Chapter XLV. All's Well that Ends Well.
 

Granville helped him on his arm into the judge's room amid profound silence. All the court was deeply stirred. A few personal friends hurried after him eagerly. Among them were the Warings, and Mrs. Clifford, and Elma.

The judge staggered to a seat, and held Granville's hand long and silently in his. Then his eye caught Elma's. He turned to her gratefully. "Thank you, young lady," he said, in a very thick voice. "You were extremely good. I forget your name. But you helped me greatly."

There was such a pathetic ring in those significant words, "I forget your name," that every eye about stood dimmed with moisture. Remorse had clearly blotted out all else now from Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve's powerful brain save the solitary memory of his great wrong-doing.

"Something's upon his mind still," Elma cried, looking hard at him. "He's dying! he's dying! But he wants to say something else before he dies, I'm certain. ... Mr. Kelmscott, it's to you. Oh, Cyril, stand back! Mother, leave them alone! I'm sure from his eye he wants to say something to Mr. Kelmscott."

They all fell back reverently. They stood in the presence of death and of a mighty sorrow. Sir Gilbert still held Granville's hand fast bound in his own. "It'll kill her," he muttered. "It'll kill her! I'm sure it'll kill her! She'll never get over the thought that her father was--was the cause of Montague Nevitt's death. And you'll never care to marry a girl of whom people will say, either justly or unjustly, 'She's a murderers daughter'.... And that will kill her, too. For, Kelmscott, she loved you!"

Granville held the dying man's hand still more gently than ever. "Sir Gilbert," he said, leaning over him with very tender eyes, "no event on earth could ever possibly alter Gwendoline's love for me, or my love for Gwendoline. I know you can't live. This shock has been too much for you. But if it will make you die any the happier now to know that Gwendoline and I will still be one, I give you my sacred promise at this solemn moment, that as soon as she likes I will marry Gwendoline." He paused for a second. "I don't understand all this story just yet," he went on. "But of one thing I'm certain. The sympathy of every soul in court to-day went with you as you spoke out the truth so manfully. The sympathy of all England will go with you to-morrow when they come to learn of it.... Sir Gilbert, till this morning I never admired you, much as I love Gwendoline. As you made that confession just now in court, I declare, I admired you. With all the greater confidence now will I marry your daughter."

They carried him to the judge's lodgings in the town, and laid him there peaceably for the doctors to tend him. For a fortnight the shadow of Gildersleeve still lingered on, growing feebler and feebler in intellect every day. But the end was certain. It was softening of the brain, and it proceeded rapidly. The horror of that unspeakable trial had wholly unnerved him. The great, strong man cried and sobbed like a baby. Lady Gildersleeve and Gwendoline were with him all through. He seldom spoke. When he did, it was generally to murmur those fixed words of exculpation, in a tremulous undertone, "It was my hands that did it--these great, clumsy hands of mine--not I--not I. I never, never meant it. It was an accident. An accident. Justifiable homicide.... What I really regret is for that poor fellow Waring."

And at the end of a fortnight he died, once smiling, with Gwendoline's hand locked tight in his own, and Granville Kelmscott kneeling in tears by his bedside.

The Kelmscott property was settled by arrangement. It never came into court. With the aid of the family lawyers the three half-brothers divided it amicably. Guy wouldn't hear of Granville's giving up his claim to the house and park at Tilgate. Granville was to the manner born, he said, and brought up to expect it; while Cyril and he, mere waifs and strays in the world, would be much better off, even so, with their third of the property each, than they ever before in their lives could have counted upon. As for Cyril, he was too happy in Guy's exculpation from the greater crime, and his frank explanation of the lesser--under Nevitt's influence--to care very much in his own heart what became of Tilgate.

The only one man who objected to this arrangement was Mr. Reginald Clifford, C.M.G., of Craighton. The Companion of the Militant Saints was strongly of opinion that Cyril Waring oughtn't to have given up his prior claim to the family mansion, even for valuable consideration elsewhere. Mr. Clifford drew himself up to the full height of his spare figure, and caught in the tight skin of his mummy-like face rather tighter than before, as he delivered himself of this profound opinion. "A man should consult his own dignity," he said stiffly, and with great precision; "if he's born to assume a position in the county, he should assume that position as a sacred duty. He should remember that his wife and children--"

"But he hasn't got any wife, papa," Elma ventured to interpose, with a bright little smile; so that can't count either way."

"He hasn't a wife at present, to be sure; that's perfectly true, my dear; no wife at present; but he will probably now, in his existing circumstances, soon obtain one. A Man of Property should always marry. Mr. Waring will naturally desire to ally himself to some family of Good Position in the county; and the lady's relations would, of course, insist--"

"Well, it doesn't matter to us, papa," Elma answered maliciously; "for, as far as we're concerned, you know; you've often said that nothing on earth would ever induce you to give your consent."

The Gentleman of Good Position in the county gazed at his daughter aghast with horror. "My dear child," he said, with positive alarm, "your remarks are nothing short of Revolutionary. You must remember that since then circumstances have altered. At that time, Mr. Waring was a painter--"

"He's a painter still, I believe," Elma put in, parenthetically. "The acquisition of property or county rank doesn't seem to have had the very slightest effect one way or the other upon his drawing or his colouring."

Her father disdained to take notice of such flippant remarks. "At that time," he repeated solemnly, "Mr. Waring was a painter, a mere ordinary painter; we know him now to be the heir and representative of a great County Family. If he were to ask you to-day--"

"But he did ask me a long time ago, you know, papa," Elma put in demurely. "And at that time, you remember, you objected to the match; so of course, as in duty bound, I at once refused him."

"And what did your father say to that, Elma?" Cyril asked, with a smile, as she narrated the whole circumstances to him some hours later.

"Oh, he only said, 'But he'll ask you again now, you may be sure, my child.' And I replied very gravely, I didn't think you would. And do you know, Cyril, I really don't think you will, either."

"Why not, Elma?"

"Because, you foolish boy, it isn't the least bit in the world necessary. This has been, all through, a comedy of errors. Tragedy enough intermixed; but still a comedy of errors. There never was really any reason on earth why either of us shouldn't have married the other. And the only thing I now regret myself is that I didn't do as I first threatened, and marry you outright, just to show my confidence in you and Guy, at the time when everybody else had turned most against you."

"Well, suppose we make up for lost time now by saying Wednesday fortnight," Cyril suggested, after a short pause, during which both of them simultaneously had been otherwise occupied.

"Oh, Cyril, that's awfully quick! It could hardly be managed. There's the dresses, and all that! And the bridesmaids to arrange about! And the invitations to issue!... But still, sooner than put you off any longer now--well, yes, my dear boy--I dare say we could make it Wednesday fortnight."

THE END.