|Chapter Title||THE DAY OF RECKONING.|
|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Phantom Fortune|
YOUNG LADY MAULEVRIER.
By MISS BRADDON,
Author of "Lady Audley'8 Secret," "Dead Men's Shoes," " Weavers and Weft;' "Just as I Am," cC-c, «¿c.
THE DAY OF RECKONING.
' ' Your grandfather was brought to this house-ill-out of his wits. All cloud and darkness here," said the old man, touching his forehead. " How long has it been ? Who can tell ? A weary time-long dark nights, full of ghosts.
Yes, I have seen him-the Rajah-that copper-faced scoun- drel-seen him, as she told me he looked when she gave the signal to her slaves to strangle him, there in the hall, where the grave was dug ready for the traitor's carcase. She, too, yes, she has haunted me, calling upon me to give up her
treasure-to restore lier son."
"Yes," cried the paralytic woman,'suddenly lifted out of herself, as it were, in a paroxysm of fury, every feature convulsed, every nerve strained to its utmost tension, "yes, this is Lord Maulevrier. You have heard the truth, and from his own lips. You, his only son's only son. You, his granddaughter's husband. You hear him avow himself the instigator of a diabolical murder ; you hear him con- fess how his paramour's husband was strangled at his false wife's bidding, in his own palace, buried under the Moorish pavement in the hall of many arches. You hear how he inherited, the Rajah's treasures from a mistress who died strangely, swiftly, conveniently, so soon as he had wearied of her, and a new favourite had begun to exercise her influence. Such things are done in the East-dynasties an- nihilated, kingdoms overthrown, poison or bowstring used at will to gratify a profligate's passion, or pay for a spend- thrift's extravagances. Such things were done when that man was governor of Madras as were never done by an Englishman in India before his time. He went there fet- tered by no prejudices-lie was more Mussulman than the Mussulmen themselves - a deeper, darker traitor. And it was to hide crimes such as these-to interpose the great peace-maker death between him and the Government which was resolved upon punishing him-to save the honour, the fortune of my sou, and the children who were to come after him-the name of a noble race-a name that was ever
stainless until he defiled it-it was for this great end I took steps to hide that feeble useless life of his from the world he had offended. 1 screened him from his enemies
Í saved him from the ignominy of a public trial-from the execration of his countrymen. His only punishment was to eat his heart under this roof, in luxurious seclusion, his comfort studied, his whims gratilied as far as they could be
by the most faithful of servants. A light pennance for the dark infamies of his life in India, I think. His mind was all but gone when he came here, but he had his rational intervals, and in these the burthen of his lonely life may have weighed heavily upon him, but it was not such a heavy burden as 1 have borne-I, his gaoler, I who have devoted
my existence to the one task of guarding the family
He, whom she thus acknowledged as her husband, had sunk exhausted into a chair near her. He took out his gold snuff box and refreshed himself with a leisurely pinch of snuff, looking about him curiously all the while with a senile grin. That flash of passion which for a few minutes had restored him to the full possession of his reason had burnt itself out, and his mind had relapsed into the con- dition into which it had been when he talked to Mary in
" My pipe, Steadman," he said, looking towards the door, " bring me my pipe," and then, impatiently, " What has become of Steadman? He has been getting inatten- tive-very inattentive."
He got up, and moved slowly to the door, leaning on his crutch stick, his head sunk upon his breast, muttering to¡ himself as he went : and thus he vanished from them like the spectre of some terrible ancestor which had returned from the grave to announce the coming of calamity to a doomed race. His grandson looked after him, with an I expression of intense displeasure.
"And so, Lady Maulevrier," he exclaimed, turning to I his grandmother, " I have borne a title that never belonged
to me, and enjoyed the possession of another man's estates all this time, thanks to your pretty little plot. A very
respectable position for your grandson to occupy, upon my
Lord Hartfield lifted his hand with a warning gesture.
"Spare her," he said. "She is in no condition to endure your reproaches."
Spare her-yes. Fate had not spared her. The beau- tiful face-beautiful even in age and decay-changed sud- denly as she looked at them-the mouth became distorted, ' the eyes fixed ; and then the heavy head fell back upon
the pillow-the paralyzed form, wholly paralysed now, lay like a thing of stone. It never moved again. Conscious- ness wás blotted out for ever in that moment. The feeble i pulses of heart and brain throbbed with gradually diminish I ing power for a night and a day ; and in the twilight of
that dreadful day of nothingness the last glimmer of the light died in the lamp, and Lady Maulevrier and the bur- den of her sin were beyond the veil.
Viscount Haselden, alias Lord Maulevrier, held a long consultation with Lord Hartfield on the night of his grand- mother's death, as to what steps ought to be taken in rela- tion to the real Earl of Maulevrier, and it was only at the end of a serious and earnest discussion that both young men came to the decision that Lady Maulevrier's secret ought to be kept faithfully to the end. Assuredly no gd
purpose could be achieved by letting the world know old Lord Maulevrier's existence. A half-lunatic octogenarian could gain nothing by being restored to rights and possessions which he had most justly forfeited. All that justice de- manded was that the closing years of his life should be made as comfortable as care and wealth could make them ; aud Hartfield and Haselden took immediate steps to this end. But their first act was to send the old Earl's treasure chest, under safe convoy, to the India House, with a letter explaining how this long-hidden wealth, brought from India by Lord Maulevrier, had been discovered among other effects in a lumber room at Lady Maulevrier's country house. The money so delivered up might possibly have formed part of his lordship's private fortune ; but, in the absence of any knowledge as to its origin, his grandson, the present Lord Maulevrier, preferred to deliver it up to the authorities of the India House, to be dealt with as they might think fit.
The old Earl made no further attempt to assert himself.
He seemed content to remain in his old rooms as of old-to. potter about the garden, where his solitude was as complete as that of a hermit's cell. The only moan he made was for James Steadman, whose services he missed sorely. Lord Hartfield replaced that devoted servant by a clever Aus- trian valet, a new importation from Vienna, who under- stood very little English, a trained attendant upon mental invalids, and who was quite capable of dealing with old
Lord.Hartfield went a step further, and within a week of those two funerals of servant and mistress which cast a gloom over the peaceful valley of Grasmere, he brought down a famous mad-doctor to diagnose his lordship's case. There was but little risk in so doing, he argued with his friend, and it was their duty so to do. If the old man should assert himself to the doctor as Lord Maulevrier the
declaration would pass as a symptom of his lunacy. But it happened that the physician arrived at Fellside on one of Lord Maulevrier's bad days, and the patient never emerged from the feeblest phase of imbecility.
"Brain quite gone," pronounced the doctor, "bodily health very poor. Take him to the South of France for the winter-Hyeres, or any quiet place. He can't last long."
To Hyeres the old man was taken, with Mrs. Steadman as nurse, and the Austrian valet as body servant and keeper. Mary, for whom in his brighter hours he showed a warm affection, went with him under her husband's wing.
Lord Hartfield rented a chateau on the slope of an olive clad hill, where he and his young wife, whose health was somewhat delicate at thi3 time, spent a winter in peaceful seclusion, while Leshia and her brother travelled together in Italy. The old man's strength improved in that lovely climate. He lived to see the roses and orange blossoms of the early spring, and died in his arm chair suddenly without a pang, while Mary sat at his feet reading to him : a quiet end of an evil and troubled life. And now he whom the world had known as Lord Maulevrier was verily the earl, and could hear himself called by his title once
more without a touch of shame.
The secret of Lady Maulevrier's sin had been so faith- fully kept by the two young men that neither of her grand- daughters knew the true story of that mysterious person whom Mary had first heard of as James Steadman's uncle. She and Lesbia both knew that there were painful circum- stances of some kind connected with this man's existence ; his hidden life in the old house at Fellside-but they were both content to learn no more. Respect for their grand- mother's memory, sorrowful affection for the dead, pre- vailed over natural curiosity.
Early in February Maulevrier sent decorators and uphol- sterers into the old house in Curzon-street, which was ready before the middle of May to receive his lordship and his young wife, the girlish daughter of a grand old Florentine family, a gazelle-eyed Italian, with a voice whose every tone was music, and with the gentlest, shyest, most enga- ging manners of any girl in Florence. Lady Lesbia, strangely subdued and changed by the griefs and humilia- tions of her last campaign, had been her brother's coun- sellor and confidante throughout his wooing of his fair Italian bride. She was to spend the season under her bro- ther's roof, to help to initiate young Lady Maulevrier in the mysterious rites of London society, and to warn her of those rocks and shoals which had wrecked her own fortunes.
The month of May brought a son and heir, to Lord Hart- field ; and it was not till after his birth that Mary, Countess of Hartfield, was presented to her sovereign, and began her career as a matron of rank and standing, very much overpowered by the weight of her honours, and looking forward with delight to the end of the season and a flight to Argyleshire with her husband and baby.