Man and Wife

Wilkie Collins

Chapter 42 - The Smoking-Room Window


"I CAN'T believe it! I won't believe it! You're trying to part me from my husband--you're trying to set me against my dearest friend. It's infamous. It's horrible. What have I done to you? Oh, my head! my head! Are you trying to drive me mad?"

Pale and wild; her hands twisted in her hair; her feet hurrying her aimlessly to and fro in the room--so Blanche answered her step-mother, when the object of Lady Lundie's pilgrimage had been accomplished, and the cruel truth had been plainly told.

Her ladyship sat, superbly composed, looking out through the window at the placid landscape of woods and fields which surrounded Ham Farm.

"I was prepared for this outbreak," she said, sadly. "These wild words relieve your over-burdened heart, my poor child. I can wait, Blanche--I can wait!"

Blanche stopped, and confronted Lady Lundie.

"You and I never liked each other," she said. "I wrote you a pert letter from this place. I have always taken Anne's part against you. I have shown you plainly--rudely, I dare say--that I was glad to be married and get away from you. This is not your revenge, is it?"

"Oh, Blanche, Blanche, what thoughts to think! what words to say! I can only pray for you."

"I am mad, Lady Lundie. You bear with mad people. Bear with me. I have been hardly more than a fortnight married. I love _him_--I love _her_--with all my heart. Remember what you have told me about them. Remember! remember! remember!"

She reiterated the words with a low cry of pain. Her hands went up to her head again; and she returned restlessly to pacing this way and that in the room.

Lady Lundie tried the effect of a gentle remonstrance. "For your own sake," she said, "don't persist in estranging yourself from me. In this dreadful trial, I am the only friend you have."

Blanche came back to her step-mother's chair; and looked at her steadily, in silence. Lady Lundie submitted to inspection--and bore it perfectly.

"Look into my heart," she said. "Blanche! it bleeds for you!"

Blanche heard, without heeding. Her mind was painfully intent on its own thoughts. "You are a religious woman," she said, abruptly. "Will you swear on your Bible, that what you told me is true?"

"_My_ Bible!" repeated Lady Lundie with sorrowful emphasis. "Oh, my child! have _you_ no part in that precious inheritance? Is it not _your_ Bible, too?"

A momentary triumph showed itself in Blanche's face. "You daren't swear it!" she said. "That's enough for me!"

She turned away scornfully. Lady Lundie caught her by the hand, and drew her sharply back. The suffering saint disappeared, and the woman who was no longer to be trifled with took her place.

"There must be an end to this," she said. "You don't believe what I have told you. Have you courage enough to put it to the test?"

Blanche started, and released her hand. She trembled a little. There was a horrible certainty of conviction expressed in Lady Lundie's sudden change of manner.

"How?" she asked.

"You shall see. Tell me the truth, on your side, first. Where is Sir Patrick? Is he really out, as his servant told me?"

"Yes. He is out with the farm bailiff. You have taken us all by surprise. You wrote that we were to expect you by the next train."

"When does the next train arrive? It is eleven o'clock now."

"Between one and two."

"Sir Patrick will not be back till then?"

"Not till then."

"Where is Mr. Brinkworth?"

"My husband?"

"Your husband--if you like. Is he out, too?"

"He is in the smoking-room."

"Do you mean the long room, built out from the back of the house?"

"Yes."

"Come down stairs at once with me."

Blanche advanced a step--and drew back. "What do you want of me?" she asked, inspired by a sudden distrust.

Lady Lundie turned round, and looked at her impatiently.

"Can't you see yet," she said, sharply, "that your interest and my interest in this matter are one? What have I told you?"

"Don't repeat it!"

"I must repeat it! I have told you that Arnold Brinkworth was privately at Craig Fernie, with Miss Silvester, in the acknowledged character of her husband--when we supposed him to be visiting the estate left him by his aunt. You refuse to believe it--and I am about to put it to the proof. Is it your interest or is it not, to know whether this man deserves the blind belief that you place in him?"

Blanche trembled from head to foot, and made no reply.

"I am going into the garden, to speak to Mr. Brinkworth through the smoking-room window," pursued her ladyship. "Have you the courage to come with me; to wait behind out of sight; and to hear what he says with his own lips? I am not afraid of putting it to that test. Are you?"

The tone in which she asked the question roused Blanche's spirit.

"If I believed him to be guilty," she said, resolutely, "I should _not_ have the courage. I believe him to be innocent. Lead the way, Lady Lundie, as soon as you please."

They left the room--Blanche's own room at Ham Farm--and descended to the hall. Lady Lundie stopped, and consulted the railway time-table hanging near the house-door.

"There is a train to London at a quarter to twelve," she said. "How long does it take to walk to the station?"

"Why do you ask?"

"You will soon know. Answer my question."

"It's a walk of twenty minutes to the station."

Lady Lundie referred to her watch. "There will be just time," she said.

"Time for what?"

"Come into the garden."

With that answer, she led the way out

The smoking-room projected at right angles from the wall of the house, in an oblong form--with a bow-window at the farther end, looking into the garden. Before she turned the corner, and showed herself within the range of view from the window Lady Lundie looked back, and signed to Blanche to wait behind the angle of the wall. Blanche waited.

The next instant she heard the voices in conversation through the open window. Arnold's voice was the first that spoke.

"Lady Lundie! Why, we didn't expect you till luncheon time!"

Lady Lundie was ready with her answer.

"I was able to leave town earlier than I had anticipated. Don't put out your cigar; and don't move. I am not coming in."

The quick interchange of question and answer went on; every word being audible in the perfect stillness of the place. Arnold was the next to speak.

"Have you seen Blanche?"

"Blanche is getting ready to go out with me. We mean to have a walk together. I have many things to say to her. Before we go, I have something to say to _you._"

"Is it any thing very serious?"

"It is most serious."

"About me?"

"About you. I know where you went on the evening of my lawn-party at Windygates--you went to Craig Fernie."

"Good Heavens! how did you find out--?"

"I know whom you went to meet--Miss Silvester. I know what is said of you and of her--you are man and wife."

"Hush! don't speak so loud. Somebody may hear you!"

"What does it matter if they do? I am the only person whom you have kept out of the secret. You all of you know it here."

"Nothing of the sort! Blanche doesn't know it."

"What! Neither you nor Sir Patrick has told Blanche of the situation you stand in at this moment?"

"Not yet. Sir Patrick leaves it to me. I haven't been able to bring myself to do it. Don't say a word, I entreat you. I don't know how Blanche may interpret it. Her friend is expected in London to-morrow. I want to wait till Sir Patrick can bring them together. Her friend will break it to her better than I can. It's _my_ notion. Sir Patrick thinks it a good one. Stop! you're not going away already?"

"She will be here to look for me if I stay any longer."

"One word! I want to know--"

"You shall know later in the day."

Her ladyship appeared again round the angle of the wall. The next words that passed were words spoken in a whisper.

"Are you satisfied now, Blanche?"

"Have you mercy enough left, Lady Lundie, to take me away from this house?"

"My dear child! Why else did I look at the time-table in the hall?"