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首页 » 经典英文小说 » A Strange World » CHAPTER VII ‘FULL COLD MY GREETING WAS AND DRY.’
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A quiet evening at the ‘New London Inn,’ and another confidential chat with its proprietress convinced Maurice that there was nothing more to be learned in Seacomb. He led Mrs. Chadwick on to talk of the family at Penwyn Manor House, the old Squire and his sons, who, sanctified by the shadows of the past, beautified by old memories and associations—just as a ruin is beautified by the ivies and lichens that cling to its crumbling arches—were dearer to the hearts of the elderly Seacombites than the reigning Squire and his lovely wife.

‘I don’t say but what the present gentleman is better for trade, and has done more good to the neighbourhood in two years than the old Squire would have done in ten,’ said Mrs. Chadwick. ‘But the old Squire was more one of ourselves, as you may say. He’d take his glass of cider—a very temperate man was the Squire—in my bar parlour, and chat with me as friendly and familiar as you could do, and it was quite a pleasant thing to see him, in his Lincoln green coat and brass basket buttons, and mahogany tops.’

Of George Penwyn Mrs. Chadwick said nothing that was not praise. He had been everybody’s favourite, she told Maurice, and his death had been felt like a personal loss throughout the neighbourhood.

Was this a man to betray an innocent girl, and bring disgrace upon an honest yeoman’s household?

Before leaving Seacomb next morning Mr. Clissold went to the parish church, looked once more at the register in which he had seen the baptism of Matthew Elgood’s daughter; and afterwards referred to the register of burials to assure himself of the child’s death. There was the entry: ‘Emily Jane, daughter of Matthew Elgood, comedian, and Jane Elgood, his wife, aged five weeks. January 4th, 1849.’ Just six days before the closing of the Seacomb Theatre.

Maurice distinctly remembered Justina having told him once, in the course of their somewhat discursive talk, that her birthday was in March, and that she had completed her nineteenth year on her last anniversary. Now, if Mrs. Elgood had had a daughter born in the December of 1848, it was not possible for her to have been the mother of Justina, if Justina was born in the March of 1849.

He had now no shadow of doubt that Matthew Elgood, who had left Seacomb in February in the midst of frost and snow, was the same man who had sought shelter at Borcel End, and who had called himself Eden. A false pride had doubtless induced the penniless stroller to hide his poverty under an assumed name.

‘The plainest, most straightforward way of doing things will be to tax Elgood himself with the fact,’ thought Maurice. ‘Once sure of my darling’s identity with Muriel’s daughter, my next duty shall be to discover the evidence of her mother’s marriage. And if I succeed in doing that——? Well, I suppose the next thing will be for some clever lawyers to prove her right to the Penwyn estate, and Churchill Penwyn and his wife will be ruined, and Justina will be a great heiress, and I shall retire into the background. Hardly a pleasant picture of the future, that. Perhaps it would have been wiser, from a purely selfish point of view, to have left my dear girl Justina Elgood to the end of the chapter—or at least till I persuaded her to exchange that spurious surname for the good old name of Clissold. But now having gone so far, won the confidence of a dying woman, sworn to set right an old wrong, I am in honour bound to go on, not to the ultimate issue, perhaps, but at any rate to the assertion of my darling girl’s legitimacy.’

He rejoiced in the swiftness of the express which carried him homewards, by stubble fields, and yellowing woods, rejoiced at the thought that he should be in time to see Justina, were it only one half-hour before she went to the theatre. He took a hansom and drove straight to Hudspeth Street, told the man to wait, and left his portmanteau and travelling bag in the cab while he ran upstairs to the second floor sitting-room.

Matthew Elgood was enjoying his afternoon siesta, his amiable countenance shrouded from the autumnal fly by a crimson silk handkerchief. Justina was sitting at a little table by the window, reading.

She looked a shade paler than when he had seen her last, the lover thought, fondly hoping that she had missed him, but as she started up from her chair, recognising him with a little cry of gladness, the warm blood rushed to cheek and brow, and he had no ground for compassionating her pallor.

For a moment she tried to speak, but could not, and in that moment Maurice knew that he was beloved.

He would have given worlds to take her to his heart, then and there, to have kissed the blushes into a deeper glow, to have told her how supremely dear she was to him, how infinitely deeper, and holier, and sweeter than his first foolish passion this second love of his had become. But he put the curb on impulse, remembering the task he had to accomplish. To woo her now, to win her promise now, knowing what he knew, would have seemed to him a meanness.

‘To-day I am her superior in fortune,’ he said to himself, ‘a year hence I may be her inferior—a very pauper compared with the mistress of Penwyn Manor. I will not win her unawares. If change of fortune does come to pass I shall not be too proud to share her wealth, so long as I have all her heart; but if she should change with change of fortune, she shall be free to follow where her fancy leads, and no old promise, made in her day of obscurity, shall bind her to me. Free and unfettered she shall enter upon her new life.’

So instead of taking her to his heart of hearts, and pouring out his tale of love in a tender whisper—too low to penetrate the crimson handkerchief which veiled the ears of the sleeper, Maurice greeted Justina with hearty loudness, talked about his journey—asked how the new piece at the Albert worked out at rehearsal—inquired about his friend Flittergilt, the dramatist—and behaved altogether in a commonplace fashion. There was just time for a cup of tea before Justina started for the theatre—and a very pleasant tea-drinking it was. Maurice was touched by Justina’s pretty joyous ways this evening, her bright looks, the silvery little laugh gushing out at the slightest provocation,—laughter which told of a soul that was gladdened by his presence.

‘I think I shall come to the theatre to-night,’ he said, as they parted.

‘What, to see “No Cards”? You must be dreadfully tired of it.’

‘No. I believe I have seen it seven times, but I could see it seven more,’ answered Maurice, and this was the only compliment he paid Justina that evening. Before parting with Mr. Elgood, he asked that gentleman to dine with him the next evening, at eight, en gar?on.

‘We can go to the theatre afterwards to escort Miss Elgood home,’ he added.

‘My dear Clissold,’ exclaimed the comedian, with effusion, ‘after the bottle of port you gave me that Sunday evening, Justina and I enjoyed your hospitality, I should be an ass to refuse such an invitation.’


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