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Carlton opened her dressing-room door and looked in. She actually started back at the sight of the lighted church ; it was a conspicuous object in that darkened room, and she stood contemplating it, in silence.
“I'll tell you what, Honour,” began Benja, supposing it was his nurse who had entered, and too much occupied with the toy to turn his head round and look_“I'll tell you what I shall do when I am master of Alnwick. You shall be mistress and give all the orders, and we'll have a great wall built up, so that mamma can't come near us. But we'll have Georgie, and keep him to ourselves.”
Mrs. Carlton heard the irritating words—doubly irritating to her in her present state, for the wine was now taking its full effect upon her. She glided towards the ill-fated child, raising her hand, as she went, to turn the button of the door opening to the passage, so that Honour might not come suddenly upon her, as she had done in the dining-room. She commenced the onslaught with a furious blow on his ear. The startled child dropped the church, and its paper walls took fire.
A short struggle ensued. Instinct caused Benja to endeavour to spring away from the flames, but Mrs. Carlton held him with a firm, revengeful hand, beating him about the head and ears, and the blaze caught his pinafore.
The flames rose and spread, now to his dress, now to his under clothing, and the child flew shrieking about the room in his terrified agony: but they were far away from the part inhabited by the servants, and the sounds could not reach them. There was no one to aid him, no one, no one; for a demon had taken possession of Mrs. Carlton.
Oh, wicked woman! She slipped away from him into her own apartment, bolting the door as Honour found it, leaving the ill-fated child to burn slowly away to death. She stole a last look at him as he flew after her, and prayed her to save him: she heard his awful cries and moans, resounding in her ears, louder than any other shall echo there, until the sounding of the Last Trumpet.
She passed down the stairs with a noiseless, stealthy step, and entered the dining-room, her heart fluttering awfully. Georgie was asleep, lying where she left him. It may be, that she would then have given all she possessed to undo her work, but it was too late. A clock was on the mantelpiece, and, as she stood before it, it struck the hour-six. She deliberately counted the strokes : they were the knell of the murdered boy up-stairs. She began to pace the room with a frantic step, the effect of remorse, terror, or excitement, almost as the unhappy child above had paced; she went to the sideboard, and poured out a quantity of neat brandy, and drank it : now she would sit down for a moment, quivering in: every limb; now, tear about the apartment; now, lay her ear to the door and listen. That awful half-hour of suspense which ensued, was more terrible than all the horror she had ever heard or dreamt of.
The inquest was held at the Carlton Arms. It was universally bee: lieved that the child had fastened the door in sport, and had afterwards accidentally set himself on fire by means of the light in the church. He. was quite dead when Honour found him-a black mass lying on the carpet, which was smouldering under him. The verdict of the jury was. “ Accidental death,” with a severe censure upon Honour for having left the child alone with so dangerous a toy. Honour fully shared in it, and a remorse as great as that of her mistress, though of a different nature, seated itself in her heart, to remain there for ever. She was attacked with brain fever, and during the days of delirium she raved wildly of the occurrence, and accused Mrs. Carlton of the murder. The ravings were known to be the effects of a diseased brain; nevertheless, the servants would look at each other significantly ; and Honour, upon her recovery, had no recollection of having uttered them.
VI. Months passed away. Mrs. Carlton had quitted the Hall immediately after the funeral with her child, now the heir. She was travelling about on the Continent, travelling about : now hither, now thither ; now in one place, now in another; ever restless, ever changing. France, Flanders, Belgium, Germany: it seemed that some power impelled her forward, for no sooner was she settled down in one spot, than she would suddenly start away from it for another. Her attendants doubted whether she was deranged, and indeed there were moments when her conduct seemed inexplicable, unless by that affliction. A fearful remorse, a remorse that few can form an idea of, rent her heart. Would this remorse have been less felt, had her wicked desire for power and possessions been accomplished ? It is difficult to say. But she knew, now, that she had perilled her soul for worse than nought; for the halls of Alnwick and their rich lands were passing rapidly away from her into the hands of strangers; passing away with her child's life.
Whether Georgie had eaten too much at that memorable birthdaydinner, or whether the shock at seeing his brother's lifeless body was too much for him, for in the wild alarm raised by Honour he had flown upstairs unnoticed, certain it is, the child's health declined from that night. The doctors said he had a fit of indigestion, and treated him for it. He seemed better in a few days, and his mother took him abroad with her, but he was never again the healthful, merry boy he had been. What could be the matter with him? Mrs. Carlton asked. And she soon knew. Consumption. A disease which had proved fatal to his father.
It was in Belgium that the disease came rapidly to a crisis. She could not move about then, lest it should prove fatal to the child : it would prove fatal soon enough, even with all the rest that could be afforded him. Mrs. Carlton's anguish, who shall tell of it ? She loved this child with a fierce, raging love ; he was the only being who had filled every crevice of her proud and passionate heart: it was for his sake she had jealously hated Benja; it was to benefit him, she had committed the crime that clung to her now like a nightmare. She called in, one after the other, all the medical men of the town she was located in: she summoned over, at a great expense, more than one physician from the British metropolis; and they all told her that they could not save his life. She watched his fair face grow paler, his feverish limbs waste and become weaker. She never shed a tear. The servants thought she was only kept in her senses by the aid of brandy--a strange help to sanity. To drink that had now become habitual to her. She would be attacked with bursts of anguish, fearfully painful to witness, in which she would
tear her hair, and fling about, as one insane, and call upon her boy to. live-to live.
“Mamma, don't, don't !” panted the little lad, one day, when his end was drawing near, and he was a witness to one of these paroxysms, “ don't be so sorry for me. I am going to heaven to be with Benja.”
She started up from her position beside him, and darted about the room like one possessed, her hands to her temples.
“Oh, mamma, don't frighten me,” moaned the child, in terror. “I shall be glad to go to Benja.”
Cease, Georgie, cease! for every innocent word that you utter is torture to your mother. Look at her, as she sinks down there on the floor, and groans aloud in her sharp agony.
The time came for the child to die, and he was laid in his little grave in Belgium. What would be Mrs. Carlton's career now? It would seem that restlessness at least would form a portion of it, for, the instant the child's remains were hid from her sight, the old eagerness for removal came on. Who can describe, or imagine, the life that was hers? All her plans were defeated, her hopes in this world blasted, while she dared not cast a thought to the next : he, who was more precious to her than heaven, gone, and her soul loaded with a never-to-be-atoned-for, and now unprofitable crime! Let us be thankful that the terrors of such a state of mind can only, by the innocent, be faintly pictured. A fresh thought was now added to her remorse : it was, that if she had suffered the ill-fated Benja to live, she would still be revelling at the muchcoveted Alnwick, as its mistress. No human care or skill could have prolonged the life of her own child, for it was the will of God that he should die ; but Benja?-God did not call him.
Never was Benja Carlton's image absent from her ; and, strange to say, it was not the burning figure, Aying about and screaming, that haunted her brain, but the happy child, marching along, all pleased and contented with his pretty church. The lighted toy was before her eyes night and day : its form, its windows, its aspect, its blaze of light; not a point but was engraven on her memory in characters of fire. She dared not be in the dark; she dared not wake up alone at night ; she scarcely dared to be alone at mid-day, lest the form of Benja and that lighted church should palpably appear to her. Think not this description of the woman's mind is exaggerated : believe me, it presents of its terrors but a faint outline.
The first anniversary of the day was approaching, the 10th of November. How Mrs. Carlton dreaded it, can never be told. It would occur about the period of her departure for England, where business demanded her presence. How should she pass it? Would it be more tolerable to spend it in travelling, or to remain where she was, at rest, until it was over? At rest! Oh, anything but that mockery! Let her whirl over the earth night and day, but never let her think again of rest, for there was no rest for her.
The nearest port of embarkation to where she was staying was Dunkerque; except Ostend, to which place she had a dislike ; and upon referring to the time-bills of the steamers, she found that the City of London would leave Dunkerque for London on the night of the 10th of November. She gave orders that things should be in readiness for their
journey early on the morning of the 10th. Three servants were with her: her maid, George's nurse, and one man. The day fixed upon came round, and they commenced their journey, travelling to Lille, and from thence to Dunkerque, by train ; which latter place they reached about four o'clock in the afternoon, and put up at the Hôtel de Flandre.
“ Will madame dine in her room, or at the table-d'hôte?” inquired the head waiter, an old man who had served in the house more than thirty years.
"At the table-d'hôte,” replied the servant addressed. “Madame is in bad spirits, from having lost two children, and does not like to be alone.” The servant thought he spoke but the truth.
At five o'clock, when the bell rang for the table-d'hôte, Mrs. Carlton entered the dining-room. Four or five gentlemen—the hotels are empty at that season-came straggling in, one by one, and the repast began. The dinner was excellent, but it did not last long : she would have given much could it have lasted until the hour of her departure for the boat.
She was seated facing the mantelpiece, consequently the clock was in front of her. Coward, coward that she was ! She watched its hands move slowly, but surely, round to the hour of 'six—the exact time that, twelve months before, she had stood before the clock in her own diningroom at Alnwick, hoping that Benja Carlton was burning away to death. Her agitation became painful to herself, and she dreaded lest other eyes should perceive it: her brain throbbed, her head was confused, her hands trembled. The gentlemen withdrew, one by one, as they had entered : they had gazed at her as she sat before them, in her severe beauty, and had wondered that one so young could be so wan and careworn. In vain she drank plentifully of wine ; it did not drown her agitation : upon one whose habitual drink has for some time been brandy, French wines can make but little impression. A choking sensation oppressed her ; her throat seemed to swell with it ; and that sure minute-hand grew nearer and nearer. Suddenly she addressed the waiter-anything to break the painful silence; but there was no answer, and then she became aware that the old man was absent, and she was alone in that dreary room. With a cry of horror, she flew from it up the broad, lighted staircase, to seek her own room and the presence of her maid.
What is it that comes over us in these moments of dread? We have not the guilty conscience of Mrs. Carlton, yet we have surely all experienced the same sensation-a dread of looking behind us in these minutes of superstitious fear. Yet look we must and do. The miserable woman had taken but a few steps up the stairs, when she turned her head, in the impulse of desperation, and there—there—at the opened doors leading into the court-yard, stood a form, bearing a lighted church, the very one it seemed that the boy had carried on his birthday night; and, apparently issuing from the same figure, a dull, wild, unearthly sound smote upon her ear. What the form was, what the dreadful cry was, she will never know ; but her guilty imagination whispered it was the apparition of Benja.
She was unconscious how she got up the stairs, she was unconscious how she burst into her room—the first on the right, at the commencement of the long corridor. Her maid was not there, as she expected, but two wax lights were burning on the mantelpiece, and a fire blazed in the grate.
She stood there for a moment, her senses deserting her in her terror, when slowly, slowly, the clock before her struck the first stroke of six. Twelve months before-twelve months before! at that dread hour! Mrs. Carlton, with a smothered cry, pressed her hands upon her eyes, and flew it was a habit she had taken to-flew about the chamber.
But, at the same moment, there arose a strange noise; the wildest sounds that ever struck upon the ear of man. They seemed to come from the street; the very air resounded with them: louder, louder they grew; loud enough to make a deaf man hear, and to strike even an innocent heart with terror. The same impulse that had caused Mrs. Carlton to look behind her on the staircase, drew her now to the window. She opened it in the height of desperate fear, and leaned out. What was it she beheld ?
In all parts of the street, in every corner of it, distant, far, near, nearer, pouring into it from all directions, as if they were making for the hotel, making for her, pouring into it in crowds, from the Place, from the Rue de l'Eglise, from the Rue Nationale, from the Rue Davidd'Angers, from the Place Napoleon, came shoals upon shoals of these lighted toys, like the one she had seen in the hotel yard, like the one carried by that unfortunate child when she had hurled him into eternity. Of all sizes, of all forms, of various degrees of clearness and light, came on these conspicuous things: models of cottages, of houses, of towers, of lanterns, of castles, and many models of churches, on they pressed; but Mrs. Carlton saw but the latter, and, to her diseased and terrified mind, they all bore but that one form. Accompanying them, were these horrible and unearthly sounds, making a din to confuse the calmest, and suggesting ideas not of this world. Mrs. Carlton had read tales in her childhood of demons appearing and dragging away a living murderer: will it be credited that she, an educated woman, remembered the idle tales now, and feared them? The forms in the street, to her, were but the spirit of the murdered boy, multiplied into thousands, accompanied by evil spirits howling and shrieking: were they coming for her, she raved, in that dread anniversary hour? Marvel not, marvel not that these fears rushed over her: you know not the fantastic terrors of a guilty conscience.
With a succession of low sounds, as of one in convulsions, Mrs. Carlton fell on the floor, her limbs contorted, and her mouth foaming.
In the next room, stood her maids, leaning over the little balcony, and gazing out upon all this light and din. To them, with a conscience at rest, the scene presented a most novel and pleasing appearance: though the noise was frightful, and they kept petulantly stopping their ears and laughing, wondering what in the name of wonder it could all mean. The lanterns, or whatever the lighted things might be, were of various forms, mostly composed of paper, the frames of wood; a few only being of glass. A square, or half-oblong shape, open at the top, seemed to predominate. They were mounted on the top of long poles or sticks, and it seemed as if all the population of Dunkerque, rich and poor, old and young, must have turned out to carry them; as indeed it had. The uproar proceeded