Charlotte M. Brame.

Wife in Name Only online

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Presently he heard one long, deep-drawn sigh. Some one raised the sweet
head from his breast, and laid it back upon the pillow. He knew she was
dead.

He tried to bear it; he said to himself that he must be a man, that he
had to live for his child's sake. He tried to rise, but the strength of
his manhood failed him. With a cry never forgotten by those who heard
it, Lord Charlewood fell with his face on the ground.

Seven o'clock. The full light of day was shining in the solemn chamber;
the faint golden sunbeams touched the beautiful white face, so still and
solemn in death; the white hands were folded, and lay motionless on the
quiet heart. Kindly hands had brushed back the golden-brown hair; some
one had gathered purple chrysanthemums and laid them round the dead
woman, so that she looked like a marble bride on a bed of flowers. Death
wore no stern aspect there; the agony and the torture, the dread and
fear, were all forgotten; there was nothing but the sweet smile of one
at perfect rest.

They had not darkened the room, after the usual ghostly fashion - Stephen
Letsom would not have it so - but they had let in the fresh air and the
sunshine, and had placed autumn flowers in the vases. The baby had been
carried away - the kind-hearted nurse had charge of it. Dr. Evans had
gone home, haunted by the memory of the beautiful dead face. The birds
were singing in the morning sun; and Lord Charlewood, still crushed by
his great grief, lay on the couch in the little sitting-room where he
had spent so weary a night.

"I cannot believe it," he said, "or, believing, cannot realize it. Do
you mean to tell me, doctor, that she who only yesterday sat smiling by
my side, life of my life, soul of my soul, dearer to me than all the
world, has gone from me, and that I shall see her no more? I cannot, I
will not believe it! I shall hear her crying for me directly, or she
will come smiling into the room. Oh, Madaline, my wife, my wife!"

Stephen Letsom was too clever a man and too wise a doctor to make any
endeavor to stem such a torrent of grief. He knew that it must have its
way. He sat patiently listening, speaking when he thought a word would
be useful; and Lord Charlewood never knew how much he owed to his kind,
unwearied patience.

Presently he went up to look at his wife, and, kneeling by her side,
nature's great comforter came to him. He wept as though his heart would
break - tears that eased the burning brain, and lightened the heavy
heart. Dr. Letsom was a skillful, kindly man; he let the tears flow, and
made no effort to stop them. Then, after a time, disguised in a glass of
wine, he administered a sleeping potion, which soon took effect. He
looked with infinite pity on the tired face. What a storm, a tempest of
grief had this man passed through!

"It will be kinder and better to let him sleep the day and night
through, if he can," said Stephen to himself. "He would be too ill to
attend to any business even if he were awake."

So through the silent hours of the day Lord Charlewood slept, and the
story spread from house to house, until the little town rang with
it - the story of the travelers, the young husband and wife, who, finding
no room at the hotel, had gone to the doctors, where the poor lady had
died. Deep sympathy and pity were felt and expressed; kind-hearted
mothers wept over the babe; some few were allowed to enter the solemn
death chamber; and these went away haunted, as Dr. Evans was, by the
memory of the lovely dead face. Through it all Lord Charlewood slept the
heavy sleep of exhaustion and fatigue, and it was the greatest mercy
that could have befallen him.

The hour of wakening was to come - Stephen Letsom never forgot it. The
bereaved man was frantic in his grief, mad with the sense of his loss.
Then the doctor, knowing how one great sorrow counteracts another, spoke
of his father, reminding him that if he wished to see him alive he must
take some little care of himself.

"I shall not leave her!" cried Lord Charlewood. "Living or dead, she is
dearer than all the world to me - I shall not leave her!"

"Nor do I wish you to do so," said the doctor. "I know you are a strong
man - I believe you to be a brave one; in grief of this kind the first
great thing is to regain self-control. Try to regain yours, and then you
will see for yourself what had better be done."

Lord Charlewood discerned the truth.

"Have patience with me," he said, "a little longer; the blow is so
sudden, so terrible, I cannot yet realize what the world is without
Madaline."

A few hours passed, and the self-control he had struggled for was his.
He sent for Dr. Letsom.

"I have been thinking over what is best," he said, "and have decided on
all my plans. Have you leisure to discuss them with me?"

The question seemed almost ironical to the doctor, who had so much more
time to spare than he cared to have. He sat down by Lord Charlewood's
side, and they held together the conversation that led to such strange
results.

"I should not like a cold, stone grave for my beautiful wife," said Lord
Charlewood. "She was so fair, so _spirituelle_, she loved all nature so
dearly; she loved the flowers, trees, and the free fresh air of heaven.
Let her be where she can have them all now."

The doctor looked up with mild reproach in his eyes.

"She has something far better than the flowers of this world," he said.
"If ever a dead face told of rest and peace, hers does; I have never
seen such a smile on any other."

"I should like to find her a grave where the sun shines and the dew
falls," observed Lord Charlewood - "where grass and flowers grow and
birds sing in the trees overhead. She would not seem so far away from me
then."

"You can find many such graves in the pretty church-yard here in
Castledene," said the doctor.

"In time to come," continued Lord Charlewood, "she shall have the
grandest marble monument that can be raised, but now a plain white cross
will be sufficient, with her name, Madaline Charlewood; and, doctor,
while I am away you will have the grave attended to - kept bright with
flowers - tended as for some one that you loved."

Then they went out together to the green church-yard at the foot of the
hill, so quiet, so peaceful, so calm, and serene, that death seemed
robbed of half its terrors; white daisies and golden buttercups studded
it, the dense foliage of tall lime-trees rippled above it. The graves
were covered with richly-hued autumn flowers; all was sweet, calm,
restful. There was none of earth's fever here. The tall gray spire of
the church rose toward, the clear blue sky.

Lord Charlewood stood looking around him in silence.

"I have seen such a scene in pictures," he said. "I have read of such in
poems, but it is the first I have really beheld. If my darling could
have chosen for herself, she would have preferred to rest here."

On the western slope, where the warmest and brightest sun beams lay,
under the shade of the rippling lime-trees, they laid Lady Charlewood to
rest. For long years afterward the young husband was to carry with him
the memory of that green grassy grave. A plain white cross bore for the
present her name; it said simply:

In Loving Memory of
MADALINE CHARLEWOOD,
who died in her 20th year.
ERECTED BY HER SORROWING HUSBAND.

"When I give her the monument she deserves," he said. "I can add no
more."

They speak of that funeral to this day in Castledene - of the sad, tragic
story, the fair young mother's death, the husband's wild despair. They
tell how the beautiful stranger was buried when the sun shone and the
birds sang - how solemnly the church-bell tolled, each knell seeming to
cleave the clear sunlit air - how the sorrowing young husband, so
suddenly and so terribly bereft, walked first, the chief mourner in the
sad procession; they tell how white his face was, and how at each toll
of the solemn bell he winced as though some one had struck him a
terrible blow - how he tried hard to control himself, but how at the
grave, when she was hidden forever from his sight, he stretched out his
hands, crying, "Madaline, Madaline!" and how for the remainder of that
day he shut himself up alone, refusing to hear the sound of a voice, to
look at a human face - refusing food, comfort, grieving like one who has
no hope for the love he had lost. All Castledene grieved with him; it
seemed as though death and sorrow had entered every house.

Then came the morrow, when he had to look his life in the face
again - life that he found so bitter without Madaline. He began to
remember his father, who, lying sick unto death, craved for his
presence. He could do no more for Madaline; all his grief, his tears,
his bitter sorrow, were useless; he could not bring her back; he was
powerless where she was concerned. But with regard to his father matters
were different - to him he could take comfort, healing, and consolation.
So it was decided that he should at once continue his broken journey.

What of little Madaline, the child who had her dead mother's large blue
eyes and golden hair? Again Lord Charlewood and the doctor sat in solemn
conclave; this time the fate of the little one hung in the balance.

Lord Charlewood said that if he found his father still weak and ill, he
should keep the secret of his marriage. Of course, if Madaline had
lived, all would have been different - he would have proudly owned it
then. But she was dead. The child was so young and so feeble, it seemed
doubtful whether it would live. What need then to grieve the old earl by
the story of his folly and his disobedience? Let the secret remain.
Stephen Letsom quite agreed with him in this; no one knew better than
himself how dangerous was the telling of bad or disagreeable news to a
sick man. And then Lord Charlewood added:

"You have indeed been a friend in need to me, Dr. Letsom. Money can no
more repay such help as yours than can thanks; all my life I shall be
grateful to you. I am going now to Italy, and most probably shall remain
there until the earl, my father, grows better, or the end comes. When I
return to England, my first care shall be to forward your views and
prospects in life; until then I want you to take charge of my child."

Stephen Letsom looked up, with something like a smile.

"I shall be a rough nurse," he observed.

"You understand me," said Lord Charlewood. "You have lived here so long
that you know the place and every one in it, I have been thinking so
much of my little one. It would be absurd for me to take her to Italy;
and as, for my father's sake, I intend to keep my marriage a secret for
some time longer, I cannot send her to any of my own relatives or
friends. I think the best plan will be for you to find some healthy,
sensible woman, who would be nurse and foster-mother to her."

"That can easily be managed," remarked Stephen Letsom.

"Then you will have both child and nurse entirely under your own
control. You can superintend all arrangements made for the little one's
benefit. I have thought of offering to send you five hundred per annum,
from which you can pay what you think proper for the child. You can
purchase what is needful for her, and you will have an income for
yourself. That I beg you accept in return for the services you have
rendered me."

Dr. Letsom expressed his gratitude. He thanked Lord Charlewood and began
at once to look around for some one who would be a fitting person to
take care of little Madaline. Lord Charlewood had expressed a desire to
see all settled before leaving for Italy.

Among the doctor's patients was one who had interested him very
much - Margaret Dornham. She had been a lady's-maid. She was a pretty,
graceful woman, gentle and intelligent - worthy of a far better lot than
had fallen to her share. She ought to have married a well-to-do
tradesman, for whom she would have made a most suitable wife; but she
had given her love to a handsome ne'er do well, with whom she had never
had one moment of peace or happiness. Henry Dornham had never borne a
good character; he had a dark, handsome face - a certain kind of rich,
gypsy-like beauty - but no other qualifications. He was neither
industrious, nor honest, nor sober. His handsome face, his dark eyes,
and rich curling hair had won the heart of the pretty, graceful, gentle
lady's-maid, and she had married him - only to rue the day and hour in
which she had first seen him.

They lived in a picturesque little cottage called Ashwood, and there
Margaret Dornham passed through the greatest joy and greatest sorrow of
her life. Her little child, the one gleam of sunshine that her darkened
life had ever known, was born in the little cottage, and there it had
died.

Dr. Letsom, who was too abrupt for the ladies of Castledene, had watched
with the greatest and most untiring care over the fragile life of that
little child. He had exerted his utmost skill in order to save it. But
all was in vain; and on the very day that Lord Charlewood arrived at
Castledene the child died.

When a tender nurse and foster-mother was needed for little Madaline,
the doctor thought of Margaret Dornham. He felt that all difficulty was
at an end. He sent for her. Even Lord Charlewood looked with interest at
the graceful, timid woman, whose fair young face was so deeply marked
with lines of care.

"Will I take charge of a little child?" she replied to the doctor's
question. "Indeed I will, and thank Heaven for sending me something to
keep my heart from breaking."

"You feel the loss of your own little one very keenly?" said Lord
Charlewood.

"Feel it, sir? All the heart I have lies in my baby's grave."

"You must give a little of it to mine, since Heaven has taken its own
mother," he said, gently. "I am not going to try flu bribe you with
money - money does not buy the love and care of good women like you - but
I ask you, for the love you bore to your own child, to be kind to mine.
Try to think, if you can, that it is your own child brought back to
you."

"I will," she promised, and she kept her word.

"You will spare neither expense nor trouble," he continued, "and when I
return you shall be most richly recompensed. If all goes well, and the
little one prospers with you, I shall leave her with you for two or
three years at least. You have been a lady's-maid, the doctor tells me.
In what families have you lived?"

"Principally with Lady L'Estrange, of Verdun Royal, sir," she replied.
"I left because Miss L'Estrange was growing up, and my lady wished to
have a French maid."

In after years he thought how strange it was that he should have asked
the question.

"I want you," said Lord Charlewood, "to devote yourself entirely to the
little one; you will be so liberally paid as not to need work of any
other kind. I am going abroad, but I leave Dr. Letsom as the guardian of
the child; apply to him for everything you want, as you will not be able
to communicate with me."

He watched her as she took the child in her arms. He was satisfied when
he saw the light that came into her face: he knew that little Madaline
would be well cared for. He placed a bank note for fifty pounds in the
woman's hands.

"Buy all that is needful for the little one," he said.

In all things Margaret Dornham promised obedience. One would have
thought she had found a great treasure. To her kindly, womanly heart,
the fact that she once more held a little child in her arms was a source
of the purest happiness The only drawback was when she reached home, and
her husband laughed coarsely at the sad little story.

"You have done a good day's work, Maggie," he said; "now I shall expect
you to keep me, and I shall take it easy."

He kept his word, and from that day made no further effort to earn any
money.

"Maggie had enough for both," he said - "for both of them and that bit of
a child."

Faithful, patient Margaret never complained, and not even Dr. Letsom
knew how the suffering of her daily life had increased even though she
was comforted by the love of the little child.




Chapter III.



Madaline slept in her grave - her child was safe and happy with the
kindly, tender woman who was to supply its mother's place. Then Lord
Charlewood prepared to leave the place where he had suffered so
bitterly. The secret of his title had been well kept. No one dreamed
that the stranger whose visit to the little town had been such a sad one
was the son of one of England's earls. Charlewood did not strike any one
as being a very uncommon name. There was not the least suspicion as to
his real identity. People thought he must be rich; but that he was noble
also no one ever imagined.

Mary Galbraith, the doctor's housekeeper, thought a golden shower had
fallen over the house. Where there had been absolute poverty there was
now abundance. There were no more shabby curtains and threadbare
carpets - everything was new and comfortable. The doctor seemed to have
grown younger - relieved as he was from a killing weight of anxiety and
care.

The day came when Lord Charlewood was to say good-by to his little
daughter, and the friends who had been friends indeed. Margaret Dornham
was sent for. When she arrived the two gentlemen were in the parlor, and
she was shown in to them. Every detail of that interview was impressed
on Margaret's mind. The table was strewn with papers, and Lord
Charlewood taking some in his hand, said:

"You should have a safe place for those doctor. Strange events happen in
life. They might possibly be required some day as evidences of
identification."

"Not much fear of that," returned the doctor, with a smile. "Still, as
you say, it is best to be cautious."

"Here is the first - you may as well keep it with the rest," said Lord
Charlewood; "it is a copy of my marriage certificate. Then you have here
the certificates of my little daughter's birth and of my poor wife's
death. Now we will add to these a signed agreement between you and
myself for the sum I have spoken about."

Rapidly enough Lord Charlewood filled up another paper, which was signed
by the doctor and himself; then Stephen Letsom gathered them all
together. Margaret Dornham saw him take from the sideboard a plain oaken
box bound in brass, and lock the papers in it.

"There will be no difficulty about the little lady's identification
while this lasts," he said, "and the papers remain undestroyed."

She could not account for the impulse that led her to watch him so
closely, while she wondered what the papers could be worth.

Then both gentlemen turned their attention from the box to the child.
Lord Charlewood would be leaving directly, and it would be the last time
that he, at least, could see the little one. There was all a woman's
love in his heart and in his face, as he bent down to kiss it and say
farewell.

"In three years' time, when I come back again," he said, "she will be
three years old - she will walk and talk. You must teach her to say my
name, Mrs. Dornham, and teach her to love me."

Then he bade farewell to the doctor who had been so kind a friend to
him, leaving something in his hand which made his heart light for many a
long day afterward.

"I am a bad correspondent, Dr. Letsom," he said; "I never write many
letters - but you may rely upon hearing from me every six months. I shall
send you half-yearly checks - and you may expect me in three years from
this at latest; then my little Madaline will be of a manageable age, and
I can take her to Wood Lynton."

So they parted, the two who had been so strangely brought
together - parted with a sense of liking and trust common among
Englishmen who feel more than they express. Lord Charlewood looked round
him as he left the town.

"How little I thought," he said, "that I should leave my dead wife and
living child here! It was a town so strange to me that I hardly even
knew its name."

On arriving at his destination, to his great joy, and somewhat to his
surprise, Lord Charlewood found that his father was better; he had been
afraid of finding him dead. The old man's joy on seeing his son again
was almost pitiful in its excess - he held his hands in his.

"My son - my only son! why did you not come sooner?" he asked. "I have
longed so for you. You have brought life and healing with you; I shall
live years longer now that I have you again."

And in the first excitement of such happiness Lord Charlewood did not
dare to tell his father the mournful story of his marriage and of his
young wife's untimely death. Then the doctors told him that the old earl
might live for some few years longer, but that he would require the
greatest care; he had certainly heart-disease, and any sudden
excitement, any great anxiety, any cause of trouble might kill him at
once. Knowing this Lord Charlewood did not dare to tell his secret; it
would have been plunging his father into danger uselessly; besides which
the telling of it was useless now - his beautiful wife was dead, and the
child too young to be recognized or made of consequence. So he devoted
himself to the earl, having decided in his own mind what steps to take.
If the earl lived until little Madaline reached her third year, then he
would tell him his secret; the child would be pretty and graceful - she
would, in all probability, win his love. He could not let it go on
longer than that. Madaline could not remain unknown and uncared for in
that little county town; it was not to be thought of. Therefore, if his
father lived, and all went well, he would tell his story then; if, on
the contrary, his health failed, then he would keep his secret
altogether, and his father would never know that he had disobeyed him.

There was a wonderful affection between this father and son. The earl
was the first to notice the change that had come over his bright,
handsome boy; the music had all gone from his voice, the ring from his
laughter, the light from his face. Presently he observed the deep
mourning dress.

"Hubert," he asked, suddenly, "for whom are you in mourning?"

Lord Charlewood's face flushed. For one moment he felt tempted to
answer -

"For my beloved wife whom Heaven has taken from me."

But he remembered the probable consequence of such a shock to his
father, and replied, quietly:

"For one of my friends, father - one whom you did not know." And Lord
Mountdean did not suspect.

Another time the old earl placed his arm round his son's neck.

"How I wish, Hubert," he said, "that your mother had lived to see you a
grown man! I think - do not laugh at me, my son - I think yours is perfect
manhood; you please me infinitely."

Lord Charlewood smiled at the simple, loving praise.

"I have a woman's pride in your handsome face and tall, stately figure.
How glad I am, my son, that no cloud has ever come between us! You have
been the best of sons to me. When I die you can say to yourself that you
have never once in all your life given me one moment's pain. How pleased
I am that you gave up that foolish marriage for my sake! You would not
have been happy. Heaven never blesses such marriages."

He little knew that each word was as a dagger to his son's heart.

"After you had left me and had gone back to England," he continued, "I
used to wonder if I had done wisely or well in refusing you your heart's
desire; now I know that I did well, for unequal marriages never prosper.
She, the girl you loved, may have been very beautiful, but you would
never have been happy with her."

"Hush, father!" said Lord Charlewood, gently. "We will not speak of
this again."

"Does it still pain you? tell me, my son," cried the earl.

"Not in the way you think," he replied.

"I would not pain you for the world - you know that, Hubert. But you must
not let that one unfortunate love affair prejudice you against marriage.
I should like to see you married, my son. I should like you to love some
noble, gentle lady whom I could call daughter; I should like to hold
your children in my arms, to hear the music of children's voices before
I go."

"Should you love my children so much, father?" he asked.

"Yes, more than I can tell you. You must marry, Hubert, and then, as far
as you are concerned, I shall not have a wish left unfulfilled."

There was hope then for his little Madaline - hope that in time she would
win the old earl's heart, and prevent his grieving over the unfortunate
marriage. For two years and a half the Earl of Mountdean lingered; the
fair Italian clime, the warmth, the sunshine, the flowers, all seemed to
join in giving him new life. For two years and a half he improved, so
that his son had begun to hope that he might return to England, and once


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Online LibraryCharlotte M. BrameWife in Name Only → online text (page 2 of 21)