But ere long scenes of a much more stirring character engaged the attention of our young soldier, and letter-writing had to a considerable extent to give way to the flashing of the sabre and the blurr of the trumpet. The Punjaub was again swarming with a discontented population, whose warlike natures rendered them a most formidable foe for everywhere it was acknowledged that the Seik soldiery as a body were very effective, and their cavalry the finest horsemen in the country. These had yet to be conquered and the bloody fields of Mooltan and Chillianwalla had to be fought and won, and the campaign on the Sutlej brought to a successful termination, ere the troops about to be engaged could return to peaceful quarters.
These brave, but now lawless people, rendered desperate by the internal commotion of petty factions under different leaders, each seeking his own personal aggrandizement, endeavored to throw the onus of the coming struggle on the shoulders of the British Government, though it was patent to all nations, European and Asiatic, that it had been brought about by the Punjaubees themselves.
The bloody fields of Allewal and Sabranon, where they had been severely beaten, was not sufficient to deter these dusky warriors or prevent them from again trying their strength with the paramount power in India, formidable as they knew it to be from past experience, but it is doubtful whether the Seik soldiery ever seriously thought, although they often hauntingly boasted of fighting with the greatest power in Hindostan, until within two or three months of the first battle, and even then the rude and illiterate yeoman considered that they were about to enter upon a war purely defensive, although one in every way congenial to their feelings of pride and national jealousy. To the general impression of the Seiks, in common with other Indian nations, that the English were and are ever ready to extend their power, is to be added the particular bearing of the British Government toward the Punjaub itself.
Throughout this campaign it was by the fortune of war determined that Arthur's Regiment should serve, and among the brave men who rode in its ranks no heart beat higher or bosom burned with greater military ardor at the prospect of glory now opening before them, than that of Arthur Carlton, for with him promotion was the oyster to be eagerly sought for, but which could only be opened by the sword, and no service, however dangerous, must be shirked, in order to attain this desired end.
"Gentlemen, it affords me much pleasure to be able to announce to you that I have just received the order for the Light Dragoons to proceed forthwith and join the field force now advancing towards the river Sutlej, for the purpose of reducing the strong fortress of Mooltan, and capturing its Dewan, the notorious Moolraj, who for some time past has been sowing the seeds of disaffection amongst his subjects, and has at last succeeded in inducing the Seiks and others to take up arms and act offensively against our Government. This, of course, can lead to but one result—their overthrow and ultimate defeat; but it will also give our regiment an opportunity of gaining fresh laurels and again proving to these fellows how dangerous it is to measure weapons with British cavalry. We march the day after to-morrow."
Thus spoke Colonel Leoline, commanding the regiment in which young Carlton was serving as a cornet.
This news, so pleasing to the ear of the soldiers, was received with the utmost enthusiasm by every officer present. They gave three cheers for their gallant leader, and another rouser for the service they belonged to, which made the walls of their mess room ring again, so delighted were they at the prospect of leaving their quiet, humdrum quarters for the dash and excitement of the battle field.
The panorama which opened to the view on the mornings of the—was glorious in the extreme, and one well calculated to awaken feelings of emotion in the most obdurate breast. The dark waters of the Sutlej glittering in the sun's rays as they flowed onward, all unconscious of the bloody strife about to be enacted on its banks: the frowning fortress, with its embattled walls bristling with cannon and swarming with men, whose dusky figures beamed with hate and defiance; around the outskirts of the town were the battalions of Seik soldiery, drawn up under the Dewan Moolraj, watching with savage anxiety the approach of the British force, whose regiments of cavalry that headed the advance opened their glittering ranks to the right and left and made apparent the serried battalions of infantry and the frowning batteries of cannon.
The scene was grandly magnificent. The eye included the whole field and glanced approvingly from the steady order of one foe to the even array of the other. All this spoke gladness of mind and strength of heart; but beneath the elate looks of the advancing warriors there lurked that fierce desire for the death of their fellow-men which must ever impel the valiant soldier.
With the general details during the progress of the siege our story has little to do,—suffice it to say that it was a bloody and protracted affair. The Mooltanees fought with their usual desperate valor, but they had to cope with men who never turned their backs upon a foe when the fiat of battle had gone forth, who scorned to yield even when greatly outnumbered, and regarded defeat, if not actually a crime, an imperishable disgrace; and so the strife waged fast and furious up to the closing hours of the conflict.
The siege and train heavy ordinance of the besieging force hurled their ponderous shot and shell against the masonry and buildings that defended the town and citadel, destroying, crushing, and burning with terrible effect, while the field artillery poured forth continuous discharges of lighter projectiles of every description then in use, sweeping with dreadful result every opposing force that appeared on the walls or other parts of the fortification. Amid the dire confusion and heavy clouds of smoke caused by the incessant cannonading the Infantry effected an entrance among the advanced mounds and trenches of petty outworks, and animated by their partial success, formed themselves simultaneously into wedges and masses, and headed by their brave leaders rushed forward in gallant style. With a shout they leaped the ditch and up swarming mounted the ramparts and stood victorious amid the captured cannon.
The cavalry were effectually employed around and about the outworks of the town, and many a dashing charge and smart encounter took place wherever the enemy's horse made a sortie or sally, which was of frequent occurrence.
Wherever the blows from the tulwa's of the Seik horse rained heaviest there was to be seen the flashing sabre of our young Cornet, cutting and slashing with right good will. The early training of old Bridoon stood him in good stead, and although scarcely twenty-one he had strength and nerve far beyond his age, and on several occasions his conspicuous bravery drew forth the hearty plaudits of his own men and others who witnessed his dashing courage.
In one of the outworks captured from the enemy during the early part of they siege had been erected a field hospital for the wounded, under charge of Assistant Surgeon Dracott of the Light Dragoons. Now it so happened that on the day of the grand attack a party of Seik horse in attempting to effect a retreat from the town were met by the Dragoons, and after a severe contest driven back and pursued as far as it was thought advisable. A number of these fellows turned down a narrow passage in hopes of escaping into the country at another point less guarded, and in so doing came suddenly upon the hospital alluded to, in which there was a considerable number of poor fellows who had been more or less hurt during the attack. Filled with rage and discomfiture at the failure of their first attempt, and seeing the place was guarded only by a small party of Sepoys, for whom they had a supreme contempt—for the independent yeomanry warriors of Afghanistan and the Punjaub held in light estimation the hired native soldiery of Southern India. There were numerous instances on record during the Afghan and Seik wars where the men of the North were seen, sword in hand, to attack the Company's Sepoys, beat down or turn aside their bayonets, and with the other hand drag them from the ranks by their cross belts and slay them. Even when run through the body they have been known to seize a firm grip of the musket until they had dealt a fatal blow to their antagonist and both fall together mortally wounded, so hostile and revengeful were they one to another when engaged in conflict, creed against creed, for the Sepoys of the South were, as a rule, Hindoos, while the Seiks and Afghans were Mahomedans—they conceived the brutal design of destroying the Hospital and ruthlessly putting to death all they could lay their hands on, in revenge for the morning's defeat, then escape to the plains beyond the town. After a few moments' consultation they commenced the onslaught; the Sepoy guard made but a feeble resistance to these powerful horsemen, they threw down their arms and fled in haste leaving the poor invalids to their mercy.
Draycott the moment he guessed their design sprang on to his horse, which fortunately stood ready saddled at the door of the Surgery, and rode straight at the leader of the party, a huge, burly Seik, and engaged him; but he with his light sabre, and less powerful arm, was no match for the Mahomedan soldier, who with one blow smashed the regulation toasting fork, and with his left hand seized the Surgeon by the shoulder, and was forcing him backwards preparatory to giving him the final thrust through the throat; the other scoundrels being engaged in beating down the bayonets of the guard. At this critical moment, and before a man of the wounded had been touched, about a score of troopers, headed by Carlton, appeared on the scene of action, and entirely changed the programme. With a single stroke of his flashing sabre, Arthur dealt their leader such a blow that he was fain to release his hold on Draycott and turn to defend himself; by this time the conflict had become general fierce and bloody.
"Death to the cowardly ruffians; save our wounded comrades," shouted Carlton, as, with a vigorous thrust he sent his weapon deep into the chest of his dusky opponent, placing him at once and forever hors de combat. Imitating the dashing conduct of their youthful leader the Dragoons fought as British Soldiers can fight when their mettle is up, and roused by the gallant bravery of their pet officers, in less than twenty minutes from the striking of the first blow every one of the Seik horse were either cut to pieces or taken prisoners. The report of the encounter was spread far and wide, and not a man in the regiment, from the colonel to the trumpeter stood so high in the estimation of both officers and men throughout the Brigade as did our hero. Conspicuous bravery on the battle field seldom fails to elicit rapturous applause from every branch of the service.
The fall of Mooltan and the capture of its Dewan Moolraj did not, as had been anticipated by many, put an end to the campaign. Disaffection and disloyalty had spread throughout the country, and the Seiks were everywhere arming to resist what they were pleased to assert was the intention of the East India Company, namely: the subjugation of the entire country of the five rivers; and large masses of soldiery, under experienced leaders, had congregated on the plains eager for the fray. Not many days elapsed after the reduction of Mooltan before the army received orders and pressed on with all expedition to that part of the country where the battle of Chillianwalla was to decide the question at issue between the contending forces.
The result of the first day's struggle was undoubtedly very much in favor of the Seiks, and can only be accounted for in this way: The followers of the Prophet had for a considerable time been massing themselves under experienced leaders and had established their position in a manner best suited to resist the advancing foe, this they were enabled to do by their thorough knowledge of the the country, without any great exertion or hardship, being undisturbed, and certain that the enemy could not approach but in a certain direction, and that point alone had to be watched. But not so with the British. Long forced marches, outlying pickets, advance guards, and all the harrassing fatigues incident to moving through an enemy's country had to be borne. This to a considerable extent wearied the European soldiery, though it could not dispirit or discourage them, and again they were suddenly attacked ere they were well prepared to do battled. Yet they pressed on to a scene which was to terminate in so bloody a conflict. But the second day told a very different tale; whatever advantage had been gained, during the early stage of the fight, was not only nullified, but their successes became a sort of Ignis Futuris that lured them on to their destruction, for during the night the British were reinforced by a column of fresh troops from Bombay and the action opened with twofold vigor, and so the mighty tide of battle rolled on. Towards evening the decisive blow was struck; the Seiks were beaten at all points and fled in wild confusion and dismay, leaving their unconquerable antagonists masters of the field.
"Colonel," said an aide-de-camp, dashing up at full gallop, "your regiment will move one hundred and fifty paces to the right," and then, touching his horse with his spur, darted off in another direction. "Threes right forward," and the Dragoons moved to the position assigned them. A brigade of guns that had been brought up under cover of the cavalry now opened upon the advancing Seik horse with terrible effect, throwing them into such confusion as to prevent them from rapidly reforming. At this moment the order was received for the Dragoons to wheel into line and charge, and ere the Seiks had recovered, were among them, and the flower of the enemy's cavalry had to give way before the impetuous charge of our light Dragoons. There were more hand to hand encounters in this affair than has been recorded in any other engagement of the campaign. During the melee, one of the commanding General's A.D.C.'s had a narrow escape. A powerful looking Seik rode at him, but on coming within arm's length the staff officer's horse stumbled over some dead or wounded men; the sword of the dusky warrior was raised to give the blow, which must have proved fatal, and in another moment there would have been a vacancy on the General's staff, but Arthur, who had been hewing with might and main within a few yards of the spot, seeing the imminent peril of his countryman, dashed up, shortening his sabre as he did so, and, with a powerful thrust, sent it clean through the body of the Seik; the blow intended for the head fell harmless on the plated scales of the epaulet of the aide as he recovered himself in the saddle.
"Thanks, Carlton, my dear fellow, for this good service; I will not forget it, should it ever come to my turn to assist you in any way," was all that could be said in the hurry and excitement of the conflict, for the tide of battle still rolled on. A two gun sheet battery which had been committing great havoc on a column of infantry, was still throwing grape and canister with murderous effect. These discharges had again and again swept through the little party. The Seik gunners stood manfully to their guns until the Infantry came within fifty yards of them. "Charge, men, charge," shouted a very handsome officer of the Bombay Fusiliers, "they cannot stand the bayonets of the old Toughs. Forward." The men sprang to the charge, and about one hundred of the Fusiliers to the very teeth of destruction, facing inevitable death with a coolness and fearlessness so characteristic of the British soldier. But a body of the enemy's horse suddenly appeared on the flank of the column of Infantry compelling them to form square to resist cavalry, and thus the brave little party were placed in a precarious position, being cut off from their supports. A withering volley from the right and rear face of the square, followed by a rapid file-firing from the standing ranks, emptied quite a number of saddles and drove the troopers off.
An officer of Dragoons at the head of a party of his men rode at the Seik artillerest, who, with the exception of two, abandoned their guns and were endeavouring to escape by retreat, but they were all either cut down or captured. The two who yet remained at their post waited for the Infantry to advance sufficiently close to make their fire tell with murderous effect, they then raided their lintstocks to fire, which must have proved horribly fatal to the Fusiliers, when Arthur Carlton, for it was he who led, appeared out of a cloud of dust and smoke close to the Battery. Leveling his pistol, he shot down one of the Seik gunners, the lintstock of the other was within a few inches of the vent. A second more and a frightful gap would have been made in the ranks of the advancing Fusiliers.
A shout that can only be given by a British throat, broke on the ear of the unfortunate artillerest, who hesitated for a moment. It was his last, for a down stroke from Arthur's flashing sabre fell upon his neck, separating the head from the body. The Fusiliers dashed up, and the battery that dealt so much destruction among the Infantry was captured at last.
"Splendidly done, by Jupiter. Those men are the Fusiliers of the Bombay column, are they not? and who is that cavalry officer?"
"Cornet Carlton, Light Dragoons, your Excellency; the same officer who saved your Excellency's despatch and my life, that I mentioned to you some half hour since," was the earnest reply, of one of the aides. "Gallant fellow, bravely done, only a Cornet, must have his Lieutenancy, Hargraves, see that I do not forget this in my despatches to the Government to-morrow." Then, turning to his Chief of Staff, said, "Give orders for the Dragoons and Light Artillery to pursue for half an hour. The enemy is beaten at all points, and get the Infantry under canvass with as little delay as possible." "The action is over," said the Commander-in-chief, closing his field glass, and with his staff left the ground. And thus, after two days hard fighting, the name of Chillianwalla was added to the list of victories that has been emblazoned on the page of history, showing the prowess and valour of British troops in India, and the name of Arthur Carlton was added to the list of Lieutenants borne on the muster roll of the Light Dragoons.
It is not our intention to take the reader over the battle fields of Peshawa, suffice it to say that our Dragoon, with his regiment, scoured the plains of the Punjaub up to the very mouth of the Iron Kybre itself, which had proved fatal to so many of our gallant countrymen.
A group of officers had assembled around the withered and charred stump of a large tree, chatting and smoking, the ruddy glare of the neighboring camp fire throwing its fitful light upon the uniform and accoutrements of the little party, showing them to be no other than our old friends of H.M. Light Dragoons, waiting for the order to commence their morning's march.
"Why are we not on the move?" enquired Major Hackett, as he joined them.
"Something gone wrong with the baggage, I suppose," responded one of the party, "but here comes old Rations, (for it was by this name that the Quartermaster was usually styled by the men of his Regiment) he, perhaps, can tell us something about it."
"Well, Quartermaster, can you explain the cause of the delay. Have you seen the Colonel, or are we to be kept here all day?" and the Major flung away the end of his cigar with an air of annoyance. The good-humored Quartermaster explained, in somewhat of a round-about way, that everything would be all right in a few minutes.
"Out with it, Davison, tell us what is the row. You don't laugh all over your face and half way down your back for nothing, I know," said Arthur, reining up his horse alongside that of the Quartermaster, who, by the way, was a special friend of our young Lieutenant. "Just illuminate and turn on the gas a little, as it were."
"Well, then, gentlemen," resumed that worthy functionary, "it appears that this morning, on the elephants being brought up to carry the mess and Hospital Tents, one of the number was found to be missing, and the Muccadem declared that it was useless to attempt to put anything extra on the others, for that they would not stir a peg if so overloaded. I did not know what to do in this dilemma; the tents could not be left behind, so I sent for Fortescue, who was in charge of the Government cattle, to ask his advice. In a few minutes he came cantering up. I explained matters. The elephant cannot be far off." At this moment a Muccadem came running up to say that the animal was in the jungle, about a quarter of a mile off, but was refractory and would not budge an inch in the direction of the camp.
"Divide his load among the other four," said Fortescue.
"But they will not carry it, sir," replied the native Inspector.
"I know that as well as you can tell me, but do as I order you."
The Inspector salammed and obeyed, but the animals would not move. "Now take off the load from two and give them a couple of tether chains." This was done, the loads removed, and a long chain, used for camp purposes given to each, who caught them up with their trunks and seemed to know exactly what they were expected to do with them. They were then led into the jungle where the other one was said to be.
"You will see some fun presently," said Fortescue, and he was right, for in a very short time the refractory animal was seen coming into camp at the top of his speed, shrieking and crying, closely followed by the other two, who were thrashing him soundly with the chains that had been given to them for that purpose. There is no doubt they gave him to understand that they did not intend to carry his load for him.
I have heard elephant stories before, but it was most ridiculously absurd to see that great mountain of flesh crying like a whipped child, go down on his knees and quietly receive his burden without any attempt to hurt or molest his keeper.
All the baggage was by this time off the ground; the regiment got the order to advance, which they did with right good will, for both officers and men of the Light Dragoons were equally satisfied to find themselves once more approaching their comfortable quarters in Karricabad.
Smiling Spring, with her ever-changing episode of sunshine and tears, had twice come and gone. The gorgeous fields of golden grain had for a second time bent their heads beneath the harvest side, and the autumnal tints of every hue and shade had again fallen on the rich foliage of the magnificent old woods of Devon, while the whirr of the pheasant in the preserves, and the popping at the partridges among the turnips, indicated that the shooting season had once more commenced over the broad lands around Vellenaux.
Things wore much the same aspect as they had done on Arthur's return from College and prior to his departure for the sunny plains of Hindostan some eighteen months since. Sir Jasper was apparently hale and hearty. Edith had finished her education, on which her uncle had spared no expense, for masters and professors had been procured from London to superintend her studies. She was perfectly happy, occasionally receiving letters from Arthur, which always afforded her much pleasure to peruse and think over, and frequently would she detect herself gazing upon his photograph in the pretty little locket he had sent her from Oxford by Tom Barton, and which, since his departure, she constantly wore.
Ralph Coleman's visits had become more frequent of late; this at first did not attract Edith's notice. She had never been prepossessed in his favour, but as her uncle's kinsman, and being heir to the Baronetcy, her deportment to him had ever been polite and affable, but subsequently his attentions became so marked that they aroused her to a sense of his real meaning. Yet she could scarcely bring herself to believe that such was really the case, and but for the delicate hints and inuendos that occasionally fell from the double dealing widow, she would, there is no doubt, have remained for a much longer time unconvinced of his intentions towards her. However, time was passing on and Ralph made up his mind to bring matters to the point. One lovely afternoon, as he was entering the conservatory, he espied the fluttering of a woman's dress among the shrubs and flowers, and on coming nearer, though still at some little distance, perceived a lady walking slowly and as if in deep thought. Feeling quite certain that it was no other than the one he was in quest of, and thanking the fates for giving him the long wished for opportunity, he advanced more quickly and was soon beside Edith (for she it proved to be) before she was aware that any one was near. Turning, with something of a surprised look on her lovely face, she exclaimed, "Oh, how you startled me. I thought you were on the way to London. I am quite amazed to find you here."
"I hope my presence is not distasteful to you," he said, gently, at the same time lifting his hat and bowing low before her. He really cared nothing for the beautiful girl at his side, for he was thoroughly selfish; nor did he care by what means or how low he had to stoop to gain possession of the object wished for.
Edith, knowing her own feelings, and not wishing to say aught to hurt or offend him more than was actually necessary, scarcely knew how to answer him, disliking him as she did. Still she had nothing to complain of, for he had ever paid her the most marked respect. Before she could frame her answer he spoke again, "Edith, I have for some time been wishing to speak to you on a subject very near my heart. I love you dearly and have long done so, will you be my wife, or, at least, give me some hope that my suit may be acceptable at some future time? only give me one encouraging smile, one ray of hope, and I will drudge on patiently until you bid me come to you."
"Oh no," Edith replied, "you must not wait, you must not hope, I can never be yours. Go, leave me." Before she had well finished, Ralph Coleman had seized her little white hands in his strong grasp, and said in a deep, hoarse voice, "Edith, I ask you again will you be mine?"
Surprise, astonishment, and a feeling very like indignation took possession of Edith.
"Mr. Ralph Coleman," she said, "before I answer any more questions, release my hands." As he did so she raised her head proudly, and turning towards him with a heightened color, said, "I have already told you that I cannot love you, and am surprised that it is not sufficient. I thank you for the honor you intended, but beg that you will never mention this subject to me again."
As these words fell upon his ear, Ralph Coleman's face changed and darkened visibly, an evil light came into his eyes, and an ugly frown contracted his brow, then, with a smile, whose meaning could not be mistaken, he said:
"Take care, proud girl, I have sworn that you shall be mine, and by the Heavens above us, I intend to keep my vow, and neither man nor devil shall turn me from my purpose!"
Edith's eyes flashed, her beautiful lips curled in scorn, and her whole face beamed with intense disgust, and with a voice low and deep she said,
"Have a care, sir, beware how you threaten the niece of Sir Jasper Coleman. Before to-morrow my uncle shall be made acquainted with what has just passed, and the character of the man who has partaken so often of his hospitality, and been ever treated with kind attention, he has yet to learn how these courtesies have been returned," and sweeping past him with a look of supreme contempt, Edith was about to pass on.
It was evident that he had gone too far and that she was not a girl to be intimidated by anything that he might say, and at once changed his tactics—for he was an excellent actor—"Pardon me, Miss Effingham, I know not what I am saying, I am mad. Yes, lady, mad! for your beauty like the moon, makes all men mad, who comes within the sphere of its attraction. Forgive me for thus offending you." Edith turned towards him, and with calm dignity replied, "Promise me never again to revert to this subject, and in no way further molest me, and what has just passed shall be forgiven." He gave the required promise. Edith then pursued her way to the end of the conservatory, passed through the doorway, and on to the terrace where she was met by her Uncle. He observed her heightened color, but as she made no complaint he allowed it to pass without comment.
Ralph Coleman stood for a few moments irresolute. She must, he thought, either be aware that her uncle has left her sole heiress, or else is in love with another, Carlton perhaps. Fool that I was to run so great a risk, and that, at the instigation of that scheming woman. Should she say aught to her uncle on this matter, it would ruin me with him. I will at once seek an interview and endeavour to wheedle him out of a promise to make a codicil in my favor.
Failing in the attempt to secure the hand of the beautiful Miss Effingham, and not daring to risk another trial, as it might spoil the plans he had been contemplating since Edith's dismissal of him, he had kept shy of that young lady during the remainder of his stay, and prior to his departure for London, he had contrived to have a long interview with the Baronet, during which he very ably showed the position that he would hold should the Baronetcy eventually descend to him who was totally unable to support the dignity of the rank that would thus be thrust upon him. So well and ably did he argue this point, that ere he left Vellenaux he extorted a sort of promise from Sir Jasper that he would think the matter over and make a bequest in his favor.
He returned to his office, in deed court, annoyed and disheartened to a considerable extent by the failure of his designs as far as related to Miss Effingham, but his wounded vanity he could afford to bear and hide within his own breast, as he now confidently believed that Sir Jasper would adopt the suggestions he had made to him, and settle, at least, two or three thousand per annum on the successor to the Baronetcy during the said successor's life; and in this frame of mind the Lawyer determined to de vote himself entirely to his profession, and to avoid the pretty Edith, Mrs. Fraudhurst, and Vellenaux, until the present owner should have been gathered to his fathers.
There is perhaps no season of the year in the South of England so pleasing to the eye or more genial to the corporeal faculties than that of early autumn, especially that part of Devonshire which we have selected for the opening and closing scene of our story. Vellenaux, with its varied and picturesque styles of architecture, embosomed, as it were, in rich woodlands, with a perfect amphitheatre of hills on three sides, and ever and anon the soft breezes of the ocean sweeping over the downs, and through the beech woods on the other. It was, indeed, a domain of which any one might have been proud.
It was a lovely evening, the sun had just commenced to dip behind the crest of the adjacent hills, and was sending its golden rays through the bright foliage of the trees and down the long paths that led to the woods hard by. Edith had strolled, book in hand, to her favourite knoll, beneath a stately elm, and was engaged in reading. Her two favourite dogs, fine specimens of the Italian greyhound, chased each other in circles which gradually grew smaller until it brought them to the very feet of their mistress. One placed his small smooth nose in the little white hand that was thrown carelessly on the moss grown roots beside her, while the other, to attract her attention, placed his paw on the page she was reading and looked up in her face. Suddenly their ears elongated and away they bounded, as the noise of horses hoofs were heard approaching in her direction, aroused her from her recumbent position, as Julia Barton, on her quiet little pony, trotted up. She was off in an instant, and running up to her friend, greeted her in the animated, lively way, as was her custom when she had anything to communicate that she thought would please or interest her. "At your studies," she said, taking up the volume that Edith had let fall on her appearance. "Long engagements, a tale of the Affghan war. Oh, oh, thinking of our old playfellow are we?" and the merry girl laughed heartily, "we shall soon hear more of him, for my sister-in-law, Pauline, has just most unexpectedly arrived, and I wish you to know her. She is very charming and improves wonderfully on acquaintance, is very good-natured, and tells such funny stories about the people she lived among, and has a great deal to say about Arthur Carlton. You will come to the Willows to-morrow, will you not, and call on her?" Edith gave the required assent, and Julia, mounting her pony, cantered down the avenue to the lodge gate, where she was joined by a tall, gentlemanly looking man, mounted on a small bay mare, and the two walked their horses at an easy pace down the green lane in the direction of the Willows, and Edith returned to the house in time to dress for dinner, well pleased with the prospect of hearing something of him who was scarcely absent from her thoughts for any great length of time. She did not attempt to analyze her feelings on the subject. It was pleasant to think of her absent friend, and that was sufficient for the present.
Mr. Barton, Sen., or old Mr. Barton as he was usually styled, for he was upwards of eighty years of age, and had been born in the house he now occupied, a good comfortable and substantial, but old fashioned dwelling, which had passed from father to son for several generations. His father had been what is termed a gentleman farmer, and attended personally to the superintending of his acres. His son, the present occupant, had followed his example. He married early in life, but the lady of his choice died young, leaving one son to remind the sorrowing widower of his loss. This was Horace Barton, whom we have already introduced; he chose a different field for his labors, and managed to secure, while yet young, on appointment in India. Our friend Tom and his two sisters, Julia and Emily, were the result of a second marriage, and although there was every comfort to be had, and a good home for all during the life of the old couple, yet it was absolutely necessary that Tom should make his own road through life, and that the girls should, by early marriage, secure for themselves suitable establishments, as the Willows would fall to Horace on the death of his father, and it would not be many years before his term of service in the East would expire, and he would then, doubtless, return to England and occupy the old house in Devonshire.
The arrival of Mrs. Horace Barton from Calcutta had been quite unexpected at the Willows, as no preparatory letter had announced her intentions or arrival in England. Nevertheless she found all delighted to receive her. She had spent the most of her visit to Europe in the gay capitals of Paris and London, and a couple of months was all the time she could spare to remain in Devonshire.
On her first visit she had not been introduced to Miss Effingham, and had only caught a casual glance at her while crossing the lawn, as Edith was returning from a visit to Julia Barton; but on this occasion was determined to become acquainted with her, and find out if she really deserved the high encomiums that had been bestowed upon her by Arthur Carlton. She had anticipated seeing a pretty lively English country girl, but was totally unprepared for the brilliant beauty and perfectly self-possessed manners of Edith, and she always found an attentive listener in her to all she had to relate on the subject of India and Arthur Carlton whenever they met, which was now frequent, for an introduction had taken place between them very shortly after her arrival, and they consequently became on the most intimate and friendly footing. The magnificence of the ancestral dwelling of the Colemans, with its Parks, Parterres and grounds, was quite a novelty to Pauline Barton, and with Edith she traversed the long corridors, picture galleries, and armories with wonderment, for they contrasted strangely with the Pagodas, Temples, and Bungalows in the country where the greater part of her life had been spent (for she had been born there), and she thought that Edith's life must be one of never-ending delight, and for a time it was so, but a sad change was about to come over the bright spirit of her dream of happiness for a time, and perhaps for ever, and dash the cup of joyous light-heartedness from her grasp.
The event so much desired by the man of law took place at a much earlier date than had been anticipated by that gentleman, or, indeed, by any one of his acquaintances as the sequel will show.
"Reynolds," said the Baronet, one evening after dinner, some few weeks after his interview with his worthy cousin, the heir to the title, "place candles in my study, and you need not wait up for me. It is likely that I shall sit writing to a late hour." The old servant bowed, and retired to do the bidding of his master.
After affectionately wishing his niece good-night, and a passing remark to Mrs. Fraudhurst, Sir Jasper entered his study, closing the door quietly behind him.
For a considerable time he paced the room, with his hands crossed behind his back, as was his custom when in a meditative mood. Finally, seating himself at his escritoire, he placed the massive silver candlesticks, with their wax lights, in such a position that the glow would not effect his sight, and arranged his materials for writing to suit him. For a few moments he leaned back in his chair, then selecting a small key from a bunch he always carried, unlocked the centre drawer which contained only a few memorandums and drew it completely out. He next touched a small spring at the side, when a panel of the back slid open, disclosing an aperture from which he took the packet he had brought from London the evening previous to the opening of our story. This was the will and testament of Sir Jasper Coleman, in which he had left his niece, Edith Effingham, sole heiress of all he possessed, with the exception of a gratuity of five thousand pounds to be paid to his protege, Arthur Carlton, within six months after his (the Baronet's) decease, and to be free from all legacy or other duties. Having re-read the document, he laid it on the table beside him and then commenced writing.
Sir Jasper had thus acted without the knowledge of his lawyer, the man with whom he had consulted on every other matter since his succession to the Baronetcy, consequently that gentleman was in ignorance of any such will being in existence. It had been drawn by a competent lawyer residing in one of the suburbs of London, and had been properly witnessed, and was, in every particular, a regular, complete document. The parties present on the occasion knew nothing of Sir Jasper, had never heard of Vellenaux or its owner, and in all probability would never hear of him again, as there was no likelihood of the will being contested. Why he had acted in this manner is hard to say.
The Baronet had finished his letter, and was again musing, and muttering to himself, "Ralph Coleman, you are an unprincipled man. Do you think your attempt to coerce my darling niece to listen to your suit has escaped me. You have failed in that quarter and now come to me to assist you. Well, well as she is safe I can afford to forgive you, and let you have a couple of thousand a year, to enable you to support yourself like a gentleman when the title descends to you." Here the Baronet resumed his pen and commenced the writing of a codicil in behalf of his cousin, Ralph Coleman.
Perfect tranquility reigned throughout the house, all, with the exception of Sir Jasper, had retired to rest, and there was no sound, save the ticking of the old-fashioned time-piece, with its monotonous and never varying tick, tick, and the scratching noise made by the quill as it traced its inky characters on the yet incomplete codicil the Baronet was preparing. The candles had burned low in their sockets, and the fire on the hearth had died out unheeded by him who sat writing line after line. Suddenly a spasm seized him. He, with great difficulty, raised himself from the stooping position over the escritoire, but as he did so, another spasm, more violent than the first, attacked him. He tried to call for assistance, but his tongue clove to his mouth. He was suffocating. He stretched his arm towards the silver bell, which stood on the table, but it was beyond his reach. His head sank on the cushion of the chair. His eyes closed, another convulsive start, and all was over. Sir Jasper Coleman was no more.
For many months past it was customary whenever it was known that Sir Jasper would sit up late, for Mrs. Fraudhurst, on passing the door of his chamber before descending to the breakfast room, to tap and enquire whether the Baronet would come down to his breakfast or have it sent up to him. On the following morning the widow on stopping at the chamber door discovered that it was ajar, and on pushing it gently open found the room was vacant, the bed undisturbed and, it was quite evident from its general appearance, that Sir Jasper could not have passed the night—or any part of it—there. Though startled a little at first, Mrs. Fraudhurst was not long in coming to a conclusion as to what really had happened during the night. It had more than once occurred to her active mind that such might be the manner in which the Baronet's life would terminate. "And the hour I so feared may have come at last," thought she, as the consequences that might accrue to herself, should such turn out to be the case, rose up before her; but she was equal to the emergency; quickly and noiselessly she descended to the private library and, without rapping, entered, closing the door quietly after her.
The morning sun streamed through the stained glass windows, casting their brilliant hues full on the face of the corpse, rendering the pale features more ghastly to look on than the convulsions had left them. Mrs. Fraudhurst was a woman of strong mind, but no feeling, and the presence of death had no terrors for her. She had entered, prepared in her own mind for the spectacle that now presented itself. Her plans had been already arranged, but she had hardly counted on their being so easily executed. With a firm hand she took up the will and unfinished codicil, folded them, and placed them carefully in the bosom of her dress. She now took up the bunch of keys, and replacing the centre drawer, locked it and dropped the bunch of keys into one of the pockets of Sir Jasper's dressing gown, and finding that the open letter related to general business connected with the estate and some charitable institution, left them as she found them, and without one look of pity or regret on her now flushed face towards him to whose liberality she had for years been indebted for a home, with all the comforts and conveniences of life, left the apartment and regained her own chamber without meeting or being seen by any one. Her first act was to securely lock up the papers so feloniously obtained, then, applying cold water to her heated brow, to wait for the ringing of the second bell for breakfast. She could hear the voice of Edith, as her laugh rang out upon the lawn beneath her open window, at the gambols of the two greyhounds.
"Reynolds, ascertain whether Sir Jasper will have his breakfast sent up to him," said Mrs. Fraudhurst, as she and, Edith took their seats at the table, some twenty minutes later.
Edith did not speak, but waited patiently to know if her uncle would come down. There had been a growing coolness between her and the lady who headed the table. She could not but think that there was some complicity between her and Ralph Coleman with respect to herself. She could not tell why this should be, but could not divest herself of the idea, nevertheless.
"My master is not in his own room, and has not slept in his bed," hurriedly exclaimed Reynolds, re-entering the breakfast room. Edith started up, visibly agitated, but not so with the widow, she coolly said, "you had better look in at the library, he was writing there late last night and may probably have thrown himself on the lounge, and fallen asleep there."
"I will go with you," Edith said to the old servant, as she proceeded a little in advance of him.
Mrs. Fraudhurst sat staring blankly out of the window waiting for the result, which she knew must ensue. A loud shriek from Edith rang through the house, and breathless with excitement, Reynolds entered and announced Sir Jasper's death and that Miss Effingham had fainted.
The time for action had now arrived. "He may be only in a fit," said Mrs. Fraudhurst. "I will myself drive over for Dr. Martin. Call Miss Effingham's maid and let her be carried to her own room and properly attended to. I will return with all speed; in the meantime, Reynolds, be sure that no one enters the room. You had better lock the door and take possession of the key as soon as Miss Edith has been removed." After quickly dressing, she proceeded towards the stables to hurry forward the harnessing of the pony phaeton, which was at all times at her disposal, and drove rapidly to the house of Dr. Martin, though she well knew his services would be of no avail, but it was a part of the plan she had matured, and was now carrying out.
Fortunately for her the Rector and Sir Jasper's lawyer and general business agent were at the time with the Doctor in his surgery, consulting on some Parish business and without a moment's delay they proceeded to Vellenaux, the Rector riding with Mrs. Fraudhurst, whose appearance and conduct were well suited to the occasion.
Life was pronounced extinct, and the cause of death was supposed to be a sudden attack of his old complaint, disease of the heart. The lawyer, in the presence of all, placed seals on the escritoire and doors of the study immediately after the body had been transferred to the bedchamber, and wrote to Ralph Coleman, as the only male relation of the late Baronet, acquainting him with what had occurred, and it was not long before that gentleman presented himself at Vellenaux.
The morning prior to the funeral it pleased Mrs. Fraudhurst, on meeting Ralph Coleman in the long corridor, to request that worthy individual to grant her a private interview in the general library at eleven o'clock, precisely, the lawyer bowed in the affirmative and passed on.
At the time appointed the widow, in very deep but fashionable mourning, entered the library by one door, and a few minutes later the new baronet presented himself at another. After closing it he advanced to the centre table and waited for the lady to announce the nature of her business with him.
In a low, clear and cold, but perfectly steady voice she thus addressed him, "Some two years since I informed you by letter of the existence of a will in which the late baronet, after paying a gratuity of five thousand pounds to Arthur Carlton, left Miss Effingham sole heiress. In that will the name of Ralph Coleman does not appear. If this document be read to-morrow," she continued after a slight pause, "Vellenaux is lost to you forever."
"But, my dear madam," he replied, "among the late baronet's papers will, doubtless, be found a codicil in my behalf, in fact my cousin distinctly promised me that he would make a suitable provision for the successor to the title."
"And so he would have done had he lived long enough to complete it," was the lady's quiet reply.
"You do not mean to say that you are certain Sir Jasper made no such provision," enquired the lawyer in a quick and excited tone.
"No document of that kind had been executed prior to the baronet's death," she boldly asserted, advancing towards him. "Now listen to me: providing the will in question be not forthcoming after the funeral, the law will declare you heir to the estate. Now, if you swear to me by all that you hold most sacred, that you will allow me one thousand per annum and a suite of apartments at Vellenaux so long as I shall live, no will shall appear, and within one hour after the body of the late Sir Jasper has been consigned to the tomb, you shall become Sir Ralph Coleman and master of Vellenaux and its broad lands."
"But," was the cautious reply of the wily lawyer, "how know I that any will has been made or that the Baronet has not kept faith with me. Your word is all that I have to depend on for the truth or falsity of the statement." He knew her to be an unscrupulous woman, but shrewd withal, and could not bring himself to believe that she would compromise herself so far as to have fraudulently possessed herself of, Sir Jasper's papers, yet her language indicated very strongly that something of the kind was the case.
"If she really has them," he thought, "one thousand per annum would not be too large a sum to purchase her silence concerning them; and as the bargain would be a verbal one, and unknown to any but ourselves, she could not hereafter, by any disclosures that she might make, convict me as an accomplice to the transaction." These thoughts flashed through his mind ere she again spoke.
"Your words, sir, though not complimentary to me, I can excuse, on account of the peculiarity of your present position and frame of mind, and you shall be satisfied of the truth of that which you pretend to doubt," and drawing from her pocket two papers, Mrs. Fraudhurst held them with a firm grasp before him, but in such a position that it enabled him to read every line. "There," she continued, in a low tone, "is the will in question, and the codicil which you so much depend on; are you satisfied?" Then, refolding the papers somewhat hastily, replaced them in her dress and turned to leave the room, remarking as she did so, "I shall return in a few moments, and you must make up your mind as to how you intend to act before I do so."
Ralph had read every line and word, and saw how hopeless was his case unless he closed with the widow's offer, but he would make one more trial to obtain the best position, and as she re-entered said, "Place those documents in my possession and I will swear to fulfil the terms you propose."
"Not so," she replied with a contemptuous curl on her lip, "they remain with me, and I remain here; there will be no difficulty in that. Of course Miss Effingham must find shelter beneath your roof for some time at least, and as you are a single man, you will require some one to superintend your establishment until the future Lady Coleman shall appear on the scene, and ere that event takes place, other arrangements can be made. Accept my conditions and you become one of the wealthiest men in the county. Reject them, and I immediately place both documents in the hands of the late Baronet's lawyer, who is now in the house. I have merely to say that I gathered them from the floor of the study, on the morning of Sir Jasper's death, and that, in the hurry and excitement of the moment, carried them to my own room, unconscious of their importance, until this morning. This statement, true or otherwise, will suffice to account for their being in my possession"
Ralph Coleman would have still hesitated, but her's being the stronger will of the two, he succumbed, took the required oath, and the compact between them was complete. No sooner was this effected than both parties left the place of meeting in the same order as they entered.
Having carried her point and thus secured for herself a comfortable income, together with a handsome suite of apartments within the walls of Vellenaux, which she very naturally concluded would be a permanent home, at least during the life of Sir Ralph, he being completely in her power, as she could at any time, by the production of the late Baronet's will, drive him ignominiously from his present luxurious abode. It is true, in effecting this she would have to seek refuge in a foreign land, yet a vindictive spirit will often, as the old adage runs, cut off the nose to be revenged on the face.
Having gained the mastery of the position, she turned her thoughts in the direction of the new Baronet with a view of inducing him to submit to the matrimonial yoke and by that means establish herself as Vellenaux's envied mistress with the prefix of Lady before her name. However, she could afford to bide her time, feeling certain that in the long run Sir Ralph would yield, her stronger will working on his fears.
The funeral was over. The family vault of the Coleman's in the quaint old church, a little beyond the Park limits, had received the mortal remains of the worthy man, who for forty years had attended divine service within that sacred edifice where the last sad rite for the departed had just been performed. It had been a solemn and imposing ceremony. The cortege passed slowly and silently down the broad avenue of venerable elms, through the Park gate and up the road leading to the old church yard. The superbly mounted coffin, borne on its funeral hearse, whose black plumes, undulated in the soft winds that sighed through the trees, was drawn by six velvet palled horses, and accompanied by mutes, pall bearers and others in all the solemn paraphernalia of woe, followed by the mourning coaches, and the long line of private carriages, some occupied and others empty, for by one of the conventionalities of English well-bred society, one can be present on such occasions by proxy. Your carriage will suffice, should you not feel equal to the task of attending in person. The full, deep, rich tones of the organ poured forth the funeral dirge, as the coffin was carried up the centre aisle and placed on trussels in front of the altar. The pews, gallery and aisles were filled by rich and poor; so much had the late Baronet been respected by friend and tenant. The venerable Rector who performed the service, although accustomed to such scenes, was deeply affected. He had been on the most intimate terms with Sir Jasper, and had never solicited his kind offices on behalf of the poor in vain. Besides, he was more advanced in years than the friend whom he had now consigned to the cold embraces of the grave, for were not his own days numbered and must soon draw to a close?
As the different parties separated on the conclusion of the ceremony, various were the comments and conjectures as to the manner in which Sir Jasper had divided his property, and it was almost universally believed that Miss Edith would come in for a greater part of his wealth and the estate of Vellenaux would undoubtedly become hers.
Sir Ralph, as he must now be called, and others interested in such proceedings, returned, to Vellenaux to examine and hear read the will and such other documents relating to the distribution of the property real and personal of the late Baronet, and great was the surprise of all present except one, when it was announced that, after the strictest search, no will or other document of the kind had been found among the papers of the late Baronet. Mr. Russell, a man of integrity, and well known for the uprightness of his dealings, and who had for upwards of thirty years transacted all the legal business and had the management of the estate of the late Sir Jasper, declared that, to the best of his knowledge no will had been made. This was followed by a statement from Sir Ralph to the effect that it was but a few weeks since, that his cousin, the late Sir Jasper Coleman, had declared to him his intention of making a will in his (Sir Ralph's) favor. Miss Effingham, on being asked, had sent word that she had never heard her uncle say anything on the subject, and Mrs. Fraudhurst, on being interrogated, announced that she had always been of the opinion that Miss Effingham was to be sole heiress of her uncle's wealth, but had never heard Sir Jasper speak of having actually made any will at all. Consequently the law gave to Sir Ralph Coleman the entire property of the late Baronet, whose much-loved niece was thus left a penniless orphan.
Old Reynolds, who had been in the library when it was announced the Baronet had left no will, and that the entire property fell to his cousin, Sir Ralph, immediately summoned the domestics in the servants' hall and related to his astonished hearers what he had heard. Consternation was depicted on the countenance of all, and a wordy colloquy ensued as to what would become of their dear young mistress, and whether they would be discharged to make room for others whom the new Baronet might choose to appoint. The grey-headed old Butler had been at Vellenaux since he was a lad of fourteen, and had known Colonel Effingham, who had frequently, prior to leaving the service, visited his old companion-in-arms, Sir Jasper Coleman, at his favorite residence, felt much concerned that the niece of his old master should have been left unprovided for. "Of course," Said Annette, Edith's own maid "I shall have to return home, for I do not suppose Miss Effingham will remain here very long, as Sir Ralph is a bachelor, and I know for certain that she dislikes him exceedingly."
"But what will madam, the widow, do," enquired the footman.
"Set her cap at him as she did at our poor, dear old master," responded the housekeeper, "No fear, she will take care not to be a loser by the change." "She will, no doubt," suggested another, "keep house for Sir Ralph until he brings home a Lady Coleman, or is persuaded into marrying the widow herself."
It was quite evident, that sympathy ran high in Edith's favour, and that they cared not a jot for the ex-governess or the new master. But they were too well trained to betray what they thought concerning the two last named persons.
The matter was duly talked over throughout the neighbourhood. Some shook their heads but said nothing, and others said a great deal that meant nothing. The Bartons sent a very kind and sympathizing letter to Edith in which they offered her an asylum at the Willows, should she think a little change of scene would in any way reconcile her to the loss she had sustained, they having heard that Miss Effingham had in her grief declined for the present to receive her most intimate friends and acquaintances.
For many days after the funeral Edith kept within the seclusion of her own chamber, alas, hers now no longer, but the property of another and of one whose presence was repugnant to her. With returning consciousness also came the realization of the sad spectacle that had met her view in the private library. She had loved and respected her uncle, and had ever looked up to him as a father, which he had indeed been since the death of her parents, whom she did not recollect, and grief for his loss had outweighed all other thoughts and considerations for the future, and for the first week she gave herself up to inconsolable sorrow. But at length that practical good sense with which nature had endowed her, came to her relief. She stifled the rising sobs in her young bosom and prepared to face the stern realities of life, which must ere long, she knew, force themselves upon her.
To remain in the house of the man she so despised and whose proffered vows of love she had so indignantly rejected, was impossible.
Of the malady which was the cause of her uncle's sudden death, she knew nothing. He had never hinted of its existence, therefore she was totally unprepared and inexpressibly shocked at the suddenness with which he had been struck down, and it was some time before she could sufficiently subdue her agitated feelings to enable her to give any instructions to the household, who, like herself, had been almost stupefied by the calamity.
But not so with Mrs. Fraudhurst; that cold, unfeeling woman cared only for the safety of her own position, and had already arranged what she should do. At her suggestion, no changes were made in the establishment. Every servant was retained, and the business of the estate still left in the hands of Mr. Russell, the former agent, and matters soon resumed their usual routine, as though the late proprietor was merely absent on a visit.
Notwithstanding the precautions taken in order to prevent suspicion from gaining ground that there had been any complicity between Sir Ralph and the widow, which might account for the absence of any legal document making a suitable provision for that niece to whom Sir Jasper was so sincerely attached, there were many who could not divest themselves of the idea that there had been foul play practiced in some way, but as there was nothing tangible to go upon they were compelled to confine their suspicions within their own breasts, and show their sympathy for Miss Effingham by letters of condolence and offers of friendship and protection should she need them; for of course, it was understood by all that her position was materially altered by the apparent fact that Sir Jasper had died intestate.
Both Mrs. Fraudhurst and Sir Ralph were struck with the visible inroad that grief had made in the pale but still beautiful features of Edith, as she entered the drawing room for the first time since her uncle's funeral.
The new Baronet rose as if to conduct her to a seat, but there was something in her eye and manner that checked him, and he contented himself with bowing to her somewhat stiffly, and resumed his chair. She advanced toward the table at which he was seated, with a coolness and self-possession so natural to her, whenever placed in any awkward and trying position; her elegant figure fully developed by the tight fitting habit she wore, and the ringlets of her rich brown hair falling upon her magnificent shoulders from beneath her black riding hat, and in a voice calm, clear and distinct, but without the least bitterness or anger, thus addressed him: "Sir Ralph Coleman, the law, I am told, pronounces you master of Vellenaux and its broad acres. The death of my uncle has left me without a home, but, I trust, not without friends. Do not interrupt me, sir," said she, seeing that he was about to speak, "Your importunities and ungenerous conduct previous to the death of my late lamented uncle and more than father, would, in itself, be a sufficient inducement for me to take the step I am now about to do. It is my intention to leave Vellenaux this morning for the Willows, and request that my personal effects and such property as may have been presented to me by my late uncle may be sent to me there." Then, with a slight inclination of the head towards him, and without a word or glance in the direction of Mrs. Fraudhurst, who was seated at the open window, examining the contents of the post bag, turned and left the apartment. Her intended departure had been made known to the whole of the household by Annette, and, much to her surprise, she found all the servants assembled in the hall to pay their respects to her as she quitted the only home she had ever known. Edith felt deeply their respectful sympathy and parted from them with unfeigned regret. Poor old Bridoon at the Lodge felt keenly for his young mistress, and could not refrain from expressing to her, as she wished him farewell, that there was something wrong about the absence of any will or other document. He would not believe that his dear old master would put off making a provision for his niece until it was too late, and he sincerely hoped that he might live to see the day of her return to Vellenaux as its mistress. This feeling was shared alike by tenantry and servants, for they all had, in some way, been indebted to her for acts of kindness.
"You have been too precipitate, and frightened the bird away," remarked Mrs. Fraudhurst. "But," continued she, after a moment's pause, "perhaps it is as well she has taken this step. Her presence here is now no longer necessary. You have the property without the encumbrance."
Whatever Sir Ralph's opinions on the subject might have been he did not express them; but in his inmost heart he wished that she had remained under his roof, for time, he thought, would cause her to change her mind, and think more favorably of his suit, and once his wife, she could not give evidence against him should the affair of the stolen will ever come to her knowledge. He distrusted his partner in crime, and avoided as much as possible being left alone with her.
In the Bartons Edith found true friends, Julia and Emily doing everything in their power to render her stay with them as agreeable as possible. The pretty Mrs. Horace, who, from the first, had taken a great interest in her, now felt a real desire to serve one who, by the force of circumstances over which she had no control, had been left, as it were, alone in the world, and that, too, at an age and with such personal attractions as usually require the most careful watching of parent or guardian, and it entered her pretty head that she could serve her friend most effectually and at the same time secure for herself that which was so much needed in her Indian home in the far East, a personal friend and companion. Good, easy Horace, she knew, would not object, and scarcely had Edith been one week at the Willows before she had unfolded to her the scheme she had worked out for their mutual benefit; and meeting the approval of the whole family, Edith was only too happy to accompany Mrs. Barton on her return to Calcutta, for, thought she, I have no relative in England to miss me, or mourn for me, but in India I perhaps have, and her thoughts wandered to Arthur Carlton and the probability of their meeting in the land beyond the seas. After a few weeks' longer residence in Devonshire, the pretty little wife of the Judge, accompanied by Edith, left by the overland route to return to her home in the City of Palaces. And such was the effect on Edith of change of scene and a life so entirely new to her, among a people whose habits, manners and customs were strangely at variance with anything she had hitherto experienced, and she now remembered, with feelings of emotion softened by time, that uncle, whose death she had so deeply lamented, that her health and spirits gradually returned, and with them that beauty, which had adorned her before her sad bereavement, and for a few years her residence in India was in no way distasteful to her. During this time she had frequently heard of Arthur Carlton, but they had only met twice, his regiment being employed at so great a distance from Calcutta in settling some disturbances among the Rohillas of Rohilcund, that it was very difficult for a subaltern to obtain leave of absence.
A few weeks after her return, Mrs. Barton had written to Arthur, acquainting him with the fact of Edith's being in the country, and certain circumstances connected with the death of Sir Jasper Coleman, and wound up by giving him a special invitation to Chowringee for a few weeks. This she had done out of kindness to Edith, for she had some suspicion of how that young lady might be influenced by the presence of the playmate of her childhood.
Carlton received this intelligence with the utmost astonishment. He had been in complete ignorance of the Baronet's death and the changes that had taken place at Vellenaux. His last two letters to Edith had remained unanswered, or at least he had not received them. But he little knew that Mrs. Fraudhurst had taken possession of the post bag and abstracted therefrom Edith's letters to him as well as those he had sent to her. She had some apprehensions that he might contrive to make his appearance at Vellenaux at a time it was least expected or desired by either herself or Sir Ralph Coleman. His next feeling was that of joy at the thought of again meeting her, and at the idea that she was to remain in the same country perhaps for several years. As has been mentioned before, no direct words of love had passed between them, and it was not until the mighty ocean had divided them that he had realized how dear she was to him, or the strength or depth of his love for her. In his heart he secretly rejoiced that Sir Jasper's estate had passed into other hands, for what chance had he, a poor Lieutenant of Dragoons, in aspiring to the hand of the beautiful Edith, heiress of Vellenaux.
He lost no time in procuring the required furlough, and at their first meeting, the four missing letters were commented upon, and their non-delivery ascribed to the right party, namely, Mrs. Fraudhurst, as they wandered together down the pomegranate and orange groves in the cool of the evening, or pacing the broad, open verandah beneath the star lit sky.
"I think, Carlton, you must be in high feather with the Colonel, or your lucky star is in the ascendant," said Captain Hastings to our young hero, a few days after his return from Calcutta, as they rode home from stables together.
"How so? What is in the mind now?" enquired Arthur, as he reined his horse nearer to that of his companion.
"Why, there is another row among those fellows in Bundlecund, and a squadron of our regiment has been ordered out. My troop and yours have been selected for the business, and as your Captain is in Europe and the other two troop commanders absent from headquarters, you are to have charge on, this occasion. I command the squadron, so they may look out for hard knocks if we get a chance at them. I will teach the blackguards a lesson they will not forget for some time. They will find no philanthropy or mistaken clemency about me, and to tell you the truth, I would rather have you for my second in command than either Dalzell or Harcly."
"Many thanks for your good opinion; and depend upon it I shall not be backward in proving its correctness, should an opportunity offer," responded Arthur, as they entered the mess room.
The affair in Bundlecund proved a more obstinate contest than had been at first expected, and lasted for a considerable time. But the coolness and determination of the light Dragoons were too much for them, consequently the disturbance was quelled, but not before a large number of the rascals had been made to bite the dust. Here, as in Chillianwalla, Carlton's bravery and skill, as a troop leader, were conspicuous, and he well merited the encomiums that were poured upon him by his brother officers on the return of the squadron from the disturbed districts, now in a tranquil state.
Such of our readers as may have been acquainted with the West end of London some thirty-five years since, must recollect old Cavendish Square. Prior to that date it had been very exclusive, but on Belgravia and Tybernia springing into existence, the nobility and aristocratic families moved from there to the new suburban localities, and their old quarters were occupied by quite a different class, which had migrated principally from that region east of Temple Bar, such as merchants, bankers, eminent barristers, and physicians of first standing. One of the main avenues leading from this square westward, and known as Harley Street, was inhabited by another set, usually styled very respectable people, chiefly consisting of maiden ladies of doubtful ages, who kept their carriages and lived in good style, whist playing dowagers, who kept their carriages but hired job horses, when it was necessary to visit their friends whose circumstances were more flourishing than their own, and the families of country members who usually remained in town daring the session of Parliament, and often for a much longer period. It was in this street and in this circle that the Cotterells lived and moved. Mr. Cotterell, the father of Kate—the prettiest Kate in all that locality, at least, so Tom Barton said, and he ought to know for he had seen her often, and never failed to get his face as close to hers as possible whenever a chance presented itself for his so doing—was a retired stock broker who, having made a considerable hit in a great speculation by which he realized a handsome sum, prudently took the advice of his spouse and let well enough alone, retired from business, left their dusky residence in the city, and moved to their present abode, No. 54 Upper Harley Street. Mrs. Cotterell was the youngest sister of Mrs. Barton of the Willows, in Devonshire, hence the relationship between our friend, Tom Barton, and pretty cousin Kate, the charm of whose gay and lively manners had made quite an impression on the susceptible heart of cousin Tom, which increased and strengthened during the frequent visits of that young lady to her aunt's in Devonshire. Nor was it a one sided affair, for she had been captivated by the handsome person and agreeable address of her cousin, but being petit in stature, she was like most little beauties, very arbitrary and capricious towards her lover, yet, with all this, she was a girl of good, sound sense, and knowing that her portion on the death of her parents would be but small, would not consent to entangle herself in the meshes of matrimony until Tom had established himself in his profession, and there was a fair prospect of their succeeding in life.
It will be remembered that Tom Barton left for London about the same time that Arthur Carlton started for India. He had been more fortunate than could have been expected in the profession he had chosen, for he had scarcely been three years turning over musty deeds, copying legal documents and other drudgeries appertaining to a lawyer's office, when his employer died, leaving him the business and recommending him to the notice of his clients generally. Now, although Tom's chambers were situated in Lincoln's Inn Fields which everybody knows (who knows anything of London) is a large, airy space, surrounded with iron railings, wherein there are plenty of trees, flowers, grasses, and gravel walks to stroll about in, all of which could be seen from his chamber window. But this was not sufficient for him. He wanted something more suburban and evidently considered the atmosphere north of Oxford street more conducive to his health, or he would never have imposed upon himself the task of walking from Lincoln's Inn so far westward up Harley Street. Yet, although the air must have been more pure some half a mile further on, he never by any chance, succeeded in getting beyond No. 54.
There was also another gentleman who found it convenient and agreeable to walk in the same direction and stop at the same house. This for some time perplexed our friend, Tom, and gave him considerable uneasiness in the region of the heart. His first business was to discover who he was; this did not take long to accomplish, but he was more puzzled than ever; there was no one ill at No. 54, and the gentleman turned out to be a physician of good standing, residing in Cavendish Square. He dared not speak to Kate on the subject, for fear of committing himself and becoming exposed to that little lady's raillery, for he well knew that she would torment him unmercifully if he betrayed the least sign of jealousy. Wishing to be satisfied on a point that so troubled him, he determined to sound his aunt on the matter. He was a great favourite with her, and she was not likely to betray him to his lady love.
"Very quiet, gentlemanly sort of person, Doctor Ashburnham; don't you think so," he enquired of his aunt one evening, as they were seated alone in the drawing room on Harley Street?
"It is well that you are that way of thinking, for he has the same opinion of you," remarked Mrs. Cotterell with a quiet smile. "Do you remember to have met him anywhere but in London?" she asked, after a few moments' pause.
Tom shook his head and replied, "I think not, but perhaps I may have seen him somewhere. I meet all sorts of people."
"Well, well, your sister Julia is coming up to town some evening next week, and she is such a clever girl, perhaps she can enlighten you on the subject."
Tom stared at his aunt for a moment, then the mist began to clear away. It now struck him that he had never met the Doctor in Harley Street except during the time that his sister was on a visit there, and it also occurred to him now, that on his last flying visit to Devonshire he had met a gentleman much resembling Doctor Ashburnham, riding with Julia in one of the green lanes in Vellenaux. It was all dear enough now, it was Julia's lover who had given him so much concern of late, and this fact removed a great load from Tom's heart. On this discovery his face brightened up. "But, my dear aunt, is there really anything in it."
"Anything in what?" enquired the good lady, looking up from her knitting, somewhat amused at the manner in which her nephew had put the question.
"Why, I mean, is there any love affair, engagement or that sort of thing between Julia and the Doctor?"
"Well, Tom, all I can say is, that Doctor Ashburnham seldom calls here except during the time your sister is in London, or occasionally pays us a visit to enquire when she is likely to be in town again. They have met, I believe, in Devonshire, and he has visited her at the Willows. He is certainly very attentive to her when she is with us, and she appears to be anything but indifferent to his addresses; you can draw your own conclusions from that, but, as I before stated, she will be here next week and then, perhaps, she may take you into her confidence. I can say no more on the matter."
"By George! I hope it is as you say. It would be a capital match for her. He has a first rate practice, keeps quite a stylish turn out, and occupies a handsome house in Cavendish Square. I must become more intimate with him, and see if I cannot worm out exactly what he is driving at." Here Tom took his hat, and started down stairs three steps at a time, nearly upsetting the Doctor in the hall in his great hurry. "Beg pardon, my dear sir, quite accidental I assure you; in haste to speak to Mr. Cotterell in the library," said Tom apologetically.
"Don't mention it, pray, Mr. Barton," was the reply, as that gentleman quickly ascended the staircase leading to the drawing room.
Now, Tom really had no business with Mr. Cotterell that evening, nor would he have intruded on that worthy person, but for his encounter with the Doctor. He would, he thought, not remain long with his aunt, and it would be a good opportunity to push his enquiries, could he but manage to go out with him. His anticipations proved correct. The Doctor did not remain long up stairs, and our friend Tom managed to meet him again as he was passing through the hall.
"Fine evening, sir; which way are you walking?" said Tom, seeing no vehicle in attendance.
"I am returning to Cavendish Square, sir," was the ready reply.
"I also am going in that direction, and if you have no objection will walk with you," returned Tom Barton. The two gentlemen walked together, chatting in a very friendly way on the different topics of the day until they had reached the door of the Doctor's residence, when that gentleman surprised Tom by saying, "Mr. Barton, will you do me the favor to step in for a few moments? I wish to speak to you on a subject that cannot very well be discussed in the public street." Nothing loath, Tom agreed and was ushered into a very snug apartment, half library, half smoking divan.
"You smoke, of course," said the Doctor, pointing at the same time to an array of pipes and tobacco of different kinds on a small side table. Fill, then, drop into that easy chair, and I will tell you why I have requested you to enter my snuggery. Tom acted upon his suggestion, and was soon sending great puffs of smoke half way across the room. His host followed this very laudable example, and after a few whiffs, at once opened the business by candidly, and in a straightforward, manner, telling Tom the great love and admiration he felt for Miss Barton, whom he had frequently met in Devonshire as well as in London, and that he had vanity enough to believe that his love was reciprocated, and declared his intention on Julia's arrival to decide the affair by making her an offer of his hand and heart, and finished by requesting Tom to forward his views to the best of his ability.
To this Tom readily assented. "The sly little puss," he continued, "not to mention a word of it even to me. But I suppose it is not considered by the fair sex quite the thing to speak to any one on so delicate a subject until after the gentleman has popped the question." Shortly after, he took his departure for his chambers at Lincoln's Inn, and it was noticed that Doctor Ashburnham and Mr. Tom Barton were seen more frequently together than had hitherto been the case.
Miss Barton arrived, as had been expected by her relatives in Harley Street, and the physician from Cavendish Square called there every day, although there was no illness or epidemic in the house, save that known as the heart disease, and so earnestly did the Doctor press his suit that Julia must have been hard-hearted indeed to have refused to add to his happiness by encumbering him with a wife, and ere she returned to Devonshire, it was finally settled that the wedding was to take place at the end of the following month, and a very dashing affair it proved. The lawn sleeves at Saint George's, Hanover Square, were called into requisition on the occasion. There was a great display of white corded silk, lace orange blossoms, muslins and wreaths of white roses. Gunter, of Berkly square, was called upon to supply a wedding breakfast, which was partaken of at the Cotterells', and after some champagne had been drank, and the speeches usual on the occasion made, the happy pair started on their wedding tour through the South of England, calling, of course, at the Willows on their way. After visiting Scotland they returned to London, and settled comfortably down to the humdrum of every day life in the Doctor's handsome establishment in Cavendish Square, which had been re-decorated and furnished for them during their absence.
Not many months elapsed before the happiness of our young friends was somewhat over-shadowed by the death of the worthy old couple at the Willows, who expired within two months of each other. Mr. Barton died of old age, and his wife from influenza, caught while attending church to hear the funeral sermon.
Horace Barton not being expected in England for some time, the Willows was let on a short lease, and Emily came up to London to reside with her aunt in Harley Street, occasionally spending several weeks with her sister, Mrs. Ashburnham.
Our young lawyer was slowly but surely increasing his practice. He had used all his powers of persuasion to induce Kate to allow him to lead her to the altar on the same day that his sister was married, but in vain, for that young lady declared that she would rather take a second class character in the interesting tableau this time, with the view of being better able to sustain the role of the principal actress in a similar pageant at some future time. With this decision Tom had to remain satisfied for the present and attend to business. But in the course of time circumstances transpired which prevented him from attaining any eminence as a lawyer. A distant relative of Mr. Cotterell's and Godmother to Kate, departed this life, leaving her Godchild the very comfortable sum of six hundred per annum, secured in the four per cents., and after wearing mourning for a suitable period, Kate took the initiative by announcing to Tom, very much to his surprise and delight, that she was both ready and willing to become his wife on the following conditions, which were, that he should give up practising law, take a snug cottage in Devonshire, and turn his attention to haymaking, shooting, &c, and retire from London life altogether, for she said that in the country they could live very comfortably on six hundred a year and be thought somebodies, but they could scarcely exist in London on that sum and then be thought nobodies.
If our young lawyer had any scruples on the score of giving up his profession and thereby losing all chance of ever attaining to the dignity of Lord Chancellor, he certainly kept them to himself, for he had no wish to run counter to the inclination of Kate, or he might find himself in the position of the dog in the fable, who had thrown away the substance to endeavour to grasp the shadow. Tom, in reality, had never liked a London life, and had a constant hankering after field sports, shooting and fishing; and now he believed he could indulge in these to the top of his bent. They could live very comfortably on their joint income, for he had received a certain sum on the death of his parents, and likewise made something during the past few years by his profession, which he had increased by placing it out at interest. Moreover, he knew exactly where to find a house and grounds that would suit them; the very one that Kate had so admired during their strolls around Vellenaux. It was picturesquely situated in a shady dell, through which ran a flowing brook which deepened and widened as it flowed on towards the sea, and was the favourite resort of the angler and amateur fisherman—about an equal distance from the Willows and the Rectory, and but a short walk from the woods and park of Vellenaux. There were Horace's grounds to shoot over, and although Sir Ralph Coleman was not a neighbour best suited to his taste, yet he felt certain that he would not object to his occasionally using his preserves, or bagging a few brace of birds on his turnip fields. All this, together with a pretty little loving wife for a companion, was, to Tom's notion, something worth living for, and a position he would not exchange for all the gaieties of London life with a seat on the woolsack into the bargain.
Again No. 54 Harley Street was thrown into a state of bustle and confusion. Millinery girls, with innumerable band boxes, and oddly shaped parcels were continually arriving. In the drawing room there was assembled daily a sort of joint high commission, consisting of a bevy of pretty maidens with one or two handsome matrons, who were engaged in deciding on the colour, material, and cut of certain wearables appertaining to the wedding trousseau of Miss Cotterell. There were continual visits made to the fashionable emporiums of silk, lace &c., in Oxford and Regent streets, and other parts of the metropolis. The wedding day at length arrived. A considerable distance up Harley Street was lined with carriages of various descriptions, the coachmen and footmen of which appeared in holiday costume and wearing white satin favors, and there was quite an excitement in the immediate vicinity to witness the arrival and departure of the wedding party to and from church. Kate Cotterell, attended by her six bridesmaids all looking very lovely in toilettes befitting the occasion, created quite a sensation among the spectators as they stepped from No. 54 into the carriages that were to convey them to Hanover Square.
After a very recherche breakfast, served in Gunter's best style, in the handsome drawing room of the Cotterells', in Harley Street, Tom and his fair bride took their departure en route for the Continent. They were to make a tour of several months through France, Germany and Switzerland, likewise enjoy several weeks on the banks of the beautiful Rhine.
Mr. Cotterell undertook to arrange matters concerning the purchase of the cottage so much admired, which he intended to present to his daughter as a marriage gift, and aunt Sarah, Emily, and Mrs. Ashburnham took upon themselves the responsibility of furnishing the said cottage, and otherwise rendering it in every way suitable for the reception of the happy couple, and thus enable them to commence housekeeping immediately on their return to England.
The various events and proceedings were duly recorded and forwarded from time to time for the information of Horace and Pauline Barton, in their Eastern home on the banks of the Hoogly; and Edith, who still kept up a correspondence with Kate and Julia, received a full account, descriptive of the wedding trousseaus and paraphernalia incident to both ceremonies, and followed up by a delicate enquiry as to when she intended to return the compliment by favouring them with the details of an Indian wedding, which they supposed must soon take place, and would, no doubt, prove a gorgeous and magnificent affair in true oriental style. So wrote the happy girls to their old friend and companion in Calcutta, for, according to Pauline's account, she had no end of suitors among the wealthiest in the land.
To all those enquiries Edith's usual reply was that the time was somewhat distant when she could indulge in dreams of happiness. Her position was somewhat changed, thus, probably, the event they so often alluded to might never take place, and the reader must remember, that although Edith and Arthur were, beyond doubt, devotedly attached to each other, the word that would have made them both happy had not yet been spoken; there was no engagement, or in fact, any advance towards one, yet both, in their heart of hearts, realized the great love they felt for each other. But prudential motives had kept Arthur silent. Edith knew this and was content to wait for the developments of the future. In the meantime she did not hesitate to participate in the amusements and enjoyments which offered, and which were continually pressed upon her by her kind friends, the Bartons.
The capital of Bengal was a very gay city. What with balls and public breakfasts at the Governor General's, brilliant assemblages given by the Civil Service Granders, with no end of picnics, theatricals, cricket matches and races improvised by the military and naval officers, for the especial benefit (at least so they said) of the beautiful, gay butterflies that condescended to grace, with their presence, such assemblages; and Pauline Barton never allowed these occurrences to transpire without inducing the beautiful Miss Effingham, as she was usually styled, to accompany her, for Pauline was, indeed, very popular in Chowringee and around its vicinity, and her Bungalow was a constant lounge for the gallants of all services. Horace was no niggard in his hospitality, but preferred the ease and comfort of his own sanctum to the gay rattle that was continually going on in his pretty little wife's drawing room or verandahs. And Arthur was again, for a fourth time since his arrival in the country, in Calcutta. He had contrived to get appointed one of a committee for the purchasing of troop horses for his regiment and this would detain him at the Presidency for a couple of months. This was a source of much pleasure to Edith, for sometimes accompanied by Mrs. Barton, but more frequently alone, would Arthur and Edith, either driving or on horseback, wend their way through the shaded avenues that crossed the Midan, along the strand by the river side to Garden, reach and loiter in the Botanical Gardens; this being considered by the Grandees the most fashionable resort for a canter in the early morn or a pleasant drive about sunset.
It never entered the head of pretty Mrs. Barton that there could be any serious love making between her friend and the handsome Lieutenant. She knew that they had been brought up together from childhood and were more like brother and sister than lovers, and had such an idea been suggested to her by any of her friends, she would have pooh poohed it as mere moonshine. She knew that it was out of the question for a Subaltern to enter the matrimonial arena; besides the brilliant beauty of Miss Effingham must command a suitable alliance and an enviable position whenever she cared to enter upon the responsibility of married life, and it appeared evident that Edith was in no hurry to take the initiative or allow herself to be led away by the flattering speeches she daily heard from those, by whom she was surrounded. Nor was Mrs. Barton at all desirous that she should enter into any such engagement, for she was well aware that it was the charm of her fair friend's manner that drew to her house the most agreeable and handsomest men of the capital. She knew likewise that it was Horace's intention to settle in England as soon as his term of service should expire, and it would then be time for Edith to select from her numerous admirers the one she most preferred, but until that time she should be exceedingly sorry to part with her.
"Do you intend spending the day at Mrs. Deborah's?" enquired Mrs. Barton of Edith as they rose from the breakfast table. Edith replied in the affirmative. "Well, then, I will send the palkee for you; but do not be late, my dear, for dinner." She had no intention of being too late, as she knew that in all probability Arthur would make his appearance during the evening. The distance from the Bartons to her friend's Bungalow was not more than half a mile. The road lay through a very picturesque but somewhat lonely part of the suburbs. The Date and stately Palms, intermingled with the blossom of the gold Mohur trees, looked so very lovely by the light of the setting sun. For some cause or other Edith's palkee did not arrive at the time appointed, and not wishing to trouble her friend—who usually sent her children at sunset in their palkee for an airing—and attracted by the beauty of the scene, she started to walk home, thinking of the pleasure of meeting Arthur. Her mind was engaged on this subject when she reached a Date grove, a short distance from the road side, and so busy was she with her thoughts, she had not noticed that for the past few minutes she had been followed by a tall, burly mussulman, and he came upon her before she was aware of his presence. Without a word of warning, he threw his long arms around her waist, and endeavored to drag or carry her to the Date grove. There could be no mistaking his intentions, and he would no doubt have succeeded in carrying out his villainous design—for the terrified girl was in a half fainting condition, and unable from the suddenness of the attack, to offer much resistance—when Arthur Carlton, who had been attracted to the spot by her shrieks and cries for help, came to the rescue. He had called at the Bungalow, and learning where she might be found, had set out in search of her, and arrived just in time. The ruffian managed to make good his escape, not, however, before he had received several marks of Arthur's favor from the horsewhip he carried. He then supported the still, trembling girl home, and she soon forgot, in his society, the danger which had menaced her.
Exasperated beyond measure at so rare an occurrence as the attack made on his beloved Edith, he at once sought the aid of the police, and from the description given they soon succeeded in tracing the offender, who proved to be a Subaltern of the native cavalry. The affair was reported to head quarters, and a court of enquiry was summoned which resulted in the court martial and dismissal from service of the blackguard, who immediately left the station, vowing to have his revenge on Carlton, should ever an opportunity occur for so doing, and this, with a Mahammedan means mischief, for they never rest in their endeavors to effect a purpose.
The duties which brought Carlton to Calcutta were now at an end, and the Lieutenant had to return to head quarters. Edith, being of an enquiring turn of mind, acquired a great deal of information respecting the natives' character, their castes, customs and ceremonies, and by the aid of a Moonshee soon learned to speak with ease and fluency the Hindostan language. This she turned to account in the management of the household servants.