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Chapter 22 CROSS PURPOSES.

  • At the Gildersleeves', too, the house that day was alive with excitement.
  • Gwendoline had thrown herself into a fever of alarm as soon as she had poste_er letter to Granville Kelmscott. She went up to her own room, flung hersel_ildly on the hed, and sobbed herself into a half-hysterical, half-deliriou_tate, long before dinner-time. She hardly knew herself at first how reall_ll she was. Her hands were hot and her forehead burning. But she disregarde_uch mere physical and medical details as those, by the side of a heart to_ull for utterance. She thought only of Granville, and of that horrid man wh_ad threatened with such evident spite and rancour to ruin him.
  • She lay there some hours alone, in a high fever, before her mother came up t_er room to fetch her. Mrs. Gildersleeve was a subdued and soft-voiced woman,
  • utterly crushed, so people said, by the stronger individuality of tha_lustering, domineering, headstrong man, her husband. And to say the truth,
  • the eminent Q.C. had taken all the will out of her in twenty-three years o_bedient slavery. She was pretty still, to be sure, in a certain faded, jaded,
  • unassuming way; but her patient face wore a constant expression of suppresse_error, as if she expected every moment to be the victim of some terrible an_nexplained exposure. And that feature at least in her idiosyncrasy coul_ardly be put down to Gilbert Gildersleeve's account; for hectoring an_trong-minded as the successful Q.C. was known to be, nobody could for _oment accuse him in any definite way of deliberate unkindness to his wife o_aughter. On the contrary, he was tender and indulgent to them to the las_egree, as he understood those virtues. It was only by constant assertion o_is own individuality, and constant repression or disregard of theirs, that h_ad broken his wife's spirit and was breaking his daughter's. He treated the_s considerately as one treats a pet dog, doing everything for them that car_nd money could effect, except to admit for a moment their claim t_ndependent opinions and actions of their own, or to allow the possibility o_heir thinking and feeling on any subject on earth one nail's breadt_therwise than as he himself did.
  • At sight of Gwendoline, Mrs. Gildersleeve came over to the bed with a scare_nd startled air, felt her daughter's face tenderly with her hands for _oment, and then cried in alarm, "Why, Gwennie, what's this? Your cheeks ar_urning! Who on earth has been here? Has that horrid man come down again fro_ondon to worry you?"
  • Gwendoline looked up and tried to prevaricate. But conscience was too stron_or her; the truth would out for all that. "Yes, mother," she cried, after _ause, "and he said, oh, he said—I could never tell you what dreadful thing_e said. But he's so wicked, so cruel! You never knew such a man! He thinks _ant to marry Granville Kelmscott, and so he told me—" She broke off, of _udden, unable to proceed, and buried her face in her hands, sobbing long an_itterly.
  • "Well, what did he tell you, dear?" Mrs. Gildersleeve asked, with tha_rightened air, as of a startled wild thing, growing deeper than ever upon he_ountenance as she uttered the question.
  • "He told me—oh, he told me—I can't tell you what he told me; but he threatene_o ruin us—he threatened it so dreadfully. It was a hateful threat. He seeme_o have found out something that he knew would be our ruin. He frightened m_o death. I never heard any one say such things as he did."
  • Mrs. Gildersleeve drew back in profound agitation. "Found out something tha_ould be our ruin!" she cried, with white face all aghast. "Oh, Gwennie, wha_o you mean? Didn't he tell you what it was? Didn't he try to explain to you?
  • He's a wicked, wicked man —so cruel, so unscrupulous! He gets one's secret_nto his hands, by underhand means, and then uses them to make one do whateve_e chooses. I see how it is. He wants to force us into letting him marr_ou—into making you marry him! Oh, Gwennie, this is hard. Didn't he tell yo_t all what it was he knew? Didn't he give you a hint what sort of secret h_as driving at?"
  • Gwendoline looked up once more, and murmured low through her sobs, "No, h_idn't say what it was. He's too cunning for that. But I think—I think it wa_omething about Granville. Mother, I never told you, but you know I love him!
  • I think it was something about HIM, though I can't quite make sure. Som_ecret about somebody not being properly married, or something of that sort. _idn't quite understand. You see, he was so discreetly vague and reticent."
  • Mrs. Gildersleeve drew back her face all aghast with horror. "Som_ecret—about somebody—not being properly married!" she repeated slowly, wit_ild terror in her eyes.
  • "Yes, mother," Gwendoline gasped out, with an effort once more. "It was abou_omebody not being really the proper heir; he made me promise I wouldn't tell;
  • but I don't know how to keep it. He was immensely full of it; it was an awfu_ecret; and he said he would ruin us—ruin us ruthlessly. He said we were i_is power, and he'd crush us under his heel. And, oh, when he said it, yo_hould have seen his face. It was horrible, horrible. I've seen nothing els_ince. It dogs me—it haunts me."
  • Mrs. Gildersleeve sat down by the bedside wringing her hands in silence. "It'_oo late to-night," she said at last, after a long deep pause, and in a voic_ike a woman condemned to death, "too late to do anything; but to-morrow you_ather must go up to town and try to see him. At all costs we must buy hi_ff. He knows everything—that's clear. He'll ruin us. He'll ruin us!"
  • "It's no use papa going up to town, though," Gwendoline answered hal_reamily. "That dreadful man said he was going away for his holiday to th_ountry at once. He'll be gone to-morrow."
  • "Gone? Gone where?" Mrs. Gildersleeve cried, in the same awestruck voice.
  • "To Devonshire," Gwendoline replied, shutting her eyes hard and still seein_im.
  • Mrs. Gildersleeve echoed the phrase in a startled cry. "To
  • Devonshire, Gwendoline! To Devonshire! Did he say to Devonshire?"
  • "Yes," Gwendoline went on slowly, trying to recall his very words. "To th_kirts of Dartmoor, I think he said; to a place in the wilds by the name o_ambury."
  • "Mambury!"
  • The terror and horror that frail and faded woman threw into the one wor_airly startled Gwendoline. She opened her eyes and stared aghast at he_other. And well she might, for the effect was electrical. Mrs. Gildersleev_as sitting there, transfixed with awe and some unspeakable alarm; her figur_as rigid; her face was dead white; her mouth was drawn down with a convulsiv_witch; she clasped her bloodless hands on her knees in mute agony. For _oment she sat there like a statue of flesh. Then, as sense and feeling cam_ack to her by slow degrees, she could but rock her body up and down in he_hair with a short swaying motion, and mutter over and over again to hersel_n that same appalled and terrified voice, "Mambury—Mambury—Mambury—Mambury."
  • "That was the name, I'm sure," Gwendoline went on, almost equally alarmed. "O_ hunt after records, he said; on a hunt after records. Whatever it was h_anted to prove, I suppose he knew that was the place to prove it."
  • Mrs. Gildersleeve rose, or to speak with more truth, staggered slowly to he_eet, and, steadying herself with an effort, made blindly for the door,
  • groping her way as she went, like some faint and wounded creature. She sai_ot a word to Gwendoline. She had no tongue left for speech or comment. Sh_erely stepped on, pale and white, pale and white, like one who walks in he_leep, and clutched the door-handle hard to keep her from falling. Gwendoline,
  • now thoroughly alarmed, followed her close on her way to the top of th_tairs. There Mrs. Gildersleeve paused, turned round to her daughter with _ute look of anguish and held up one hand, palm outward, appealingly, as if o_urpose to forbid her from following farther. At the gesture, Gwendoline fel_ack, and looked after her mother with straining eyes. Mrs. Gildersleev_taggered on, erect, yet to all appearance almost incapable of motion, an_tumbled down the stairs, and across the hall, and into the drawing-roo_pposite. The rest Gwendoline neither saw, nor heard, nor guessed at. Sh_rept back into her own room, and, flinging herself on her bed alone as sh_tood, cried still more piteously and miserably than ever.
  • Down in the drawing-room, however, Mrs. Gildersleeve found the famous Q.C.
  • absorbed in the perusal of that day's paper. She came across towards him, pal_s a ghost, and with ashen lips. "Gilbert," she said slowly, blurting it al_ut in her horror, without one word of warning, "that dreadful man Nevitt ha_een Gwennie again, and he's told her he knows all, and he means to ruin us,
  • and he's heard of the marriage, and he's gone down to Mambury to hunt up th_ecords!"
  • The eminent Q.C. let the paper drop from his huge red hands in the intensit_f his surprise, while his jaw fell in unison at so startling and almos_ncredible a piece of intelligence. "Nevitt knows all!" he exclaimed, hal_ncredulous. "He means to ruin us! And he told this to Gwendoline! Gone dow_o Mambury! Oh no, Minnie, impossible! You must have made some mistake. Wha_id she say exactly? Did she mention Mambury?"
  • "She said it exactly as I've said it now to you," Mrs. Gildersleeve persiste_ith a stony stare. "He's gone down to Devonshire, she said; to the borders o_artmoor, on a hunt after the records; to a place in the wilds by the name o_ambury. Those were her very words. I could stake my life on each syllable. _ive them to you precisely as she gave them to me."
  • Mr. Gildersleeve gazed across at her with the countenance which had made s_any a nervous witness quake at the Old Bailey. "Are you QUITE sure of that,
  • Minnie?" he asked, in his best cross-examining tone. "Quite sure she sai_ambury, all of her own accord? Quite sure you didn't suggest it to her, o_upply the name, or give her a hint of its whereabouts, or put her a leadin_uestion?"
  • "Is it likely I'd suggest it to her?" the meekest of women answered, arouse_o retort for once, and with her face like a sheet. "Is it likely I'd tel_er? Is it likely I'd give my own girl the clue? She said it all of herself, _ell you, without one word of prompting. She said it just as I repeated it—t_ place in the wilds by the name of Mambury."
  • Gilbert Gildersleeve whistled inaudibly to himself. 'Twas his way when he fel_imself utterly nonplussed. This was very strange news. He didn't reall_nderstand it. But he rose and confronted his wife anxiously. That overbearin_ig man was evidently stirred by this untoward event to the very depths of hi_ature.
  • "Then Gwennie knows all!" he cried, the blood rushing purple into his rudd_lushed cheeks. "The wretch! The brute! He must have told her everything!"
  • "Oh, Gilbert," his wife answered, sinking into a chair in her horror, "even H_ouldn't do that—not to my own very daughter! And he didn't do it, I'm sure.
  • He didn't dare—coward as he is, he couldn't be quite so cowardly. She doesn'_uess what it means. She thinks it's something, I believe, about Granvill_elmscott. She's in love with young Kelmscott, as I told you long ago, an_verything to her mind takes some colour from that fancy. I don't think i_ver occurred to her, from what she says, this has anything at all to do wit_ou or me, Gilbert."
  • The Q.C. reflected. He saw at once he was in a tight corner. That boisterou_an, with the burly big hands, looked quite subdued and crestfallen now. H_ould hardly have snubbed the most unassuming junior. This was a terribl_hing, indeed, for a man so unscrupulous and clever as Montague Nevitt to hav_ormed out of the registers. How he could ever have wormed it out Gilber_ildersleeve hadn't the faintest idea, Why, who on earth could have shown hi_he entry of that fatal marriage—Minnie's first marriage—the marriage wit_hat wretch who died in Portland prison—the marriage that was celebrated a_t. Mary's, at Mambury? He couldn't for a moment conceive, for nobody bu_hemselves, he fondly imagined, had ever identified Mrs. Gilbert Gildersleeve,
  • the wife of the eminent Q.C., with that unhappy Mrs. Read, the convict'_idow. The convict's widow. Ah, there was the rub. For she was really a wido_n name alone when Gilbert Gildersleeve married her.
  • And Montague Nevitt, that human ferret, with his keen sharp eyes, and hi_leek polite ways, had found it all out in spite of them—had hunted up th_ate of Read's death and their marriage, and had bragged how he was going dow_o Mambury to prove it!
  • All the Warings and Reads always got married at Widdicombe or Mambury. Ther_ere lots of them on the books there, that was one comfort, anyhow. He'd hav_ good search to find his needle in such a pottle of hay. But to think th_ellow should have, had the double-dyed cruelty to break the shameful secre_irst of all to Gwendoline! That was his vile way of trying to force a poo_irl into an unwilling consent. Gilbert Gildersleeve lifted his burly bi_ands in front of his capacious waistcoat, and pressed them together angrily.
  • If only he had that rascal's throat well between them at that moment! He'_rush the fellow's windpipe till he choked him on the spot, though he answere_or it before the judges of assize to-morrow!
  • "There's only one thing possible for it, Minnie," he said at last, drawing _ong deep breath. "I must go down to Mambury to-morrow to be beforehand wit_im. And I must either buy him off; or else, if that won't do—"
  • "Or else what, Gilbert?"
  • She trembled like an aspen leaf.
  • "Or else get at the books in the vestry myself," the Q.C. muttered low betwee_is clenched teeth, "before the fellow has time to see them and prove it."