Chapter XII. In Silence and Tears.
 

When he had time to think, Colonel Kelmscott determined in his own mind that he would still do his best to save Granville, whether Granville himself wished it or otherwise. So he proceeded to take all the necessary steps for breaking the entail and raising the money he needed for Guy and Cyril.

In all this, Granville neither acquiesced nor dissented. He signed mechanically whatever documents his father presented to him, and he stood by his bargain with a certain sullen, undeviating, hard-featured loyalty; but he never forgot those few angry words in which his father had half let out his long-guarded life secret.

Thinking the matter over continually with himself, however, he came in the end to the natural conclusion that one explanation alone would fit all the facts. He was not his father's eldest son at all. Colonel Kelmscott must have been married to some one else before his marriage with Lady Emily. That some one else's son was the real heir of Tilgate. And it was to him that his father, in his passionate penitence, proposed, after many years, to do one-sided justice. Now Granville Kelmscott, though a haughty and somewhat head-strong fellow, after the fashion of his race, was a young man of principle and of honour. The moment this hideous doubt occurred to his mind, he couldn't rest in his bed till he had cleared it all up and settled it for ever, one way or the other. If Tilgate wasn't his, by law and right, he wanted none of it. If his father was trying to buy off the real heir to the estate with a pitiful pittance, in order to preserve the ill-gotten remainder for Lady Emily's son, why, Granville for his part would be no active party to such a miserable compromise. If some other man was the Colonel's lawful heir, let that other man take the property and enjoy it; but he, Granville Kelmscott, would go forth upon the world, an honest adventurer, to seek his fortune with his own right hand wherever he might find it.

Still, he could take no active step, on the other hand, to hunt up the truth about the Colonel's real or supposed first marriage. For here an awful dilemma blocked the way before him. If the Colonel had married before, and if by that former marriage he had a son or sons--how could Granville be sure the supposed first wife was dead before the second was married? And supposing, for a moment, she was not dead--supposing his father had been even more criminal and more unjust than he at first imagined--how could he take the initiative himself in showing that his own mother, Lady Emily Kelmscott, was no wife at all in the sight of the law? that some other woman was his father's lawful consort? The bare possibility of such an issue was too horrible for any son on earth to face undismayed. So, tortured and distracted by his divided duty, Granville Kelmscott shrank alike from action or inaction.

In the midst of such doubts and difficulties, however, one duty shone out clear as day before him. Till the mystery was cleared up, till the problem was solved, he must see no more of Gwendoline Gildersleeve. He had engaged himself to her as the heir of Tilgate. She had accepted him under that guise, and looked forward to an early and happy marriage. Now, all was changed. He was, or might be, a beggar and an outcast. To be sure, he knew Gwendoline loved him for himself; but how could he marry her if he didn't even know he had anything of his own in the world to marry upon? The park and fallow deer had been a part of himself; without them, he felt he was hardly even a Kelmscott. It was his plain duty, now, for Gwendoline's sake, to release her from her promise to a man who might perhaps be penniless, and who couldn't even feel sure he was the lawful son of his own father. And yet--for Lady Emily's sake--he mustn't hint, even to Gwendoline, the real reason which moved him to offer her this release. He must throw himself upon her mercy, without cause assigned, and ask her for the time being to have faith in him and to believe him.

So, a day or two after the interview with his father in the library, the self-disinherited heir of Tilgate took the path through the glade that led into the dell beyond the boundary fence--that dell which had once been accounted a component part of Tilgate Park, but which Gilbert Gildersleeve had proved, in his cold-blooded documentary legal way, to belong in reality to the grounds of Woodlands. It was in the dell that Granville sometimes ran up against Gwendoline. He sat down on the broken ledge of ironstone that overhung the little brook. It was eleven o'clock gone. By eleven o'clock, three mornings in the week, chance--pure chance--the patron god of lovers, brought Gwendoline into the dell to meet him.

Presently, a light footfall rang soft upon the path, and next moment a tall and beautiful girl, with a wealth of auburn hair, and a bright colour in her cheeks, tripped lightly down the slope, as if strolling through the wood in maiden meditation, fancy free, unexpecting any one.

"What, you here, Mr. Kelmscott?" she exclaimed, as she saw him, her pink cheek deepening as she spoke to a still profounder crimson.

"Yes, I'm here, Gwendoline," Granville Kelmscott answered, with a smile of recognition at her maidenly pretence of an undesigned coincidence. "And I'm here, to say the truth, because I quite expected this morning to meet you."

He took her hand gravely. Gwendoline let her eyes fall modestly on the ground, as if some warmer greeting were more often bestowed between them. The young man blushed with a certain manly shame. "No, not to-day, dear," he said, with an effort, as she held her cheek aside, half courting and half deprecating the expected kiss. "Oh, Gwendoline, I don't know how to begin. I don't know how to say it. But I've got very sad news for you--news that I can't bear to break--that I can't venture to explain--that I don't even properly understand myself. I must throw myself upon your faith. I must just ask you to trust me."

Gwendoline let him seat her, unresisting, upon the ledge by his side, and her cheek grew suddenly ashy pale, as she answered with a gasp, forgetting the "Mr. Kelmscott" at this sudden leap into the stern realities of life, "Why, Granville, what do you mean? You know I can trust you. You know, whatever it may be, I believe you implicitly."

The young man took her hand in his with a tender pressure. It was a terrible message to have to deliver. He bungled and blundered on, with many twists and turns, through some inarticulate attempt at an indefinite explanation. It wasn't that he didn't love her--oh, devotedly, eternally, she must know that well; she never could doubt it. It wasn't that any shadow had arisen between him and her, it wasn't anything he could speak about, or anything she must say to any soul on earth--oh, for his mother's sake, he hoped and trusted she would religiously keep his secret inviolate! But something had happened to him within the last few days--something unspeakable, indefinite, uncertain, vague, yet very full of the most dreadful possibilities; something that might make him unable to support a wife; something that at least must delay or postpone for an unknown time the long-hoped-for prospect of his claiming her and marrying her. Some day, perhaps--he broke off suddenly, and looked with a wistful look into her deep grey eyes. His resolution failed him. "One kiss," he said, "Gwendoline!" His voice was choking. The beautiful girl, turning towards him with a wild sob, fell, yielding herself on his breast, and cried hot tears of joy at that evident sign that, in spite of all he said, he still really loved her.

They sat there long, hand in hand, and eye on eye, talking it all over, as lovers will, with infinite delays, yet getting no nearer towards a solution either way. Gwendoline, for her part, didn't care, of course--what true woman does?--whether Granville was the heir of Tilgate or not; she would marry him all the more, she said, if he were a penniless nobody. All she wanted was to love him and be near him. Let him marry her now, marry her to-day, and then go where he would in the world to seek his livelihood. But Granville, poor fellow, alarmed at the bare suggestion--for his mother's sake--that Tilgate might really not be his, checked her at once in her outburst with a grave, silent look; he was still, he said calmly, the inheritor of Tilgate. It wasn't that. At least, not as she took it. He didn't know precisely what it was himself. She must have faith in him and trust him. She must wait and see. In the end, he hoped, he would come back and marry her.

And Gwendoline made answer, with many tears, that she knew it was so, and that she loved him and trusted him. So, after sitting there long, hand locked in hand, and heart intent on heart, the two young people rose at last to go, protesting and vowing their mutual love on either side, as happy and as miserable in their divided lives as two young people in all England that moment. Over and over again they kissed and said good-bye; then they stood with one another's fingers clasped hard in their own, unwilling to part, and unable to loose them. After that, they kissed again, and declared once more they were broken-hearted, and could never leave one another. But still, Granville added, half aside, he must make up his mind not to see Gwendoline again--honour demanded that sacrifice--till he could come at last a rich man to claim her. Meanwhile, she was free; and he--he was ever hers, devotedly, whole-souledly. But they were no longer engaged. He was hers in heart only. Let her try to forget him. He could never forget her.

And Gwendoline, sobbing and tearful, but believing him implicitly, retreated with slow steps, looking back at each turn of the zigzag path, and sending the ghosts of dead kisses from her finger-tips to greet him.

Below in the dell Granville stood still, and watched her depart in breathless silence. Then, in an agony of despair, he flung himself down on the ground and burst into tears, and sobbed like a child over his broken daydream.

Gwendoline, coming back to make sure, saw him lying and sobbing so; and, woman-like, felt compelled to step down just one minute to comfort him. Granville in turn refused her proffered comfort--it was better so--he mustn't listen to her any more; he must steel himself to say No; he must remember it was dishonourable of him to drag a delicately nurtured girl into a penniless marriage. Then they kissed once more and made it all up again; and they sobbed and wept as before, and broke it off for ever; and they said good-bye for the very last time; and they decided they must never meet till Granville came back; and they hoped they would sometimes catch just a glimpse of one another in the outer world, and whatever the other one said or did, they would each in their hearts be always true to their first great love; and they were more miserable still, and they were happier than they had ever been in their lives before; and they parted at last, with a desperate effort, each perfectly sure of the other's love, and each vowing in soul they would never, never see one another again, but each, for all that, perfectly certain that some day or other they would be husband and wife, though Tilgate and the wretched little fallow deer should sink, unwept, to the bottom of the ocean.