Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

"To what you saw as you passed the library to-night?"«

"Certainly! why do you pretend not to understand me?"

"Because nothing happened there of the nature you imagine. Cyril Denham and I are only friends. As such we shall remain." •' Is that really true?" "Quite true! It was because I had promised to be Cyril's friend, his shtter, and to aid him, if I could, in accomplisliing his most cherished wishes, that he kissed my hand so fervently."

Miss Ashburner replied by covering my face with kisses; and presently she said, "What is it that Cyril wishes so devoutly?"

"That I cannot tell you: for he spoke to-night in confidence: you will know soon, I dare say, from his own lips."

She seemed perfectly satisfied, and after a few more warm embraces and incoherent sentences, she fell asleep, and I was left at peace. And now, it occurred to me, that the suffering I had so often thought about, and discussed so philosophically, had come upon me: now was the time "to suffer and be strong!" Now I must prove myself not a weak, romantic girl, but a woman of sense, and fortitude, and generosity. The presumptuous hope I had almost unconsciously entertained was dashed to the ground: I might deceive myself no longer — my short bright dream was over: now must I gird my armour on! And then, I asked myself, what armour? Why, of course, the panoply of woman's pride, and woman's constancy—for I might be friend and sister, counsellor and comforter. And I might give myself more thoroughly to study, even settle down to a regular literary life; for iua hmuble way I have tried my pen. you know, my Diary, and you know, so far as it went, it was quite successful. While I thought, the pey dawn stole in, and I heard the birds beginning their morning songs, and very soon there was a ray of rosy light across the chamber, I looked at Elizabeth, lying in her sweet and placid sleep: how indescribably lovely she was, with her

perfect features settled in that calm repose; her ruby lips half parted, and her cheeks pink flushed, like a slumbering child's. My beautiful Elizabeth! Cyril's own Elizabeth!

At last I slept myself, and dreamed that I was wandering in some distant country—n land of vines, and olives, and purple hills, and violet skies, with Cyril by my side, and I knew that he loved me,—and all that came before was a dream. And then we stood together beneath the "high emhowed roof of the Cathedral at Southchester, and we were listening to the service chanted in the choir. But it was not the English form of prayer the choristers were intoning: it. was a solemn monotonous mass for the dead, such as I often heard abroad, followed by a sad, wailing miserere, that I once listened to with thrilled heart, in the Sistine Chapel at Rome. And then the great western door opened, and a bridal procession, in mediaeval costume, came up the nave, and Cyril was the bridegroom, and I the bride, and we stood together at the altar, where tall tapers were alight, and a very old priest was still mumbling the litany for the departed! And my hand was in Cyril's, and the holy words were trembling on our lips, when Elizabeth came up the aisle, a proud, yet pitying smile curving her lips, and irradiating the wonderful beauty of her countenance. And she stepped between us, and Cyril clasped her hand, with that clasp that deathless love only knows, and claimed her as his own. And the ceremony was concluded, and Elizabeth, with the bridal crown upon her head, and her snowy robes floating like a cloud about her, took the bridegroom's arm, and left the cathedral; and I was alone in the great, silent, shadowy church. The solitude was awful, and I tried to rush away, bu all the doors were fastened: and I heard low sounds sweeping up the nave, whispering round the tall cluster-pillars, and dying as they reached the dark choir-screen: strange unearthly murmurs, and I fancied that the sleepers in their cold graves were chanting again the mass, in which, long centuries ago,

. 3 [Christian World Magazine, April, 1866

they had been wont to join. And with a terror that I could not define, I looked wildly around for means of escape,—and awoke.

And lo! the sun was pouring his brightest beams through the halfshuttered window; it was a blithe April morning, and the ghostly music of my dream came from Janet's harp, which some unskilled hand was touching in the room below; and Elizabeth opened her lovely eyes, and woke up, all fresh and radiant, from her peaceful rest. The breakfast party was a merry one, only Cyril looked tired, and ill at ease. I had Vivian Gower for my companion: how I do dislike that man! but people call him "fascinating." Well! he is very handsome and aristocratic, and when he chooses, he can talk most brilliantly: he seems to know everything, and to be equal to any emergency; and he is rich, and it is reported, generous: nevertheless, I think Mrs. Denham was quite right when she called him " a son of Belial," though she might have been more courteous.

After breakfast, there was a general move to the garden and the conservatories, which are so beautiful at Forest Range: I did not see either Cyril or Elizabeth again till luncheon-tune, and then I knew that Cyril had spoken explicitly,and that all was right between the pair themselves. Mrs. Erskine, I think, pretty well divined what was going forward, for there was triumph in her voice, and full contentment in her smile. I wondered very much what Lady Ashbumer would think about it all!

Late that night I knew; for Lady Ashbumer sent forme to her dressingroom, and there I found her in terrible distress, and Elizabeth drowned in teal's. Elizabeth had sobbed out that I knew all about it, and her mother wished to question me. Cyril had spoken, I was informed, both to Elizabeth and to Sir John—to the former in the first place, and had been kindly but decidedly rejected by the latter. Sir John was perfectly amazed: Cyril had been playing with and petting Elizabeth ever since she wore long clothes, and that he

Christian World ilagarint, April, 186&

would ever regard her with other than brotherly affection, had never once occurred to him.

Lady Ashbui ner turned at once to me :—" My dear, you knew of this, and you did not tell me!"

There was as much reproach on that kind countenance as it could wear: happily I did not feel very guilty.

"I only knew last night," I said, deprecatingly; "Mr. Denham made me his confidante; and he told me that to-day he should speak to Sir John Ashbumer: surely, it was no duty of mine to interfere?"

"No, no! only trouble has made me a little unjust, for I am sadly troubled, my dear,"

'• Why, may I ask?"

"Agnes, my dear, you must perceive that a marriage between Cyril and Elizabeth is utterly out of the question: there is everything against it."

"You refer to the smallness of his income—his failing fortunes?"

"No! if Cyril were otherwise than he is, that would be no obstacle: but dearly as I love Cyril, I cannot receive him as my daughter's suitor. Surely you must have discovered his want of fixed endeavour; the utter absence of energetic perseverance in his character; his aimlessness, his dreaminess, his drowsy acquiescence in the evils that surround him. He knows that ruin is gradually encompassing his mother and himself, and he makes no effort to bring about a happier state of things."

"How could he, Lady Ashbumer? You told me yourself that Mrs. Denham holds every thing in her own hands. Cyril only acts under her supervision.''

"My dear, Cyril is old enough to act for himself: he is nearly twentyfour: he ought either to insist upon taking matters responsibly upon himself, or he ought to leave his mother to the sole management, and find work of his own to do—and do it perseveringly."

"What work could he find?"

"Any kind of work upon which he could ask God's blessing! I have urged him again and again to strike out some path, whereby he may escape the poverty that like a strong armed man is coming on him. Post after post has been offered him, but to all some exception has been taken. Sir John has ceased to use his interest on Cyril's behalf, knowing that he only strives in vain: Cyril is not to be roused.''

"You would not infer that he is "idle?"

"Something rather like it, I am afraid: certainly he is foolishly fastidious. Agnes, I would sooner see him working at some handicraft trade, than I would see him wasting all his days in dreaming, and lamenting his inaction, and forming plans, most perfect in themselves, which yet he never strives to carry into action. Oh! the books he has meant to write, since he was a boy; the poems just sketched out—epics, lyrics, and idylls! I really believe that if he had worked, instead of dreaming ceaselessly, he might have attained no small measure of literary success: he has it in him, I am convinced. Many an author never writes his books, because he cannot, or will not, apply himself to the necessary drudgery: many a brilliant thought remains a thought, for the want of a little steady toil and quiet industry! Many a genius conceives an epic, which he lacks the energy to write. And many an one, whose gifts are small, whose talents are circumscribed, and whose spark of genius is so faint that it cannot be perceived by indiscriminating eyes, fans that tiny gleam into a glow, and then into a shining flame, by strenuous cultivation of the powers God has given him."

'• But now, I think, Mr. Denham will exert himself effectually : he has an object: he said as much last night."

Lady Ashbumer shook her head. "I hope he may: but I cannot trust him with my daughter's happiness. Her character, too, much resembles his: if Cyril had fallen in love with you, and you could have accepted him, I should have rejoiced ; because I think, indeed I am sure, your nature comprehends the very elements which his nature lacks. You have

vigour of purpose, strength of mind; if you chose to become a poor man's wife, you would not suffer; and very poor I think you would not be!"

"No, indeed! I would work—I sometimes think it would be better for us all if wre were obliged to labour.''

"In one sense we are obliged to labour: we may not be compelled to toil ,'for daily bread, but work there is for each and all: God does not love the idlers in His vineyard. However, we will not talk any longer. Papa has decidedly refused to sanction the rash engagement into which his daughter entered so unadvisedly this morning; and I would hold out, even if Sir John could be prevailed upon.''

"Mamma, mamma!" sobbed Miss Ashburner: "you are most unkind, most cruel: I am sure you cannot care for me."

"My child, it is because I do care for you most tenderly, that I speak so. I blame myself exceedingly, and papa blames himself too, that we have permitted so much close intimacy between you. But because you have ever been as brother and sister, because there has been constant and unrestrained intercourse, we thought you would :both be contented with such relationships, nor Beek to alter them. We have been very wrong—very unwise: my affection for Cyril, my regard for his family, have made me unjust to my own child; and now I reap the fruits of my imprudence, fori cannot see you suffer, my child, and not suffer with you. Now, do not cry any longer in that hopeless way; you are a mere child, Elizabeth: it is absurd to think of your marrying any one.''

"I don't want to be married, mamma, I only want to be engaged with your sanction and papa's. And I tell you it is of no use your opposing us so strenuously, because we shall love each other just the same, and be faithful always, even if we cannot openly be betrothed."

"Does my daughter mean that she would do anything undutiful and clandestine? I scarcely think Cyril, with all his faults, would urge that; —he is strictly honourable."

[ChriAtian World Magazine, April, 186&

"Iam glad you grant so much, mamma!"

"My dear! you mistake me: I am not doing Cyril any injustice. I have full confidence in his principles, or he had never been here, as one of our own household, as he has been so long. I acknowledge, too, the sweetness of his disposition, his purity of mind and life, and many very lovely traits which I need not specify. Take a one-sided view of Cyril's character, and it is eminently beautiful; but look at it in all its bearings, and we—who are not in love with him, though we may love him very dearly, must confess that it is eminently faulty."

"Well, mamma, I suppose I,must submit; but }-ou will not banish Cyril?"

"I am afraid it would not do for him to be coming here constantly, as he has done for so many years. For the present, I think, we cannot receive him: he feels himself that it must be so!"

Elizabeth replied only by a passionate burst of weeping: it was more the lamentation of a thwarted child, it seemed to me, than the dignified grief of a woman, separated from him she loves. Presently she went away to bed, for it was getting very late, and Lady Ashburner and I had some further conversation.

"It would never do," she said, as I wished her good-night; *' neither Cyril nor Elizabeth would be rendered permanently happy by such an union. He wants a wife who can strengthen him, and lead him from the mere romance of life to its actual realities: she requires a husband who will be her guide, her prudent friend,—in some sort, her master, though a loving one! Two or three years will probably remedy many defects in my daughter's character; it is out of the question her forming now an engagement, which a very little more experience would teach her to decline. But I am keeping you up, and you look tired to death with last night's dissipation. Oh, Agnes! I am glad I do not live in the great world :—I could not bear it."

The next day—yesterday, the

Christian World Magannt, April, 1866.]

Erskines went away: Mrs. Erskine very cold and haughty, and poor Mr. Erskine trying, but most unsuccessfully, to enact the role of outraged friend, which his arbitrary lady had imposed. On the same day, came also the great ricketty carriage from Monkswood, and Mrs. Denham, with her sermons, her knitting, and Sally Hawkes, went back to St. Croix. Mrs. Denham looked sterner and' grimmer than ever, and when I saw Sally get.into the carriage after her patroness, I involuntarily thought of condemned criminals and the prisonvan. Cyril preferred going home by rail: I do not wonder!

CHAPTER XII.

THE DOCTOR'S PRESCRIFTIOX.

But Forest Range, though restored once more to its ordinary quiet routine by the departure of all its visitors, did not by any means regain its former peace, and placid cheerfulness. Elizabeth became seriously unwell: she suffered from severe headaches, and had hysterical attacks, which kept her up-stairs. Then she took a violent cold, and was ordered to stay in bed, and when the influenza and bronchial symptoms succumbed to prompt treatment and good nursing, it was supposed that she would rapidly recover. But instead of gaining strength, she drooped daily: she refused to get up and lie on the sofa in her mother's dressing-room: her appetite entirely failed, and not all the dainty little tit-bits that the housekeeper sent up could tempt her to a meal. She would not converse, she would not listen to reading: she wanted to be alone, she said, and her only comfort seemed to be in lying undisturbed in a darkened chamber, for face buried in the pillows, and the door shut upon any one who wished to make her speak. Cyril's name was never mentioned now: whether this was a wise procedure, I am sure I cannot tell; for we all thought the more, that we kept such rigid silence. Even the servants seemed intuitively to understand the merits of the case, for they never referred to Mr. Denham, or to Mr. Denham's room, according to long-established usage.

Lady Ashburner was in deep distress, for Elizabeth repulsed her visibly. She would always be sleepy, or just dropping asleep, when her mother came to sit in her room; she took all her caresses gently, but very coldly, and seemed so perfectly indifferent to every thing in the world, that it was impossible to interest her for a moment. Sir John himself determined to rouse her, if it were possible: so one day, after dinner, he walked up to his daughter's room, and announced his intention of sitting with her for an hour. "And I want a little talk with you, my dear," was his concluding remark, as he settled himself comfortably near the bed-side.

"I cannot talk, papa!"

"Why not. my dear?"

•• I am too unwell, and I have no spirits."

Sir John arose, and drew Elizabeth's face towards him: his kind but penetrative gaze was fixed upon her,—" Elizabeth 1 does it hurt you to talk?"

Now Elizabeth was always strictly truthful, so very reluctantly she was compelled to answer, "No, papa; only I feel weary, and I do not wish it."

"Wishes, my dear, cannot always be consulted; and as to your feeling weary, I do not wonder at it. You will never get strength by lying here, eschewing the daylight, and making us all miserable. You will never regain j our appetite till you breathe another air, and to-morrow, if you still feel too weak to walk, I shall have you partially dressed, and carry you myself into mamma's dressing-room. It is many a year, Lizzie, since I had you in my arms, but it will be quite a treat to feel you are a little girl again. I could almost wish you had never grown into a woman."

Miss Ashburner was silent: she only flung her hands wearily about on the counterpane, while a few tears rolled down her pale cheeks, which just then were not flushed with fever. Sir John tenderly imprisoned one of the little hands, that were already

growing thin, and of ivory whiteness, and said gravely, but very lovingly, '• My darling, what is it? Why are you grieving your heart out thus: tell me, dear, all about it!"

With one of her passionate bursts of grief, Elizabeth sobbed out, "You know, papa, you know: it is cruel to ask me."

"Am I cruel to my child? I think not. If any sacrifice on her father's part could ensure her happiness, it should be made: if any suffering of Ms would bring her real peace and consolation, it should be cheerfully endured. Is it because we cannot give you to Cyril Denham that you are grieving so terribly'.'"

"You have blighted all my life, papa, and Cyril's too."

"I hope not, Elizabeth. Lives are not easily blighted at seventeen, my love: it is astonishing how, through God's mercy, we live down the sorrows of our youth,—aye, and of riper years! Come, my dear, let me settle your pillows. I want you to sit up, and talk the matter over with me for a little while. Now then, my dear, to begin very prosaically, but very practically, supposing I permit you and Cyril to marry, what do you intend to live upon?"

"I never thought about it, papa: I have always lived somehow, and I suppose I always shall. Cyril has some money, has he not?"

"Very little, Elizabeth; and that little is not secure. Mrs. Denham, contrary to my advice, in spite of my entreaties, has invested the remnant of her fortunes in what seems to me the wildest, maddest speculations. She has been receiving very handsome interest, and she tells me how glad she is she trusted to her own unassisted judgment, ignoring mine: moreover, what she draws now, is nothing to the golden harvest she expects to reap henceforth."

"Who told her of these Companies, papa?"

"I am sorry to say, her son-inlaw, John Erskine. He told her, and advised her in perfect good faith, for the great part of Li's own money is in these mining-shares. Whenever the blow reaches Mrs. Denham, John Erskine will go down also."

[Christian World Magazine, April, 1866L

« ElőzőTovább »