I read these lines with a strange mixture of sensations. "Does he know the truth?" was my first thought; and it made the blood rush to my cheeks. The next was, "Whether he knows it or not, he admires me." I smiled with bitterness indeed, but still I smiled; and as I read these verses, over and over again, they seemed to change the current of my feelings. For the first time, I said to myself, "There are things in the world yet worth living for, besides those I have forfeited—peace of mind, and an untroubled conscience.—There is genius, which, as he says, thrives in the atmosphere of suffering; there is the power which genius gives to 'ride triumphant, and have the world at will;' there are the powerful emotions of the soul when struggling for mastery, when intoxicated with success, when revelling in homage. If sorrow, if guilt, if despair, have made my eyes more bewitching, and my voice more thrilling; if they have roused the latent spirit within me, it shall not be in vain; I will drink deeply at these new sources of enjoyment, if not of happiness; I will cast behind me the burden borne in such anguish; I will break with the past, the dreadful past, and begin a new era." And, seizing the paper which was lying on the table, I walked quickly across the library. As I turned the comer of the recess which formed the eastern end of the gallery, I saw Edward sitting by the window, where often, during the preceding summer, we had watched the sunset together. The last rays of the departing light streamed upon him, as he sat absorbed in thought; a book was on his knees; it seemed to have dropt from his hand in the depth of his abstraction; his faultless features, his chiselled mouth, the peculiar colour of his hair, and the light which shed around him a kind of halo, made him at that moment resemble the pictures of saints which Raphael and Domenichino have painted.
It seemed to me like a vision; in the highly excited state in which I then was I almost fancied it such; and the restless tide of thought within me took a new direction; the tears sprung into my eyes, and I turned away, wit a softer feeling at my heart than I had known there for a long while. As I moved towards the door, the rustling of my gown disturbed Edward; he called to me to come and admire the glowing colours of the sky, where clouds over clouds of red and purple hue were floating in an atmosphere of burnished gold. I went to him, and we stood together for several minutes, till the sun descending quite beneath the horizon, left the room in comparative darkness. I then withdrew, but it was not till I reached my room that I found I had dropt the paper on which Henry's verses were written. I felt annoyed at this, and retraced my steps to the library door, but before I reached it, I met Edward, and in his hand he held the very paper I was come in search of. I did not venture to claim it from him, but he held it out to me at once, and said coldly, "Is this your property?" I felt confused, neither venturing to deny, or liking to admit the fact. In my embarrassment I muttered something about a copy of verses that Henry had written out for me, and, hastily stretching out my hand for the paper, I took it, and walked away without further explanation.
On the evening of this day we were all sitting round a table, on which work, books, and implements for writing were spread about. Henry Lovell was even more than usually animated, and spoke well and eloquently on a variety of subjects. Mrs. Middleton joined eagerly in the conversation; Edward listened attentively, but spoke seldom. I remember every word he said that evening. Once Henry requested us all to say what it was we hated most, and what it was we valued most. I forget what I said, what he said, what my aunt said, but I know that to the first question, Edward answered, duplicity; and to the second, truth; and as he pronounced the word truth, he fixed his eyes upon me, accidentally perhaps, but so sternly that I quailed under his glance. A few minutes after, Henry read aloud from a little book that was lying before him, the following question: "Qu'est-ce que la vie? Quel est son but? Quelle est sa fin?" "I will write my answer on the margin," he cried, and wrote, "Jouir et puis mourir;" and then handed the book to me. I seized the pencil, and hastily added these words, "Souffrir, et puis mourir." Edward read them, and looked at me less sternly than before, but with an earnest inquiring expression of countenance; then lightly drawing a line with a pencil across the two preceding sentences, he wrote this one underneath them, "Bien vivre, pour bien mourir," and gave me back the book.
In general he spoke little; but there was much meaning in what he said. His reserve gave me a feeling of embarrassment with him, which, at the time I am writing of, was particularly irksome. He forced one to think, and I preferred dreaming alone, or drowning thought in talk with Henry. With the latter I became more intimate than ever: we read together, and it seemed to me that he always chose such books as excited my imagination to the utmost, and wrought upon my feelings, without touching on any of the subjects that would have painfully affected me. I tried to write too. From my earliest childhood I had felt great facility in composition, and it was one of Mrs. Middleton's favourite amusements to look over my various attempts, and to encourage the talent which she fancied I possessed; but now I vainly tried to exert it; my mind was not capable of a continued effort. I believe it is Madame de Stael who remarks (and how truly) that to write one must have suffered, and have struggled; one must have been acquainted with passion and with grief; but they must have passed away from the soul ere the mind can concentrate its powers, and bring its energies to bear on the stores which an experience in suffering has accumulated within us. And it was this very helplessness of mind, this fever in the intellect, which threw me, with such fatal dependence, on the resources which Henry Lovell's conversation and society afforded me. If he left Elmsley for a single day I felt the want of them so keenly, that I welcomed him back in a way that may have deceived others, deceived him, deceived myself perhaps—I know not—I lived but for excitement, and if the stimulus failed, I sunk for the time into momentary apathy. We sung together sometimes, and my voice seemed to have gained strength during the last few months—the old hall at Elmsley vibrated with the notes which, with the impetuosity that characterised everything I did at that time, I threw out with the full consciousness of power. Often of an evening I sat down at the organ that was placed in the gallery of the hall, and, forming various modulations on its deep melodious keys, soothed myself into a kind of dreamy unconsciousness.
One day I had gone there as usual; it was towards dusk, and I was just come home from a long ride on a cold December day. I began playing, but, gradually overcome by drowsiness, I fell asleep, my hand still on the keys of the organ, and my head resting against the edge of the high-backed chair I was sitting on. Whether it was the uneasiness of this posture, or my damp uncurled hair that was hanging on my face, or else that in sleep we discern, though it awaken us not, when something is moving near us, I know not, but my sleep was painful in the extreme. I felt as if there was a hard breathing close to me; but, turn which way I would in my dream, I could see nothing. Then I felt as if some one was laying hold of me, and I tried to scream, but could not. Then I seemed suddenly to stand on the steps of the fatal stairs, (I had often since the day of Julia's death dreamt the fearful scene over, and the impression which the dreadful reality had left on my mind was such that I had never since ventured to stand on that spot,) but now it was not of Julia that I dreamed. I was being dragged down myself to the bottom of the precipice, and the person who was forcing me along into the yawning gulf wore the form of Henry Lovell, and spoke with his voice. I called to him to stop—I entreated him with frantic violence to forbear, but just as we were reaching the hollow he suddenly turned round, and there was Edward Middleton's face looking ghastly pale, and frowning upon me fearfully. I fell back, and the movement I must have made at that moment probably awoke me. I roused myself with that uneasy feeling which a terrific dream leaves on one's mind, and timidly looked about me. I was alone; there was the music-book before me, and the two candles burning as I had left them, but by the side of one of them was a coarse bit of paper, and on it was written (oh my God! how fervently I prayed at that moment that I might yet wake, and find I was still dreaming)—on it was written in large round letters "BEWARE! I KNOW YOUR SECRET!"
There have been so many dreadful moments in my life, all turning upon the one event that put the stamp upon it, that I will not vainly endeavour to describe the misery of each; but this was one of the worst. I knew not what to think—what to suspect. Was it indeed some one else, and not Edward Middleton or Henry Lovell, who had seen the share I had had in Julia's death? But no, it could not be. No servant of the house was at hand, no visitor could have been there, for it had been difficult in the extreme, at the fatal moment, to procure any help; and every person in the house had accounted for their absence in some way or other. Why, too, should they have been silent till now? And this paper, these words, there was no demand, no extortion in them—a simple intimation.
I remained frightened, bewildered, and wholly unable to rally against this new source of anxiety. I kept my bed for two days, confined there by a feverish attack. On the third the doctor pronounced me better, and able to go into the drawing-room. As I was lying there on the sofa, my aunt, who was sitting by me, nursing me as usual with the tenderest solicitude, said, "I have just received a note from Edward, which takes me quite by surprise. You know he left us on the day after the one upon which you were taken ill, to go for a week or two to London, and now he writes me word that he is going abroad for a year, and that he will not be able to return to Elmsley to take leave of us. Such a flighty proceeding would be very like you, Henry, but I do not understand it in Edward."
Gone, and for a year! the day after I was taken ill, too! Quick as lightning a sudden thought Hashed across my mind. I drew a deep breath, but forced myself to say, "Had he told you of this plan, Henry?"
"I have had a letter from him also," was his answer; "and I thought he looked graver than usual."
Later in the afternoon, when we were left alone, became and sat down by me, and drawing a letter from his pocket, he said, "Ellen, I wish you to read this letter, and to tell me frankly what you think of it—I own I do not understand it. He alludes to some secret, to some sorrow, it would almost seem, that he cannot disclose, and that has rendered Elmsley unpleasant to him. There is but one conjecture that I could make; but as nothing in his manner or in his way of going on corroborates it, I cannot seriously entertain it, and that is, that he is in love with you; but you will judge for yourself." Edward's letter was as follows:—
"My dear Lovell,
"A circumstance which I can neither explain nor dwell upon, and which had better remain buried in oblivion, has made a further residence at Elmsley so painful to me, that I have come to the decision of going abroad immediately, and of remaining absent for a year at least. To your sister I have written to announce my intentions, and at the same time to express my deep sense of her own and my uncle's constant kindness to me. To you I do not wish to disguise the fact, that my resolution is not founded on caprice,—that I have a reason for what I do, however unnecessary it is to state what that reason is. Our friendship makes it incumbent upon me to be so far explicit; but I beg that you will never allude, by word or by letter, to the cause of my absence, and that you will never question me on the subject. I have left in my room a book which I wish you to give Ellen from me. I dislike leave-takings, and shall therefore proceed to Dover from hence, without returning again to Elmsley.
It was as I had thought, then. There was the secret I had so anxiously sought to discover. He, Edward Middleton, was the possessor of mine! He had never, then, since the day of Julia's death, looked upon me, or thought of me, but as the murderer of his little cousin—as a wretch whom nothing but his forbearance could keep in the house, from which she ought to have been turned out with horror and execration. He had, however, forborne to ruin, to destroy me; and a feeling of tenderness stole over my heart at the thought. But that paper—that dreadful paper; was that his last farewell to me? Did he wish to make me feel that I was in his power?—that he held the sword of vengeance suspended over my head, and that present, or absent, I was to tremble at his name? This was unlike Edward Middleton; this was unworthy of him. He should have come to me and charged me with my crime. He should have stood before me with that stern commanding brow, and pronounced my sentence; and I would have knelt to him, and submitted to any penance, to any expiation he might have enjoined; but an unsigned, an unavowed threat, a common anonymous letter—away with it! away with it! Base, miserable device for him to resort to! My very soul sickened at the thought; and in the midst of all my other sufferings, I suffered at feeling how low he had fallen in my estimation.
I was so completely absorbed in these reflections, that I was only aroused from my abstraction by Henry's asking me, in an impatient tone, "Well, what do you gather from that letter, every word of which you seem to have learned by heart?"
"Nothing," I replied, "except that Edward is as incomprehensible as he is unsatisfactory."
He seemed tolerably satisfied with my answer, and taking away the letter, did not allude again to the subject, and only sent me by my maid the book which Edward had desired him to transmit to me. It was the "Christian Year," that wonderful, that all but inspired book. I opened it with emotion, and perhaps it might have made a powerful impression upon me, had I not found the passages in it which allude to guilt and to remorse carefully marked with a pencil, and thus, in a manner, forced on my notice. This seemed to me the sequel of the menacing words so cruelly addressed to me, and the pride of my soul—dare I also say, the native integrity of my character—rose against such a system of secret intimidation. My heart hardened against the book, and against the giver, and I thrust it impatiently out of my sight.
Although sick at heart, grieved in spirit, and humbled to the dust at this solution of the mystery which had hung over me, yet there was some repose in the degree of security it afforded against any sudden revolution in my destiny. I was somewhat calmer, and sometimes, for a few hours together I shook off the burden from my breast, and, in outward manner at least, resembled my former self.
In virgin fearlessness, with step that seemed Caught from the pressure of elastic turf Upon the mountains, gemmed with morning dew, In the prime morn of sweetest scents and airs; Serious and thoughtful was her mind, and yet, By reconcilement, exquisite and rare, The form, port, motions, of this cottage girl, Were such as might have quickened or inspired A Titian's hand, addressed to picture forth Oread or Dryad, glancing through the shade, What time the hunter's earliest horn is heard Startling the golden hills.
"EXCURSION" - WORDSWORTH.
On one of those mild days, which occur now and then during the winter, and which bear with them a peculiar charm, Mrs. Middleton and I had strolled out together, after breakfast, into her own flower-garden. She was making a winder nosegay of the few hardy flowers that had outlived the frost, and that seemed reviving in the strange softness of this January day.
"What a morning for a ride! my own Ellen," said my aunt, as we leant on the stone wall, which felt quite warm with the rays of the wintry sun. "What do you say to ordering the horses, taking a long gallop, and coming home with me with a bloom on your dear cheeks, which look too often like that flower, and too seldom like this one;" and she showed me, with a smile, a white camellia, and a China rose, which she had just gathered in the green-house.
"I will do as you wish, dear aunt—please myself, and have the merit of obedience into the bargain; and I shall take these flowers too, to put in my hair this evening. But where shall I ride?"
"If you have no choice, my darling, I will give you an errand. You know Bridman Manor?"
"O yes! the ruins of the old hall, which my maid used to call the 'ghost-house,'—the old-fashioned gardens, with their broken statues and evergreen alleys, that always put me in mind of your favourite lines, by Mary Howitt—
'O, those old abbey gardens, with their devices rich; Their fountains and green solemn walks, and saints in many a niche.'
I shall like of all things to go there to-day; but what is your errand?"
"Why, I do not know if I ever told you that your uncle had been so kind as to give up to me that pretty cottage of his, that stands on the east side of Bridman-terrace wall, for old Mrs. Tracy, who was my nurse, and afterwards Henry's. You have seen her, have you not, Ellen?"
"No," I answered; "but I have often heard you mention her."
"She was a person of some importance in our family at one time. You know that my mother died in childbirth, and that Henry's life as an infant was only saved by this woman's unwearied devotion. She was passionately attached to Henry, and her singular disposition and turn of mind gave her a hold upon him which he did not entirely shake off even when he was taken from under her care. I believe her temper was violent; but as a child he never suffered from it, and quite idolised her. She had a great deal of natural cleverness, and her manners and language were always different from those of persons in her rank of life. I shall be curious to hear what you think of her."
"What made you think of establishing her at Bridman?"
"Her son and his wife, who had gone out to India three years ago, and left their children in her care, had both died of a fever at Madras. She felt anxious to remove from the neighbourhood of London, and to settle in this part of the country. She came to me last summer, and asked my advice on the subject. I felt much interested about her, for it was an only son she had lost, and his children are, with the exception of Henry, the only objects of interest she has in the world. Her voice trembled with emotion whenever she mentioned them; and though she is tolerably well off as to money, I believe, I felt glad to afford her, in her affliction, a quiet and pleasant home. Your uncle agreed to her living in Bridman Cottage, and I hear she settled there a short time ago. I should like to send her a kind message, and to hear how she is going on."
"I shall be delighted to be your messenger, and will instantly prepare for the ride. As you are going back to the breakfast-room, pray tell Henry to be in readiness."
At twelve o'clock the horses came round; we mounted, and set off at a brisk gallop across the Park. As I turned into the lane that led in the direction of Bridman Manor, Henry asked me where I meant to go.
"To pay a visit."
"To an acquaintance of yours."
"Who can you mean?"
"A very old acquaintance of yours."
"My dear Ellen, you are taking quite a wrong road: this lane leads to no house and to no cottage that we are acquainted with."
"I beg your pardon; it leads to Bridman Manor, and I am going there."
"Who do you know there?"
"Nobody; but I am going to make acquaintance with your old nurse, Mrs. Tracy."
He muttered something which sounded to me like an oath, and as I turned and looked at him, I was astonished at the singular expression of his countenance. He smiled, however, and said:
"You will be making acquaintance in that case with one of the most insupportable women that ever lived. I strongly recommend you to keep out of her way. She wears my life out with her querulous temper and tiresome complaints; and as I do not want to go through a scene with her, you would greatly oblige me, Ellen, by giving up this project."
"I am going there with a message from Mrs. Middleton: but you need not appear. Hide yourself in the manor woods, if you dare not face your nurse, and I will join you there on my way home."
Henry looked both vexed and provoked, but made no answer. He soon rallied, however, and began again talking and laughing in his usual manner. As we were slowly mounting a hill, his horse suddenly stumbled; he jumped off, and, calling to me to stop, he examined his foot; and finding, or pretending to find, a stone in it, he set about vainly endeavouring to knock it out.
"I cannot go on any further, Ellen: all I shall be able to manage will be to get home without laming this horse; so pray turn back now;—you can take this message some other day."
"Sit down on that bank, 'that mossy bank where the violets grow,' my dear Henry, and muse there in sober sadness, while I face the dragon in her den." And saying these words, I galloped off without further discussion. I had not gone far before he overtook me; and quoting the words of Andrew Fairservice in "Rob Roy," which we had been reading lately, he cried out:
"Well, a wilful man maun have his way: he who will to Curragh, must to Curragh!" and we proceeded on our road.
On passing the gates of Bridman Manor, we skirted the edge of the woods till we came to a terrace, where the ground was laid out in quaint patterns; and vases, some broken, some in tolerable preservation, were still ranged with some sort of symmetry. By the side of what had once been a fountain sat a group which attracted my attention by the picturesque effect which it afforded. On the back of one of those nondescript semihuman monsters, whose yawning mouths once formed the spouts of the fountain, sat a girl whose features struck me as perfectly faultless, and delicate almost beyond what one could have fancied possible in a living creature of real flesh and blood. She resembled the ideal of a sculptor; her little hand was laid on the moss-stained marble, and though not very white, its shape was so perfect that it was pleasant to gaze upon it—as it is upon any rare work of art. Near her was a little boy, apparently about three years old, who was standing on tiptoe, and thrusting his curly head into the cavity of the sphinx's mouth; another boy, who might have been ten or twelve years of age, had climbed up to the vaulted top of the fountain, and was looking down from that position at a little trickling thread of water, which still found its way into the basin below, though its passage was nearly choked by the moss and the creeping plants that intercepted its course.
As we were passing them the girl looked up, and, suddenly rising, curtseyed; and, taking hold of the little boy's hand, said, "Mr. Henry."
Henry stopped his horse, and, bowing to her in a manner that rather surprised me, in a voice that sounded to me unlike his usual one, he asked her if her grandmother was at home.
"Yes, Sir, she is," was her answer.
He turned to me and said, "That is Alice Tracy, Ellen; you can make acquaintance with her, while I speak to that boy there, who seems in a fair way to break his neck."
Dismounting hastily, he threw his horse's reins over one of the spikes of the adjoining railing, and sprang up to the spot where the boy was perched.
"Is that pretty child your brother?" I inquired of the beautiful girl who stood before me.
"He is," she answered; and lifting up the blushing boy, who was hiding himself behind her, she turned his reluctant glowing little face full towards me, in spite of his struggling efforts to thrust it into her lap, and then bent down to kiss his forehead, saying at the same time, "Naughty Johnny!"
"Will you come to me, Johnny?" was my next attempt at acquaintance.
"No, I won't," was the answer.
"What, not to ride this pretty black horse?"
"Yes, I will," was as resolutely pronounced; and soon the little fellow was hoisted up to my knees, and began amusing himself by vigorously pulling at my Selim's black mane.
"I am come with a message to your grandmother from Mrs. Middleton; she is anxious to know how you like Bridman."
"I dare say grandmother likes it very much; and Mrs. Middleton is very kind."
"Do you like it?"
"Better than the last place you lived at?"
"That was very nice, but this is better."
"What do you like better in it?"
At this moment I saw the boy who had been speaking with Henry dart off suddenly, and scamper away in the direction of the village. Henry at the same time joined us.
"Ah," he exclaimed, "you have contrived to tame that unmanageable little savage, who always screams when he sets eyes on me. Well, suppose you give him a ride up to the entrance of the village, and then Alice can walk home with us, and introduce you to her grandmother."
Alice made some objections to Johnny's lengthened ride, which he (Johnny) resented by pushing her most stoutly away, when she attempted to remove him from his post; and victoriously shouting over her discomfiture, he shook the bridle with exultation, and we proceeded towards the village. As we arrived in sight of Bridman Cottage, the boy who had preceded us came running back to meet us; and I heard him say in a low voice, as he came up to Henry, "Granny's in, and I 've done your bidding."
Henry then advised me to get off my horse; and lifting down the child first, he helped me to dismount, and we walked to the cottage. It was one of those lovely little homes that we rarely see but in England, and that look (would that they always were!) like the chosen abodes of peace and happiness. The low thatched roof—the bright square-paned little windows—the porch overgrown with clematis, jessamine, and honeysuckle—the garden, where gooseberry bushes and stately hollyhocks grow side by side. Of this description was Bridman Cottage, and one of the loveliest that I ever set eyes upon.
As we entered, an elderly female came to the door, and, making me a curtsey, said, in a formal manner, "This is an honour I had not looked to, but I know how to be thankful for it, Miss Middleton. Mr. Henry, I hope I see you well?"
"As well as usual, thank you (he replied). Miss Middleton has brought you a message from her aunt."
"Yes," I immediately said; "Mrs. Middleton is very anxious to know that you find yourself happy and comfortable here, and would have come herself to see you, if she had been able to leave my uncle for so long; but he has been ill lately, and she scarcely ever goes far from the house."
"Tell Mrs. Middleton, Ma'am, that the house is good; that the children are well; and that I am grateful to her."
There was something chilling in the manner with which this was said, and the glassy eyes and thin lips of Mrs. Tracy were far from prepossessing.
I made, however, another effort, and said, "If you could manage to get as far as Elmsley, my aunt would, I know, be glad to see you."
"I have nursed her at my bosom, and carried her in my arms, and I do not care less for her now than I did then; but if it was to save her life, I would not go to Elmsley and see—"
"Me there," exclaimed Henry. "I told you, Ellen, that I should have to go through a scene, and now, I suppose, it must come to pass. Go upstairs with Alice while I make my peace;" and as he spoke, he almost pushed me out of the room, and shut the door.
Alice followed me, and said, in her gentle voice, as I stood at the bottom of the narrow stairs, somewhat puzzled and at a loss what to do,
"If you will come to my room, Miss Middleton, I can show you some of the reasons that make me like Bridman so much."
I gladly assented. She led the way, and opened the door of a small room, in which there was no furniture, but a little bed, with dimity curtains of snowy whiteness, a deal table, and two straw chairs.
"This is a nice room," she said; "but come to the window, and you will see one of my reasons."
She threw up the sash, and pointed with her little hand to the village church, which rose in quiet beauty from among the leafless trees.
"Is it not pretty?" she asked, with a smile.
"Very pretty," I answered; and as I used her own simple words, I felt that there was that in them, said as she said them, that is often wanting in pages of impassioned eloquence, in volumes of elaborate composition,—reality. She was happy in this place, because of her little room, and because of the view of the village church, which she could see from its window. How pure must be the mind, how calm must be the life, when such a circumstance can give a colouring to it.
"Alice, have you no books? I see none here."
"I have a few; do you wish to see them?"
"Yes, I do; I should like to know what books you like."
"Then I must show you another of my reasons," she said, with one of her sweet, calm smiles, and opened the door of another very small room, which had no other entrance than through her own.
There was a little table in it, and a wooden stool; both were placed near the window. Upon the table lay two books—one was a Bible, the other a large prayer-book, bound in red morocco, and illustrated with prints. A shelf hung in one comer; "Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living and Dying," the "Pilgrim's Progress," "Bishop Heber's Hymns," and a few more books besides, were ranged upon it. Among them, a small one, which I was well acquainted with, called "Birds and Flowers," attracted my attention. I asked Alice if she had read it through.
"Yes, I have," she replied. "Mr. Henry gave it me a few months ago."
I involuntarily started, and looked up into her face, as she said this; but not a shade of embarrassment was to be seen there.
She went on to say—"He gave it to me because I was so fond of this poor flower;" and she pointed to a sickly creeping plant, that grew out of a pot, which was placed on the window sill.
"You would not know it again now," she continued; "but last summer it was growing against the wall in the little patch of garden we had at Bromley, and a beautiful flower it was."
"But what had it to do with this book, more than any other flower, Alice?"
"It is a little story, but I will tell it you if you wish it. I sprained my ankle last summer, and could not walk for many weeks. Granny or brother Walter used to drive me in my chair to the open window, to breathe the fresh air, and look at the flowers in our little garden. There was nothing else to look at there—nothing but roofs of houses and black chimneys; but up the wall, and as high as my window, grew this very plant, that looks so dead now, poor thing. Day after day I watched its flowers, though I did not know their names, till I got to see in them things that I thought nobody but me had ever noticed."
"What things, Alice?"
"Across, a crown of thorns, nails, and a hammer."
"The Passion Flower!"
"So Mr. Henry told me one day when he found me reading my new kind of book. It was like a book to me, that pretty flower; it made me think of holy things as much as a sermon ever did."
"And Henry brought you then this book, because of the poem in it on the Passion Flower?"
"He did, and read it to me out loud. It felt strange but pleasant to have one's own thoughts spoken out in such words as those."
"And you brought away your Passion Flower with you?"
"Yes, but it is dying now; and this gives me thoughts too, which I wish somebody would write about. I should like to hear them read out."
I took up her book, and drawing a pencil from my pocket, I rapidly wrote down the following lines:—
"O wish her not to live again, Thy dying passion flower, For better is the calm of death Than life's uneasy hour.
Weep not if through her withered stern Is creeping dull decay; Weep not, If ere the sun has set, Thy nursling dies away.
The blast was keen, the winter snow Was cold upon her breast; And though the sun is shining now, Still let thy flower rest.
Her tale is told; her slender strength Has left her drooping form. She cannot raise her bruised head To face another storm.
Then gently lay her down to die, Thy broken passion flower; And let her close her troubled life With one untroubled hour."
Alice read these lines as I wrote them. When I had finished, she shook her head gently, and said,—
"These are pretty words, and pretty thoughts too; but not my thoughts."
"Tell me your own thoughts, Alice; I would fain hear them."
"I can't," she said.
"I think as I see the flowers die so quietly, that they should teach us to die so too. I think, when I see my poor plant give up her sweet life without complaining, that it is because she has done what she ought to do, and left nothing undone which she ought to have done. I planted her in my little garden, and she grew up to my window; she gave me buds first, and then flowers—bright smiling flowers; and when I was ill she gave me holy happy thoughts about God and Christ. And therefore I wish to do likewise—to do my duty in that state of life to which it shall please God to call me; and then to die quietly, when it shall please Him, like my passion flower."
As she was finishing these words, I was startled by the loud and angry tones of Henry and of Mrs. Tracy, who seemed to be disputing violently. They were speaking both at the same time, and his voice was quite hoarse with anger. I overheard these words:—"I tell you that if you do not command yourself, and behave as I desire you, I will never see you again, or put my foot into your house."
A tremendous oath followed this threat, and then their voices subsided. I looked at Alice; she seemed concerned, but not surprised or agitated, at what was going on down-stairs, and merely closed the door of her room, which had been left open. A that moment, however, Henry came half-way up the stairs, and calling to me said that it was late, and that we had better be setting out again. I complied, and in coming down into the room below I was civilly greeted by Mrs. Tracy, who thanked me for my visit, and muttered something about hoping we should soon meet again. Had it not been for Alice, who had interested and charmed me to an extraordinary degree, I should have formed exactly a contrary wish, for I had never more heartily agreed with any opinion than with that which Henry had pronounced about his former nurse; and her civility was to my mind more repulsive still than her ungraciousness. I took leave of her coldly enough, but earnestly pressing Alice's hand as I mounted my horse, I whispered in her ear, "Alice, I like your poem better than mine," and rode off.
We took a different road from that we had come by, and skirted the edge of a small lake that lies on the eastern side of the Bridman Woods. The day was altered, and dark clouds were beginning to gather over the sky; the wind was whistling among the bare branches, and Henry was unusually silent and pre-occupied. I felt depressed too, and we did not speak for some time. I was revolving in my mind what possible cause there could be for a man of Henry's character and habits entering into such a violent altercation with a person of Mrs. Tracy's age and inferior rank in life. His temper was generally good, and his manners peculiarly gentlemanlike; his conduct, therefore, (however provoking she might have been,) appeared to me unaccountable. I could not help wondering also, that he should have associated on evidently intimate terms with that lovely Alice, and yet had never mentioned her to any of us, even in casual conversation. There had not been a word, however, or a look, of his or of hers, that could, for an instant, have allowed one to suppose that there had been anything in their intercourse which either could have wished to hide. As to her, I could as soon have suspected of impurity the pearly drops that hung lightly on each twig of the hawthorn bushes that we passed, as her young life of one evil action, or her young mind of one evil thought. The deep blue waters of the little lake that lay stretched at our feet, were not more calm and more pure than her eyes; and in the marble paleness of her fair brow—in the divine purity of her child-like mouth—in the quiet innocence of her whole demeanour, there was that which seemed to speak of
"Maiden meditation, fancy free."
We were going at a brisk pace alongside the water, and the rapidity of our motion was an excuse for silence; but as we turned away from the lake, and began ascending a steep acclivity, which led to the moors we had yet to cross on our way home, we were forced to slacken our pace; and as we did so, I asked Henry in a half-joking manner, "Have you recovered the passion you were in just now? Your forebodings seem to have been fully realised."
"Thanks to you," he answered in a short dry manner.
"Come, come," I said, "do not visit upon me Mrs. Tracy's disagreeableness. Indeed I think you are not as patient with her as you ought to be, considering she is an old woman, and was your nurse. You were speaking to her with inconceivable violence."
"You overheard what I said to her?"
"Only a few words, and a dreadful oath."
"I was not aware that you were listening at the door. Had I imagined that you had stationed yourself there, I should certainly have been more guarded in my expressions."
I felt the colour rising into my cheeks, for the tone of his voice had something in it still more insulting than his words; but I answered carelessly, "It is a pity you did not think it worth while to controul your temper, whether you were overheard or not."
He coloured in his turn, and bit his lips; but suddenly changing the subject, he abruptly said, "How do you like Alice?"
"As I like all the beautiful things which God has made, and that man has not spoilt."
"She is very pretty; and she has a kind of cleverness too; but there is something tame and insipid about her, notwithstanding. In fact, I do not understand her."
"How should the serpent understand the dove?" I muttered to myself, and then my heart smote me for my unkind thoughts of Henry. I felt myself guilty of ingratitude, nay more, of hypocrisy, in thinking evil of one whose society I so much valued, and who certainly devoted himself to me with no common assiduity. I never could exactly explain to myself what my feelings were with regard to him at that time. As I said before, it would have been a severe trial to me had he left Elmsley, even for a short time.
Hour after hour I spent in conversation with him, hardly aware of the lapse of time, so great was the fascination that his powerful, original, and, withal, cultivated understanding, exercised over me; and yet, at the same time, an involuntary feeling of mistrust—an unaccountable shudder of repugnance—now and then shot over me as I listened to the sound of his voice, or as my eyes met his—and yet they were beautiful; his eyes, with their deep-gray colour that looked black by candle-light, and the fringing of their dark lashes. There was something reined in the shape of his small aquiline nose—in the form of his wide but well-formed mouth, both of which, when he was eager, bore an expression which I can only compare to that of a fiery horse when he tosses his mane, and snuffs the air of the plain which he is about to scour. Then why was it, that as I looked on his beauty, day by day, I found pleasure, if not happiness, in his devotion to me—why was it, that, now and then, the words fearful, false, and heartless, darted across my mind as I thought of him? and were instantaneously followed by a thrill of self-reproach, for I was false to him, not he to me; false in the contrast between my outward demeanour and my secret and involuntary impulses. It was I that was heartless, in feeling no real attachment for one whose life evinced an unvarying devotedness to me. False! Heartless! Was I really so? Resentment had hardened my heart against Edward Middleton, and every kind feeling I had ever entertained towards him was turned to bitterness. Painful associations, and fearful remembrances, had thrown a dark shade over the pure and holy love of my childhood—the enthusiastic affection I had felt for my aunt;—and as to Henry Lovell, whose society I eagerly sought, and whose attachment I appeared to return, I was forced at times to confess to myself that there was not a grain of tenderness in the feverish predilection I entertained for him. I felt to hate myself for the deadness and coldness of my heart. I despised myself for the inconsistent impulses of my soul. Abased in my own eyes, condemned by my own judgment, I often applied to myself the words of Holy Scripture; and in bitterness of spirit exclaimed—"Unstable as water, I cannot excel. Wasted with misery; drunk, but not with wine, my heart is smitten and withered like gnus. I was exalted into Heaven: I am brought down to Hell." These thoughts occupied me during the remainder of our ride.
When Henry uttered the remark which led to this train of reflections in my mind, we had reached the summit of the hill, and coming upon the wild heath that lay between us and Elmsley, we put our horses into a rapid canter, and arrived before the hall-door just as it was getting dusk.
"How reverend is the face of this tall pile, Whose ancient pillars rear their marble heads To bear aloft its arch'd and ponderous roof, By its own weight made steadfast and immoveable— Looking tranquillity. It strikes an awe And terror on my aching sight; the tombs And monumental caves of death look cold. And shoot a chiliness to my trembling heart."
During the ensuing three or four months, nothing occurred in the course of our daily life, in any way worth recording. I had spoken to my aunt of Alice Tracy in such a way as strongly to excite her interest and curiosity about her, and from this reason, as well as from the wish to give me pleasure, which was at all times an all-sufficient inducement to her, she wrote to her grand-mother to request that if she herself did not feel inclined to come to Elmsley, she would at least allow Alice to come and spend a day with us.
Mrs. Tracy wrote a brief answer to the purport that Alice was gone away on a visit to some relations of her father, and was therefore out of reach of the honour intended her.
My uncle received now and then a letter from Edward Middleton, but never communicated its contents beyond the mere facts that he was well, and was staying in this or that town on the Continent.
Henry still remained at Elmsley; and nothing was changed in the state of things between us. The only new feature in our domestic affairs, was the growing dislike which my uncle seemed to feel towards him. He had never appeared much to like him, but now he seemed hardly able to endure his protracted residence at Elmsley, and often inquired of my aunt and myself, if Henry did not mean soon to begin the study of the law; which was the profession he was destined to pursue.
As to Henry himself, he never alluded to it, and seemed to look upon Elmsley as a permanent home. My uncle was too much attached to his wife, and by nature of too kind a disposition, to mark more plainly, than by occasional hints, his displeasure at this line of conduct; but he could hardly conceal his satisfaction, when, at last, a letter from his father obliged Henry to take the subject into consideration.
It became arranged that he should leave Elmsley in three weeks; and I was surprised, and even mortified, at observing how little he seemed grieved or annoyed at this rather abrupt separation, and with what indifference of manner he took leave of me on the day of his departure.
A few days afterwards, there arrived a letter from Mrs. Brandon, a sister of my mother and of Mr. Middleton, containing an urgent request that I might be allowed to spend a few weeks with her in Dorsetshire.
I had only seen this aunt of mine once or twice during the course of my childhood; and she had left no other impression on my mind than that she was a short, pretty-looking woman, with large dark eyes, and a peculiarly gentle voice.
I had dreaded so much the void which Henry's absence would have made in my life, that I welcomed with pleasure the idea of entering upon a new scene. I had also a vague indefinite hope that far from Elmsley—away from the material objects which recalled to me continually my fatal secret—I should, perhaps, shake off, in some degree, the sense of oppression that weighed upon me. I was only seventeen, and prematurely miserable as I was become, still there remained something in me of the spirit of youth, which pants after new scenes, new companions, and new excitements. I therefore expressed a strong wish to accept Mrs. Brandon's invitation, and this was, as usual, enough to secure Mrs. Middleton's acquiescence, and my uncle made no objection to the plan.
Accordingly, on one of the first days of the month of June, in a small open carriage, accompanied by a lady who had once been my governess, and who had undertaken to escort me to Brandon Park, I left Elmsley, in tears indeed, for as my aunt pressed me to her bosom, I returned her embrace with an intense emotion, that seemed to resume in itself the history of my past life; but still with the eager impatience of the bird who wildly takes his flight from the perch to which he is still confined, and hopes, by the keen impetuosity with which he soars, to shake off the dead weight which chains him down to earth. The day was beautiful: white fleecy clouds were flitting rapidly across the sky; and the mild breeze that fanned my cheek was scented with the perfume of the fields of clover, through which our road chiefly lay during the first stage of our journey. The sky, the air, the smells, the sounds, the rapid motion of the carriage, were all sources of the keenest enjoyment. Fortunately for me, Mrs. Hatton, my travelling companion, possessed the qualification of finding amusement in herself, and by herself, to an extraordinary degree. I have never met with so thoroughly good-humoured a person. She always liked best whatever was proposed to her to do, and never liked at all anything that others were not inclined to. Whatever happened to be ordered for dinner, was invariably the thing she preferred; but if, by any mischance, it did not appear, and something else appeared in its stead, she as suddenly recollected that she liked the new dish a great deal better than the one that had failed. Even the weather received at her hands very different treatment from that which it is accustomed to meet with. A black frost she considered wholesome and bracing; a cutting east wind, she described as a fresh breeze; snow, rain, and hail, had each particular merits, in her eyes. When the sun shone, it was fortunate; when it rained, it was a piece of luck, for she had ever so many letters to write; and there was nothing like a rainy day for getting through business. And if the weather was without any other apology, "Still," as I heard her once say, "it was better than no weather at all."
I never heard her admit that anything was a grievance; that anybody was tiresome. Her friends' misfortunes, indeed, she felt heartily sorry for; but, with respect to them, she found consolation in the fact, that, in proportion to their extent, she could bestow a fuller share of sympathy, a more ample measure of kindness than ever, out of the ever-springing sources of tenderness, with which her own heart overflowed.
Poor Mrs. Hatton! she was the best of women, but not the wisest of governesses. During the years that she superintended my education, she had never been able to disagree with me, as to grammar and arithmetic being dull and perfectly useless studies; or help agreeing with me that Sir Walter Scott's novels improved the mind infinitely more than Goldsmith's History of England; and so I read novels to her, and she listened with delighted attention—I wrote poetry, which she read aloud, and declared was the best that had ever been written—I put aside all the books that bored me, all the exercises that puzzled me, and she heartily concurred with me, in pronouncing them all highly unprofitable and superfluous.
Dear Mrs. Hatton! she was not wise; but such guileless, warm-hearted lack of wisdom as hers, often supplied the place of those mental qualifications which are too seldom united to a perfect singleness of heart and simplicity of character.
She was, indeed, a capital travelling companion; as we passed the gates of Elmsley I said to her, "Do you know, dear Mrs. Hatton, that I am apt to be very silent in a carriage; shall you mind it?"
"It is the very thing I like best, dear, to drive along and look about me, and not have the trouble of talking. The very thing I like best; there is nothing so tiring as to talk in a carriage." And settling herself in her corner, she gave herself up to looking about her; and she was right; for what in the world is so pleasant, as a living German authoress says, as "on a fine summer morning through a lovely country rapidly to fly, like the bird, that wants nothing of the world but its surface to skim over. This is the really enjoyable part of travelling. The inn life is wearisome; the passage through towns is fatiguing. The admiration due to the treasures of art, to the wonders of science, is a task from which one would sometimes gladly buy one's self off, at the price of a day of wood-cleaving or water-carrying. But to lean back in perfect quiet in a carriage while it rolls lightly and easily along a good road; to have a variety of pictures pass before one's eyes as in a dream, each remaining long enough to please, none long enough to tire; to allow the thoughts that spring from the magical connection of ideas to flit across the mind, in unison with the visible objects before us; to be tied down by no earthly cares—sure to find a meal wherever one stops; and should one happen not to find a bed, to have nothing worse in store than to sleep a la belle etoile, rocked by the carriage as in a cradle; ever to hear the rolling of the wheels, which, like the murmur of a brook, the clapping of a mill, or the splash of oars in the water, forms, by its uniformity, a soothing accompaniment to the everlasting fluctuation of thought in the mind. This is a bliss, which, like that of love and lovers, genuine travellers alone believe in; and, except genuine lovers, there is nothing more seldom met with in the world than genuine travellers. For those who travel from curiosity, from ennui, for health, or for fashion, or in order to write books, belong not to them, and know nothing of that intoxicating repose." * [* "Aus der Gesellschaft," by the Countess Hahn-Hahn.]
Such was the enjoyment in which I hoped Mrs. Hatton found ample compensation for my silence. She was no doubt a genuine traveller; for she must have been genuine in every character she assumed; though I fear that her notion of the happiness of not talking, and of looking about her, would have fallen short of the German countess's ideal of a traveller's bliss.
After a journey of about eighty miles, at five o'clock in the evening we reached the town of Salisbury, where we were to sleep that night. We ordered dinner at the inn, and I then walked to the cathedral. I had never seen one before; and when I came in sight of its tower, and then of the whole of its beautiful structure, tears rushed into my eyes, and I stood entranced in contemplation before it. My hands involuntarily clasped themselves as in prayer, and I longed to fall on my knees and adore there the God who had given to man's heart to desire, to his mind to conceive, and to his hand the power of raising, such shrines for His worship.
Salisbury Cathedral stands in the middle of a close, where evergreens and shrubs of all kinds rise from the smooth green grass that grows quite up to the foot of its walls. The door was closed; but while I sent to procure the key from the sexton, I walked slowly round the exterior of the cathedral, and paused for some minutes in a spot where, in a recess formed by the angles of the building, I stood with nothing round me but the beautiful gothic walls—nothing above me but the blue sky. It seemed a spot fitted for holy meditation, for heavenly aspiration; it was a spot that might have been selected when the Saviour's visible presence was withdrawn, by that Mary who chose the good part which was never to be taken from her. It might have been the resort of that Hannah who departed not from the Temple but served the Lord with fastings and with prayers day and night. It might have been the chosen retreat of one who, amidst all the blessings of life, day by day made preparation for the hour of death. The vision of such a life, of a course of sacred duties, of holy affections, of usefulness in life, of resignation in death, of humility in time of weal, of peace in time of woe; such a vision passed before my eyes even then, and my lips murmured: "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my latter end be like his."
The sexton arrived with the key; and entering by the great portal door, I wandered for nearly an hour through the aisles, and lingered in the choir and in the chapel, though there was scarcely light to do more than just to trace the outlines of the masses of columns which rise in severe simplicity, and arch above one's head at a height which, in the dimness of the twilight, was scarcely discernible. After having visited the cloisters, and been so beguiled by their beauty as to forget that dinner was to be on the table at six o'clock, and that it was now verging on the half-hour past, I hurried back to the inn just as the first set of mutton-chops were coming up the stairs, and had just time to close Mrs. Hatton's mouth with a kiss as she was beginning to assure me, in answer to my apologies, that there was nothing in the world she liked so much as waiting for dinner.
The weather had grown close and warm; and we were glad, immediately after we had finished eating, to have the table cleared, and to draw our chairs to the open bow-window. It commanded a view all down the street, which at that moment bore the peculiarly dull and dusty appearance which streets in provincial towns are apt to present on a summer's evening. Two or three children were playing at marbles before one door, and screaming at each other in that particular key which games of this description call into exercise. Now and then a small cart drove by, and a few people on foot occasionally walked past the window. The clouds were gathering rapidly over the sky, and the air was becoming every instant more sultry and oppressive. Heavy drops of rain began to fall one by one in large round spots on the dusty pavement. Red and darkgreen umbrellas began to be unfolded; the carts to drive by more briskly; the marble players to withdraw into the house after sundry vociferations from some neighbouring window; and the whole scene fairly assumed the hopeless character of a rainy summer's evening. Meantime two men had stationed themselves under the projecting roof of our inn at the outset of the shower, and kept up between themselves a conversation, of which a few words occasionally reached my ears. One of the speakers was a man seemingly of fifty or thereabouts, of a heavy, dull character of countenance; his dress that of a tradesman, not of the better sort. The other was a young man who would have been handsome had it not been for a scowl which disfigured his otherwise well-shaped features. The oldest of the two men said to the other, apparently in answer to some inquiry, "Not till the old un dies, which he will soon."
"Is he as bad as that comes to?" returned the other. A cart rambled by at that moment, and I heard nothing more, and would have probably left the window had not the next words that were spoken arrested my attention.
"So Alice is here?" observed the youngest of the two speakers.
"And are you still after that ere spec?" was the answer.
I immediately identified the Alice they were speaking of with Alice Tracy, and I could not help listening on with the wish to hear something that would corroborate or destroy this idea.
"She'll never have you, take my word for it," continued the same man.
"May be not, while the gemman's a-courting her; but he's after other game, I take it, now."
"I seed him here, with my own eyes, not four days ago," said the first speaker.—"Old mother Tracy has him in her clutches, I'll warrant you. She didn't come down with the shiners for nothing."
"He's a limb of Satan; and if he were the devil himself, I'd tear his eyes out first," retorted the younger man with a fearful volley of oaths.
"And he'd snap his fingers at you, and give you into a policeman's charge. That's no go, my hearty—"
"But if the old un is dying; as you say, and the lass comes in for the cash, he'll not be such a d—d fool—"
"Ay, ay; but mother Tracy, with the bit of paper you know of, would prove an awkward customer for that ere chap! But I'll tell ye, my lad,—you 've but one chance—"
Here the speaker's voice sunk into a whisper, and I did not catch another word. The two men soon took a reconnoitring glance at the weather; and after looking up the street and down the street, and up at the sky, where nothing was visible but a thick mass of gray clouds, they seemed to awake to the thorough hopelessness of the case, and walked off, muttering imprecations on the weather.
I remained by the window absorbed in thought, till Mrs. Hatton apprised me that tea was come. There was, indeed, matter for thought in the few words these men had uttered; and the thoughts they suggested were perplexing in the extreme. It was of Alice Tracy they had spoken, for I had twice distinctly heard her grandmother's name pronounced. She was in Salisbury at this very moment, it appeared; these two rough and somewhat discreditable men were acquainted with her. A gentleman (to use their own expression) was after her; but the youngest man of the two had expressed a hope that he was at present devoting himself to some other person. Could this gentleman be Henry Lovell? Had he been base, vile enough to attempt the ruin of the lovely girl whose beauty and innocence had seemed to me to belong to a higher sphere than that of this world of ours? Was his devotion to me what was alluded to in the conversation I had overheard? Who was the person whose death they seemed to expect? I was lost in a maze of doubts and conjectures; among which the most distressing was the one that presented to my mind the idea of Alice becoming a victim to the infamous pursuit of Henry Lovell. But again, what could they mean by his (the gentleman, whoever he was,) being in Mrs. Tracy's clutches? I vainly racked my brain to form some conjecture which would account for the different parts of this short conversation. Poor Mrs. Hatton must have thought me apt to be silent, not only in a carriage, but out of one, too, if she judged by my taciturnity on this occasion. When the waiter came in to fetch the tea-things away, I asked him if he knew of any person living in Salisbury, and bearing the name of Tracy? He did not know of any such, he said, but would inquire if I wished. As he was going out of the room, he turned back, and holding the handle of the door with one hand, and passing the other through a bushy head of hair, he added: "I suppose it's quality you are asking for, Ma'am?"
"No; any persons of that name: do you know any?"
"There's an old Miss Tracy, Ma'am, lives in the next street here; she was sister to the grocer that died two years ago."
"Do you happen to know if she has had any relations staying with her lately?"
"I think she has. Ma'am; for she hired a bed, a chair, and a table, some three months ago, of my brother, who lets out furniture; and she'd not go to expense for nothing: her late brother's money is safe enough in her keeping."
As I still looked interested in the subject of Miss Tracy's expenses, the waiter, who was evidently of a communicative turn of mind, closed the door and came back to the table to wipe off some nearly imperceptible crumbs that were lying on the smooth, bright mahogany.
"It was a curious thing enough, Ma'am," he resumed; "nobody in the wide world knowing that the grocer in—street,—old Tracy, as he was called,—had scraped together thirty thousand pounds, and never had been the better for it while he lived."
"Nor when he died," I thought to myself; and inquired if the whole of that sum had been left to the lady who certainly would not go to expense for nothing?
"No, only half, Ma'am," was the answer; "fifteen thousand pounds in hard cash her brother left her; but it is not many folk in Salisbury that have seen the colour of her money. She'll keep adding on to it as long as she lives."
"And where did the other fifteen thousand pounds go?" I asked.
"They was lodged in some Lunnon banker's hands, Ma'am, I fancy. It's said he left that other half of his money to some relations that lived thereabouts, but I can't tell for sure."
I longed to ask him, if he knew what kind of people had been staying with Miss Tracy, and to find out, if possible, if it was Alice, and whether she was still in Salisbury; but I felt ashamed of questioning on, and, during the pause that ensued, my informant gave one more general polishing to the table, pushed one or two chairs out of their places, poked the fire, which did not want poking, and with a side bow left the room. My curiosity was so strongly excited, that I could not refrain from asking Mrs. Hatton if she knew anything of the Mrs. Tracy, who, in old times, had been my aunt's maid, but she had never seen her, and could give me no information on the subject. We were to start the next morning at nine o'clock, and I resolved to make an effort to satisfy myself as to the state of the case by calling at Miss Tracy's door before setting off. At eight o'clock accordingly, having ascertained from my friend, the waiter, the name of the street and the number of the house, I set out, and as I approached it, my heart beat with a strange mixture of shyness, anxiety, and curiosity. I pulled the bell, and was almost tempted to run away when I heard some one walking heavily to the door to open it. It opened however before I had made up my mind to bolt, and I asked the slip-shod, red-faced girl who appeared, whether Miss Tracy lived there?
"Yes, she does (was the answer). What's your will, Miss?"
"Is Miss Alice Tracy staying with her?"
"Yes, she is."
"Is she at home?"
"No, she aint, she's in church, but her grandmother's at home."
I did not feel courage enough to renew my acquaintance with Mrs. Tracy, whose reception of me at Bridman Cottage I well remembered, and whose forbidding countenance had remained strongly impressed on my recollection. I therefore drew a bit of paper from my pocket, and hastily writing my name upon it, I was just handing it to the girl, when it struck me that it was possible, that, after all, there might be two Alice Tracys in the world, and that I had better not leave my name at a venture. I therefore tore off the bit of writing, and on the remaining slip of paper I drew a passion flower, and requested the girl to give it to Miss Alice Tracy when she came home.
"But what's your name. Ma'am?" she inquired.
"Never mind it," I replied. "Miss Alice will know it immediately, if she is my Miss Alice, and if she is not, it does not signify," and I walked off, leaving the puzzled portress with her mouth wide open, my sketch in her hand, and her intellect evidently employed in balancing the probabilities as to the sanity of mine.
The britschka was at the door when I got back to the inn, and Mrs. Hatton with her veil down, and her boa round her neck, was waiting for me in the little sitting-room. We hastened into the carriage and rattled off through the streets of Salisbury, and were soon after ascending at a slow pace the hill that lies on the west side of the town. After a few hours of uninteresting driving along the high road, we turned into a lane which brought us at once into a new kind of scenery, quite different from any that I had yet been acquainted with. On either side of us rose, in gentle acclivities, a boundless extent of down, diversified by large patches of gorse, tall clumps of broom shining in all the gorgeous beauty of their yellow flowers, and spreading beds of fern, that loveliest of leaves, as beautiful in its form, and almost as architectural in its natural symmetry, as the more classical acanthus.
As we advanced into the very heart of the country, the character of the scenery changed, and became of a more woodland description. Hedges on both sides of the road bounded our view, but there was ample compensation for this in these delicious hedges themselves, in which hawthorn stood out in sturdy independence from among the intricacies of shrubs and brambles, that imprisoned their stems, while they scattered their snowy blossoms on the shining leaves and green patches of grass beneath them; in which the frail but daring eglantine twined its weak tendrils round the withered trunk of some hollow, worn-out oak; in which the wild clematis and the feathery traveller's-joy, as children love to call it, flung their fairy flowers in reckless profusion over the tangled mass from whence they sprung. There was enough in these hedges to make up for the loss of views; but we had views too, when, for a moment, a gate, a stile, a gap in the hedge itself, opened to us glimpses of such woods and dells as we read of in the Midsummer Night's Dream.
We reached Brandon at four o'clock. It stands in the midst of what was formerly a chase of immense extent, and which now forms a park of extraordinary size, and of singular beauty. The hand of man seems to have done but little to improve that beauty: the house stands as if by chance in the midst of a wilderness of downy hills and grassy valleys, of hawthorn groves, and wild commons, of remnants of forests, and miles of underwood. I was so engrossed by the strange character of this, to me, perfectly novel scenery, that I thought little of anything else as we drove up to the house: and when on reaching the entrance door, the servants rushed to let down the step, and seize upon the luggage, I felt taken by surprise; rousing myself, I took an affectionate leave of Mrs. Hatton, who was proceeding to her own home in the town of—, about ten miles beyond Brandon, and we did not part without my promising her, that, if I could possible contrive it, I would visit her there before I left Dorsetshire.
But ever and anon of griefs subdued, There comes a token like a scorpion's sting, Scarce seen, but with fresh bitterness imbued; And slight withal may be the things which bring Back on the heart the weight which it would fling Aside for ever.
On inquiry, I found that my aunt was out, and as I was not acquainted with a single person staying in the house, I begged to be shown at once to my room, instead of going into the library, where I was told some of the company were to be found. The housekeeper led the way up-stairs, and having established me in a large and very comfortable room, left me to myself. I sat down in an arm-chair, and except the occupation, if it can be so called, of watching my maid, while she unpacked the different parts of my evening dress, I spent the next hour in complete idleness.
At the end of that time, the rolling of wheels and the clatter of horses' feet drew me to the window. I was pleased to have an opportunity of inspecting some part of the society which I was so soon to be introduced to. First, there stopped at the hall door a pony-chaise, from which Mrs. Brandon and another woman got out; behind them sat an elderly man, tall and dark, not Mr. Brandon, though (as far as I recollected) like him: behind them came galloping up to the steps a riding party, two women and three or four men; among them was Henry Lovell, who was certainly about the last person I should have expected to meet. He looked in high spirits, and I heard him calling out to somebody in the house, "Is she come?" and two or three minutes afterwards, Mrs. Brandon and he came into my room together.
She kissed me most affectionately, and keeping both my hands in hers, and diminishing at the same time her beautiful eyes into the sharpest, but most caressante expression (I know no English word which expresses the look I mean), she fixed them on mine and said, "I am so much obliged to you, Henry, and to you for coming, dearest Ellen; but I ought to thank him first, for he taught me to wish to know you, and to love you. It is not a hard lesson,"—she added, in the sweetest tone of voice imaginable. I tried to smile and look pleased, but I was out of sorts, though I could hardly tell exactly why. If I had heard at Elmsley that I was to have met Henry at Brandon, I should have probably been glad, but somehow my short journey had put me into a different state of mind. I had been more free from painful thoughts, immediately connected with myself at least, than at any time for a good while past; I had felt an unconscious relief in seeing new faces, and hearing new voices; I longed to feel unwatched, unnoticed. Then the conversation I had heard between the two men at Salisbury had left a disagreeable impression upon my mind, although too vague to influence my judgment. Then again, why, if Mrs. Brandon's wish to see me, and her consequent invitation, were the result of his praises, had he not talked to me of her? Why had he not said he should meet me at her house? Obliged, alas! as I was myself by my miserable fate, to practise constant dissimulation, I still hated it strangely in others, and I felt aware that I answered Mrs. Brandon ungraciously, and greeted Henry coldly. As usual, he was perfectly self-possessed, but soon withdrew, leaving me alone with Mrs. Brandon.
"Do let us sit down here together, dearest Ellen," said she, drawing me to a couch as she spoke; "I do so long to be well acquainted with you, and I feel to know so well all about you, we shall be great friends soon, I am sure." And she again squeezed my hands, and looked into my eyes with that pretty but over-confidential look in hers.
We talked about my uncle and aunt, on which she said, "Was not dear Mrs. Middleton a little angry with me for seducing you away from Elmsley? But I fancy she is in the secret; is not she?"
"She was much pleased at your kindness in wishing to see me," I answered; quite puzzled as to what the secret she alluded to could be.
"And now, dear Ellen," she continued, "you must treat me quite like a sister, like a friend, not as an old aunt, or I shall be affronted, and very jealous of Mrs. Middleton. You must speak to me quite openly."
"You are so very kind," I said, while all the time I thought, "What on earth are you at?" The idea of her being jealous of my affection for Mrs. Middleton struck me as perfectly ridiculous, and the very fact of being requested to speak openly, effectually inclined me to shut myself up, in an additional amount of reserve. I tried, however, to be amiable and warm; and after a little more conversation, Mrs. Brandon left me, to go and dress for dinner.
A few minutes after the bell had rung, I went down to the library, and found nearly everybody assembled. I went through a number of introductions. The women that I made acquaintance with were Lady Wyndham, Mrs. Ernsley, Miss Moore, and two Miss Farnleys. The men were standing together in the middle of the room, but except Mr. Brandon (who immediately came to me and made a number of civil speeches), none of them approached us before dinner was announced. Sir Charles Wyndham then took me in.
Just as we were sitting down, Mrs. Brandon called to Mr. Ernsley, who was preparing to place himself in the chair on the other side of me; "Dear Mr. Ernsley, won't you come and sit by me? I do so long to hear what you think of Meldon Hall, which I am told you went to see to-day." And as he obeyed her directions, Henry Lovell slipped into the chair by my side, which accounted to me for the look of intelligence which Mrs. Brandon directed to our part of the table, to which he perhaps responded, but to which I certainly did not. I was not sorry, however, to have an opportunity of speaking to him, as I felt curious to know how he would account for his sudden change of plans, and I wished also to find out if he had been at Salisbury during the last few days.
He immediately said to me, "Are you surprised at seeing me here?"
"As much," I replied, "as to find that it is to you I am indebted for being invited here at all."
"And if it was so, would it affront you?"
"It would not be particularly flattering."
"You would think it more flattering, would you, that a woman, who has only seen you once, and that seven years ago, should wish to see you again, than that I (and here he spoke in the lowest possible whisper), after such days, such months, as I spent at Elmsley, should have strained every nerve not to lose sight of you."
"Then this has been a scheme of your forming? I hate scheming."
"I was in London; I detested it, and I came here; but I wish to God I had not I (he added, with more of passion than of tenderness in his voice;) for my coming is evidently disagreeable to you, and I cannot brook the coldness of your manner (he continued, in a still increasing tone of agitation). It puts me beside myself, Ellen, and makes a fool of me, which is of all things what I most dislike to be made."
"What is it you most dislike to be made, Mr. Lovell?" inquired Sir Charles Wyndham, who had been restless and fidgetty, till he could catch at something in our conversation, which would enable him to join in it.
"A fool, Sir Charles," answered Henry, with an expression of countenance, which certainly did not bear in it any consciousness of his own folly.
"The ladies make fools of us all," said Sir Charles, with a bow to me.
"Unless they find us ready made," I heard Henry mutter, while I was obliged to turn round and listen to a string of compliments, and a flow of small talk from my right hand neighbour, which it seemed as if nothing would stop but some lucky accident, some sudden overthrow of the regular course of things, so steady and even was the tenor of its gentle prolixity. He had an eye, the mildness of which was appalling, and a smile of despairing sweetness. As I looked at him, I wished (which had never happened to me to wish before in looking at anybody's face) that he had been very ugly; no ugly face could have been so hopelessly tiresome. If but for a moment he could have looked cross or ill-natured, it would have been the making of him, or rather of me, for then I should have had courage to cut his discourse short, and turn away; but as it was, dinner was nearly over before I had another opportunity of speaking to Henry, who at last brought about the event I had pined for, by overturning a pyramid of red and white cherries, which went rolling all over the table in different directions, and for a moment engrossed Sir Charles's benevolent exertions. Henry immediately seized on the favourable moment, and resumed our conversation, though in an altered tone.
"The fact is, dear Ellen, that, on my arrival in London, I found my solicitor out of town, and my father gone on a visit to some friends of his in Hertfordshire. I have a general invitation to this place; and it struck me (I was wrong perhaps) that it might be, as well as a gratification to myself, a comfort to you, among a set of strangers, to find a friend; and I suppose I may call myself one."
He said all this in such a gentle, earnest manner, and in fact the thought had been such a kind one, that I felt quite ashamed of myself; and in the reaction of the moment, I turned to him with some emotion and said,
"You are very kind to me, Henry, and it grieves me to think that I must have appeared to you ungracious—ungrateful even."
"Only a little capricious," he answered; "and should I prize as much that bright smile of yours, Ellen, if the transient cloud had not made its brightness still dearer?"
At this moment Mrs. Brandon gave the signal for withdrawal. Henry whispered to me, as I was looking for my gloves under the table,
"Now that I have explained my being here, at the expense of a fearful havoc among Mr. Brandon's cherries, I shall be at leisure, when we come to the drawing-room, to give you my opinion of the society here; pray do not make up your mind about anybody till I come."
I left the dining-room in better humour than when I went in, and sat down with the two Miss Farnleys, at a round table covered with annuals and albums. We entered into conversation, and got on (as the phrase is) very well. They were both nice-looking girls; the eldest was handsome. It was not difficult to comply with Henry's request, that I should not make up my mind about any one till he had given me his opinion; for a whole quarter of an hour had not elapsed before he made his appearance in the drawing-room, and instantly came and sat down on the couch by me. Lady Wyndham at that moment begged the eldest Miss Farnley to come and give her advice about some pattern or stitch that she was employed upon, and the youngest went to the open window to speak to Mrs. Brandon and to Mrs. Ernsley, who were walking up and down the gravel walk near the house.
"How do you like your aunt, Ellen?"
"Don't call her my aunt; that is a name sacred to me. I cannot call any one but your sister, my aunt."
"Well, Mrs. Brandon, then; how do you like her?"
"I thought I was not to make up my mind about any one without your assistance?"
"True, but I did not include her; she is an old friend of mine, and I might be partial."
"There would be no harm in biassing me in her favour. I ought to like her, and I'm afraid I don't."
"Don't you?" said Henry, in a tone of so much annoyance and mortification, that I looked at him with surprise. "You will like her," he added, "when you know her."
"But when did you see so much of her? And if she is such a friend of yours, why did you never talk to me of her?"
He did not answer immediately, and I went on.
"But you are very mysterious about all your acquaintances; for instance, you know how delighted I was with Alice Tracy."
I was obliged to summon up all my courage to pronounce her name; how often does one feel that there are subjects which become forbidden ones between people with whom in general there exists no reserve, and which, by some strange instinct, one cannot touch upon without emotion, though nothing reasonable can be alleged to account for it. He started, and his countenance instantaneously clouded over; but I went on with a kind of cowardly courage.
"And yet, I dare say, you have seen her, or heard something about her since our visit to Bridman Manor, and have never told me."
"I have not seen her."
"Where is she now?" I persisted, feeling that if I let the subject drop, it would require afresh effort to resume it again.
"I don't know."
"Is she likely to be staying at Salisbury?"
"Yes, there are some people of that name living there. I called at the house early this morning, and asked for Alice. She was out, but if I knew that she was staying on there, nothing would be easier than to go and pay her a visit one morning from hence, and I should like it of all things."
"Ellen," said Henry, "you cannot go on seeing Alice, or have anything to do with any of that family. You are quite a child, and childishly headstrong I well know, but I really must insist upon this."
"I do not exactly see the right that you have to insist upon my doing or my not doing anything; but, at least, give me some good reason for this dictation."
"They are people with whom you cannot with propriety associate; at your age you can be no judge of such things."
"It was my aunt who sent me to them, in the first instance; consequently, she can know nothing against Mrs. Tracy; and, as to Alice, you cannot mean that she—unless—"
I stopped short; my heart was beating violently. I felt that modesty, propriety, dignity, forbade my hinting at my suspicions; but they were rushing again on my mind with fresh force; and as I looked at Henry, I felt that my cheeks were burning, and my eyes flashing.
"No," he said, as if he had not remarked my agitation, or else that it had calmed his. "No; Alice's character is perfectly good; but, in visiting her, you would be liable to fall in with persons whom it would be in every way unpleasant to be thrown amongst."
I remembered the two men at Salisbury, and felt this might be true; there was something so plain, and indifferent, too, in his manner of doing justice to Alice, that it removed my suspicions; and when he said—
"Well, now, for Heaven's sake, let us leave off talking on a subject on which it seems we are always destined to quarrel."
I smiled, and made no effort to pursue it farther, but listened to his account of the society at Brandon.
"Lady Wyndham (he said) is as you can see in looks, the very reverse of her husband—quite guiltless of his insipid comeliness. I have never found out anything beyond that; for she is as stern and as silent as he is communicative, perhaps on the system of compensation, and from a strict sense of justice to society."
"And the Miss Farnleys (I said), we have just made acquaintance; but I am quite disposed to like or dislike them, according to the report you make of them."
"The Miss Farnleys (he replied) have been brought almost entirely abroad, and are, perhaps, not spoilt, but certainly fashioned by this circumstance. The oldest is not the least affected in manner, nor indeed in conversation, except that one is willing to attribute to affectation the very silly things which an otherwise intelligent person is in the habit of saying."
"What kind of things?"
"Why, for instance, she will tell you that she cannot exist without flowers, and therefore keeps loads of them in her room at night, though they give her a raging headache. But don't think her silly (though it is difficult to help it, I own), for this very girl, when she broke her arm last year, submitted to the most painful operation without a groan, in order that her father, who was ill at the time, should not be agitated or alarmed, though, when he left the room, she fainted from the intensity of agony. Do not think her wicked, if she tells you that she pines to be overturned in a carriage, or to be wrecked at sea; if she boasts that she throws out of window the medicines that are prescribed for her, or that she swallows poison, to try how she feels after it; for she risked her life a few months ago to save a drowning child; and when the village near their country place was on fire, she went about among the distracted people like an angel of mercy. Do not, therefore, think her silly, wicked, or mad, whatever she may say to you, but only wonder where she learnt that to seem so was a charm."
"And her sister, that girl with a Grecian profile and straight eyebrows?"
"That girl, who sometimes is hardly pretty, and at other times perfectly beautiful, is very clever, though she too says silly things now and then, but quite in a different line. She is original and agreeable, though she lisps and drawls, till the spirit within her is roused. She is very provoking if you dislike her; still more so, perhaps, if you like her. In short, I hardly know which to recommend you to do; only, I am sure if you do like her, you will like her very much, and will better spare a better woman—Lady Wyndham, for instance."
"And that little Miss Moore, who is sitting over her book with a look of such intense enjoyment in her large eyes, what account do you give of her?"
"Oh, everybody doats upon the little Irish girl; nobody can tell exactly why. It is, I suppose, because her eyes speak to you whether her tongue does or not. It is because she unites the most contrary extremes, and leaves you to puzzle over them; because she sails into the room, with her little stately manner, and salutes you with a formal curtsey; and then, under all this air of dignity, you discover the very merriest-hearted little romp that ever existed. You must be fond of her. As refined in mind and in manner as the most fastidious could require, she has, at the same time, the humour, the native fun of her country—it sparkles in her eyes—it bubbles in her laugh. She is a little patriot, too: when Ireland is mentioned, you will see her cheek flush, and her spirit rise. It is the only strong feeling she seems to have; for, otherwise, like the jolly miller of Dee, she cares for nobody, and if others care for her, she does not appear to thank them for it. I have often heard men say, how in love they would be with Rosa Moore, if it were not for this thankless, hopeless, remorseless indifference. Now, I think this is a mistake; for I believe her great charm really lies in that very recklessness of what others think of her, or feel for her, in the eager, child-like impetuosity with which she seeks amusement, and in the perfect self-possession with which she treats everything and everybody."
"And Mrs. Ernsley, Henry; what do you say of her?"
"Mrs. Ernsley? It is much more difficult to say what she is, than what she is not; so allow me to describe her in negatives. She is not handsome, for her features are bad, and her complexion is sallow. She is not plain, for she has pretty eyes, pretty hair, a pretty smile, and a pretty figure. She is not natural, for her part in society is pre-arranged and continually studied. She is not affected, for nobody talks to you with more earnestness, or more of natural impulse and spontaneousness; but still, she is always listening to herself. She is the person who is attracting, who is charming you, natural to a fault, unguarded to excess (she says to herself). Then, she is not a bad sort of woman; she has a great regard for her husband, and takes great pains with her little girls; but she is always playing with edged tools; she is always lingering on the line of demarcation. She is eternally discussing who are in love with her—though she is such a very good sort of a woman—and who would be in love with her if she was not? Above all, she is by no means partial to other women, whether they have stepped over the line, or kept within it. She will hate you, Ellen, depend upon it, with an innocent kind of hatred: she will do you no harm, for she is kind-hearted in reality; only it will be nuts to her if anybody says that Miss Middleton is not near so pretty as they had expected; and she will try to put you down whenever you open your mouth; but don't be put down, and then you will remain mistress of the field, for she will grow so fidgetty, (not cross, for she is, in fact, good-tempered,) that she will lose her self-possession, and then all will be over with her."
"I have not the slightest wish to enter the lists with her. But now, tell me something of the men who are here."
"That will be quickly done;—Sir Charles is a fool; Mr. Ernsley is a prig; and Mr. Farnley has a broad kind of humour, and a talent for mimicry, but he is coarse and unrefined, which, by the way, is, perhaps, the reason that his daughter thinks it necessary to be so painfully the reverse. Mr. Brandon, your aunt's brother-in-law, is an agreeable man. Mr. Manby is a lout."
"And Sir Edmund Ardern?" I inquired.
"Oh, as to Sir Edmund Ardern, I entreat you, on the same principle on which pastry-cooks cram their apprentices during the first few days, to talk to him incessantly. Let him sit by you to-morrow at breakfast, at luncheon, at dinner, walk with him, and ride with him; I shall not come near you, in order that he may have full scope for his fascinating powers; you shall be fascinated till you cry for mercy."
I laughed, but secretly thought that something of the severity of his satire proceeded from the fact, that Sir Edmund was the only handsome and pleasing person in the house, and I did not feel inclined to take entirely for granted, that Henry's judgment of him was correct.
Our tete-a-tete was soon interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Ernsley, and the arrival of tea. Mrs. Ernsley threw herself into a large arm-chair, flung her bonnet and shawl on the opposite couch, and then began arranging her hair.
"You look tired, Mrs. Ernsley," said Henry.
"To death," she answered. "Dear Mrs. Brandon has been wondering whether the stars are inhabited or not. It is not fair to make one stretch out one's mind so far."
"What did Sir Edmund pronounce on the subject?" inquired Henry.
"That there was much to be said on both sides of the question. I left them at that point."
"Do you like Sir Edmund?"
"I wish you would not ask me."
"Because he hates me, and I won't own to a passion malheureuse. He nearly overturned poor Mr. Farnley to-day at dinner, in trying to avoid the chair next me."
"Oh, no; it was in trying to get the one next Miss Middleton," observed Rosa Moore, with an Innocent expression of countenance.
Mrs. Ernsley continued without noticing the interruption, otherwise than by a downward movement of the corners of her mouth—"I had a thousand times rather be hated by him, than be liked in the way in which he seems to like any one, qui lui tombe sous la main."
"No doubt," said Henry; "next to being loved there is nothing like being hated."
"You think so too, then?" said Mrs. Ernsley.
"Certainly," he replied. "It gratifies one of the strongest tastes, or rather passions, of one's nature; that of feeling emotion one's self, and exciting it in others. If I could not see the woman I loved agitated by her love for me, I had rather see her tremble, shudder eyen at my presence, than look as if Mr. Manby had come into the room."
"What a detestable lover you would make!" exclaimed Mrs. Ernsley. "Always, by your own admission, on the verge of hatred."
He laughed, and said, "It is an old saying, that love and hatred are closely allied."
"Not more so than hatred and contempt," I said; "and in incurring the one, one might, perhaps, gain the other."
Both my companions looked at me with surprise, for I had not joined before in their conversation, and a secret feeling (I was aware of it) had given a shade of bitterness to my manner of saying it.
Mrs. Ernsley seemed to take the remark as personal to herself; but said good-humouredly, though somewhat sneeringly, "Since Miss Middleton has pronounced so decided an opinion, we had better drop the subject. What is become of Edward Middleton, Mr. Lovell?"
"He has been abroad for some months," replied Henry; and Sir Edmund Ardern, who at that moment joined us, said, "The last time I saw him was at Naples last February; we had just made an excursion into the mountains of Calabria together."
"A very unromantic one, no doubt," said Mrs. Ernsley, "as everything is in our unromantic days. Not a trace of a brigand or of an adventure I suppose?"
"None that we were concerned in. But we saw an ex-brigand, and he told us his adventures."
"Did he really?" exclaimed Miss Farnley; "and was he not adorable?"
"Not exactly," said Sir Edmund with a smile; "but some of his accounts were interesting."
"Was he fierce?"
"No, not the least. I fancy he had followed that line in his younger days, more because his father and his brother were brigands, than from any inclination of his own. One of the stories he told us struck Middleton and myself in a very different manner."
"What was it?" I asked, unable to restrain my anxious curiosity.
"I am afraid you may think it long," said. Sir Edmund; "but if you are to decide the point in question you must have patience to hear the story:—
"Lorenzo, that was our friend's name, had been engaged in several skirmishes with the gendarmerie, that had been sent into the mountains to arrest the gang to which he belonged; he was known by sight, and had once or twice narrowly escaped being seized. He had a personal enemy among the gendarmes—a man called Giacomo, whose jealousy he had excited some years previously at a country fair. They had quarrelled about a girl whom both were making love to. Lorenzo had struck him, and Giacomo had not returned the blow before they were separated, and his rival safe in the mountains beyond the reach of his vengeance. He brooded over this recollection for several years; and when he found himself, at last, officially in pursuit of his enemy, he followed him as a hungry beast tracks his prey. One evening, with two or three of his men, he had dodged him for several hours. Lorenzo had made with incredible speed for a spot where, between the fissures of the rock, he knew of a secret passage by which he could elude the pursuit, and place himself in safety. He strained every nerve to turn the corner before his pursuers could be upon him, and mark the place where he disappeared. Between him and that comer, there was now nothing left but a slight wooden bridge thrown over a precipice. As he was rushing across it, Giacomo, with the instinctive feeling that his enemy was escaping him, by one tremendous leap from the top of the rock which overhung the bridge, reached it at the same moment. The shock broke to pieces the frail support; the hand-rail alone did not give way, and to this, by their hands alone, the two men clung. They were close to each other—they looked into each other's faces—neither could move. Lorenzo's eyes were glazed with terror; Giacomo's glared with fury; he was nearest the edge, his men were in sight, and he called to them hoarsely. Lorenzo gave himself up for lost. At that moment, above their heads, on the edge of the rock, something moved—both looked up. A blow, a tremendous blow, fell on Giacomo's head; his features grew distorted, they quivered in agony—a yell of torture escaped him: another blow, and his brains flew upon the face and hands of his foe. A mist seemed to cover Lorenzo's eyes; but he felt something stretched out to him—he clung to it instinctively, he scrambled, he darted into the cavern, he fainted, but he was safe."