صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

found a more humorous and intelligent companion than Andrew Marvel.

One morning Alice was standing in the library by her favourite summer window that overlooked the courtyard ; the warm spring air came in freshly through its open sashes, and Mop, her little spaniel, had curled himself up on the broad ledge to enjoy the sunshine. Ralph was standing outside in the court, leaning in at the casement, and stroking Mop's silky ears; discoursing meanwhile with Alice of hunts and hawking parties, which he had attended in the royal train. The door opened, and the maiden turned smiling towards the new comer, and so did not see the frown that momentarily darkened Ralph's face as Andrew advanced towards the window. The young men exchanged a formal bow, and Ralph resumed his position, which commanded a view of the pair within.

Andrew looked more downcast than usual, and, after glancing several times at a letter he carried in his hand, he begged Ralph to excuse the incivility, but he would like Mistress Alice to read it. It was from the mother of Mistress Skinner. She was heartbroken at the double loss of friend and daughter, but she wished to see Andrew that day, if he would venture over the fatal river.

“You will go ? ” said Alice, returning the letter.

“Where to ? " asked the Colonel, coming in, ready equipped for a ride.

Andrew answered by putting the letter into his hands, which having read, he too looked grave. Of course you

will
go,

Andrew. The poor lady seems in deep distress ; perhaps your company will be a solace to her. I came to ask if you would ride with us this morning, but duty calls you elsewhere. Alice, away with you, and get on your riding gear. Your jennet has been idle too long, and your cheeks are pale for lack of exercise. Ralph, you, of course, will accompany us."

Alice was in little mood for riding, but she offered no objections, being glad to see her father so cheerful. Just now his spirits were raised, and the heavy cloud was lifted from his brow, for a Parliament had been called, and the hopes of the nation were revived. Alas! these hopes were very short-lived, but while they lasted the Colonel resumed some of his old habits, and planned excursions for the entertainment of his guests.

Andrew waited to see them start, and to assist Alice to mount.

“I hope you will be careful," he said, as he placed her in the saddle. “I know you are a fair horsewoman, but this mare is in her most wayward temper."

“You may trust the lady to my guardianship without any anxiety, sir," said Ralph, in a lofty tone, as he gracefully reined in his own spirited beast.

a

Andrew just raised his eyebrows, and surveyed the elegant figure and dress of the cavalier, then quietly replied, “If the jennet has the same spirit as formerly, she will not brook the control of any other hand than that of her mistress. But in the Colonel's presence, cautions and promises are impertinent, doubtless, on our part. Good day, Mistress Alice; a pleasant ride! Poor little Mop feels as lonely as I do at being left behind."

The spaniel was leaping and whining to reach her hand.

“I pray for your safe return, Master Andrew; but I can never trust that treacherous river again,” said Alice, as she waved an adieu.

He watched them out of the gateway, then returned to the library with the little dog, who soon consoled himself by basking and dozing in the arm sunbeams. Andrew sauntered round the room, picked up a small glove, and examined it; touched a few chords of

a Alice's lute, and finally took his own departure, carrying the glove with him.

The equestrians, meanwhile, had slowly ridden through the town, past the ruins of the Carmelite monastery, through Aldgate, and under the Beverley gate; then, leaving the walls behind, they saw the country spread out before them, in all its spring attire. The maiden forget Andrew's journey for awhile, and took in, through all her senses, the beauty of the scene. The flowers, just bursting from their wintry cells, seemed to laugh in the sunshine at finding themselves so lovely and so free. Alice's mare seemed glad, too. She sniffed up the scent of the flowers, shook her head until the rein was loosened, and her mistress indulged her in a flying gallop, leaving Ralph and the Colonel some paces behind. Ralph had been uneasily watching the little mare's impatient movements since they left home, and wondering how the Colonel dared to trust his timid daughter on her back; but when he saw her going at that pace, and turning round with such a laughing face to her father, his fears vanished. When he overtook Alice, he was looking rather grave, and it occurred to her that perhaps he thought it improper for a maiden to ride so wildly, when in fact it was only her courage that had startled him. On reaching Cottyngham the Colonel proposed that they should stop and rest at Bayard Castle. They crossed the broken drawbridge, and just as they approached a stag bounded across the moat. He had been browsing in what was once the castle garden, now quite a wilderness. Leaving their horses outside, they went into the ruined dining-hall, and sat down on some pieces of timber that had fallen from the roof, where Alice and her father had so often rested on hot summer days.

"You know how this place came to be burnt down, Ralph ? " said the Colonel.

Ralph smiled. “My nurse used to tell a romantic story about it; but how much was sober fact, and how much was legendary, I never knew.”

"The bare story is romantic enough without any fanciful additions,” replied the Colonel. “When King Harry was last in York

. sbire, he heard some one speak of the marvellous beauty of the Lady Wake, of Bayard Castle; so forth with he sent a messenger to Lord Wake saying that he would dine with him the next day. His lordship dared not decline the honour, so to save his credit, and avoid the risk of losing his wife, he set fire to his castle that night; and meeting the king next morning, as he rode forth with his train, humbly apologised, and pointed to the smoking ruins in the distance. Whether Lord Wake wronged his Majesty is not for us to say; hut that he loves his lady no one will question. I have often heard this plain account from Janet, whose mother was bowerwoman to the beauteous dame.”

“My nurse's story was the same in substance; but the gossips have added some interesting details, how that the lady was griev. ously disappointed and vowed she would yet see the king, and was very indignant when she saw her home in flames. I confess I should have sympathised with her ambition to play the hostess to a monarch, and it was very pardonable and womanly to desire to exhibit her charms to a crowned head, especially to so excellent a judge of beauty as Henry VIII."

Alice's face flushed, as it often did when she was going to assert a contrary opinion, and she exclaimed, “I deem your charity overstrained, Master Ralph. To desire to risk her husband's happiness and safety was neither pardonable, nor to be commended, even in a woman." The Colonel looked amused; but Ralph insisted that when Alice

. had seen more of the world she would find that few people judged after that fashion, adding playfully, “You are as strict as a Puritan, Mistress Alice.”

“I don't know why folks should be called Puritans because they admire what is unselfish," returned she; “ but I hope those additions are nothing but a gossips' scandal, and that the beautiful lady was worthy of the sacrifice her husband made for her sake."

“For the glory of womankind we will believe all that is good and noble of her,” said Ralph ; "at any rate, she is fortunate in having so generous a defender of her fair fame. But, not to detract from Lord Wake's praise, I have heard it said, Colonel, that he did not intend the fire to have been so destructive, only the wind changed and carried the flames beyond control."

“Still," said Colonel Lister, glancing round, "the place might be repaired so as to hold a company of soldiers ; just come and look, Ralph.” The two gentlemen went round the castle to ascertain the strength left in the old stones; and Alice sat in the roofless hall, thinking how strange it was that any one should care to mar 80 sweet a story of devoted love,-until her father called her to mount the crumbling staircase and join them in the turret chamber. They lingered to look at the view of the country round, so that it was nearly noon when they left the ruins. Ralph unfastened Alice's horse, and offered his assistance.

“ Thank you," said she; “I need no help save this steppingstone.”

Ralph laid his hand on the mare's neck, as she would have led ber to the stone, saying with an offended air, “If my memory holds good, you suffered the services of Master Andrew this morning."

This was undeniable, and as Alice could not for shame make so marked a distinction, she yielded. As he placed the reins in her hand he looked earnestly into her face, and asked, "What can I do to earn your favour?" To which question she made no reply, but thought within herself as she went along, how strange it was that Ralph could not please her much, though he took such pains to be agreeable ; while Andrew was constantly giving her pleasure, without seeming to take the least trouble.

The little party returned to Hull by the Myton Gate, and caught sight of the river, flashing and dimpling as if it had never heard of storms or billows. Nevertheless, the maiden shuddered ; despite its peaceful ripple, she could not forget that it was a great unrestful grave for one of the best of mankind.

CHAPTER IV.-ALICE'S DIARY.—THE OLD STORY. 1640.—May 9.—Master Andrew talked of going back to Cambridge, but still he delayed going, and whenever we rode into the country,or sailed up the river Hull, my father always invited him to join us. I I do not think Ralph approved, but Andrew's pleasant behaviour and amusing conversation often beguiled him from his taciturn moods ; it is strange he should have an unfriendly feeling towards one so amiable.

One day my father and Ralph were playing at chess in the library, and I had brought my embroidery-frame into my own window nook. Though my back was towards the players, I knew father was losing by his frequent ejaculations of impatience at his bad fortune. Just then the door opened, and Master Andrew's comely face appeared. I held up my finger and glanced towards my father, whose face was full of perplexity. Andrew stepped across the room and smiled when he saw his forlorn condition.

"Your king," said Andrew, " is something like our own gracious

a

[ocr errors]

monarch-driven into a corner, with only one bishop and one knight to back him, and they are in jeopardy.” Father sighed as if his losses were real ones.

Andrew came and looked at my work, until I made so many wrong stitches that I had to beg him to be seated. He brought a stool to my side without speaking, only tying my skein of silk into hard knots. At last he startled me by saying in a low tone, “I came to say that I should not be able to go with you to Welton on Thursday ; I must return to Cambridge to-morrow.”

“ To-morrow!” said I,“so soon !”

“ Yes," he replied, " I wish I could stay here altogether. I am become craven-hearted at the thought of leaving this pleasant place. But I have put off going, day after day, until I see that every week makes it harder to tear myself from your sweet company.” The last few words were said in so meaning a tone,

and in so soft a cadence, that I felt the colour flush in my neck and temples. I could not look up to meet his eyes, so was glad when my father exclaimed, “Well, Andrew, would you believe it? I have won the game. You did not think I should when you sai my desperate condition a few minutes ago. I can't think, Ralph, what led you to make that bad move. Look here, Andrew !"

Andrew went to the table; but Ralph could give no reason for his sudden change of fortune; and father did not seem half to enjoy his triumph; for Ralph is a most skilful player, and has been challenged by the King himself.

“I should like to see how you and Ralph can fight, if you will come to-morrow, Andrew," said my father.

“If Master Hillyard is inclined for another game now, I am willing to show you how soon I can be vanquished; but to-morrow, by this time, I must be on my way to Cambridge.”

“Are you in earnest, Andrew?" asked my father, as much surprised as I had been.

" What has happened to hurry you away so soon?

“Oh, nothing new has happened-only my conscience pricks me more sharply every day that I delay returning to my duty."

• Well, when you talk of duty, I am not the man to bid you put it second to your pleasure. But we shall miss you greatly."

" Thank you, sir,” said Andrew. “I must confess that I have grown almost womanish in my fears for those I leave behind."

“I have felt the same,” replied my father. " It was on returning from my last foreign expedition that I found my wife stricken with the plague ; and now I always feel a dim fear when I come back from a long journey. But the evil we dread seldom happens. We shall have you back again at Yule-tide ; and Andrew Marvel is always welcome underneath this roof, for his father's sake and for

« السابقةمتابعة »