npWO days after this, while I was in my husband’s library, he writing and I restlessly pacing from wall to wall, the door opened, and the groom of the chambers announced “Sir Thomas Juxton, of London.”
Mr. Huntingdon advanced to greet the stranger, and I turned to leave the room, for I noticed that even this newcomer glanced at me as did every one, that is, watchfully and suspiciously. Mr. Huntingdon, however, intercepted me, and, presenting the stranger as a physician who had come from London to see me, rolled a chair to me, and, placing me in it, sat down opposite.
Sir Thomas took my hand, felt my pulse, and then ensued a long crossquestioning as to my symptoms, during which I preserved an obstinate silenceI was, however, so irritated, that I at length dragged my hand forcibly away from his, and, pushing him from me, cried, “ Leave me ! You can do me no good unless you give me liberty.” No sooner had he left the room with Mr. Huntingdon than I bitterly repented having shown such impatience; the more I raged against my bonds the closer were they drawn,—gently, and almost imperceptibly, it is true, but most securely. I therefore resolved to call the doctor back, apologize for what I had said, and submit to whatever remedies he might propose. The sound of voices in the ante-room, as I opened the door, made me pause. Mr. Huntingdon was standing with his back to me, and the doctor was speaking. “ I never saw a clearer case in my life,” he was saying. “In fact, when I saw your lady in London, I anticipated nothing else ; though I had hopes that your unusual devotion, and the remedies which I proposed, might have arrested in some degree the progress of the disease. '
“You consider—her —incurable ? ” interrupted Mr. Huntingdon.
“ Entirely so ; indeed, my dear sir, it is best that I should not conceal the truth from you, painful as it is. There is absolutely no hope for your wife, and I should advise her immediate removal. Tut the subject, I see, is an unpleasant one to you, and I have no wish to prolong it unnecessarily. Good morning.”
Mr. Huntingdon immediately returned to the library, and, drawing his chair to the table, began to write. I, however, was determined to compel him to repeat what the doctor had said, and interrupted him with the request that he would listen to me for a moment. He assented by a slight inclination of the head, pushed his papers away, and, selecting a pen from the rack before him, began leisurely to mend it, assuming meanwhile an air of patient attention. Need I repeat that interview? Enough if I say that I, as usual, was agitated and confused, he calm and patient; that'at its close I really believed myself the prey to some dreadful disease, and that another attack of frenzy was the result.
I was more closely imprisoned than ever after that day, and never was my desire for liberty so strong. Unceasingly and cunningly did I speculate upon a means of escaping and sailing for some distant land, where he who held over me so absolute a sway could never come. It was on the 5th of August that 1 at length found means to elude the vigilance of the servants who watched me in Mr. Huntingdon’s absence. I remember well that hot, starlit night, the great house lit up. the deep, cool glades of the park, in one of which I concealed myself until deeper night should come, that under cover of it I might start away and be lost.
Soon after ten o’clock I proceeded on my way. I was anxious to strike a post road, and, if possible, take the night coach.-and I walked with a desperate haste which afterward seemed to me miraculous. I literally fled along the lonely road, and before long left the lights of Huntingdon far behind me. I began, however, to grow weary. My shoes were thin ; I was unaccustomed to walking; and the mad pace, which at first was a relief to me, at last became intolerably wearisome. Toiling on thus, I was overtaken by the coach, and, having paid a liberal fee to the guard, was taken up. Tired as I was, I dared not, could not sleep; I watched through the short summer night for the tramp of horses in pursuit, and glowed exultant at the thought that every hour bore me further and further away from my hated captivity.
We travelled all the following day, and at nightfall reached a hamlet in a far distant country. After assuring myself that a coach would pass through early in the morning, I prepared to alight.
It was too dark for me to see the group gathered round the coach, and I gave my hand to a gentleman who extended his to assist me. Although I could not see his face, I knew that firm velvet clasp ; and a chill ran through my veins, ami my heart paused in beating, as it closed over my hand. Mr. Huntingdon was there before me.
“ I have been waiting here some time for you,”he said ; “and, as our own carriage is ready, perhaps we had better continue our journey at once.”
I drew back, trembling and indignant ; but, taking me in his arms, be placed me forcibly in the carriage, and signed the postilions to proceed.
When we were fairly on our way, he bent towards me, and said : “ You will not find a repetition of last night’s attempt for your advantage.”
Before sunset on the following day I was once more in my apartments at Huntingdon Hall.
On the third day after our return, as I sat listlessly watching the lastfalling rain, the door of my room suddenly opened, and Mr. Huntingdon, appeared, followed by my maid, who carried my shawl and travelling-cloak on her arm, I noticed that she was herself dressed for travelling.
“Where are we going ?” said I. as she approached me.
“ Poor dear! ” said my maid. “ Think of her forgetting that now!”
“I have forgotten nothing,” I replied, as calmly as I could. “ Where are we going, Harrington ?
Mr. Huntingdon was engaged in giving an order to a servant who had followed him into the room. He suffered me to repeat my question before he spoke. “ You know that we are going to travel,” said he. quietly.
“I did not know it,” I replied, indignantly, “and you know that I did not.”
“ You wished to travel a day or two since. I was not prepared to accompany you then, and could not permit you to travel alone. Now we will travel, as I am anxious to gratify you.”
I laughed scornfully as I answered: “ You know perfectly that I am a prisoner here, and that my wishes are little regarded ; nowm, however, I insist upon knowing where I am to go.”
“You know already, Mrs. Huntingdon,” interrupted my maid, officiously. “ Dear me, madam, you Ye been all for going to France, J’m sure.”
[ had always disliked this woman, and the feeling that she despised me, and that she had seen me during my attacks of passion,—attacks the recollection of which mortified me deeply, — was not calculated to mollify my dislike. Of late she had not only watched me closely, but had assumed a patronizing, officious manner, which seemed to me insulting, t therefore replied, with some temper: “You are impertinent, and you at least shall not go with me. You — ”
“ Leave the room,” said Mr. Huntingdon. She obeyed instantly; and, offering his arm to me, he said: “ The carriage has already been waiting some time.”
“ Where are we going?” I answered, still lingering.
“ To France, as you already know,” he answered.
I took his arm without another word, but without feeling any reluctance with regard to the visit to France. Always and everywhere a prisoner, even a change of captivity was welcome to me ; and, besides, the journey offered another possibility of the escape for which I cherished an undiminished longing. We walked down stairs, therefore, and through the long corridor leading to the hall, in perfect silence : and as we approached the hall I heard a voice — my maid’s voice — declaiming loudly : “ Bless your heart, she’s more flighty now than ever,— quite violent, indeed, and master’s patience with her is something wonderful; and when she’s at her worst, screaming and tearing everything like a fury, he’s as cool and patient as can be. She’s only fit for the mad-house, and I hope she ’ll soon go there.”
I paused aghast as I heard this, and looked up at my husband. He had involuntarily slackened his pace to listen, and a slight, scarcely perceptible, smile curled his lips.
“ Can you permit your servants to speak thus of me?” I said.
“ Can I under any circumstances prevent them from observing your conduct?” he answered, composedly.
These words inflamed my already irritated temper to the utmost. The moment we entered the hall, I insisted, in the presence of the servants, that my maid should not accompany me on my journey, and that she should be instantly dismissed. A stormy' scene ensued, which was ended by'Mr. Huntingdon’s speaking for the first time, and saying that it should be as I wished. Immediately afterward we departed alone. The carriage, I saw, was heavily packed, as if for a long journey ; and during that journey, oppressed with grief, dread, and bodily fatigue, I addressed not one word to my husband, — I feared to do so. O, how I hated and feared, — how I fear him still!
And how he watched me ! Those clear sleepless eyes almost maddened me; and as I repeated inwardly to myself that I both feared and hated him, I shuddered, believing that he would divine my thoughts, and punish them as he alone knew how.
Four days after we left Huntingdon we reached a small seaport town, whence we were to embark for France. Our luggage and Servants had gone by a different route, and we were to sail on the following day. As we were walking that evening on the cliffs which overhung the sullen, swelling sea, I thought suddenly that there was the repose I had coveted so long. I had never thought of suicide before, though I had felt that loathing of existence which makes life valueless ; but now, as I thought, Death seemed to me my only friend, the grave, and its solemn, inviolable shelter, my last refuge. The white, curling waves seemed to beckon me with strange fascination, and, acting on the impulse of the moment, I dropped Mr. Huntingdon’s arm, saying that I was cold, and wanted my cloak. I expected that lie would at once leave me to seek it, as he rarely failed in any office of courtesy; but he passed his arm about me, and said, “Abandon the thought of suicide, Charlotte ; you will never have an opportunity to commit it, though your French blood may make the temptation a strong one.”
I made no reply, and suffered him to convey me back to our lodgings in silence ; but when we were fairly in our apartments, and the doors were closed, I confronted him.
“ Why did you not let me die ? ” I asked.
“ It was my duty to prevent you,” he answered, calmly.
“ You do not love me ? ”
“ Certainly not,” he said, with some surprise; “nor do I think that I ever pretended to do so.”
“ You once said you did.”
“ At Lascours ? Pardon me, I did not say so. I have not once violated the truth in anything I ever said to you.”
“You hate me now.”
“ No, I assure you.”
“ Then why did you not let me die ? ”
“ I have already answered that question,” said he, looking at his watch ; “ I can spare no more time.” And he opened a book. For once, however, my anger, rather than my fear, prevailed.
I darted forward, and snatched it from his hand.
“ You must not read now,” I said; “you shall listen to me.”
“To what purpose shall I listen?” he replied. “ Continue, however, to speak, if you prefer to do so.”
“You know well all that I have to say to you,” said I, struggling to restrain my tears.
“ It is possible ; but, if so, why do you persist in saying it?”
“ Harrington,” I answered, rising, and taking his hand, “tell me, for pity’s sake tell me, where I am going. Tell me why that physician came to see me ; tell me whether — ” I hesitated; the dark fear I had in my mind I could not shape in words, so much did I dread his reply,—“tell me,” I continued, “ whether you believe that I am what —that woman said.”
.“All those questions can be easily answered,” said Mr. Huntingdon. “You are going to a retreat which I have selected; that physician came to see you by my desire, and what I think of your mental condition I refuse to reveal.”
“ But I will know,” I replied. “ I will not longer submit in silence to treatment which has gone far toward making me what you perhaps think I am. I am your wife, and I claim to be treated as such.”
To this he vouchsafed no reply. And I went on : “ I have estates of my own. I have a right to leave you, and live alone if I choose to insist on a separation.”
“Indeed,” he said; “and on what grounds would you base your appeal for a separation ? ” As he said this he lifted his eyes, and surveyed me with a contemptuous smile.
“On what grounds?” I repeated. “ You do not love me, you are cruel to me, and I am weary of my life.”
“ Very graceful and romantic reasons,” answered Mr, Huntingdon; “but they would not stand in a court of law, and I shall never consent to a legal separation.”
“Let me go, let me leave you,” I rejoined, “and you may have my estates.”
“ Your estates are already mine,” he replied. “ By the laws of this country a married woman possesses no property ; and, besides, your estates are entailed, and I am your heir. You see, therefore, that what you would offer me is mine by a double right, which I shall never relinquish.”
“ You bad, cruel man ! ” I burst out. “ You do not love me, you never loved me ; you do not hate me, but you torture me nevertheless. You know that I am dying by inches, that your presence is killing me; and you have all that you want, — all that I can give you, — yet you deny my prayer for solitude and rest; you insist upon keeping me in your presence until I am maddened by your ceaseless surveillance. Ah ! let me go away, I beseech you, anywhere, oriel me die. Death is preferable to such a life as mine.”
He was silent, and I —fool that I was — thought that I had at last moved him. I looked eagerly up in his face, as I waited for his reply. As he still stood motionless, I retreated step by step until I reached the door. There, seeing that he made no movement, I paused, and again said ; “You have all, remember, I want nothing ; I ask nothing for myself but liberty. I do not ask for a legal separation. I only want to live apart from you.”
“ Farewell,” I said.
“ Farewell,” he replied.
I turned the handle of the door gently at first, then, as it resisted my efforts, more roughly, shook it at length violently; all in vain; it was locked on the outside. Mr. Huntingdon smiled,
“ Return to your seat,” said he. “ That door is locked by my command. At midnight we embark, and until then you had better rest.”
“ Then you will not let me go ? you insist on prolonging my misery ? ” said I, with a choking sense of despair, as this last hope was wrenched from me.
“ I had already decided your future,” he answered, resuming his book.
IN vain, transported by rage and disappointment, did I lavish threats, entreaties, and expostulations upon him. He was alike deaf to all, and sat turning the leaves of his book as coolly, and with as much apparent interest, as if no heart-broken, indignant soul were pleading to him so pitifully.
It was past midnight when we embarked in an open boat for the packet which was moored in the bay. I was lashed to one of the seats, and, as the fisherman who had engaged to row us out took the oars, Mr. Huntingdon inquired whether he would be able to accomplish the distance in half the usual time.
“ Because,” he added, “ I perceive that we are already late, and, in case you cannot engage to take us out within that time, I will buy your boat of you, row my wife out, and set it adrift.
I cannot afford to run the risk of losing the packet.”
After some parleying this plan was agreed upon, and the boat shot out upon the water like a living thing, propelled by his long, steady strokes. As soon as we were fairly out of sight of the town, he changed his course, and, instead of making for the packet, rowed to the northward, keeping close to the shore.
It was a calm, moonless night, and, exhausted by the emotion I had undergone, and lulled in spite of myself by the rhythmical beat of the oars, I fell asleep. When I awoke Mr. Huntingdon was bending ever me, unfastening the lashing which bound me to my seat. The boat was moored on a solitary shore, and the gray dawn of the summer morning, breaking over the scene, showed on the one hand the grayer sea, and on the other a low shore, marshes, and a distant hamlet, from which as yet no smoke was rising.
As I stepped out of the boat Mr. Huntingdon set her adrift, and, taking my hand, began to walk rapidly toward this hamlet. After a few steps we reached a turn in the road, where we sat down to rest; and while we were waiting Mr. Huntingdon enveloped the lower part of his face in a scarf, so that it was impossible to distinguish his features. Not long afterward a coach came in sight, and we hailed it and entered. We travelled for two days, and at length, at nightfall alighted on the edge of a wide moor. No human habitation was in sight, and Mr. Huntingdon, taking my arm, plunged into a deep wood. We had not gone far before I perceived that, wild and desolate as everything looked, it had once formed part of a gentleman’s grounds. Statues, moss-grown and broken, glimmered in the deep recesses of the wood, and I soon saw that we were approaching a large mansion. It stood before us so gloomy, dark, and ivy-grown that it was almost impossible to distinguish it from the thickly growing trees which surrounded it. Not alight glimmered from its numerous windows, all of which were closed and barred, nor did the faintest echo break the deep silence which brooded around. We ascended the flight of stone steps which led to the grand entrance, and Mr. Huntingdon, taking a key from his pocket, opened the heavy door, and closed it noiselessly behind us. He then again took my hand, and we mounted the staircase; it was long, and had two landings. Arrived at the top, I was led down a long corridor, then through a suite of rooms, — I could guess this by the fact that Mr. Huntingdon opened the doors as we advanced. At length we paused, and he struck a light. I was at first so dazzled that I could distinguish nothing; but, as my vision cleared, I perceived that we were in a small room, hung with tapestry. There were no windows as I speedily observed, and the fireplace was closed. The room was abundantly lighted by four wax-candles, which were burning in silver sconces on the walls ; the furniture consisted of two lounging-chairs, a bed, cheval-glass, and a table already laid for supper. Mr. Huntingdon mixed some wine and water, and offered it to me ; but I pushed it away, and said, “ Where am I ? ”
“ At Averndean Manor,”he replied. “ You wished for a separate residence, and one has been assigned you ; you will reside here alone, but I shall visit you occasionally. Averndean Manor, as you are aware, is one of my estates it was unoccupied during my father’s lifetime, and lias remained so until now. The desire for solitude which you expressed so passionately will be fully gratified here, I think ; here, at least, you will be entirely alone, nor shall I ever again reside with you. Our separation is final and complete.”
Why can I not remain at Carteret?" I asked.
“ Because Averndean Manor is within nine miles of Huntingdon, and therefore admits of frequent visits from me. We do not part in anger, and it is my intention to maintain some intercourse with you.”
“ But Carteret is my own estate.”
“Have I not already told you that that is no longer the case? Indeed, even admitting that view of the subject, Averndean Manor is also yours. When in the marriage service I made you a sharer in all my worldly goods, I thought especially of Averndean. I intended then that it should be your residence.”
“ Who lives here ?” I rejoined.
“ You only,” he replied. “ You demanded solitude, repose, immunity from observation, and from the surveillance which you stigmatized as cruel; your prayer is granted without reservation ; the solitude of Averndean Manor is absolute; you will have no temptations to lure you from repose ; and from the observation of all eyes you are as completely sheltered as you would be in your grave.”
“ What ! ” I gasped, “is it possible that you intend to leave me here alone, — utterly alone ? I shall go mad. It is base, cruel, murderous.’’
“ That is a harsh term,” he said, with a slight smile. “It is in fact a matter of some difficulty for me to arrange matters in accordance with your wishes. You demand a separation, a demand which you cannot legally justify, but I grant it; you demand solitude, I grant that also ; you demand immunity from observation, — a singular demand for so young and beautiful a woman, — but that is yours ; and, having at considerable loss of time, gratified all these whims my conduct is stigmatized as — However, I will not repeat your words. Doubtless it has already occurred to you that they are ill adapted to me.”
“ No, no, no ! ” I cried. “ All the vile epithets in the world would not do justice to conduct such as yours, to cruelty so refined, to injustice so undeserved. If you have brought me here to murder me, do it now. Spare me — ”
“..Murder you!” he interrupted, in his softest tones, and with a deprecating wave of his white hand, — “ murder you ! Such an idea is far from me ; such a crime I have no motives to commit, nor, if I had the motives, have I a temperament which would permit me to act upon them. No, I shall neither murder you, nor allow you to murder yourself. Suicide, although it has, as I before remarked, a certain attraction for the French nature, is quite unworthy of a daughter of the Carterets and of my wife. I shall therefore guard you safely in this respect.”
“ Guard me !” I repeated scornfully, “your guardianship has ruined my life, broken my heart, shattered my mind. May God in mercy preserve any other poor creature from guardianship such as yours, Which, after driving me to despair, would drag me back from the grave where I might forget you and your cruelty.”
“ I see,” said Mr. Huntingdon, slightly shrugging his shoulders, “ that I am little understood. Sit down,” he continued, pushing a chair toward me, “and I will admit you into the confidence which you some time since so bitterly complained that I withheld from you. Compose yourself and listen.
“ I assure you, in the first place, that the guardianship of which you are so weary has been equally wearisome to me. I determined long since to relinquish it when the proper time arrived, and it has arrived. There is but one more scene in the drama which we have enacted together since your birth,-— then the curtain drops, and severed, not by death, but by my will, which is as potent, you will be to me, and I to you, as if we had never been.”
He paused for a moment to look at his watch, but I still listened, breathless. What was he about to tell me ? A dreadful fascination held me.
“ I believe.” he resumed, glancing at me with the contemptuous smile I so hated, “ that you have hardly appreciated my character and talents, and, to make them quite clear to you, I must tell you something of my history. You are aware, of course, that your father was my favorite uncle and dearest friend; perhaps if I were to reverse that proposition, and say that I was his favorite nephew and dearest friend, ! should approach more nearly to the truth. I was ever conscious that he stood between me and Carteret Castle. You observe that I am frank with you, and it affords me pleasure, I assure you, to be so. I was, of course, the heir to Carteret, as well as Huntingdon, for my uncle constantly assured me that he had given up all thought of marrying. Nothing, therefore, occurred to render my prospects dubious until my seventeenth year, when I accompanied my uncle to France. Among other visits we paid one to the Chateau Lascours, then inhabited by your grandfather, who died a few months afterward, and your mother, who was somewhat younger than you are now. and at the height of her very remarkable beauty. Your father was much confined to his room by ill health at that time, and the Countess devoted herself to me. She was extremely fascinating and beautiful and, though I cannot now sav that I loved her, she had a great charm for me, and we were secretly affianced. Judge, therefore, of my surprise when, shortly after my return to England, I received a letter from your father announcing his nuptials with Mademoiselle de Lascours. I think it will be granted that I then had just cause for murder, but that has never been at all a temptation of mine. Revenge, my dear Charlotte, to be thoroughly enjoyed, should not be illegal. But to return to my story. Shortly after the marriage your father’s health began to fail. He returned to England to die ; and it was while I was watching his last agonies that the news of your birth and of your mother’s death arrived. I communicated both, and had the satisfaction of receiving his last injunctions. I decided then and there upon the course I have since adopted in regard to you. I have watched carefully over all your interests, and would be willing to display my management of them before England and the world. I educated you to be my wife, and, in accordance with my determination, you in time became so; as to the devotion I have since shown you, and which I assure you others appreciate if you do not, I have had my reasons for that also, though it has been irksome at times, and is relinquished with pleasure. Your inheritance has been preserved inviolate, your life has been calm, nor have you ever received unkindness at my hands. You complain that you have not been happy, and I reply that it never was my intention that you should be.
“One thing more and I have done. You asked me, not long since, the opinion of your.physician in regard to your case. He declared you to be an incurable maniac, and advised your immediate removal to a Maison de Santé on the Continent. In compliance with his directions I made arrangements for your admittance, engaged your apartments. and forwarded your luggage, but .it was never my intention to permit you to reside there : I had selected Averndean as a retreat better suited to your rank, and here you will reside for a time. Have no fear, however, of personal violence ; that will never be offered you.”
He ceased, and, leaning gracefully against the mantel-piece, contemplated me with a cold serenity which inflamed to the utmost the stormy passions at war within me, — passions so intense that they could not at first find a vent in words. I began to see the past clearly, to comprehend all that had seemed so mysterious, and I shuddered as I thought. One question, the reply to which I felt a horror of, and was, nevertheless, resolved to hear, I must ask.
“Tell me,” I said, rising from my chair as I spoke, — “tell me —that letter of my father’s — did he — when did he write that ? ”
“ When ? Surely you have heard.”
“ Is it his handwriting?”
“ You have seen other letters of his ; any one familiar with his handwriting would swear to the signature of that letter to you.”
“Is it his own handwriting? Did he write it?” I persisted, my hideous, half-formed suspicions gathering certainty.
Mr. Huntingdon surveyed me with a mocking smile, “ It is my desire to be quite frank with you,” he answered. “ That letter was — All stratagems are fair in love, you know, or war, and our marriage was, perhaps, a combination of both.”
“ Then,” I said, my voice issuing from my lips in a hoarse shriek, “ that letter was a forgery! my father never wrote it! ”
“ Forgery is an ugly term,” Mr. Huntingdon answered. “ Call it, however, what you will, that letter was neither written nor dictated by your father, although I flatter myself that it did no more than express his wishes.”
The room seemed to whirl round me as he spoke. I remember snatching a knife from the table and springing towards him ; then darkness swept over all my senses, and I remember no more.
WHEN I came to myself, I was lying on the sofa, the knife had been wrenched from my grasp, and Mr. Huntingdon was gone.
The night must have been far advanced, for the tall candles were burned almost to their sockets. There was a liberal supply upon the mantel-piece, however, and I soon lit others, and then I had leisure to examine my apartment. It had, as I have before said, no windows, although it was well ventilated, apparently by some aperture in the lofty ceiling. To my horror, I soon found that there was no door, and the truth was clear to me that I was a prisoner in a secret chamber of the longdeserted Averndean Manor, — a prisoner, and evidently to be so for some length of time, as there was an abundance of provisions and clothing. All that I had before endured was as nothing compared with the horror of that moment, — a dull horror, through which my fierce hatred of the man who had thus ruined me glared like a lurid torch. When, after repeated examinations of every rent in the tapestry, of every crack in the floor and panelling, I became aware that all was useless, and that escape was for me a thing impossible, I gave myself up unrestrainedly to the fury which possessed my soul. The lofty roof, the long galleries, the many silent rooms of that deserted house, tossed back my shrieks in a thousand mocking echoes; but no human voice replied, no step approached, no hand was extended to aid me.
When I was literally* exhausted, I threw myself down and slept. Slept! that sleep was a dream of hell, and from it I woke to deeper misery. I sought everywhere for some means of putting an end to my wretched existence, but in vain ; he who had locked me there had well kept his promise of guarding me from suicide.
After that, I cannot remember much ; I do not even know how the time passed, although I remember that, when the candles burned out, I replaced them. The dread of utter darkness was alive in me still, and sometimes I ate and drank. I do not know how long I had been there when I woke out of a kind of stupor which yet was not sleep. The candles were flickering and guttering, and, strangely enough, reminded me of those other candles far away, which had burned round the corpse in the Chateau Lascours.
I rose from the side of my bed, where I must have been sitting, and looked round the room. It was all dismantled now. The tapestry hung (as I had torn it) in strips from the walls, the furniture was broken and disordered. I looked slowly round, feeling that it was my last sight of earth and earthly things. My last trial, I thought, had come, for I had resolved to beat myself to death against a soft of abutment in the panelled wall.
I advanced. Once, twice I hurled myself against it with a sort of fierce delight, as I thought that he would come and find me dead. The third time the panel yielded, and I fell forward into the room beyond.
My first emotion was one of dread lest Mr. Huntingdon should be near; my next, the determination to seize this opportunity of escape without delay. I returned to my room for a moment, to fold my veil and mantle about me ; then, taking my purse, I crept out. carefully closing the panel behind me. I was in total darkness, but rightly conjecturing that the room in which I found myself was the last of the suite through which I remembered to have passed, I groped my way on slowly, opening and closing the doors noiselessly. At last I felt that I was in the corridor or gallery leading to the staircase. I found it at last, and descended, my heart beating audibly as I remembered who had once met me at the foot of a staircase. He was not there, however, and I found myself in a large, octagonal hall, with many corridors diverging from it. From one of these a light gleamed, and I advanced toward that light, swiftly and silently. As I approached it, I saw that it proceeded from a large room, in the centre of which stood a table upon which four wax-candles were burning. It was littered with papers, and sitting writing with his back to me was Mr. Huntingdon. He had evidently been riding, for his coat, hat, and whip lay upon a chair near the door, together with a small Italian stiletto which he always carried about him. I took that up as I passed, and crept toward him.
He was dressed, as he often was, in a coat of gray cloth with ruffles of the finest lace. One hand was thrust into his breast, the other was travelling steadily over the paper. I crept nearer, nearer still,— so near that, had I not held my breath, it would have stirred his blond silken hair. I saw what he had written : —
“ Died at Hyeres, France, on the 20th of August, 1798, Charlotte Alixe la Baume, wife of the Right Honorable Harrington Carteret Huntingdon, of Huntingdon Hall and Averndean Manor, Cumberland, and daughter of the Hon. Charles Huntingdon Carteret of Carteret Castle and Branthope Grange.”
All the fierce hatred I felt for him blazed up at the sight, and quivered through every fibre, and I stabbed him, — stabbed him deeply behind the ear.
A slight shudder shook his strong frame, his right hand dragged itself along the paper, then — all was still, and I turned and fled, throwing the stiletto from me as I sped along the gallery. I opened the great door, and hastened down the steps. Mr. Huntingdon’s horse was tied there, and I unfastened and let him go ; then, plunging into the woods, I rushed madly on. The night was far advanced, and I was on a distant road, when I was overtaken by the coach ; and of the next few days I have little recollection. I never rested for a moment until I reached Paris. I arrived there in the morning; but how long after I left England I do not know. I had some difficulty at first in securing apartments ; but, being liberally provided with money, I at length succeeded in finding them in the Rue-. I was worn out with fatigue and hunger, and slept until quite late. When the portress, whose services I had engaged, at length awoke me, it was dark. She soon brought candles, however, and then left me, after placing my dinner on the table. I rearranged my dress as well as I was able, and then, seeing a long mirror opposite, I lifted my eyes to survey the effect, Horror ! horror ! Bending over me, his left hand still in his bosom, his fair hair, his rich dress, all unruffled, save for the blood which dripped from the wound behind his ear, with a mocking smile on his lips, stood .Mr. Huntingdon.
I could not have turned, I could not have averted my eyes for worlds ; but, slowly raising my right hand, I thrust it backward. It was not clasped, it met no resisting medium, although it did not stir. Noo ; I thrust it through and through that figure, moved it up and down, and then, — then I knew that I had but set him free that he might follow and torment me wherever I went, and I tore myself away, and rushed out of the room.
On the first landing of the staircase down which I hastened was a tall mirror, and in it I could see him descending at my side, step by step, his wound dripping redly as he walked. A group of servants were assembled on the landing, and as one of them advanced to ask if I wanted anything, I paused, and made some remark about the gentleman with me.
‘•Madame?” he said, gazing first at the mirror to which my eyes were directed, and then at me. Evidently he saw nothing, and thought me mad, and I lingered no longer. I rushed out ; and since then I have been a wanderer, never daring to rest, and knowing always that he was near; and he is. Not only in mirrors, but in solitary pools and watercourses, ay, even in the sea, I have seen him as I saw him that night. Everywhere and always he is with me. Even in the convent I knew he was there ; and one night when I kept my vigils before the high altar, I saw in the marble floor — HIS face. I knew then that God had forsaken me, and I tried to come back to England to confess, if perhaps then I might have rest‘But I was ill, — and I lost my way, — and now — now I am dying, and he is here waiting, — waiting for me. If I had strength to rise and look, I should see him smiling mockingly at me. He knows I must come soon ; but I cannot stop his wound; it bleeds, — it drips, drips still. Ah ! he is waiting, and I must go. Doctor, this is my confession. When I am gone, publish it, — tell it. Perhaps — he will — be satisfied — then.
She paused. Already death was at hand; the strong will, which alone had kept her alive during the five days which had elapsed since she began to dictate her confession, had yielded at last; the agony of haste with which she had spoken was all spent; and, as she sank down among her pillows, her thin hands began to pluck restlessly at the coverlet,—busy and aimless, as the hands of the dying often are. Opening the door, I called the nurse, who came speedily, and, bending over her, began to chafe the feet which were already dipped in the cold waters of that stream which, sooner or later, must be crossed by all who are born of woman. I raised her head, to ease, if possible, the breath which now came only at intervals, catching and rattling in her throat; and then, thinking that perhaps, if she were able to swallow it, brandy might alleviate the last agony, I went to the fireplace, where a bottle stood, and was pouring it out, when I raised my eyes involuntarily, and almost unconsciously, to the looking-glass. What I saw froze my blood. It may be doubted — will be doubted — by many. I can only vouch for it as the truth.
I saw a man, tall and stately, his dress splashed with mud as if from hard riding. One hand was thrust into his breast, the other hung by his side. His cold blue eyes met mine with a haughty glance, as I gazed upon him, and a mocking smile curled his lips. I knew those fair and finely chiselled features, that silky blond hair, that dress of fine cloth, and linen and lace; and I shuddered as I saw the blood dripping warm and red from the wound behind his ear.
Motionless I stood, lost in the mortal terror of the moment, and while so standing the Abbey clock began to strike. The deep solemn strokes vibrated through the room, and with each that figure became more and more indistinct, or receded. As the twelfth stroke pealed forth it vanished ; and the wild wind, rising, moaned and wailed round the inn, and then swept howling away.
I turned towards the bed. The nurse was bending over the still form which lay there. “ Poor dear ! ” she said, drawing back as I approached; “ I did n’t think she !d go so easy just at the last. She was off like a bird at the last stroke of twelve. Ah, sir, it’s no use feeling her pulse; it ’ll never beat again.”
I laid the dead hand back. All was over indeed; and out upon the wild winter midnight those two souls, so strangely linked together by crime and wrong, had gone, — together still.
And one to the bier.
And one to the charnel,
And one — O where? ”