White Hood and Blue Cap: A Christmas Bough with Two Branches
Chapter VI. The Beginning of the End
Chapter VI. The Beginning of the End.
In the following week came visitors to Blue Cap. Mr and Mrs Cook, and three of the Melroses—a brother and two sisters—all on horseback. Old Mrs Scariff was up that day for the first time after a long bout of rheumatism, and owing to her persuasion it was that Marion accepted an invitation to go to Melrose for a few days.
“Why will not you come, too, Mr Scariff?” said the eldest Mrs Melrose, addressing Linfield.
“I am not fond of society,” said he, sulkily.
“As a bachelor you had, perhaps, some excuse for seclusion,” continued Miss Melrose, gaily, “but in your new character of benedict a hermit existence is very unbecoming: so pray come forth to-day.” But the small well-meant pleasantry fell flat.
“How pinched and haggard you look now the flush is gone off your face!” exclaimed Nellie, between the effusive embraces she was bestowing upon Marion, in the privacy of the latter's chamber, whither the two had withdrawn for Marion to don her riding-habit. “That sulky brute has been ill-using you. You've been moped to death in this desolate hole.”
“It has been rather dull up here,” said Marion, page 119 evasively, “and I have not been well. The cold weather tried me so; but this visit of yours, and going to Melrose, will put me right.”
“Why haven't you made Mr Scariff take you from home sometimes? You ought to have spent the winter in Dunedin.”
“Everybody can't skilfully handle the matrimonial ribbons as Mrs Cook can,” said Marion, with a laugh. “But, seriously, Mr Scariff dislikes town so, it would have distressed him to go.”
“He didn't mind living in town for months when he was paying court to you. Certainly, one seldom saw him outside a waggonette.”
“He dislikes people to look at him.”
“Then why does he court notice by wearing that absurd cap? No one would look at him a second time but for that. Not but what it is very becoming to his style of beauty. Marion!”
“Now, you know I've been dying for months—”
“How well the process agrees with you, Nellie!”
“Be quiet!—dying for months to know the secret. You know it, of course, and you can have no possible motive for withholding it any longer from me. I am a married woman now, like yourself—and a model of discretion. Now tell me, dearest, do; what is there under the cap?”
Marion looked at her gravely and steadily. “You are sure I can trust you, Nellie?
“On my honour, Marion!”
“And you won't be alarmed?”
“No. Great heaven! what is it?”
“Nellie—bend nearer—it is—his head!”
“Oh! oh! you exasperating baggage! But I'll pay you out for this. But really—really now—do you mean to say there is nothing else?—that he wears the cap merely for ornament?”
Marion moved her head with a nodding shake that might have been interpreted any way.
“And I suppose the same conceit led him to call page 120 this place after the cap! Well, I shouldn't have thought he'd had so much of the coxcomb in him.”
“No, it was not he who christened the station, Nellie. It had no name, Hannah told me, until the different hands employed at different times called it Blue Cap to distinguish it, and now the title sticks to it.”
“And there couldn't be a better. And the whole thing is so deliciously suggestive of mystery, I almost envy you, Marion. There isn't an iota of romance about Mr Cook. Are you ready now?”
“Then we'll be off. I say, Marion!”
“You are sure you forgive me that miserable mistake about Gower? It did look so like a case between him and the widow. You are sure you don't bear me a grudge, dear?”
“Nellie; hush, hush, now and for ever! I never had a thought of blaming you. The only thing that will ever give me a grudge against you will be further mention of the thing. Have you got my parcel? Then come.”
Linfield helped Marion to her saddle. “If you would rather I stayed at home, I will stay,” said she, smitted suddenly with the sight of his face. He must have had a hard fight with himself to look like that.
“No, I do not want you. Go,” he said. “You mustn't expect Mrs Scariff home for a day or two at any rate,” shouted Nellie from her curveting steed at a little distance.
“Mrs Scariff is her own mistress, and may stay away as long as she pleases,” was Linfield's response as he turned abruptly and went indoors.
Despite the check upon her spirits, how Marion did enjoy that hour's ride over the hills to Melrose! What new life came to her with the bright free breeze—the genial welcome at the homestead—above all, the sense of liberty, to which for months she had been a stranger!page 121
“If only I can have a little relief like this sometimes—once in a year—in two years—something to look forward to, and back upon, I think I can bear the rest,” she said to herself as soon as she was alone in the little chamber allotted to her by her friendly hosts. “And perhaps I can be kinder to him too. God knows I would try. And I have tried, though failing frequently, I know. But has it not been hard? O heavens, so hard!”
A week later she and Nellie were riding back from a visit to Blue Cap for relays from Marion's wardrobe.
“Get off here, Marion,” said Nellie, herself dismounting at the Melrose slip-panel. “Get off here, and go up to the house through that grove of gum trees, while I take the horses round to the stable.”
“But why?” asked Marion, surprised.
“Never mind why; just do as I tell you.”
And Marion did, in laughing apprehension of some practical joke. Looking back over her shoulder as she walked, she was quite half way through the gum plantation when the sound of a footfall in front of her caused her to turn her head.
For a moment her heart stood still; then she ran blindly forward, with a short bitter cry.
Instinctively his arms opened to her, and folded her fast and close as in the old time. Only for a moment. Then he put her away, and looked at her sternly as he held her at arm's length; and she knew at once that he was as innocent of this meeting as she was.
“How little you cared for me!” he said; and these were his first words to her after all that time. And he knew they were false, for he read in her wide wet eyes all the old love that was burning deathlessly in his own heart.
Half-an-hour afterwards, Nellie—who was lying in wait—caught Marion on her way to her room.
“Why, you've been crying, I declare!” she exclaimed, page 122 seizing her by the hands. “What for, in the name of everything? What is wrong? Aren't you much obliged to me for getting him here?”
“Then it was you who got him here?”
“Yes; he knew nothing about it till he saw you; had no idea Melrose was near Blue Cap. He was off for Invercargill when I trapped him into turning aside to visit me. Wasn't it clever? Aren't you glad?”
“Glad? No, I am sorry. Was it not enough that your malicious scandal parted us, but you must needs make my misery greater now by bringing us together again?”
“Well, I'm blest!” cried Nellie, in angry amazement. “This is too much; What can you mean by misery, Marion?”
“What is it but misery to see him now? O Nellie, Nellie, what shall I do?”
“Do? Why, leave off acting like a fool and pitching into me,” said Nellie, savagely. “What on earth is the good of getting tragic over a thing like this? But it serves me right for my officiousness. Yet, how was I to know? I thought you would be glad!”
“So I am glad,—God help me! So abjectly—sinfully—painfully glad, that—see!—I kiss your hand, Nellie.”
“There—don't! Marion, I shall never half understand you. Be reasonable, do. After all, there's no harm in your seeing him again, you know.”
“No. A married woman has a right to a little flirtation, and whether it's with a new sweetheart or an old one doesn't much matter, that I can see. Look at me! Do you think I get melo-dramatic over Tom Melrose, with whom I flirt all I can? Yet if I had had my choice do you think I would not rather have had him for a husband than the one I've got? But my not getting him is no reason I should never see or speak to him, I hope.”
“But it seems a sin,” said Marion, nervously page 123 clasping and unclasping her trembling fingers above her throbbing heart.
“Sin! Fiddlesticks! And if it is,—a spice of sin makes it all the better. One goes back to one's husband afterwards with all the zest of repentance.”
“God help me!” said Marion, “I think I will go back to mine to-night.”
“Now for the love of heaven, Marion, do nothing so idiotic. If you do I shan't know what to say for myself here. Pray, pray promise that you will sleep over it at any rate. That is the least you can do to oblige an old friend like Nelly.”
* * * * * *
“To-morrow I will fetch her home,” says Linfield Scariff, pacing the floor of his mother's room with quick uneven strides. “In three weeks how often have I seen her? Twice; twice. I have seen my wife only twice.”
Mrs Scariff watched him nervously.
“You should have gone with her, Linfield.”
“Yes,” he hisses, wheeling round on her sharply;
“yes, I am a pretty subject for junketing and merrymaking, am I not? I should look well taking a mallet at croquet, or making one in a game of romps, should I not? Look at me. Good God! Look at me!”
“She shall come home to-morrow, mother. I will fetch her.”
“Aye, an' show yersen madder an' selfisher nor iver,” here interrupted old Hannah, putting her head in at the door. She has been listening, as she always does, unscrupulously, and puts in her word again according to habit when a subject interests her. “Yah mought think t' young maistress wa'nt made o' flesh and blood t' way yah've prisoned her oop i' this Godforsa'en place sin' iver yah wed her. Shoo'd nobbut sarve ye proper if shoo ran off wi' somebody, nah then!”
“Leave the room, woman!” shouts her master, furiously.page 124
“Well, I'm goan,” is the retort, “for sewerly I'se gotten summat better to dew nor to stop here bannin' words wi' yah. Only yah'd better mark what I say baght t' young maistress, any rate.”
On the very next day Melrose was surprised by an unwonted visitor. Nellie ran down with the news to Marion, who was walking in the gum plantation with Gower Hamilton.
“Are you glad to see me, Marion?” asked her husband, as she entered the room where he waited.
“Why did you come?” said she.
“I came to take you home.”
“What for? Is your mother worse?”
“No; but I want you home, Marion. You have been away long enough.”
“But I am happy here, and the Melroses are not tired of me yet.”
“Likely enough. But a husband may surely expect at least a little of his wife's time and society.”
“One would think you had had enough of mine in the last eight months.”
“Or you of mine; which is it?”
“Have it that way, if you will. But I do not wish to go home to-day.”
“But, Marion, I cannot bear it longer without you. Marion, be pitiful to me. Oh, my heart's darling, give me a little love in return for all mine. Is there nothing I can ever say or do to win you?”
His face was very white and wistful, his great brown eyes were full of passicnate woe and longing; and Marion's sad grey ones filled with swift tears as she looked at him.
“I will go home with you, Linfield,” she said, in a resolute voice. “I will go home with you, and stay there always if you wish it.”
But she shrank, as she never could help shrinking, from his arms which would have embraced her; and he saw her movement. Quick as thought came the change in his mood. “By God, you shall!” he shouted, gripping her wrist with sudden force. “You shall stay page 125 there till you are glad to be near me—in my arms—instead of revolting from my merest touch. You shall.”
“Let go my arm, Linfield, she said, with assumed calmness. “Don't hurt me in that brutal way. And don't think to domineer over or frighten me. If you make the least exhibition of yourself here before my friends I will never go to Blue Cap again. If you are quiet I will get on my habit and order Dainty at once. Now, let me go.”
How they got home Marion never knew. The last thing she distinctly remembered was her own backward glance of yearning towards where Gower Hamilton stood, unaware of her departure, his yellow beard aglint in the light of the setting sun, and her feeling of thanksgiving that he did not see her. The rest of the journey was chaos. Blue Cap reached, she passed hastily to her room and locked herself in.
“Lord of heaven! is every mistake as eruelly avenged as this of mine?” she cried, in passionate abandonment, “and must the punishment continue for ever? Will death never come to one or other of us and end the misery?”
She stayed in her room two days; on the morning of the third she came forth again with a fixed plan of action in her mind. In the breakfast-room she found Linfield and his mother; the former looking quiet, but bearing in his face traces of a cruel past struggle. He let his eyes rest with an expression of wistful weariness on his wife as she entered and seated herself not far from him.
I am going away to-day, Linfield,” she said.
“Yes?” said he, indifferently,— “To Melrose?”
“No, further than that. I am going to Clinton.”
“To Clinton!” exclaimed old Mrs Scariff. “What to do there, Marion, my dear?”
“It is time that Linfield and I should part, Mrs Scariff. I have borne all that I can bear, and now I am going away for ever.”
While she was speaking he drew near to her, his features gradually setting themselves in a look of page 126 ferce despair. And now he suddenly caught sight of a bow of bright scarlet ribbon that she had fastened in her hair because she fancied it lightened up her own distressed pale face a little.
Now, in all her knowledge of Linfield Scariff, she did not yet know his deadly horror and rage at sight of the colour of red. She had never worn it before; indeed she seldom wore anything so bright.
“The ribbon, Marion!” screamed old Mrs Scariff, “Take off the ribbon—quick!”
But too late. Before she could save herself he had her in his arms, shaking her—worrying her—like a mad animal. The ribbon he tore out and rent to shreds with his teeth.”
“Curse you! Damn you! Curse you!” he howled, flinging her from him, and rushing wildly about the room, tearing and breaking all before him. “You have roused all the devil in me at last. You will leave me for ever, will you? You will shrink and shiver at touch of me, will you? You will go to Clinton,—to Melrose. To Melrose where there are friends, old and new. Handsome, shapely men—men, not brutes, with horns and deformities. Tell me, my beautiful one, is your lover at Melrose that you are so anxious to go?”
“Yes, he is,” cried Marion, gathering herself up in a fury of rage and pain. He had hurt her sorely where he had gripped her soft flesh. “Yes he is, and I will go to him. Fool that I was to come back here when I might have stayed with him and defied you! I will go back to him you fiend. How I wish you were dead! I will ask him to let me be anything to him, anything—only to take me away from the creeping hideous horror I feel at sight of you. What are you going to do?” For he had caught her again by this, and was carrying her to the door.
“Put me down, you fiend! What are you going to do?”
“Shall I tell you?” he said, holding her in his strong shapely arms as if she had been the merest infant. “Shall I tell you, my wife, my pretty wife? page 127 I am going to fasten you up till you are dead—dead! And then I will send for your lover and show him. And I will tell him how I kept and tortured you, and shut the light out from you till your soul fled away in despair. How will he like to know all that, think you? And then I will let my soul loose in search of yours, so that even in hell you may not escape me, my own! my own!”
Despite her struggles he bore her to her room, shutting the door upon his mother and old Hannah, who had followed, crying helplessly. But here Marion escaped him, and, springing through the open window, ran swiftly down the slope. Ere she reached the foot she felt the strong arms about her again; and she was carried back, though she fought with all the fierce energy of despair.
“Must I tie you then, my beauty?” he said, mockingly; “must I tie your hands?” deliberately doing so with a handkerchief, “and take away your clothes?” tearing them off her back. “Now rest quietly,” he continued, flinging her on the bed, “until I put all your garments out of your reach. You will scarcely care to travel to your lover naked across the bleak hills.”
From the huge wardrobe in the corner he dragged all her dresses and linen tossing them in a heap into the passage. Then he went out, locking the door after him. Marion tore at her fetters with her teeth, beat her bound hands wildly upon the door, then, rushing to the window, struck them through three panes of glass successively, and shrieked through the apertures. Then Scariff came, carrying boards, nails, and a short ladder to the outside of the window; and with horrible deliberation he proceeded to nail it up, one board after another being securely fastened, until all the interior of the room was in darkness, and Marion fell back in a dead faint. When she revived she found Scariff standing over her, bathing her head and face, and she found that she had been clothed in her night-dress while insensible. Not another garment was in the room.page 128
“Linfield, let me out,” said she, pitifully, putting up her hands, which were now unbound, but all torn and bleeding from contact with the broken windowpanes. “Let me out, Linfield.”
For all answer he left her, locking the door again; and she, weak and cowed, crept crying to bed. From Linfield's room came presently strange sounds—cries scarcely human,—heavy blows and falls,—which lasted an hour or so, then suddenly ceased.
“Has he killed himself, I wonder?” said Marion, listening. But she felt too tired to listen or care for anything more, and after a little while sleep came to her.