"You have told me more," said Walter joyfully, "than we have heard since his disappearance, and I shall turn my horses' heads northward to-morrow, by break of day. But you say, 'if he ever reached Yorkshire,'—What should prevent him?"
"His health!" said the non-hypochondriac, "I should not be greatly surprised if—if—In short you had better look at the grave-stones by the way, for the name of Clarke."
"Perhaps you can give me the dates, Sir," said Walter, somewhat cast down from his elation.
"Ay! I'll see, I'll see, after dinner; the commonness of the name has its disadvantages now. Poor Geoffrey!—I dare say there are fifty tombs, to the memory of fifty Clarkes, between this and York. But come, Sir, there's the dinner-bell."
Whatever might have been the maladies entailed upon the portly frame of Mr. Courtland by the vegetable life of the departed trees, a want of appetite was not among the number. Whenever a man is not abstinent from rule, or from early habit, as in the case of Aram, Solitude makes its votaries particularly fond of their dinner. They have no other event wherewith to mark their day—they think over it, they anticipate it, they nourish its soft idea with their imagination; if they do look forward to any thing else more than dinner, it is—supper!
Mr. Courtland deliberately pinned the napkin to his waistcoat, ordered all the windows to be thrown open, and set to work like the good Canon in Gil Blas. He still retained enough of his former self, to preserve an excellent cook; so far at least as the excellence of a she-artist goes; and though most of his viands were of the plainest, who does not know what skill it requires to produce an unexceptionable roast, or a blameless boil? Talk of good professed cooks, indeed! they are plentiful as blackberries: it is the good, plain cook, who is the rarity!
Half a tureen of strong soup; three pounds, at least, of stewed carp; all the under part of a sirloin of beef; three quarters of a tongue; the moiety of a chicken; six pancakes and a tartlet, having severally disappeared down the jaws of the invalid,
"Et cuncta terrarum subacta Praeter atrocem animum Catonis,"
[And everything of earth subdued, except the resolute mind of Cato.]
he still called for two deviled biscuits and an anchovy!
When these were gone, he had the wine set on a little table by the window, and declared that the air seemed closer than ever. Walter was no longer surprised at the singular nature of the nonhypochondriac's complaint.
Walter declined the bed that Mr. Courtland offered him—though his host kindly assured him that it had no curtains, and that there was not a shutter to the house—upon the plea of starting the next morning at daybreak, and his consequent unwillingness to disturb the regular establishment of the invalid: and Courtland, who was still an excellent, hospitable, friendly man, suffered his friend's nephew to depart with regret. He supplied him, however, by a reference to an old note-book, with the date of the year, and even month, in which he had been favoured by a visit from Mr. Clarke, who, it seemed, had also changed his Christian name from Geoffrey, to one beginning with D—; but whether it was David or Daniel the host remembered not. In parting with Walter, Courtland shook his head, and observed:—"Entre nous, Sir, I fear this may be a wildgoose chase. Your father was too facetious to confine himself to fact—excuse me, Sir—and perhaps the Colonel and the legacy were merely inventions—pour passer le temps—there was only one reason indeed, that made me fully believe the story."
"What was that, Sir?" asked Walter, blushing deeply, at the universality of that estimation his father had obtained.
"Excuse me, my young friend."
"Nay, Sir, let me press you."
"Why, then, Mr. Geoffrey Lester did not ask me to lend him any money."
The next morning, instead of repairing to the gaieties of the metropolis, Walter had, upon this slight and dubious clue, altered his journey northward, and with an unquiet yet sanguine spirit, the adventurous son commenced his search after the fate of a father evidently so unworthy of the anxiety he had excited.
WALTER'S MEDITATIONS.—THE CORPORAL'S GRIEF AND ANGER.—THE CORPORAL PERSONALLY DESCRIBED.—AN EXPLANATION WITH HIS MASTER.—THE CORPORAL OPENS HIMSELF TO THE YOUNG TRAVELLER.— HIS OPINIONS ON LOVE;—ON THE WORLD;—ON THE PLEASURE AND RESPECTABILITY OF CHEATING;—ON LADIES—AND A PARTICULAR CLASS OF LADIES;—ON AUTHORS;—ON THE VALUE OF WORDS;—ON FIGHTING; —WITH SUNDRY OTHER MATTERS OF EQUAL DELECTATION AND IMPROVEMENT.—AN UNEXPECTED EVENT.
Quale per incertam Lunam sub luce maligna Est iter. —Virgil.
[Even as a journey by the upropitious light of the uncertain moon.]
The road prescribed to our travellers by the change in their destination led them back over a considerable portion of the ground they had already traversed, and since the Corporal took care that they should remain some hours in the place where they dined, night fell upon them as they found themselves in the midst of the same long and dreary stage in which they had encountered Sir Peter Hales and the two suspected highwaymen.
Walter's mind was full of the project on which he was bent. The reader can fully comprehend how vivid must have been his emotions at thus chancing on what might prove a clue to the mystery that hung over his father's fate; and sanguinely did he now indulge those intense meditations with which the imaginative minds of the young always brood over every more favourite idea, until they exalt the hope into a passion. Every thing connected with this strange and roving parent, had possessed for the breast of his son, not only an anxious, but so to speak, indulgent interest. The judgment of a young man is always inclined to sympathize with the wilder and more enterprising order of spirits; and Walter had been at no loss for secret excuses wherewith to defend the irregular life and reckless habits of his parent. Amidst all his father's evident and utter want of principle, Walter clung with a natural and self-deceptive partiality to the few traits of courage or generosity which relieved, if they did not redeem, his character; traits which, with a character of that stamp, are so often, though always so unprofitably blended, and which generally cease with the commencement of age. He now felt elated by the conviction, as he had always been inspired by the hope, that it was to be his lot to discover one whom he still believed living, and whom he trusted to find amended. The same intimate persuasion of the "good luck" of Geoffrey Lester, which all who had known him appeared to entertain, was felt even in a more credulous and earnest degree by his son. Walter gave way now, indeed, to a variety of conjectures as to the motives which could have induced his father to persist in the concealment of his fate after his return to England; but such of those conjectures as, if the more rational, were also the more despondent, he speedily and resolutely dismissed. Sometimes he thought that his father, on learning the death of the wife he had abandoned, might have been possessed with a remorse which rendered him unwilling to disclose himself to the rest of his family, and a feeling that the main tie of home was broken; sometimes he thought that the wanderer had been disappointed in his expected legacy, and dreading the attacks of his creditors, or unwilling to throw himself once more on the generosity of his brother, had again suddenly quitted England and entered on some enterprise or occupation abroad. It was also possible, to one so reckless and changeful, that even, after receiving the legacy, a proposition from some wild comrade might have hurried him away on any continental project on the mere impulse of the moment, for the impulse of the moment had always been the guide of his life; and once abroad he might have returned to India, and in new connections forgotten the old ties at home. Letters from abroad too, miscarry; and it was not improbable that the wanderer might have written repeatedly, and receiving no answer to his communications, imagined that the dissoluteness of his life had deprived him of the affections of his family, and, deserving so well to have the proffer of renewed intercourse rejected, believed that it actually was so. These, and a hundred similar conjectures, found favour in the eyes of the young traveller; but the chances of a fatal accident, or sudden death, he pertinaciously refused at present to include in the number of probabilities. Had his father been seized with a mortal illness on the road, was it not likely that he would, in the remorse occasioned in the hardiest by approaching death, have written to his brother, and recommending his child to his care, have apprised him of the addition to his fortune? Walter then did not meditate embarrassing his present journey by those researches among the dead, which the worthy Courtland had so considerately recommended to his prudence: should his expedition, contrary to his hopes, prove wholly unsuccessful, it might then be well to retrace his steps and adopt the suggestion. But what man, at the age of twenty-one, ever took much precaution on the darker side of a question on which his heart was interested?
With what pleasure, escaping from conjecture to a more ultimate conclusion—did he, in recalling those words, in which his father had more than hinted to Courtland of his future amendment, contemplate recovering a parent made wise by years and sober by misfortunes, and restoring him to a hearth of tranquil virtues and peaceful enjoyments! He imaged to himself a scene of that domestic happiness, which is so perfect in our dreams, because in our dreams monotony is always excluded from the picture. And, in this creation of Fancy, the form of Ellinor—his bright-eyed and gentle cousin, was not the least conspicuous. Since his altercation with Madeline, the love he had once thought so ineffaceable, had faded into a dim and sullen hue; and, in proportion as the image of Madeline grew indistinct, that of her sister became more brilliant. Often, now, as he rode slowly onward, in the quiet of the deepening night, and the mellow stars softening all on which they shone, he pressed the little token of Ellinor's affection to his heart, and wondered that it was only within the last few days he had discovered that her eyes were more beautiful than Madeline's, and her smile more touching. Meanwhile the redoubted Corporal, who was by no means pleased with the change in his master's plans, lingered behind, whistling the most melancholy tune in his collection. No young lady, anticipative of balls or coronets, had ever felt more complacent satisfaction in a journey to London than that which had cheered the athletic breast of the veteran on finding himself, at last, within one day's gentle march of the metropolis. And no young lady, suddenly summoned back in the first flush of her debut, by an unseasonable fit of gout or economy in papa, ever felt more irreparably aggrieved than now did the dejected Corporal. His master had not yet even acquainted him with the cause of the countermarch; and, in his own heart, he believed it nothing but the wanton levity and unpardonable fickleness "common to all them ere boys afore they have seen the world." He certainly considered himself a singularly ill-used and injured man, and drawing himself up to his full height, as if it were a matter with which Heaven should be acquainted at the earliest possible opportunity, he indulged, as we before said, in the melancholy consolation of a whistled death-dirge, occasionally interrupted by a long-drawn interlude half sigh, half snuffle of his favourite augh—baugh.
And here, we remember, that we have not as yet given to our reader a fitting portrait of the Corporal on horseback. Perhaps no better opportunity than the present may occur; and perhaps, also, Corporal Bunting, as well as Melrose Abbey, may seem a yet more interesting picture when viewed by the pale moonlight.
The Corporal then wore on his head a small cocked hat, which had formerly belonged to the Colonel of the Forty-second—the prints of my uncle Toby may serve to suggest its shape;—it had once boasted a feather—that was gone; but the gold lace, though tarnished, and the cockade, though battered, still remained. From under this shade the profile of the Corporal assumed a particular aspect of heroism: though a good-looking man on the main, it was his air, height, and complexion, which made him so; and a side view, unlike Lucian's one-eyed prince, was not the most favourable point in which his features could be regarded. His eyes, which were small and shrewd, were half hid by a pair of thick shaggy brows, which, while he whistled, he moved to and fro, as a horse moves his ears when he gives warning that he intends to shy; his nose was straight—so far so good—but then it did not go far enough; for though it seemed no despicable proboscis in front, somehow or another it appeared exceedingly short in profile; to make up for this, the upper lip was of a length the more striking from being exceedingly straight;—it had learned to hold itself upright, and make the most of its length as well as its master! his under lip, alone protruded in the act of whistling, served yet more markedly to throw the nose into the background; and, as for the chin—talk of the upper lip being long indeed!—the chin would have made two of it; such a chin! so long, so broad, so massive, had it been put on a dish might have passed, without discredit, for a round of beef! it looked yet larger than it was from the exceeding tightness of the stiff black-leather stock below, which forced forth all the flesh it encountered into another chin,—a remove to the round. The hat, being somewhat too small for the Corporal, and being cocked knowingly in front, left the hinder half of the head exposed. And the hair, carried into a club according to the fashion, lay thick, and of a grizzled black, on the brawny shoulders below. The veteran was dressed in a blue coat, originally a frock; but the skirts, having once, to the imminent peril of the place they guarded, caught fire, as the Corporal stood basking himself at Peter Dealtry's, had been so far amputated, as to leave only the stump of a tail, which just covered, and no more, that part which neither Art in bipeds nor Nature in quadrupeds loves to leave wholly exposed. And that part, ah, how ample! had Liston seen it, he would have hid for ever his diminished—opposite to head!—No wonder the Corporal had been so annoyed by the parcel of the previous day, a coat so short, and a—; but no matter, pass we to the rest! It was not only in its skirts that this wicked coat was deficient; the Corporal, who had within the last few years thriven lustily in the inactive serenity of Grassdale, had outgrown it prodigiously across the chest and girth; nevertheless he managed to button it up. And thus the muscular proportions of the wearer bursting forth in all quarters, gave him the ludicrous appearance of a gigantic schoolboy. His wrists, and large sinewy hands, both employed at the bridle of his hard-mouthed charger, were markedly visible; for it was the Corporal's custom whenever he came into an obscure part of the road, carefully to take off, and prudently to pocket, a pair of scrupulously clean white leather gloves which smartened up his appearance prodigiously in passing through the towns in their route. His breeches were of yellow buckskin, and ineffably tight; his stockings were of grey worsted, and a pair of laced boots, that reached the ascent of a very mountainous calf, but declined any farther progress, completed his attire.
Fancy then this figure, seated with laborious and unswerving perpendicularity on a demi-pique saddle, ornamented with a huge pair of well-stuffed saddle-bags, and holsters revealing the stocks of a brace of immense pistols, the horse with its obstinate mouth thrust out, and the bridle drawn as tight as a bowstring! its ears laid sullenly down, as if, like the Corporal, it complained of going to Yorkshire, and its long thick tail, not set up in a comely and well-educated arch, but hanging sheepishly down, as if resolved that its buttocks should at least be better covered than its master's!
And now, reader, it is not our fault if you cannot form some conception of the physical perfections of the Corporal and his steed.
The reverie of the contemplative Bunting was interrupted by the voice of his master calling upon him to approach.
"Well, well!" muttered he, "the younker can't expect one as close at his heels as if we were trotting into Lunnon, which we might be at this time, sure enough, if he had not been so damned flighty,—augh!"
"Bunting, I say, do you hear?"
"Yes, your honour, yes; this ere horse is so 'nation sluggish."
"Sluggish! why I thought he was too much the reverse, Bunting? I thought he was one rather requiring the bridle than the spur."
"Augh! your honour, he's slow when he should not, and fast when he should not; changes his mind from pure whim, or pure spite; new to the world, your honour, that's all; a different thing if properly broke. There be a many like him!"
"You mean to be personal, Mr. Bunting," said Walter, laughing at the evident ill-humour of his attendant.
"Augh! indeed and no!—I daren't—a poor man like me—go for to presume to be parsonal,—unless I get hold of a poorer!"
"Why, Bunting, you do not mean to say that you would be so ungenerous as to affront a man because he was poorer than you?—fie!"
"Whaugh, your honour! and is not that the very reason why I'd affront him? surely it is not my betters I should affront; that would be ill bred, your honour,—quite want of discipline."
"But we owe it to our great Commander," said Walter, "to love all men."
"Augh! Sir, that's very good maxim,—none better—but shows ignorance of the world, Sir—great!"
"Bunting, your way of thinking is quite disgraceful. Do you know, Sir, that it is the Bible you were speaking of?"
"Augh, Sir! but the Bible was addressed to them Jew creturs! How somever, it's an excellent book for the poor; keeps 'em in order, favours discipline,—none more so." "Hold your tongue. I called you, Bunting, because I think I heard you say you had once been at York. Do you know what towns we shall pass on our road thither?"
"Not I, your honour; it's a mighty long way.—What would the Squire think?—just at Lunnon, too. Could have learnt the whole road, Sir, inns all, if you had but gone on to Lunnon first. Howsomever, young gentlemen will be hasty,—no confidence in those older, and who are experienced in the world. I knows what I knows," and the Corporal recommenced his whistle.
"Why, Bunting, you seem quite discontented at my change of journey. Are you tired of riding, or were you very eager to get to town?"
"Augh! Sir; I was only thinking of what best for your honour,—I!—'tis not for me to like or dislike. Howsomever, the horses, poor creturs, must want rest for some days. Them dumb animals can't go on for ever, bumpety, bumpety, as your honour and I do.—Whaugh!" "It is very true, Bunting, and I have had some thoughts of sending you home again with the horses, and travelling post."
"Eh!" grunted the Corporal, opening his eyes; "hopes your honour ben't serious."
"Why if you continue to look so serious, I must be serious too; you understand, Bunting?"
"Augh—and that's all, your honour," cried the Corporal, brightening up, "shall look merry enough to-morrow, when one's in, as it were, like, to the change of road. But you see, Sir, it took me by surprise. Said I to myself, says I, it is an odd thing for you, Jacob Bunting, on the faith of a man, it is! to go tramp here, tramp there, without knowing why or wherefore, as if you was still a private in the Forty-second, 'stead of a retired Corporal. You see, your honour, my pride was a hurt; but it's all over now;—only spites those beneath me,—I knows the world at my time o' life."
"Well, Bunting, when you learn the reason of my change of plan, you'll be perfectly satisfied that I do quite right. In a word, you know that my father has been long missing; I have found a clue by which I yet hope to trace him. This is the reason of my journey to Yorkshire."
"Augh!" said the Corporal, "and a very good reason: you're a most excellent son, Sir;—and Lunnon so nigh!"
"The thought of London seems to have bewitched you; did you expect to find the streets of gold since you were there last?"
"A—well Sir; I hears they be greatly improved."
"Pshaw! you talk of knowing the world, Bunting, and yet you pant to enter it with all the inexperience of a boy. Why even I could set you an example."
"'Tis 'cause I knows the world," said the Corporal, exceedingly nettled, "that I wants to get back to it. I have heard of some spoonies as never kist a girl, but never heard of any one who had kist a girl once, that did not long to be at it again."
"And I suppose, Mr. Profligate, it is that longing which makes you so hot for London?"
"There have been worse longings nor that," quoth the Corporal gravely.
"Perhaps you meditate marrying one of the London belles; an heiress—eh?"
"Can't but say," said the Corporal very solemnly, "but that might be 'ticed to marry a fortin, if so be she was young, pretty, good-tempered, and fell desperately in love with me,—best quality of all."
"You're a modest fellow."
"Why, the longer a man lives, the more knows his value; would not sell myself a bargain now, whatever might at twenty-one!"
"At that rate you would be beyond all price at seventy," said Walter: "but now tell me, Bunting, were you ever in love,—really and honestly in love?"
"Indeed, your honour," said the Corporal, "I have been over head and ears; but that was afore I learnt to swim. Love's very like bathing. At first we go souse to the bottom, but if we're not drowned, then we gather pluck, grow calm, strike out gently, and make a deal pleasanter thing of it afore we've done. I'll tell you, Sir, what I thinks of love: 'twixt you and me, Sir, 'tis not that great thing in life, boys and girls want to make it out to be; if 'twere one's dinner, that would be summut, for one can't do without that; but lauk, Sir, Love's all in the fancy. One does not eat it, nor drink it; and as for the rest,—why it's bother!"
"Bunting, you're a beast," said Walter in a rage, for though the Corporal had come off with a slight rebuke for his sneer at religion, we grieve to say that an attack on the sacredness of love seemed a crime beyond all toleration to the theologian of twenty-one.
The Corporal bowed, and thrust his tongue in his cheek.
There was a pause of some moments.
"And what," said Walter, for his spirits were raised, and he liked recurring to the quaint shrewdness of the Corporal, "and what, after all, is the great charm of the world, that you so much wish to return to it?"
"Augh!" replied the Corporal, "'tis a pleasant thing to look about un with all one's eyes open; rogue here, rogue there—keeps one alive;—life in Lunnon, life in a village—all the difference 'twixt healthy walk, and a doze in arm-chair; by the faith of a man, 'tis!"
"What! it is pleasant to have rascals about one?"
"Surely yes," returned the Corporal drily; "what so delightful like as to feel one's cliverness and 'bility all set an end—bristling up like a porkypine; nothing makes a man tread so light, feel so proud, breathe so briskly, as the knowledge that he's all his wits about him, that he's a match for any one, that the Divil himself could not take him in. Augh! that's what I calls the use of an immortal soul—bother!"
"And to feel one is likely to be cheated is the pleasantest way of passing one's time in town, Bunting, eh?"
"Augh! and in cheating too!" answered the Corporal; "'cause you sees, Sir, there be two ways o' living; one to cheat,—one to be cheated. 'Tis pleasant enough to be cheated for a little while, as the younkers are, and as you'll be, your honour; but that's a pleasure don't last long—t'other lasts all your life; dare say your honour's often heard rich gentlemen say to their sons, 'you ought, for your own happiness' sake, like, my lad, to have summut to do—ought to have some profession, be you niver so rich,'—very true, your honour, and what does that mean? why it means that 'stead of being idle and cheated, the boy ought to be busy and cheat—augh!"
"Must a man who follows a profession, necessarily cheat, then?"
"Baugh! can your honour ask that? Does not the Lawyer cheat? and the Doctor cheat? and the Parson cheat, more than any? and that's the reason they all takes so much int'rest in their profession—bother!"
"But the soldier? you say nothing of him."
"Why, the soldier," said the Corporal, with dignity, "the private soldier, poor fellow, is only cheated; but when he comes for to get for to be as high as a corp'ral, or a sargent, he comes for to get to bully others, and to cheat. Augh! then 'tis not for the privates to cheat,—that would be 'sumpton indeed, save us!"
"The General, then, cheats more than any, I suppose?"
"'Course, your honour; he talks to the world 'bout honour an' glory, and love of his Country, and sich like—augh! that's proper cheating!"
"You're a bitter fellow, Mr. Bunting: and pray, what do you think of the Ladies—'are they as bad as the men?'"
"Ladies—augh! when they're married—yes! but of all them ere creturs, I respects the kept Ladies, the most—on the faith of a man, I do! Gad! how well they knows the world—one quite invies the she rogues; they beats the wives hollow! Augh! and your honour should see how they fawns and flatters, and butters up a man, and makes him think they loves him like winkey, all the time they ruins him. They kisses money out of the miser, and sits in their satins, while the wife, 'drot her, sulks in a gingham. Oh, they be cliver creturs, and they'll do what they likes with old Nick, when they gets there, for 'tis the old gentlemen they cozens the best; and then," continued the Corporal, waxing more and more loquacious, for his appetite in talking grew with that it fed on,—"then there be another set o' queer folks you'll see in Lunnon, Sir, that is, if you falls in with 'em,—hang all together, quite in a clink. I seed lots on 'em when lived with the Colonel—Colonel Dysart, you knows—augh?"
"And what are they?"
"Rum ones, your honour; what they calls Authors."
"Authors! what the deuce had you or the Colonel to do with Authors?"
"Augh! then, the Colonel was a very fine gentleman, what the larned calls a my-seen-ass, wrote little songs himself, 'crossticks, you knows, your honour: once he made a play—'cause why, he lived with an actress!"
"A very good reason, indeed, for emulating Shakespear; and did the play succeed?"
"Fancy it did, your honour; for the Colonel was a dab with the scissors."
"Scissors! the pen, you mean?"
"No! that's what the dirty Authors make plays with; a Lord and a Colonel, my-seen-asses, always takes the scissors."
"Why the Colonel's Lady—had lots of plays—and she marked a scene here—a jest there—a line in one place—a sentiment in t' other—and the Colonel sate by with a great paper book—cut 'em out, pasted them in book. Augh! but the Colonel pleased the town mightily."
"Well, so he saw a great many authors; and did not they please you?"
"Why they be so damned quarrelsome," said the Corporal, "wringle, wrangle, wrongle, snap, growl, scratch; that's not what a man of the world does; man of the world niver quarrels; then, too, these creturs always fancy you forgets that their father was a clargyman; they always thinks more of their family, like, than their writings; and if they does not get money when they wants it, they bristles up and cries, 'not treated like a gentleman, by God!' Yet, after all, they've a deal of kindness in 'em, if you knows how to manage 'em—augh! but, cat-kindness, paw today, claw to-morrow. And then they always marries young, the poor things, and have a power of children, and live on the fame and forten they are to get one of these days; for, my eye! they be the most sanguinest folks alive!"
"Why, Bunting, what an observer you have been! who could ever have imagined that you had made yourself master of so many varieties in men!"
"Augh! your honour, I had nothing to do when I was the Colonel's valley, but to take notes to ladies and make use of my eyes. Always a 'flective man."
"It is odd that, with all your abilities, you did not provide better for yourself."
"'Twas not my fault," said the Corporal, quickly; "but somehow, do what will—'tis not always the cliverest as foresees the best. But I be young yet, your honour!"
Walter stared at the Corporal and laughed outright: the Corporal was exceedingly piqued.
"Augh! mayhap you thinks, Sir, that 'cause not so young as you, not young at all; but, what's forty, or fifty, or fifty-five, in public life? never hear much of men afore then. 'Tis the autumn that reaps, spring sows, augh!—bother!"
"Very true and very poetical. I see you did not live among authors for nothing."
"I knows summut of language, your honour," quoth the Corporal pedantically.
"It is evident."
"For, to be a man of the world, Sir, must know all the ins and outs of speechifying; 'tis words, Sir, that makes another man's mare go your road. Augh! that must have been a cliver man as invented language; wonders who 'twas—mayhap Moses, your honour?"
"Never mind who it was," said Walter gravely; "use the gift discreetly."
"Umph!" said the Corporal—"yes, your honour," renewed he after a pause. "It be a marvel to think on how much a man does in the way of cheating, as has the gift of the gab. Wants a Missis, talks her over—wants your purse, talks you out on it—wants a place, talks himself into it.—What makes the Parson? words!—the lawyer? words—the Parliament-man? words!—words can ruin a country, in the Big House—words save souls, in the Pulpits—words make even them ere authors, poor creturs, in every man's mouth.—Augh! Sir, take note of the words, and the things will take care of themselves—bother!"
"Your reflections amaze me, Bunting," said Walter smiling; "but the night begins to close in; I trust we shall not meet with any misadventure."
"'Tis an ugsome bit of road!" said the Corporal, looking round him.
"Primed and loaded, your honour."
"After all, Bunting, a little skirmish would be no bad sport—eh?—especially to an old soldier like you."
"Augh, baugh! 'tis no pleasant work, fighting, without pay, at least; 'tis not like love and eating, your honour, the better for being, what they calls, 'gratis!'"
"Yet I have heard you talk of the pleasure of fighting; not for pay, Bunting, but for your King and Country!"
"Augh! and that's when I wanted to cheat the poor creturs at Grassdale, your honour; don't take the liberty to talk stuff to my master!"
They continued thus to beguile the way, till Walter again sank into a reverie, while the Corporal, who began more and more to dislike the aspect of the ground they had entered on, still rode by his side.
The road was heavy, and wound down the long hill which had stricken so much dismay into the Corporal's stout heart on the previous day, when he had beheld its commencement at the extremity of the town, where but for him they had not dined. They were now little more than a mile from the said town, the whole of the way was taken up by this hill, and the road, very different from the smoothened declivities of the present day, seemed to have been cut down the very steepest part of its centre; loose stones, and deep ruts encreased the difficulty of the descent, and it was with a slow pace and a guarded rein that both our travellers now continued their journey. On the left side of the road was a thick and lofty hedge; to the right, a wild, bare, savage heath, sloped downward, and just afforded a glimpse of the spires and chimneys of the town, at which the Corporal was already supping in idea! That incomparable personage was, however, abruptly recalled to the present instant, by a most violent stumble on the part of his hard-mouthed, Romannosed horse. The horse was all but down, and the Corporal all but over.
"Damn it," said the Corporal, slowly recovering his perpendicularity, "and the way to Lunnon was as smooth as a bowling-green!"
Ere this rueful exclamation was well out of the Corporal's mouth, a bullet whizzed past him from the hedge; it went so close to his ear, that but for that lucky stumble, Jacob Bunting had been as the grass of the field, which flourisheth one moment and is cut down the next!
Startled by the sound, the Corporal's horse made off full tear down the hill, and carried him several paces beyond his master, ere he had power to stop its career. But Walter reining up his better managed steed, looked round for the enemy, nor looked in vain.
Three men started from the hedge with a simultaneous shout. Walter fired, but without effect; ere he could lay hand on the second pistol, his bridle was seized, and a violent blow from a long double-handed bludgeon, brought him to the ground.
FRAUD AND VIOLENCE ENTER EVEN GRASSDALE.—PETER'S NEWS. —THE LOVERS' WALK.—THE REAPPEARANCE.
AUF.—"Whence comest thou—what wouldst thou?" —Coriolanus.
One evening Aram and Madeline were passing through the village in their accustomed walk, when Peter Dealtry sallied forth from The Spotted Dog, and hurried up to the lovers with a countenance full of importance, and a little ruffled by fear.
"Oh, Sir, Sir,—(Miss, your servant!)—have you heard the news? Two houses at Checkington, (a small town some miles distant from Grassdale,) were forcibly entered last night,—robbed, your honour, robbed. Squire Tibson was tied to his bed, his bureau rifled, himself shockingly confused on the head; and the maidservant Sally—her sister lived with me, a very good girl she was,—was locked up in the—the—the—I beg pardon, Miss—was locked up in the cupboard. As to the other house, they carried off all the plate. There were no less than four men, all masked, your honour, and armed with pistols. What if they should come here! such a thing was never heard of before in these parts. But, Sir,—but, Miss,—do not be afraid, do not ye now, for I may say with the Psalmist,
'But wicked men shall drink the dregs Which they in wrath shall wring, For I will lift my voice, and make Them flee while I do sing!'"
"You could not find a more effectual method of putting them to flight, Peter," said Madeline smiling; "but go and talk to my uncle. I know we have a whole magazine of blunderbusses and guns at home: they may be useful now. But you are well provided in case of attack. Have you not the Corporal's famous cat Jacobina,—surely a match for fifty robbers?"
"Ay, Miss, on the principle of set a thief to catch a thief, perhaps she may; but really it is no jesting matter. Them ere robbers flourish like a green bay tree, for a space at least, and it is 'nation bad sport for us poor lambs till they be cut down and withered like grass. But your house, Mr. Aram, is very lonesome like; it is out of reach of all your neighbours. Hadn't you better, Sir, take up your lodgings at the Squire's for the present?"
Madeline pressed Aram's arm, and looked up fearfully in his face. "Why, my good friend," said he to Dealtry, "robbers will have little to gain in my house, unless they are given to learned pursuits. It would be something new, Peter, to see a gang of housebreakers making off with a telescope, or a pair of globes, or a great folio covered with dust."
"Ay, your honour, but they may be the more savage for being disappointed."
"Well, well, Peter, we will see," replied Aram impatiently; "meanwhile we may meet you again at the hall. Good evening for the present."
"Do, dearest Eugene, do, for Heaven's sake," said Madeline, with tears in her eyes, as they, now turning from Dealtry, directed their steps towards the quiet valley, at the end of which the Student's house was situated, and which was now more than ever Madeline's favourite walk, "do, dearest Eugene, come up to the Manor-house till these wretches are apprehended. Consider how open your house is to attack; and surely there can be no necessity to remain in it now."
Aram's calm brow darkened for a moment. "What! dearest," said he, "can you be affected by the foolish fears of yon dotard? How do we know as yet, whether this improbable story have any foundation in truth. At all events, it is evidently exaggerated. Perhaps an invasion of the poultry-yard, in which some hungry fox was the real offender, may be the true origin of this terrible tale. Nay, love, nay, do not look thus reproachfully; it will be time enough for us when we have sifted the grounds of alarm to take our precautions; meanwhile, do not blame me if in your presence I cannot admit fear. Oh Madeline, dear, dear Madeline, could you know, could you dream, how different life has become to me since I knew you! Formerly, I will frankly own to you, that dark and boding apprehensions were wont to lie heavy at my heart; the cloud was more familiar to me than the sunshine. But now I have grown a child, and can see around me nothing but hope; my life was winter—your love has breathed it into spring."
"And yet, Eugene—yet—" "Yet what, my Madeline?"
"There are still moments when I have no power over your thoughts; moments when you break away from me; when you mutter to yourself feelings in which I have no share, and which seem to steal the consciousness from your eye and the colour from your lip."
"Ah, indeed!" said Aram quickly; "what! you watch me so closely?"
"Can you wonder that I do?" said Madeline, with an earnest tenderness in her voice.
"You must not then, you must not," returned her lover, almost fiercely; "I cannot bear too nice and sudden a scrutiny; consider how long I have clung to a stern and solitary independence of thought, which allows no watch, and forbids account of itself to any one. Leave it to time and your love to win their inevitable way. Ask not too much from me now. And mark, mark, I pray you, whenever, in spite of myself, these moods you refer to darken over me, heed not, listen not—Leave me! solitude is their only cure! promise me this, love—promise."
"It is a harsh request, Eugene, and I do not think I will grant you so complete a monopoly of thought;" answered Madeline, playfully, yet half in earnest.
"Madeline," said Aram, with a deep solemnity of manner, "I ask a request on which my very love for you depends. From the depths of my soul, I implore you to grant it; yea, to the very letter."
"Why, why, this is—" began Madeline, when encountering the full, the dark, the inscrutable gaze of her strange lover, she broke off in a sudden fear, which she could not analyse; and only added in a low and subdued voice, "I promise to obey you."
As if a weight were lifted from his heart, Aram now brightened at once into himself in his happiest mood. He poured forth a torrent of grateful confidence, of buoyant love, that soon swept from the remembrance of the blushing and enchanted Madeline, the momentary fear, the sudden chillness, which his look had involuntarily stricken into her mind. And as they now wound along the most lonely part of that wild valley, his arm twined round her waist, and his low but silver voice pouring magic into the very air she breathed—she felt perhaps a more entire and unruffled sentiment of present, and a more credulous persuasion of future, happiness, than she had ever experienced before. And Aram himself dwelt with a more lively and detailed fulness, than he was wont, on the prospects they were to share, and the security and peace which retirement would instill into their mode of life.
"Is it not," said he, with a lofty triumph that we shall look from our retreat upon the shifting passions, and the hollow loves of the distant world? We can have no petty object, no vain allurement to distract the unity of our affection: we must be all in all to each other; for what else can there be to engross our thoughts, and occupy our feelings here?
"If, my beautiful love, you have selected one whom the world might deem a strange choice for youth and loveliness like yours; you have, at least, selected one who can have no idol but yourself. The poets tell you, and rightly, that solitude is the fit sphere for love; but how few are the lovers whom solitude does not fatigue! they rush into retirement, with souls unprepared for its stern joys and its unvarying tranquillity: they weary of each other, because the solitude itself to which they fled, palls upon and oppresses them. But to me, the freedom which low minds call obscurity, is the aliment of life; I do not enter the temples of Nature as the stranger, but the priest: nothing can ever tire me of the lone and august altars, on which I sacrificed my youth: and now, what Nature, what Wisdom once were to me—no, no, more, immeasurably more than these, you are! Oh, Madeline! methinks there is nothing under Heaven like the feeling which puts us apart from all that agitates, and fevers, and degrades the herd of men; which grants us to control the tenour of our future life, because it annihilates our dependence upon others, and, while the rest of earth are hurried on, blind and unconscious, by the hand of Fate, leaves us the sole lords of our destiny; and able, from the Past, which we have governed, to become the Prophets of our Future!"
At this moment Madeline uttered a faint shriek, and clung trembling to Aram's arm. Amazed, and roused from his enthusiasm, he looked up, and on seeing the cause of her alarm, seemed himself transfixed, as by a sudden terror, to the earth.
But a few paces distant, standing amidst the long and rank fern that grew on either side of their path, quite motionless, and looking on the pair with a sarcastic smile, stood the ominous stranger, whom the second chapter of our first volume introduced to the reader.
For one instant Aram seemed utterly appalled and overcome; his cheek grew the colour of death; and Madeline felt his heart beat with a loud, a fearful force beneath the breast to which she clung. But his was not the nature any earthly dread could long abash. He whispered to Madeline to come on; and slowly, and with his usual firm but gliding step, continued his way.
"Good evening, Eugene Aram," said the stranger; and as he spoke, he touched his hat slightly to Madeline.
"I thank you," replied the Student, in a calm voice; "do you want aught with me?"
"Humph!—yes, if it so please you?"
"Pardon me, dear Madeline," said Aram softly, and disengaging himself from her, "but for one moment."
He advanced to the stranger, and Madeline could not but note that, as Aram accosted him, his brow fell, and his manner seemed violent and agitated; but she could not hear the words of either; nor did the conference last above a minute. The stranger bowed, and turning away, soon vanished among the shrubs. Aram regained the side of his mistress.
"Who," cried she eagerly, "is that fearful man? What is his business? What his name?"
"He is a man whom I knew well some fourteen years ago," replied Aram coldly, and with ease; "I did not then lead quite so lonely a life, and we were thrown much together. Since that time, he has been in unfortunate circumstances—rejoined the army—he was in early life a soldier, and had been disbanded—entered into business, and failed; in short, he has partaken of those vicissitudes inseparable from the life of one driven to seek the world. When he travelled this road some months ago, he accidentally heard of my residence in the neighbourhood, and naturally sought me. Poor as I am, I was of some assistance to him. His route brings him hither again, and he again seeks me: I suppose too that I must again aid him."
"And is that indeed all," said Madeline, breathing more freely; "well, poor man, if he be your friend, he must be inoffensive—I have done him wrong. And does he want money? I have some to give him—here Eugene!" And the simple-hearted girl put her purse into Aram's hand.
"No, dearest," said he, shrinking back; "no, we shall not require your contribution; I can easily spare him enough for the present. But let us turn back, it grows chill."
"And why did he leave us, Eugene?"
"Because I desired him to visit me at home an hour hence."
"An hour! then you will not sup with us to-night?"
"No, not this night, dearest."
The conversation now ceased; Madeline in vain endeavoured to renew it. Aram, though without relapsing into any of his absorbed reveries, answered her only in monosyllables. They arrived at the Manor-house, and Aram at the garden gate took leave of her for the night, and hastened backward towards his home. Madeline, after watching his form through the deepening shadows until it disappeared, entered the house with a listless step; a nameless and thrilling presentiment crept to her heart; and she could have sate down and wept, though without a cause.
THE INTERVIEW BETWEEN ARAM AND THE STRANGER.
The spirits I have raised abandon me, The spells which I have studied baffle me. —Manfred.
Meanwhile Aram strode rapidly through the village, and not till he had regained the solitary valley did he relax his step.
The evening had already deepened into night. Along the sere and melancholy wood, the autumnal winds crept, with a lowly, but gathering moan. Where the water held its course, a damp and ghostly mist clogged the air, but the skies were calm, and chequered only by a few clouds, that swept in long, white, spectral streaks, over the solemn stars. Now and then, the bat wheeled swiftly round, almost touching the figure of the Student, as he walked musingly onward. And the owl [Note: That species called the short-eared owl.] that before the month waned many days, would be seen no more in that region, came heavily from the trees, like a guilty thought that deserts its shade. It was one of those nights, half dim, half glorious, which mark the early decline of the year. Nature seemed restless and instinct with change; there were those signs in the atmosphere which leave the most experienced in doubt, whether the morning may rise in storm or sunshine. And in this particular period, the skiey influences seem to tincture the animal life with their own mysterious and wayward spirit of change. The birds desert their summer haunts; an unaccountable inquietude pervades the brute creation; even men in this unsettled season have considered themselves, more (than at others) stirred by the motion and whisperings of their genius. And every creature that flows upon the tide of the Universal Life of Things, feels upon the ruffled surface, the mighty and solemn change, which is at work within its depths.
And now Aram had nearly threaded the valley, and his own abode became visible on the opening plain, when the stranger emerged from the trees to the right, and suddenly stood before the Student. "I tarried for you here, Aram," said he, "instead of seeking you at home, at the time you fixed; for there are certain private reasons which make it prudent I should keep as much as possible among the owls, and it was therefore safer, if not more pleasant, to lie here amidst the fern, than to make myself merry in the village yonder."
"And what," said Aram, "again brings you hither? Did you not say, when you visited me some months since, that you were about to settle in a different part of the country, with a relation?"
"And so I intended; but Fate, as you would say, or the Devil, as I should, ordered it otherwise. I had not long left you, when I fell in with some old friends, bold spirits and true; the brave outlaws of the road and the field. Shall I have any shame in confessing that I preferred their society, a society not unfamiliar to me, to the dull and solitary life that I might have led in tending my old bed-ridden relation in Wales, who after all, may live these twenty years, and at the end can scarce leave me enough for a week's ill luck at the hazard-table? In a word, I joined my gallant friends, and entrusted myself to their guidance. Since then, we have cruised around the country, regaled ourselves cheerily, frightened the timid, silenced the fractious, and by the help of your fate, or my devil, have found ourselves by accident, brought to exhibit our valour in this very district, honoured by the dwelling-place of my learned friend, Eugene Aram."
"Trifle not with me, Houseman," said Aram sternly; "I scarcely yet understand you. Do you mean to imply, that yourself, and the lawless associates you say you have joined, are lying out now for plunder in these parts?"
"You say it: perhaps you heard of our exploits last night, some four miles hence?"
"Ha! was that villainy yours?"
"Villainy!" repeated Houseman, in a tone of sullen offence. "Come, Master Aram, these words must not pass between you and me, friends of such date, and on such a footing."
"Talk not of the past," replied Aram with a livid lip, "and call not those whom Destiny once, in despite of Nature, drove down her dark tide in a momentary companionship, by the name of friends. Friends we are not; but while we live, there is a tie between us stronger than that of friendship."
"You speak truth and wisdom," said Houseman, sneeringly; "for my part, I care not what you call us, friends or foes."
"Foes, foes!" exclaimed Aram abruptly, "not that. Has life no medium in its ties?—pooh—pooh! not foes; we may not be foes to each other."
"It were foolish, at least at present," said Houseman carelessly.
"Look you, Houseman," continued Aram drawing his comrade from the path into a wilder part of the scene, and, as he spoke, his words were couched in a more low and inward voice than heretofore. "Look you, I cannot live and have my life darkened thus by your presence. Is not the world wide enough for us both? Why haunt each other? what have you to gain from me? Can the thoughts that my sight recalls to you be brighter, or more peaceful, than those which start upon me, when I gaze on you? Does not a ghastly air, a charnel breath, hover about us both? Why perversely incur a torture it is so easy to avoid? Leave me—leave these scenes. All earth spreads before you—choose your pursuits, and your resting place elsewhere, but grudge me not this little spot."
"I have no wish to disturb you, Eugene Aram, but I must live; and in order to live I must obey my companions; if I deserted them, it would be to starve. They will not linger long in this district; a week, it may be; a fortnight, at most; then, like the Indian animal, they will strip the leaves, and desert the tree. In a word, after we have swept the country, we are gone."
"Houseman, Houseman!" said Aram passionately, and frowning till his brows almost hid his eyes, but that part of the orb which they did not hide, seemed as living fire; "I now implore, but I can threaten—beware!—silence, I say;" (and he stamped his foot violently on the ground, as he saw Houseman about to interrupt him;) "listen to me throughout—Speak not to me of tarrying here—speak not of days, of weeks—every hour of which would sound upon my ear like a death-knell. Dream not of a sojourn in these tranquil shades, upon an errand of dread and violence—the minions of the law aroused against you, girt with the chances of apprehension and a shameful death—" "And a full confession of my past sins," interrupted Houseman, laughing wildly.
"Fiend! devil!" cried Aram, grasping his comrade by the throat, and shaking him with a vehemence that Houseman, though a man of great strength and sinew, impotently attempted to resist.
"Breathe but another word of such import; dare to menace me with the vengeance of such a thing as thou, and, by the God above us, I will lay thee dead at my feet!"
"Release my throat, or you will commit murder," gasped Houseman with difficulty, and growing already black in the face.
Aram suddenly relinquished his gripe, and walked away with a hurried step, muttering to himself. He then returned to the side of Houseman, whose flesh still quivered either with rage or fear, and, his own self-possession completely restored, stood gazing upon him with folded arms, and his usual deep and passionless composure of countenance; and Houseman, if he could not boldly confront, did not altogether shrink from, his eye. So there and thus they stood, at a little distance from each other, both silent, and yet with something unutterably fearful in their silence.
"Houseman," said Aram at length, in a calm, yet a hollow voice, "it may be that I was wrong; but there lives no man on earth, save you, who could thus stir my blood,—nor you with ease. And know, when you menace me, that it is not your menace that subdues or shakes my spirit; but that which robs my veins of their even tenor is that you should deem your menace could have such power, or that you,—that any man,—should arrogate to himself the thought that he could, by the prospect of whatsoever danger, humble the soul and curb the will of Eugene Aram. And now I am calm; say what you will, I cannot be vexed again."
"I have done," replied Houseman coldly; "I have nothing to say; farewell!" and he moved away among the trees.
"Stay," cried Aram in some agitation; "stay; we must not part thus. Look you, Houseman, you say you would starve should you leave your present associates. That may not be; quit them this night,—this moment: leave the neighbourhood, and the little in my power is at your will."
"As to that," said Houseman drily, "what is in your power is, I fear me, so little as not to counterbalance the advantages I should lose in quitting my companions. I expect to net some three hundreds before I leave these parts."
"Some three hundreds!" repeated Aram recoiling; "that were indeed beyond me. I told you when we last met that it is only by an annual payment I draw the little wealth I have."
"I remember it. I do not ask you for money, Eugene Aram; these hands can maintain me," replied Houseman, smiling grimly. "I told you at once the sum I expected to receive somewhere, in order to prove that you need not vex your benevolent heart to afford me relief. I knew well the sum I named was out of your power, unless indeed it be part of the marriage portion you are about to receive with your bride. Fie, Aram! what, secrets from your old friend! You see I pick up the news of the place without your confidence."
Again Aram's face worked, and his lip quivered; but he conquered his passion with a surprising self-command, and answered mildly, "I do not know, Houseman, whether I shall receive any marriage portion whatsoever: If I do, I am willing to make some arrangement by which I could engage you to molest me no more. But it yet wants several days to my marriage; quit the neighbourhood now, and a month hence let us meet again. Whatever at that time may be my resources, you shall frankly know them."
"It cannot be," said Houseman; "I quit not these districts without a certain sum, not in hope, but possession. But why interfere with me? I seek not my hoards in your coffer. Why so anxious that I should not breathe the same air as yourself?"
"It matters not," replied Aram, with a deep and ghastly voice; "but when you are near me, I feel as if I were with the dead; it is a spectre that I would exorcise in ridding me of your presence. Yet this is not what I now speak of. You are engaged, according to your own lips, in lawless and midnight schemes, in which you may, (and the tide of chances runs towards that bourne,) be seized by the hand of Justice."
"Ho," said Houseman, sullenly, "and was it not for saying that you feared this, and its probable consequences, that you well-nigh stifled me, but now?—so truth may be said one moment with impunity, and the next at peril of life! These are the subtleties of you wise schoolmen, I suppose. Your Aristotles, and your Zenos, your Platos, and your Epicurus's, teach you notable distinctions, truly!"
"Peace!" said Aram; "are we at all times ourselves? Are the passions never our masters? You maddened me into anger; behold, I am now calm: the subjects discussed between myself and you, are of life and death; let us approach them with our senses collected and prepared. What, Houseman, are you bent upon your own destruction, as well as mine, that you persevere in courses which must end in a death of shame?"
"What else can I do? I will not work, and I cannot live like you in a lone wilderness on a crust of bread. Nor is my name like yours, mouthed by the praise of honest men: my character is marked; those who once knew me, shun now. I have no resource for society, (for I cannot face myself alone,) but in the fellowship of men like myself, whom the world has thrust from its pale. I have no resource for bread, save in the pursuits that are branded by justice, and accompanied with snares and danger. What would you have me do?"
"Is it not better," said Aram, "to enjoy peace and safety upon a small but certain pittance, than to live thus from hand to mouth? vibrating from wealth to famine, and the rope around your neck, sleeping and awake? Seek your relation; in that quarter, you yourself said your character was not branded: live with him, and know the quiet of easy days, and I promise you, that if aught be in my power to make your lot more suitable to your wants, so long as you lead the life of honest men, it shall be freely yours. Is not this better, Houseman, than a short and sleepless career of dread?"
"Aram," answered Houseman, "are you, in truth, calm enough to hear me speak? I warn you, that if again you forget yourself, and lay hands on me—" "Threaten not, threaten not," interrupted Aram, "but proceed; all within me is now still and cold as ice. Proceed without fear of scruple."
"Be it so; we do not love one another: you have affected contempt for me—and I—I—no matter—I am not a stone or stick, that I should not feel. You have scorned me—you have outraged me—you have not assumed towards me even the decent hypocrisies of prudence—yet now you would ask of me, the conduct, the sympathy, the forbearance, the concession of friendship. You wish that I should quit these scenes, where, to my judgment, a certain advantage waits me, solely that I may lighten your breast of its selfish fears. You dread the dangers that await me on your own account. And in my apprehension, you forebode your own doom. You ask me, nay, not ask, you would command, you would awe me to sacrifice my will and wishes, in order to soothe your anxieties, and strengthen your own safety. Mark me! Eugene Aram, I have been treated as a tool, and I will not be governed as a friend. I will not stir from the vicinity of your home, till my designs be fulfilled,—I enjoy, I hug myself in your torments. I exult in the terror with which you will hear of each new enterprise, each new daring, each new triumph of myself and my gallant comrades. And now I am avenged for the affront you put upon me."
Though Aram trembled, with suppressed passions, from limb to limb, his voice was still calm, and his lip even wore a smile as he answered,—"I was prepared for this, Houseman, you utter nothing that surprises or appalls me. You hate me; it is natural; men united as we are, rarely look on each other with a friendly or a pitying eye. But Houseman; I know you!—you are a man of vehement passions, but interest with you is yet stronger than passion. If not, our conference is over. Go—and do your worst."
"You are right, most learned scholar; I can fetter the tiger within, in his deadliest rage, by a golden chain."
"Well, then, Houseman, it is not your interest to betray me—my destruction is your own."
"I grant it; but if I am apprehended, and to be hung for robbery?"
"It will be no longer an object to you, to care for my safety. Assuredly, I comprehend this. But my interest induces me to wish that you be removed from the peril of apprehension, and your interest replies, that if you can obtain equal advantages in security, you would forego advantages accompanied by peril. Say what we will, wander as we will, it is to this point that we must return at last."
"Nothing can be clearer; and were you a rich man, Eugene Aram, or could you obtain your bride's dowry (no doubt a respectable sum) in advance, the arrangement might at once be settled."
Aram gasped for breath, and as usual with him in emotion, made several strides forward, muttering rapidly, and indistinctly to himself, and then returned.
"Even were this possible, it would be but a short reprieve; I could not trust you; the sum would be spent, and I again in the state to which you have compelled me now; but without the means again to relieve myself. No, no! if the blow must fall, be it so one day as another."
"As you will," said Houseman; 'but—' Just at that moment, a long shrill whistle sounded below, as from the water. Houseman paused abruptly—"That signal is from my comrades; I must away. Hark, again! Farewell, Aram."
"Farewell, if it must be so," said Aram, in a tone of dogged sullenness; "but to-morrow, should you know of any means by which I could feel secure, beyond the security of your own word, from your future molestation, I might—yet how?"
"To-morrow," said Houseman, "I cannot answer for myself; it is not always that I can leave my comrades; a natural jealousy makes them suspicious of the absence of their friends. Yet hold; the night after to-morrow, the Sabbath night, most virtuous Aram, I can meet you—but not here—some miles hence. You know the foot of the Devil's Crag, by the waterfall; it is a spot quiet and shaded enough in all conscience for our interview; and I will tell you a secret I would trust to no other man—(hark, again!)—it is close by our present lurking-place. Meet me there!—it would, indeed, be pleasanter to hold our conference under shelter—but just at present, I would rather not trust myself beneath any honest man's roof in this neighbourhood. Adieu! on Sunday night, one hour before mid-night."
The robber, for such then he was, waved his hand, and hurried away in the direction from which the signal seemed to come.
Aram gazed after him, but with vacant eyes; and remained for several minutes rooted to the spot, as if the very life had left him.
"The Sabbath night!" said he, at length, moving slowly on; "and I must spin forth my existence in trouble and fear till then—till then! what remedy can I then invent? It is clear that I can have no dependance on his word, if won; and I have not even aught wherewith to buy it. But courage, courage, my heart; and work thou, my busy brain! Ye have never failed me yet!"
FRESH ALARM IN THE VILLAGE.—LESTER'S VISIT TO ARAM.—A TRAIT OF DELICATE KINDNESS IN THE STUDENT.—MADELINE.—HER PRONENESS TO CONFIDE.—THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN LESTER AND ARAM. —THE PERSONS BY WHOM IT IS INTERRUPTED.
Not my own fears, nor the prophetic soul Of the wide world, dreaming on things to come, Can yet the lease of my true love controul. —Shakspeare: Sonnets.
Commend me to their love, and I am proud, say, That my occasions have found time to use them Toward a supply of money; let the request Be fifty talents. —Timon Of Athens.
The next morning the whole village was alive and bustling with terror and consternation. Another, and a yet more daring robbery, had been committed in the neighbourhood, and the police of the county town had been summoned, and were now busy in search of the offenders. Aram had been early disturbed by the officious anxiety of some of his neighbours; and it wanted yet some hours of noon, when Lester himself came to seek and consult with the Student.
Aram was alone in his large and gloomy chamber, surrounded, as usual, by his books, but not as usual engaged in their contents. With his face leaning on his hand, and his eyes gazing on a dull fire, that crept heavily upward through the damp fuel, he sate by his hearth, listless, but wrapt in thought.
"Well, my friend," said Lester, displacing the books from one of the chairs, and drawing the seat near the Student's—"you have ere this heard the news, and indeed in a county so quiet as ours, these outrages appear the more fearful, from their being so unlooked for. We must set a guard in the village, Aram, and you must leave this defenceless hermitage and come down to us; not for your own sake,—but consider you will be an additional safeguard to Madeline. You will lock up the house, dismiss your poor old governante to her friends in the village, and walk back with me at once to the hall."
Aram turned uneasily in his chair.
"I feel your kindness," said he after a pause, "but I cannot accept it—Madeline," he stopped short at that name, and added in an altered voice; "no, I will be one of the watch, Lester; I will look to her—to your—safety; but I cannot sleep under another roof. I am superstitious, Lester—superstitious. I have made a vow, a foolish one perhaps, but I dare not break it. And my vow binds me, save on indispensable and urgent necessity, not to pass a night any where but in my own home."
"But there is necessity."
"My conscience says not," said Aram smiling: "peace, my good friend, we cannot conquer men's foibles, or wrestle with men's scruples."
Lester in vain attempted to shake Aram's resolution on this head; he found him immoveable, and gave up the effort in despair.
"Well," said he, "at all events we have set up a watch, and can spare you a couple of defenders. They shall reconnoitre in the neighbourhood of your house, if you persevere in your determination, and this will serve in some slight measure to satisfy poor Madeline."
"Be it so," replied Aram; "and dear Madeline herself, is she so alarmed?"
And now in spite of all the more wearing and haggard thoughts that preyed upon his breast, and the dangers by which he conceived himself beset, the Student's face, as he listened with eager attention to every word that Lester uttered concerning his niece, testified how alive he yet was to the least incident that related to Madeline, and how easily her innocent and peaceful remembrance could allure him from himself.
"This room," said Lester, looking round, "will be, I conclude, after Madeline's own heart; but will you always suffer her here? students do not sometimes like even the gentlest interruption."
"I have not forgotten that Madeline's comfort requires some more cheerful retreat than this," said Aram, with a melancholy expression of countenance. "Follow me, Lester; I meant this for a little surprise to her. But Heaven only knows if I shall ever show it to herself?"
"Why? what doubt of that can even your boding temper discover?"
"We are as the wanderers in the desert," answered Aram, "who are taught wisely to distrust their own senses: that which they gaze upon as the waters of existence, is often but a faithless vapour that would lure them to destruction."
In thus speaking he had traversed the room, and, opening a door, showed a small chamber with which it communicated, and which Aram had fitted up with evident, and not ungraceful care. Every article of furniture that Madeline might most fancy, he had sent for from the neighbouring town. And some of the lighter and more attractive books that he possessed, were ranged around on shelves, above which were vases, intended for flowers; the window opened upon a little plot that had been lately broken up into a small garden, and was already intersected with walks, and rich with shrubs.
There was something in this chamber that so entirely contrasted the one it adjoined, something so light, and cheerful, and even gay in its decoration and its tout ensemble, that Lester uttered an exclamation of delight and surprise. And indeed it did appear to him touching, that this austere scholar, so wrapt in thought, and so inattentive to the common forms of life, should have manifested this tender and delicate consideration. In another it would have been nothing, but in Aram, it was a trait, that brought involuntary tears to the eyes of the good Lester. Aram observed them: he walked hastily away to the window, and sighed heavily; this did not escape his friend's notice, and after commenting on the attractions of the little room—Lester said: "You seem oppressed in spirits, Eugene: can any thing have chanced to disturb you, beyond, at least, these alarms which are enough to agitate the nerves of the hardiest of us?"
"No," said Aram; "I had no sleep last night, and my health is easily affected, and with my health my mind; but let us go to Madeline; the sight of her will revive me."
They then strolled down to the Manor-house, and met by the way a band of the younger heroes of the village, who had volunteered to act as a patrole, and who were now marshalled by Peter Dealtry, in a fit of heroic enthusiasm.
Although it was broad daylight, and, consequently, there was little cause of immediate alarm, the worthy publican carried on his shoulder a musket on full cock; and each moment he kept peeping about, as if not only every bush, but every blade of grass contained an ambuscade, ready to spring up the instant he was off his guard. By his side the redoubted Jacobina, who had transferred to her new master, the attachment she had originally possessed for the Corporal, trotted peeringly along, her tail perpendicularly cocked, and her ears moving to and fro, with a most incomparable air of vigilant sagacity. The cautious Peter every now and then checked her ardour, as she was about to quicken her step, and enliven the march by the gambols better adapted to serener times.
"Soho, Jacobina, soho! gently, girl, gently; thou little knowest the dangers that may beset thee. Come up, my good fellows, come to the Spotted Dog; I will tap a barrel on purpose for you; and we will settle the plan of defence for the night. Jacobina, come in, I say, come in,—
"'Lest, like a lion, they thee tear, And rend in pieces small; While there is none to succour thee, And rid thee out of thrall.'
What ho, there! Oh! I beg your honour's pardon! Your servant, Mr. Aram."
"What, patroling already?" said the squire; "your men will be tired before they are wanted; reserve their ardour for the night."
"Oh, your Honour, I have only been beating up for recruits; and we are going to consult a bit at home. Ah! what a pity the Corporal isn't here: he would have been a tower of strength unto the righteous. But howsomever, I do my best to supply his place—Jacobina, child, be still: I can't say as I knows the musket-sarvice, your honour; but I fancy's as how, like Joe Roarjug, the Methodist, we can do it extemporaneous-like at a pinch."
"A bold heart, Peter, is the best preparation," said the squire.
"And," quoth Peter quickly, "what saith the worshipful Mister Sternhold, in the 45th psalm, 5th verse,—
'Go forth with godly speed, in meekness, truth, and might, And thy right hand shall thee instruct in works of dreadful might.'"
Peter quoted these verses, especially the last, with a truculent frown, and a brandishing of the musket, that surprisingly encouraged the hearts of his little armament; and with a general murmur of enthusiasm, the warlike band marched off to The Spotted Dog.
Lester and his companion found Madeline and Ellinor standing at the window of the hall; and Madeline's light step was the first that sprang forward to welcome their return: even the face of the Student brightened, when he saw the kindling eye, the parted lip, the buoyant form, from which the pure and innocent gladness she felt on seeing him broke forth.
There was a remarkable trustingness, if I may so speak, in Madeline's disposition. Thoughtful and grave as she was, by nature, she was yet ever inclined to the more sanguine colourings of life; she never turned to the future with fear—a placid sentiment of Hope slept at her heart—she was one who surrendered herself with a fond and implicit faith to the guidance of all she loved; and to the chances of life. It was a sweet indolence of the mind, which made one of her most beautiful traits of character; there is something so unselfish in tempers reluctant to despond. You see that such persons are not occupied with their own existence; they are not fretting the calm of the present life, with the egotisms of care, and conjecture, and calculation: if they learn anxiety, it is for another; but in the heart of that other, how entire is their trust!
It was this disposition in Madeline which perpetually charmed, and yet perpetually wrung, the soul of her wild lover; and as she now delightedly hung upon his arm, uttering her joy at seeing him safe, and presently forgetting that there ever had been cause for alarm, his heart was filled with the most gloomy sense of horror and desolation. "What," thought he, "if this poor, unconscious girl could dream that at this moment I am girded with peril, from which I see no ultimate escape? Delay it as I will, it seems as if the blow must come at last. What, if she could think how fearful is my interest in these outrages, that in all probability, if their authors are detected, there is one who will drag me into their ruin; that I am given over, bound and blinded, into the hands of another; and that other, a man steeled to mercy, and withheld from my destruction by a thread—a thread that a blow on himself would snap. Great God! wherever I turn, I see despair! And she—she clings to me; and beholding me, thinks the whole earth is filled with hope!"
While these thoughts darkened his mind, Madeline drew him onward into the more sequestered walks of the garden, to show him some flowers she had transplanted. And when an hour afterwards he returned to the hall, so soothing had been the influence of her looks and words upon Aram, that if he had not forgotten the situation in which he stood, he had at least calmed himself to regard with a steady eye the chances of escape.
The meal of the day passed as cheerfully as usual, and when Aram and his host were left over their abstemious potations, the former proposed a walk before the evening deepened. Lester readily consented, and they sauntered into the fields. The Squire soon perceived that something was on Aram's mind, of which he felt evident embarrassment in ridding himself: at length the Student said rather abruptly: "My dear friend, I am but a bad beggar, and therefore let me get over my request as expeditiously as possible. You said to me once that you intended bestowing some dowry upon Madeline; a dowry I would and could willingly dispense with; but should you of that sum be now able to spare me some portion as a loan,—should you have some three hundred pounds with which you could accommodate me.—" "Say no more, Eugene, say no more," interrupted the Squire,—"you can have double that amount. Your preparations for your approaching marriage, I ought to have foreseen, must have occasioned you some inconvenience; you can have six hundred pounds from me to-morrow."
Aram's eyes brightened. "It is too much, too much, my generous friend," said he; "the half suffices—but, but, a debt of old standing presses me urgently, and to-morrow, or rather Monday morning, is the time fixed for payment."
"Consider it arranged," said Lester, putting his hand on Aram's arm, and then leaning on it gently, he added, "And now that we are on this subject, let me tell you what I intended as a gift to you, and my dear Madeline; it is but small, but my estates are rigidly entailed on Walter, and of poor value in themselves, and it is half the savings of many years."
The Squire then named a sum, which, however small it may seem to our reader, was not considered a despicable portion for the daughter of a small country squire at that day, and was in reality, a generous sacrifice for one whose whole income was scarcely, at the most, seven hundred a year. The sum mentioned doubled that now to be lent, and which was of course a part of it; an equal portion was reserved for Ellinor.
"And to tell you the truth," said the Squire, "you must give me some little time for the remainder—for not thinking some months ago it would be so soon wanted, I laid out eighteen hundred pounds, in the purchase of Winclose Farm, six of which, (the remainder of your share,) I can pay off at the end of the year; the other twelve, Ellinor's portion, will remain a mortgage on the farm itself. And between us," added the Squire, "I do hope that I need be in no hurry respecting her, dear girl. When Walter returns, I trust matters may be arranged, in a manner, and through a channel, that would gratify the most cherished wish of my heart. I am convinced that Ellinor is exactly suited to him; and, unless he should lose his senses for some one else in the course of his travels, I trust that he will not be long returned before he will make the same discovery. I think of writing to him very shortly after your marriage, and making him promise, at all events, to revisit us at Christmas. Ah! Eugene, we shall be a happy party, then, I trust. And be assured, that we shall beat up your quarters, and put your hospitality, and Madeline's housewifery to the test."
Therewith the good Squire ran on for some minutes in the warmth of his heart, dilating on the fireside prospects before them, and rallying the Student on those secluded habits, which he promised him he should no longer indulge with impunity.
"But it is growing dark," said he, awakening from the theme which had carried him away, "and by this time Peter and our patrole will be at the hall. I told them to look up in the evening, in order to appoint their several duties and stations—let us turn back. Indeed, Aram, I can assure you, that I, for my own part, have some strong reasons to take precautions against any attack; for besides the old family plate, (though that's not much,) I have,—you know the bureau in the parlour to the left of the hall—well, I have in that bureau three hundred guineas, which I have not as yet been able to take to safe hands at—, and which, by the way, will be your's to-morrow. So, you see, it would be no light misfortune to me to be robbed."
"Hist!" said Aram, stopping short, "I think I heard steps on the other side of the hedge."
The Squire listened, but heard nothing; the senses of his companion were, however, remarkably acute, more especially that of hearing.
"There is certainly some one; nay, I catch the steps of two persons," whispered he to Lester. "Let us come round the hedge by the gap below."
They both quickened their pace, and gaining the other side of the hedge, did indeed perceive two men in carters' frocks, strolling on towards the village.
"They are strangers too," said the Squire suspiciously, "not Grassdale men. Humph! could they have overheard us, think you?"
"If men whose business it is to overhear their neighbours—yes; but not if they be honest men," answered Aram, in one of those shrewd remarks which he often uttered, and which seemed almost incompatible with the tenor of the quiet and abstruse pursuits that he had adopted, and that generally deaden the mind to worldly wisdom.
They had now approached the strangers, who, however, appeared mere rustic clowns, and who pulled off their hats with the wonted obeisance of their tribe.
"Hollo, my men," said the Squire, assuming his magisterial air, for the mildest Squire in Christendom can play the Bashaw, when he remembers he is a Justice of the Peace. "Hollo! what are you doing here this time of day? you are not after any good, I fear."
"We ax pardon, your honour," said the elder clown, in the peculiar accent of the country, "but we be come from Gladsmuir; and be going to work at Squire Nixon's at Mow-hall, on Monday; so as I has a brother living on the green afore the Squire's, we be a-going to sleep there to-night and spend the Sunday, your honour."
"Humph! humph! What's your name?"
"Joe Wood, your honour, and this here chap is, Will Hutchings."
"Well, well, go along with you," said the Squire: "And mind what you are about. I should not be surprised if you snare one of Squire Nixon's hares by the way."
"Oh, well and indeed, your honour."—"Go along, go along," said the Squire, and away went the men.
"They seem honest bumpkins enough," observed Lester.
"It would have pleased me better," said Aram, "had the speaker of the two particularized less; and you observed that he seemed eager not to let his companion speak; that is a little suspicious."
"Shall I call them back?" asked the Squire.
"Why it is scarcely worth while," said Aram; "perhaps I over refine. And now I look again at them, they seem really what they affect to be. No, it is useless to molest the poor wretches any more. There is something, Lester, humbling to human pride in a rustic's life. It grates against the heart to think of the tone in which we unconsciously permit ourselves to address him. We see in him humanity in its simple state; it is a sad thought to feel that we despise it; that all we respect in our species is what has been created by art; the gaudy dress, the glittering equipage, or even the cultivated intellect; the mere and naked material of Nature, we eye with indifference or trample on with disdain. Poor child of toil, from the grey dawn to the setting sun, one long task!—no idea elicited—no thought awakened beyond those that suffice to make him the machine of others—the serf of the hard soil! And then too, mark how we scowl upon his scanty holidays, how we hedge in his mirth with laws, and turn his hilarity into crime! We make the whole of the gay world, wherein we walk and take our pleasure, to him a place of snares and perils. If he leave his labour for an instant, in that instant how many temptations spring up to him! And yet we have no mercy for his errors; the gaol—the transport-ship—the gallows; those are our sole lecture-books, and our only methods of expostulation—ah, fie on the disparities of the world! They cripple the heart, they blind the sense, they concentrate the thousand links between man and man, into the two basest of earthly ties—servility, and pride. Methinks the devils laugh out when they hear us tell the boor that his soul is as glorious and eternal as our own; and yet when in the grinding drudgery of his life, not a spark of that soul can be called forth; when it sleeps, walled around in its lumpish clay, from the cradle to the grave, without a dream to stir the deadness of its torpor."
"And yet, Aram," said Lester, "the Lords of science have their ills. Exalt the soul as you will, you cannot raise it above pain. Better, perhaps, to let it sleep, when in waking it looks only upon a world of trial."
"You say well, you say well," said Aram smiting his heart, "and I suffered a foolish sentiment to carry me beyond the sober boundaries of our daily sense."
MILITARY PREPARATIONS.—THE COMMANDER AND HIS MAN.—ARAM IS PERSUADED TO PASS THE NIGHT AT THE MANOR-HOUSE.
Falstaff.—"Bid my Lieutenant Peto meet me at the town's end. .. I pressed me none but such toasts and butter, with hearts in their bellies no bigger than pins' heads." —Henry IV.
They had scarcely reached the Manor-house, before the rain, which the clouds had portended throughout the whole day, began to descend in torrents, and to use the strong expression of the Roman poet—the night rushed down, black and sudden, over the face of the earth.
The new watch were not by any means the hardy and experienced soldiery, by whom rain and darkness are unheeded. They looked with great dismay upon the character of the night in which their campaign was to commence. The valorous Peter, who had sustained his own courage by repeated applications to a little bottle, which he never failed to carry about him in all the more bustling and enterprising occasions of life, endeavoured, but with partial success, to maintain the ardour of his band. Seated in the servants' hall of the Manor-house, in a large arm-chair, Jacobina on his knee, and his trusty musket, which, to the great terror of the womankind, had never been uncocked throughout the day, still grasped in his right hand, while the stock was grounded on the floor; he indulged in martial harangues, plentifully interlarded with plagiarisms from the worshipful translations of Messrs. Sternhold and Hopkins, and psalmodic versions of a more doubtful authorship. And when at the hour of ten, which was the appointed time, he led his warlike force, which consisted of six rustics, armed with sticks of incredible thickness, three guns, one pistol, a broadsword, and a pitchfork, (a weapon likely to be more effectively used than all the rest put together;) when at the hour of ten he led them up to the room above, where they were to be passed in review before the critical eye of the Squire, with Jacobina leading the on-guard, you could not fancy a prettier picture for a hero in a little way, than mine host of the Spotted Dog.
His hat was fastened tight on his brows by a blue pocket-handkerchief; he wore a spencer of a light brown drugget, a world too loose, above a leather jerkin; his breeches of corduroy, were met all of a sudden half way up the thigh, by a detachment of Hessians, formerly in the service of the Corporal, and bought some time since by Peter Dealtry to wear when employed in shooting snipes for the Squire, to whom he occasionally performed the office of game-keeper; suspended round his wrist by a bit of black ribbon, was his constable's baton; he shouldered his musket gallantly, and he carried his person as erect as if the least deflexion from its perpendicularity were to cost him his life. One may judge of the revolution that had taken place in the village, when so peaceable a man as Peter Dealtry was thus metamorphosed into a commander-in-chief. The rest of the regiment hung sheepishly back; each trying to get as near to the door, and as far from the ladies, as possible. But Peter having made up his mind, that a hero should only look straight forward, did not condescend to turn round, to perceive the irregularity of his line. Secure in his own existence, he stood truculently forth, facing the Squire, and prepared to receive his plaudits.
Madeline and Aram sat apart at one corner of the hearth, and Ellinor leaned over the chair of the former; the mirth that she struggled to suppress from being audible, mantling over her arch face and laughing eyes; while the Squire, taking the pipe from his mouth, turned round on his easy chair, and nodded complacently to the little corps, and the great commander.
"We are all ready now, your honour," said Peter, in a voice that did not seem to belong to his body, so big did it sound, "all hot, all eager."
"Why you yourself are a host, Peter," said Ellinor with affected gravity; "your sight alone would frighten an army of robbers: who could have thought you could assume so military an air? The Corporal himself was never so upright!"
"I have practised my present attitude all the day, Miss," said Peter, proudly, "and I believe I may now say as Mr. Sternhold says or sings, in the twenty-sixth Psalm, verse twelfth.
'My foot is stayed for all assays, It standeth well and right, Wherefore to God—will I give praise In all the people's sight!'
Jacobina, behave yourself, child. I don't think, your honour, that we miss the Corporal so much as I fancied at first, for we all does very well without him."
"Indeed you are a most worthy substitute, Peter; and now, Nell, just reach me my hat and cloak; I will set you at your posts: you will have an ugly night of it."
"Very indeed, your honour," cried all the army, speaking for the first time.
"Silence—order—discipline," said Peter gruffly. "March!"
But instead of marching across the hall, the recruits huddled up one after the other, like a flock of geese, whom Jacobina might be supposed to have set in motion, and each scraping to the ladies, as they shuffled, sneaked, bundled, and bustled out at the door.
"We are well guarded now, Madeline," said Ellinor; "I fancy we may go to sleep as safely as if there were not a housebreaker in the world."
"Why," said Madeline, "let us trust they will be more efficient than they seem, though I cannot persuade myself that we shall really need them. One might almost as well conceive a tiger in our arbour, as a robber in Grassdale. But dear, dear Eugene, do not—do not leave us this night; Walter's room is ready for you, and if it were only to walk across that valley in such weather, it would be cruel to leave us. Let me beseech you; come, you cannot, you dare not refuse me such a favour."
Aram pleaded his vow, but it was overruled; Madeline proved herself a most exquisite casuist in setting it aside. One by one his objections were broken down; and how, as he gazed into those eyes, could he keep any resolution, that Madeline wished him to break! The power she possessed over him seemed exactly in proportion to his impregnability to every one else. The surface on which the diamond cuts its easy way, will yield to no more ignoble instrument; it is easy to shatter it, but by only one substance can it be impressed. And in this instance Aram had but one secret and strong cause to prevent his yielding to Madeline's wishes;—if he remained at the house this night, how could he well avoid a similar compliance the next? And on the next was his interview with Houseman. This reason was not, however, strong enough to enable him to resist Madeline's soft entreaties; he trusted to the time to furnish him with excuses, and when Lester returned, Madeline with a triumphant air informed him that Aram had consented to be their guest for the night."
"Your influence is indeed greater than mine," said Lester, wringing his hat as the delicate fingers of Ellinor loosened his cloak; "yet one can scarcely think our friend sacrifices much in concession, after proving the weather without. I should pity our poor patrole most exceedingly, if I were not thoroughly assured that within two hours every one of them will have quietly slunk home; and even Peter himself, when he has exhausted his bottle, will be the first to set the example. However, I have stationed two of the men near our house, and the rest at equal distances along the village."
"Do you really think they will go home, Sir?" said Ellinor, in a little alarm; "why they would be worse than I thought them, if they were driven to bed by the rain. I knew they could not stand a pistol, but a shower, however hard, I did imagine would scarcely quench their valour."
"Never mind, girl," said Lester, gaily chucking her under the chin, "we are quite strong enough now to resist them. You see Madeline has grown as brave as a lioness—Come, girls, come, let's have supper, and stir up the fire. And, Nell, where are my slippers?"
And thus on the little family scene, the cheerful wood fire flickering against the polished wainscot; the supper table arranged, the Squire drawing his oak chair towards it, Ellinor mixing his negus; and Aram and Madeline, though three times summoned to the table, and having three times answered to the summons, still lingering apart by the hearth—let us drop the curtain.
We have only, ere we close our chapter, to observe, that when Lester conducted Aram to his chamber he placed in his hands an order payable at the county town, for three hundred pounds. "The rest," he said in a whisper, "is below, where I mentioned; and there in my secret drawer it had better rest till the morning."
The good Squire then, putting his finger to his lip, hurried away, to avoid the thanks, which, indeed, however he might feel them, Aram was no dexterous adept in expressing.
THE SISTERS ALONE.—THE GOSSIP OF LOVE.—AN ALARM —AND AN EVENT.
Juliet.—My true love is grown to such excess, I cannot sum up half my sum of wealth. —Romeo and Juliet.
Eros.—Oh, a man in arms; His weapon drawn, too! —The False One.
It was a custom with the two sisters, when they repaired to their chamber for the night, to sit conversing, sometimes even for hours, before they finally retired to bed. This indeed was the usual time for their little confidences, and their mutual dilations over those hopes and plans for the future, which always occupy the larger share of the thoughts and conversation of the young. I do not know any thing in the world more lovely than such conferences between two beings who have no secrets to relate but what arise, all fresh, from the springs of a guiltless heart,—those pure and beautiful mysteries of an unsullied nature which warm us to hear; and we think with a sort of wonder when we feel how arid experience has made ourselves, that so much of the dew and sparkle of existence still linger in the nooks and valleys, which are as yet virgin of the sun and of mankind.
The sisters this night were more than commonly indifferent to sleep. Madeline sate by the small but bright hearth of the chamber, in her night dress, and Ellinor, who was much prouder of her sister's beauty than her own, was employed in knotting up the long and lustrous hair which fell in rich luxuriance over Madeline's throat and shoulders.
"There certainly never was such beautiful hair!" said Ellinor admiringly; "and, let me see,—yes,—on Thursday fortnight I may be dressing it, perhaps, for the last time—heigho!"