Chapter IX.

The Skeleton in the House

Once outside the house Gerald paused for a moment on the pavement as if uncertain what direction to take. He at length turned slowly towards Oxford Street, and hailed a passing cab​—​a crawler on the look-out for a fare.

“Drive me to Devonshire Road, Regent’s Park,” said the young barrister; “and be quick about it.”

“All right, sir,” said the cabby, who at once scented a double fare, and urged his jaded horse to its utmost speed.

At the place indicated Gerald alighted, and paid the driver a sum which was evidently satisfactory to that modern representative of Jehu. He lingered till the vehicle was out of sight, and, after going a hundred yards or so, stopped at what an auctioneer would call “a neat villa residence.” Pushing open the gate he walked up the gravelled path slowly and with a preoccupied air, and knocked softly at the door.

It was speedily opened, and Gerald entered without hesitation. As he touched the handle of a door on the left hand side of the hall, he said, inquiringly, to the servant, “Your mistress is here, I suppose?” “Yes, sir,” she replied, hesitatingly. He noticed her manner.

“What, is there anything the matter?”

“Oh, no sir; only madame has been a little out of sorts to-day. She would have gone to your office but I persuaded her not to.”

“You were quite right, Jane.”

“I was about to take some coffee to madame​—​shall I bring a cup for you, sir?”

“Yes,” said he, laconically. He turned the handle and walked into the room. It was luxuriously furnished, more, perhaps, in the French than in the English style; that is to say, there were plenty of mirrors, an abundance of gilding, velvet chairs, and rich lace curtains. A lamp, over which was a crimson shade, illuminated the apartment with a soft light, and in the bright steel grate, although it was June, glowed a large fire, in front of which, upon a Persian rug, lay a Maltese terrier, who every now and then opened his eyes lazily to look at his mistress. The latter, in an attitude of langour, reclined upon a velvet couch, the crimson tint of which harmonised delightfully with the rich brown of her complexion. She was scarcely nineteen, but had all the charms of womanhood. Her form was round and supple, her shoulders were those of an exquisitely chiselled statue, and the little foot, encased in a satin slipper, peeping out from beneath her robe, would have served as the model for a painter. Her face was beautiful, very; but perhaps her beauty lay in the expression rather than in the regularity of her features. She had a broad, but somewhat low forehead; large lustrous eyes, which could melt or sparkle with equal facility; a mouth perhaps a little too small to please a fastidious taste; bright red, pouting lips, and a beautifully shaped chin. The nose, perhaps, was the worst feature of the face; like the mouth, it was a little too small. Her glossy hair of raven tint was coiled up somewhat in Oriental fashion, and the broad gilt band which confined its tresses was thoroughly in keeping with the style of her beauty. Her complexion was dark, but beautifully clear, and a warm red of a delicate tint mantled her cheeks. A physiognomist would have summed her up as very beautiful, very passionate, and very selfish. As Gerald entered a frown contracted her brow, and she turned her head away pettishly. He advanced towards her, and, bending over her beautiful face, kissed her cheek softly. She made a gesture of impatience.

“At last,” she said, half angrily, “you have come. I thought you had forgotten me altogether.”

“It was quite impossible for you to see me sooner,” returned the young man. “I have had some very important business to look after.”

“Oh, of course, that’s always the cry​—​business, business. And I have business also, for I have been nearly driven wild with those insolent tradesmen. There’s the upholsterer has called twice, and declares he cannot wait another day; the livery stable keeper where we had the carriage says I cannot have any more drives until the bill is paid; the butcher——”

“My dearest Lucie——” began the young man.

“Yes, it is easy to say ‘My dearest Lucie’ when you are here, but when you are away I’m quite forgotten, I know that very well,” and the offended beauty put a lace handkerchief to her eyes, and smelt vigorously at her vinaigrette.

“How can you be so unjust?” replied Gerald, passionately. “Do I not always think of you? Have I not proved it a hundred times? See, I have not forgotten you to-day, have I?”

He took from his pocket the little packet before mentioned, and unfolding the paper covering displayed a magnificent gold bracelet.

“There,” he said, holding it out, “there is the bracelet you admired so much in Bond Street the other day.”

Lucie, without altering her position, took the bracelet in her hand, looked at it carelessly, and simply said, “Ah.”

“Does it not please you?” asked Gerald, with just the slightest possible shade of vexation in his tone.

“Yes, pretty well. I thought it was handsomer. It looked so in the shop.”

And with an air of indifference she threw the trinket on the little table by her side.

Something very much like an impolite ejaculation escaped the young man. “I am not in luck to-day,” he said between his teeth.

“Why not?” asked the lady in a pretended air of surprise.

“I see very well that you do not care for my present,” said he.

“Pray do not say that. You know I have always been pleased with everything you have given me.”

It was Gerald’s turn to say “Ah,” and then, as the girl did not reply, he went on, “It may please you, but hang me if you look very happy over it.”

“Indeed,” rejoined Mademoiselle Lucie, in a tone something between laughing and crying. “Would you like one to go into ruptures, to throw myself at your knees, and kiss your hands! Shall I call up Jane and the cook, and tell them how happy I am to have so generous a lover?”

Her words stung the young man to the quick.

“Lucie,” he cried, impetuously, “it is cruel of you to say such things. If I have committed any serious offence let me know it at once.”

“Very well, then, I will be serious. Now, don’t you think it would have been wiser of you to have forgotten all about that bracelet, and brought me, yesterday evening or this morning, that £100 I want so much?”

“I could not come,” returned Gerald, sullenly.

“You could have sent it. There are messengers, I suppose, to be had.”

“My dearest Lucie, the simple truth is I could neither bring nor send the money, for I had not got it. If I have some with me now I owe it to the merest chance, for an hour ago I knew not where to lay me hand upon a shilling.”

“Poor fellow!” replied the lady, ironically; “do you mean to tell me you haven’t got £100?”

“I swear it​—​not of my own.”

The girl looked at him for a moment, and then something in his woe-begone appearance seemed to assure her mightily, for she burst into a ringing shout of laughter. “My dear Gerald​—​Ha! ha! ha! Pray, don’t look so dismal. It’s very well acted, but——”

“I tell you it is no acting at all,” he rejoined, fiercely; “I am at my wits’ end for money.”

The girl saw that she had tormented him enough.

“There, my dear boy, don’t make yourself miserable over it,” said she, in a softer voice. Curiously enough, the thought that a man had ruined himself for her sake was enough to soften her heart at once towards him. She rose suddenly, and running lightly to him, flung her arms around his neck. “You stupid fellow,” she whispered, “I do not mean to vex you. I do not, indeed. You are very kind, and I love you​—​oh, so much. We are not going to quarrel are we?”

In an instant he had forgotten everything. She knew her power over him, and when he had kissed her, and said he had quite forgiven her, she resumed with a little pout and just a shade of malice, “And have I been so very expensive, then?”

“Not at first. You were wonderfully moderate in your demands. A year ago a house at Islington was sufficient for you, but now nothing less than Regent’s Park will do. Then the furniture was pronounced old-fashioned, and, of course, there had to be new. And what with two servants, dress, jewellery, carriage drives, boxes at the theatre, and——”

“There​—​there; for goodness’ sake don’t go over the horrid list. How much is it altogether?”

“Not less than £2,000 in a twelvemonth.”

“Are you quite sure?” she asked putting on expression of intense agony.

“As certain as I once had the money and haven’t got it now.”

“£2,000,” she repeated. “You are positive there are no shillings and no pence?”

In spite of the gravity of the subject he could not refrain from laughing.

“You are a sad girl, Lucie,” said he, playfully pinching her ear, “and I shall never teach you habits of economy.”

The servant entering just at this moment with the coffee somewhat interrupted these manifestations of love, and drawing a chair close to the couch, Gerald sat himself by the side of the young lady, who resuming her favourite attitude on the couch, submitted to be waited on with becoming resignation.

Lucie Davenport’s history is soon told. Born in Paris, an English father, but of a French mother, the foreign element decidedly predominated. Extravagant, fond of pleasure, rather selfish, and certainly vain, she had early in life learned the power of her beautiful face. Her father dying not long after her birth, his widow went on the stage and attained a fair position as an actress at the Porte St. Martin. Lucie entered the ballet when but seven years old, and her precocious talent and unbounded self-possession soon gained her hosts of admirers. Her career presented nothing different from that of hundreds of her class. A fresh lover every week, for whom she cared nothing; a multitude of presents, which she took care to turn into money; compliments which she took at their true value; one eternal round of excitement had been her experience ever since she could remember anything. Coming to London as premier danseuse at Her Majesty’s, she made the acquaintance of Gerald Delanne, and for the first time in her life had fallen in love. The sequel Gerald’s own words have sufficiently indicated. She was not absolutely vicious, and her faults were, perhaps, due more to her education than to her own nature. Her dream was to be loved as Antony loved Cleopatra, to have a man half-ruin himself for her sake, one who would descend to her level rather than seek to raise her to his, was her ambition. The presents which Gerald lavished upon her she cared but little for, and, perhaps, had he been more exacting she would have loved him with a higher love. But the fact was, she believed him to be rich, and as he had carefully concealed from her his embarrassments, she was ignorant of the sacrifice he had made for her. As for Gerald, he adored her. Up to the fatal hour when he met Lucie he had lived like a hermit. But before her he had weakly capitulated, and so infatuated was he that in two years he had spent not only his own earnings but the invested capital of his mother. He loved Lucie madly, without reflection, without even common prudence. When with her the mask of coldness and self-control fell from him. She possessed him body and soul. He had sometimes tried to oppose her unreasoning caprices, but before her he was as a reed bent by the wind. She goaded him and tortured him almost beyond endurance, but a smile, a tear, or a kiss, and all was forgotten. Once beyond the spell of the enchantress reason returned, and his cool intellect told him that she did not love him, that she but played with his passion; but his infatuation had taken so deep a hold in his heart he could not uproot it. He had even suspected her fidelity, but had never had the courage to declare his suspicions. At the very idea of giving her up his blood seemed to congeal, and he preferred agonising doubts to a desolate certainty. The entrance of the servant with the tea gave Gerald time to recover himself, and already he began to ask himself whether he had not been too stern with the beautiful creature who had so enslaved him.

“My love,” said he, caressingly, “if I have done wrong you have sufficiently punished me. Come, let us sign a truce.”

She withdrew herself from his proferred embrace, and returned pettishly​—​

“There, that’s enough. How many times am I to tell you I am not well this evening?”

“Not well!” exclaimed the young man, in an anxious tone. “Why did you not say so before?”

“It’s nothing. My complaint is that I am so tired.”

“Not of me?”

“Yes, of you, and everything, and everybody.”

Gerald rose from his seat beside her, and walked once or twice up and down the room. He was not angry, but there was a worn and haggard expression on his face which was almost pitiful. She was accustomed to treat him thus, and yet for a caress he returned like a beaten dog that licked the hand which inflicted a blow.

“You have said more than once lately that you were tired of me,” said he, gravely. “What have I done?”


“Well, then——”

“Cannot you see that my life is one long imprisonment?” cried the girl, with sparkling eyes. “Do you not add to its misery by your mad jealousy!”

“Misery!” murmured the young man. “That is a hard word.”

“It is a true one. Do you not neglect me? Have you ever introduced me to one of your friends? Do you ever walk out with me? Perhaps six times we have been for a drive, but you have always had the blinds down, as if you were ashamed of me. I am alone, I go out alone, I——”

“Always the same story,” returned Gerald, impatiently. “As if you did not know as well as I the reason of all this.”

“Oh, I know very well you are afraid lest I should tarnish your reputation and good name,” she replied, in a tone of irony.

“Enough!” cried Delanne, stamping on the ground as he spoke. “Of what do you complain? I leave you your liberty, and you use it so well I know not when you go out or when you come in. Do you not know that I play for high stakes, and have to assume a respectability even though I have it not. Could I bring any of those with whom I mix, and to whom I look for advancement, here? If they once saw this luxury, this evidence of my folly, what would they think? How would they imagine I supported this extravagance? My reputation is all I possess. Granted that it is all a lie, such as it is I must keep it.”

He spoke excitedly, and his voice became hoarse with the violence of his passion. Lucie saw she had gone far enough.

“You’re not really angry with me, are you? Not with me?” she said plaintively.

“No,” he returned hurriedly, “of course not, but you madden me with your unjust reproaches. You say I never go out with you. Did we not go to the opera last week?”

“I rather like that,” Lucie exclaimed with a laugh. “Why, you know very well you allowed me to go alone, and did not come to my box till nearly eleven. We had supper together, it’s true, but you were so dreadfully cross I never spent such a miserable evening. And let me whisper in your ear, my dear boy, that you drank​—​yes​—​just the least drop more than was good for you.”

The young man made a gesture of impatience, and exclaimed, “There, that will do! let us change the subject.” He walked up to where she was standing, and, taking her arm within his, led her to the table.

“Look here, my pet, see what I have brought you, and tell me if I am as bad as you say.” As he spoke he took from his pocket the money he had borrowed from Kraker, and laid it on the table. “Here is not £100, but—— And now kiss me and say good-night, for I shall not see you for a few days.”

“Why, are you going out of town?”

“No, but I shall be very much occupied in some business of immense importance to me. If it turns out all right our fortune is made, and you will see whether I love you or not.”

“O, dearest, tell me what it is!”

“Not to-night.”

“Yes, you must,” said she, raising herself on her toes to bring her ear close to his lips. “I shall not say good-night until you do.”

“No, no!” he cried laughingly, as he embraced her, “because it might prove a false alarm, and then I should be fairly scolded. Now, my darling,” he continued in a graver tone, “listen. Until the affair is really settled don’t come near me, and, as you once had the impudence to do, don’t even write. If you do you may cause me irreparable mischief.”

Lucie pouted her pretty lip. “Then you will not tell me?” said she.

“I cannot, really. You shall know in good time.”

“Another mystery, I suppose?” said she with a half sigh.

“It shall be the last. I swear it.”

The girl looked up in his face. “Gerald,” said she, “you are concealing something from me that I have a right to know. I’m sure of it, because lately I’ve noticed a change in you.”

“I swear——”

“It’s no use; I shan’t believe you. Now, I warn you that if you deceive me I will be avenged.”

The young man was evidently disturbed. He turned away his head, and, without looking at her, said​—​

“The thing is bound to turn out well, and——”

“I don’t want to hear any more about it, if you’re so disagreeable; only don’t forget my warning. There, now, kiss me, if you really must be unkind, and leave me.”

He kissed her passionately, and then with an effort tore himself away.

The lady, left to herself, was not altogether the personification of good humour. She rang her bell furiously, scolded the servant, and finally retired to rest in what is termed “a vile temper.” “If he marries anyone for her money, I’ll——,” she muttered; but what she would do did not appear, nor, indeed, had she any precise ideas on the subject.

Meanwhile Gerald made the best of his way home. He let himself in noiselessly, and at once proceeded to his study. He had scarcely lit the gas before he heard a rapid footstep in the passage, and then came a loud tap at his door.

“For God’s sake, come quickly, sir.”

He opened the door and saw before him the servant, her face white with terror.

“What is the matter?” he asked himself.

“O, my poor mistress! she is dying. O, do make haste.”

Gerald did not reply, but at once hastened to his mother’s room. He found her so terribly changed he could not restrain an exclamation of horror. She was lying perfectly motionless, her face was of a livid pallor, as though she had not a drop of blood in her veins, her eyes were dull and glassy, and her hair, once raven but now quite grey, streamed over the pillow, and added to the ghastliness of her appearance. She seemed to be quite unconscious, and did not recognise the young man.

“How long has she been like this?” he asked.

“I don’t know, sir,” replied the frightened girl. “I was so tired I fell off into a doze, and when I awoke I found she’d gone off like this.”

“Take a cab, and go at once for Dr. Cathcart. I will stay here.”

The girl hurried off, and Gerald, sinking into an arm-chair, awaited her return. She was not long, for the doctor, who was a friend of young Delanne, lived near, and returned with her. He was a young man of about Gerald’s age, tall, with finely-cut features, and a calm and decided manner. Silently greeting his friend, he took the lamp, and approached the bed. He gazed at the unconscious woman for a minute, and then, turning sharply round to Gerald, said​—​

“What has happened? I must know.”

The suddenness of the question startled the young man.

“Know what?”

“Your mother has had some fright. The brain continues its functions, but she has no power to convey her ideas. It is as if the mind, active and working, were imprisoned within a statue. This can only be caused by a terrible shock to the nervous system.”

Gerald placed his arm within his friend’s, and led him a little distance from the bed.

“You are quite right, Cathcart,” said he, in a low voice, “Mrs. Delanne has indeed been frightened. Indeed, I can scarcely tell you the cause.” He paused for a moment, and then continued, “Look here, Cathcart, I have known you for some time, and I believe I can trust in your honour. The horrible truth is this: Mrs. Delanne is not my mother. She has disinherited me so that her own son should benefit; that he should usurp my name and my fortune. I discovered this a few days ago, and she knows I am aware of it. Since then she has gradually sank, and you see the result.”

The young doctor heard this recital without a word. He was used to confidences of all kinds, and, extraordinary as the story was, he was not surprised; indeed, he was only interested in it so far as it assisted him in his diagnosis.

“Has she had any pain?” he asked, simply.

“Yes, she has complained of violent headaches, an intolerable feeling of faintness, dulness of perception​—​but, Cathcart, tell me truly,” said he, suddenly off, “is it anything serious?”

“So serious, my dear fellow, that I know of nothing in the range of medicine that will touch it.”

“Good heavens!”

“It would be foolish to deceive you, especially after what you have told me of the relations between you. Unless a miracle happens the poor creature cannot recover.”