Chapter 161820012

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Chapter NumberIX
Chapter TitleMBS, BEZEL.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161820012
Full Date1895-04-20
Page Number36
Corrections0
Word Count2801
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleThe Third Volume
article text

CHAPTER IX.

MBS, BEZEL.

One oannot always judge by appearances either as regards human beings or houses. Mr. Hiiliston was one excellent iitustration of this rule. Clarence Cottage was another. It was in a narrow and orooked lane trending downward to the right, at the summit of Fitz jobn's-avenue; an unpretentious two-story building, divided from the publio thorough fare by a well-cultivated garden. Therein grew thyme and lavender, marigolds and panBies; for the owner of tbe oottage loved thoBe homely flowers, and daily gazed at tbem from the bow-window wherein her oouoh was placed,

Mrs. Bezel never walked in her garden, for the all-suffloient reason that she was a helpless paralytic, and bad not used her limbs for over ten years. Still a moderately young woman of forty-five, she possessed the remains of great beauty, ravaged by years of anxiety and mental trouble. Those passing along the lane usually saw her pale face at the window, and pitied the Bufferings written in every line— sufferings which were apparent even to a casual glance. Noting the homely garden, tbe mean-looking dwelling, the anxious expression of the invalid, they deemed her to be some poor sickly creature, the scapegoat of Nature and the world, who bad sought this seoluded spot in order to hide her troubles. This view was not entirely oorreot.

She was in ill-health it is true; she dwelt in a small house oertainly; and the anxious expression was seldom absent from her faoe. But she was in easy circumstances, un troubled by peouniary worries, and the inte rior of tbe oottage was furnished with a mag nificence more suggestive of Park-lane thaD of Hampstead. Tbe outward aspeot of the house, like that of Mr. Hiiliston, was a lie.

Her sitting-room resembled the boudoir ol some M&yfair beauty. The ourtains were of silk, the oarpets velvet pile, the walls were adorned with oostly piotures, and every oorner of the small apartment was filled with sump tuous furniture. All that art oould contri bute, all that affeotion oould suggest, were oonfiued in the tiny space, and bad Mrs. Bezel possessed the mines of Golconda she oould not have been more luxuriously lodged. The house was a gem of its kind, perfect aud splendid.

Mrs. Bezel took little interest in these material oomforts. Her life was passed be tween a couch in the bow-window, a well cushioned chair by the fire, and a downy bed in the next room. She had little appetite and did not enjoy her food; mental anxiety pre vented her interesting herself in the splen dours around ber; and the only pleasure she took was her dreary journey in a bath-obair when the weather permitted. Then she in haled the fresh breeze blowing across the Heath, shA gazed with longing eyes at London almost hidden under its foggy veil, far below, and always returned with reluotance to the familiar splendours of ber narrow dwelling. Fortune had given her muob, but by way of compensation had deprived her of the two things she most desired—of health and of love.

Even on thislwarm June evening a fire burned in the grate, for Mrs. Bezel was a chilly creature, who shrunk at the least breath of wind. Acoording to custom, she had left the window oouoh at 7 o'olook, and hod taken her simple meal while seated in her large ohair to the right of the fireplace. After dinner Bhe took up a novel whioh was placed on a small table at her elbow, and tried to read; but her attention waB not fixed on the book, and gradually it fell from her bandB, while she gazed idly at the fire.

What Bhe saw therein Heaven only knows. We all have our moments of retrosDeotion, and can pioture the past in the burning oosls. Some even pioture the future, but there was none for this woman. She was old. weary, diseased, worn out, and therefore saw in the fire only the shadows of past years. Faces looked out of the fiaming valleys, scenes arranged themselves in the red confusion ; but among tham all there was always one faoe, one soene, whioh never vanished ae did the othere. This speoial faoe, thie particular scene, were fixed, immovable, cruel, and in

sistent.

The chime of the olook striking half-past 9 aroused her from her reverie, and she again addressed herself to the novel with a' sigh. Tortured by ber own thoughts, Mrs,

Bezel was not accustomed to retire before' midnight, and there were three hours to be got through before that time. Herlife was as dreary, and weary, and heartbreaking as that of Mariana in the Moated Grange.

The tread of a firm footfall in the distanoe roused her attention, and ehe looked expeo tantly towards the door whioh faoed her ohair. The newoomer passed up the narrow garden path, entered the bouse, and after a pause in the hall presented himself in the sitting room. Mrs. Bezel knew who it was before the door opened ; for standing on the thres hold was the man with the faoe ehn had lately piotured amid the barning coals- Francis Hilliaton and the woman who called herself Mrs. Bezel looked steadily at one another, but no sign of Weloome passed between them. He was the 'first to break the awkward silenoe.

. ' How are yon this evening, Margaret J" ho asked, advancing toward* her, "betteni -hope. There ib more colour in youroheeks,

morebrightnestinyoureyes."

"I am the same at ever,", she repiiedf coldly, while he drew a chair Close to'the fire, and stretohed out hie hands to the blase, "Why have you oome here at this hour!"

" To see you.''

"No doubt I Bat with whet purpose V'

Hilliston pinobed bis. netherlip between finger and tbunib, frowning the while at the fire. Whatever had been, there was now no love between this woman and himself. But on no oocaBion bad be noted so hostile a tone in her voice. He was aware that a duel of words, and brains, was about to ensue, and knowing his antagonist he took the button

off bis foil. There was no need , for fine speaking or veiled bints in this oonversation. It was advisable that all should be plain and straightforward, for they knew eaoh other too well to wear their masks when alope. Under these oiroumstancee he eppke the

truth.

"I think you can gueBB my errand," be aid suavely, "it concerns the letter yon

wrote to Olaude Laroher."

" I thought aB muob 1 And what more have you to say iu oonneotion with that affaii ?"

"I have merely to inform you that the man whom you desire to see is in London, and will no doubt answer your kind invitation in person."

Mrs. Bezel Btretohed out her hand and

selected a letter from the little pile on her

table.

"If you will look at that,"shesaid, coldly, "you will see that Claude intends to call on me at 3 o'clock to-morrow."

Taking the letter in silenoe, HilliBton turned frightfully pale, and the perspiration stood in large beads on his forehead. He expected some auoh appointment to be made, yet the evidonoe in hit hand startled him all the same.

The promptitude of action spoke volumes fro ' on«of his aoute perceptions. To defend his good name would require all his skill and ex perience, for he had to do with men of aotion who acted as quickly as they thought. The duel would be more equst than he thought.

"Are you still determined to tell all?" he said, in a low tone, crushing the paper up in

his hand.

" Yes."

The monosyllable was uttered in so ioy a manner that Hilliston lost hie temper com pletely. Before thie woman there was no need for him to retain his smiling mask, and in a frenzy of rage he hurried into rapid epeech, frantioand unconsidered.

" Ah, you would ruin me," he oried, spring ing to his feet, " you would drag up those follies of sixty-six, and make London too hot to bold me. Have I not implored, threatened, beseeohed, commanded—done everything in my power to make yon hold your peaoe. Miserable woman, would you drag the man you love down to"

"The man I loved, yon mean," responded Mrs. Bezel, in nowise moved by this torrent _of abase; "pray do not be theatrioal, Francis, You know me well enough to be aware that when my mind is made up I am not easily moved. A man of your brains," she added soornfully, "should know that the loss of temper is but the prelude to defeat."

Reoognising the truth of this remark Hilliston resumed his seat, and subdued bis anger. Only the look of 'hatred in his eyes betrayed . his real feelings; otherwise he was calm, suave, and self-controlled.

" Have you weighed the ooBt of your action ?" he demanded quietly.

"Yes. It means ruin to us both. But the"' lose is yours, not mine. Helpless and deserted life hae no eharms for me; but you, Mr. Hil liston, doubtloes feel differently,"

" Margaret," he said, errtreatingly, " why do you speak like this ? What harm have I done you that"

" What harm 1" she interrupted fiercely, "have you not ruined me, have you not deserted me, have you not robbed me of all that I loved I My life hae been one long agony, and you are to blame for it all. Not a word she continued, imperiously, " I shall speak: I insist upon your knowing the

truth."

"Gro on." he said, sullenly ; "I listen."

"I loved you onoe, Francis. I loved you to my own cost. For your sake I lost every thing—position, home, respeot, and love. And you—what did you do?"

HilliBtoh looked round the room, and shrugged his shoulders. Look and gesture were so eloquent that she commented on them

at onoe.

" Do you think I valued this splendour. I know well enough that you gave me all material aomforts. But I wanted more than this. I wanted lore,"

"You had it."

"Aye: I had the passion suoh as you eall love. Did it endure? You know well that it did not. So long as I was healthy and hand some and bright your attentions oontinued, but when I was reduoed to thiB state ten years ago whab did you do? Left me to marry

another woman.

"It was not my fault," ho muttered un easily ; " my affaire were involved, and as my wife had money I was forced to marry

her."

" And yon did marry her, and no doubt neglect her as you do me. Is Mrs. Hilliston any happier in her splendid house at Kensing ton Gore than I in thiB miserable cottage ? I think not. I waited and waited, hoping your love would return. It did not, bo I took my own course—revenge !"

" And bo wrote to Claude Laroher 1"

" Yea. Listen to me. I wrote the first letter, on the spur of the moment. I had been read ing a book oalled ' The Whim of Fate,' which

contained "

" I know ! I know ! I read it myself this evening."

" Then you know that some one else is pos sessed of your secret. Who is John ParverI"

" I don't know. I intend to find out. Mean while I am waiting to hear the oooolusion of your story."

Mrs. Bezel drew a loag breath, and con

tinued,

"The book whioh contained an aaoount of the tragedy at Uorristnn brought the fact so visibly before me that I wrote on the impulse telling you that I wiehed to see Claude and reveal all. You came and implored and threatened. Then my impulse became a fixed determination. I saw how I could punish you for yopr neglect, and eo persisted in my scheme. I wrote to Claude, and he ie coming here to-morrow."

" What do yon intend to tell him t"

"So much of the death of his father as I know."

"You must not—you dare not,"said Hil liston, with dry lips. " It means ruin."

"To you, not to him."

_ " Impossible," he eaid, onrtly. "Onr rela tione are too oloee for one to fall without the

other."

"So you think," rejoined Mrs, Bezel, ooolly, " but I know how to protect myself. And of one thing you may be assured, I will say nothing against yon. All I intend to do is to tell him of his father's death."

" He knows it already." " What ?"

" Yes 1 Do you think I was not going to bo

beforehand with yon,1' sneered Hilliiton triumphantly. "I guessed your intention when you-wrote me that letter, and when Olaude arrived in town I saw him before he oould oail here. I did not intend to tell bim of the matter till your action foroed me to do eo. He hu read all the pupate in oonneotion with hie father'* death, and intends to bunt down the murderer. Now, do you eee what ,you have done!"

Apparently the brutal piainneBS of thie •peeoh strongly affeoted Mrs. Bezel. It seemed at though she.bad not oomprehended till that moment what might be the reeult of her aotione. Now an abyee opened at her feet, and ehe felt a qualm of fear.

" Nevertheless, I intend to go on now that I have begun," ehe eaid gloomily. "I will answer any questions Claude may ask me,"

" You will put him in possession of a olue." " It is not improbable; but, ae I said, life has no obarme for me."

"You don't think of my sufferings," eaid Hillieton bitterly, rising to bie feet.

"Did yon think of mine during all these lonely years V' she retorted with a eneer. "I.shall punuh you ae you punished me. There ia auoh a thing ae justice in this world."

"Well, I warn you that I shall proteot myself."

" That is your lookout. But I will show you this meroy, as I said before. That nothing wilt be told by me.ot your oonneotion with thie affair. Ae to myself, I will act as I think best."

" You will tell him who you are?"

"YesI will tell him my real name."

"Then I am lost f"

"Surely not," ahe rejo'ned soornfuily. "Franois Hillieton is old enough in villainy and experienoe to protect himself against a mere boy." _ ?

"it is not Uisude i fear, but bu friend,

Spenaer Tait. He is the danireroua person. But enough of this," added Hilliaton, striking the table imperiously, " I forbid yon to indulge in these follies. Yon know I have a means whereby to oompnl your obedience."

"It ia your possession of that means that has turned me against you," she retorted dauntleasly. "If you give me baok my "

"Margaret) I Not a word more, Let things remain as they are."

" I have said what I intend to do."

Hilliaton ground his teeth. He knew that nothing he oould eayor do would shake the

determination of this woman. He had already ' experienced her resolute will, and not even the means of whioh he spoke would shake her immovability. There was nothing more but to retire, and proteot himself as beBt he oould.

At all events she promised to remain neutral, so far as ho was oonoerned. That was some thing gained. Before leaving the house, how ever, he made one final effort to foroe her to hie will.

" I will not give you any mors money."

" I don't care, Francis. This oottage and its oontents are settled on me. A sale of this

furniture will produoa sufficient money to last my life. I oan't livelong now."

"I will deny all your statements."

"Do so."

"I will have you declared insaue and shut up in an a°ylum."

Mrs. Bezel laughed soornfullv, and pointed towards the door.

" If that is all you have to say you had better go,"she Baid, jeoringly. "You know well enough that you cannot harm me without jeopardising your own position. "

They looked at one another fiercely, eaoh trying to outBtare the other. Hilliston'a eyes were the first to fall, and he hastily turned towards the door.

"So be it," he said, with his hand on the knob, "you want war.. You shall have it. Bee Olaude, tell him all. I oan defend myself."

On leaving the house a few minutes later, he paused irresolutely by the gate, and looked

baok.

"If I oould only find the paper," ho muttered, "she oould do nothing. As it

He made a gesture of despair and plunged into the darkness.