Beelingo.com

Doctor's Wife, The

There was the same solemn hush at Mordred Priory that there had been in the surgeon's house at Graybridge; only there seemed a deeper solemnity here amid all the darkened splendour of the spacious rooms, stretching far away, one beyond another, like the chambers of a palace. Isabel saw the long vista, not as she had seen it once, when he came into the hall to bid her welcome, but with the haunting dreamlike oppression strong upon her. She saw little glimmering patches of gilding and colour here and there in the cool gloom of the shaded rooms, and long bars of light shining through the Venetian shutters upon the polished oaken floors. One of the medical men—there were three or four of them in the house—came out of the library and spoke in a whisper to Mr. Raymond. The result of the whispering seemed tolerably favourable, for the doctor went back to his companions in the library, and Charles Raymond led Isabel up the broad staircase; the beautiful staircase which seemed to belong to a church or a cathedral rather than to any common habitation.

They met a nurse in the corridor; a prim, pleasant-looking woman, who answered Mr. Raymond's questions in a cheerful business-like manner, as if a Roland Lansdell or so more or less in the world were a matter of very small consequence. And then a mist came before Isabel's eyes, and she lost consciousness of the ground on which she trod; and presently there was a faint odour of hartshorn and aromatic medicines, and she felt a soft hand sponging her forehead with eau-de-Cologne, and a woman's muslin garments fluttering near her. And then she raised her eyelids with a painful sense of their weight, and a voice very close to her said,—

"It was very kind of you to come. I am afraid the heat of the room makes you faint. If you could contrive to let in a little more air, Raymond. It was very good of you to come."

Oh, he was not dying! Her heart seemed to leap out of a dreadful frozen region into an atmosphere of warmth and light. He was not dying! Death was not like this. He spoke to her to-day as he had always spoken. It was the same voice, the same low music which she had heard so often mingled with the brawling of the mill-stream: the voice that had sounded perpetually in her dreams by day and night.

She slipped from her chair and fell upon her knees by the bedside. There was nothing violent or melodramatic in the movement; it seemed almost involuntary, half unconscious.

"Oh, I am so glad to hear you speak!" she said; "it makes me so happy—to see you like this. They told me that you were very, very ill; they told me that——"

"They told you the truth," Roland answered gravely. "Oh, dear Mrs. Gilbert, you must try and forget what I have been, or you will never be able to understand what I am. And I was so tired of life, and thought I had so little interest in the universe; and yet I feel so utterly changed a creature now that all earthly hope has really slipped away from me. I sent for you, Isabel, because in this last interview I want to acknowledge all the wrong I have done you; I want to ask your forgiveness for that wrong."

"Forgiveness—from me! Oh, no, no!"

She could not abandon her old attitude of worship. He was a prince always—noble or wicked—a prince by divine right of his splendour and beauty! If he stooped from his high estate to smile upon her, was he not entitled to her deepest gratitude, her purest devotion? If it pleased him to spurn and trample her beneath his feet, what was she, when counted against the magnificence of her idol, that she should complain? There is always some devoted creature prostrate in the road when the car comes by; and which of them would dream of upbraiding Juggernaut for the anguish inflicted by the crushing wheels?

The same kind hands which had bathed Mrs. Gilbert's forehead half lifted her from her kneeling attitude now; and looking up, Isabel saw Lady Gwendoline bending over her, very pale, very grave, but with a sweet compassionate smile upon her face. Lord Ruysdale and his daughter had come to the Priory immediately after hearing of Roland's dangerous state; and during the four-and-twenty hours that had elapsed, Lady Gwendoline had been a great deal with her cousin. The hidden love which had turned to jealous anger against Roland's folly regained all its purer qualities now, and there was no sacrifice of self or self-love that Gwendoline Pomphrey would have hesitated to make, if in so doing she could have restored life and vigour to the dying man. She had heard the worst the doctors had to tell. She knew that her cousin was dying. She was no woman to delude herself with vain hopes, to put away the cup for awhile because it was bitter, knowing that its last drop must be drained sooner or later. She bowed her head before the inevitable, and accepted her sorrow. Never in her brightest day, when her portrait had been in every West-end print-shop, and her name a synonym for all that is elegant and beautiful—never had she seemed so perfect a woman as now, when she sat pale and quiet and resigned, by the deathbed of the man she loved.

During that long night of watching, Mr. Lansdell's mind had seemed at intervals peculiarly clear,—the fatal injuries inflicted upon his brain had not blotted out his intellect. That had been obscured in occasional periods of wandering and stupor, but every now and then the supremacy of spirit over matter reasserted itself, and the young man talked even more calmly than usual. All the fitfulness of passion, the wavering of purpose—now hot, now cold, now generous, now cruel,—all natural weakness seemed to have been swept away, and an unutterable calm had fallen upon his heart and mind.

Once, on waking from a brief doze, he found his cousin watching, but the nurse asleep, and began to talk of Isabel Gilbert. "I want you to know all about her," he said; "you have only heard vulgar scandal and gossip. I should like you to know the truth. It is very foolish, that little history—wicked perhaps; but those provincial gossips may have garbled and disfigured the story. I will tell you the truth, Gwendoline; for I want you to be a friend to Isabel Gilbert when I am dead and gone."

And then he told the history of all those meetings under Lord Thurston's oak; dwelling tenderly on Isabel's ignorant simplicity, blaming himself for all that was guilty and dishonourable in that sentimental flirtation. He told Gwendoline how, from being half amused, half gratified, by Mrs. Gilbert's unconcealed admiration of him, so na�vely revealed in every look and tone, he had, little by little, grown to find the sole happiness of his life in those romantic meetings; and then he spoke of his struggles with himself, real, earnest struggles—his flight—his return—his presumptuous belief that Isabel would freely consent to any step he might propose—his anger and disappointment after the final interview, which proved to him how little he had known the depths of that girlish sentimental heart.

"She was only a child playing with fire, Gwendoline," he said; "and had not the smallest desire to walk through the furnace. That was my mistake. She was a child, and I mistook her for a woman—a woman who saw the gulf before her, and was prepared to take the desperate leap. She was only a child, pleased with my pretty speeches and town-made clothes and perfumed handkerchiefs,—a schoolgirl; and I set my life upon the chance of being happy with her. Will you try and think of her as she really is, Gwendoline,—not as these Graybridge people see her,—and be kind to her when I am dead and gone? I should like to think she was sure of one wise and good woman for a friend. I have been very cruel to her, very unjust, very selfish. I was never in the same mind about her for an hour together,—sometimes thinking tenderly of her, sometimes upbraiding and hating her as a trickstress and a coquette. But I can understand her and believe in her much better now. The sky is higher, Gwendoline."

If Roland had told his cousin this story a week before, when his life seemed all before him, she might have received his confidence in a very different spirit from that in which she now accepted it; but he was dying, and she had loved him, and had been loved by him. It was by her own act that she had lost that love. She of all others had least right to resent his attachment to another woman. She remembered that day, nearly ten years ago, on which she had quarrelled with him, stung by his reproaches, insolent in the pride of her young beauty and the knowledge that she might marry a man so high above Roland Lansdell in rank and position. She saw herself as she had been, in all the early splendour of her Saxon beauty, and wondered if she really was the same creature as that proud worldly girl who thought the supremest triumph in life was to become the wife of a marquis.

"I will be her friend, Roland," she said, presently. "I know she is very childish; and I will be patient with her and befriend her, poor lonely girl."

Lady Gwendoline was thinking, as she said this, of that interview in the surgeon's parlour at Graybridge—that interview in which Isabel had not scrupled to confess her folly and wickedness.

"I ought to have been more patient," Gwendoline thought; "but I think I was angry with her because she had dared to love Roland. I was jealous of his love for her, and I could not be kind or tolerant."

Thus it was that Isabel found Lady Gwendoline so tender and compassionate to her. She only raised her eyes to the lady's face with a grateful look. She forgot all about the interview at Graybridge; what could she remember in that room, except that he was ill? in danger, people had told her; but she could not believe that. The experience of her husband's deathbed had impressed her with an idea that dangerous illness must be accompanied by terrible prostration, delirium, raging fever, dull stupor. She saw Roland in one of his best intervals, reasonable, cheerful, self-possessed, and she could not believe that he was going to die. She looked at him, and saw that his face was bloodless, and that his head was bound by linen bandages, which concealed his forehead. A fall from his horse! She remembered how she had seen him once ride by upon the dusty road, unconscious of her presence, grand and self-absorbed as Count Lara; but amongst all her musings she had never imagined any danger coming to him in that shape. She had fancied him always as a dauntless rider, taming the wildest steed with one light pressure of his hand upon the curb. She looked at him sorrowfully, and the vision of his accident arose before her; she saw the horse tearing across a moonlit waste, and then a fall, and then a figure dragged along the ground. She had read of such things: it was only some old half-forgotten scene out of one of her books that rose in her mind.

No doubt as to the nature of Mr. Lansdell's accident, no glimmering suspicion of the truth, ever entered her brain. She believed most fully that she had herself prevented all chance of an encounter between her father and his enemy. Had she not seen the last of Mr. Sleaford in Nessborough Hollow, whence he was to depart for Wareham station at break of day? and what should take Roland Lansdell to that lonely glade in which the little rustic inn was hidden,—a resting-place for haymakers and gipsy-hawkers?

She never guessed the truth. The medical men who attended Roland Lansdell knew that the injuries from which he was dying had never been caused by any fall from a horse; and they said as much to Charles Raymond, who was unutterably distressed by the intelligence. But neither he nor the doctors could obtain any admission from the patient, though Mr. Raymond most earnestly implored him to reveal the truth.

"Cure me, if you can," he said; "nothing that I can tell you will give you any help in doing that. If it is my fancy to keep the cause of my death a secret, it is the whim of a dying man, and it ought to be respected. No living creature upon this earth except one man will ever know how I came by these injuries. But I do hope that you gentlemen will be discreet enough to spare my friends any useless pain. The gossips are at work already, I dare say, speculating as to what became of the horse that threw me. For pity's sake, do your best to stop their talk. My life has been sluggish enough; do not let there be any esclandre about my death."

Against such arguments as these Charles Raymond could urge nothing. But his grief for the loss of the young man he loved was rendered doubly bitter by the mystery which surrounded Roland's fate. The doctors told him that the wounds on Mr. Lansdell's head could only have been caused by merciless blows inflicted with some blunt instrument. Mr. Raymond in vain distracted himself with the endeavour to imagine how or why the young man had been attacked. He had not been robbed; for his watch and purse, his rings, and the little trinkets hanging at his chain, all of them costly in their nature, had been found upon him when he was brought home to the Priory. That Roland Lansdell could have counted one enemy amongst all mankind, never entered into his kinsman's calculations. He had no recollection of that little story told so lightly by the young man in the flower-garden; he was entirely without a clue to the catastrophe; and he perceived very plainly that Roland's resolution was not to be shaken. There was a quiet determination in Mr. Lansdell's refusal, which left no hope that he might be induced to change his mind. He spoke with all apparent frankness of the result of his visit to Nessborough Hollow. He had found Isabel there, he said, with a man who was related to her,—a poor relation, who had come to Graybridge to extort money from her. He had seen and spoken to the man, and was fully convinced that his account of himself was true.

"So you see the Graybridge gossips had lighted on the usual mare's nest," Roland said, in conclusion; "the man was a relation,—an uncle or cousin, I believe,—I heard it from his own lips. If I had been a gentleman, I should have been superior to the foul suspicions that maddened me that night. What common creatures we are, Raymond, some of us! Our mothers believe in us, and worship us, and watch over us, and seem to fancy they have dipped us in a kind of moral Styx, and that there is something of the immortal infused into our vulgar clay; but rouse our common passions, and we sink to the level of the navigator who beats his wife to death with a poker in defence of his outraged honour. They put a kind of varnish over us at Eton and Oxford; but the colouring underneath is very much the same, after all. Your King Arthur, or Sir Philip Sidney, or Bayard, crops up once in a century or so, and the world bows down before a gentleman; but, oh, what a rare creature he is!"


"I want you to forgive me," Roland said to Isabel, after she had been sitting some minutes in the low chair in which Lady Gwendoline had placed her. There was no one in the room but Charles Raymond and Gwendoline Pomphrey; and Mr. Raymond had withdrawn himself to a distant window that had been pushed a little way open, near which he sat in a very mournful attitude, with his face averted from the sick bed. "I want you to forgive me for having been very unjust and cruel to you, Mrs. Gilbert—Isabel. Ah, I may call you Isabel now, and no one will cry out upon me! Dying men have all manner of pleasant privileges. I was very cruel, very unjust, very selfish and wicked, my poor girl; and your childish ignorance was wiser than my worldly experience. A man has no right to desire perfect happiness: I can understand that now. He has no right to defy the laws made by wiser men for his protection, because there is a fatal twist in the fabric of his life, and those very laws happen to thwart him in his solitary insignificance. How truly Thomas Carlyle has told us that Manhood only begins when we have surrendered to Necessity! We must submit, Isabel. I struggled; but I never submitted. I tried to crush and master the pain; but I never resigned myself to endure it; and endurance is so much grander than conquest. And then, when I had yielded to the tempter, when I had taken my stand, prepared to defy heaven and earth, I was angry with you, poor child, because you were not alike rash and desperate. Forgive me, my dear; I loved you very much; and it is only now—now when I am dying, that I know how fatal and guilty my love was. But it was never a profligate's brief passion, Isabel. It was wicked to love you; but my love was pure. If you had been free to be my wife, I should have been a true and faithful husband to my childish love. Ah, even now, when life seems so far away; even now, Isabel, the old picture rises before me, and I fancy what might have been if I had found you free."

The low penetrating voice reached Charles Raymond, and he bent his head and sobbed aloud. Dimly, as the memory of a dream, came back upon him the recollection of that time in which he had sat amongst the shadows of the great beech-trees at Hurstonleigh, with the young man's poems open in his hand, and had been beguiled into thinking of what might happen if Roland returned to England to see Isabel in her girlish beauty. And Roland had returned, and had seen her; but too late; and now she was free once more,—free to be loved and chosen,—and again it was too late. Perhaps Mr. Raymond seems only a foolish sentimentalist, weeping because of the blight upon a young man's love-story; but then he had loved the young man's mother,—and in vain!

"Gwendoline has promised to be your friend, Isabel," Roland said by-and-by; "it makes me very happy to know that. Oh, my darling, if I could tell you the thoughts that came to me as I lay there, with the odour of leaves and flowers about me, and the stars shining above the tall branches over my head. What is impossible in a universe where there are such stars? It seemed as if I had never seen them until then."

He rambled on thus, with Isabel's hand held loosely in his. He seemed to be very happy—entirely at peace. Gwendoline had proposed to read to him; and the parish rector had been with him, urging the duty of some religious exercises, eager to exhort and to explain; but the young man had smiled at him with some shade of contempt in his expression.

"There is very little you could read from that book which I do not already know by heart," he said, pointing to the Bible lying open under the clergyman's hand. "It is not your unbeliever who least studies his gospel. Imagine a man possessed of a great crystal that looks like a diamond. His neighbours tell him that the gem is priceless—matchless —without crack or flaw. But some evil thing within the man suggests that it may be valueless after all—only a big beautiful lump of glass. You may fancy that he would examine it very closely; he would scrutinize every facet, and contemplate it in every light, and perhaps know a good deal more about it than the believing possessor, who, feeling confident in the worth of his jewel, puts it safely away in a strong box against the hour when it may be wanted. I know all about the gospel, Mr. Matson; and I think, as my hours are numbered, it may be better for me to lie and ponder upon those familiar words. The light breaks upon me very slowly; but it all comes from a far distant sky; and no earthly hand can lift so much as the uttermost edge of the curtain that shuts out the fuller splendour. I am very near him now; I am very near 'the shadow, cloaked from head to foot, who keeps the keys of all the creeds!'"

The conscientious rector thought Mr. Lansdell a very unpromising penitent; but it was something to hear that the young man did not rail or scoff at religion on his dying bed; and even that might have been expected of a person who had attended divine service only once in six weeks, and had scandalized a pious and well-bred congregation by undisguised yawns, and absent-minded contemplation of his finger-nails, during the respectable prosiness of a long sermon.

The rector did not understand this imperfect conversion, expressed in phrases that sounded the reverse of orthodox; but the state of matters in that death-chamber was much better than he had expected. He had heard it hinted that Mr. Lansdell was a Freethinker—a Deist; even an Atheist, some people had said; and he had half anticipated to find the young man blaspheming aloud in the throes of his dying agony. He had not been prepared for this quiet deathbed; this man, who was dying with a smile upon his face, murmuring alternate fragments of St. John's Gospel and Tennyson's "In Memoriam."

"I was with my mother when she died." Roland said by-and-by, "and yet could not accept the simple faith that made her so happy. But I dare say Saul had seen many wonderful things before that journey to Damascus. Had he not witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen, and had yet been unmoved? The hour comes, and the miracle comes with it. Oh, what an empty wasted life mine has been for the last ten years! because I could not understand—I could not see beyond. I might have done so much perhaps, if I could only have seen my way beyond the contradictions and perplexities of this lower life. But I could not—I could not; and so I fell back into a sluggish idleness, 'without a conscience or an aim.' I 'basked and battened in the woods.'"

The rector lingered in the house even after he had left Roland's chamber. He would be summoned by-and-by, perhaps, and the dying man would require some more orthodox consolation than was to be derived from Mr. Tennyson's verses.

But Roland seemed very happy. There was a brightness upon his face, in spite of its death-like pallor—a spiritual brightness, unaffected by any loss of blood, or languor of that slow pulse which the London physicians felt so often. For some two or three hours after the struggle in Nessborough Hollow he had lain stunned and unconscious; then he had slowly awakened to see the stars fading above the branches over his head, and to hear the early morning breeze creeping with a ghostly rustling noise amidst the fern. He awoke to feel that something of an unwonted nature had happened to him, but not for some time to any distinct remembrance of his encounter with Mr. Sleaford.

He tried to move, but found himself utterly powerless,—a partial paralysis seemed to have changed his limbs to lead; he could only lie as he had fallen; dimly conscious of the fading stars above, the faint summer wind rippling a distant streamlet, and all the vague murmur of newly-awakened nature. He knew as well as if a whole conclave of physicians had announced their decision upon his case,—he knew that for him life was over; and that if there was any vitality in his mind, any sense of a future in his breast, that sense, so vague and imperfect as yet, could only relate to something beyond this earth.

Very rambling fancies filled Mr. Lansdell's mind as he lay amongst the bruised fern, with the wild-rose brambles and blossoms above him. He knew that his life was done; he knew that for him all interest in this earth and its creatures had ceased for ever; and a perfect calm came down upon him. He was like a man who had possessed a great fortune, and had been perpetually tormented by doubts and perplexities about it, and who, waking one morning to discover himself a beggar, found a strange relief in the knowledge that he was penniless. The struggle was all over. No longer could the tempter whisper in his ear, urging him to follow this or that wandering exhalation of the world's foul marsh-lands. No more for him irresolution or perplexity. The problem of life was solved; a new and unexpected way was opened for him out of the blank weariness which men call existence. At first, the thought of his approaching release brought with it no feeling but a sense of release. It was only afterwards, when the new aspect of things became familiar to him, that he began to think with remorseful pain of all the empty life that lay behind him. He seemed to be thinking of this even when Isabel was with him; for after lying for some time quite silent, in a doze, as they thought who watched him,—he raised his heavy eyelids, and said to her,—

"If ever you should find yourself with the means of doing great good, of being very useful to your fellow-creatures, I should like you to remember my wasted life, Isabel. You will try to be patient, won't you, my dear? You will not think, because you are baulked in your first pet scheme for the regeneration of mankind, that you are free to wash your hands of the business, and stand aloof shrugging your shoulders at other people's endeavours. Ten years ago I fancied myself a philanthropist; but I was like a child who plants an acorn over-night, and expects to see the tender leaflets of a sapling oak sprouting through the brown earth next morning. I wanted to do great things all at once. My courage failed before the battle had well begun. But I want you to be different from me, my dear. You were wiser than I when you left me that day; when you left me to my foolish anger, my sinful despair. Our love was too pure to have survived the stain of treachery and guilt. It would have perished like some beautiful flame that expires in a tainted atmosphere. Impure love may flourish in a poisoned habitation; but the true god sickens and dies if you shut him from the free air of heaven. I know now that we should not have been happy, Isabel; and I acknowledge the mysterious wisdom that has saved us. My darling, do not look at me with those despairing eyes; death will unite us rather than separate us, Isabel. I should have been farther away from you if I had lived; for I was tired of my life. I was like a spoilt child, who has possessed all the toys ever devised by mortal toymaker, and has played with them all, and grown weary of them, and broken them. Only his nurses know what an abomination that child is. I might have become a very bad man if I had lived, Isabel. As it is, I begin to understand what Tennyson means. He has written the gospel of his age, Isabel. He has told me what I am: 'an infant crying in the night; an infant crying for the light; and with no language but a cry.'"

These were the last words that Roland Lansdell ever spoke to the Doctor's Wife. He fell back into the same half-slumber from which he had awakened to talk to her; and some one—she scarcely knew who it was—led her out of the sick chamber, and a little way along the corridor into another room, where the Venetian shutters were half open, and there was sunshine and splendour.

Then, as if in a dream, she found herself lying on a bed; a bed that seemed softer than the billows of the sea, and around which there were curtains of pale green silk and shadowy muslin, and a faint odour like incense hovering about everything. As in a dream, Isabel saw Lady Gwendoline and the nurse bending over her; and then one of them told her to go to sleep; she must want rest; she had been sorely tried lately.

"You are among friends," the soft patrician voice murmured. "I know that I wronged you very much, poor child; but I have promised him that I will be your friend."

The soft curtains fell with a rustling noise between Isabel and the light, and she knew that she was alone; but still the dream-like feeling held her senses as in a spell. Does not simple, practical Sir Walter Scott, writing of the time of his wife's burial, tell us that it was all like a dream to him; he could not comprehend or lay hold of the dread reality? And is it any wonder, therefore, if to this romantic girl the calamity that had so suddenly befallen her seemed like a dream? He was dying! every one said that it was so; he himself spoke of his death calmly as a settled thing; and no one gainsayed him. And yet she could not believe in the cruel truth. Was he not there, talking to her and advising her? his intellect unclouded as when he had taught her how to criticise her favourite poets in the bright summer days that were gone. No, a thousand times no; she would not believe that he was to die. Like all people who have enjoyed a very close acquaintance with poverty, she had an exaggerated idea of the power of wealth. Those great physicians, summoned from Savile Row, and holding solemn conclave in the library,—they would surely save him; they would fan that feeble flame back into new life. What was medical science worth, if it was powerless to save this one sick man? And then the prayers which had seemed cold and lifeless on her lips when she had supplicated for George Gilbert's restoration took a new colour, and were as if inspired.

She pushed aside the curtains and got up from the bed where they had told her to sleep. She went to the door and opened it a little way; but there was no sound to be heard in the long corridor where the portraits of dead-and-gone Lansdells—all seeming to her more or less like him—looked sadly down from the wainscot. A flood of hot sunshine poured into the room, but she had no definite idea of the hour. She had lost all count of time since the sudden shock of her husband's death; and she did not even know the day of the week. She only knew that the world seemed to have come to an end, and that it was very hard to be left alone in a deserted universe.

For a long time she knelt by the bedside praying that Roland Lansdell might live—only that he might live. She would be contented and happy, she thought, to know that all the world lay between her and him, if she could only know that he lived. There was no vestige of any selfish desire in her mind. Childishly, ignorantly, as a child might supplicate for the life of its mother, did this girl pray for the recovery of Roland Lansdell. No thought of her new freedom, no foreshadowing of what might happen if he could be restored to health, disturbed the simple fervour of her prayers. She only wanted him to live.

The sun sloped westward, and still shone upon that kneeling figure. Perhaps Isabel had a vague notion that the length of her prayers might prevail. They were very rambling, unorthodox petitions. It is not every mourner who can cry, "Thy will be done!" Pitiful and weak and foolish are some of the lamentations that rise to the Eternal Throne.

At last, when Isabel had been some hours alone and undisturbed in that sunlit chamber, an eager yearning to see Roland Lansdell once more came upon her,—to see him, or at least to hear tidings of him; to hear that a happy change had come about; that he was sleeping peacefully, wrapt in a placid slumber that gave promise of recovery. Ah, what unspeakable delight it would be to hear something like this! And sick men had been spared before to-day.

Her heart thrilled with a sudden rapture of hope. She went to the door and opened it, and then stood upon the threshold listening. All was silent as it had been before. No sound of footsteps, no murmur of voices, penetrated the massive old walls. There was no passing servant in the corridor whom she could question as to Mr. Lansdell's state. She waited with faint hope that Lady Gwendoline or the sick-nurse might come out of Roland's room; but she waited in vain. The western sunlight shining redly through a lantern in the roof of the corridor illumined the sombre faces of the dead Lansdells with a factitious glow of life and colour; pensive faces, darkly earnest faces—all with some look of the man who was lying in the chamber yonder. The stillness of that long corridor seemed to freeze Isabel's childish hopes. The flapping of a linen blind outside the lantern sounded like the fluttering of a sail at sea; but inside the house there was not so much as a breath or a whisper.

The stillness and the suspense grew unendurable. The Doctor's Wife moved away from the door, and crept nearer and nearer the dark oaken door at the end of the corridor—the ponderous barrier that shut her from Roland Lansdell. She dared not knock at that door, lest the sound should disturb him. Some one must surely come out into the corridor before long,—Mr. Raymond, or Lady Gwendoline, or the nurse,—some one who could give her hope and comfort.

She went towards the door, and suddenly saw that the door of the next room was ajar. From this room came the low murmur of voices; and Isabel remembered all at once that she had seen an apartment opening out of that in which Roland Lansdell lay—a large pleasant-looking chamber, with a high oaken mantel-piece, above which she had seen the glimmer of guns and pistols, and a picture of a horse.

She went into this room. It was empty, and the murmur of voices came from the adjoining chamber. The door between the two rooms was open, and she heard something more than voices. There was the sound of low convulsive sobbing; very subdued, but very terrible to hear. She could not see the sick man, for there was a little group about his bed, a group of bending figures, that made a screen between her and him. She saw Lady Gwendoline on her knees at the bottom of the bed, with her face buried in the silken coverlet, and her arms thrown up above her head; but in the next moment Charles Raymond saw her, and came to her. He closed the door softly behind him, and shut out that group of bending figures. She would have spoken; but he lifted his hand with a solemn gesture.

"Come away, my dear," he said softly. "Come with me, Isabel."

"Oh, let me see him! let me speak to him! Only once more—only once!"

"Never again, Isabel,—never upon this earth any more! You must think of him as something infinitely better and brighter than you ever knew him here. I never saw such a smile upon a human face as I saw just now on his."

She had no need of any plainer words to tell her he was dead. She felt the ground reel suddenly beneath her feet, and saw the gradual rising of a misty darkness that shut out the world, and closed about her like the silent waters through which a drowning man goes down to death.



1 of 2
2 of 2