صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

intolerable thought of his darling's sorrow. Simon stood by, the tears running down his weather-beaten cheeks; he felt almost the affection of a father for Alice, and he had been almost equally fond and proud of Andrew. He had taught him, when a boy, how to ride and to handle a sword, he had told him long stories of foreign cempaigns, and had himself listened, in later years, to Audrew's droll relations of college adventures, for the young student could make his society as interesting to an old servant as to the learned and polite.

A strange, bright gleam flashed up in Ralph's dark eyes when Simon named his errand, and such a wild, joyful hope sprung up, that when he saw the Colonel's distress, and heard his griefstricken

cry, he blushed at his own thoughts. Could he be so base and selfish as to rejoice at what would cause such exquisite suffering to the woman he loved ? and, remembering Alice's colourless cheek and spiritless movements at dinner that day, Ralph felt more desponding than before. Might not this stroke, coming after such a long and dreary suspense, be a death-blow to her?

“Read that, Ralph," said Lister, at last, picking up the letter and handing it over the table. “ Read it aloud, and see if there is not some loop-hole for hope to creep in."

" Ralph obeyed in a husky voice. The writer, Sir Harry himself, said that he had made every inquiry-according to the Colonel's wish. That after many delays and contradictory reports, it was now proved beyond a doubt that the vessel in which Marvel took a passage foundered in a violent storm soon after it left France, and never reached the Italian shore ; that none of the crew or passengers escaped, and Marvel, like his honoured father, had found a grave in the sea. Vane said that he had been most reluctant to credit this information ; but, having had further reason to believe that there was not the faintest ground for hope, he felt it was only his duty, though a very painful one, to put an end to any lingering hopes that his friends might still entertain. For Mistress Alice he had the tenderest sympathy; but her sorrow was too deep and sacred a thing for him, who was so little known to her, to touch upon; yet, having some knowledge of Marvel's talents, and the delightsomeness of his society, he could understand the distress that these tidings would cause to all who had enjoyed his friendship. He added also that he had sent a trusty person to Huntingdon, to wait upon Marvel's relatives, and inform them of what bad happened. Simon stayed to hear the letter; he had always been a privileged servant, his master's troubles and joys were all his, and the family honour and the family happiness were dear to him as life. When Ralph ceased reading, the old man left the room, shaking his head, and brushing away the tears, mutter

« Thou

ing as he walked along, “Well a day! two of them drowned; the minister so good, and Master Andrew the most blessed youth that ever walked these streets. Mr. Nye is a fine preacher, and talks rarely about God Almighty's justice; but it takes all my stock of faith, and more too, to say it is right to spare useless folks so long, and to let such gracious people be drowned, as if they were worth no more than Fawn's puppies that I put in the river last week. I can't make it out; maybe it is right; only I wish I could see it plainer." Reaching home, he looked into the kitchen, where Lucy stood gossipping with the cook, and tying up some rose-coloured ribbons to adorn her pretty, little, empty head.

My gracious, Simon,” she exclaimed, catching sight of his woebegone countenance, “I do think thy face gets longer than ever ; one would imagine thou hadst been always drinking sour wine."

" And thy face would not look so gay, wench, if thou hadst any heart under those tawdry ribbons, mocking the sweet mistress with thy foolish airs and senseless chatter."

“Get thee gone with thy prating and preaching," said Lucy, tossing her head, and pouting like a scolded child.

As Simon turned away, the cook stepped up to him. hast heard nothing fresh, eh ?"

Come, Simon, tell us if thee knows anything," chimed in Lucy, altering her tone, and trying to look coaxing.

"Aye, aye, thee can be civil enough when it serves thy turn. Womenfolk are always hungry for news, good or bad," and the old man shook them off, and went to the housekeeper's room.

"Ill-natured old clown !" said Lucy, resuming the sulks and the making of her rose-coloured knots. “ Dost really think he had any news, cook ?"

“I'll wager anything he had, for he went straight to Janet's door.”

Well, we shall know pretty soon, and sure I am that it's nothing pleasant that he's got to tell. The house does not need to be any duller than it is nowadays. If it were not for the soldiers making the town so lively, one would die of the mopes.”

“Shame upon you, Lucy!" cried the cook. It's little trouble we have, and think of our poor young mistress, getting as thin as a wraith, and master growing old so fast with all his cares."

“Marry! thou art as sharp as Simon. I'm sorry for them all; but if I were to fret all day long it wouldn't mend matters, and I should get as thin as Mistress Alice, which would not please some one I know.” After this speech Lucy walked out of the kitchen, as much offended with the cook as she had been with the old manservant.

Janet was busy in her room amongst her stores, weighing and

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


compounding small quantities of strong smelling drugs. She seemed too much occupied to notice Simon, and there was nothing unusual in his coming to her room. It was here they spoke of the family affairs that they did not care to discuss before the younger and less attached servants.

“What art doing with all those bottles, Janet ?” he asked, after sitting and watching her for a few minutes.

" Why," said Janet, hesitating, and ihen putting on a very confidential tone, "I will tell thee. It's best to be prepared for everything, and it does seem as if somebody meant to fight, or we shouldn't see so many soldiers; and, indeed, I myself heard Sir William

say that the King must fight now or yield, and that he was not likely to do. If men fight somebody gets hurt, and then medicines and balsams are wanted that can't be mixed up in a hurry. This is a splendid recipe that came from Holland; it was invented by the physician that attended Sir Philip Sidney, and would have cured him without any doubt if it had only been sooner applied.” Janet went on to give the history of the discovery of several famous salves and miraculous powders, until Simon exclaimed with a deep sigh,“ Pity that some wise doctor don't invent a physic to cure sickness of the mind.”

Janet looked him full in the face. “ Wbat now? Thee looks as if thee wanted some such stuff thyself. What is amiss ?”

“Everything goes amiss, I'm thinking," groaned Simon; "and thee may dose Mistress Alice with every drug in thy closet, but it won't make her strong when she reads the letter master got this afternoon from London."

Janet dropped her scales, and knocked over a bottle of precious liquid—of which she took no notice--and came and stood near Simon. “ Thee don't say that Master Andrew is dead ?"

“Yes ; drowned! The ship he sailed in foundered, and every one was lost. Ah! there is master,” as a slow, heavy step was heard crossing the hall. “Poor little thing-now, don't, Janet,

, don't!" for the housekeeper had covered her face with her apron. “ It seems like yesterday when thee brought her down here for us to sec, so small and pretty it never looked likely that she could grow up and have such a big sorrow to bear. If only our dear lady was alive! Hush, Janet, we must keep brave looks now."

But Simon himself had anything but a brave face when at length he heard his master calling Janet to come quickly. She hastened to obey, and Simon followed with trembling steps.

The Colonel had gone straight to the library, where Alice still constantly sat. She had neither work nor book near her, her hands lay idly together in her lap, and she was listlessly leaning her head against the window pane, with an expression of quiet patience about her mouth and brows that told bow thoroughly she was learning her hard lesson. She looked up and greeted her father with the smile that never was wanting for him; but the letter in his hand and his constrained manner instantly alarmed her. Rising from her seat, and straightening her small figure resolutely, she inwardly determined to think of her father, and spare him as much as possible. “I know

you have tidings for me, father; may I not see that ?" and she held out her hand for the letter. “ Or perhaps you will tell me," she added, steadying herself by a chair, and feeling that she had no power to read.

Her father came and folded her in his strong arms, caressing her with unspeakable tenderness.

“Tell me all, father; do not fear. I have you left," whispered Alice.

“My child, my precious Alice, your father is, indeed, all that is left you now. May the Lord help me to comfort you !”

But Alice did not need comfort just then, for she lay senseless in his arms. She was carried to her own room, and it was some days before she read Vane's letter, and knew the supposed fate of her lover.

CHAPTER XXI.—THE SECOND CALL TO SURRENDER. Alice did not die. The human heart seems to have unlimited capacities for enduring pain-that most unfathomable thing in our natures. Our joys we may compass, ecstacy and rapture are shortlived, and we soon experience satiety, for there are so few things that continue to give sensible feelings of pleasure-the

"Sweets grown common lose their dear delight." In sorrow we feel our immortality: it is a sea that no creature has ever sounded, a country that no one ever quite explored, save One, who knows the length, and breadth, and depth of all agony and woe. It is true that bodily pain, however acute, is soon forgotten, and requires a strong effort of memory and considerable imagination to bring a distinct recollection of it back again ; but mental suffering leaves deep scars, wounds that cannot be touched in after years without reviving some portion of the former pain.

But it takes very much to break a young heart, and Alice lived -scarred as deeply as any poor maiden could be; yet she did not turn away from the consolations offered to her, nor did she forget the blessings still left. For several weeks physical weakness and the sudden reaction after such a long season of doubt and apprehension prostrated her, and she lay on her couch helpless as an infant.

The Colonel spent every moment that he could spare from his

duties beside Alice's sick-bed, but he carefully avoided disturbing her mind by referring to the rapid and momentous changes that were taking place abroad, and Alice never asked a question about public matters. But when a month had passed, and still her strength did not appear to return, the physician bade them discuss the most stirring events of the day in her presence. The plan was successful. She was roused up to take an interest in what was happening, and reproached herself for dwelling exclusively on her own sorrow. Slowly and almost imperceptibly at first, she began to regain her strength, to gather up her scattered senses, and waken up her deadened faculties; but it required some actual necessity for exertion before Alice could shake off her dread of returning to ordinary duties, and resuming her old place in the family.

Kate, the most devoted of cousins, was reading to the invalid one morning from the book that Kate had once thought so dull, but which she was learning to appreciate, in Alice's sick chamber. The latter was reclining on a low couch, listening with closed eyes to the mysterious revelations of St. John; and Kate, glancing up and thinking her cousin was asleep, closed the Bible, and sat looking at the weary face that rested on the cushions.

We have never attempted to describe Alice, because, with Marvel, we say that her greatest beauty was something that could not be defined ; and Rembrandt, like her poet lover, had felt the same difficulty when he painted her portrait. But with a more delicate touch than usually characterised that artist's work, he had caught and fastened on the canvass something of that subtle charm that all felt, but none could explain. We might say that the artist has left us the picture of a lovely, spiritual face,' with dark blue eyes, with hair of golden brown, and a little, graceful form that lacked no dignity : but what idea would this convey ? each reader would see a different Alice Lister, so let our Hull maiden be her own limner.

The window of the chamber looked into High Street, and from the pavement below could be heard the footsteps of the passers-by, and more distinctly still, the quick clatter of horses' feet. Gradually these sounds increased, eager voices were heard, and then the regular march of a company of soldiers through the streets. Alice opened her eyes wide and sat up, intently listening to every sound, while Kate looked out of the casement.

“What is it? Can you hear what the people say, Kate ?"

“They are saying something about a ship full of arms that is in the river. The men of your father's company seem to be gathering together. Ah! there goes Ralph; he looked up and smiled, but he is very much excited.”

“Is there going to be any fighting, Kate? Is my father going

[ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »