Had one of that order of angels to whom a knowledge of the future, or the seraphic penetration into the hidden heart of man is forbidden, stayed his wings over the lovely valley in which the main scene of our history has been cast, no spectacle might have seemed to him more appropriate to that lovely spot, or more elevated in the character of its tenderness above the fierce and short-lived passions of the ordinary world, than the love that existed between Madeline and her betrothed. Their natures seemed so suited to each other! the solemn and undiurnal mood of the one was reflected back in hues so gentle, and yet so faithful, from the purer, but scarce less thoughtful character of the other! Their sympathies ran through the same channel, and mingled in a common fount; and whatever was dark and troubled in the breast of Aram, was now suffered not to appear. Since his return, his mood was brighter and more tranquil; and he seemed better fitted to appreciate and respond to the peculiar tenderness of Madeline's affection. There are some stars which, viewed by the naked eye, seem one, but in reality are two separate orbs revolving round each other, and drinking, each from each, a separate yet united existence: such stars seemed a type of them.
Had anything been wanting to complete Madeline's happiness, the change in Aram supplied the want. The sudden starts, the abrupt changes of mood and countenance, that had formerly characterized him, were now scarcely, if ever, visible. He seemed to have resigned himself with confidence to the prospects of the future, and to have forsworn the haggard recollections of the past; he moved, and looked, and smiled like other men; he was alive to the little circumstances around him, and no longer absorbed in the contemplation of a separate and strange existence within himself. Some scattered fragments of his poetry bear the date of this time: they are chiefly addressed to Madeline, and, amidst the vows of love, a spirit, sometimes of a wild and bursting—sometimes of a profound and collected happiness, are visible. There is great beauty in many of these fragments, and they bear a stronger impress of heart—they breathe more of nature and truth, than the poetry that belongs of right to that time.
And thus day rolled on day, till it was now the eve before their bridals. Aram had deemed it prudent to tell Lester, that he had sold his annuity, and that he had applied to the Earl for the pension which we have seen he had been promised. As to his supposed relation—the illness he had created he suffered now to cease; and indeed the approaching ceremony gave him a graceful excuse for turning the conversation away form any topics that did not relate to Madeline, or to that event.
It was the eve before their marriage; Aram and Madeline were walking along the valley that led to the house of the former.
"How fortunate it is!" said Madeline, "that our future residence will be so near my father's. I cannot tell you with what delight he looks forward to the pleasant circle we shall make. Indeed, I think he would scarce have consented to our wedding, if it had separated us from him."
Aram stopped, and plucked a flower.
"Ah! indeed, indeed, Madeline! Yet in the course of the various changes of life, how more than probable it is that we shall be divided from him—that we shall leave this spot."
"It is possible, certainly; but not probable, is it, Eugene?"
"Would it grieve thee irremediably, dearest, were it so?" rejoined Aram, evasively.
"Irremediably! What could grieve me irremediably, that did not happen to you?"
"Should, then, circumstances occur to induce us to leave this part of the country, for one yet more remote, you could submit cheerfully to the change?"
"I should weep for my father—I should weep for Ellinor; but—"
"I should comfort myself in thinking that you would then be yet more to me than ever!"
"But why do you speak thus; only to try me? Ah! that is needless."
"No, my Madeline; I have no doubt of your affection. When you loved such as me, I knew at once how blind, how devoted must be that love. You were not won through the usual avenues to a woman's heart; neither wit nor gaiety, nor youth nor beauty, did you behold in me. Whatever attracted you towards me, that which must have been sufficiently powerful to make you overlook these ordinary allurements, will be also sufficiently enduring to resist all ordinary changes. But listen, Madeline. Do not yet ask me wherefore; but I fear, that a certain fatality will constrain us to leave this spot, very shortly after our wedding."
"How disappointed my poor father will be!" said Madeline, sighing.
"Do not, on any account, mention this conversation to him, or to Ellinor; 'sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.'"
Madeline wondered, but said no more. There was a pause for some minutes.
"Do you remember," observed Madeline, "that it was about here we met that strange man whom you had formerly known?"
"Ha! was it?—Here, was it?"
"What has become of him?"
"He is abroad, I hope," said Aram, calmly. "Yes, let me think; by this time he must be in France. Dearest, let us rest here on this dry mossy bank for a little while;" and Aram drew his arm round her waist, and, his countenance brightening as if with some thought of increasing joy, he poured out anew those protestations of love, and those anticipations of the future, which befitted the eve of a morrow so full of auspicious promise.
The heaven of their fate seemed calm and glowing, and Aram did not dream that the one small cloud of fear which was set within it, and which he alone beheld afar, and unprophetic of the storm, was charged with the thunderbolt of a doom, he had protracted, not escaped.
WALTER AND THE CORPORAL ON THE ROAD.—THE EVENING SETS IN.— THE GIPSEY TENTS.—ADVENTURE WITH THE HORSEMAN.—THE CORPORAL DISCOMFITED, AND THE ARRIVAL AT KNARESBOROUGH.
Long had he wandered, when from far he sees A ruddy flame that gleamed betwixt the trees. .... Sir Gawaine prays him tell Where lies the road to princely Corduel. —The Knight of the Sword.
"Well, Bunting, we are not far from our night's resting-place," said Walter, pointing to a milestone on the road.
"The poor beast will be glad when we gets there, your honour," answered the Corporal, wiping his brows.
"Which beast, Bunting?"
"Augh!—now your honour's severe! I am glad to see you so merry."
Walter sighed heavily; there sat no mirth at his heart at that moment.
"Pray Sir," said the Corporal after a pause, "if not too bold, has your honour heard how they be doing at Grassdale?"
"No, Bunting; I have not held any correspondence with my uncle since our departure. Once I wrote to him on setting off to Yorkshire, but I could give him no direction to write to me again. The fact is, that I have been so sanguine in this search, and from day to day I have been so led on in tracing a clue, which I fear is now broken, that I have constantly put off writing till I could communicate that certain intelligence which I flattered myself I should be able ere this to procure. However, if we are unsuccessful at Knaresbro' I shall write from that place a detailed account of our proceedings."
"And I hopes you will say as how I have given your honour satisfaction."
"Depend upon that."
"Thank you Sir, thank you humbly; I would not like the Squire to think I'm ungrateful!—augh,—and mayhap I may have more cause to be grateful by and by, whenever the Squire, God bless him, in consideration of your honour's good offices, should let me have the bit cottage rent free."
"A man of the world, Bunting; a man of the world!"
"Your honour's mighty obleeging," said the Corporal, putting his hand to his hat; "I wonders," renewed he, after a short pause, "I wonders how poor neighbour Dealtry is. He was a sufferer last year; I should like to know how Peter be getting on—'tis a good creature."
Somewhat surprised at this sudden sympathy on the part of the Corporal, for it was seldom that Bunting expressed kindness for any one, Walter replied,—
"When I write, Bunting, I will not fail to inquire how Peter Dealtry is;—does your kind heart suggest any other message to him?"
"Only to ask arter Jacobina, poor thing; she might get herself into trouble if little Peter fell sick and neglected her like—augh. And I hopes as how Peter airs the bit cottage now and then; but the Squire, God bless him, will see to that, and the tato garden, I'm sure."
"You may rely on that, Bunting," said Walter sinking into a reverie, from which he was shortly roused by the Corporal.
"I'spose Miss Madeline be married afore now, your honour: well, pray Heaven she be happy with that ere larned man!"
Walter's heart beat faster for a moment at this sudden remark, but he was pleased to find that the time when the thought of Madeline's marriage was accompanied with painful emotion was entirely gone by; the reflection however induced a new train of idea, and without replying to the Corporal, he sank into a deeper meditation than before.
The shrewd Bunting saw that it was not a favourable moment for renewing the conversation; he therefore suffered his horse to fall back, and taking a quid from his tobacco-box, was soon as well entertained as his master. In this manner they rode on for about a couple of miles, the evening growing darker as they proceeded, when a green opening in the road brought them within view of a gipsy's encampment; the scene was so sudden and so picturesque, that it aroused the young traveller from his reverie, and as his tired horse walked slowly on, the bridle about its neck, he looked with an earnest eye on the vagrant settlement beside his path. The moon had just risen above a dark copse in the rear, and cast a broad, deep shadow along the green, without lessening the vivid effect of the fires which glowed and sparkled in the darker recess of the waste land, as the gloomy forms of the Egyptians were seen dimly cowering round the blaze. A scene of this sort is perhaps one of the most striking that the green lanes of Old England afford,—to me it has always an irresistible attraction, partly from its own claims, partly from those of association. When I was a mere boy, and bent on a solitary excursion over parts of England and Scotland, I saw something of that wild people,—though not perhaps so much as the ingenious George Hanger, to whose memoirs the reader may be referred, for some rather amusing pages on gipsy life. As Walter was still eyeing the encampment, he in return had not escaped the glance of an old crone, who came running hastily up to him, and begged permission to tell his fortune and to have her hand crossed with silver.
Very few men under thirty ever sincerely refuse an offer of this sort. Nobody believes in these predictions, yet every one likes hearing them: and Walter, after faintly refusing the proposal twice, consented the third time; and drawing up his horse submitted his hand to the old lady. In the mean while, one of the younger urchins who had accompanied her had run to the encampments for a light, and now stood behind the old woman's shoulder, rearing on high a pine brand, which cast over the little group a red and weird-like glow.
The reader must not imagine we are now about to call his credulity in aid to eke out any interest he may feel in our story; the old crone was but a vulgar gipsy, and she predicted to Walter the same fortune she always predicted to those who paid a shilling for the prophecy—an heiress with blue eyes—seven children—troubles about the epoch of forty-three, happily soon over—and a healthy old age with an easy death. Though Walter was not impressed with any reverential awe for these vaticinations, he yet could not refrain from inquiring, whether the journey on which he was at present bent was likely to prove successful in its object.
"'Tis an ill night," said the old woman, lifting up her wild face and elfin locks with a mysterious air—"'Tis an ill night for them as seeks, and for them as asks.—He's about—"
"No matter!—you may be successful, young Sir, yet wish you had not been so. The moon thus, and the wind there—promise that you will get your desires, and find them crosses."
The Corporal had listened very attentively to these predictions, and was now about to thrust forth his own hand to the soothsayer, when from a cross road to the right came the sound of hoofs, and presently a horseman at full trot pulled up beside them.
"Hark ye, old she Devil, or you, Sirs—is this the road to Knaresbro'?"
The Gipsy drew back, and gazed on the countenance of the rider, on which the red glare of the pine-brand shone full.
"To Knaresbro', Richard, the dare-devil? Ay, and what does the ramping bird want in the ould nest? Welcome back to Yorkshire, Richard, my ben cove!"
"Ha!" said the rider, shading his eyes with his hand, as he returned the gaze of the Gipsy—"is it you, Bess Airlie: your welcome is like the owl's, and reads the wrong way. But I must not stop. This takes to Knaresbro' then?"
"Straight as a dying man's curse to hell," replied the crone, in that metaphorical style in which all her tribe love to speak, and of which their proper language is indeed almost wholly composed.
The horseman answered not, but spurred on.
"Who is that?" asked Walter earnestly, as the old woman stretched her tawny neck after the rider.
"An ould friend, Sir," replied the Egyptian, drily. "I have not seen him these fourteen years; but it is not Bess Airlie who is apt to forgit friend or foe. Well, Sir, shall I tell your honour's good luck?"—(Here she turned to the Corporal, who sat erect on his saddle with his hand on his holster)—"the colour of the lady's hair—and—"
"Hold your tongue, you limb of Satan!" interrupted the Corporal fiercely, as if his whole tide of thought, so lately favourable to the Soothsayer, had undergone a deadly reversion. "Please your honour, it's getting late, we had better be jogging!"
"You are right," said Walter spurring his jaded horse, and nodding his adieu to the Gipsy,—he was soon out of sight of the encampment.
"Sir," said the Corporal joining his master, "that is a man as I have seed afore; I knowed his ugly face again in a crack—'tis the man what came to Grassdale arter Mr. Aram, and we saw arterwards the night we chanced on Sir Peter Thingumybob."
"Bunting," said Walter, in a low voice, "I too have been trying to recal the face of that man, and I too am persuaded I have seen it before. A fearful suspicion, amounting almost to conviction, creeps over me, that the hour in which I last saw it was one when my life was in peril. In a word, I do believe that I beheld that face bending over me on the night when I lay under the hedge, and so nearly escaped murder! If I am right, it was, however, the mildest of the ruffians; the one who counselled his comrades against despatching me."
The Corporal shuddered.
"Pray, Sir!" said he, after a moment's pause, "do see if your pistols are primed—so—so. 'Tis not out o' nature that the man may have some 'complices hereabout, and may think to way-lay us. The old Gipsy, too, what a face she had! depend on it, they are two of a trade—augh!—bother!—whaugh!"
And the Corporal grunted his most significant grunt.
"It is not at all unlikely, Bunting; and as we are now not far from Knaresbro', it will be prudent to ride on as fast as our horses will allow us. Keep up alongside."
"Certainly—I'll purtect your honour," said the Corporal, getting on that side where the hedge being thinnest, an ambush was less likely to be laid. "I care more for your honour's safety than my own, or what a brute I should be—augh!"
The master and man had trotted on for some little distance, when they perceived a dark object moving along by the grass on the side of the road. The Corporal's hair bristled—he uttered an oath, which by him was always intended for a prayer. Walter felt his breath grow a little thick as he watched the motions of the object so imperfectly beheld; presently, however, it grew into a man on horseback, trotting very slowly along the grass; and as they now neared him, they recognised the rider they had just seen, whom they might have imagined, from the pace at which he left them before, to have been considerably a-head of them.
The horseman turned round as he saw them.
"Pray, gentlemen," said he, in a tone of great and evident anxiety, "how far is it to Knaresbro'?"
"Don't answer him, your honour!" whispered the Corporal.
"Probably," replied Walter, unheeding this advice, "you know this road better than we do. It cannot however be above three or four miles hence."
"Thank you, Sir,—it is long since I have been in these parts. I used to know the country, but they have made new roads and strange enclosures, and I now scarcely recognise any thing familiar. Curse on this brute! curse on it, I say!" repeated the horseman through his ground teeth in a tone of angry vehemence, "I never wanted to ride so quick before, and the beast has fallen as lame as a tree. This comes of trying to go faster than other folks.—Sir, are you a father?"
This abrupt question, which was uttered in a sharp, strained voice, a little startled Walter. He replied shortly in the negative, and was about to spur onward, when the horseman continued—and there was something in his voice and manner that compelled attention: "And I am in doubt whether I have a child or not.—By G—! it is a bitter gnawing state of mind.—I may reach Knaresbro' to find my only daughter dead, Sir!—dead!"
Despite of Walter's suspicions of the speaker, he could not but feel a thrill of sympathy at the visible distress with which these words were said.
"I hope not," said he involuntarily.
"Thank you, Sir," replied the Horseman, trying ineffectually to spur on his steed, which almost came down at the effort to proceed. "I have ridden thirty miles across the country at full speed, for they had no post-horses at the d—d place where I hired this brute. This was the only creature I could get for love or money; and now the devil only knows how important every moment may be.—While I speak, my child may breathe her last!—" and the man brought his clenched fist on the shoulder of his horse in mingled spite and rage.
"All sham, your honour," whispered the Corporal.
"Sir," cried the horseman, now raising his voice, "I need not have asked if you had been a father—if you had, you would have had compassion on me ere this,—you would have lent me your own horse."
"The impudent rogue!" muttered the Corporal.
"Sir," replied Walter, "it is not to the tale of every stranger that a man gives belief."
"Belief!—ah, well, well, 'tis no matter," said the horseman, sullenly. "There was a time, man, when I would have forced what I now solicit; but my heart's gone. Ride on, Sir—ride on,—and the curse of—"
"If," interrupted Walter, irresolutely—"if I could believe your statement:—but no. Mark me, Sir: I have reasons—fearful reasons, for imagining you mean this but as a snare!"
"Ha!" said the horseman, deliberately, "have we met before?"
"I believe so."
"And you have had cause to complain of me? It may be—it may be: but were the grave before me, and if one lie would smite me into it, I solemnly swear that I now utter but the naked truth."
"It would be folly to trust him, Bunting?" said Walter, turning round to his attendant.
"If you are the man I take you for," said Walter, "you once lifted your voice against the murder, though you assisted in the robbery of a traveller:—that traveller was myself. I will remember the mercy—I will forget the outrage: and I will not believe that you have devised this tale as a snare. Take my horse, Sir; I will trust you."
Houseman, for it was he, flung himself instantly from his saddle. "I don't ask God to bless you: a blessing in my mouth would be worse than a curse. But you will not repent this: you will not repent it!"
Houseman said these few words with a palpable emotion; and it was more striking on account of the evident coarseness and hardened vulgarity of his nature. In a moment more he had mounted Walter's horse, and turning ere he sped on, inquired at what place at Knaresborough the horse should be sent. Walter directed him to the principal inn; and Houseman, waving his hand, and striking his spurs into the animal, wearied as it was, was out of sight in a moment.
"Well, if ever I seed the like!" quoth the Corporal. "Lira, lira, la, la, la! lira, lara, la, la, la!—augh!—whaugh!—bother!"
"So my good-nature does not please you, Bunting."
"Oh, Sir, it does not sinnify: we shall have our throats cut—that's all.
"What! you don't believe the story."
"I? Bless your honour, I am no fool."
"You forget yourself."
"So you don't think I should have lent the horse?"
"On occasions like these, every man ought to take care of himself? Prudence before generosity?"
"Of a sartainty, Sir."
"Dismount, then,—I want my horse. You may shift with the lame one."
"Rascal, dismount, I say!" said Walter angrily: for the Corporal was one of those men who aim at governing their masters; and his selfishness now irritated Walter as much as his impertinent tone of superior wisdom.
The Corporal hesitated. He thought an ambuscade by the road of certain occurrence; and he was weighing the danger of riding a lame horse against his master's displeasure. Walter, perceiving he demurred, was seized with so violent a resentment, that he dashed up to the Corporal, and, grasping him by the collar, swung him, heavy as he was,—being wholly unprepared for such force,—to the ground.
Without deigning to look at his condition, Walter mounted the sound horse, and throwing the bridle of the lame one over a bough, left the Corporal to follow at his leisure.
There is not perhaps a more sore state of mind than that which we experience when we have committed an act we meant to be generous, and fear to be foolish.
"Certainly," said Walter, soliloquizing, "certainly the man is a rascal: yet he was evidently sincere in his emotion. Certainly he was one of the men who robbed me; yet, if so, he was also the one who interceded for my life. If I should now have given strength to a villain;—if I should have assisted him to an outrage against myself! What more probable? Yet, on the other hand, if his story be true;—if his child be dying,—and if, through my means, he obtain a last interview with her! Well, well, let me hope so!"
Here he was joined by the Corporal, who, angry as he was, judged it prudent to smother his rage for another opportunity; and by favoring his master with his company, to procure himself an ally immediately at hand, should his suspicions prove true. But for once, his knowledge of the world deceived him: no sign of living creature broke the loneliness of the way. By and by the lights of the town gleamed upon them; and, on reaching the inn, Walter found his horse had been already sent there, and, covered with dust and foam, was submitting itself to the tutelary hands of the hostler.
WALTER'S REFLECTIONS.—MINE HOST.—A GENTLE CHARACTER AND A GREEN OLD AGE.—THE GARDEN, AND THAT WHICH IT TEACHETH.—A DIALOGUE, WHEREIN NEW HINTS TOWARDS THE WISHED FOR DISCOVERY ARE SUGGESTED.—THE CURATE.—A VISIT TO A SPOT OF DEEP INTEREST TO THE ADVENTURER.
I made a posy while the day ran by, Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie My life within this band. —George Herbert.
The time approaches, That will with due precision make us know, What— —Macbeth.
The next morning Walter rose early, and descending into the court-yard of the inn, he there met with the landlord, who—a hoe in his hand,—was just about to enter a little gate that led into the garden. He held the gate open for Walter.
"It is a fine morning, Sir; would you like to look into the garden," said mine host, with an inviting smile.
Walter accepted the offer, and found himself in a large and well-stocked garden, laid out with much neatness and some taste; the Landlord halted by a parterre which required his attention, and Walter walked on in solitary reflection.
The morning was serene and clear, but the frost mingled the freshness with an "eager and nipping air," and Walter unconsciously quickened his step as he paced to and fro the straight walk that bisected the garden, with his eyes on the ground, and his hat over his brows.
Now then he had reached the place where the last trace of his father seemed to have vanished; in how wayward and strange a manner! If no further clue could be here discovered by the inquiry he purposed; at this spot would terminate his researches and his hopes. But the young heart of the traveller was buoyed up with expectation. Looking back to the events of the last few weeks, he thought he recognised the finger of Destiny guiding him from step to step, and now resting on the scene to which it had brought his feet. How singularly complete had been the train of circumstance, which, linking things seemingly most trifling—most dissimilar, had lengthened into one continuous chain of evidence! the trivial incident that led him to the saddler's shop; the accident that brought the whip that had been his father's, to his eye; the account from Courtland, which had conducted him to this remote part of the country; and now the narrative of Elmore leading him to the spot, at which all inquiry seemed as yet to pause! Had he been led hither only to hear repeated that strange tale of sudden and wanton disappearance—to find an abrupt wall, a blank and impenetrable barrier to a course, hitherto so continuously guided on? had he been the sport of Fate, and not its instrument? No; he was filled with a serious and profound conviction, that a discovery that he of all men was best entitled by the unalienable claims of blood and birth to achieve was reserved for him, and that this grand dream and nursed object of his childhood was now about to be embodied and attained. He could not but be sensible, too, that as he had proceeded on his high enterprise, his character had acquired a weight and a thoughtful seriousness, which was more fitted to the nature of that enterprise than akin to his earlier temper. This consciousness swelled his bosom with a profound and steady hope. When Fate selects her human agents, her dark and mysterious spirit is at work within them; she moulds their hearts, she exalts their energies, she shapes them to the part she has allotted them, and renders the mortal instrument worthy of the solemn end.
Thus chewing the cud of his involved and deep reflection, the young adventurer paused at last opposite his host, who was still bending over his pleasant task, and every now and then, excited by the exercise and the fresh morning air, breaking into snatches of some old rustic song. The contrast in mood between himself and this!
"Unvexed loiterer by the world's green ways" struck forcibly upon him. Mine host, too, was one whose appearance was better suited to his occupation than his profession. He might have told some three-and-sixty years, but it was a comely and green old age; his cheek was firm and ruddy, not with nightly cups, but the fresh witness of the morning breezes it was wont to court; his frame was robust, not corpulent; and his long grey hair, which fell almost to his shoulder, his clear blue eyes, and a pleasant curve in a mouth characterized by habitual good humour, completed a portrait that even many a dull observer would have paused to gaze upon. And indeed the good man enjoyed a certain kind of reputation for his comely looks and cheerful manner. His picture had even been taken by a young artist in the neighbourhood; nay, the likeness had been multiplied into engravings, somewhat rude and somewhat unfaithful, which might be seen occupying no inconspicuous or dusty corner in the principal printshop of the town: nor was mine host's character a contradiction to his looks. He had seen enough of life to be intelligent, and had judged it rightly enough to be kind. He had passed that line so nicely given to man's codes in those admirable pages which first added delicacy of tact to the strong sense of English composition. "We have just religion enough," it is said somewhere in the Spectator, "to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another." Our good landlord, peace be with his ashes! had never halted at this limit. The country innkeeper might have furnished Goldsmith with a counterpart to his country curate; his house was equally hospitable to the poor—his heart equally tender, in a nature wiser than experience, to error, and equally open, in its warm simplicity, to distress. Peace be with thee—Our grandsire was thy patron—yet a patron thou didst not want. Merit in thy capacity is seldom bare of reward. The public want no indicators to a house like thine. And who requires a third person to tell him how to appreciate the value of good nature and good cheer?
As Walter stood, and contemplated the old man bending over the sweet fresh earth, (and then, glancing round, saw the quiet garden stretching away on either side with its boundaries lost among the thick evergreen,) something of that grateful and moralizing stillness with which some country scene (the rura et silentium) generally inspires us, when we awake to its consciousness from the troubled dream of dark and unquiet thought, stole over his mind: and certain old lines which his uncle, who loved the soft and rustic morality that pervades the ancient race of English minstrels, had taught him, when a boy, came pleasantly into his recollection,
"With all, as in some rare-limn'd book, we see Here painted lectures of God's sacred will. The daisy teacheth lowliness of mind; The camomile, we should be patient still; The rue, our hate of Vice's poison ill; The woodbine, that we should our friendship hold; Our hope the savory in the bitterest cold." —[Henry Peacham.]
The old man stopped from his work, as the musing figure of his guest darkened the prospect before him, and said:
"A pleasant time, Sir, for the gardener!"
"Ay, is it so... you must miss the fruits and flowers of summer."
"Well, Sir,—but we are now paying back the garden, for the good things it has given us.—It is like taking care of a friend in old age, who has been kind to us when he was young."
Walter smiled at the quaint amiability of the idea.
"'Tis a winning thing, Sir, a garden!—It brings us an object every day; and that's what I think a man ought to have if he wishes to lead a happy life."
"It is true," said Walter; and mine host was encouraged to continue by the attention and affable countenance of the stranger, for he was a physiognomist in his way.
"And then, Sir, we have no disappointment in these objects:—the soil is not ungrateful, as, they say, men are—though I have not often found them so, by the by. What we sow we reap. I have an old book, Sir, lying in my little parlour, all about fishing, and full of so many pretty sayings about a country life, and meditation, and so forth, that it does one as much good as a sermon to look into it. But to my mind, all those sayings are more applicable to a gardener's life than a fisherman's."
"It is a less cruel life, certainly," said Walter.
"Yes, Sir; and then the scenes one makes oneself, the flowers one plants with one's own hand, one enjoys more than all the beauties which don't owe us any thing; at least, so it seems to me. I have always been thankful to the accident that made me take to gardening."
"And what was that?"
"Why, Sir, you must know there was a great scholar, though he was but a youth then, living in this town some years ago, and he was very curious in plants and flowers and such like. I have heard the parson say, he knew more of those innocent matters than any man in this county. At that time I was not in so flourishing a way of business as I am at present. I kept a little inn in the outskirts of the town; and having formerly been a gamekeeper of my Lord—'s, I was in the habit of eking out my little profits by accompanying gentlemen in fishing or snipe-shooting. So, one day, Sir, I went out fishing with a strange gentleman from London, and, in a very quiet retired spot some miles off, he stopped and plucked some herbs that seemed to me common enough, but which he declared were most curious and rare things, and he carried them carefully away. I heard afterwards he was a great herbalist, I think they call it, but he was a very poor fisher. Well, Sir, I thought the next morning of Mr. Aram, our great scholar and botanist, and thought it would please him to know of these bits of grass: so I went and called upon him, and begged leave to go and show the spot to him. So we walked there, and certainly, Sir, of all the men that ever I saw, I never met one that wound round your heart like this same Eugene Aram. He was then exceedingly poor, but he never complained; and was much too proud for any one to dare to offer him relief. He lived quite alone, and usually avoided every one in his walks: but, Sir, there was something so engaging and patient in his manner, and his voice, and his pale, mild countenance, which, young as he was then, for he was not a year or two above twenty, was marked with sadness and melancholy, that it quite went to your heart when you met him or spoke to him.—Well, Sir, we walked to the place, and very much delighted he seemed with the green things I shewed him, and as I was always of a communicative temper, rather a gossip, Sir, my neighbours say, I made him smile now and then by my remarks. He seemed pleased with me, and talked to me going home about flowers, and gardening, and such like; and after that, when we came across one another, he would not shun me as he did others, but let me stop and talk to him; and then I asked his advice about a wee farm I thought of taking, and he told me many curious things which, sure enough, I found quite true, and brought me in afterwards a deal of money But we talked much about gardening, for I loved to hear him talk on those matters; and so, Sir, I was struck by all he said, and could not rest till I took to gardening myself, and ever since I have gone on, more pleased with it every day of my life. Indeed, Sir, I think these harmless pursuits make a man's heart better and kinder to his fellow-creatures; and I always take more pleasure in reading the Bible, specially the New Testament, after having spent the day in the garden. Ah! well, I should like to know, what has become of that poor gentleman."
"I can relieve your honest heart about him. Mr. Aram is living in—, well off in the world, and universally liked; though he still keeps to his old habits of reserve."
"Ay, indeed, Sir! I have not heard any thing that pleased me more this many a day."
"Pray," said Walter, after a moment's pause, "do you remember the circumstance of a Mr. Clarke appearing in this town, and leaving it in a very abrupt and mysterious manner?"
"Do I mind it, Sir? Yes, indeed. It made a great noise in Knaresbro'—there were many suspicions of foul play about it. For my part, I too had my thoughts, but that's neither here nor there;" and the old man recommenced weeding with great diligence.
"My friend," said Walter, mastering his emotion; "you would serve me more deeply than I can express, if you would give me any information, any conjecture, respecting this—this Mr. Clarke. I have come hither, solely to make inquiry after his fate: in a word, he is—or was—a near relative of mine!"
The old man looked wistfully in Walter's face. "Indeed," said he, slowly, "you are welcome, Sir, to all I know; but that is very little, or nothing rather. But will you turn up this walk, Sir? it's more retired. Did you ever hear of one Richard Houseman?"
"Houseman! yes. He knew my poor—, I mean he knew Clarke; he said Clarke was in his debt when he left the town so suddenly."
The old man shook his head mysteriously, and looked round. "I will tell you," said he, laying his hand on Walter's arm, and speaking in his ear—"I would not accuse any one wrongfully, but I have my doubts that Houseman murdered him."
"Great God!" murmured Walter, clinging to a post for support. "Go on—heed me not—heed me not—for mercy's sake go on."
"Nay, I know nothing certain—nothing certain, believe me," said the old man, shocked at the effect his words had produced: "it may be better than I think for, and my reasons are not very strong, but you shall hear them.
"Mr. Clarke, you know, came to this town to receive a legacy—you know the particulars."
Walter impatiently nodded assent.
"Well, though he seemed in poor health, he was a lively careless man, who liked any company who would sit and tell stories, and drink o'nights; not a silly man exactly, but a weak one. Now of all the idle persons of this town, Richard Houseman was the most inclined to this way of life. He had been a soldier—had wandered a good deal about the world—was a bold, talking, reckless fellow—of a character thoroughly profligate; and there were many stories afloat about him, though none were clearly made out. In short, he was suspected of having occasionally taken to the high road; and a stranger who stopped once at my little inn, assured me privately, that though he could not positively swear to his person, he felt convinced that he had been stopped a year before on the London road by Houseman. Notwithstanding all this, as Houseman had some respectable connections in the town—among his relations, by the by, was Mr. Aram—as he was a thoroughly boon companion—a good shot—a bold rider—excellent at a song, and very cheerful and merry, he was not without as much company as he pleased; and the first night, he and Mr. Clarke came together, they grew mighty intimate; indeed, it seemed as if they had met before. On the night Mr. Clarke disappeared, I had been on an excursion with some gentlemen, and in consequence of the snow which had been heavy during the latter part of the day, I did not return to Knaresbro' till past midnight. In walking through the town, I perceived two men engaged in earnest conversation: one of them, I am sure, was Clarke; the other was wrapped up in a great coat, with the cape over his face, but the watchman had met the same man alone at an earlier hour, and putting aside the cape, perceived that it was Houseman. No one else was seen with Clarke after that hour."
"But was not Houseman examined?"
"Slightly; and deposed that he had been spending the night with Eugene Aram; that on leaving Aram's house, he met Clarke, and wondering that he the latter, an invalid, should be out at so late an hour, he walked some way with him, in order to learn the cause; but that Clarke seemed confused, and was reserved, and on his guard, and at last wished him good-b'ye abruptly, and turned away. That he, Houseman, had no doubt he left the town that night, with the intention of defrauding his creditors, and making off with some jewels he had borrowed from Mr. Elmore."
"But, Aram? was this suspicious, nay, abandoned character—this Houseman, intimate with Aram?"
"Not at all; but being distantly related, and Houseman being a familiar, pushing sort of a fellow, Aram could not, perhaps, always shake him off; and Aram allowed that Houseman had spent the evening with him."
"And no suspicion rested on Aram?"
The host turned round in amazement.—"Heavens above, no! One might as well suspect the lamb of eating the wolf!"
But not thus thought Walter Lester; the wild words occasionally uttered by the Student—his lone habits—his frequent starts and colloquy with self, all of which had, even from the first, it has been seen, excited Walter's suspicion of former guilt, that had murdered the mind's wholesome sleep, now rushed with tenfold force upon his memory.
"But no other circumstance transpired? Is this your whole ground for suspicion; the mere circumstance of Houseman's being last seen with Clarke?"
"Consider also the dissolute and bold character of Houseman. Clarke evidently had his jewels and money with him—they were not left in the house. What a temptation to one who was more than suspected of having in the course of his life taken to plunder! Houseman shortly afterwards left the country. He has never returned to the town since, though his daughter lives here with his wife's mother, and has occasionally gone up to town to see him."
"And Aram—he also left Knaresbro' soon after this mysterious event?"
"Yes! an old Aunt at York, who had never assisted him during her life, died and bequeathed him a legacy, about a month afterwards. On receiving it, he naturally went to London—the best place for such clever scholars."
"Ha! But are you sure that the aunt died?—that the legacy was left? Might this be no tale to give an excuse to the spending of money otherwise acquired?"
Mine host looked almost with anger on Walter.
"It is clear," said he, "you know nothing of Eugene Aram, or you would not speak thus. But I can satisfy your doubts on this head. I knew the old lady well, and my wife was at York when she died. Besides, every one here knows something of the will, for it was rather an eccentric one."
Walter paused irresolutely. "Will you accompany me," he asked, "to the house in which Mr. Clarke lodged,—and indeed to any other place where it may be prudent to institute inquiry?"
"Certainly, Sir, with the biggest pleasure," said mine host: "but you must first try my dame's butter and eggs. It is time to breakfast."
We may suppose that Walter's simple meal was soon over; and growing impatient and restless to commence his inquiries, he descended from his solitary apartment to the little back-room behind the bar, in which he had, on the night before, seen mine host and his better-half at supper. It was a sung, small, wainscoated room; fishing-rods were neatly arranged against the wall, which was also decorated by a portrait of the landlord himself, two old Dutch pictures of fruit and game, a long, quaint-fashioned fowling-piece, and, opposite the fireplace, a noble stag's head and antlers. On the window-seat lay the Izaak Walton to which the old man had referred; the Family Bible, with its green baize cover, and the frequent marks peeping out from its venerable pages; and, close nestling to it, recalling that beautiful sentence, "suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not," several of those little volumes with gay bindings, and marvellous contents of fay and giant, which delight the hearth-spelled urchin, and which were "the source of golden hours" to the old man's grandchildren, in their respite from "learning's little tenements,"
"Where sits the dame, disguised in look profound, And eyes her fairy throng, and turns her wheel around." —[Shenstone's Schoolmistress.]
Mine host was still employed by a huge brown loaf and some baked pike; and mine hostess, a quiet and serene old lady, was alternately regaling herself and a large brindled cat from a plate of "toasten cheer."
While the old man was hastily concluding his repast, a little knock at the door was heard, and presently an elderly gentleman in black put his head into the room, and, perceiving the stranger, would have drawn back; but both landlady and landlord bustling up, entreated him to enter by the appellation of Mr. Summers. And then, as the gentleman smilingly yielded to the invitation, the landlady, turning to Walter, said: "Our clergyman, Sir: and though I say it afore his face, there is not a man who, if Christian vartues were considered, ought so soon to be a bishop."
"Hush! my good lady," said Mr. Summers, laughing as he bowed to Walter. "You see, Sir, that it is no trifling advantage to a Knaresbro' reputation to have our hostess's good word. But, indeed," turning to the landlady, and assuming a grave and impressive air, "I have little mind for jesting now. You know poor Jane Houseman,—a mild, quiet, blue-eyed creature, she died at daybreak this morning! Her father had come from London expressly to see her: she died in his arms, and, I hear, he is almost in a state of frenzy."
The host and hostess signified their commiseration. "Poor little girl!" said the latter, wiping her eyes; "her's was a hard fate, and she felt it, child as she was. Without the care of a mother,—and such a father! Yet he was fond of her."
"My reason for calling on you was this," renewed the Clergyman, addressing the host: "you knew Houseman formerly; me he always shunned, and, I fancy, ridiculed. He is in distress now, and all that is forgotten. Will you seek him, and inquire if any thing in my power can afford him consolation? He may be poor: I can pay for the poor child's burial. I loved her; she was the best girl at Mrs. Summers' school."
"Certainly, Sir, I will seek him," said the landlord, hesitating; and then, drawing the Clergyman aside, he informed him in a whisper of his engagement with Walter, and with the present pursuit and meditated inquiry of his guest; not forgetting to insinuate his suspicion of the guilt of the man whom he was now called upon to compassionate.
The Clergyman mused a little, and then, approaching Walter, offered his services in the stead of the Publican in so frank and cordial a manner, that Walter at once accepted them.
"Let us come now, then," said the good Curate—for he was but the Curate—seeing Walter's impatience; "and first we will go to the house in which Clarke lodged; I know it well."
The two gentlemen now commenced their expedition. Summers was no contemptible antiquary; and he sought to beguile the nervous impatience of his companion by dilating on the attractions of the antient and memorable town to which his purpose had brought him;—
"Remarkable," said the Curate, "alike in history and tradition: look yonder" (pointing above, as an opening in the road gave to view the frowning and beetled ruins of the shattered Castle); "you would be at some loss to recognize now the truth of old Leland's description of that once stout and gallant bulwark of the North, when he 'numbrid 11 or 12 towres in the walles of the Castel, and one very fayre beside in the second area.' In that castle, the four knightly murderers of the haughty Becket (the Wolsey of his age) remained for a whole year, defying the weak justice of the times. There, too, the unfortunate Richard the Second,—the Stuart of the Plantagenets—passed some portion of his bitter imprisonment. And there, after the battle of Marston Moor, waved the banners of the loyalists against the soldiers of Lilburne. It was made yet more touchingly memorable at that time, as you may have heard, by an instance of filial piety. The town was greatly straitened for want of provisions; a youth, whose father was in the garrison, was accustomed nightly to get into the deep dry moat, climb up the glacis, and put provisions through a hole, where the father stood ready to receive them. He was perceived at length; the soldiers fired on him. He was taken prisoner, and sentenced to be hanged in sight of the besieged, in order to strike terror into those who might be similarly disposed to render assistance to the garrison. Fortunately, however, this disgrace was spared the memory of Lilburne and the republican arms. With great difficulty, a certain lady obtained his respite; and after the conquest of the place, and the departure of the troops, the adventurous son was released."
"A fit subject for your local poets," said Walter, whom stories of this sort, from the nature of his own enterprise, especially affected.
"Yes: but we boast but few minstrels since the young Aram left us. The castle then, once the residence of Pierce Gaveston,—of Hubert III.—and of John of Gaunt, was dismantled and destroyed. Many of the houses we shall pass have been built from its massive ruins. It is singular, by the way, that it was twice captured by men of the name of Lilburn, or Lilleburn, once in the reign of Edward II., once as I have related. On looking over historical records, we are surprised to find how often certain names have been fatal to certain spots; and this reminds me, by the way, that we boast the origin of the English Sibyl, the venerable Mother Shipton. The wild rock, at whose foot she is said to have been born, is worthy of the tradition."
"You spoke just now," said Walter, who had not very patiently suffered the Curate thus to ride his hobby, "of Eugene Aram; you knew him well?"
"Nay: he suffered not any to do that! He was a remarkable youth. I have noted him from his childhood upward, long before he came to Knaresbro', till on leaving this place, fourteen years back, I lost sight of him.—Strange, musing, solitary from a boy! but what accomplishment of learning he had reached! Never did I see one whom Nature so emphatically marked to be GREAT. I often wonder that his name has not long ere this been more universally noised abroad: whatever he attempted was stamped with such signal success. I have by me some scattered pieces of poetry when a boy; they were given me by his poor father, long since dead; and are full of a dim, shadowy anticipation of future fame. Perhaps, yet, before he dies,—he is still young,—the presentiment will be realized. You too know him, then?"
"Yes! I have known him. Stay—dare I ask you a question, a fearful question? Did suspicion ever, in your mind, in the mind of any one, rest on Aram, as concerned in the mysterious disappearance of my—of Clarke? His acquaintance with Houseman who was suspected; Houseman's visit to Aram that night; his previous poverty—so extreme, if I hear rightly; his after riches—though they perhaps may be satisfactorily accounted for; his leaving this town so shortly after the disappearance I refer to;—these alone might not create suspicion in me, but I have seen the man in moments of reverie and abstraction, I have listened to strange and broken words, I have noted a sudden, keen, and angry susceptibility to any unmeant excitation of a less peaceful or less innocent remembrance. And there seems to me inexplicably to hang over his heart some gloomy recollection, which I cannot divest myself from imagining to be that of guilt."
Walter spoke quickly, and in great though half suppressed excitement; the more kindled from observing that as he spoke, Summers changed countenance, and listened as with painful and uneasy attention.
"I will tell you," said the Curate, after a short pause, (lowering his voice)—"I will tell you: Aram did undergo examination—I was present at it—but from his character and the respect universally felt for him, the examination was close and secret. He was not, mark me, suspected of the murder of the unfortunate Clarke, nor was any suspicion of murder generally entertained until all means of discovering Clarke were found wholly unavailing; but of sharing with Houseman, some part of the jewels with which Clarke was known to have left the town. This suspicion of robbery could not, however, be brought home, even to Houseman, and Aram was satisfactorily acquitted from the imputation. But in the minds of some present at that examination, a doubt lingered, and this doubt certainly deeply wounded a man so proud and susceptible. This, I believe, was the real reason of his quitting Knaresbro' almost immediately after that examination. And some of us, who felt for him and were convinced of his innocence, persuaded the others to hush up the circumstance of his examination, nor has it generally transpired, even to this day, when the whole business is well nigh forgot. But as to his subsequent improvement of circumstance, there is no doubt of his aunt's having left him a legacy sufficient to account for it."
Walter bowed his head, and felt his suspicions waver, when the Curate renewed.
"Yet it is but fair to tell you, who seem so deeply interested in the fate of Clarke, that since that period rumours have reached my ear that the woman at whose house Aram lodged has from time to time dropped words that require explanation—hints that she could tell a tale—that she knows more than men will readily believe—nay, once she was even reported to have said that the life of Eugene Aram was in her power."
"Father of mercy! and did Inquiry sleep on words so calling for its liveliest examination?"
"Not wholly—on their being brought to me, I went to the house, but found the woman, whose habits and character are low and worthless, was abrupt and insolent in her manner; and after in vain endeavouring to call forth some explanation of the words she was reported to have uttered, I left the house fully persuaded that she had only given vent to a meaningless boast, and that the idle words of a disorderly gossip could not be taken as evidence against a man of the blameless character and austere habits of Aram. Since, however, you have now re-awakened investigation, we will visit her before you leave the town; and it may be as well too, that Houseman should undergo a further investigation before we suffer him to depart."
"I thank you! I thank you—I will not let slip one thread of this dark clue."
"And now," said the Curate, pointing to a decent house, "we have reached the lodging Clarke occupied in the town!"
An old man of respectable appearance opened the door, and welcomed the Curate and his companion with an air of cordial respect which attested the well-deserved popularity of the former.
"We have come," said the Curate, "to ask you some questions respecting Daniel Clarke, whom you remember as your lodger. This gentleman is a relation of his, and interested deeply in his fate!"
"What, Sir!" quoth the old man, "and have you, his relation, never heard of Mr. Clarke since he left the town? Strange!—this room, this very room was the one Mr. Clarke occupied, and next to this,—here—(opening a door) was his bed-chamber!"
It was not without powerful emotion that Walter found himself thus within the apartment of his lost father. What a painful, what a gloomy, yet sacred interest every thing around instantly assumed! The old-fashioned and heavy chairs—the brown wainscot walls—the little cupboard recessed as it were to the right of the fire-place, and piled with morsels of Indian china and long taper wine glasses—the small window-panes set deep in the wall, giving a dim view of a bleak and melancholy-looking garden in the rear—yea, the very floor he trod—the very table on which he leant—the very hearth, dull and fireless as it was, opposite his gaze—all took a familiar meaning in his eye, and breathed a household voice into his ear. And when he entered the inner room, how, even to suffocation, were those strange, half sad, yet not all bitter emotions increased. There was the bed on which his father had rested on the night before—what? perhaps his murder! The bed, probably a relic from the castle, when its antique furniture was set up to public sale, was hung with faded tapestry, and above its dark and polished summit were hearselike and heavy trappings. Old commodes of rudely carved oak, a discoloured glass in a japan frame, a ponderous arm-chair of Elizabethan fashion, and covered with the same tapestry as the bed, altogether gave that uneasy and sepulchral impression to the mind so commonly produced by the relics of a mouldering and forgotten antiquity.
"It looks cheerless, Sir," said the owner, "but then we have not had any regular lodger for years; it is just the same as when Mr. Clarke lived here. But bless you, Sir, he made the dull rooms look gay enough. He was a blithesome gentleman. He and his friends, Mr. Houseman especially, used to make the walls ring again when they were over their cups!"
"It might have been better for Mr. Clarke," said the Curate, "had he chosen his comrades with more discretion. Houseman was not a creditable, perhaps not a safe companion."
"That was no business of mine then," quoth the lodging-letter; "but it might be now, since I have been a married man!"
The Curate smiled, "Perhaps you, Mr. Moor, bore a part in those revels?"
"Why, indeed, Mr. Clarke would occasionally make me take a glass or so, Sir."
"And you must then have heard the conversations that took place between Houseman and him? Did Mr. Clarke, ever, in those conversations, intimate an intention of leaving the town soon? and where, if so, did he talk of going?"
"Oh! first to London. I have often heard him talk of going to London, and then taking a trip to see some relations of his in a distant part of the country. I remember his caressing a little boy of my brother's; you know Jack, Sir, not a little boy now, almost as tall as this gentleman. 'Ah,' said he with a sort of sigh, 'ah! I have a boy at home about this age,—when shall I see him again?'"
"When indeed!" thought Walter, turning away his face at this anecdote, to him so naturally affecting.
"And the night that Clarke left you, were you aware of his absence?"
"No! he went to his room at his usual hour, which was late, and the next morning I found his bed had not been slept in, and that he was gone—gone with all his jewels, money, and valuables; heavy luggage he had none. He was a cunning gentleman; he never loved paying a bill. He was greatly in debt in different parts of the town, though he had not been here long. He ordered everything and paid for nothing."
Walter groaned. It was his father's character exactly; partly it might be from dishonest principles superadded to the earlier feelings of his nature; but partly also from that temperament at once careless and procrastinating, which, more often than vice, loses men the advantage of reputation.
"Then in your own mind, and from your knowledge of him," renewed the Curate, "you would suppose that Clarke's disappearance was intentional; that though nothing has since been heard of him, none of the blacker rumours afloat were well founded?"
"I confess, Sir, begging this gentleman's pardon who you say is a relation, I confess I see no reason to think otherwise."
"Was Mr. Aram, Eugene Aram, ever a guest of Clarke's? Did you ever see them together?"
"Never at this house. I fancy Houseman once presented Mr. Aram to Clarke; and that they may have met and conversed some two or three times, not more, I believe; they were scarcely congenial spirits, Sir."
Walter having now recovered his self-possession, entered into the conversation; and endeavoured by as minute an examination as his ingenuity could suggest, to obtain some additional light upon the mysterious subject so deeply at his heart. Nothing, however, of any effectual import was obtained from the good man of the house. He had evidently persuaded himself that Clarke's disappearance was easily accounted for, and would scarcely lend attention to any other suggestion than that of Clarke's dishonesty. Nor did his recollection of the meetings between Houseman and Clarke furnish him with any thing worthy of narration. With a spirit somewhat damped and disappointed, Walter, accompanied by the Curate, recommenced his expedition.
GRIEF IN A RUFFIAN.—THE CHAMBER OF EARLY DEATH.—A HOMELY YET MOMENTOUS CONFESSION.—THE EARTH'S SECRETS.—THE CAVERN.—THE ACCUSATION.
ALL is not well; I doubt some foul play. ............ Foul deeds will rise, Though all the earth o'erwhelm them, to men's eyes. —Hamlet.
As they passed through the street, they perceived three or four persons standing round the open door of a house of ordinary description, the windows of which were partially closed.
"It is the house," said the curate, "in which Houseman's daughter died,—poor, poor child! Yet why mourn for the young? Better that the light cloud should fade away into heaven with the morning breath, than travel through the weary day to gather in darkness and end in storm."
"Ah, sir!" said an old man, leaning on his stick and lifting his hat, in obeisance to the curate, "the father is within, and takes on bitterly. He drives them all away from the room, and sits moaning by the bedside, as if he was a going out of his mind. Won't your reverence go in to him a bit?"
The curate looked at Walter inquiringly. "Perhaps," said the latter, "you had better go in: I will wait without." While the curate hesitated, they heard a voice in the passage; and presently Houseman was seen at the far end, driving some women before him with vehement gesticulations. "I tell you, ye hell-hags," shrieked his harsh and now straining voice, "that ye suffered her to die! Why did ye not send to London for physicians? Am I not rich enough to buy my child's life at any price? By the living , I would have turned your very bodies into gold to have saved her! But she's DEAD! and I Out of my sight; out of my way!" And with his hands clenched, his brows knit, and his head uncovered, Houseman sallied forth from the door, and Walter recognized the traveller of the preceding night. He stopped abruptly as he saw the little knot without, and scowled round at each of them with a malignant and ferocious aspect. "Very well, it's very well, neighbors!" said he at length, with a fierce laugh; "this is kind! You have come to welcome Richard Houseman home, have ye? Good, good! Not to gloat at his distress? Lord, no! Ye have no idle curiosity, no prying, searching, gossiping devil within ye that makes ye love to flock and gape and chatter when poor men suffer! This is all pure compassion; and Houseman, the good, gentle, peaceful, honest Houseman, you feel for him,—I know you do! Hark ye, begone! Away, march, tramp, or—Ha, ha! there they go, there they go!" laughing wildly again as the frightened neighbors shrank from the spot, leaving only Walter and the clergyman with the childless man.
"Be comforted, Houseman!" said Summers, soothingly; "it is a dreadful affliction that you have sustained. I knew your daughter well: you may have heard her speak of me. Let us in, and try what heavenly comfort there is in prayer."
"Prayer! pooh! I am Richard Houseman!"
"Lives there one man for whom prayer is unavailing?"
"Out, canter, out! My pretty Jane! And she laid her head on my bosom, and looked up in my face, and so—died!"
"Come," said the curate, placing his hand on Houseman's arm, "come."
Before he could proceed, Houseman, who was muttering to himself, shook him off roughly, and hurried away up the street; but after he had gone a few paces, he turned back, and approaching the curate, said, in a more collected tone: "I pray you, sir, since you are a clergyman (I recollect your face, and I recollect Jane said you had been good to her),—I pray you go and say a few words over her. But stay,—don't bring in my name; you understand. I don't wish God to recollect that there lives such a man as he who now addresses you. Halloo! [shouting to the women] my hat, and stick too. Fal la! la! fal la!—why should these things make us play the madman? It is a fine day, sir; we shall have a late winter.
"Curse the b_, how long she is! Yet the hat was left below. But when a death is in the house, sir, it throws things into confusion: don't you find it so?"
Here one of the women, pale, trembling, and tearful, brought the ruffian his hat; and placing it deliberately on his head, and bowing with a dreadful and convulsive attempt to smile, he walked slowly away and disappeared.
"What strange mummers grief makes!" said the curate. "It is an appalling spectacle when it thus wrings out feeling from a man of that mould! But pardon me, my young friend; let me tarry here for a moment."
"I will enter the house with you," said Walter. And the two men walked in, and in a few moments they stood within the chamber of death.
The face of the deceased had not yet suffered the last withering change. Her young countenance was hushed and serene, and but for the fixedness of the smile, you might have thought the lips moved. So delicate, fair, and gentle were the features that it was scarcely possible to believe such a scion could spring from such a stock; and it seemed no longer wonderful that a thing so young, so innocent, so lovely, and so early blighted should have touched that reckless and dark nature which rejected all other invasion of the softer emotions. The curate wiped his eyes, and kneeling down prayed, if not for the dead (who, as our Church teaches, are beyond human intercession), perhaps for the father she had left on earth, more to be pitied of the two! Nor to Walter was the scene without something more impressive and thrilling than its mere pathos alone. He, now standing beside the corpse of Houseman's child, was son to the man of whose murder Houseman had been suspected. The childless and the fatherless,—might there be no retribution here?
When the curate's prayer was over, and he and Walter escaped from the incoherent blessings and complaints of the women of the house, they, with difficulty resisting the impression the scene had left upon their minds, once more resumed their errand.
"This is no time," said Walter, musingly, "for an examination of Houseman; yet it must not be forgotten."
The curate did not reply for some moments; and then, as an answer to the remark, observed that the conversation they anticipated with Aram's former hostess might throw some light on their researches. They now proceeded to another part of the town, and arrived at a lonely and desolate-looking house, which seemed to wear in its very appearance something strange, sad, and ominous. Some houses have an expression, as it were, in their outward aspect that sinks unaccountably into the heart,—a dim, oppressive eloquence which dispirits and affects. You say some story must be attached to those walls; some legendary interest, of a darker nature, ought to be associated with the mute stone and mortar; you feel a mingled awe and curiosity creep over you as you gaze. Such was the description of the house that the young adventurer now surveyed. It was of antique architecture, not uncommon in old towns; gable ends rose from the roof; dull, small, latticed panes were sunk deep in the gray, discolored wall; the pale, in part, was broken and jagged; and rank weeds sprang up in the neglected garden, through which they walked towards the porch. The door was open; they entered, and found an old woman of coarse appearance sitting by the fireside, and gazing on space with that vacant stare which so often characterizes the repose and relaxation of the uneducated poor. Walter felt an involuntary thrill of dislike come over him as he looked at the solitary inmate of the solitary house.
"Hey day, sir!" said she, in a grating voice, "and what now? Oh! Mr. Summers, is it you? You're welcome, sir! I wishes I could offer you a glass of summut, but the bottle's dry—he! he!" pointing, with a revolting grin, to an empty bottle that stood on a niche within the hearth. "I don't know how it is, sir, but I never wants to eat; but ah! 't is the liquor that does un good!"
"You have lived a long time in this house?" said the curate.
"A long time,—some thirty years an' more."
"You remember your lodger, Mr. Aram?"
"An excellent man—"
"A most admirable man!"
"A-humph! he!—humph! that's neither here nor there."
"Why, you don't seem to think as all the rest of the world does with regard to him?"
"I knows what I knows."
"Ah! by the by, you have some cock-and-a-bull story about him, I fancy, but you never could explain yourself,—it is merely for the love of seeming wise that you invented it, eh, Goody?"
The old woman shook her head, and crossing her hands on her knee, replied with peculiar emphasis, but in a very low and whispered voice, "I could hang him!"
"Tell you I could!"
"Well, let's have the story then!"
"No, no! I have not told it to ne'er a one yet, and I won't for nothing. What will you give me? Make it worth my while."
"Tell us all, honestly, fairly, and fully, and you shall have five golden guineas. There, Goody."
Roused by this promise, the dame looked up with more of energy than she had yet shown, and muttered to herself, rocking her chair to and fro: "Aha! why not? No fear now, both gone; can't now murder the poor old cretur, as the wretch once threatened. Five golden guineas,—five, did you say, sir, five?"
"Ah! and perhaps our bounty may not stop there," said the curate.
Still the old woman hesitated, and still she muttered to herself; but after some further prelude, and some further enticement from the curate, the which we spare our reader, she came at length to the following narration:—
"It was on the 7th of February, in the year '44,—yes, '44, about six o'clock in the evening, for I was a-washing in the kitchen,—when Mr. Aram called to me an' desired of me to make a fire upstairs, which I did; he then walked out. Some hours afterwards, it might be two in the morning, I was lying awake, for I was mighty bad with the toothache, when I heard a noise below, and two or three voices. On this I was greatly afeard, and got out o' bed, and opening the door, I saw Mr. Houseman and Mr. Clarke coming upstairs to Mr. Aram's room, and Mr. Aram followed them. They shut the door, and stayed there, it might be an hour. Well, I could not a think what could make so shy an' resarved a gentleman as Mr. Aram admit these 'ere wild madcaps like at that hour; an' I lay awake a thinking an' a thinking, till I heard the door open agin, an' I went to listen at the keyhole, an' Mr. Clarke said: 'It will soon be morning, and we must get off.' They then all three left the house. But I could not sleep, an' I got up afore five o'clock; and about that hour Mr. Aram an' Mr. Houseman returned, and they both glowered at me as if they did not like to find me a stirring; an' Mr. Aram went into his room, and Houseman turned and frowned at me as black as night. Lord have mercy on me, I see him now! An' I was sadly feared, an' I listened at the keyhole, an' I heard Houseman say: 'If the woman comes in, she'll tell.'
"'What can she tell?' said Mr. Aram; 'poor simple thing, she knows nothing.' With that, Houseman said, says he: 'If she tells that I am here, it will be enough; but however [with a shocking oath], we'll take an opportunity to shoot her.'
"On that I was so frighted that I went away back to my own room, and did not stir till they had gone out, and then—"
"What time was that?"
"About seven o'clock. Well—You put me out! where was I? Well, I went into Mr. Aram's, an' I seed they had been burning a fire, an' that all the ashes were taken out o' the grate; so I went an' looked at the rubbish behind the house, and there sure enough I seed the ashes, and among 'em several bits o' cloth and linen which seemed to belong to wearing apparel; and there, too, was a handkerchief which I had obsarved Houseman wear (for it was a very curious handkerchief, all spotted) many's the time, and there was blood on it, 'bout the size of a shilling. An' afterwards I seed Houseman, an' I showed him the handkerchief; and I said to him, 'What has come of Clarke?' An' he frowned, and, looking at me, said, 'Hark ye, I know not what you mean; but as sure as the devil keeps watch for souls, I will shoot you through the head if you ever let that d—-d tongue of yours let slip a single word about Clarke or me or Mr. Aram,—so look to yourself!
"An' I was all scared, and trimbled from limb to limb; an' for two whole yearn afterwards (long arter Aram and Houseman were both gone) I never could so much as open my lips on the matter; and afore he went, Mr. Aram would sometimes look at me, not sternly-like, as the villain Houseman, but as if he would read to the bottom of my heart. Oh! I was as if you had taken a mountain off o' me when he an' Houseman left the town; for sure as the sun shines I believes, from what I have now said, that they two murdered Clarke on that same February night. An' now, Mr. Summers, I feels more easy than I has felt for many a long day; an' if I have not told it afore, it is because I thought of Houseman's frown and his horrid words; but summut of it would ooze out of my tongue now an' then, for it's a hard thing, sir, to know a secret o' that sort and be quiet and still about it; and, indeed, I was not the same cretur when I knew it as I was afore, for it made me take to anything rather than thinking; and that's the reason, sir, I lost the good crackter I used to have."
Such, somewhat abridged from its "says he" and "says I," its involutions and its tautologies, was the story which Walter held his breath to hear. But events thicken, and the maze is nearly thridden.
"Not a moment now should be lost," said the curate, as they left the house. "Let us at once proceed to a very able magistrate, to whom I can introduce you, and who lives a little way out of the town."
"As you will," said Walter, in an altered and hollow voice. "I am as a man standing on an eminence, who views the whole scene he is to travel over, stretched before him, but is dizzy and bewildered by the height which he has reached. I know, I feel, that I am on the brink of fearful and dread discoveries; pray God that—But heed me not, sir, heed me not; let us on, on!"
It was now approaching towards the evening; and as they walked on, having left the town, the sun poured his last beams on a group of persons that appeared hastily collecting and gathering round a spot, well known in the neighborhood of Knaresborough, called Thistle Hill.
"Let us avoid the crowd," said the curate. "Yet what, I wonder, can be its cause?" While he spoke, two peasants hurried by towards the throng.
"What is the meaning of the crowd yonder?" asked the curate.
"I don't know exactly, your honor, but I hears as how Jem Ninnings, digging for stone for the limekiln, have dug out a big wooden chest."
A shout from the group broke in on the peasant's explanation,—a sudden simultaneous shout, but not of joy; something of dismay and horror seemed to breathe in the sound.
Walter looked at the curate. An impulse, a sudden instinct, seemed to attract them involuntarily to the spot whence that sound arose; they quickened their pace, they made their way through the throng. A deep chest, that had been violently forced, stood before them; its contents had been dragged to day, and now lay on the sward—a bleached and mouldering skeleton! Several of the bones were loose, and detached from the body. A general hubbub of voices from the spectators,—inquiry, guess, fear, wonder,—rang confusedly around.
"Yes!" said one old man, with gray hair, leaning on a pickaxe, "it is now about fourteen years since the Jew pedlar disappeared. These are probably his bones,—he was supposed to have been murdered!"
"Nay!" screeched a woman, drawing back a child who, all unalarmed, was about to touch the ghastly relics, "nay, the pedlar was heard of afterwards. I'll tell ye, ye may be sure these are the bones of Clarke,—Daniel Clarke,—whom the country was so stirred about when we were young!"
"Right, dame, right! It is Clarke's skeleton," was the simultaneous cry. And Walter, pressing forward, stood over the bones, and waved his hand as to guard them from further insult. His sudden appearance, his tall stature, his wild gesture, the horror, the paleness, the grief of his countenance, struck and appalled all present. He remained speechless, and a sudden silence succeeded the late clamor.
"And what do you here, fools?" said a voice, abruptly. The spectators turned: a new comer had been added to the throng,—it was Richard Houseman. His dress loose and disarranged, his flushed cheeks and rolling eyes, betrayed the source of consolation to which he had flown from his domestic affliction. "What do ye here?" said he, reeling forward. "Ha! human bones? And whose may they be, think ye?"
"They are Clarke's!" said the woman, who had first given rise to that supposition.
"Yes, we think they are Daniel Clarke's,—he who disappeared some years ago!" cried two or three voices in concert. "Clarke's?" repeated Houseman, stooping down and picking up a thigh-bone, which lay at a little distance from the rest; "Clarke's? Ha! ha! they are no more Clarke's than mine!"
"Behold!" shouted Walter, in a voice that rang from cliff to plain; and springing forward, he seized Houseman with a giant's grasp,—"behold the murderer!"
As if the avenging voice of Heaven had spoken, a thrilling, an electric conviction darted through the crowd. Each of the elder spectators remembered at once the person of Houseman, and the suspicion that had attached to his name.
"Seize him! seize him!" burst forth from twenty voices. "Houseman is the murderer!"
"Murderer!" faltered Houseman, trembling in the iron hands of Walter,—"murderer of whom? I tell ye these are not Clarke's bones!"
"Where then do they lie?" cried his arrester.
Pale, confused, conscience-stricken, the bewilderment of intoxication mingling with that of fear, Houseman turned a ghastly look around him, and, shrinking from the eyes of all, reading in the eyes of all his condemnation, he gasped out, "Search St. Robert's Cave, in the turn at the entrance!"
"Away!" rang the deep voice of Walter, on the instant; "away! To the cave, to the cave!"
On the banks of the River Nid, whose waters keep an everlasting murmur to the crags and trees that overhang them, is a wild and dreary cavern, hollowed from a rock which, according to tradition, was formerly the hermitage of one of those early enthusiasts who made their solitude in the sternest recesses of earth, and from the austerest thoughts and the bitterest penance wrought their joyless offerings to the great Spirit of the lovely world. To this desolate spot, called, from the name of its once celebrated eremite, St. Robert's Cave, the crowd now swept, increasing its numbers as it advanced.
The old man who had discovered the unknown remains, which were gathered up and made a part of the procession, led the way; Houseman, placed between two strong and active men, went next; and Walter followed behind, fixing his eyes mutely upon the ruffian. The curate had had the precaution to send on before for torches, for the wintry evening now darkened round them, and the light from the torch-bearers, who met them at the cavern, cast forth its red and lurid flare at the mouth of the chasm. One of these torches Walter himself seized, and his was the first step that entered the gloomy passage. At this place and time, Houseman, who till then, throughout their short journey, had seemed to have recovered a sort of dogged self-possession, recoiled, and the big drops of fear or agony fell fast from his brow. He was dragged forward forcibly into the cavern; and now as the space filled, and the torches flickered against the grim walls, glaring on faces which caught, from the deep and thrilling contagion of a common sentiment, one common expression, it was not well possible for the wildest imagination to conceive a scene better fitted for the unhallowed burial-place of the murdered dead.
The eyes of all now turned upon Houseman; and he, after twice vainly endeavoring to speak, for the words died inarticulate and choked within him, advancing a few steps, pointed towards a spot on which, the next moment, fell the concentrated light of every torch. An indescribable and universal murmur, and then a breathless silence, ensued. On the spot which Houseman had indicated, with the head placed to the right, lay what once had been a human body!
"Can you swear," said the priest, solemnly, as he turned to Houseman, "that these are the bones of Clarke?"
"Before God, I can swear it!" replied Houseman, at length finding his voice.
"MY FATHER!" broke from Walter's lips as he sank upon his knees; and that exclamation completed the awe and horror which prevailed in the breasts of all present. Stung by a sense of the danger he had drawn upon himself, and despair and excitement restoring, in some measure, not only his natural hardihood, but his natural astuteness, Houseman, here mastering his emotions, and making that effort which he was afterwards enabled to follow up with an advantage to himself of which he could not then have dreamed,—Houseman, I say, cried aloud,
"But I did not do the deed; I am not the murderer."
"Speak out! Whom do you accuse?" said the curate. Drawing his breath hard, and setting his teeth as with some steeled determination, Houseman replied,—
"The murderer is Eugene Aram!"
"Aram!" shouted Walter, starting to his feet: "O God, thy hand hath directed me hither!" And suddenly and at once sense left him, and he fell, as if a shot had pierced through his heart, beside the remains of that father whom he had thus mysteriously discovered.
Surely the man that plotteth ill against his neighbor perpetrateth ill against himself, and the evil design is most evil to him that deviseth it. —Hesiod
GRASSDALE.—THE MORNING OF THE MARRIAGE.—THE CRONES GOSSIP.—THE BRIDE AT HER TOILET.—THE ARRIVAL.
JAM veniet virgo, jam dicetur Hymenaeus, Hymen, O Hymenae! Hymen ades, O Hymenae! CATULLUS: Carmen Nuptiale.
It was now the morning in which Eugene Aram was to be married to Madeline Lester. The student's house had been set in order for the arrival of the bride; and though it was yet early morn, two old women, whom his domestic (now not the only one, for a buxom lass of eighteen had been transplanted from Lester's household to meet the additional cares that the change of circumstances brought to Aram's) had invited to assist her in arranging what was already arranged, were bustling about the lower apartments and making matters, as they call it, "tidy."
"Them flowers look but poor things, after all," muttered an old crone, whom our readers will recognize as Dame Darkmans, placing a bowl of exotics on the table. "They does not look nigh so cheerful as them as grows in the open air."
"Tush! Goody Darkmans," said the second gossip. "They be much prettier and finer, to my mind; and so said Miss Nelly when she plucked them last night and sent me down with them. They says there is not a blade o' grass that the master does not know. He must be a good man to love the things of the field so."
"Ho!" said Dame Darkmans, "ho! When Joe Wrench was hanged for shooting the lord's keeper, and he mounted the scaffold wid a nosegay in his hand, he said, in a peevish voice, says he: 'Why does not they give me a tarnation? I always loved them sort o' flowers,—I wore them when I went a courting Bess Lucas,—an' I would like to die with one in my hand!' So a man may like flowers, and be but a hempen dog after all!"
"Now don't you, Goody; be still, can't you? What a tale for a marriage day!"
"Tally vally!" returned the grim hag, "many a blessing carries a curse in its arms, as the new moon carries the old. This won't be one of your happy weddings, I tell ye."
"And why d' ye say that?"
"Did you ever see a man with a look like that make a happy husband? No, no! Can ye fancy the merry laugh o' childer in this house, or a babe on the father's knee, or the happy, still smile on the mother's winsome face, some few years hence? No, Madge! the devil has set his black claw on the man's brow."
"Hush, hush, Goody Darkmans; he may hear o' ye!" said the second gossip, who, having now done all that remained to do, had seated herself down by the window, while the more ominous crone, leaning over Aram's oak chair, uttered from thence her sibyl bodings.
"No," replied Mother Darkmans, "I seed him go out an hour agone, when the sun was just on the rise; and I said, when I seed him stroam into the wood yonder, and the ould leaves splashed in the damp under his feet, and his hat was aboon his brows, and his lips went so,—I said, says I, 't is not the man that will make a hearth bright that would walk thus on his marriage day. But I knows what I knows, and I minds what I seed last night."
"Why, what did you see last night?" asked the listener, with a trembling voice; for Plother Darkmans was a great teller of ghost and witch tales, and a certain ineffable awe of her dark gypsy features and malignant words had circulated pretty largely throughout the village.
"Why, I sat up here with the ould deaf woman, and we were a drinking the health of the man and his wife that is to be, and it was nigh twelve o' the clock ere I minded it was time to go home. Well, so I puts on my cloak, and the moon was up, an' I goes along by the wood, and up by Fairlegh Field, an' I was singing the ballad on Joe Wrench's hanging, for the spirats had made me gamesome, when I sees somemut dark creep, creep, but iver so fast, arter me over the field, and making right ahead to the village. And I stands still, an' I was not a bit afeared; but sure I thought it was no living cretur, at the first sight. And so it comes up faster and faster, and then I sees it was not one thing, but a many, many things, and they darkened the whole field afore me. And what d' ye think they was? A whole body o' gray rats, thousands and thousands on 'em; and they were making away from the outbuildings here. For sure they knew, the witch things, that an ill luck sat on the spot. And so I stood aside by the tree, an' I laughed to look on the ugsome creturs as they swept close by me, tramp, tramp! and they never heeded me a jot; but some on 'em looked aslant at me with their glittering eyes, and showed their white teeth, as if they grinned, and were saying to me, 'Ha, ha! Goody Darkmans, the house that we leave is a falling house, for the devil will have his own.'"
In some parts of the country, and especially in that where our scene is laid, no omen is more superstitiously believed evil than the departure of these loathsome animals from their accustomed habitation; the instinct which is supposed to make them desert an unsafe tenement is supposed also to make them predict, in desertion, ill fortune to the possessor. But while the ears of the listening gossip were still tingling with this narration, the dark figure of the student passed the window, and the old women, starting up, appeared in all the bustle of preparation, as Aram now entered the apartment.
"A happy day, your honor; a happy good morning," said both the crones in a breath; but the blessing of the worse-natured was vented in so harsh a croak that Arum turned round as if struck by the sound, and still more disliking the well-remembered aspect of the person from whom it came, waved his hand impatiently, and bade them begone.
"A-whish, a-whish!" muttered Dame Darkmans,—"to spake so to the poor; but the rats never lie, the bonny things!"
Aram threw himself into his chair, and remained for some moments absorbed in a revery, which did not bear the aspect of gloom. Then, walking once or twice to and fro the apartment, he stopped opposite the chimney-piece, over which were slung the firearms, which he never omitted to keep charged and primed.
"Humph!" he said, half aloud, "ye have been but idle servants; and now ye are but little likely ever to requite the care I have bestowed upon you."
With that a faint smile crossed his features; and turning away, he ascended the stairs that led to the lofty chamber in which he had been so often wont to outwatch the stars,—
"The souls of systems, and the lords of life, Through their wide empires."
Before we follow him to his high and lonely retreat we will bring the reader to the manor-house, where all was already gladness and quiet but deep joy.
It wanted about three hours to that fixed for the marriage; and Aram was not expected at the manor-house till an hour before the celebration of the event. Nevertheless, the bells were already ringing loudly and blithely; and the near vicinity of the church to the house brought that sound, so inexpressibly buoyant and cheering, to the ears of the bride with a noisy merriment that seemed like the hearty voice of an old-fashioned friend who seeks in his greeting rather cordiality than discretion. Before her glass stood the beautiful, the virgin, the glorious form of Madeline Lester; and Ellinor, with trembling hands (and a voice between a laugh and a cry), was braiding up her sister's rich hair, and uttering her hopes, her wishes, her congratulations. The small lattice was open, and the air came rather chillingly to the bride's bosom.
"It is a gloomy morning, dearest Nell," said she, shivering; "the winter seems about to begin at last."
"Stay, I will shut the window. The sun is struggling with the clouds at present, but I am sure it will clear up by and by. You don't, you don't leave us—the word must out—till evening."
"Don't cry!" said Madeline, half weeping herself, and sitting down, she drew Ellinor to her; and the two sisters, who had never been parted since birth, exchanged tears that were natural, though scarcely the unmixed tears of grief.
"And what pleasant evenings we shall have," said Madeline, holding her sister's hands, "in the Christmas time! You will be staying with us, you know; and that pretty old room in the north of the house Eugene has already ordered to be fitted up for you. Well, and my dear father, and dear Walter, who will be returned long ere then, will walk over to see us, and praise my housekeeping, and so forth. And then, after dinner, we will draw near the fire,—I next to Eugene, and my father, our guest, on the other side of me, with his long gray hair and his good fine face, with a tear of kind feeling in his eye,—you know that look he has whenever he is affected. And at a little distance on the other side of the hearth will be you—and Walter; I suppose we must make room for him. And Eugene, who will be then the liveliest of you all, shall read to us with his soft, clear voice, or tell us all about the birds and flowers and strange things in other countries. And then after supper we will walk half-way home across that beautiful valley—beautiful even in winter—with my father and Walter, and count the stars, and take new lessons in astronomy, and hear tales about the astrologers and the alchemists, with their fine old dreams. Ah! it will be such a happy Christmas! And then, when spring comes, some fine morning—finer than this—when the birds are about, and the leaves getting green, and the flowers springing up every day, I shall be called in to help your toilet, as you have helped mine, and to go with you to church, though not, alas! as your bridesmaid. Ah! whom shall we have for that duty?"
"Pshaw!" said Ellinor, smiling through her tears.
While the sisters were thus engaged, and Madeline was trying, with her innocent kindness of heart, to exhilarate the spirits, so naturally depressed, of her doting sister, the sound of carriage-wheels was heard in the distance,—nearer, nearer; now the sound stopped, as at the gate; now fast, faster,—fast as the postilions could ply whip and the horses tear along. While the groups in the church-yard ran forth to gaze, and the bells rang merrily all the while, two chaises whirled by Madeline's window and stopped at the porch of the house. The sisters had flown in surprise to the casement.
"It is, it is—good God! it is Walter," cried Ellinor; "but how pale he looks!"
"And who are those strange men with him?" faltered Madeline, alarmed, though she knew not why.
THE STUDENT ALONE IN HIS CHAMBER.—THE INTERRUPTION.—FAITHFUL LOVE.
NEQUICQUAM thalamo graves Hastas.... Vitabis strepitumque et celerem sequi Ajacem. —HORACE: Od. xv. lib. 1.
["In vain within your nuptial chamber will you shun the deadly spears,... the hostile shout, and Ajax eager in pursuit."]
Alone in his favorite chamber, the instruments of science around him, and books, some of astronomical research, some of less lofty but yet abstruser lore, scattered on the tables, Eugene Aram indulged the last meditation he believed likely to absorb his thoughts before that great change of life which was to bless solitude with a companion.
"Yes," said he, pacing the apartment with folded arms, "yes, all is safe! He will not again return; the dead sleeps now without a witness. I may lay this working brain upon the bosom that loves me, and not start at night and think that the soft hand around my neck is the hangman's gripe. Back to thyself, henceforth and forever, my busy heart! Let not thy secret stir from its gloomy depth! The seal is on the tomb; henceforth be the spectre laid. Yes, I must smooth my brow, and teach my lip restraint, and smile and talk like other men. I have taken to my hearth a watch, tender, faithful, anxious,—but a watch. Farewell the unguarded hour! The soul's relief in speech, the dark and broken, yet how grateful, confidence with self, farewell! And come, thou veil! subtle, close, unvarying, the everlasting curse of entire hypocrisy, that under thee, as night, the vexed world within may sleep, and stir not! and all, in truth concealment, may seem repose!"
As he uttered these thoughts, the student paused and looked on the extended landscape that lay below. A heavy, chill, and comfortless mist sat saddening over the earth. Not a leaf stirred on the autumnal trees, but the moist damps fell slowly and with a mournful murmur upon the unwaving grass. The outline of the morning sun was visible, but it gave forth no lustre: a ring of watery and dark vapor girded the melancholy orb. Far at the entrance of the valley the wild fern showed red and faded, and the first march of the deadly winter was already heralded by that drear and silent desolation which cradles the winds and storms. But amidst this cheerless scene the distant note of the merry marriage-bell floated by, like the good spirit of the wilderness, and the student rather paused to hearken to the note than to survey the scene. "My marriage-bell!" said he. "Could I, two short years back, have dreamed of this? My marriage-bell! How fondly my poor mother, when first she learned pride for her young scholar, would predict this day, and blend its festivities with the honor and the wealth her son was to acquire! Alas! can we have no science to count the stars and forebode the black eclipse of the future? But peace! peace! peace! I am, I will, I shall be happy now! Memory, I defy thee!"