« ElőzőTovább »
tions, for only evil and no good could come of curiosity,-not only evil to myself, Martin said one day, but evil to others whom I should be very sorry to harm-evil that I could not undo, however bitterly I might repent it. So I kept silence, but I only thought the more ; I thought till my heart felt fit to break.”
“ Did you ask questions of any one save the Wrays ?”
“Yes, I asked Mr. Gibson, for he knew what Martin knew, or at least very much of it. Besides, he understood me better than Martin did, and what he said always calmed me, and made me feel quieter and more contented, while I only got vexed and angry with Martin and Margery, especially with Margery; she is so cross."
“ She is kind to you?”
The lady spoke quickly and anxiously, looking straight into my eyes.
“Oh, yes, very kind. It was wrong in me to talk about her being cross, for she cannot help it. It's her way to snap and find fault, and say disagreeable things, Martin says so. He
all old women are scolds. Are they, lady ? "
“No, my boy; an old woman may be as sweet and loving and loveable as a young one, but a woman who does not control her temper in youth and middle age is certain to grow worse as she gets in years. You must not mind Mrs. Wray if she is a little provoking. You must be patient, Hugh, and try to give the soft answer that turneth away wrath, and always be very kind to her, for you say she is very kind to you in spite of her hasty temper."
“Oh, yes, very kind. Please not to remember that I called her cross, and yet she is very cross; it's the truth.”
“Never mind Mrs. Wray just now; I want to know what Martin and Mr. Gibson told you."
“Only that I was Captain Vassall's son, and that my mother was his wedded wife. Mr. Gibson said I was born in lawful wedlock,' I was always to remember that; but I am not quite sure that I understood what he meant."
“Did any one dare to say you were not ? Did any one venture to cast shame on your noble father's head. Tell me, was there any one so wicked, so cruel, as to hint at so black and base a falsehood ?”
I looked at her in astonishment; she was sitting quite upright; a deep flush dyed her cheeks, her violet eyes were burning with a strange, almost wrathful light, her little hands were clenched, and she was pressing her pearly teeth upon her full ruby lip till I feared the blood would start. I was puzzled as well as frightened at her vehemence, and being myself in a very overstrained state of mind, I burst into tears, and sobbed bitterly.
Then her mood changed; the proud glance, the baughty bearing vanished, and she flashed at me such a look-oh, such a look of passionate love and inexpressible yearning, and before I was aware she had caught me in her arms and drawn me, big boy as I was, on to her lap, and she had cradled my head on her bosom, and covered my face and my hair with fond, gentle kisses, soothing me as if I had been her own little child, weeping out my baby-sorrows in her safe embrace.
“Don't cry, darling,” she said at length, as I still wept on quietly but copiously, and chiefly because I could not help it. “I was not angry with you, Hugh. I was angry because I thought people might have been saying naughty things, traducing the memory of the best man who ever lived—a man who never had a spot or stain upon him. Like one of old, he walked with God, and then he was not, for God took him. But oh, if he had lived! oh, if God had left him to-to-to you, his child!"
“And to my mother? I was told never to ask about her, but I may ask you. I know she is not dead ; I made them tell me that. Oh, if I did but know where she is ! if I might but see her once and call her mother-mother!”
The arms that were folded round me closed on me still more closely, and more kisses were showered on me. Once or twice she sighed deeply. At last she said, “Your mother has been very cruel to you, Hugh, but still more cruel.to herself. And yet what she did she did for the best. I think when she left you, when she gave you up-you, the darling of her heart, her husband's babyboy, all that was left to her in an empty, joyless, weary world—I think she must have been well-nigh distracted, and knew not what she did. Think gently of her, Hugh; she loved you, and she loved your father. Oh, my God! how she loved him! God only knows how great and true her love was. Only God knew her terrible anguish, her unfathomable sorrow, and only God knew how she was tempted; and oh, how bitterly she repented; for she was shut out of Paradise, Hugh, darling-shut out of Paradise, whither she could return never more. Think gently of her, Hugh-tenderly, lovingly if you can. But ask no more about her, and never, never seek to find her. I will be your mother, Hugh; can you love
“I never loved any one half so much," I replied passionately. “I loved you when I saw you in the church on Sunday. I shall love you always, dearly-dearly. And you really will love me?”
I really will; I do. Yes, indeed I do, dear child.”. “But oh, why do you love me? What have I done that you should be so kind to me, so very kind ?”
“You have done nothing, but you may do much. All the love except what you give to your dead father you may fearlessly give
to me. All the love you would have given to your poor misguided mother you may give to me. You may obey me, follow out my wishes, become a great and good man like him whose hallowed name you bear. Then shall I be amply repaid for loving you and caring for you. As for why I love you, it is because you are the child of those who were very dear to me. I loved your father, and -yes, I loved your mother, your most unhappy mother. Be content to take my love, and do not puzzle yourself to find out where it comes from. Take it as you take the light, the flowers, the summer warmth, as you take any good thing which the gracious God sends you. Will you do so ?”
“Oh, yes; it is only too much happiness. And shall I see you
very often ?"
“Yes, very often, though there may be-nay, there surely will be—times when we cannot be together, cannot even see each other. For, Hugh, we must not tell any one of the compact that we will make-you and I alone together, no one intermeddling; no one must know of the tie that binds us two together; they would not understand it, and things that are not understood are frequently miscoustrued. Let us have our love all to ourselves, Hugh, my darling. Think of me as your mother, as your father's friend; love me as such, and when we are alone, quite safely alone together, as we are now, speak to me, look at me, fondle me as a child speaks to, and looks at, and fondles the mother who is all in all to him. But to the world you are still Hugh Travis, Martin Wray's fosterson, and I am the Marchioness of Dovercourt, a great lady, who chooses to amuse her lonely hours and solace her seclusion by showing kindness to the children of her old retainers. Great ladies,' as the world calls women of rank and wealth and power, are allowed to have their whims; why should not I have mine? But all this while I have not told
father." “No, and I want so much to hear. When did you see him first?"
“Nearly thirteen years ago. Of course you were not born then. Indeed, Captain Vassall and his wife were not then married ; they were in less than a year from the time I speak of. He was twentyeight years old. He was not rich ; indeed, he was poor, and he had known many troubles. He was quite alone in the world. His parents were dead; they died when he was a boy, and left him to struggle by himself. He had neither brothers nor sisters; only some relations on his mother's side in Spain, and he never saw them ; did not even know exactly who they were, nor at what place they lived. Certainly they did not concern themselves about him, and probably were not aware of his existence, so that he was quite alone in the world."
“Did he recollect his father and mother?”
“Yes, quite well. His mother he often spoke of, and always in terms of the deepest affection. He used to say, 'No son ever had such a mother; so good and so beautiful, though she had not, as far as I could learn, in her veins any of the blue blood of which her countrymen make such boast;' if you understand what that means.”
“It means that she was not nobly born, I suppose ?"
"Exactly. She came of poor and lowly parentage, but that did not matter, for your father always said the Martinez were a noble race, inasmuch as they feared God, and kept their name-peasant name though it might be--free of stain or blame generation after generation. Your grandfather was a seafaring man, and in one of his voyages to South America he was wrecked off the coast of Spain. He was most hospitably received by the people of Elgos, the small town or village to which the waves swept him and such of the crew as escaped drowning; and during his stay there he met with your grandmother, then a young and very beautiful woman of good repute in the neighbourhood where she had always lived. They were married, and Leonor, who longed to profess openly the purer faith of the Reformed Churches, was quite willing to leave her own country where she might not worship God according to the dictates of her conscience, for her husband's beloved native land, where all were free in matters of religion.”
“And so they came to England ? ”
“Yes. They had not been married many months before they thought it best to leave Spain. Your grandfather, of course, was branded as a heretic, but then he was an Englishman, and so tolerably secure as long as he did not seek to promulgate his heresy. But Leonor was quickly suspected of leaning to her husband's creed, and she, a Spanish subject born and liable to the tyranny of the priests of Rome, might have been seized at any moment and made to suffer for her temerity. Her relations would not denounce her, but they urged her departure. They dreaded the disgrace of a heretic in their family. They were good people, devout people in their way, and they had never been taught to know the truth, so they shunned the light which comes from God Himself, as if it were an emanation of the evil one. They knew no better ; how could they? They only believed what had been impressed upon them from infancy as the only truth of God, and there was no open Bible to teach them any better. So Leonor and her husband quietly got away, and came over to England, to Maryport, where the Vassalls had always lived."
“Maryport in Cumberland, do you mean? Why, that is not so very far from Eaglesmere. I know the way to it, at least part of the way, over Wastdale Head.”
“Yes, it was Maryport in Cumberland, and there your father was born, though not till his parents had been married so many years that they had given up all hope of having any children of their own, and they were even thinking of adopting a little boy they knew of when God sent them their one son Hugh, even as He sent Samuel to childless Hannah. Of course they regarded him as a most precious treasure, and though they were poor they tried to give him what they esteemed as a liberal education. But when the second Hugh-for you are Hugh the third, you know-when he was eight years old his father died-died of cholera in a smitten Lancashire town, whither he had gone on business, and in which the awful pestilence raged fiercely. The boy and his mother were left with no means of support; but she, like a true, good mother, clung to her child, and toiled day and night for him, keeping him at school and doing her very best for him, regardless of the personal sacrifices her efforts naturally entailed. At fourteen he insisted on working for himself. He wanted to go to sea, for the salt was in his blood from his birth, I have heard him say, but his mother would not hear of it, and so he got a situation on land, and the moment he began to earn a small salary he looked forward to the day when he should be able to support his good and honoured mother in comfort, if not in affluence. But, as I told you, she died, and he was left with only himself to struggle for, only himself to depend upon. He was all alone in the world, for he never thought of claiming kindred with his mother's people in Spain; in fact, he knew nothing about them, for all intercourse between the Vassalls and the Martinez had ceased soon after their separation."
“Well, Hugh, your father, having no one to consult, followed the bent of his inclination, and went to sea. But it was full late to commence a seafaring life, and he had received no proper nautical education, neither was there any one to give him a helping hand. He had to make his way under great disadvantages, beginning as a common sailor-boy. Oh, Hughy, what a handsome sailor-boy he must have been! When I saw you this morning with the blue ribbon round your neck I thought of how he must have looked, with the wind in his rich black curls, and his bold, brave eyes looking out across the sea, which he loved—which for many years he called his bride, declaring that he would have no other. You must always love the sea, Hugh, for his sake; but for mineI mean for your mother's sake-you must always dread it !”
“Yes," I said, softly, and almost to myself, “I do love it, and I know now why I loved it; why I have longed so earnestly to see it -why the salt-breezes seemed to welcome me to the shore, why they seemed like messages from somewhere and somebody, I knew