, specially weak about women; a handsome woman might turn me round her finger just however she chose, and I'd Do strength whatever against her. High and low, Major, men are all alike for the beaux yeux. Jimmy Jarvis you will have heard of hin, sir?-Jimmy was going to have a mill with the Brownlow Boy, at Greystone Green (perhaps you remember that's only two miles out of Frestonhills), and I went down with two or three others to see the fight. While I was in Frestonhills, sir, I saw Lucy Davis in the milliner's shop in High-street, and I fell straight in love with her for her great black eyes and her bright carnation colour. I thought I'd never seen anything half so handsome in all my days; and she was a magnificent girl at that time, sir-magnificent without a doubt. If she'd been a duchess's daughter people would have made a fine row about her. I went to church to see her the next day, and bowed to her coming out; and so we got acquainted, sir, and I fell more and more in love, and I wouldn't have stirred from Frestonhills just then to have made my fortune. That was a year after you had left, sir. But I knew nothing about your affair, sir, thentrust her!”
(Oh! for the woods of Vigne to hear a valet talk as rival to their lord. Yet in the olden times, in their hot youth and their inflammable passions, I dare say those haughty gentlemen had whispered love-vows to their mother's fair.faced handmaiden, and looked into the soft brown eyes of Sybil, the forest-ranger's daughter, under the cool shadows of those very elms, long midsummers before; for a young man's taste is easily pleased, and, in youth, we ask no more than the bloom on the lip and the tint on the cheek.) . “I was in love with her; I made myself out a gentleman; I talked
grand of marble halls and gorgeous doings, like Claude Melnotte; I bought her presents fit for a countess ; I set all my wits to work to win her, and she was a very hard-mouthed, touchy young filly at that time, sir, with a very careful eye to her own interests, and very sure not to do anything till she thought it was for her own advantage. At seventeen, sir, Lucy was a shrewd, calculating, hard-hearted woman of the world, an intrigante to do young fellows by the dozen. Half the women that go to the bad, sir, do it because bad is their bias—because they like vice better than virtue, find it more lucrative, and it pleases their vanity or their avarice. Love has very little to do with it, sir; there are bad women as well as bad men, I take it, though the papers and the preachers do term them all innocent angels! Well! I was in love with Lucy, and she thought me a man of fashion and of fortune, and married me; the register is in the church of Frestonhills; you can see it, sir, any day you like. In six months I thought myself a very great fool for having fettered myself—most people think so, sir, some time or other, poor folks even more than rich. Lucy's temper was that of a devil_always had beenand when she found out that all my riches would very soon make themselves wings and Alee away, you may suppose it was not softened very much. She helped me to spend my money, sir, for twelve months, leading me about as wretched a life as any woman could lead a man. We lived chiefly abroad, sir, in Paris, and at the German Baths; then the tin was all gone, and Lucy grew a very virago, and, as she had taken me only out of ambition, it was a hard cut to her, I dare say, to find me a mere nobody, with nothing at all to speak of in the way of money, much less of rank. She led me a shocking life, sir. We parted by mutual consent; we could not get on at all, and we hated each other cor. dially. I left her at Wiesbaden, and went my own ways; she had spent every shilling I had. Some time after I was fool enough to forge a cheque; it was found out, and they shipped me off to the colonies, and Lucy was free of me. Some years after, I learnt what she did with herself; at Wiesbaden old Lady Fantyre was staying, rouging, gambling, and living by her wits, as you know she always has done, sir, ever since anybody can remember her. She saw Lucy at the Kursaal, and Lucy had improved wonderfully in twelve months : she could get up a smattering of things very fast; she could dress well on little or nothing; she bad quick wits, and a haughty, defiant, knock-me-down manner that concealed all her ignorance, and carried everything before her. Old Fantyre took a fancy to her; she wanted to have a companion, somebody to make her up well for the evenings, and read her dirty novels to her, and humour her caprices, and amuse the young fellows at her little card-parties while she fleeced them at écarté or vingtet-un. Lucy seemed just fit for her place. She didn't know she was married; Lucy made herself out an innocent, unprotected girl, whom you, sir, had deserted in an abominable way, and old Fantyre took her into her service. She thought Lucy's handsome black eyes would draw plenty of greenhorns to her supper-table and her cards, and you know, sir, the cards have always been the old lady's bankers, and very good ones, too, or I mistake. Now, Lucy was an uncommonly clever girl, hard-hearted and sharp-sighted; she humoured the old woman, she made herself necessary to her, she chimed in with all her sayings, she listened
to all her stories, she got into her good graces, and made her do pretty well what she chose. You remember, sir, perhaps, that when you and Lucy parted at Frestonhills she told you she'd be revenged on you. She isn't a woman to forget : if a cat scratched her, and she met that cat again ten years afterwards, she'd recognise it, and punish it. She'd kept you steadily in her mind, and meant to pay you off for it one fine day, whenever occasion served. She'd set her heart on punishing you the bitterest way she could, and thought, and planned, and schemed till she'd got it all complete. She told Lady Fantyre about you, and she induced her to think that if she could catch you and marry you, what a capital thing it would be for both of them, and how royally they could help you to spend your fortune.
"I must tell you, Lucy had heard that the government ship that had taken me out to Botany Bay had foundered, and she didn't know that I and a few others had managed to drift in the jolly-boat till an American cruiser picked us up. She thought I was drowned, or else she would have been a vast lot too wide awake to go in for bigamy. Old Fantyre listened, agreed, and took her to England, and introduced her as her niece. There, as you know, sir, you met her, and fell into her toils again. I don't wonder you did not know her; I never should. Years and society and dress, and the education she'd given herself, made such a difference. And how should you think of Lady Fantyre's niece being the same with the milliner girl of Frestonhills High-street? And she was far handsomer then than she had been at sixteen. She caught you, sir—you know how better than I; and at the church her devilish nature came out, and she took the worst revenge she could on you, by proclaiming who she was before all your friends. She knew if you'd only found it out afterwards, you'd have hidden it in your own heart ; the world would have been none the wiser, and she'd have been cheated of half her revenge. Four years after you had married her, I came to Europe. I'd been staying in the United States, till I thought all fear of my being recognised for that bygone little affair had blown over; and I went as valet to the Duc de Vermuth. I often wondered what had become of my wife; till one Sunday, when I went to the Pré Catalan, I saw a lady in a carriage, talking and laughing with a number of young fellows round her. She was a remarkably fine-looking woman, and something in her face struck me as like my wife. At that minute she saw me. She turned as white as her rouge would let her, gave a sort of scream, and stared at me. Perhaps she thought she saw my ghost. At any rate, she pulled the check-string, and drove away from me as fast as she could, whether I was in the spirit or the flesh. Of course I didn't let her give me the slip like that. I followed her to a dashing hotel in the Champs Elysées, and just as she stepped on the pavé, after her grand green and gold chasseur, I stepped up to her, and just said, "Well, old girl, how are you?' Horrible she looked—as if she longed to kill me and, indeed, I dare say she did. She signed me to silence, and said, "Not now; come at eight this evening.' I went; and she told me all her story, and offered me, if I would keep quiet and tell nobody she was my wife, to go shares with me in the money you allowed her provided she lived out of England. I thought about it a little. I saw I should get nothing by proclaiming our marriage. I closed with her, and I lived at my ease. But she grew screwy;