Fourteenth Scene.--Portland Place. Chapter The Forty-Sixth. A Scotch Marriage. (Page 2)
He sat down amidst a murmur of approval, and cast a slyly-expectant look at his defeated adversary. "If that doesn't irritate him into showing his hand," thought Mr. Moy, "nothing will!"
Sir Patrick slowly raised his head. There was no irritation--there was only distress in his face--when he spoke next.
"I don't propose, Mr. Moy, to argue the point with you," he said, gently. "I can understand that my conduct must necessarily appear strange and even blameworthy, not in your eyes only, but in the eyes of others. My young friend here will tell you" (he looked toward Arnold) "that the view which you express as to the future peril involved in this case was once the view in my mind too, and that in what I have done thus far I have acted in direct contradiction to advice which I myself gave at no very distant period. Excuse me, if you please, from entering (for the present at least) into the motive which has influenced me from the time when I entered this room. My position is one of unexampled responsibility and of indescribable distress. May I appeal to that statement to stand as my excuse, if I plead for a last extension of indulgence toward the last irregularity of which I shall be guilty, in connection with these proceedings?"
Lady Lundie alone resisted the unaffected and touching dignity with which those words were spoken.
"We have had enough of irregularity," she said. sternly. "I, for one, object to more."
Sir Patrick waited patiently for Mr. Moy's reply. The Scotch lawyer and the English lawyer looked at each other--and understood each other. Mr. Moy answered for both.
"We don't presume to restrain you, Sir Patrick, by other limits than those which, as a gentleman, you impose on yourself. Subject," added the cautious Scotchman, "to the right of objection which we have already reserved."
"Do you object to my speaking to your client?" asked Sir Patrick.
"To Mr. Geoffrey Delamayn?"
All eyes turned on Geoffrey. He was sitting half asleep, as it seemed--with his heavy hands hanging listlessly over his knees, and his chin resting on the hooked handle of his stick.
Looking toward Anne, when Sir Patrick pronounced Geoffrey's name, Mr. Moy saw a change in her. She withdrew her hands from her face, and turned suddenly toward her legal adviser. Was she in the secret of the carefully concealed object at which his opponent had been aiming from the first? Mr. Moy decided to put that doubt to the test. He invited Sir Patrick, by a gesture, to proceed. Sir Patrick addressed himself to Geoffrey.
"You are seriously interested in this inquiry," he said; "and you have taken no part in it yet. Take a part in it now. Look at this lady."
Geoffrey never moved.
"I've seen enough of her already," he said, brutally.
"You may well be ashamed to look at her," said Sir Patrick, quietly. "But you might have acknowledged it in fitter words. Carry your memory back to the fourteenth of August. Do you deny that you promised to many Miss Silvester privately at the Craig Fernie inn?"
"I object to that question," said Mr. Moy. "My client is under no sort of obligation to answer it."
Geoffrey's rising temper--ready to resent any thing--resented his adviser's interference. "I shall answer if I like," he retorted, insolently. He looked up for a moment at Sir Patrick, without moving his chin from the hook of his stick. Then he looked down again. "I do deny it," he said.
"You deny that you have promised to marry Miss Silvester?"
"I asked you just now to look at her--"
"And I told you I had seen enough of her already."
"Look at me. In my presence, and in the presence of the other persons here, do you deny that you owe this lady, by your own solemn engagement, the reparation of marriage?"
He suddenly lifted his head. His eyes, after resting for an instant only on Sir Patrick, turned, little by little; and, brightening slowly, fixed themselves with a hideous, tigerish glare on Anne's face. "I know what I owe her," he said.
The devouring hatred of his look was matched by the ferocious vindictiveness of his tone, as he spoke those words. It was horrible to see him; it was horrible to hear him. Mr. Moy said to him, in a whisper, "Control yourself, or I will throw up your case."
Without answering--without even listening--he lifted one of his hands, and looked at it vacantly. He whispered something to himself; and counted out what he was whispering slowly; in divisions of his own, on three of his fingers in succession. He fixed his eyes again on Anne with the same devouring hatred in their look, and spoke (this time directly addressing himself to her) with the same ferocious vindictiveness in his tone. "But for you, I should be married to Mrs. Glenarm. But for you, I should be friends with my father. But for you, I should have won the race. I know what I owe you." His loosely hanging hands stealthily clenched themselves. His head sank again on his broad breast. He said no more.
Not a soul moved--not a word was spoken. The same common horror held them all speechless. Anne's eyes turned once more on Blanche. Anne's courage upheld her, even at that moment.
Sir Patrick rose. The strong emotion which he had suppressed thus far, showed itself plainly in his face--uttered itself plainly in his voice.
"Come into the next room," he said to Anne. "I must speak to you instantly!"
Without noticing the astonishment that he caused; without paying the smallest attention to the remonstrances addressed to him by his sister-in-law and by the Scotch lawyer, he took Anne by the arm, opened the folding-doors at one end of the room--entered the room beyond with her--and closed the doors again.
Lady Lundie appealed to her legal adviser. Blanche rose--advanced a few steps--and stood in breathless suspense, looking at the folding-doors. Arnold advanced a step, to speak to his wife. The captain approached Mr. Moy.
"What does this mean?" he asked.
Mr. Moy answered, in strong agitation on his side.
"It means that I have not been properly instructed. Sir Patrick Lundie has some evidence in his possession that seriously compromises Mr. Delamayn's case. He has shrunk from producing it hitherto--he finds himself forced to produce it now. How is it," asked the lawyer, turning sternly on his client, "that you have left me in the dark?"
"I know nothing about it," answered Geoffrey, without lifting his head.
Lady Lundie signed to Blanche to stand aside, and advanced toward the folding-doors. Mr. Moy stopped her.
"I advise your ladyship to be patient. Interference is useless there."
"Am I not to interfere, Sir, in my own house?"
"Unless I am entirely mistaken, madam, the end of the proceedings in your house is at hand. You will damage your own interests by interfering. Let us know what we are about at last. Let the end come."
Lady Lundie yielded, and returned to her place. They all waited in silence for the opening of the doors.
Sir Patrick Lundie and Anne Silvester were alone in the room.
He took from the breast-pocket of his coat the sheet of note-paper which contained Anne's letter, and Geoffrey's reply. His hand trembled as he held it; his voice faltered as he spoke.
"I have done all that can be done," he said. "I have left nothing untried, to prevent the necessity of producing this."
"I feel your kindness gratefully, Sir Patrick. You must produce it now."
The woman's calmness presented a strange and touching contrast to the man's emotion. There was no shrinking in her face, there was no unsteadiness in her voice as she answered him. He took her hand. Twice he attempted to speak; and twice his own agitation overpowered him. He offered the letter to her i n silence.
In silence, on her side, she put the letter away from her, wondering what he meant.
"Take it back," he said. "I can't produce it! I daren't produce it! After what my own eyes have seen, after what my own ears have heard, in the next room--as God is my witness, I daren't ask you to declare yourself Geoffrey Delamayn's wife!"
She answered him in one word.
He shook his head impatiently. "Not even in Blanche's interests! Not even for Blanche's sake! If there is any risk, it is a risk I am ready to run. I hold to my own opinion. I believe my own view to be right. Let it come to an appeal to the law! I will fight the case, and win it."
"Are you sure of winning it, Sir Patrick?"
Instead of replying, he pressed the letter on her. "Destroy it," he whispered. "And rely on my silence."
She took the letter from him.
"Destroy it," he repeated. "They may open the doors. They may come in at any moment, and see it in your hand."
"I have something to ask you, Sir Patrick, before I destroy it. Blanche refuses to go back to her husband, unless she returns with the certain assurance of being really his wife. If I produce this letter, she may go back to him to-day. If I declare myself Geoffrey Delamayn's wife, I clear Arnold Brinkworth, at once and forever of all suspicion of being married to me. Can you as certainly and effectually clear him in any other way? Answer me that, as a man of honor speaking to a woman who implicitly trusts him!"
She looked him full in the face. His eyes dropped before hers--he made no reply.
"I am answered," she said.
With those words, she passed him, and laid her hand on the door.
He checked her. The tears rose in his eyes as he drew her gently back into the room.
"Why should we wait?" she asked.
"Wait," he answered, "as a favor to me."
She seated herself calmly in the nearest chair, and rested her head on her hand, thinking.
He bent over her, and roused her, impatiently, almost angrily. The steady resolution in her face was terrible to him, when he thought of the man in the next room.
"Take time to consider," he pleaded. "Don't be led away by your own impulse. Don't act under a false excitement. Nothing binds you to this dreadful sacrifice of yourself."
"Excitement! Sacrifice!" She smiled sadly as she repeated the words. "Do you know, Sir Patrick, what I was thinking of a moment since? Only of old times, when I was a little girl. I saw the sad side of life sooner than most children see it. My mother was cruelly deserted. The hard marriage laws of this country were harder on her than on me. She died broken-hearted. But one friend comforted her at the last moment, and promised to be a mother to her child. I can't remember one unhappy day in all the after-time when I lived with that faithful woman and her little daughter--till the day that parted us. She went away with her husband; and I and the little daughter were left behind. She said her last words to me. Her heart was sinking under the dread of coming death. 'I promised your mother that you should be like my own child to me, and it quieted her mind. Quiet my mind, Anne, before I go. Whatever happens in years to come--promise me to be always what you are now, a sister to Blanche.' Where is the false excitement, Sir Patrick, in old remembrances like these? And how can there be a sacrifice in any thing that I do for Blanche?"
She rose, and offered him her hand. Sir Patrick lifted it to his lips in silence.
"Come!" she said. "For both our sakes, let us not prolong this."
He turned aside his head. It was no moment to let her see that she had completely unmanned him. She waited for him, with her hand on the lock. He rallied his courage--he forced himself to face the horror of the situation calmly. She opened the door, and led the way back into the other room.
Not a word was spoken by any of the persons present, as the two returned to their places. The noise of a carriage passing in the street was painfully audible. The chance banging of a door in the lower regions of the house made every one start.
Anne's sweet voice broke the dreary silence.
"Must I speak for myself, Sir Patrick? Or will you (I ask it as a last and greatest favor) speak for me?"
"You insist on appealing to the letter in your hand?"
"I am resolved to appeal to it."
"Will nothing induce you to defer the close of this inquiry--so far as you are concerned--for four-and-twenty hours?"
"Either you or I, Sir Patrick, must say what is to be said, and do what is to be done, before we leave this room."
"Give me the letter."
She gave it to him. Mr. Moy whispered to his client, "Do you know what that is?" Geoffrey shook his head. "Do you really remember nothing about it?" Geoffrey answered in one surly word, "Nothing!"
Sir Patrick addressed himself to the assembled company.
"I have to ask your pardon," he said, "for abruptly leaving the room, and for obliging Miss Silvester to leave it with me. Every body present, except that man" (he pointed to Geoffrey), "will, I believe, understand and forgive me, now that I am forced to make my conduct the subject of the plainest and the fullest explanation. I shall address that explanation, for reasons which will presently appear, to my niece."
Blanche started. "To me!" she exclaimed.
"To you," Sir Patrick answered.
Blanche turned toward Arnold, daunted by a vague sense of something serious to come. The letter that she had received from her husband on her departure from Ham Farm had necessarily alluded to relations between Geoffrey and Anne, of which Blanche had been previously ignorant. Was any reference coming to those relations? Was there something yet to be disclosed which Arnold's letter had not prepared her to hear?
Sir Patrick resumed.
"A short time since," he said to Blanche, "I proposed to you to return to your husband's protection--and to leave the termination of this matter in my hands. You have refused to go back to him until you are first certainly assured that you are his wife. Thanks to a sacrifice to your interests and your happiness, on Miss Silvester's part--which I tell you frankly I have done my utmost to prevent--I am in a position to prove positively that Arnold Brinkworth was a single man when he married you from my house in Kent."
Mr. Moy's experience forewarned him of what was coming. He pointed to the letter in Sir Patrick's hand.
"Do you claim on a promise of marriage?" he asked.
Sir Patrick rejoined by putting a question on his side.
"Do you remember the famous decision at Doctors' Commons, which established the marriage of Captain Dalrymple and Miss Gordon?"
Mr. Moy was answered. "I understand you, Sir Patrick," he said. After a moment's pause, he addressed his next words to Anne. "And from the bottom of my heart, madam, I respect you."
It was said with a fervent sincerity of tone which wrought the interest of the other persons, who were still waiting for enlightenment, to the highest pitch. Lady Lundie and Captain Newenden whispered to each other anxiously. Arnold turned pale. Blanche burst into tears.
Sir Patrick turned once more to his niece.
"Some little time since," he said, "I had occasion to speak to you of the scandalous uncertainty of the marriage laws of Scotland. But for that uncertainty (entirely without parallel in any other civilized country in Europe), Arnold Brinkworth would never have occupied the position in which he stands here to-day--and these proceedings would never have taken place. Bear that fact in mind. It is not only answerable for the mischief that has been already done, but for the far more serious evil which is still to come."
Mr. Moy took a note. Sir Patrick went on.
"Loose and reckless as the Scotch law is, there happens, however, to be one case in which the action of it has been confirmed and settled by the English Courts. A written promise of marriage exchanged between a man and woman, in Scotland, marries that man and woman by Scotch law. An English Court of Justice (sitting in judgment on the ease I have just mentioned to Mr. Moy) has pronounced that law to be good--and the decision has since been confirmed by the supreme authority of the Hous e of Lords. Where the persons therefore--living in Scotland at the time--have promised each other marriage in writing, there is now no longer any doubt they are certainly, and lawfully, Man and Wife." He turned from his niece, and appealed to Mr. Moy." Am I right?"
"Quite right, Sir Patrick, as to the facts. I own, however, that your commentary on them surprises me. I have the highest opinion of our Scottish marriage law. A man who has betrayed a woman under a promise of marriage is forced by that law (in the interests of public morality) to acknowledge her as his wife."
"The persons here present, Mr. Moy, are now about to see the moral merit of the Scotch law of marriage (as approved by England) practically in operation before their own eyes. They will judge for themselves of the morality (Scotch or English) which first forces a deserted woman back on the villain who has betrayed her, and then virtuously leaves her to bear the consequences."
With that answer, he turned to Anne, and showed her the letter, open in his hand.
"For the last time," he said, "do you insist on my appealing to this?"
She rose, and bowed her head gravely.
"It is my distressing duty," said Sir Patrick, "to declare, in this lady's name, and on the faith of written promises of marriage exchanged between the parties, then residing in Scotland, that she claims to be now--and to have been on the afternoon of the fourteenth of August last--Mr. Geoffrey Delamayn's wedded wife."
A cry of horror from Blanche, a low murmur of dismay from the rest, followed the utterance of those words.
There was a pause of an instant.
Then Geoffrey rose slowly to his feet, and fixed his eyes on the wife who had claimed him.
The spectators of the terrible scene turned with one accord toward the sacrificed woman. The look which Geoffrey had cast on her--the words which Geoffrey had spoken to her--were present to all their minds. She stood, waiting by Sir Patrick's side--her soft gray eyes resting sadly and tenderly on Blanche's face. To see that matchless courage and resignation was to doubt the reality of what had happened. They were forced to look back at the man to possess their minds with the truth.
The triumph of law and morality over him was complete. He never uttered a word. His furious temper was perfectly and fearfully calm. With the promise of merciless vengeance written in the Devil s writing on his Devil-possessed face, he kept his eyes fixed on the hated woman whom he had ruined--on the hated woman who was fastened to him as his wife.
His lawyer went over to the table at which Sir Patrick sat. Sir Patrick handed him the sheet of note-paper.
He read the two letters contained in it with absorbed and deliberate attention. The moments that passed before he lifted his head from his reading seemed like hours. "Can you prove the handwritings?" he asked. "And prove the residence?"
Sir Patrick took up a second morsel of paper lying ready under his hand.
"There are the names of persons who can prove the writing, and prove the residence," he replied. "One of your two witnesses below stairs (otherwise useless) can speak to the hour at which Mr. Brinkworth arrived at the inn, and so can prove that the lady for whom he asked was, at that moment, Mrs. Geoffrey Delamayn. The indorsement on the back of the note-paper, also referring to the question of time, is in the handwriting of the same witness--to whom I refer you, when it suits your convenience to question him."
"I will verify the references, Sir Patrick, as matter of form. In the mean time, not to interpose needless and vexatious delay, I am bound to say that I can not resist the evidence of the marriage."
Having replied in those terms he addressed himself, with marked respect and sympathy, to Anne.
"On the faith of the written promise of marriage exchanged between you in Scotland," he said, "you claim Mr. Geoffrey Delamayn as your husband?"
She steadily repented the words after him.
"I claim Mr. Geoffrey Delamayn as my husband."
Mr. Moy appealed to his client. Geoffrey broke silence at last.
"Is it settled?" he asked.
"To all practical purposes, it is settled."
He went on, still looking at nobody but Anne.
"Has the law of Scotland made her my wife?"
"The law of Scotland has made her your wife."
He asked a third and last question.
"Does the law tell her to go where her husband goes?"
He laughed softly to himself, and beckoned to her to cross the room to the place at which he was standing.
She obeyed. At the moment when she took the first step to approach him, Sir Patrick caught her hand, and whispered to her, "Rely on me!" She gently pressed his hand in token that she understood him, and advanced to Geoffrey. At the same moment, Blanche rushed between them, and flung her arms around Anne's neck.
"Oh, Anne! Anne!"
An hysterical passion of tears choked her utterance. Anne gently unwound the arms that clung round her--gently lifted the head that lay helpless on her bosom.
"Happier days are coming, my love," she said. "Don't think of
She kissed her--looked at her--kissed her again--and placed her in her husband's arms. Arnold remembered her parting words at Craig Fernie, when they had wished each other good-night. "You have not befriended an ungrateful woman. The day may yet come when I shall prove it." Gratitude and admiration struggled in him which should utter itself first, and held him speechless.
She bent her head gently in token that she understood him. Then she went on, and stood before Geoffrey.
"I am here," she said to him. "What do you wish me to do?"
A hideous smile parted his heavy lips. He offered her his arm.
"Mrs. Geoffrey Delamayn," he said. "Come home."
The picture of the lonely house, isolated amidst its high walls; the ill-omened figure of the dumb woman with the stony eyes and the savage ways--the whole scene, as Anne had pictured it to him but two days since, rose vivid as reality before Sir Patrick's mind. "No!" he cried out, carried away by the generous impulse of the moment. "It shall not be!"
Geoffrey stood impenetrable--waiting with his offered arm. Pale and resolute, she lifted her noble head--called back the courage which had faltered for a moment--and took his arm. He led her to the door. "Don't let Blanche fret about me," she said, simply, to Arnold as they went by. They passed Sir Patrick next. Once more his sympathy for her set every other consideration at defiance. He started up to bar the way to Geoffrey. Geoffrey paused, and looked at Sir Patrick for the first time.
"The law tells her to go with her husband," he said. "The law forbids you to part Man and Wife."
True. Absolutely, undeniably true. The law sanctioned the sacrifice of her as unanswerably as it had sanctioned the sacrifice of her mother before her. In the name of Morality, let him take her! In the interests of Virtue, let her get out of it if she can!
Her husband opened the door. Mr. Moy laid his hand on Sir Patrick's arm. Lady Lundie, Captain Newenden, the London lawyer, all left their places, influenced, for once, by the same interest; feeling, for once, the same suspense. Arnold followed them, supporting his wife. For one memorable instant Anne looked back at them all. Then she and her husband crossed the threshold. They descended the stairs together. The opening and closing of the house door was heard. They were gone.
Done, in the name of Morality. Done, in the interests of Virtue. Done, in an age of progress, and under the most perfect government on the face of the earth.Next