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lose Copleston ; but it does rub my skin up the wrong way to leave it to Gideon Skull—for he says rightly that, under this will, that is his which is yours. . . . But I think we have all learned one lesson, anyhow. My way to improve upon Providence would have been to throw this will behind the fire, and to pay half my income by way of blackmail old Grimes. I can't see what good can come from Gideon Skull's being owner of Copleston; and I think I see a considerable amount of good that I could have done. ... It's not so easy to give up the whole thing, when I had made up my mind to make the best of it, now that the time is come ; and I could have turned fraud into duty without more than half shutting one eye; and have taken the part of Providence, which is a long way above the part of law. . . . Well, I don't ; that's all. Perhaps I'm afraid of committing a felony; perhaps of being found out in one; perhaps I'm only a fool; perhaps—but anyhow, there's Copleston, for you, and Gideon. .. I don't think, Mrs. Skull, you'll mind for one minute taking a hand that gives you Copleston-and that will never offend you again."
She did not know of the letter he had written her, or she would have understood him a great deal more ; for every word he had spoken to her needed that letter for its interpretation. He did not know that it had never reached her hands, or he would not have been meeting what he deemed her pride and her coldness with greater coldness and pride. There was pride even in the way he held out his hand. She let him take hers—and then something, more subtle than anything which has a name, ran from eyes to eyes, and told them more than can be told in words. No written letter was needed to tell her how and why he was giving up wealth and power, even as he had given up passion. It was certainly not because he was afraid of felony; he had not been thinking of that sort of law.
Somehow, he seemed so to speak his next words to her that, though others were by, they reached her ears alone. At least, she heard them plainly, though neither her husband nor his uncle appeared to hear.
"It is hard to compel you to give Copleston to Gideon Skull. would have kept it to save you from that, though it is not my own. But— do what you ought,' you know; if Providence wants helping through, that seems like the way. I've given you something to live
For Alan's sake, be a real wife to the master of Copleston, and make him what the master of Copleston ought to be. You can do it, and there's nobody to do it but you. I have lived to help you, after all."
"Gideon--you have made me, a magistrate and a clergymanMe,” she heard her husband's uncle stammering, with a sketch of real indignation in his voice, when Waldron had gone—"you have made me commit Perjury--you have made me swear to a false Will ! I can forgive most things, Gideon-almost everything; when you came back to us, as I hoped and trusted, like the Prodigal, I remembered nothing against you ; I and your Aunt Sarah and your Aunt Anne received you as if you had been our own son.
We forgave everything. But to make me a tool to help you to commit Forgery -No! Gideon--I will never speak to you again.”
“Forgery!” said Gideon, fiercely. “Forgery !-to make a fair copy of a real Will? Are you crazy, Uncle Christopher—or a fool?
? How was I to know that that scoundrel had found what you had hidden away? Was my wife to lose Copleston because you were a fool? Forgery! It was the remedy of accident and error for the sake of justice—it was what the Courts of Equity have to do every day. . . . I will not have my honesty slandered—no; not even by you!"
Around the rock-hewn wall :
May fail to name them all-
Held high, that all may see :
That phantom chivalry.
Which banners lose or win ?
Till All have entered in !
GIDEON SKULL had nailed the colours of Honesty to the mast. He had certainly been detected in what looked, from the outside, like an exceedingly ugly piece of business; but it was impossible for a man in whom honesty was a passion to perceive that to replace a lost document could be called Forgery by anybody but an imbecile curate or a straw-splitting attorney. He could place his hand upon his heart, and dare anybody to say that, throughout the whole course of this history, he had ever told a single lie. If others had allowed themselves to be deceived by the bare, literal truth, which he made it his pride and his boast to tell, that was surely the fault of their own stupidity, for which he could not be held accountable. The will he had put forward, though—from unavoidable necessity-written, signed, and executed by his own hand, was as true and honest a will as that which his uncle had hidden and old Grimes had found. He felt himself as much beyond reproach in this business as in that of his marriage with Helen. He had never told her that he was actually a rich man, and he had honestly believed that he was going to be one. And
So, in the matter of the will, it was his uncle who had chosen to swear to its genuineness; and he was not his uncle's keeper.
And, forger or no forger, he had won Copleston after all--thanks to Mrs. Reid's violent effort to straighten what seemed the crooked lines of the world instead of following their curves.
He had won it, but the bitterness of the prize! Tragedy had entered into the life even of Gideon Skull.
He had come down to Hillswick, full of all zeal of revenge in the name of justice, and of greed in the name of passion. Never, since the world was made, had a man found Love, Hate, Revenge, Self-Interest, Justice, Pride of Will, Copleston, Waldron, Helen, Self --in a word, all Right and all Passion-so completely blended in one; so that he might gratify all his desires by one single word or touch without feeling his especial kind of conscience one whit disturbed. All his wishes and principles had been turned loose into a masquerade with licence to wear one another's masks and dominoes as chaotically as they pleased. He might picture himself to himself as a man who, inflamed by a righteously indignant sense of having been wronged, and by a sense of justice so exalted as to place him above all personal considerations, had come to thrust out a usurper and to reinstate a rightful heir : as a true and faithful knight who, for his lady's sake, had vowed to regain Copleston : as a husband generously bent upon showing his wife that he was the true and the strong man-her romantic and sentimental lover to be a sneak and a cur.
How could he help it, that the unscrupulous doing of complete justice meant his own gain ?
A first and unsatisfied passion in such a man, heightened, strengthened, and deepened by every belief and instinct that has part in him, is no child's play. Copleston was indeed his and hers. But it had not come to her from him. It had come to her straight from Victor Waldron. Volumes could not tell what this meant to him. It was the lover who had come out as the faithful and generous knight: while it had been himself who had been made to look a liar and a felon in Helen's eyes.
Most people would not have seen a very wonderful feat of generosity in Victor's giving up an inheritance to an heir whose right was beyond question. But Gideon was simply stunned by the discovery that a man who had Copleston, and could have kept it, should let it go. Waldron having the true will, the ace of trumps, in his hand, had any forger in his power, and might have done anything he pleased—so felt Gideon. It is strange and painful enough to an innocent beginner in life when he first discovers that the world contains some rogues; but it was ten times more strange, nay, more painful, to Gideon Skull to find that the world, which he believed himself to know through and through, contained a single man whose professions of the commonest honesty were anything better than a conventional sham. His one pride had been that he had been free from the sham. The very existence of Victor Waldron dislocated his entire theory of the universe : and who can bear to have it suddenly thrust upon him that he has been wrong about everything for more than forty years?
And then—at last he knew that Copleston had come to mean nothing to him beyond his one grand hope of Helen's life and heart: according to his views of how lives and hearts are to be gained. Could he have been wrong in that too? And, right or wrong, he had gained Copleston, but in such a way that he, even Gideon Skull, would rather have lost it a thousand times.
The Uncle, having had his answer, left the room, with some real dignity about him, to avoid a storm. Gideon and Helen were left alone together once more. He expected her to have followed his uncle, with an air of scornful disgust, such as she had shown him that night when she heard for the first time that Alan had died. But she stayed. If he had proved wrong about all things he had ever looked for, why not in this also-if in great things, why not in the small, by which the great things are made? He had lost all belief in his own wisdom, and in the world's dishonesty: he had nothing to say, nothing to do. Helen sat as if absorbed in thought, seemingly without the least intention of breaking the dead silence by a word -if, indeed, he could suppose her to be conscious that she was not alone.
“Well," he said at last, to break the oppression of silence, and with a special savageness of tone, simply for want of a better, “I suppose you are satisfied at last, now that you can have ecclesiastical authority for adding forgery to your catalogue of my misdemeanours. I suppose you're looking forward to have me found out in a murder. Perhaps I shall be, before I've done-now that I have found out the
way to please you—I shall be giving some scoundrel what he deserves, and the parsons and the lawyers and the other old women will call it Murder. I suppose nobody has ever had so great a pleasure as you would have in seeing me hanged.”
All the firm ground upon which he had ever believed himself to have a foothold seemed to slip away from him as Helen rose, and, instead of sweeping from the room in scorn and anger, came up to him where he sat, gloomy and sullen, and laid her hand upon his shoulder.
“Gideon!” said she. It was only a single word: but a single syllable may contain a world of indignant scorn. And in her word there was simply--none. Only a solemn, simple gravity which he had as yet never heard in any voice, except in Victor Waldron's a few minutes ago.
He looked up and stared at the face from which such a word had come in such a tone.
“Gideon-I have been thinking—that it is not for me to upbraid you. My poor mother-I can understand without knowledge, for I can remember enough to explain what I have heard-she, by meaning well to Alan, and out of her over-great love for him, brought on him nothing but evil: and yet, how can I blame her ? Why, I cannot even blame you. . . . Whatever you have done, I have done—and worse, and more. I married you without love, and for another's sake, and to put right what I thought wrong. How can a woman wrong a man more? . ..1-I am afraid it is the worst wickedness a woman can do. ... No: it is not for me to blame you, whatever you have done. I do owe you my whole duty, for amends. Let us help each other to be good, Gideon : and try to think less ill of me than I deserve. Let us do what everybody ought to have done always : let us try to make the best of things as they are.”
Gideon was beginning to feel like a child in the ways of the world. “What the devil do you mean?” he growled out; but, in his heart, it was more like a cry for light than a growl.
“I mean, we took one another for better or worse : and that you took me for worse than I took you. Gideon—I want to do my whole duty ; don't make it harder for me-no, I don't mean that I mean, help me all you can."
He could not tell that she was accepting Victor Waldron's gospel. But suddenly a new light flashed through his mind, which made him the Gideon Skull of old. "He rose from his chair, thrust her hand from his shoulder, and faced her with renewed confidence in himself and in his knowledge of women and men.
“No—I will have nothing to do with you—I am not such a