Chapter 31


There were more than the marquis left awake and thinking; amongst the rest one who ought to have been asleep, for the thoughts that kept her awake were evil thoughts. Amanda Serafina Fuller was a twig or leaf upon one of many decaying branches, which yet drew what life they had from an ancient genealogical tree. Property gone, but the sense of high birth swollen to a vice, the one thought in her mother's mind, ever since she grew capable of looking upon the social world in its relation to herself, had been how, with stinted resources, to make the false impression of plentiful ease. For one of the most disappointing things in high descent is, that the descent is occasionally into depths of meanness. Some who are proudest of their lineage, instead of finding therein a spur to nobility of thought and action, find in it only a necessity for prostrating themselves with the more abject humiliation at the footstool of Mammon, to be admitted into the penetralia of which foul god's favours, they will hasten to mingle the blood of their pure descent with that of the very kennels, yellow with the gold to which a noble man, if poor as Jesus himself, would loathe to be indebted for a meal. In 'the high countries' there will be a finding of levels more appalling than strange. Hence Amanda had been born and brought up in falsehood, had been all her life witness to a straining after the untrue so energetic, as to assume the appearance of conscience; while such was the tenor and spirit of the remarks she was constantly hearing, that she grew up with the ingrained undisputed idea that she and her mother, whom she had only known as a widow, had been wronged, spoiled indeed of their lawful rights, by a combination of their rich relatives; whereas in truth they had been the objects of very considerable generosity, which they resented the more that it had been chiefly exercised by such of the family as could least easily afford it, yet accepted in their hearts, if not in their words, as their natural right. The intercession through which Amanda had been received into lady Margaret's household, was the contribution towards their maintenance of one of their richer connections: the marquis himself, although distantly related, not having previously been aware of their existence. But Amanda felt degraded by her position, and was unaware that to herself alone she owed the degradation: she had not yet learned that the only service which can degrade is that which is unwillingly rendered. To be paid for such, is degradation in its very essence. Every one who grumbles at his position as degrading, yet accepts the wages thereof, brands himself a slave. The evil tendencies which she had inherited, had then been nourished in her from her very birth--chief of these envy, and a strong tendency to dislike. Mean herself, she was full of suspicions with regard to others, and found much pleasure in penetrating what she took to be disguise, and laying bare the despicable motives which her own character enabled her either to discover or imagine, and which, in other people, she hated. Moderately good people have no idea of the vileness of which their own nature is capable, or which has been developed in not a few who pass as respectable persons, and have not yet been accused either of theft or poisoning. Such as St. Paul alone can fully understand the abyss of moral misery from which the in-dwelling spirit of God has raised them. The one redeeming element in Amanda was her love to her mother, but inasmuch as it was isolated and self-reflected, their mutual attachment partook of the nature of a cultivated selfishness, and had lost much of its primal grace. The remaining chance for such a woman, so to speak, seems--that she should either fall in love with a worthy man, if that be still possible to her, or, by her own conduct, be brought into dismal and incontrovertible disgrace. She had stood in the hall within a few yards of Dorothy, and had intently watched her face all the time Richard was before the marquis. But not because she watched the field of their play was Amanda able to read the heart whence ascended those strangely alternating lights and shadows. She had, by her own confession, conceived a strong dislike to Dorothy the moment she saw her, and without love there can be no understanding. Hate will sharpen observation to the point of microscopic vision, affording opportunity for many a shrewd guess, and revealing facts for the construction of the cleverest and falsest theories, but will leave the observer as blind as any bat to the scope of the whole, or the meaning of the parts which can be understood only from the whole; for love alone can interpret. As she gazed on the signs of conflicting emotion in Dorothy's changes of colour and expression, Amanda came quickly enough to the conclusion that nothing would account for them but the assumption that the sly puritanical minx was in love with the handsome young roundhead. How else could the deathly pallor of her countenance while she fixed her eyes wide and unmoving upon his face, and the flush that ever and anon swept its red shadow over the pallor as she cast them on the ground at some brave word from the lips of the canting psalm-singer, be in the least intelligible? Then came the difficulty: how in that case was her share in his capture to be explained? But here Amanda felt herself in her own province, and before the marquis rose, had constructed a very clever theory, in which exercise of ingenuity, however, unluckily for its truth, she had taken for granted that Dorothy's nature corresponded to her own, and reasoned freely from the character of the one to the conduct of the other. This was her theory: Dorothy had expected Richard, and contrived his admission. His presence betrayed by the mastiff, and his departure challenged by the warder, she had flown instantly to the alarm-bell, to screen herself in any case, and to secure the chance, if he should be taken, of liberating him without suspicion under cover of the credit of his capture. The theory was a bold one, but then it accounted for all the points--amongst the rest, how he had got the password and why he would not tell--and was indeed in the fineness of its invention equally worthy of both the heart and the intellect of the theorist. Nor were mistress Fuller's resolves behind her conclusions in merit: of all times since first she had learned to mistrust her, this night must Dorothy be watched; and it was with a gush of exultation over her own acuteness that she saw her follow the men who bore Richard from the hall. If Dorothy knew more of her own feelings than she who watched her, she was far less confident that she understood them. Indeed she found them strangely complicated, and as difficult to control as to understand, while she stood gazing on the youth who through her found himself helpless and wounded in the hands of his enemies. He was all in the wrong, no doubt--a rebel against his king, and an apostate from the church of his country; but he was the same Richard with whom she had played all her childhood, whom her mother had loved, and between whom and herself had never fallen shadow before that cast by the sudden outblaze of the star of childish preference into the sun of youthful love. And was it not when the very mother of shadows, the blackness of darkness itself, swept between them and separated them for ever, that first she knew how much she had loved him? What if not with the love that could listen entranced to its own echo!--love of child or love of maiden, Dorothy never asked herself which it had been, or which it was now. She was not given to self-dissection. The cruel fingers of analysis had never pulled her flower to pieces, had never rubbed the bloom from the sun-dyed glow of her feelings. But now she could not help the vaporous rise of a question: all was over, for Richard had taken the path of presumption, rebellion, and violence--how then came it that her heart beat with such a strange delight at every answer he made to the expostulations or enticements of the marquis? How was it that his approval of the intruder, not the less evident that it was unspoken, made her heart swell with pride and satisfaction, causing her to forget the rude rebellion housed within the form whose youth alone prevented it from looking grand in her eyes? For the moment her heart had the better of--her conscience, shall I say? Yes, of that part of her conscience, I will allow, which had grown weak by the wandering of its roots into the poor soil of opinion. In the delight which the manliness of the young fanatic awoke in her, she even forgot the dull pain which had been gnawing at her heart ever since first she saw the blood streaming down his face as he passed her in the gateway. But when at length he fell fainting in the arms of his captors, and the fear that she had slain him writhed sickening through her heart, it was with a grim struggle indeed that she kept silent and conscious. The voice of the marquis, committing him to the care of mistress Watson instead of the rough ministrations of the guard, came with the power of a welcome restorative, and she hastened after his bearers to satisfy herself that the housekeeper was made understand that he was carried to her at the marquis's behest. She then retired to her own chamber, passing in, the corridor Amanda, whose room was in the, same quarter, with a salute careless from weariness and preoccupation. The moment her head was on her pillow the great fight began--on that only battle-field of which all others are but outer types and pictures, upon which the thoughts of the same spirit are the combatants, accusing and excusing one another. She had done her duty, but what a remorseless thing that duty was! She did not, she could not, repent that she had done it, but her heart WOULD complain that she had had it to do. To her, as to Hamlet, it was a cursed spite. She had not yet learned the mystery of her relation to the Eternal, whose nature in his children it is that first shows itself in the feeling of duty. Her religion had not as yet been shaken, to test whether it was of the things that remain or of those that pass. It is easy for a simple nature to hold by what it has been taught, so long as out of that faith springs no demand of bitter obedience; but when the very hiding place of life begins to be laid bare under the scalpel of the law, when the heart must forego its love, when conscience seems at war with kindness, and duty at strife with reason, then most good people, let their devotion to what they call their religion be what it may, prove themselves, although generally without recognising the fact, very much of pagans after all. And good reason why! For are they not devoted to their church or their religion tenfold more than to the living Love, the father of their spirits? and what else is that, be the church or religion what it will, but paganism? Gentle and strong at once as Dorothy was, she was not yet capable of knowing that, however like it may look to a hardship, no duty can be other than a privilege. Nor was it any wonder if she did not perceive that she was already rewarded for the doing of the painful task, at the memory of which her heart ached and rebelled, by the fresh outburst in that same troubled heart of the half-choked spring of her love to the playmate of her childhood. Had it fallen, as she would have judged so much fairer, to some one else of the many in the populous place to defeat Richard's intent and secure his person, she would have both suffered and loved less. The love, I repeat, was the reward of the duty done. For a long time she tossed sleepless, for what she had just passed through had so thorougly possessed her imagination that, ever as her wearied brain was sinking under the waves of sleep, up rose the face of Richard from its depths, deathlike, with matted curls and bloodstained brow, and drove her again ashore on the rocks of wakefulness. By and by the form of her suffering changed, and then instead of the face of Richard it was his voice, ever as she reached the point of oblivion, calling aloud for help in a tone of mingled entreaty and reproach, until at last she could no longer resist the impression that she was warned to go and save him from some impending evil. This once admitted, not for a moment would she delay response. She rose, threw on a dressing-gown, and set out in the dim light of the breaking day to find again the room into which she had seen him carried. There was yet another in the house who could not sleep, and that was Tom Fool. He had a strong suspicion that Richard had learned the watchword from his mother, who, like most people desirous of a reputation for superior knowledge, was always looking out for scraps and orts of peculiar information. In such persons an imagination after its kind has considerable play, and when mother Rees had succeeded, without much difficulty on her own, or sense of risk on her son's part, in drawing from him the watchword of the week, she was aware in herself of a huge accession of importance; she felt as if she had been intrusted with the keys of the main entrance, and trod her clay floor as if the fate of Raglan was hid in her bosom, and the great pile rested in safety under the shadow of her wings. But her imagined gain was likely to prove her son's loss; for, as he reasoned with himself, would Mr. Heywood, now that he knew him for the thief of his mare, persist, upon reflection, in refusing to betray his mother? If not, then the fault would at once be traced to him, with the result at the very least, of disgraceful expulsion from the marquis's service. Almost any other risk would be preferable. But he had yet another ground for uneasiness. He knew well his mother's attachment to young Mr. Heywood, and had taken care she should have no suspicion of the way he was going after leaving her the night he told her the watchword; for such was his belief in her possession of supernatural powers, that he feared the punishment she would certainly inflict for the wrong done to Richard, should it come to her knowledge, even more than the wrath of the marquis. For both of these weighty reasons therefore he must try what could be done to strengthen Richard in his silence, and was prepared with an offer, or promise at least, of assistance in making his escape. As soon as the house was once more quiet, he got up, and, thoroughly acquainted with the "crenkles" of it, took his way through dusk and dark, through narrow passage and wide chamber, without encountering the slightest risk of being heard or seen, until at last he stood, breathless with anxiety and terror, at the door of the turret-chamber, and laid his ear against it.