The Whirlpool by George Gissing
Part the Second
At night she had recourse to the little bottle, but this time it was less efficacious. Again and again she woke from terrifying dreams, wearied utterly, unable to rest, and longing for the dawn. Soon after daybreak she arose and dressed; then, as there was yet no sound of movement in the house, she laid her aching head upon the pillow again, and once more fell into a troubled sleep. The usual call aroused her; she went to the door and bade the servant bring her some tea and the morning paper as soon as it was delivered.
In a few minutes the tea and the newspaper were both brought. First she glanced at the paragraphs relating to the Wimbledon tragedy; there was nothing added to yesterday's news except that the inquest would be held this morning. Then she looked eagerly for the report of her recital, and found it only after much searching, barely a dozen lines, which spoke of her as 'a lady of some artistic promise', said that much allowance must be made for her natural nervousness, and passed on to the other performers, who were unreservedly praised. Anger and despondency struggled within her as she read the lines over and over again. Nervous! Why, the one marvellous thing was her absolute conquest of nervousness. She saw the hand of an enemy. Felix Dymes had warned her of the envy she must look for in certain quarters, and here appeared the first instance of it. But the post would bring other papers.
It brought half a dozen and a number of letters. At the sound of the knock, Alma hurried downstairs, seized upon her budget, and returned to the bedroom. Yes; as it happened, she had seen the least favourable notice first of all. The other papers. devoted more space to her (though less than she had expected), and harmonised in their tone of compliment; one went so far as to congratulate those who were present on 'an occasion of undoubted importance'. Another found some fault with her choice of pieces, but hoped soon to hear her again, for her 'claims to more than ordinary attention' were 'indubitable'. There was a certain lack of 'breadth', opined one critic; but 'natural nervousness', &c. Promise, promise -- all agreed that her 'promise' was quite exceptional.
Tremulous from these lines of print, she turned to the letters, and here was full-fed with flattery. 'Your most brilliant debut' -- 'How shall we thank you for such an artistic treat?' -- 'Oh, your divine rendering of,' &c. -- 'You have taken your place, at once and sans phrase, in the very front rank of violinists.' She smiled once more, and lost a little of her cadaverous hue. Felix Dymes, scribbling late, repeated things that he had heard since the afternoon. He added: 'I'm afraid you'll be awfully upset about your friends the Carnabys. It's very unfortunate this should have happened just now. But cheer up, and let me see you as soon as possible. Great things to come!'
She went down to breakfast with shaking limbs, scarce able to hold up her head as she sat through the meal. Harvey ran his eye over the papers, but said nothing, and kept looking anxiously at her. She could not touch food; on rising from table she felt a giddiness which obliged her to hold the chair for support. At her husband's beckoning she followed him into the library.
'Hadn't you better go back to bed?'
'I shall lie down a little. But perhaps if I could get out ----'
'No, that you won't. And if you feel no better by afternoon I shall send for the doctor.'
'You see what the papers say ----?'
'Wouldn't it be graceful to own that you are surprised?'
'We'll talk about that when you look less like a corpse. Would you like me to send any message to Mrs. Carnaby?'
Alma shook her head.
'I'll write -- today or tomorrow -- there's no hurry ----'
'No hurry?' said Rolfe, surprised by something in her tone. 'What do you mean by that?'
'Are you going to see Mr. Carnaby?' was her answer.
'I don't know where to find him, unless I go to the inquest.'
'I had rather you stayed here today,' said Alma; 'I feel far from well.'
'Yes, I shall stay. But I ought to let him hear from me. Best, perhaps, if I send a telegram to his place.'
The morning passed miserably enough. Alma went to her bedroom and lay there for an hour or two, then she strayed to the nursery and sat a while with Hugh and his governess. At luncheon she had no more appetite than at breakfast, though for very faintness her body could scarce support itself. After the meal Harvey went out to procure the earliest evening papers, and on his way he called at the doctor's house. Not till about five o'clock was a report of the Wimbledon inquest obtainable. Having read it, Harvey took the paper home, where he arrived just as the doctor drove up to the door.
Alma was again lying down; her eyes showed that she had shed tears. On Harvey's saying that the doctor was in the house, she answered briefly that she would see him. The result of the interview was made known to Rolfe. Nervous collapse; care and quiet; excitement of any kind to be avoided; the patient better in bed for a few days, to obtain complete rest. Avoidance of excitement was the most difficult of all things for Alma at present. Newspapers could not be kept from her; she waited eagerly for the report of the inquest.
'Carnaby tells an astonishing story,' said Rolfe, as he sat down by her when the doctor was gone.
'Let me read it for myself.'
She did so with every sign of agitation; but on laying the paper aside she seemed to become quieter. After a short silence a word or two fell from her.
'So Sibyl was at Weymouth.'
Harvey communed with his thoughts, which were anything but pleasant. He did not doubt the truth of Hugh Carnaby's narrative, but he had a gloomy conviction that, whether Hugh knew it or not, an essential part of the drama lay unrevealed.
'Will they find that woman, do you think?' were Alma's next words.
'It doesn't seem very likely.'
'What is the punishment for manslaughter?'
'That depends. The case will go for trial, and -- in the meantime ----'
'What?' asked Alma, raising herself.
'The woman may be found.'
There was another silence. Then Alma asked ----
'Do you think I ought to write to Sibyl?'
'No,' he answered decisively. 'You must write to no one. Put it all out of your mind as much as possible.'
'Shall you see Mr. Carnaby?'
'Only if he sends for me.'
And this was just what happened. Admitted to bail by the magistrate, Hugh presently sent a note from Oxford and Cambridge Mansions, asking his friend to see him there. Harvey did not let Alma know of it. He found some difficulty in getting away from home for a couple of hours, so anxious had she become to keep him within call, and, when he of necessity went out, to be informed of his movements. He attributed this to her morbid condition; for, in truth, Alma was very ill. She could take only the lightest food, and in the smallest quantities; she fell repeatedly into fits of silent weeping; she had lost all strength, and her flesh had begun to waste. On this same day Harvey heard that Mrs Frothingham was making ready to come, and the news relieved him.
On reaching the Carnabys', he was admitted by the same servant whose behaviour had excited his suspicions a day or two ago. Without a word she conducted him to Hugh's room.
'Well, old man,' said the familiar voice, though in the tone of one who is afraid of being overheard, 'it has come to this, you see. You're not surprised? What else could be expected of a fellow like me, sooner or later?'
His face had the marks of sleeplessness; his hand was hot. He pressed Harvey into a chair, and stood before him, making an obvious effort to look and speak courageously.
'It never struck me before how devilish awkward it is for a man in his own home when he gets into a public scrape -- I mean the servants. One has to sit under them, as usual, you know, and feel their eyes boring into one's back. Did you ever think of it?'
'How long have you to wait?' asked Rolfe.
'Only a fortnight. But there may be bother about that woman. I wish to God they could catch her!'
Harvey made no reply, and his eyes wandered. In a moment he became aware that Hugh was looking at him with peculiar intentness.
'I wish I could do anything for you, Carnaby.'
'You can,' replied the other, with emphasis, his face growing stern.
'What is it?'
'Get rid of that ugly thought I see you have in your mind.'
Hugh's voice, though still cautious, had risen a little; he spoke with severity that was almost harshness. Their eyes met.
'What ugly thought?'
'Don't be dishonest with me, Rolfe. It's a queer-sounding tale, and you're not the only man, I warrant, who thinks there's something behind it. But I tell you there isn't -- or nothing that concerns me.' He paused for an instant. 'I shouldn't have dared to tell it, but for my wife. Yes, my wife,' he repeated vehemently. 'It was Sibyl forced me to tell the truth. Rather than have her mixed up in such a thing as this, I would have told any lie, at whatever cost to myself; but she wouldn't let me. And she was right; I see now that she was, though it a been hard enough, I tell you, to think of what people might be saying -- damn them! Don't you be one, Rolfe. My wife is as pure and innocent as any woman living. I tell you that. I ask you to believe that; and it's the one thing, the only thing, you can do for me.'
His voice quivered, and he half-choked upon the passionate words. Moved, though not to conviction, Harvey made the only possible reply.
'I believe you; and if ever I have the chance I will repeat what you say.'
'Very well. But there's something else. I don't ask you to see anything of Sibyl, or to let your wife see her; it will be much better not. I don't know whether she will stay here, or in London at all; but she will see as few people as possible. Don't think it necessary to write to her; don't let your wife write. If we all live through it -- and come out again on the other side -- things may be all right again; but I don't look forward to anything. All I can think of now is that I've killed a man who was a good friend to me, and have darkened all the rest of Sibyl's life. And I only wish someone had knocked my brains out ten years ago, when nobody would have missed such a blackguard and ruffian.'
'Is it on your wife's account, or on ours that you want us to keep apart?' asked Rolfe gravely.
'Both, my dear fellow,' was the equally grave reply. 'I'm saying only what I mean; it's no time for humbug now. Think it over, and you'll see I'm right.'
'Alma won't see any one just yet awhile,' said Harvey. 'She has made herself ill, of course.'
'The concert, and the frenzy that went before it.'
'The concert ----.' Carnaby touched his forehead. 'I remember. If I were you, Rolfe ----'
'I don't want to take advantage of my position and be impertinent but do you think that kind of thing will do her any good in the end?'
'It's going to stop,' replied Harvey, with a meaning nod.
'I'm glad to hear you say so -- very glad. Just stick to that. You're more civilised than I am, and you'll know how to go about that kind of thing as a man should.'
'I mean to try.'
'She is not seriously ill, I hope?' Hugh inquired, after reflecting for a moment.
'Oh, the nerves -- breakdown -- nothing dangerous, I believe.'
'Life ought to be easy enough for you, Rolfe,' said the other. 'You're at home here.'
'It depends what you mean by "here". I'm at home in England, no doubt; but it's very uncertain whether I shall hold out in London. You know that we're going west to Gunnersbury. That's on the child's account; I want him to go to school with a friend of ours. If we can live there quietly and sanely, well and good; if the whirlpool begins to drag us in again -- then I have another idea.'
'The whirlpool!' muttered Carnaby, with a broken laugh. 'It's got hold of me, and I'm going down, old man -- and it looks black as hell.'
'We shall see the sunlight again together,' replied Rolfe, with forced cheerfulness.
'You think so? I wish I could believe it.'
In less than half an hour Harvey was back at the station, waiting for his train. He suffered pangs of self-rebuke; it seemed to him that he ought to have found some better way, in word or deed, for manifesting the sympathy of true friendship. He had betrayed a doubt which must for ever affect Hugh's feeling towards him. But this was his lot in life, to blunder amid trying circumstances, to prove unequal to every grave call upon him. He tried vainly to see what else he could have done, yet felt that another man would have faced the situation to better purpose. One resolve, at all events, he had brought out of it: Hugh Carnaby's reference to Alma declared the common-sense view of a difficulty which ought to be no difficulty at all, and put an end to vacillation. But in return for this friendly service he had rendered nothing, save a few half-hearted words of encouragement. Rolfe saw himself in a mean, dispiriting light.
On the next day Mrs. Frothingham arrived at Pinner, and Harvey's anxieties were lightened. The good, capable woman never showed to such advantage as in a sick-room; scarcely had she entered the house when Alma's state began to improve. They remarked that Alma showed no great concern on Sibyl's account, but was seemingly preoccupied with thought of Carnaby himself. This being the case, it was with solicitude that Harvey and Mrs. Frothingham awaited the result of Hugh's trial for manslaughter. Redgrave's housekeeper could not be found; the self-accused man stood or fell by his own testimony; nothing was submitted to the court beyond the fact of Redgrave's death, and Hugh Carnaby's explanation of how it came about. Nothing of direct evidence; indirect, in the shape of witness to character, was abundantly forthcoming, and from 'people of importance. But the victim also was a person of importance, and justice no doubt felt that, under whatever provocation, such a man must not be slain with impunity. It sentenced the homicide to a term of two years' imprisonment, without hard labour.
Alma heard the sentence with little emotion. Soon after she fell into a deeper and more refreshing sleep than any she had known since her illness began.
'It is the end of suspense,' said Mrs. Frothingham.
'No doubt,' Harvey assented.
A few days more and Mrs. Frothingham took Alma away into Hampshire. Little Hugh went with them, his mother strongly desiring it. As for Rolfe, he escaped to Greystone, to spend a week with Basil Morton before facing the miseries of the removal from Pinner to Gunnersbury.