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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 12 - Chapter 10
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What Will He Do With It - Book 12 - Chapter 10 Post by :Donna_Maher Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2162

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What Will He Do With It - Book 12 - Chapter 10



Lady Montfort has arrived at Clare Cottage. She is shown by Bridget Greggs into a small room upon the first floor; folding-doors to some other room closely shut--evidences of sickness in the house;--phials on the chimneypiece--a tray with a broth-basin on the table--a saucepan on the hob--the sofa one of those that serve as a bed, which Sleep little visits, for one who may watch through the night over some helpless sufferer--a woman's shawl thrown carelessly over its hard narrow bolster;--all, in short, betraying that pathetic untidiness and discomfort which says that a despot is in the house to whose will order and form are subordinate;--the imperious Tyranny of Disease establishing itself in a life that, within those four walls, has a value not to be measured by its worth to the world beyond. The more feeble and helpless the sufferer, the more sovereign the despotism--the more submissive the servitude.

In a minute or two one of the folding-doors silently opened and as silently closed, admitting into Lady Montfort's presence a grim woman in iron grey.

Caroline could not, at the first glance, recognise that Arabella Fossett, of whose handsome, if somewhat too strongly defined and sombre countenance, she had retained a faithful reminiscence. But Arabella had still the same imposing manner which had often repressed the gay spirits of her young pupil; and as she now motioned the great lady to a seat, and placed herself beside, an awed recollection of the schoolroom bowed Caroline's lovely head in mute respect.

MRS. CRANE.--"You too are changed since I saw you last,--that was more than five years ago, but you are not less beautiful. You can still be loved;--you would not scare away the man whom you might desire to save. Sorrow has its partialities. Do you know that I have a cause to be grateful to you, without any merit of your own. In a very dark moment of my life--only vindictive and evil passions crowding on me--your face came across my sight. Goodness seemed there so beautiful--and, in this face, Evil looked so haggard! Do not interrupt me. I have but few minutes to spare you. Yes; at the sight of that face, gentle recollections rose up. You had ever been kind to me; and truthful, Caroline Lyndsay--truthful. Other thoughts came at the beam of that face, as other thoughts come when a strain of unexpected music reminds us of former days. I cannot tell how, but from that moment a something more like womanhood, than I had known for years, entered into my heart. Within that same hour I was sorely tried galled to the quick of my soul. Had I not seen you before, I might have dreamed of nothing but a stern and dire revenge. And a purpose of revenge I did form. But it was not to destroy-it was to save! I resolved that the man who laughed to scorn the idea of vows due to me--vows to bind life to life--should yet sooner or later be as firmly mine as if he had kept his troth; that my troth at least should be kept to him, as if it had been uttered at the altar.

"Hush, did you hear a moan?--No! He lies yonder, Caroline Lyndsay--mine, indeed, till the grave us do part. These hands have closed over him, and he rests in their clasp, helpless as an infant." Involuntarily Caroline recoiled. But looking into that careworn face, there was in it so wild a mixture of melancholy tenderness, with a resolved and fierce expression of triumph, that, more impressed by the tenderness than by the triumph, the woman sympathised with the woman; and Caroline again drew near, nearer than before, and in her deep soft eyes pity alone was seen. Into those eyes Arabella looked, as if spellbound, and the darker and sterner expression in her own face gradually relaxed and fled, and only the melancholy tenderness was left behind. She resumed:

"I said to Guy Darrell that I would learn, if possible, whether the poor child whom I ill-used in my most wicked days, and whom you, it seems, have so benignly sheltered, was the daughter of Matilda--or, as he believed, of a yet more hateful mother. Long ago I had conceived a suspicion that there was some ground to doubt poor Jasper's assertion, for I had chanced to see two letters addressed to him--one from that Gabrielle Desinarets whose influence over his life had been so baleful--in which she spoke of some guilty plunder with which she was coming to London, and invited him again to join his fortunes with her own. Oh, but the cold, bloodless villany of the tone!--the ease with which crimes for a gibbet were treated as topics for wit!" Arabella stopped--the same shudder came over her as when she had concluded the epistles abstracted from the dainty pocketbook. "But in the letter were also allusions to Sophy, to another attempt on Darrell to be made by Gabrielle herself. Nothing very clear; but a doubt did suggest itself--'Is she writing to him about his own child?' The other letter was from the French nurse with whom Sophy had been placed as an infant. It related to inquiries in person, and a visit to her own house, which Mr. Darrell had recently made; that letter also seemed to imply some deception, though but by a few dubious words. At that time the chief effect of the suspicion these letters caused was but to make me more bent on repairing to Sophy my cruelties to her childhood. What if I had been cruel to an infant who, after all, was not the daughter of that false, false Matilda Darrell! I kept in my memory the French nurse's address. I thought that when in France I might seek and question her. But I lived only for one absorbing end. Sophy was not then in danger; and even my suspicions as to her birth died away. Pass on:--Guy Darrell! Ah, Lady Montfort! his life has been embittered like mine; but he was man, and could bear it better. He has known, himself, the misery of broken faith, of betrayed affection, which he could pity so little when its blight fell on me; but you have excuse for desertion--you yourself were deceived; and I pardon him, for he pardoned Jasper, and we are fellow-sufferers. You weep! Pardon my rudeness. I did not mean to pain you. Try and listen calmly--I must hurry on. On leaving Mr. Darrell I crossed to France. I saw the nurse; I have ascertained the truth; here are the proofs in this packet. I came back--I saw Jasper Losely. He was on the eve of seeking you, whom he had already so wronged--of claiming the child, or rather of extorting money for the renunciation of a claim to one whom you had adopted. I told him how vainly he had hitherto sought to fly from me. One by one I recited the guilty schemes in which I had baffled his purpose--all the dangers from which I had rescued his life. I commanded him to forbear the project he had then commenced. I told him I would frustrate that project as I had frustrated others. Alas, alas! why is this tongue so harsh?--why does this face so belie the idea of human kindness? I did but enrage and madden him; he felt but the reckless impulse to destroy the life that then stood between himself and the objects to which he had pledged his own self-destruction. I thought I should die by his hand. I did not quail. Ah! the ghastly change that came over his face--the one glance of amaze and superstitious horror; his arm obeyed him not; his strength, his limbs, forsook him; he fell at my feet--one side of him stricken dead! Hist! that is his voice--pardon me!" and Arabella flitted from the room, leaving the door ajar.

A feeble Voice, like the treble of an infirm old man, came painfully to Caroline's ear.

"I want to turn; help me. Why am I left alone? It is cruel to leave me so--cruel!"

In the softest tones to which that harsh voice could be tuned, the grim woman apologised and soothed.

"You gave me leave, Jasper dear. You said it would be a relief to you to have her pardon as well as theirs."

"Whose pardon?" asked the voice querulously.

"Caroline Lyndsay's--Lady Montfort's."

"Nonsense! What did I ever do against her? Oh--ah! I remember now. Don't let me have it over again. Yes--she pardons me, I suppose! Get me my broth, and don't be long!"

Arabella came back, closing the door; and while she busied herself with that precious saucepan on the hob--to which the Marchioness of Montfort had become a very secondary object--she said, looking towards Caroline from under her iron-grey ringlets:

"You heard--he misses me! He can't bear me out of his sight now--me, me! You heard!"

Meekly Lady Montfort advanced, bringing in her hand the tray with the broth-basin.

"Yes, I heard! I must not keep you; but let me help while I stay."

So the broth was poured forth and prepared, and with it Arabella disappeared. She returned in a few minutes, beckoned to Caroline, and said in a low voice:

"Come in--say you forgive him! Oh, you need not fear him; a babe could not fear him now!"

Caroline followed Arabella into the sick-room. No untidiness there; all so carefully, thoughtfully arranged. A pleasant room, too--with windows looking full on the sunniest side of the Vale of Health; the hearth so cheerily clear, swept so clean--the very ashes out of sight; flowers--costly exotics--on the table, on the mantelpiece; the couch drawn towards the window; and on that couch, in the gay rich dressing-gown of former days, warm coverlets heaped on the feet, snow-white pillows propping the head, lay what at first seemed a vague, undistinguishable mass--lay what, as the step advanced, and the eye became more accurately searching, grew into Jasper Losely.

Yes, there, too weak indeed for a babe to fear, lay all that was left of the Strong Man! No enemy but himself had brought him thus low-spendthrift, and swindler, and robber of his own priceless treasures--Health and Strength--those grand rent-rolls of joy which Nature had made his inheritance. As a tree that is crumbling to dust under the gnarls of its bark seems, the moment ere it falls, proof against time and the tempest, so, within all decayed, stood that image of strength-so, air scarcely stirring, it fell. "And the pitcher was broken at the fountain; and the wheel was broken at the cistern; vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher."

Jasper turned his dull eye towards Caroline, as she came softly to his side, and looked at her with a piteous gaze. The stroke that had shattered the form had spared the face; and illness and compulsory abstinence from habitual stimulants had taken from the aspect much of the coarseness--whether of shape or colour--that of late years had disfigured its outline--and supplied the delicacy which ends with youth by the delicacy that comes with the approach of death. So that, in no small degree, the beauty which had been to him so fatal a gift, was once more visible--the features growing again distinct, as wanness succeeded to the hues of intemperance, and emaciation to the bloated cheeks and swollen muscle. The goddess whose boons adorn the outward shell of the human spirit came back to her favourite's death-couch as she had come to the cradle--not now as the Venus Erycina, goddess of Smile and Jest, but as the warning Venus Libitina, the goddess of Doom and the Funeral.

"I'm a very poor creature," said Jasper, after a pause. "I can't rise--I can't move without help. Very strange supernatural! She always said that if I raised my hand against her, it would fall palsied!" He turned his eye towards Arabella with a glare of angry terror. "She is a witch!" he said, and buried his face in the pillow. Tears rolled down the grim woman's cheeks.

LADY MONTFORT.--"She is rather your good ministering spirit. Do not be unkind to her. Over her you have more power now than you had when you were well and strong. She lives but to serve you; command her gently."

Jasper was not proof against that sweet voice. With difficulty he wrenched himself round, and again looked long at Caroline Montfort, as if the sight did him good; then he made a sign to Arabella, who flew to his side and raised him.

"I have been a sad dog," he said, with a mournful attempt at the old rollicking tone--"a very sad dog-in short, a villain! But all ladies are indulgent to villains in fact, prefer them! Never knew a lady who could endure 'a good young man'--never! So I am sure you will forgive me, miss--ma'am. Who is this lady? When it comes to forgiveness, there are so many of them! Oh, I remember now--your ladyship will forgive me--'tis all down in black and white what I've done-Belles has it. You see this hand--I can write with this hand--this is not paralysed.

"This is not the hand I tried to raise against her. But _basta, basta! where was I? My poor head! I know what it is to have a head now!--ache, ache!--boom, boom-weight, weight-heavy as a church bell-hollow as a church bell--noisy as a church bell! Brandy! give me brandy, you witch!--I mean Bella, good Bella, give me brandy!"

"Not yet, Jasper dear. You are to have it every third hour; it is not time yet, dearest; you must attend to the doctor, and try to get well and recover your strength. You remember I told you how kind Lady Montfort had been to your father, and you wished to see and thank her."

"My father--my poor, poor father! You've been kind to him! Bless you, bless you! And you will see him? I want his pardon before I die. Don't forget, and--and--"

"Poor Sophy!" said Mrs. Crane.

"Ah yes! But she's well off now, you tell me. I can't think I have injured her. And really girls and women are intended to be a little useful to one. _Basta, basta_."'

"Mr. Darrell--"

"Yes, yes, yes! I forgive him, or he forgives me; settle it as you like. But my father's pardon, Lady Montfort, you will get me that!"

"I will, I will."

He looked at her again, and smiled. Arabella gently let his head fall back upon the pillow.

"Throw a handkerchief over my face," he said feebly, "and leave me; but be in call; I feel sleepy." His eyes closed; he seemed asleep even before they stole from the room.

"You will bring his father to him?" said Arabella, when she and Lady Montfort were again alone. "In this packet is Jasper's confession of the robbery for which that poor old man suffered. I never knew of that before. But you see how mild he is now!--how his heart is changed; it is indeed changed more than he shows; only you have seen him at the worst--his mind wanders a little to-day; it does sometimes. I have a favour to ask of you. I once heard a preacher, not many months ago; he affected me as no preacher ever did before. I was told that he was Colonel Morley's nephew. Will you ask Colonel Morley to persuade him to come to Jasper?"

"My cousin, George Morley! He shall come, I promise you; so shall your poor patient's forgiving father. Is there more I can do?"

"No. Explain to Mr. Darrell the reason why I have so long delayed sending to him the communication which he will find in the packet I have given to you, and which you will first open, reading the contents yourself--a part of them, at least, in Jasper's attestation of his stratagem to break off your marriage with Mr. Darrell, may yet be of some value to you--you had better also show the papers to Colonel Morley--he may complete the task. I had meant, on returning to England, or before seeing Mr. Darrell, to make the inquiries which you will see are still necessary. But then came this terrible affliction! I have been able to think of nothing else but Jasper;--terrible to quit the house which contains him for an hour; only, when Dr. F. told me that he was attending you, that you were ill and suffering, I resolved to add to this packet Jasper's own confession. Ah, and he gave it so readily, and went yesterday through the fatigue of writing with such good heart. I tell you that there is a change within him--there is there is. Well, well--I resolved to give you the packet to transmit to Mr. Darrell, for somehow or other I connected your illness with your visit to him at Fawley!"

"My visit to Mr. Darrell!"

"Jasper saw you as your carriage drove from the park gate, not very many days since. Ah, you change colour! You have wronged that man; repair the wrong; you have the power!"

"Alas! no," murmured Caroline, "I have not the power."

"Pooh!--he loves you still. You are not one of those whom men forget."

Caroline was silent, but involuntarily she lowered her veil. In an instant the acute sense of the grim woman detected the truth.

"Ah! Pride--pride in both," she said. "I understand--I dare not blame him here. But you--you were the injurer; you have no right to pride; you will see him again."

"No--never--never!" faltered Caroline, with accents scarcely audible under her veil.

Arabella was silent for a moment, and Lady Montfort rose hastily to depart.

"You will see him again, I tell you;" and Arabella then following her to the door:

"Stay; do you think HE will die?"

"Good heavens! Mr. Darrell?"

"No, no--Jasper Losely!"

"I hope not. What does Dr. F. say?"

"He will not tell me. But it is not the paralysis alone; he might recover from that--so young still. There are other symptoms; that dreadful habit of stimulants! He sinks if he has them not--they hasten death if he has. But--but--but--HE IS MINE, AND MINE ONLY, TO THE GRAVE--NOW!"

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