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- A SIMPLETON - 80/84 -
When they were alone, Falcon told her she had said words that gladdened his very heart. "You admit I can carry out one half of his wishes?" said he.
Mrs. Staines said "Yes," then colored high; then, to turn it off, said, "But I cannot allow you to lose that large sum of money. You must let me repay you."
"Large sum of money!" said he. "It is no more to me than sixpence to most people. I don't know what to do with my money; and I never shall know, unless you will make a sacrifice of your own feelings to the wishes of the dead. O Mrs. Staines--Rosa, do pray consider that a man of that wisdom sees the future, and gives wise advice. Sure am I that, if you could overcome your natural repugnance to a second marriage, it would be the best thing for your little boy--I love him already as if he were my own--and in time would bring you peace and comfort, and some day, years hence, even happiness. You are my only love; yet I should never have come to you again if HE had not sent me. Do consider how strange it all is, and what it points to, and don't let me have the misery of losing you again, when you can do no better now, alas! than reward my fidelity."
She was much moved at this artful appeal, and said, "If I was sure I was obeying his will. But how can I feel that, when we both promised never to wed again?"
"A man's dying words are more sacred than any other. You have his letter."
"Yes, but he does not say 'marry again.'"
"That is what he meant, though."
"How can you say that? How can you know?"
"Because I put the words he said to me together with that short line to you. Mind, I don't say that he did not exaggerate my poor merits; on the contrary, I think he did. But I declare to you that he did hope I should take care of you and your child. Right or wrong, it was his wish, so pray do not deceive yourself on that point."
This made more impression on her than anything else he could say, and she said, "I promise you one thing, I will never marry any man but you."
Instead of pressing her further, as an inferior artist would, he broke into raptures, kissed her hand tenderly, and was in such high spirits, and so voluble all day, that she smiled sweetly on him, and thought to herself, "Poor soul! how happy I could make him with a word!"
As he was always watching her face--a practice he carried further than any person living--he divined that sentiment, and wrought upon it so, that at last he tormented her into saying she would marry him SOME DAY.
When he had brought her to that, he raged inwardly to think he had not two years to work in; for it was evident she would marry him in time. But no, it had taken him more than four months, close siege, to bring her to that. No word from Phoebe. An ominous dread hung over his own soul. His wife would be upon him, or, worse still, her brother Dick, who he knew would beat him to a mummy on the spot; or, worst of all, the husband of Rosa Staines, who would kill him, or fling him into a prison. He MUST make a push.
In this emergency he used his ally, Mr. Lusignan; he told him Mrs. Staines had promised to marry him, but at some distant date. This would not do; he must look after his enormous interests in the colony, and he was so much in love he could not leave her.
The old gentleman was desperately fond of Falcon, and bent on the match, and he actually consented to give his daughter what Falcon called a little push.
The little push was a very great one, I think.
It consisted in directing the clergyman to call in church the banns of marriage between Reginald Falcon and Rosa Staines.
They were both in church together when this was done. Rosa all but screamed, and then turned red as fire and white as a ghost, by turns. She never stood up again all the service; and in going home refused Falcon's arm, and walked swiftly home by herself. Not that she had the slightest intention of passing this monstrous thing by in silence. On the contrary, her wrath was boiling over, and so hot that she knew she should make a scene in the street if she said a word there.
Once inside the house she turned on Falcon, with a white cheek and a flashing eye, and said, "Follow me, sir, if you please." She led the way to her father's study. "Papa," said she, "I throw myself on your protection. Mr. Falcon has affronted me."
"Oh, Rosa!" cried Falcon, affecting utter dismay.
"Publicly--publicly: he has had the banns of marriage cried in the church, without my permission."
"Don't raise your voice so loud, child. All the house will hear you."
"I choose all the house to hear me. I will not endure it. I will never marry you now--never!"
"Rosa, my child," said Lusignan, "you need not scold poor Falcon, for I am the culprit. It was I who ordered the banns to be cried."
"Oh! papa, you had no right to do such a thing as that."
"I think I had. I exercised parental authority for once, and for your good, and for the good of a true and faithful lover of yours, whom you jilted once, and now you trifle with his affection and his interests. He loves you too well to leave you; yet you know his vast estates and interests require supervision."
"That for his vast estates!" said Rosa contemptuously. "I am not to be driven to the altar like this, when my heart is in the grave. Don't you do it again, papa, or I'll get up and forbid the banns; affront for affront."
"I should like to see that," said the old gentleman dryly.
Rosa vouchsafed no reply, but swept out of the room, with burning cheeks and glittering eyes, and was not seen all day, would not dine with them, in spite of three humble, deprecating notes Falcon sent her.
"Let the spiteful cat alone," said old Lusignan. "You and I will dine together in peace and quiet."
It was a dull dinner; but Falcon took advantage of the opportunity, impregnated the father with his views, and got him to promise to have the banns cried next Sunday. He consented.
Rosa learned next Sunday morning that this was to be done, and her courage failed her. She did not go to church at all.
She cried a great deal, and submitted to violence, as your true women are too apt to do. They had compromised her, and so conquered her. The permanent feelings of gratitude and esteem caused a reaction after her passion, and she gave up open resistance as hopeless.
Falcon renewed his visits, and was received with the mere sullen languor of a woman who has given in.
The banns were cried a third time.
Then the patient Rosa bought laudanum enough to reunite her to her Christopher, in spite of them all; and having provided herself with this resource, became more cheerful, and even kind and caressing.
She declined to name the day at present, and that was awkward. Nevertheless the conspirators felt sure they should tire her out into doing that, before long; for they saw their way clear, and she was perplexed in the extreme.
In her perplexity, she used to talk to a certain beautiful star she called her Christopher. She loved to fancy he was now an inhabitant of that bright star; and often on a clear night she would look up, and beg for guidance from this star. This I consider foolish: but then I am old and sceptical; she was still young and innocent, and sorely puzzled to know her husband's real will.
I don't suppose the star had anything to do with it, except as a focus of her thoughts; but one fine night, after a long inspection of Christopher's star, she dreamed a dream. She thought that a lovely wedding-dress hung over a chair, that a crown of diamonds as large as almonds sparkled ready for her on the dressing-table, and she was undoing her black gown, and about to take it off, when suddenly the diamonds began to pale, and the white satin dress to melt away, and in its place there rose a pale face and a long beard, and Christopher Staines stood before her, and said quietly, "Is this how you keep your vow?" Then he sank slowly, and the white dress was black, and the diamonds were jet; and she awoke, with his gentle words of remonstrance and his very tones ringing in her ear.
This dream, co-operating with her previous agitation and misgivings, shook her very much; she did not come down-stairs till near dinner-time; and both her father and Falcon, who came as a matter of course to spend his Sunday, were struck with her appearance. She was pale, gloomy, morose, and had an air of desperation about her.
Falcon would not see it; he knew that it is safest to let her sex alone when they look like that; and then the storm sometimes subsides of itself.
After dinner, Rosa retired early; and soon she was heard walking rapidly up and down the dressing-room.
This was quite unusual, and made a noise.
Papa Lusignan thought it inconsiderate; and after a while, remarking gently that he was not particularly fond of sound, he proposed they should smoke the pipe of peace on the lawn.
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