A Son of Perdition: An Occult Romance
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Mr. Enistor had written not only to Montrose but to his daughter with regard to the proposal, and when the two came together on this particular evening, they let one another know immediately that the fatal missives had been received. Luckily Mrs. Barrast, with a merry party, had gone to the Empire Music Hall and would not return until late. Montrose, as usual, had provided the box, purposely having done so to rid himself of an inconvenient third. Frederick was at the House, so he could not interfere, and Douglas had Alice all to himself in the large drawing-room. Mrs. Barrast, for the sake of propriety, had made him promise to await her return and have supper. Therefore everything was nicely arranged, and when quite alone, the lovers sat together on the sofa and looked into one another's eyes.
"Now," said Alice breathlessly, "the letters!"
"Not just yet," replied Montrose, taking her in his arms, "remember I have not seen you for forty-eight hours!"
"Oh, you foolish boy!"
Alice had some excuse for calling him so, although she liked the foolishness he displayed immensely. He dropped on his knees, holding her waist in his arms, and said all manner of delightful things, only interrupting his speeches to kiss her again and again and again. What he babbled need not be reported, as the talk of lovers, however pleasing to themselves, is extraordinarily silly when repeated to others. But the splendid glamour of love was over this pair, and what Douglas said sounded sublimely sensible to the girl, while the looks of Alice were those of a goddess to her adorer. Yet Montrose was a common-sense young man, and Miss Enistor only a tolerably pretty girl. The misleading passion of love excused each regarding the other as a divinity. They certainly did so and were as foolishly happy as Antony and Cleopatra were in their day of power. And like those famous lovers they would have regarded the world as well lost for love.
"But really!" cried Alice at last, recovering her reason first, which was natural since she was a woman, "we must be sensible."
"I think we are very sensible indeed."
"Other people would not think so."
"Why trouble about other people?" replied Montrose, reluctantly getting on his feet. "There are no other people. You and I are alone in the world."
"Indeed, I think we shall be unless my father consents," sighed Miss Enistor. "Not that there will be any loneliness with you beside me," she added.
"Darling!" Then another kiss and embrace before settling down to more prosaic conversation. "Tell me, dear, what does he say to you?"
"Much the same as he writes to you, Douglas, I expect." Alice took the letter from her pocket. "He is not angry as I expected he would be, and says nothing about Don Pablo. All he desires – so he says – is my happiness, and if he approves of you he is quite willing that we should marry."
"If he approves of me," echoed Montrose, reading the paternal letter over Alice's shoulder, "quite so.But suppose he doesn't approve?"
"Don't try to cross the bridge until you come to it, Douglas. Why shouldn't my father approve, now that he evidently has given up his idea of my marrying Don Pablo? Has my father asked you down to Tremore?"
"Yes!" said Montrose, producing his letter in turn, "how clever of you to guess that, dearest."
"I did not guess it, as you might have seen if you read my father's letter properly," said Alice quickly. "He says that he has asked you down, or intends to ask you down. I don't know which."
"Oh, here is the invitation," remarked the young man, waving his letter. "Mr. Enistor says that before he can consent to place your future in my hands he must become well acquainted with me. He invites me to Tremore for a visit of one month. In four weeks he hopes to give his decision."
Alice disconsolately replaced her epistle in her pocket and watched her lover put away his communication. "That doesn't sound very promising."
"Oh, but I think it does," said Montrose hopefully. "I don't see what else he could say if he entertains at all the idea of my marrying you. It is only natural that he should wish to know what kind of a husband I am likely to be to his adored daughter."
"Oh!" said Alice ironically, "does my father call me that?"
"Twice he calls you that in his letter."
"He doesn't mean it," the girl assured Montrose in a troubled way; "my father and I endure one another's society, but little love exists between us. The fault isn't mine, Douglas, as I was willing enough to love him when I came from school. But father has always kept me at arm's length, and hitherto my life has been loveless – save for Julian."
"Julian!" There was a jealous note in the young man's voice. "That is the name of Mrs. Barrast's brother, is it not?"
"Yes. I call him Julian and he calls me Alice."
"Confound his impudence!" fumed Montrose angrily.
"No impudence at all, Douglas. Julian is my very good friend: nothing more, I assure you. But if I had not met you, and if my father had insisted upon my becoming Don Pablo's wife, I should have married Julian."
"Oh, Alice," in a tone of deep reproach, "do you love him and not me?"
"No. I respect him. If I loved him you would not now be sitting beside me."
Still Montrose was not satisfied. "Is he good-looking?"
"Very; in a large stolid Anglo-Saxon way. He's an artist, but I don't think one would call him clever except as a painter of pictures."
"I see that you don't love him," said Douglas, his brow clearing; "but does Hardwick – that is his name, isn't it? – love you?"
"No," rejoined Alice promptly, "he thought that he did, but he really does not in the way a woman wants to be loved. He proposed and I rejected him on those grounds. Now he understands that I am right, and we have settled to be great friends."
"All the same you said you would have married him if – "
"If my father had insisted on my becoming the wife of Don Pablo," interrupted Alice swiftly. "Can't you understand, Douglas? I detest this Spaniard, who is such a friend of my father, and of two evils I was prepared to choose the lesser. I did not want to marry Julian any more than I wanted to marry Don Pablo. But Julian is at least human, so – "
"Isn't Don Pablo human?" asked Montrose, interrupting in his turn.
"I don't believe he is," said Alice thoughtfully, "there is something dreadfully wicked about him. I can't explain, but when you meet him you will in some way guess my meaning."
"Humph! I shall certainly accept your father's invitation both to see this Spaniard and Hardwick also."
"And you understand my position?" urged Alice anxiously.
"Yes. I think I do. All the same I want you to assure me positively that you love no one else but me."
"There is no need to tell you what you already know," returned the girl in a calm positive way. "We are made for one another!"
"Darling!" he caught her in his arms, "I know. But I hope your father will think as we do."
"He means well," said Miss Enistor with a sigh of relief, "or he would not ask you down to Tremore."
It was at this interesting point in their interview that the lovers were interrupted. The footman opened the door to announce Dr. Eberstein, and when that gentleman entered the room the servant promptly retired. Montrose came forward with a look of amazed inquiry, which was reflected on the face of Alice. Both the young people were astonished by the unexpected appearance of the doctor.
"I thought you were still in Paris, Eberstein," cried Douglas, as his friend shook hands with both.
"I arrived in London to-day!"
"Why didn't you let me know?"
"There was no need to. It was necessary that you should quite understand one another before I came on the scene." Eberstein looked from one flushed face to the other with a smile. "You do understand, I see."
"We are engaged," blurted out Montrose awkwardly.
"Then that means an understanding," said the doctor cheerfully, with a benevolent look in his grey eyes. "I hope it means also mutual trust."
"I am quite sure it does," cried Alice vehemently, "nothing Douglas could say or do would ever make me doubt him."
"And I would believe in Alice if all the world were against her," said the young man decisively.
"That is good hearing," observed the doctor pleasantly, "union is strength."
"Every one knows that, don't they, doctor?" said Miss Enistor rather pertly.
"Perhaps," he replied, "but few practise it. You wonder why I have come here to-night. It is because you both need me. All seems to be sunshine at the present moment. You love one another devotedly: you think that Mr. Enistor is well disposed towards your engagement – "
"Oh!" interrupted Alice, with a frightened look in her eyes. "How do you know that my father is aware of our engagement?"
"The letters you received to-day – "
This time Montrose interrupted, and there was a note of awe in his voice. "I believe you know everything, Eberstein."
"I know that you are invited down to Cornwall, so that Mr. Enistor may judge if you are the man he would choose to be his son-in-law."
"But how do you know?" said Alice, startled. "You make me afraid!"
Eberstein took her hand and gazed directly into her eyes. "Are you sure that I make you afraid?" he asked gently.
"Why, no!" Alice felt the momentary fear vanish in an unaccountable way.
"And you trust me even though you have known me such a short time? Remember, you have only met me once, Miss Enistor." He loosened his soft, reassuring grasp and leaned back in his chair.
"I do trust you," said the girl promptly, "you have been kind to Douglas."
"Is that the sole reason?"
Alice stared at him doubtfully. "It is the only reason I can give. No one but a good man and a kind friend would have saved Douglas's life as you did."
"Perhaps no, perhaps yes," said the doctor enigmatically, "but I advised our friend here to keep Lady Staunton's money. My interest in him may not be so philanthropic as you imagine it to be."
"Doctor!" said Montrose indignantly, "how can you talk so?"
"Hush!" Eberstein threw up his hand. "I want Miss Enistor to speak."
"What can I say but that I trust you? I am sure there is some good reason why Douglas should keep my aunt's money. You would not have advised him to keep it otherwise."
"But if your father pointed out that he should have enjoyed the fortune and that I wish Montrose to keep it so that I can make use of the money through him? What then?"
"Still I must believe in you and trust you," persisted Alice steadily. "My father does not want the fortune." Eberstein smiled slightly. "Oh, I assure you he does not. He has said nothing about it. As to doubting you, doctor, he does not know you."
"He will some day and then he may doubt me. Remember when he does and tries to turn you against me that I have foretold the possibility of such a warning. You say you will trust me. Good! I accept the assurance. Montrose?"
"I believe in you now as I always have done," said the young man eagerly. "I don't understand why you are talking in this way, though."
"You don't understand many things at present," said Eberstein dryly; "when you do, pain will come with the knowledge. Necessary pain. Go to Cornwall and meet Mr. Enistor. While the sun still shines you will not see me. But when dark clouds obscure the light, then I shall be at your side."
"You will come to Cornwall?" asked Alice quickly.
"When the need arises."
"Will it arise?"
Eberstein looked from one to the other quietly. "Yes! The need will arise."
"What need?" demanded Montrose, bewildered.
"Enough for the day is the evil thereof," said Eberstein serenely, "and that also applies to the good. All is well with you as yet, so enjoy the passing moment and draw from peace the necessary strength for conflict. Gold must be refined in the fire, and you must both be cast into the furnace. Yet be not afraid. The same God who saved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego will save you. You are neither of you afraid," he ended positively.
Arm in arm the lovers stood and they glanced at one another as the doctor spoke. "We are not afraid," they declared simultaneously, and spoke the truth.
"Behold then," said Eberstein solemnly, "how great is Love which can cast out fear!" and over them he made the holy sign.