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B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

The Duchess of Rosemary Lane online

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prove what she was in search of. As they approached closer to the
building she was undeceived; before her stood a quaint old church,
with a hooded porch, and a graveyard by its side. A sudden faintness
came upon her as she recognised the familiar outlines of the sacred
refuge in which her child was born; but before the full force of this
recognition had time to make itself felt, her thoughts were wrested
from contemplation of the strange coincidence by sounds of pursuing
shouts.

Her mother's fears, her mother's love, interpreted the sounds aright,
and she knew that they proceeded from the man from whom they were
endeavouring to escape. Seizing the Duchess's arm, she flew towards
the porch, and reaching it at the moment Ned Chester overtook them,
thrust the girl into the deeper shadows, and stood before her child
with flashing eyes with her arms spread out as a shield.

"So!" cried Ned Chester, panting and furious; "a pretty trick you have
played me! Serve me right for trusting to such a woman!"

He strove to push her aside, so that he might have speech with the
Duchess, and Mrs. Lenoir struck him in the face. He laughed at the
feeble blow - not lightly, but mockingly. The savage nature of the man
was roused. He raised his hand to return the blow, when the Duchess
stepped forward and confronted him. His arm dropped to his side.

"What is the meaning of this?" he asked, endeavouring to convey some
tenderness in his tone. "What has this creature been telling you? She
has been poisoning your mind against me, if I'm a judge of things.
Come, be reasonable; take my arm, and let us return to the hotel."

But his power over the girl was gone; the brutality of his manner was
a confirmation of the story she had heard of his treachery towards
her.

"Mr. Chester," she said - and paused, frightened at the change which
came over him at the utterance of his name. His face grew white, and
an ugly twitching played about his lips.

"What have you heard?" he demanded hoarsely.

She mustered sufficient strength to reply faintly.

"The truth."

His savage nature mastered him. With a cruel sweep of his arm, he
dashed Mrs. Lenoir to the ground, and clasped the Duchess in a fierce
embrace. Her shrieks pierced the air.

"Help! Help!"

Her appeal was answered, almost on the instant. An iron grasp upon his
neck compelled him to relinquish his hold of the terrified girl. Seth
Dumbrick held him as in a vice and he had no power to free himself.
The warning voice of Richards was needed to put a limit to the strong
man's just resentment:

"Don't hurt him any more than is necessary, Mr. Seth Dumbrick. There's
a rod in pickle for him worse than anything you can do to him."

"Lie there, you dog!" exclaimed Seth, forcing Ned Chester to the
ground, and placing his foot upon his breast. "Stir an inch, and I
will kill you!"

While this episode in the drama was being enacted, another of a
different kind was working itself out. When the Duchess was released
by Ned Chester, Arthur Temple threw his arm around her, to prevent her
from falling.

"Do not be frightened," he said, in a soothing tone, "you are safe
now. I am glad we are in time. My name is Arthur Temple."

They gazed at each other in rapt admiration. To Arthur, the beauty of
the Duchess was a revelation. In the struggle with Ned Chester, her
hat had fallen from her head, and her hair lay upon her shoulders in
heavy golden folds. Her lovely eyes, suffused with tears, were raised
to his face in gratitude. For a moment she was blind to everything but
the appearance of this hero, who, as it seemed to her fevered fancy,
had descended from Heaven to rescue her. But a cry of compassion from
Sally brought her back to earth, and, turning, she saw her faithful
nurse and companion kneeling in the snow, with Mrs. Lenoir's head in
her lap. She flew to her side, and tremblingly assisted Sally in her
endeavour to restore the insensible woman to life. But the blow which
Ned Chester had dealt Mrs. Lenoir was a fierce one; she lay as one
dead, and when, after some time, she showed signs of life, she feebly
waved her hands, in the effort to beat away a shadowed horror, and
moaned:

"Will he never come? Will he never come?"

She was living the past over again. Her mind had gone back to the time
when, assisted by John, the gardener of Springfield, she had travelled
in agony through the heavy snow, to implore the man who had betrayed
and deserted her to take pity on her hapless state, and to render her
some kind of human justice, if not for her sake, for the sake of his
child, then unborn. And the thought which oppressed her and filled her
with dread at that awful epoch of her life, now found expression on
her lips:

"Will he never come? Oh, my God! will he never come?"

"Do you think," whispered Arthur Temple to Seth Dumbrick, who had
given Ned Chester into Richards' charge, "that we might raise her into
the trap, and drive her slowly to the town?"

The tender arms about her desisted from their effort as she moaned:

"If you raise me in your arms, I shall die! If you attempt to carry me
into the town, I shall die!"

The very words she had spoken to John on that night of agony. And then
again:

"Will he never come? If he saw me, he would take pity on me! Send him
to me, kind Heaven!"

Another actor appeared upon the scene, - Mr. Temple, who, accompanied
by the ostler, had found his way to the spot.

"Arthur!" he cried.

The young man rose at once to his feet, and went to his father.

Mr. Temple, in the brief glance he threw around him, saw faces he
recognised; saw Richards guarding Ned Chester, saw Seth Dumbrick and
Sally, saw, without observing her face, Mrs. Lenoir lying with her
head on the Duchess's bosom. He did not look at them a second time.
His only thought was of Arthur, the pride and hope of his life, the
one being he loved on earth.

"What has brought you here, sir?" asked Arthur. "Anxiety for you,"
replied Mr. Temple. "Why do I see you in this company? How much is
true of the story that man told me?" - pointing to Seth Dumbrick. "If
you have got yourself into any trouble - - "

The look of pained surprise in Arthur's face prevented the completion
of the sentence. The father and son had moved a few paces from the
group, and the words they exchanged were heard only by themselves.

"If I have got myself into any trouble!" echoed Arthur, struggling
with the belief his father's words carried to his mind. "What trouble
do you refer to?"

"We must not play with words, Arthur. My meaning is plain. If that
man's story is true, and you have entangled yourself with a
woman - such things commonly happen - - "

"For both our sakes," said Arthur, drawing himself up, "say not
another word. I came here to save an innocent girl from a villain's
snare. When you find me guilty of any such wickedness as your words
imply, renounce me as your son - as I would renounce a son of mine if
unhappily he should prove himself capable of an act so base and cruel!
The name of Temple is not to be sullied by such dishonour!"

Mr. Temple shuddered involuntarily, remembering that it was on this
very spot he, a mature and worldly-wise man, had been guilty of an act
immeasurably more base and dishonourable than that in the mind of his
generous-hearted son.

"Come, sir," said Arthur, taking his father's hand, and leading him to
the group, "do justice to others as well as to myself. This is the
young lady whom, happily, we have saved. Confess that you have never
looked upon a fairer face, nor one more innocent."

Mr. Temple's breath came and went quickly as the Duchess raised her
tear-stained face to his. At this moment, Mrs. Lenoir, with a deep
sigh, opened her eyes and saw Mr. Temple bending over her. With a
shriek that struck terror to the hearts of those who surrounded her,
she struggled from the arms of the Duchess, and embraced the knees of
Mr. Temple.

"You have come, then - you have come! Heaven has heard my prayers! I
knew you would not desert me! Oh, God! my joy will kill me!"

And looking down upon the kneeling woman, clasping his knees in a
delirium of false happiness, Mr. Temple, with a face that rivalled in
whiteness the snow-covered plains around him, gazed into the face of
Nelly Marston!

A suspicion of the possible truth struggled to the mind of the
Duchess.

"Mother!" she said, in a voice of much tenderness, raising the
prostrate woman from her knees, and supporting her, "why should you
kneel to him?"

The tender voice, the tender embrace, the sudden flashing upon her
senses of the forms standing about her, recalled Mrs. Lenoir from her
dream, and she clung to her daughter with a fierce and passionate
clinging.

"My child! my child! They shall not take you from me! Say that you
will not desert me - promise me, my child! I will work for you - I will
be your servant - anything - - "

"Hush, mother!" said the girl. "Be comforted. I will never leave you.
No power can part us."

With a supreme effort of will, Mr. Temple tore himself from the
contemplation of the shameful discovery, and the likely consequences
of the exposure.

"Come, Arthur," he said, holding out his trembling hand to his son;
"this is no place for us."

His voice was weak and wandering, and he seemed to have suddenly grown
ten years older.

Arthur did not stir from the side of Mrs. Lenoir.

"Come, I say!" cried Mr. Temple petulantly; "have you no consideration
for me? It can all be explained; we will talk over the matter when we
are alone."

"We must talk of it now," said Arthur solemnly, "with God's light
shining upon us, and before His House of Prayer."

A high purpose shone in the young man's face, and his manner was sad
and earnest. He took Mrs. Lenoir's hand with infinite tenderness and
respect:

"Will you answer, with truth, what I shall ask you?"

"As truthfully as I would speak in presence of my Maker!" replied Mrs.
Lenoir, with downcast head.

"This gentleman is my father. What is he to you?"

"He is the father of my dear child, torn from me by a cruel fraud, and
now, thank God, Oh, thank God! restored to me by a miracle. He should
have been my husband. When he prevailed upon me to fly with him - I
loved him, and was true to him in thought and deed, as God is my
Judge! - he promised solemnly to marry me."

"And then - - "

"I can say no more," murmured Mrs. Lenoir with sobs that shook the
souls of all who heard; "he deserted me, and left me to shame and
poverty. O, my child!" she cried, turning her streaming eyes to the
Duchess, "tell me that you forgive me!"

"It is not you who need forgiveness, mother," sobbed the Duchess,
falling into her mother's arms.

A terrible silence ensued, broken by the querulous voice of Mr.
Temple:

"This woman's story is false. Arthur, will you take her word against
mine? Remember what I have done for you - think of the love I bear you!
Do nothing rash, I implore you! Say, if you like, that she has not
lied. I will be kind to her, and will see that her life is passed in
comfort. Will that content you?" He paused between every sentence for
his son to speak, but no sound passed Arthur's lips. From the depths
of his soul, whose leading principles were honour and justice, the
young man was seeking for the right path. Exasperated by his silence,
Mr. Temple continued, and in a rash moment said: "What can she adduce
but her bare word? What evidence that the girl is my child?"

A voice from the rear of the group supplied the proof he asked for. It
was Richards who spoke.

"I can give the evidence. The girl is your child."

Mr. Temple turned upon him with a look of fear, and the eyes of all
were directed to Richards' face.

The scene had produced so profound an effect upon the man that,
holding the last link required to complete the chain, he was impressed
with a superstitious dread that a judgment would fall upon him if he
held back at this supreme moment.

"The child is yours. Before you instructed me to ascertain the
particulars concerning Seth Dumbrick's life, I had made the discovery.
It was I who took the child to Rosemary Lane, and left her there."

"You traitor!" cried Mr. Temple, almost frenzied; "you have deceived
and betrayed me!"

"You told me," said Richards, in a dogged voice, "that you wished the
child placed in such a position in life that she should never be able
to suspect who was her father, and I did the best I could. You
employed me to do your dirty work, and I did it, and was paid for it.
And when, to try you, I told you that your child had died, you
expressed in your manner so little pity, that, having learned to know
you, I thought it as well not to undeceive you."

The last link was supplied, and the chain was complete. This
disclosure effected a startling change in Mr. Temple's demeanour. He
drew himself up haughtily. "Arthur, I command you to come with me."

"I cannot obey you, sir," said Arthur sadly and firmly. "You have
broken the tie which bound us. I will never enter your house again;
nor will I share your dishonour. Justice shows me the road where duty
lies, and I will follow it."

He held out his hand to the Duchess; she accepted it, and clasped it
in love and wonder; and passing his disengaged arm around Mrs.
Lenoir's waist, he turned his back upon his father, and took the road
which justice pointed out to him.


* * * * * *


But a short distance from the country place in which Seth Dumbrick and
the children of his adoption spent their holiday, is a pretty and
comfortable residence standing in its own grounds. Here lives Nelly
Marston and her daughter, no longer bearing the name of the Duchess of
Rosemary Lane, but the more simple and natural one of Kate. Happily
the faults of our young heroine are not uneradicable, and under the
loving ministration of her devoted mother she is gradually developing
a sweetness and simplicity of nature which will bear good fruit in the
future. The long-suffering mother is happy beyond her wildest hopes,
and night and morning she bends her knees in gratitude, and offers up
prayers of thankfulness for the life of love she is enjoying. That she
is enabled to live this life in ease and comfort is due to Arthur
Temple, who, having some private fortune of his own through a legacy
left to him in childhood, is able in this way to make some
compensation to the trusting woman whom his father betrayed. He comes
to the happy home at intervals, and calls Kate his sister, and pays to
Kates' mother a respect in which something of reverence finds a place.
To this home, also, every fortnight, come Seth Dumbrick and Sally,
from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, and at rarer intervals
Nelly Marston and her daughter pay visits to Rosemary Lane, and pass
happy hours in Seth's cellar.

So much for the present. What lies in the future?

It may be that Arthur Temple and his father may become reconciled, but
the old ties are broken, and in the son's future the father shall play
no part. The father's head is no longer erect and proud: his sin has
found him out, and his dearest hopes are crushed. It is just.

It may be that our heroine may meet with a man who will woo her
honourably, and that when she has children of her own, the better
lessons which her mother is imparting will prove to be indeed the best
blessing which could fall to her lot.

But it cannot be that Nelly Marston's happiness shall be greater than
it is at present. It is full and perfect, and the past is atoned for.
Despite the verdict which too censorious people might pass upon her,
Nelly Marston's home is a home of innocence and virtue.



THE END.










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Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 24 of 24)