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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 10 - Chapter 3
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What Will He Do With It - Book 10 - Chapter 3 Post by :golferboy Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1753

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What Will He Do With It - Book 10 - Chapter 3



Arabella Crane entered the room: Darrell hesitated--the remembrances attached to her were so painful and repugnant. But did he not now owe to her perhaps his very life? He passed his hand rapidly over his brow, as if to sweep away all earlier recollections, and, advancing quickly, extended that hand to her. The stern woman shook her head, and rejected the proffered greeting.

"You owe me no thanks," she said, in her harsh, ungracious accents; "I sought to save not you, but him."

"How!" said Darrell, startled; "you feel no resentment against the man who injured and betrayed you?"

"What my feelings may be towards him are not for you to conjecture; man could not conjecture them; I am woman. What they once were I might blush for; what they are now, I could own without shame. But you, Mr. Darrell,--you, in the hour of my uttermost anguish, when all my future was laid desolate, and the world lay crushed at my feet--you--man, chivalrous man!--you had for me no human compassion--you thrust me in scorn from your doors--you saw in my woe nothing but my error--you sent me forth, stripped of reputation, branded by your contempt, to famine or to suicide. And you wonder that I feel less resentment against him who wronged me than against you, who, knowing me wronged, only disdained my grief. The answer is plain--the scorn of the man she only reverenced leaves to a woman no memory to mitigate its bitterness and gall. The wrongs inflicted by the man she loved may leave, what they have left to me, an undying sense of a past existence--radiant, joyous, hopeful; of a time when the earth seemed covered with blossoms, just ready to burst into bloom; when the skies through their haze took the rose-hues as the sun seemed about to rise. The memory that I once was happy, at least then, I owe to him who injured and betrayed me. To you, when happiness was lost to me forever, what do I owe? Tell me."

Struck by her words, more by her impressive manner, though not recognising the plea by which the defendant thus raised herself into the accuser, Darrell answered gently "Pardon me; this is no moment to revive recollections of anger on my part; but reflect, I entreat you, and you will feel that I was not too harsh. In the same position any other man would not have been less severe."

"Any other man!" she exclaimed; "ay, possibly! but would the scorn of any other man so have crushed self-esteem? The injuries of the wicked do not sour us against the good; but the scoff of the good leaves us malignant against virtue itself. Any other man! Tut! Genius is bound to be indulgent. It should know human errors so well--has, with its large luminous forces, such errors itself when it deigns to be human, that, where others may scorn, genius should only pity." She paused a moment, and then slowly resumed. "And pity was my due. Had you, or had any one lofty as yourself in reputed honour, but said to me, 'Thou hast sinned, thou must suffer; but sin itself needs compassion, and compassion forbids thee to despair,' why, then, I might have been gentler to the things of earth, and less steeled against the influences of Heaven than I have been. That is all no matter now. Mr. Darrell, I would not part from you with angry and bitter sentiments. Colonel Morley tells me that you have not only let the man, whom we need not name, go free, but that you have guarded the secret of his designs. For this I thank you. I thank you, because what is left of that blasted and deformed existence I have taken into mine. And I would save that man from his own devices as I would save my soul from its own temptations. Are you large-hearted enough to comprehend me? Look in my face--you have seen his; all earthly love is erased and blotted out of both."

Guy Darrell bowed his head in respect that partook of awe.

"You, too," said the grim woman, after a pause, and approaching him nearer--"you, too, have loved, I am told, and you, too, were forsaken."

He recoiled and--shuddered.

"What is left to your heart of its ancient folly? I should like to know! I am curious to learn if there be a man who can feel as woman! Have you only resentment? have you only disdain? have you only vengeance? have you pity? or have you the jealous absorbing desire, surviving the affection from which it sprang, that still the life wrenched from you shall owe, despite itself, a melancholy allegiance to your own?"

Darrell impatiently waved his hand to forbid further questions; and it needed all his sense of the service this woman had just rendered him to repress his haughty displeasure at so close an approach to his torturing secrets.

Arabella's dark bright eyes rested on his knitted brow, for a moment, wistfully, musingly. Then she said: "I see! man's inflexible pride--no pardon there! But own, at least, that you have suffered."

"Suffered!" groaned Darrell involuntarily, and pressing his hand to his heart.

"You have!--and you own it! Fellow-sufferer, I have no more anger against you. Neither should pity, but let each respect the other. A few words more,--this child!"

"Ay--ay--this child! you will be truthful. You will not seek to deceive me--you know that she--she--claimed by that assassin, reared by his convict father--she is no daughter of my line!"

"What! would it then be no joy to know that your line did not close with yourself--that your child might--"

"Cease, madam, cease--it matters not to a man nor to a race when it perish, so that it perish at last with honour. Who would have either himself or his lineage live on into a day when the escutcheon is blotted and the name disgraced? No; if that be Matilda's child, tell me, and I will bear, as man may do, the last calamity which the will of Heaven may inflict. If, as I have all reason to think, the tale be an imposture, speak and give me the sole comfort to which I would cling amidst the ruin of all other hopes."

"Verily," said Arabella, with a kind of musing wonder in the tone of her softened voice; "verily, has a man's heart the same throb and fibre as a woman's? Had I a child like that blue-eyed wanderer with the frail form needing protection, and the brave spirit that ennobles softness, what would be my pride! my bliss! Talk of shame--disgrace! Fie--fie--the more the evil of others darkened one so innocent, the more cause to love and shelter her. But--I--am childless! Shall I tell you that the offence which lies heaviest on my conscience has been my cruelty to that girl? She was given an infant to my care. I saw in her the daughter of that false, false, mean, deceiving friend, who had taken my confidence, and bought, with her supposed heritage, the man sworn by all oaths to me. I saw in her, too, your descendant, your rightful heiress. I rejoiced in a revenge on your daughter and yourself. Think not I would have foisted her on your notice! No. I would have kept her without culture, without consciousness of a higher lot; and when I gave her up to her grandsire, the convict, it was a triumph to think that Matilda's child would be an outcast. Terrible thought! but I was mad then. But that poor convict whom you, in your worldly arrogance, so loftily despise--he took to his breast what was flung away as a worthless weed. And if the flower keep the promise of the bud, never flower so fair bloomed from your vaunted stem! And yet you would bless me if I said, 'Pass on, childless man; she is nothing to you!'"

"Madam, let us not argue. As you yourself justly imply, man's heart and woman's must each know throbs that never are, and never should be, familiar to the other. I repeat my question, and again I implore your answer."

"I cannot answer for certain; and I am fearful of answering at all, lest on a point so important I should mislead you. Matilda's child? Jasper affirmed it to me. His father believed him--I believed him. I never had the shadow of a doubt till--"

"Till what? For Heaven's sake speak."

"Till about five years ago, or somewhat more, I saw a letter from Gabrielle Desmarets, and--"

"Ah! which made you suspect, as I do, that the child is Gabrielle Desmaret's daughter."

Arabella reared her crest as a serpent before it strikes. "Gabrielle's daughter! You think so. Her child that I sheltered! Her child for whom I have just pleaded to you! Hers!" She suddenly became silent. Evidently that idea had never before struck her; evidently it now shocked her; evidently something was passing through her mind which did not allow that idea to be dismissed. As Darrell was about to address her, she exclaimed abruptly: "No! say no more now. You may hear from me again should I learn what may decide at least this doubt one way or the other. Farewell, sir."

"Not yet. Permit me to remind you that you have saved the life of a man whose wealth is immense."

"Mr. Darrell, my wealth in relation to my wants is perhaps immense as yours, for I do not spend what I possess."

"But this unhappy outlaw, whom you would save from himself, can henceforth be to you but a burthen and a charge. After what has passed to-night, I do tremble to think that penury may whisper other houses to rob, other lives to menace. Let me, then, place at your disposal, to be employed in such mode as you deem the best, a sum that may suffice to secure an object which we have in common."

"No, Mr. Darrell," said Arabella, fiercely; "whatever he be, never with my consent shall Jasper Losely be beholden to you for alms. If money can save him from shame and a dreadful death, that money shall be mine. I have said it. And, hark you, Mr. Darrell, what is repentance without atonement? I say not that I repent; but I do know that I seek to atone."

The iron-grey robe fluttered an instant, and then vanished from the room.

When Alban Morley returned to the library, he saw Darrell at the farther corner of the room, on his knees. Well might Guy Darrell thank Heaven for the mercies vouchsafed to him that night. Life preserved? Is that all? Might life yet be bettered and gladdened? Was there aught in the grim woman's words that might bequeath thoughts which reflection would ripen into influences over action?--aught that might suggest the cases in which, not ignobly, Pity might subjugate Scorn? In the royal abode of that Soul, does Pride only fortify Honour?--is it but the mild king, not the imperial despot? Would it blind, as its rival, the Reason? Would it chain, as a rebel, the Heart? Would it man the dominions, that might be serene, by the treasures it wastes-by the wars it provokes? Self-knowledge! self-knowledge! From Heaven, indeed, descends the precept, "KNOW THYSELF." That truth was told to us by the old heathen oracle. But what old heathen oracle has told us how to know?

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