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首页 » 经典英文小说 » A Strange World » CHAPTER XIII. 'MY LOVE, MY LOVE, AND NO LOVE FOR ME.'
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CHAPTER XIII. 'MY LOVE, MY LOVE, AND NO LOVE FOR ME.'
Justina was leaning before an old easy chair, her face buried in the faded chintz cushion, sobbing vehemently—curiously changed from the silent, impassible being Maurice had taken leave of ten minutes earlier. The sight of her sorrow touched him. Whatever it meant, this was real grief at any rate.

'Forgive me for this intrusion, Miss Elgood,' he said, gently, remaining near the door lest he should startle her by his abrupt approach. 'I am very anxious to talk to you alone, and ventured to return.'

She started up, hastily wiping away her tears.

'I am sorry to see you in such deep grief,' he said. 'You must have a tender heart to feel my poor friend's sad fate so acutely.'

202

The pallid face crimsoned, as if this had been a reproof.

'I have no right to be so sorry, I dare say,' faltered Justina, 'but he was very kind to me—kinder than any one ever was before,—and it is hard that he should be taken away so cruelly, just when life seemed to be all new and different because of his goodness.'

'Poor child. You must have a grateful nature.'

'I am grateful to him.'

'I can understand that just at first you may feel his death as if it were a personal loss, but that cannot last long. You had known him so short a time. Granted that he admired you, and paid you pretty compliments and attentions which may be new to one so young. If he had lived to bid you good-bye to-morrow, and pass on his way, you would hardly have remembered him a week.'

'I should have remembered him all my life,' said Justina, firmly.

'He had made a deep impression upon your mind or your fancy, then, in those two days.'

'He loved me,' the girl answered, with a little203 burst of passion, 'and I gave him back love for love with all my heart, with all my strength, as they tell us we ought to love God. Why do you come here to torment me about him? You cannot bring him back to life. God will not. I would spend all my life upon my knees if he could be raised up again, like Lazarus! I meant never to have spoken of this. I have kept it even from my father. He told me that he loved me, and that I was to be his wife, and that all our lives to come were to be spent together. Think what it is to have been so happy and to have lost all.'

'Poor child,' repeated Clissold, laying his hand gently, as priest or father might have laid it, on the soft brown hair, thrust back in a tangled mass from the hot brow. 'Poor children, children both. It would have been a foolish marriage at best, my dear girl, if he had lived, and kept in the same mind. Unequal marriages bring remorse and misery for the most part. James Penwyn was not a hard-working wayfarer like me, who may choose my wife at any turn on the world's high road. He was the owner of a good old estate, and the happiness of his future204 depended on his making a suitable marriage. His wife must have been somebody before she was his wife. She must have had her own race to refer to, something to boast of on her own side, so that when their children grew up they should be able to give a satisfactory account of their maternal uncles and aunts. I dare, say you think me worldly-minded, poor child; but I am only worldly-wise. If it were a question of personal merit you might have made the best of wives.'

The girl heard this long speech with an absent air, her tearful eyes fixed on vacancy, her restless hands clasped tightly, as if she would fain have restrained her grief by that muscular grip.

'I don't know whether it was wise or foolish,' she said, 'but I know we loved each other.'

'I loved him too, Justina,' said Maurice, using her Christian name involuntarily—she was not the kind of person to be called Miss Elgood—'as well as one man can love another. I take his death quietly enough, you see, but I would give ten years of my life to find his murderer.'

'I would give all my life,' said Justina, with a205 look that made him think she would verily have done it.

'You know nothing more than you told at the inquest this afternoon?—nothing that could throw any light upon his death?'

'Nothing. You ought to know much more about it than I.'

'How so?'

'You know all that went before that time—his circumstances—his associates. I have lain awake thinking of this thing from night till morning, until I believe that every idea that could be thought about it has come into my head. There must have been some motive for his murder.'

'The motive seems obvious enough,—highway robbery.'

'Yet his watch was found in the ditch.'

'His murderer may naturally have feared to take anything likely to lead to detection. His money was taken.'

'Yes. It may have been for that. Yet it seems strange that he should have been chosen out of so many—that he should have been the206 only victim—murdered for the sake of a few pounds.'

'Unhappily, sordid as the motive is, that is a common kind of murder,' replied Maurice.

'But might not some one have a stronger motive than that?'

'I can imagine none. James never in his life made an enemy.'

'Are you quite sure of that?'

'As sure as I can be of anything about a young man whom I knew as well as if he had been my brother,' replied Maurice, wondering at the girl's calm clear tone. At this moment she seemed older than her years—his equal, or more than his equal in shrewdness and judgment.

'Is there any one who would be a gainer by his death?' she asked.

'Naturally. The next heir to the Penwyn estate is a very considerable gainer. For him James Penwyn's death means the difference between a hard-working life like mine and a splendid future.'

'Could he have anything to do with the crime?'

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'He! Churchill Penwyn? Well, no; it would be about as hard to suspect him as it was to suspect me. Churchill Penwyn is a gentleman, and, I conclude, a man of honour. His conduct towards me to-day showed him a man of kind feeling.'

'No. I suppose gentlemen do not commit such crimes,' mused Justina. 'And we shall never know who killed him. That seems hardest of all. That bright young life taken, and the wretch who took it left to go free.'

Tears filled her eyes as she turned away from Clissold, ashamed of her grief; tears which should have been shed in secret, but which she could not keep back when she thought of her young lover's doom.

Clissold tried to soothe her, assured her of his friendship—his help should she ever need it.

'I shall always be interested in you,' he said. 'I shall think of you as my poor lad's first and last love. He had had his foolish, boyish flirtations before; but I have reason to know that he never asked any other woman to be his wife; and he was208 too staunch and true to make such an offer unless he meant it.'

Justina gave him a grateful look. It was the first time he had seen her face light up with anything like pleasure that day.

'You do believe that he loved me, then?' she exclaimed, eagerly. 'It was not all my own foolish dream. He was not'—the next words came slowly, as if it hurt her to speak them—'amusing himself at my expense.'

'I have no doubt of his truth. I never knew him tell a lie. I do not say that his fancy would have lasted—it may have been too ardent, too sudden, to stand wear and tear. But be assured for the moment he was true—would have wrecked his life, perhaps, to keep true to the love of a day.'

This time the girl looked at him angrily.

'Why do you tell me he must have changed if God had spared him?' she added. 'Why do you find it so hard to imagine that he might have gone on loving me? Am I so degraded a creature in your eyes?'

'I am quite ready to believe that you are a209 very noble girl,' answered Maurice, 'worthy a better lover than my poor friend. But you are Miss Elgood, of the Theatre Royal, Eborsham, and he was Squire Penwyn, of Penwyn. Time would not have changed those two facts, and might have altered his way of looking at them.'

'Don't tell me that he would have changed,' she cried, passionately. 'Let me think that I have lost all—love, happiness, home, wealth, all that any woman ever hoped to win. It cannot add to my grief for him. It would not take away from my love for him even to know that he was fickle, and would have grown tired of me. Those two days were the only happy days of my life. They will dwell in my mind for ever, a changeless memory. I shall never see the sunshine without thinking how it shone once upon us two on Eborsham racecourse. I shall never see the moonlight without remembering how we two sat side by side watching the willow branches dipping into the river.'

'A childish love,' thought Maurice; 'a young heart's first fancy; a fabric that would wear out in six months or so.'

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'Happy days will come again,' he said, gently. 'You will go on acting, and succeed in your profession. You are just the kind of girl to whom genius will come in a flash—like inspiration. You will succeed and be famous by and by, and look back with a sad, pitying smile at James Penwyn's love, and say to yourself with a half-regretful sigh, 'That was youth!' You will be loved some day by a man who will prove to you that true love is not the growth of a few summer hours.'

'I should like to be famous some day,' the girl answered, proudly, 'just to show you that I might have been worthy of your friend's love.'

'I fear I have offended you by my plain speaking, Miss Elgood,' returned Maurice, 'but if ever you need a friend, and will honour me with your confidence, you shall not find me unworthy of your trust. I have not a very important position in the world; but I am a gentleman by birth and education, and not wanting in some of those commonplace qualities which help a man on the road of life; such as patience and perseverance, industry and strength of purpose. I have chosen211 literature as my profession; for that calling gives me the privilege I should be least inclined to forego, liberty. My income is happily just large enough to make me independent of earning, so that I can afford to write as the birds sing—without cutting my coat according to any other man's cloth. If ever you and your father are in London, Miss Elgood, and inclined to test my sincerity, you may find me at this address.'

He gave Justina his card—
Mr. Maurice Clissold,
?
Hogarth Place,
?
Bloomsbury.

'Not a fashionable locality, by any means,' he said, 'but central, and near the British Museum where I generally spend my mornings when I am in London.'

Justina took the card listlessly enough, not as if she had any intention of taxing Mr. Clissold's friendship in the future. He saw how far her thoughts were from him, and from all common212 things. She rose with a startled look as the cathedral clock chimed the three-quarters after seven.

'I shall be late for the piece,' she exclaimed with alarm; 'I forget everything.'

'It is my fault for detaining you,' said Maurice, concerned to see her look of distress. 'Let me walk to the theatre with you.'

'But I've some things to carry,' she answered, hurriedly rolling up some finery which had bestrewed a side table—veil, shoes, ribbons, feathers, a dilapidated fan.

'I am not afraid of carrying a parcel.'

They went out together, Justina breathless, and hurried to the stage door.

Maurice penetrated some dark passages, and stumbled up some break-neck stairs, in his anxiety to learn if his companion were really late. The band was grinding away at an overture. The second piece had not begun.

'Is it all right?' asked Maurice, just as the light figure that had sped on before him was disappearing behind a dusky door.

213

'Yes,' cried Justina, 'I don't go on till the second scene. I shall have just time to dress.'

So Mr. Clissold groped his way to the outer air, relieved in mind.

It was a still summer evening, and this part of the city had a quiet, forgotten air, as of a spot from which busy life had drifted away. The theatre did not create any circle of animation and bustle in these degenerate days, and seen from the outside might have been mistaken for a chapel. There were a few small boys hanging about near the stage door as Mr. Clissold emerged, and these, he perceived, looked at him with interest and spoke to one another about him. He was evidently known, even to these street boys, as the man who had been suspected of his friend's murder.

He walked round to the quiet little square in front of the theatre, lighted his pipe, and took a turn up and down the empty pavement, meditating what he should do with himself for the rest of the evening.

Last night he had slept placidly enough in the214 medi?val jail, worn out with saddest thoughts. To-night there was nothing for him to do but go back to the 'Waterfowl,' where the rooms would seem haunted—put his few belongings together, and get ready for going back to London. His holiday was over, and how sad the end!

He had been very fond of James Penwyn. Only now, when they two were parted for ever, did he know how strong that attachment had been.

The bright young face, the fresh, gay voice, all gone!

'I am not quick at making friendships,' thought Maurice. 'I feel as if his death had left me alone in the world.'

His life had been unusually lonely, save for this one strong friendship. He had lost his father in childhood, and his mother a few years later. Happily Captain Clissold, although a younger son, had inherited a small estate in Devonshire, from his mother. This gave his orphan son four hundred a year—an income which permitted his education at Eton and Oxford, and which made215 him thoroughly independent as a young man, to whom the idea of matrimony and its obligations seemed far off.

His uncle, Sir Henry Clissold, was a gentleman of some standing in the political world, a county member, a man who was chairman of innumerable committees, and never had a leisure moment. This gentleman's ideas of the fitness of things were outraged by his nephew's refusal to adopt any profession.

'I could have pushed you forward in almost any career you had chosen,' he said, indignantly. 'I have friends I can command in all the professions; or if you had cared to go to India, you might have been a judge in the Sudder before you were five-and-thirty.'

'Thanks, my dear uncle, I shouldn't care about being broiled alive, or having to learn from twenty to thirty dialects before I could understand plaintiff or defendant,' Maurice replied, coolly. 'Give me my crust of bread and liberty.'

'Fortunate for you that you have your crust of bread,' growled Sir Henry, 'but at the rate you are216 going you will never provide yourself with a slice of cheese.'

To-night, perhaps for the first time, Maurice Clissold felt that life was a mistake. His friend and comrade had been more necessary to him than he could have believed, for he had never quite accepted James as his equal in intellect. He had had his own world of thought, which the careless lad never entered. But now that the boy was gone he felt that shadowy world darkened by his loss.

'Would to Heaven I could stand face to face with his murderer!' he said to himself; 'one of us two should go down, never to rise again!'


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