Dunroe was by no means in anything like good-humor this morning. The hints which Norton had communicated to him at breakfast, respecting the subject of M'Bride's private interviews with his father, had filled him with more alarm than he wished to acknowledge. Neither, on the other hand, had he any serious apprehensions, for, unhappily for himself, he was one of those easy and unreflecting men who seldom look beyond the present moment, and can never be brought to a reasonable consideration of their own interests, until, perhaps, it is too late to secure them.
All we can communicate to the reader with respect to the conference between these three redoubtable individuals is simply its results. On that evening Norton and M'Bride started for France, with what object will be seen hereafter, Birney having followed on the same route the morning but one afterwards, for the purpose of securing the documents in question.
Dunroe now more than ever felt the necessity of urging his marriage with Lucy. He knew his father's honorable spirit too well to believe that he would for one moment yield his consent to it under the circumstances which were now pending. With the full knowledge of these circumstances he was not acquainted. M'Bride had somewhat overstated the share of confidence to which in this matter he had been admitted by his master. His information, therefore, on the subject, was not so accurate as he wished, although, from motives of dishonesty and a desire to sell his documents to the best advantage, he made the most of the knowledge he possessed. Be this as it may, Dunroe determined, as we said, to bring about the nuptials without delay, and in this he was seconded by Sir Thomas Gourlay himself, who also had his own motives for hastening them. In fact, here were two men, each deliberately attempting to impose upon the other, and neither possessed of one spark of honor or truth, although the transaction between them was one of the most solemn importance that can occur in the great business of life. The world, however, is filled with similar characters; and not all the misery and calamity that ensue from such fraudulent and dishonest practices will, we fear, ever prevent the selfish and ambitious from pursuing the same courses.
"Sir Thomas," said Dunroe, in a conversation with the baronet held on the very day after Norton and M'Bride had set out on their secret expedition, "this marriage is unnecessarily delayed. I am anxious that it should take place as soon as it possibly can."
"But," replied the baronet, "I have not been able to see your father on the subject, in consequence of his illness."
"It is not necessary," replied his lordship. "You know what kind of a man he is. In fact, I fear he is very nearly non compos as it is. He has got so confoundedly crotchety of late, that I should not feel surprised if, under some whim or other, he set his face-against it altogether. In fact, it is useless, and worse than useless, to consult him at all about it. I move, therefore, that we go on without him."
"I think you are right," returned the other; "and I have not the slightest objection: name the day. The contract is drawn up, and only requires to be signed."
"I should say, on Monday next," replied his lordship; "but I fear we will have objections and protestations from Miss Gourlay; and if so, how are we to manage?"
"Leave the management of Miss Gourlay to me, my lord," replied her father. "I have managed her before and shall manage her now."
His lordship had scarcely gone, when Lucy was immediately sent for, and as usual found her father in the library.
"Lucy," said he, with as much blandness of manner as he could assume, "I have sent for you to say that you are called upon to make your father happy at last."
"And myself wretched forever, papa."
"But your word, Lucy—your promise—your honor: remember that promise so solemnly given; remember, too, your duty of obedience as a daughter."
"Alas! I remember everything, papa; too keenly, too bitterly do I remember all."
"You will be prepared to marry Dunroe on Monday next. The affair will be comparatively private. That is to say, we will ask nobody—no dejeuner—no nonsense. The fewer the better at these matters. Would you wish to see your brother—hem—I mean Mr. Gray?"
Lucy had been standing while he spoke; but she now staggered over to a seat, on which she fell rather than sat. Her large, lucid eyes lost their lustre; her frame quivered; her face became of an ashy paleness; but still those eyes were bent upon her father.
"Papa," she said, at length, in a low voice that breathed of horror, "do not kill me."
"Kill you, foolish girl! Now really, Lucy, this is extremely ridiculous and vexatious too. Is not my daughter a woman of honor?"
"Papa," she said, solemnly, going down upon her two knees, and joining her lovely and snowy hands together, in an attitude of the most earnest and heart-rending supplication; "papa, hear me. You have said that I saved your life; be now as generous as I was—save mine."
"Lucy," he replied, "this looks like want of principle. You would violate your promise. I should not wish Dunroe to hear this, or to know it. He might begin to reason upon it, and to say that the woman who could deliberately break a solemn promise might not hesitate at the marriage vow. I do not apply this reasoning to you, but he or others might. Of course, I expect that, as a woman of honor, you will keep your word with me, and marry Dunroe on Monday. You will have no trouble—everything shall be managed by them; a brilliant trousseau can be provided as well afterwards as before."
Lucy rose up; and as she did, the blood, which seemed to have previously gathered, to her heart, now returned to her cheek, and began to mantle upon it, whilst her figure, before submissive and imploring, dilated to its full size.
"Father," said she, "since you will not hear the voice of supplication, hear that of reason and truth. Do not entertain a doubt, no, not for a moment, that if I am urged—driven—to this marriage, hateful and utterly detestable to me as it is, I shall hesitate to marry this man. I say this, however, because I tell you that I am about to appeal to your interest in my true happiness for the last time. Is it, then, kind; is it fatherly in you, sir, to exact from me the fulfilment of a promise given under circumstances that ought to touch your heart into a generous perception of the sacrifice which in giving it I made for your sake alone? You were ill, and laboring under the apprehension of sudden death, principally, you said, in consequence of my refusal to become the wife of that man. I saw this; and although the effort was infinitely worse than death to me, I did not hesitate one moment in yielding up what is at any time dearer to me than life—my happiness—that you might be spared. Alas, my dear father, if you knew how painful it is to me to be forced to plead all this in my own defence, you would, you must, pity me. A generous heart, almost under any circumstances, scorns to plead its own acts, especially when they are on the side of virtue. But I, alas, am forced to it; am forced to do that which I would otherwise scorn and blush to do."
"Lucy," replied her father, who felt in his ambitious and tyrannical soul the full force, not only of what she said, but of the fraud he had practised on her, but which she never suspected: "Lucy, my child, you will drive me mad. Perhaps I am wrong; but at the same time my heart is so completely fixed upon this marriage, that if it be not brought about I feel I shall go insane. The value of life would be lost to me, and most probably I shall die the dishonorable death of a suicide."
"And have you no fear for me, my father—no apprehension that I may escape from this my wretched destiny to the peace of the grave? But you need not. Thank God, I trust and feel that my regard for His precepts, and my perceptions of His providence, are too clear and too firm ever to suffer me to fly like a coward from the post in life which He has assigned me. But why, dear father, should you make me the miserable victim of your ambition?—I am not ambitious."
"I know you are not: I never could get an honorable ambition instilled into you."
"I am not mean, however—nay, I trust that I possess all that honest and honorable pride which would prevent me from doing an unworthy act, or one unbecoming either my sex or my position."
"You would not break your word, for instance, nor render your father wretched, insane, mad, or, perhaps, cause his dreadful malady to return. No—no—but yet fine talking is a fine thing. Madam, cease to plead your virtues to me, unless you prove that you possess them by keeping your honorable engagement made to Lord Dunroe, through the sacred medium of your own father. Whatever you may do, don't attempt to involve me in your disgrace."
"I am exhausted," she said, "and cannot speak any longer; but I will not despair of you, father. No, my dear papa," she said, throwing her arms about his neck, laying her head upon his bosom, and bursting into tears, "I will not think that you could sacrifice your daughter. You will relent for Lucy as Lucy did for you—but I feel weak. You know, papa, how this fever on my spirits has worn me down; and, after all, the day might come—and come with bitterness and remorse to your heart—when you may be forced to feel that although you made your Lucy a countess she did not remain a countess long."
"What do you mean now?"
"Don't you see, papa, that my heart is breaking fast? If you will not hear my words—if they cannot successfully plead for me—let my declining health—let my pale and wasted cheek—let my want of spirits, my want of appetite—and, above all, let that which you cannot see nor feel—the sickness of my unhappy heart—plead for me. Permit me to go, dear papa; and will you allow me to lean upon you to my own room?—for, alas! I am not, after this painful excitement, able to go there myself. Thank you, papa, thank you."
He was thus compelled to give her his arm, and, in doing so, was surprised to feel the extraordinary tremor by which her frame was shaken. On reaching her room, she turned round, and laying her head, with an affectionate and supplicating confidence, once more upon his breast, she whispered with streaming eyes, "Alas! my dear papa, you forget, in urging me to marry this hateful profligate, that my heart, my affections, my love—in the fullest, and purest, and most disinterested sense—are irrevocably fixed upon another; and Dunroe, all mean and unmanly as he is, knows this."
"He knows that—there, sit down—why do you tremble so?—Yes, but he knows that what you consider an attachment is a mere girlish fancy, a whimsical predilection that your own good-sense will show you the folly of at a future time."
"Recollect, papa, that he has been extravagant, and is said to be embarrassed; the truth is, sir, that the man values not your daughter, but the property to which he thinks he will become entitled, and which I have no doubt will be very welcome to his necessities. I feel that I speak truth, and as a test of his selfishness, it will be only necessary to acquaint him with the reappearance of my brother—your son and heir—and you will be no further troubled by his importunities."
"Troubled by his importunity! Why, girl, it's I that am troubled with apprehension lest he might discover the existence of your brother, and draw off."
One broad gaze of wonder and dismay she turned upon him, and her face became crimsoned with shame. She then covered it with her open hands, and, turning round, placed her head upon the end of the sofa, and moaned with a deep and bursting anguish, on hearing this acknowledgment of deliberate baseness from his own lips.
The baronet understood her feelings, and regretted the words he had uttered, but he resolved to bear the matter out.
"Don't be surprised, Lucy," he added, "nor alarmed at these sentiments; for I tell you, that rather than be defeated in the object I propose for your elevation in life, I would trample a thousand times upon all the moral obligations that ever bound man. Put it down to what you like—insanity—monomania, if you will—but so it is with me: I shall work my purpose out, or either of us shall die for it; and from this you may perceive how likely your resistance and obduracy are to become available against the determination of such a man as I am. Compose yourself, girl, and don't be a fool. The only way to get properly through life is to accommodate ourselves to its necessities, or, in other words, to have shrewdness and common sense, and foil the world, if we can, at its own weapons. Give up your fine sentiment, I desire you, and go down to the drawing-room, to receive your brother; hem will be here very soon. I am going to the assizes, and shall not return till about four o'clock. Come, come, all will end better than you imagine."
The mention of her brother was anything but a comfort to Lucy. Her father at first entertained apprehensions, as we have already said, that this promising youth might support his sister in her aversion against the marriage. Two or three conversations on the subject soon undeceived him, however, in the view he had taken of his character; and Lucy herself now dreaded him, on this subject, almost as much as she did her father.
With respect to this same brother, it is scarcely necessary now to say, that Lucy's feelings had undergone a very considerable change. On hearing that he not only was in existence, but that she would soon actually behold him, her impassioned imagination painted him as she wished and hoped he might prove to be—that is, in the first place—tall, elegant, handsome, and with a strong likeness to the mother whom he had been said so much to resemble; and, in the next—oh, how her trembling heart yearned to find him affectionate, tender, generous, and full of all those noble and manly virtues on which might rest a delightful sympathy, a pure and generous affection, and a tender and trusting confidence between them. On casting her eyes upon him for the first time, however, she felt at the moment like one disenchanted, or awakening from some delightful illusion to a reality so much at variance with the beau ideal of her imagination, as to occasion a feeling of disappointment that amounted almost to pain. There stood before her a young man, with a countenance so like her father's, that the fact startled her. Still there was a difference, for—whether from the consciousness of birth, or authority, or position in life—there was something in her father's features that redeemed them from absolute vulgarity. Here, however, although the resemblance was extraordinary, and every feature almost identical, there might be read in the countenance of her brother a low, commonplace expression, that looked as if it were composed of effrontery, cunning, and profligacy. Lucy for a moment shrank back from such a countenance, and the shock of disappointment chilled the warmth with which she had been prepared to receive him. But, then, her generous heart told her that she might probably be prejudging the innocent—that neglect, want of education, the influence of the world, and, worst of all, distress and suffering, might have caused the stronger, more vulgar, and exceedingly disagreeable expression which she saw before her; and the reader is already aware of the consequences which these struggles, at their first interview, had upon her. Subsequently to that, however, Mr. Ambrose, in supporting his father's views, advanced principles in such complete accordance with them, as to excite in his sister's breast, first a deep regret that she could not love him as she had hoped to do; then a feeling stronger than indifference itself, and ultimately one little short of aversion. Her father had been now gone about half an hour, and she hoped that her brother might not come, when a servant came to say that Mr. Gray was in the drawing-room, and requested to see her.
She felt that the interview would be a painful one to her; but still he was her brother, and she knew she could not avoid seeing him.
After the first salutations were over,
"What is the matter with you, Lucy?" he asked; "you look ill and distressed. I suppose the old subject of the marriage—eh?"
"I trust it is one which you will not renew, Thomas. I entreat you to spare me on it."
"I am too much your friend to do so, Lucy. It is really inconceivable to me why you should oppose it as you do. But the truth is, you don't know the world, or you would think and act very differently."
"Thomas," she replied, whilst her eyes filled with tears, "I am almost weary of life. There is not one living individual to whom I can turn for sympathy or comfort. Papa has forbidden me to visit Lady Gourlay or Mrs. Mainwaring; and I am now utterly friendless, with the exception of God alone. But I will not despair—so long, at least, as reason is left to me."
"I assure you, Lucy, you astonish me. To you, whose imagination is heated with a foolish passion for an adventurer whom no one knows, all this suffering may seem very distressing and romantic; but to me, to my father, and to the world, it looks like great folly—excuse me, Lucy—or rather like great weakness of character, grounded upon strong obstinacy of disposition. Believe me, if the world were to know this you would be laughed at; and there is scarcely a mother or daughter, from the cottage to the castle, that would not say, 'Lucy Gourlay is a poor, inexperienced fool, who thinks she can find a world of angels, and paragons, and purity to live in.'"
"But I care not for the world, Thomas; it is not my idol—I do not worship it, nor shall I ever do so. I wish to guide myself by the voice of my own conscience, by a sense of what is right and proper, and by the principles of Christian truth."
"These doctrines, Lucy, are very well for the closet; but they will neyer do in life, for which they are little short of a disqualification. Where, for instance, will you find them acted on? Not by people of sense, I assure you. Now listen to me."
"Spare me, if you please, Thomas, the advocacy of such principles. You occasion me great pain—not so much on my own account as on yours—you alarm me."
"Don't be alarmed, I tell you; but listen to me, as I said. Here, now, is this marriage: you don't love this Dunroe—you dislike, you detest him. Very well. What the deuce has that to do with the prospects of your own elevation in life? Think for yourself—become the centre of your own world; make this Dunroe your footstool—put him under your foot, I say, and mount by him; get a position in the world—play your game in it as you see others do; and—"
"Pray, sir," said Lucy, scarcely restraining her indignation, "where, or when, or how did you come by these odious and detestable doctrines?"
"Faith, Lucy, from honest nature—from experience and observation. Is there any man with a third idea, or that has the use of his eyes, who does not know and see that this is the game of life? Dunroe, I dare say, deserves your contempt; report goes, certainly, that he is a profligate; but what ought especially to reconcile him to you is this simple fact—that the man's a fool. Egad, I think that ought to satisfy you."
Lucy rose up and went to the window, where she stood for some moments, her eyes sparkling and scintillating, and her bosom heaving with a tide of feelings which were repressed by a strong and exceedingly difficult effort. She then returned to the sofa, her cheeks and temples in a blaze, whilst ever and anon she eyed her brother as if from a new point of view, or as if something sudden and exceedingly disagreeable had struck her.
"You look at me very closely, Lucy," said he, with a confident grin.
"I do," she replied. "Proceed, sir."
"I will. Well, as I was saying, you will find it remarkably comfortable and convenient in many ways to be married to a fool: he will give you very little trouble; fools are never suspicious, but, on the contrary, distinguished for an almost sublime credulity. Then, again, you love this other gentleman; and, with a fool for your husband, and the example of the world before you, what the deuce difficulty can you see in the match?"
Lucy rose up, and for a few moments the very force of her indignation kept her silent; at length she spoke.
"Villain—impostor—cheat! you stand there convicted of an infamous attempt to impose yourself on me as my legitimate brother—on my father as his legitimate son; but know that I disclaim you, sir. What! the fine and gentle blood of my blessed mother to flow in the veins of the profligate monster who could give utterance to principles worthy of hell itself, and attempt to pour them into the ears and heart of his own sister! Sir, I feel, and I thank God for it, that you are not the son of my blessed mother—no; but you stand there a false and spurious knave, the dishonest instrument of some fraudulent conspiracy, concocted for the purpose of putting you into a position of inheriting a name and property to which you have no claim. I ought, on the moment I first saw you, to have been guided by the instincts of my own heart, which prompted me to recoil from and disclaim you. I know not, nor do I wish to know, in what low haunts of vice and infamy you have been bred; but one thing is certain, that, if it be within the limits of my power, you shall be traced and unmasked. I now remember me that—that—there existed an early scandal—yes, sir, I remember it, but I cannot even repeat it; be assured, however, that this inhuman and devilish attempt to poison my principles will prove the source of a retributive judgment on your head. Begone, sir, and leave the house!"
The pallor of detected guilt, the consciousness that in this iniquitous lecture he had overshot the mark, and made a grievous miscalculation in pushing his detestable argument too far—but, above all, the startling suspicions so boldly and energetically expressed by Lucy, the truth of which, as well as the apprehensions that filled him of their discovery, all united, made him feel as if he stood on the brink of a mine to which the train had been already applied. And yet, notwithstanding all this, such was the natural force of his effrontery—such the vulgar insolence and bitter disposition of his nature, that, instead of soothing her insulted feelings, or offering either explanation or apology, he could not restrain an impudent exhibition of ill-temper.
"You forget yourself, Lucy," he replied; "you have no authority to order me out of this house, in which I stand much firmer than yourself. Neither do I comprehend your allusions, nor regard your threats. The proofs of my identity and legitimacy are abundant and irresistible. As to the advice I gave you, I gave it like one who knows the world—"
"No, sir," she replied, indignantly; "you gave it like a man who knows only its vices. It is sickening to hear every profligate quote his own experience of life, as if it were composed of nothing but crimes and vices, simply because they constitute the guilty phase of it with which he is acquainted. But the world, sir, is not the scene of general depravity which these persons would present it. No: it is full of great virtues, noble actions, high principles; and, what is better still, of true religion and elevated humanity. What right, then, sir, have you to libel a world which you do not understand? You are merely a portion of its dregs, and I would as soon receive lessons in honesty from a thief as principles for my guidance in it from you. As for me, I shall disregard the proofs of your identity and legitimacy, which, however, must be produced and investigated; for, from this moment, establish them as you may, I shall never recognize you as a brother, as an acquaintance, as a man, nor as anything but a selfish and abandoned villain, who would have corrupted the principles of his sister."
Without another word, or the slightest token of respect or courtesy, she deliberately, and with an air of indignant scorn, walked out of the drawing-room, leaving Mr. Ambrose Gray in a position which we dare say nobody will envy him.
CHAPTER XXXVI. Contains a Variety of Matters
—Some to Laugh and some to Weep at.
Our readers may have observed that Sir Thomas Gourlay led a secluded life ever since the commencement of our narrative. The fact was, and he felt it deeply, that he had long been an unpopular man. That he was a bad, overbearing husband, too, had been well known, for such was the violence of his temper, and the unvaried harshness of his disposition toward his wife, that the general tenor of his conduct, so far even as she was concerned, could not be concealed. His observations on life and personal character were also so cynical and severe, not to say unjust, that his society was absolutely avoided, unless by some few of his own disposition. And yet nothing could be more remarkable than the contrast that existed between his principles and conduct in many points, thus affording, as they did, an involuntary acknowledgment of his moral errors.
He would not, for instance, admit his sceptical friends, who laughed at the existence of virtue and religion, to the society of his daughter, with the exception of Lord Dunroe, to whose vices his unaccountable ambition for her elevation completely blinded him. Neither did he wish her to mingle much with the world, from a latent apprehension that she might tind it a different thing from what he himself represented it to be; and perhaps might learn there the low estimate which it had formed of her future husband. Like most misanthropical men, therefore, whose hatred of life is derived principally from that uneasiness of conscience which proceeds from their own vices, he kept aloof from society as far as the necessities of his position allowed him.
Mrs. Mainwaring had called upon him several times with an intention of making some communication which she trusted would have had the effect of opening his eyes to the danger into which he was about to precipitate his daughter by her contemplated! marriage with Dunroe. He uniformly refused, however, to see her, or to allow her any opportunity of introducing the subject. Finding herself deliberately and studiously repulsed, this good lady, who still occasionally corresponded with Lucy, came to the resolution of writing to him on the subject, and, accordingly, Gibson, one morning, with his usual cool and deferential manner, presented him with the following letter:
"Sir,—I should feel myself utterly unworthy of the good opinion which I trust I am honored with by your admirable daughter, were I any longer to remain silent upon a subject of the deepest importance to her future happiness. I understand that she is almost immediately about to become the wife of Lord Dunroe. Now, sir, I entreat your most serious attention; and I am certain, if you will only bestow it upon the few words I am about to write, that you, and especially Miss Gourlay, will live to thank God that I interposed to prevent this unhallowed union. I say then, emphatically, as I shall be able to prove most distinctly, that if you permit Miss Gourlay to become the wife of this young nobleman you will seal her ruin—defeat the chief object which you cherish, for her in life, and live to curse the day on which you urged it on. The communications which I have to make are of too much importance to be committed to paper; but if you will only allow me, and I once more implore it for the sake of your child, as well as for your own future ease of mind, the privilege of a short interview, I shall completely satisfy you as to the truth of what I state.
"I have the honor to be, sir,
"Your obliged and obedient servant,
Having perused the first sentence of this earnest and friendly letter, Sir Thomas indignantly flung it into a drawer where he kept all communications to which it did not please him at the moment to pay particular attention.
Lucy's health in the meantime was fast breaking: but so delicate and true was her sense of honor and duty that she would have looked upon any clandestine communication with her lover as an infraction of the solemn engagement into which she had entered for her father's sake,—and by which, even at the expense of her own happiness, she considered herself bound. Still, she felt that a communication on the subject was due to him, and her principal hope now was that her father would allow her to make it. If he, however, refused this sanction to an act of common justice, then she resolved to write to him openly, and make the wretched circumstances in which she was involved, and the eternal barrier that had been placed between them, known to him at once.
Her father, however, now found, to his utter mortification, that he was driving matters somewhat too fast, and that his daughter's health must unquestionably be restored before he could think of outraging humanity and public decency by forcing her from the sick bed to the altar.
After leaving her brother on the occasion of their last remarkable interview, she retired to her room so full of wretchedness, indignation, and despair of all human aid or sympathy, that she scarcely knew whether their conversation was a dream or a reality. Above all things, the shock she received through her whole moral system, delicately and finely tempered as it was, so completely prostrated her physical strength, and estranged all the virtuous instincts of her noble nature, that it was with difficulty she reached her own room. When there, she immediately rang for her maid, who at once perceived by the indignant sparkle of her eye, the heightened color of her cheek, and the energetic agitation of her voice, that something exceedingly unpleasant had occurred.
"My gracious, miss," she exclaimed, "what has happened? You look so disturbed! Something, or somebody, has offended you."
"I am disturbed, Alice," she replied, "I am disturbed; come and lend me your arm; my knees are trembling so that I cannot walk without assistance; but must sit down for a moment. Indeed, I feel that my strength is fast departing from me. I scarcely know what I am thinking. I am all confused, agitated, shocked. Gracious heaven! Come, my dear Alice, help your mistress; you, Alice, are the only friend I have left now. Are you not my friend, Alice?"
She was sitting on a lounger as she spoke, and the poor affectionate girl, who loved her as she did her life, threw herself over, and leaning her head upon her mistress's knees wept bitterly.
"Sit beside me, Alice," said she; "whatever distance social distinctions may have placed between us, I feel that the truth and sincerity of those tears justify me in placing you near my heart. Sit beside me, but compose yourself; and then you must assist me to bed."
"They are killing you," said Alley, still weeping. "What devil can tempt them to act as they do? As for me, miss, it's breaking my heart, that I see what you are suffering, and can't assist you."
"But I have your love and sympathy, your fidelity, too, my dear Alice; and that now is all I believe the world has left me."
"No, miss," replied her maid, wiping her eyes, and striving to compose herself, "no, indeed; there is another—another gentleman, I mean—as well as myself, that feels deeply for your situation."
Had Lucy's spirit been such as they were wont to be, she could have enjoyed this little blunder of Alice's; but now her heart, like some precious jewel that lies too deep in the bosom of the ocean for the sun's strongest beams to reach, had sunk beneath the influence of either cheerfulness or mirth.
"There is indeed, miss," continued Alice,
"And pray, Alice," asked her mistress, "how do you know that?"
"Why, miss," replied the girl, "I am told that of late he is looking very ill, too. They say he has lost his spirits all to pieces, and seldom laughs—the Lord save us!"
"They say!—who say, Alice?"
"Why," replied Alice, with a perceptible heightening of her color, "ahem! ahem! why, Dandy Dulcimer, miss."
"And where have you seen him? Dulcimer, I mean. He, I suppose, who used occasionally to play upon the instrument of that name in the Hall?"
"Yes, ma'am, the same. Don't you remember how beautiful he played it the night we came in the coach to town?"
"I remember there was something very-unpleasant between him and a farmer, I believe; but I did not pay much attention to it at the time."
"I am sorry for that, miss, for I declare to goodness, Dandy's dulcimer isn't such an unpleasant instrument as you think; and, besides, he has got a new one the other day that plays lovely."
Lucy felt a good deal anxious to hear some further information from Alley upon the subject she had introduced, but saw that Dandy and his dulcimer were likely to be substituted for it, all unconscious as the poor girl was of the preference of the man to the master.
"He looks ill, you say, Alice?"
"Never seen him look so rosy in my life, miss, nor in such spirits."
Lucy looked into her face, and for a moment's space one slight and feeble gleam, which no suffering could prevent, passed over it, at this intimation of the object which Alley's fancy then dwelt upon.
"He danced a hornpipe, miss, to the tune of the Swaggerin' Jig, upon the kitchen table," she proceeded; "and, sorra be off me, but it would do your heart good to see the springs he would give—every one o' them a yard high—and to hear how he'd crack his fingers as loud as the shot of a pistol."
A slight gloom overclouded Lucy's face; but, on looking at the artless transition from the honest sympathy which Alley had just felt for her to a sense of happiness which it was almost a crime to disturb, it almost instantly disappeared.
"I must not be angry with her," she said to herself; "this feeling, after all, is only natural, and such as God. in his goodness bestows upon every heart as the greatest gift of life, when not abused. I cannot be displeased at the naivete with which she has forgotten my lover for her own; for such I perceive this person she speaks of evidently is."
She looked once more at her maid, whose eyes, with true Celtic feeling, were now dancing with delight, whilst yet red with tears. "Alice," said she, in a voice of indulgent reproof, "who are you thinking of?"
"Why, of Dandy, miss," replied Alley; but in an instant the force of the reproof as well as of the indulgence was felt, and sho acknowledged her error by a blush.
"I beg your pardon, miss," she said; "I'm a thoughtless creature. What can you care about what I was sayin'? But—hem—well, about him—sure enough, poor Dandy told me that everything is going wrong with him. He doesn't, as I said, speak or smile as he used to do."
"Do you know," asked her mistress, "whether he goes out much?"
"Not much, miss, I think; he goes sometimes to Lady Gourlay's and to Dean Palmer's. But do you know what I heard, miss I hope you won't grow jealous, though?"
Lucy gave a faint smile. "I hope not, Alice. What is it?" But here, on recollecting again the scene she had just closed below stairs, she shuddered, and could not help exclaiming, "Oh, gracious heaven!" Then suddenly throwing off, as it were, all thought and reflection connected with it, she looked again at her maid, and repeated the question, "What is it, Alice?"
"Why, miss, have you ever seen Lord Dunroe's sister?"
"Yes, in London; but she was only a girl, though a lovely girl."
"Well, miss, do you know what? She's in love with some one."
"Poor girl!" exclaimed, Lucy, "I trust the course of her love may run smoother than mine; but who is she supposed to be in love with?" she asked, not, however, without a blush, which, with all her virtues, was, as woman, out of her power to suppress.
"Oh," replied Alley, "not with him—and dear knows it would be no disgrace to her, but the contrary, to fall in love with such a gentleman—no; but with a young officer of the Thirty-third, who they say is lovely."
"What is his name, do you not know, Alice?"
"Roberts, I think. They met at Dean Palmer's and Lady Gourlay's; for it seems that Colonel Dundas was an old brother officer of Sir Edward's, when he was young and in the army."
"I have met that young officer, Alice," replied Lucy, "and I know not how it was, but I felt an—a—a—in fact, I cannot describe it. Those who were present observed that he and I resembled each other very much, and indeed the resemblance struck myself very forcibly."
"Troth, and if he resembled you, miss, I'm not surprised that Lady Emily fell in love with him."
"But how did you come to hear all this, Alice?" asked Lucy with a good deal of anxiety.
"Why, miss, there's a cousin of my own maid to Mrs. Palmer, and you may remember the evenin' you gave me lave to spend with her. She gave a party on the same evenin' and Dandy was there. I think I never looked better; I had on my new stays, and my hair was done up Grecian. Any way, I wasn't the worst of them."
"I am fatigued, Alice," said Lucy; "make your narrative as short as you can."
"I haven't much to add to it now, miss," she replied. "It was observed that Lady Emily's eyes and his were never off one another. She refused, it seems, to dance with some major that's a great lord in the regiment, and danced with Mr. Roberts afterwards. He brought her down to supper, too, and sat beside her, and you know what that looks like."
Lucy paused, and seemed as if anxious about something, but at length asked,
"Do you know, Alice, was he there?"
"No, miss," replied the maid; "Dandy tells me he goes to no great parties at all, he only dines where there's a few. But, indeed, by all accounts he's very unhappy."
"What do you mean by all accounts," asked Lucy, a little startled.
"Why, Dandy, miss; so he tells me."
"Poor Alice!" exclaimed Lucy, looking benignantly upon her. "I did not think, Alice, that any conversation could have for a moment won me from the painful state of mind in which I entered the room. Aid me me now to my bedchamber. I must lie down, for I feel that I should endeavor to recruit my strength some way. If I could sleep, I should be probably the better for it; but, alas, Alice, you need not be told that misery and despair are wretched bedfellows."
"Don't say despair," replied Alice; "remember there's a good God above us, who can do better for us than ever we can for ourselves. Trust in him. Who knows but he's only trying you; and severely tried you are, my darlin' mistress."
Whilst uttering the last words, the affectionate creature's eyes filled with tears. She rose, however, and having assisted Lucy to her sleeping-room, helped to undress her, then fixed her with tender assiduity in her bed, where, in a few minutes, exhaustion and anxiety of mind were for the time forgotten, and she fell asleep.
The penetration of servants, in tracing, at fashionable parties, the emotions of love through all its various garbs and disguises, constitutes a principal and not the least disagreeable portion of their duty. The history of Lady Emily's attachment to Ensign Roberts, though a profound secret to the world, in the opinion of the parties themselves, and only hoped for and suspected by each, was nevertheless perfectly well known by a good number of the quality below stairs. The circumstance, at all events, as detailed by Alley, was one which in this instance justified their sagacity. Roberts and she had met, precisely as Alley said, three or four times at Lady Gourlay's and the Dean's, where their several attractions were, in fact, the theme of some observation. Those long, conscious glances, however, which, on the subject of love are such traitors to the heart, by disclosing its most secret operations, had sufficiently well told them the state of everything within that mysterious little garrison, and the natural result was that Lady Emily seldom thought of any one or anything but Ensign Roberts and the aforesaid glances, nor Mr. Roberts of anything but hers; for it so happened, that, with the peculiar oversight in so many things by which the passion is characterized, Lady Emily forgot that she had herself been glancing at the ensign, or she could never have observed and interpreted his looks. With a similar neglect of his own offences, in the same way must we charge Mr. Roberts, who in his imagination saw nothing but the blushing glances of this fair patrician.
Time went on, however, and Lucy, so far from recovering, was nearly one-half of the week confined to her bed, or her apartment. Sometimes, by way of varying the scene, and, if possible, enlivening her spirits, she had forced herself to go down to the drawing-room, and occasionally to take an airing in the carriage. A fortnight had elapsed, and yet neither Norton nor his fellow-traveler had returned from France. Neither had Mr. Birney; and our friend the stranger had failed to get any possible intelligence of unfortunate Fenton, whom he now believed to have perished, either by foul practices or the influence of some intoxicating debauch. Thanks to Dandy Dulcimer, however, as well as to Alley Mahon, he was not without information concerning Lucy's state of health; and, unfortunately, all that he could hear about it was only calculated to depress and distract him.
Dandy came to him one morning, about this period, and after rubbing his head slightly with the tips of his fingers, said,
"Bedad, sir, I was very near havin' cotch the right Mrs. Norton yestherday—I mane, I thought I was."
"How was that?" asked his master. "Why, sir, I heard there was a fine, good-looking widow of that name, livin' in Meeklenburgh street, where she keeps a dairy; and sure enough there I found her. Do you undherstand, sir?"
"Why should I not, sirra? What mystery is there in it that I should not?"
"Deuce a sich a blazer of a widow I seen this seven years. I went early to her place, and the first thing I saw was a lump of a six-year-ould—a son of hers—playin' the Pandean pipes upon a whack o' bread and butther that he had aiten at the top into canes. Somehow, although I can't tell exactly why, I tuck a fancy to become acquainted with her, and proposed, if she had no objection, to take a cup o' tay with her yestherday evenin', statin' at the time that I had something to say that might turn out to her advantage."
"But what mystery is there in all this?" said his master.
"Mysthery, sir—why, where was there ever a widow since the creation of Peter White, that hadn't more or less of mysthery about her?"
"Well, but what was the mystery here?" asked the other. "I do not perceive any, so far."
"Take your time, sir," replied Dandy; "it's comin'. The young performer on the Pandeans that I tould you of wasn't more than five or six at the most, but a woman over the way, that I made inquiries of, tould me the length o' time the husband was dead. Do you undherstand the mysthery now, sir?"
"Go on," replied the other; "I am amused by you; but I don't see the mystery, notwithstanding. What was the result?"
"I tell you the truth—she was a fine, comely, fiaghoola woman; and as I heard she had the shiners, I began to think I might do worse."
"I thought the girl called Alley Mahon was your favorite?"
"So she is, sir—that is, she's one o' them: but, talkin' o' favorites, I am seldom without half-a-dozen."
"Very liberal, indeed, Dandy; but I wish to hear the upshot."
"Why, sir, we had a cup o' tay together yestherday evenin', and, between you and me, I began, as it might be, to get fond of her. She's very pretty, sir; but I must say, that the man who marries her will get a mouth, plaise goodness, that he must kiss by instalments. Faith, if it could be called property, he might boast that his is extensive; and divil a mistake in it."
"She has a large mouth, then?"
"Upon my soul, sir, if you stood at the one side of it you'd require a smart telescope to see to the other. No man at one attempt could ever kiss her. I began, sir, at the left side—that's always the right side to kiss at and went on successfully enough till I got half way through; but you see, sir, the evenin's is but short yet, and as I had no time to finish, I'm to go back this evenin' to get to the other side.
"Still I'm at a loss, Dandy," replied his master, not knowing whether to smile or get angry; "finish it without going about in this manner."
"Faith, sir, and that's more than I could do in kissing the widow. Divil such a circumbendibus ever a man had as I had in gettin' as far as the nose, where I had to give up until this evenin' as I said. Now, sir, whether to consider that an advantage or disadvantage is another mysthery to me. There's some women, and they have such a small, rosy, little mouth, that a man must gather up his lips into a bird's bill to kiss them. Now, there's Miss Gour—"
A look of fury from his master divided the word in his mouth, and he paused from terror. His master became more composed, however, and said, "To what purpose have you told me all this?"
"Gad, sir to tell you the truth, I saw you were low-spirited, and wanted something to rouse you. It's truth for all that."
"Is this Mrs. Norton, however, the woman whom we are seeking?"
"Well, well," exclaimed Dandy, casting down his hand, with vexatious, vehemence, against the open air; "by the piper o' Moses, I'm the stupidest man that ever peeled a phatie. Troth, I was so engaged, sir, that I forgot it; but I'll remember it to-night, plaise goodness."
"Ah, Dandy," exclaimed his master, smiling, "I fear you are a faithless swain. I thought Alley Mahon was at least the first on the list."
"Troth, sir," replied Dandy, "I believe she is, too. Poor Alley! By the way, sir, I beg your pardon, but I have news for you that I fear will give you a heavy heart."
"How," exclaimed his master, "how—what is it? Tell me instantly."
"Miss Gourlay is ill, sir. She was goin' to be married to this lord; her father, I believe, had the day appointed, and she had given her consent."
His master seized him by the collar with both hands, and peering into his eyes, whilst his own blazed with actual fire, he held him for a moment as if in a vise, exclaiming, "Her consent, you villain!" But, as if recollecting himself, he suddenly let him go, and said, calmly, "Go on with what you were about to say."
"I have very little more to say, sir," replied Dandy; "herself and Lord Dunroe is only waitin' till she gets well and then they're to be married?"
"You said she gave her consent, did you not!"
"No doubt of it, sir, and that, I believe, is what's breakin' her heart. However, it's not my affair to direct any one; still, if I was in somebody's shoes, I know the tune I'd sing."
"And what tune would you sing?" asked his master.
Dandy sung the following stave, and, as he did it, he threw his comic eye upon his master with such humorous significance that the latter, although wrapped in deep reflection at the moment, on suddenly observing! it, could not avoid smiling:
"Will you list, and come with me, fair maid? Will you list, and come with me, fair maid? Will you list, and come with me, fair maid? And folly the lad with the white cockade?"
"If you haven't a good voice, sir, you could whisper the words into her ear, and as you're so near the mouth—hem—a word to the wise—then point to the chaise that you'll have standin' outside, and my life for you, there's an end to the fees o' the docther."
His master, who had relapsed into thought before he concluded his advice, looked at him without seeming to have heard it. He then traversed the room several times, his chin supported by his finger and thumb, after which he seemed to have formed a resolution.
"Go, sir," said he, "and put that letter to Father M'Mahon in the post-office. I shall not want you for some time."
"Will I ordher a chaise, sir?" replied Dandy, with a serio-comic face.
One look from his master, however, sent him about his business; but the latter could hear him lilting the "White Cockade," as he went down stairs.
"Now," said he, when Dandy was gone, "can it be possible that she has at length given her consent to this marriage? Never voluntarily. It has been extorted by foul deceit and threatening, by some base fraud practised upon her generous and unsuspecting nature. I am culpable to stand tamely by and allow this great and glorious creature to be sacrificed to a bad ambition, and a worse man, without coming to the rescue. But, in the meantime, is this information true? Alas, I fear it is; for I know the unscrupulous spirit the dear girl has, alone and unassisted, to contend with. Yet if it be true, oh, why should she not have written to me? Why not have enabled me to come to her defence? I know not what to think. At all events, I shall, as a last resource, call upon her father. I shall explain to him the risk he runs in marrying his daughter to this man who is at once a fool and a scoundrel. But how can I do so? Birney has not yet returned from France, and I have no proofs on which to rest such serious allegations; nothing at present but bare assertions, which her father, in the heat and fury of his ambition, might not only disbelieve, but misinterpret. Be it so; I shall at least warn him, take it as he will; and if all else should fail, I will disclose to him my name and family, in order that he may know, at all events, that I am no impostor. My present remonstrance may so far alarm him as to cause the persecution against Lucy to be suspended for a time, and on' Birney's return, we shall, I trust, be able to speak more emphatically."
He accordingly sent for a chaise, into which he stepped and ordered the driver to leave him at Sir Thomas Gourlay's and to wait there for him.
Lord Dunroe was at this period perfectly well aware that Birney's visit to France was occasioned by purposes that boded nothing favorable to his interests; and were it not for Lucy's illness, there is little doubt that the marriage would, ere now, have taken place. A fortnight had elapsed, and every day so completely filled him with alarm, that he proposed to Sir Thomas Gourlay the expediency of getting the license at once, and having the ceremony performed privately in her father's house. To this the father would have assented, were it not that he had taken it into his head that Lucy was rallying, and would soon be in a condition to go through it, in the parish church, at least. A few days, he hoped, would enable her to bear it; but if not, he was willing to make every concession to his lordship's wishes. Her delicate health, he said, would be a sufficient justification. At all events, both agreed that there could be no harm in having the license provided: and, accordingly, upon the morning of the stranger's visit, Sir Thomas and Lord Dunroe had just left the house of the former for the Ecclesiastical Court, in Henrietta street, a few minutes before his arrival. Sir Thomas was mistaken, however, in imagining that his daughter's health was improving, The doctor, indeed, had ordered carriage exercise essentially necessary; and Lucy being none of those weak and foolish girls, who sink under illness and calamity by an apathetic neglect of their health, or a criminal indifference to the means of guarding and prolonging the existence into which God has called them, left nothing undone on her part to second the efforts of the physician. Accordingly, whenever she was able to be up, or the weather permitted it, she sat in the carriage for an hour or two as it drove through some of the beautiful suburban scenery by which our city is surrounded.
The stranger, on the door being opened, was told by a servant, through mistake, that Sir Thomas Gourlay was within. The man then showed him to the drawing-room, where he said there was none but Miss Gourlay, he believed, who was waiting for the carriage to take her airing.
On hearing this piece of intelligence the stranger's heart began to palpitate, and his whole system, physical and spiritual, was disturbed by a general commotion that mounted to pain, and almost banished his presence of mind for the moment. He tapped at the drawing-room door, and a low, melancholy voice, that penetrated his heart, said, "Come in." He entered, and there on a sofa sat Lucy before him. He did not bow—his heart was too deeply interested in her fate to remember the formalities of ceremony—but he stood, and fixed his eyes upon her with a long and anxious gaze. There she sat; but, oh! how much changed in appearance from what he had known her on every previous interview. Not that the change, whilst it spoke of sorrow and suffering, was one which diminished her beauty; on the contrary, it had only changed its character to something far more touching and impressive than health itself with all its blooming hues could have bestowed. Her features were certainly thinner, but there was visible in them a serene but mournful spirit—a voluptuous languor, heightened and spiritualized by purity and intellect into an expression that realized our notions rather of angelic beauty than of the loveliness of mere woman. To all this, sorrow had added a dignity so full of melancholy and commanding grace—a seriousness indicative of such truth and honor—as to make the heart of the spectator wonder, and the eye almost to weep on witnessing an association so strange and incomprehensible, as that of such beauty and evident goodness with sufferings that seem rather like crimes against purity and innocence, and almost tempt the weak heart to revolt against the dispensations of Providence.
When their eyes rested on each other, is it necessary to say that the melancholy position of Lucy was soon read in those large orbs that seemed about to dissolve into tears? The shock of the stranger's sudden and unexpected appearance, when taken in connection with the loss of him forever, and the sacrifice of her love and happiness, which, to save her father's life, she had so heroically and nobly made, was so strong, she felt unable to rise. He approached her, struck deeply by the dignified entreaty for sympathy and pardon that was in her looks.
"I am not well able to rise, dear Charles," she said, breaking the short silence which had occurred, and extending her hand; "and I suppose you have come to reproach me. As for me, I have nothing to ask you for now—nothing to hope for but pardon, and that you will forget me henceforth. Will you be noble enough to forgive her who was once your Lucy, but who can never be so more?"
The dreadful solemnity, together with the pathetic spirit of tenderness and despair that breathed in these words, caused a pulsation in his heart and a sense of suffocation about his throat that for the moment prevented him from speaking. He seized her hand, which was placed passively in his, and as he put it to his lips, Lucy felt a warm tear or two fall upon it. At length he spoke:
"Oh, why is this, Lucy?" he said; "your appearance has unmanned me; but I see it and feel it all. I have been sacrificed to ambition, yet I blame you not."
"No, dear Charles," she replied; look upon me and then ask yourself who is the victim."
"But what has happened?" he asked;
"What machinery of hell has been at work to reduce you to this? Fraud, deceit, treachery have done it. But, for the sake of God, let me know, as I said, what has occurred since our last interview to occasion this deplorable change—this rooted sorrow—this awful spirit of despair that I read in your face?
"Not despair, Charles, for I will never yield to that; but it is enough to say, that a barrier deep as the grave, and which only that can remove, is between us forever in this life."
"You mean to say, then, that you never can be mine?"
"That, alas, is what I mean to say—what I must say."
"But why, Lucy—why, dearest Lucy—for still I must call you so; what has occasioned this? I cannot understand it."
She then related to him, briefly, but feelingly, the solemn promise, which, as our readers are aware of, she had given her father, and under what circumstances she had given it, together with his determination, unchanged and irrevocable, to force her to its fulfilment. Having heard it he paused for some time, whilst Lucy's eyes were fixed upon him, as if she expected a verdict of life or death from his lips.
"Alas, my dear Lucy," he said; "noble girl! how can I quarrel with your virtues? You did it to save a father's life, and have left me nothing to reproach you with; but in increasing my admiration of you, my heart is doubly struck with anguish at the thought that I must lose you."
"All, yes," she replied; "but you must take comfort from the difference in our fates. You merely have to endure the pain of loss; but I—oh, dear Charles—what have I to encounter? You are not forced into a marriage with one who possesses not a single sentiment or principle of virtue or honor in common with yourself. No; you are merely—I deprived of a woman whom you love; but you are not forced into marriage with a woman, abandoned and unprincipled, whom you hate. Yes, Charles, you must take comfort, as I said, from the difference of our fates."
"What, Lucy! do you mean to say I can take comfort from your misery? Am I so selfish or ungenerous as to thank God that you, whose happiness I prefer a thousand times to my own, are more miserable than I am? I thought you knew me better."
"Alas, Charles," she replied, "have compassion on me. The expression of these generous sentiments almost kills me. Assume some moral error—some semblance of the least odious vice—some startling blemish of character—some weakness that may enable me to feel that in losing you I have not so much to lose as I thought; something that may make the contrast between the wretch to whom I am devoted and yourself less repulsive."
"Oh, I assure you, my dear Lucy," he replied, with a melancholy smile, "that I have my errors, my weaknesses, my frailties, if that will comfort you; so many, indeed, that my greatest virtue, and that of which I am most proud, is my love for you."
"Ah, Charles, you reason badly," she replied, "for you prove yourself to be capable of that noble affection which never yet existed in a vicious heart. As for me, I know not on what hand to turn. It is said that when a person hanging by some weak branch from the brow of a precipice finds it beginning to give way, and that the plunge below is unavoidable, a certain courage, gained from despair, not only diminishes the terror of the fall, but relieves the heart by a bold and terrible feeling that for the moment banishes fear, and reconciles him to his fate."
"It is a dreadful analogy, my dear Lucy; but you must take comfort. Who knows what a day may bring forth? You are not yet hanging upon the precipice of life."
"I feel that I am,—Charles; and what is more, I see the depth to which I must be precipitated; but, alas, I possess none of that fearful courage that is said to reconcile one to the fall."
"Lucy," he replied, "into this gulf of destruction you shall never fall. Believe me, there is an invisible hand that will support you when you least expect it; a power that shapes our purposes, roughhew them as we will. I came to request an interview with your father upon this very subject. Have courage, dearest girl; friends are at work who I trust will ere long be enabled to place documents in his hands that will soon change his purposes. I grant that it is possible these documents may fail, or may not be procured; and in that case I know not how we are to act. I mention the probability of failure lest a future disappointment occasion such a shock as in your present state you may be incapable of sustaining; but still have hope, for the probability is in our favor."
She shook her head incredulously, and replied, "You do not know the inflexible determination of my father on this point; neither can I conceive what documents you could place before him that would change his purpose."
"I do not conceive that I am at liberty even to you, Lucy, to mention circumstances that may cast a stain upon high integrity and spotless innocence, so long as it is possible the proofs I speak of may fail. In the latter case, so far at least as the world is concerned, justice would degenerate into scandal, whilst great evil and little good must be the consequence. I think I am bound in honor not to place old age, venerable and virtuous, on the one hand, and unsuspecting innocence on the other, in a contingency that may cause them irreparable injury. I will now say, that if your happiness were not involved in the success or failure of our proceedings, I should have ceased to be a party in the steps we are taking until the grave had closed upon one individual at least, while unconscious of the shame that was to fall upon his family."
Lucy looked upon him with a feeling of admiration which could not be misunderstood. "Dear Charles," she exclaimed; "ever honorable—ever generous—ever considerate and unselfish; I do not of course understand your allusions; but I am confident that whatever you do will be done in a spirit worthy of yourself."
The look of admiration, and why should we not add love, which Lucy had bestowed upon him was observed and felt deeply. Their eyes met, and, seizing her hand again, he whispered, in that low and tender voice which breathes the softest and most contagious emotion of the heart, "Alas, Lucy, you could not even dream how inexpressibly dear you are to me. Without you, life to me will possess no blessing. All that I ever conceived of its purest and most exalted enjoyments were centred in you, and in that sweet communion which I thought we were destined to hold together; but now, now—oh, my God, what a blank will my whole future existence be without you!"
"Charles—Charles," she replied, but at the same time her eyes were swimming in tears, "spare me this; do not overload my heart with such an excess of sorrow; have compassion on me, for I am already too sensible of my own misery—too sensible of the happiness I have lost. I am here isolated and alone, with no kind voice to whisper one word of consolation to my unhappy heart, my poor maid only excepted; and I am often forced, in order to escape the pain of present reflections, to make a melancholy struggle once more to entrance myself in the innocent dreams of my early life. Yes, and I will confess it, to call back if I can those visions that gave the delicious hues of hope and happiness to the love which bound your heart and mine together. The illusion, however, is too feeble to struggle successfully with the abiding consciousness of my wretchedness, and I awake to a bitterness of anguish that is drinking up the fountains of my life, out of which life I feel, if this state continues, I shall soon pass away."
On concluding, she wiped away the tears that were fast falling; and her lover was so deeply moved that he could scarcely restrain his own.
"There is one word, dearest Lucy," he replied, "but though short it is full of comfort—hope."
"Alas! Charles, I feel that it has been blotted out of the destiny of my life. I look for it; I search for it, but in vain. In this life I cannot find it; I say in this, because it is now, when all about me is darkness, and pain, and suffering, that I feel the consolation which arises from our trust in another. This consolation, however, though true, is sad, and the very joy it gives is melancholy, because it arises from that mysterious change which withdraws us from existence; and when it leads us to happiness we cannot forget that it is through the gate of the grave. But still it is a consolation, and a great one—to a sufferer like me, the only one—we must all die."
Like a strain of soft but solemn music, these mournful words proceeded from her lips, from which they seemed to catch the touching sweetness which characterized them.
"I ought not to shed these tears," she added; "nor ought you, dear Charles, to feel so deeply what I say as I perceive you do; but I know not how it is, I am impressed with a presentiment that this is probably our last meeting; and I confess that I am filled with a mournful satisfaction in speaking to you—in looking upon you—yes, I confess it; and I feel all the springs of tenderness opened, as it were, in my unhappy heart. In a short time,"—she added, and here she almost sobbed, "it will be a crime to think of you—to allow my very imagination to turn to your image; and I shall be called upon to banish that image forever from my heart, which I must strive to do, for to cherish it there will be wrong; but I shall struggle, for"—she added, proudly —"whatever my duty may be, I shall leave nothing undone to preserve my conscience free from its own reproaches."
"Take comfort, Lucy," he replied; "this will not—shall not be our last meeting. It is utterly impossible that such a creature as you are should be doomed to a fate so wretched. Do not allow them to hurry you into this odious marriage. Gain time, and we shall yet triumph."
"Yes, Charles," she replied; "but, then, misery often grows apathetic, and the will, wearied down and weakened, loses the power of resistance. I have more than once felt attacks of this kind, and I know that if they should observe it, I am lost. Oh, how little is the love of woman understood! And how little of life is known except through those false appearances that are certain to deceive all who look upon them as realities! Here am I, surrounded by every luxury that this world, can present, and how many thousands imagine me happy! What is there within the range of fashion and the compass of wealth that I cannot command? and yet amidst all this dazzle of grandeur I am more wretched than the beggar whom a morsel of food will make contented."
"Resist this marriage, Lucy, for a time, that is all I ask," replied her lover; "be firm, and, above all things, hope. You may ere long understand the force and meaning of my words. At present you cannot, nor is it in my power, with honor, to speak more plainly."
"My father," replied this high-minded and sensitive creature, "said some time ago, 'Is not my daughter a woman of honor?' Yes, Charles, I must be a woman of honor. But it is time you should go; only before you do, hear me. Henceforth we have each of us one great mutual task imposed upon us—a task the fulfilment of which is dictated alike by honor, virtue, and religion."
"Alas, Lucy, what is that?"
"To forget each other. From the moment I become," she sobbed aloud—"you know," she added, "what I would say, but what I cannot—from that moment memory becomes a crime."
"But an involuntary crime, my ever dear Lucy. As for my part," he replied, vehemently, and with something akin to distraction, "I feel that is impossible, and that even were it possible, I would no more attempt to banish your image from my heart than I would to deliberately still its pulses. Never, never—such an attempt, such an act, if successful, would be a murder of the affections. No. Lucy, whilst one spark of mortal life is alive in my body, whilst memory can remember the dreams of only the preceding moment, whilst a single faculty of heart or intellect remains by which your image can be preserved, I shall cling to that image as the shipwrecked sailor would to the plank that bears him through the midnight storm—as a despairing soul would to the only good act of a wicked life that he could plead for his salvation."
Whilst he spoke, Lucy kept her eyes fixed upon his noble features, now wrought up into an earnest but melancholy animation, and when he had concluded, she exclaimed, "And this is the man of whose love they would deprive me, whose very acknowledgment of it comes upon my spirit like an anthem of the heart; and I know not what I have done to be so tried; yet, as it is the will of God, I receive it for the best. Dear Charles, you must go; but you spoke of remonstrating with my father. Do not so; an interview would only aggravate him. And as you admit that certain documents are wanted to produce a change in his opinions, you may see clearly that until you produce them an expostulation would be worse than useless. On the contrary, it might precipitate matters and ruin all. Now go."
"Perhaps you are right," he replied, "as you always are; how can I go? How can I tear myself from you? Dearest, dearest Lucy, what a love is mine! But that is not surprising—who could love you with an ordinary passion?"
Apprehensive that her father might return, she rose up, but so completely had she been exhausted by the excitement of this interview that he was obliged to assist her.
"I hear the carriage," said she; "it is at the door: will you ring for my maid? And now, Charles, as it is possible that we must meet no more, say, before you go, that you forgive me."
"There is everything in your conduct to be admired and loyed, my dearest Lucy; but nothing to be forgiven."
"Is it possible," she said, as if in communion with herself, "that we shall never meet, never speak, never, probably, look upon each other more?"
Her lover observed that her face became suddenly pale, and she staggered a little, after which she sank and would have fallen had he not supported her in his arms. He had already rung for Alley Mahon, and there was nothing for it but to place Lucy once more upon the sofa, whither he was obliged to carry her, for she had fainted. Having placed her there, it became necessary to support her head upon his bosom, and in doing so—is it in human nature to be severe upon him?—he rapturously kissed her lips, and pressed her to his heart in a long, tender, and melancholy embrace. The appearance of her maid, however, who always accompanied her in the carriage, terminated this pardonable theft, and after a few words of ordinary conversation they separated.
CHAPTER XXXVII. Dandy's Visit to Summerfield Cottage
—Where he Makes a most Ungallant Mistake—Returns with Tidings of both Mrs. Norton and Fenton—and Generously Patronizes his Master
On the morning after this interview the stranger was waited on by Birney, who had returned from France late on the preceding night.
"Well, my friend," said he, after they had shaken hands, "I hope you are the bearer of welcome intelligence!"
The gloom and disappointment that were legible in this man's round, rosy, and generally good-humored countenance were observed, however, by the stranger at a second glance.
"But how is this?" he added; "you are silent, and I fear, now that I look at you a second time, that matters have not gone well with you. For God's sake, however, let me know; for I am impatient to hear the result."
"All is lost," replied Birney; "and I fear we have been outgeneralled. The clergyman is dead, and the book in which the record of her death was registered has disappeared, no one knows how. I strongly suspect, however, that your opponent is at the bottom of it."
"You mean Dunroe?"
"I do; that scoundrel Norton, at once his master and his slave, accompanied by a suspicious-looking fellow, whose name I discovered to be Mulholland, were there before us, and I fear, carried their point by securing the register, which I have no doubt has been by this time reduced to ashes."
"In that case, then," replied the stranger, despondingly, "it's all up with us."
"Unless," observed Birney, "you have been more successful at home than I have been abroad. Any trace of Mrs. Norton?"
"None whatsoever. But, my dear Birney, what you tell me is surprisingly mysterious. How could Dunroe become aware of the existence of these documents? or, indeed, of our proceedings at all? And who is this Mulholland you speak of that accompanied him?"
"I know nothing whatever about him," replied Birney, "except that he is a fellow of dissolute appearance, with sandy hair, not ill-looking, setting aside what is called a battered look, and a face of the most consummate effrontery."
"I see it all," replied the other. "That drunken scoundrel M'Bride has betrayed us, as far, at least, as he could. The fellow, while his conduct continued good, was in my confidence, as far as a servant ought to be. In this matter, however, he did not know all, unless, indeed, by inference from the nature of the document itself, and from knowing the name of the family whose position it affected. How it might have affected them, however, I don't think he knew."
"But how do you know that this Mulholland is that man?"
"From your description of him I am confident there can be no mistake about it—not the slightest; he must have changed his name purposely on this occasion; and, I dare say, Dunroe has liberally paid him for his treachery."
"But what is to be done now?" asked Birney; "here we are fairly at fault."
"I have seen Miss Gourlay," replied the other, "and if it were only from motives of humanity, we must try, by every means consistent with honor, to stop or retard her marriage with Dunroe."
"But how are we to do so?"
"I know not at present; but I shall think of it. This is most unfortunate. I declare solemnly that it was only in so far as the facts we were so anxious to establish might have enabled us to prevent this accursed union, that I myself felt an interest in our success. Miss Gourlay's happiness was my sole motive of action."
"I believe you, sir," replied Birney; "but in the meantime we are completely at a stand. Chance, it is true, may throw something in our way; but, in the present position of circumstances, chance, nay, all the chances are against us."
"It is unfortunately too true," replied the stranger; "there is not a single opening left for us; we are, on the contrary, shut out completely in every direction. I shall write, however, to a lady who possesses much influence with Miss Gourlay; but, alas, to what purpose? Miss Gourlay herself has no influence whatever; and, as to her father, he does not live who could divert him from his object. His vile ambition only in the matter of his daughter could influence him, and it will do so to her destruction, for she cannot survive this marriage long."
"You look thin, and a good deal careworn," observed Birney, "which, indeed, I am sorry to see. Constant anxiety, however, and perpetual agitation of spirits will wear any man down. Well, I must bid you good morning; but I had almost forgotten to inquire about poor Fenton. Any trace of him during my absence?"
"Not the slightest. In fact, every point is against us. Lady Gourlay has relapsed into her original hopelessness, or nearly so, and I myself am now more depressed than I have ever been. Parish register, documents, corrupt knaves, and ungrateful traitors—perish all the machinery of justice on the one hand, and of villainy on the other; only let us succeed in securing Miss Gourlay's happiness, and I am contented. That, now and henceforth, is the absorbing object of my life. Let her be happy; let her be but happy—and this can only be done by preventing her union with this heartless young man, whose principal motive to it is her property."
Birney then took his departure, leaving his friend in such a state of distress, and almost of despair, on Lucy's account, as we presume our readers can very sufficiently understand, without any further assistance from us. He could not, however, help congratulating himself on his prudence in withholding from Miss Gourlay the sanguine expectations which he himself had entertained upon the result of Birney's journey to France. Had he not done so, he knew that she would have participated in his hopes, and, as a natural consequence, she must now have had to bear this deadly blow of disappointment, probably the last cherished hope of her heart; and under such circumstances, it is difficult to say what its effect upon her might have been. This was now his only satisfaction, to which we may add the consciousness that he had not, by making premature disclosures, been the means of compromising the innocent.
After much thought and reflection upon the gloomy position in which both he himself and especially Lucy were placed, he resolved to write to Mrs. Mainwaring upon the subject; although at the moment he scarcely knew in what terms to address her, or what steps he could suggest to her, as one feeling a deep interest in Miss Gourlay's happiness. At length, after much anxious rumination, he wrote the following short letter, or rather note, more with a view of alarming Mrs. Mainwaring into activity, than of dictating to her any line of action as peculiarly suited to the circumstances.
"Madam,—The fact of Miss Gourlay having taken refuge with you as her friend, upon a certain occasion that was, I believe, very painful to that young lady, I think sufficiently justifies me in supposing that you feel a warm interest in her fate. For this reason, therefore, I have taken the liberty of addressing you with reference to her present situation. If ever a human being required the aid and consolation of friendship, Miss Gourlay now does; and I will not suppose that a lady whom she honored with her esteem and affection, could be capable of withholding from her such aid and such consolation, in a crisis so deplorable. You are probably aware, madam, that she is on the point of being sacrificed, by a forced and hated union, to the ambitious views of her father; but you could form a very slight conception indeed of the horror with which she approaches the gulf that is before her. Could there be no means devised by which this unhappy young lady might be enabled with honor to extricate herself from the wretchedness with which she is encompassed? I beg of you, madam, to think of this; there is little time to be lost. A few days may seal her misery forever. Her health and spirits are fast sinking, and she is beginning to entertain apprehensions that that apathy which proceeds from the united influence of exhaustion and misery, may, in some unhappy moment, deprive her of the power of resistance, even for a time. Madam, I entreat that you will either write to her or see her; that you will sustain and console her as far as in you lies, and endeavor, if possible, to throw some obstruction in the way of this accursed marriage; whether through your influence with herself, or her father, matters not. I beg, madam, to apologize for the liberty I have taken in addressing you upon this painful but deeply important subject, and I appeal to yourself whether it is possible to know Miss Gourlay, and not to feel the deepest interest in everything that involves her happiness or misery.
"I have the honor to be, madam,
"Your obedient, faithful servant, and Her Sincere Friend.
"P. S.—I send this letter by my servant, as I am anxious that it should reach no hands, and be subjected to no eyes, but your own; and I refer you to Miss Gourlay herself, who will satisfy you as to the honor and purity of my motives in writing it."
Having sealed this communication, the stranger rang for Dulcimer, who made his appearance accordingly, and received his instructions for its safe delivery.
"You must deliver this note, Dandy," said he, "to the lady to whom Miss Gourlay and her maid drove, the morning you took the unwarrantable liberty of following them there."
"And for all that," replied Dandy, "it happens very luckily that I chance, for that very raison, to know now where to find her."
"It does so, certainly," replied his master. "Here is money for you—take a car, or whatever kind of vehicle you prefer. Give this note into her own hand, and make as little delay as you can."
"Do you expect an answer, sir?" replied Dandy; "and am I to wait for one, or ask for one?"
"I am not quite certain of that," said the other; "it is altogether discretionary with her. But there can be no harm in asking the question, at all events. Any other Mrs. Norton in the way, Dandy?"
"Deuce a once, sir. I have sifted the whole city, and, barrin' the three dozen I made out already, I can't find hilt or hair of another. Faith, sir, she ought to be worth something when she's got, for I may fairly say she has cost me trouble enough at any rate, the skulkin' thief, whoever she is; and me to lose my hundre' pounds into the bargain—bad scran to her!"
"Only find me the true Mrs. Norton," said his master, "and the hundred pounds are yours, and for Fenton fifty. Be off, now, lose no time, and bring me her answer if she sends any."
Dandy's motions were all remarkably rapid, and we need not say that he allowed no grass to grow under his feet while getting over his journey. On arriving at Summerfield Cottage, he learned that Mrs. Mainwaring was in the garden; and on stating that he had a letter to deliver into her own hands, that lady desired him to be brought in, as she was then in conversation with her daughter, who had been compelled at length to fly from the brutality of her husband, and return once more to the protection of her mother's roof. On opening the letter and looking at it, she started, and turning to her daughter said,
"You must excuse me, my dear Maria, for a few moments, but don't forget to finish what you were telling me about this unfortunate young man, Fenton, as he, you say, calls himself, from Ballytrain."
"Hello!" thought Dandy, "here's a discovery. By the elevens, I'll hould goold to silver that this is poor Fenton that disappeared so suddenly."
"I beg your pardon, miss," said he, addressing Mrs. Scarman as an unmarried lady, as he perceived that she was the person from whom he could receive the best intelligence on the subject; "I hope it's no offence, miss, to ax a question?"
"None, certainly, my good man," replied her mother, "provided it be a proper one."
"I think, miss," he continued, "that you were mentioning something to this lady about a young man named Fenton, from Ballytrain?"
"I was," replied Mrs. Scarman, "certainly; but what interest can you have in him?"
"If he's the young man I mane," continued Dandy, "he's not quite steady in the head sometimes."
"If he were, he would not be in his present abode," replied the lady.
"And pray, miss—beg pardon again," said Dandy, with the best bow and scrape he could manage; "pray, miss, might I be so bould as to ask where that is?"
Mrs. Scarman looked at her mother. "Mamma," said she, "but, bless me! what is the matter? you are in tears."