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首页 » 经典英文小说 » A Strange World » CHAPTER X ‘THE SADDEST LOVE HAS SOME SWEET MEMORY.’
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CHAPTER X ‘THE SADDEST LOVE HAS SOME SWEET MEMORY.’
Maurice left London for Didmouth by the mail, accompanied by Mr. Pointer, a confidential clerk of Messrs. Willgross and Harding. Didmouth was still off the main line, and they had to drive seven or eight miles in a jolting little omnibus, very low in the roof, and by no means luxurious within. They reached Didmouth too late for anything except supper and bed, but they were at the sexton’s cottage before eight o’clock next morning, and thence repaired to the church, with the elderly custodian and his keys in their company.

The registers were produced, and the entry of the marriage found, under the date supplied by Miss Barlow. A duly certified copy of this entry being taken by Mr. Pointer, in duplicate, Maurice’s mission at Didmouth was concluded.

He parted from Mr. Pointer at the railway station, after having endured another hour of the jolting omnibus; and while the clerk hastened back to London with one of the two documents, Maurice went down the line to Seacomb with the other.

He had not been away a week, and yet he had established the one fact he most desired to prove, Justina’s right to bear her father’s name. He could now venture to confide Muriel’s story to Martin, or at least so much of it as might be told without reflecting on his dead mother.

He walked into the old farmhouse at breakfast-time next morning, after having spent the night at Seacomb, and crossed the moors in the autumnal mists of earliest morning, not without some hazard of losing his way.

Martin was surprised and delighted.

‘What good wind blows you here, dear old fellow?’ he cried, gladly.

‘The best wind that ever blew, I think,’ answered Maurice.

Mr. Trevanard had gone about his day’s work, he had taken to working harder than ever, of late, Martin said; so the two young men had the old hall to themselves.

Here Maurice told his story, Martin listening with profound emotion, and shedding no unmanly tears at the record of his sister’s sorrows.

‘My poor mother!’ he sobbed out at last. ‘She acted for the best—to save the honour of our family—but it was hard on Muriel—and she was sinless all the time—a wife, free from taint of wrong-doing, except that fatal concealment of her marriage.’

Then, when the first shock was over, the young man inquired eagerly about his niece, his beloved sister’s only child—the babe that had been exiled from its birthplace, robbed of its name.

‘How nobly, how wisely, how ably you have acted from first to last, Clissold!’ he exclaimed. ‘Without your help this tangled web could never have been unravelled. But how did it ever occur to you that Miss Elgood and my sister’s daughter could be one and the same person?’

‘Perhaps it was because I have thought so much more of Justina Elgood lately than any one else,’ answered Maurice; and then he went on to confess that his old wound was healed, and that he loved Justina with a deeper and truer love than he had given the doctor’s daughter. Martin was delighted. This would make a new link between himself and his friend.

Maurice’s next anxiety was for an interview with old Mrs. Trevanard. He wanted to test that aged memory, to discover how far the blind grandmother might be relied upon when the time came for laying this family secret before the world.

Mrs. Trevanard still kept her room. She was able to move about a little—able to keep watch and ward upon Muriel, but she preferred the retirement of her own chamber to her old corner in the family sitting-room.

‘The place would seem strange to me without Bridget,’ she told Maurice, when he expressed his regret at finding her still in her own room. ‘It’s not so much the rheumatics that keep me here as the thought of that. Bridget was all in all in this house. The old room would seem desolate without her. So I just keep by my own bit of fire, and knit my stocking, and think of old times.’

‘I dare say your memory is a better one than many young people can boast of,’ said Maurice, who had taken the empty chair by the fireplace, opposite Mrs. Trevanard.

‘Well, I haven’t much to complain of in that respect,’ answered the old woman, with a sigh. ‘I have sometimes thought that it is better for old people when their memories are not quite so strong as mine. But then, perhaps, that’s owing to my blindness. I have nothing left me but memory, I can’t see to read, not even my Bible, and I haven’t many about me that care to read to me. So the past is my book, and I’m always reading the saddest chapters in it. It’s a pity Providence has made us so that our minds dwell longest on sorrowful things.’

Maurice related his discovery gently and with some preparation to Muriel’s grandmother. When she heard that Muriel was sinless, that her marriage with George Penwyn was an established fact, the blind woman lifted up her voice in thanksgiving to her God.

‘I always thought as much,’ she said, after that first outpouring of prayer and praise. ‘I always thought my poor lamb was innocent, but Bridget would not have it so. Bridget hugged the notion of our wrong. She was always talking of God’s vengeance on the wrong-doer, and when he met with that cruel death she declared that it was a judgment, forgetting that the judgment fell heaviest on our poor Muriel.’

They talked long and earnestly of the hapless daughter of the house, Maurice confiding unreservedly in Mrs. Trevanard, who evinced a shrewd sense that filled him with hope. Old and blind though she was, this was not a witness to be brow-beaten by a cross-examining counsel, should the issue ever be tried in a court of justice.

‘Now from what we know, and from what happened to me on the first night I ever spent in this house,’ said Maurice, ‘it is clear to my mind that your granddaughter and her husband were in the habit of meeting secretly in the room at the end of the corridor at night, when every one else in the house was asleep.’

He went on to describe his first night at Borcel End; Muriel watching at the open window, entreating her lover to come back to her. Did not this conduct indicate that Captain Penwyn had been in the habit of entering the house secretly by that window? Its height was little over eight feet from the ground, and the ivy-clad wall would have been easy enough for any active young man to climb, to say nothing of the ledge and projecting masonry of the low window, which made the ascent still easier.

‘My idea is this,’ said Maurice. ‘Your poor granddaughter’s instinct takes her to that room whenever she is free to ramble about the house at night when all is still, and she has no fear of interruption. For her that room is haunted by sad and sweet memories. What more likely than that if free to go there nightly she would, in the self-communion of a wandering mind, reveal more of the past than we have yet learned, act over again her meetings with her lover, say over again the old words? Will you leave her free to wander to-night, if the fancy seizes her? I will lie down in my clothes, and keep watch, ready to listen, or to follow her if need be. The moon is nearly at the full, and the night will be bright enough to tempt her to wander. Will you let it be so, Mrs. Trevanard?’

‘I don’t see that any harm could come of it,’ answered the old woman, dubiously. ‘She is reasonable enough in her way, and I have never known her attempt to do herself a mischief. But as to what she can reveal in her wild wandering talk, I don’t see myself how that can be of any good.’

‘Perhaps not. It is only a fancy of mine at best, but I shall be pleased if you will indulge it. I shall not be here more than two or three nights.’

‘I will leave my door unlocked on those nights,’ said Mrs. Trevanard. ‘But I shall not have much rest while that poor child is wandering about.’

To the grandmother, to whom the past was more real than the present, Muriel was still the girl of eighteen newly returned from school.

The rest of the day was spent quietly enough by Maurice and Martin in a ramble on the sea-shore. At dinner Mr. Trevanard appeared, but although he was surprised to see Maurice so soon after his departure he evinced no curiosity as to the motive of his return. The master of Borcel farm seemed to have lost all interest in life in losing the partner of his joys and cares. He went about his work with a mechanical air, talked very little, drank more than he eat, and seemed altogether in a bad way.

Maurice observed him with concern.

‘If we could but kindle a glimmer of reason in his daughter’s breast, she might be a comfort to him in the decline of his life,’ speculated the poet, ‘and it is just possible that a father’s love might exercise some healing influence upon that disordered mind. The isolation to which her mother condemned her was the surest method of deadening mind and memory.’

He would have given much had he been free to summon Justina to Borcel, and test the power of a daughter’s love upon Muriel’s brain. But to bring Justina away from London would be to imperil the prosperity of the Albert Theatre, and doubtless to incur onerous legal penalties. Nor did he wish to draw Justina into the business till his chain of evidence was too complete for the possibility of failure in the establishment of her rights.

‘No,’ he told himself, ‘for some time to come I must act without Justina.’

Martin could talk of nothing but his newly discovered niece, and was full of impatience to see her. It was only by promising to take him to London in a few days, and introduce him to Justina, that Maurice succeeded in keeping this young man quiet during his first day at Borcel End. And thus the day wore itself out, and night, with the full autumn moonlight, descended upon the old farmhouse.


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