صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

'I fear some unmeaning remarks of Miss Finch have upset Gertrude,' said Maud, unclasping two magnificent bracelets Sir Ayling had given her.

'Oh, about that Mr. Vere, I believe said Lady Templeton ; and Gertrude winced at the relative pronoun and her mother's more than usually cutting tone. I have read, truly, somewhere, once let a woman 66 fancy a man to be a hero, a martyr, a patriot, or any other uncomfortable celebrity certain to make a bad husband, and she will be ready to throw herself at his head, just as if such is not the very last man in the world she ought to select."'

'I am not aware, mamma, that Mr. Vere of the Eighth is either a hero or a martyr,' replied Gertrude, with difficulty restraining her tears, and seeming still to hear the wheels that bore away her beloved little sister; nor have I selected him for a husband.'

'Those are the wisest words you have uttered for some time, my dear. Marriage may be the affair of a lifetime, even between couples with some disparity in their years, as there is in those of Rosamund and Sir Ayling; but his settlements were princely, princely,' added Lady Templeton, fanning herself; ' and next time we know not what may happen-our Rosamund may choose for herself. Indeed, Sir Ascot Softeigh, after he had taken too much champagne, said almost as much to me this morning.'

'For such a remark his name should be struck off our lists,' said Gertrude, thinking the while how heartless the speech of her mother


Long, long years might follow that wedding; but for Rosamund, not for Sir Ayling Aldwinkle certainly. It was a marriage that for Rosamund had no future; it

could only be some years of calm misery, vacuity, and then perhaps, with all the princely settlements,' perhaps an aimless and hopeless widowhood.



IN preference to the Continent, where they were certain to meet every one they knew, the newlywedded pair proceeded by train to the country seat of Sir Ayling, the carriage and horses being all transferred to the trucks, as if by magic, at St. Pancras.

'No good can come of such a marriage' said the most gentle and charitable; while the malevolent and the gossip-loving echoed the words to the full, but in a different spirit, and with very different anticipations.

And charming looked the beautiful, though touchingly pale, girl in her travelling dress, which was so suited to her blonde complexion and golden-tinted hair, pearlgray silk, with a bonnet so tiny that it seemed to consist of a single feather formed into a circle, and the white veil of which she kept tied tightly under her chin-too tightly Sir Ayling thought.

Of his words and caresses she was almost oblivious; she heard the former and shrinkingly endured the latter, as one in a horrible dream; while the coupé in which they were seated sped on with the train, in a second-class carriage of which, no doubt, his valets and her maid were having their own servants'-hall jokes over the whole affair.

Rosamund felt as if all the world were one mass of unreality. Married-all was over-there could be no reprieve but death-no going back now. The thought-the

conviction-terrified and stunned


'Ah,' she thought, 'how true it is that we cannot serve God and Mammon; and at the altar of the latter most cruelly has my life been laid down to-day! Plays and novels always close with a wedding, as if life ended there. Oh, would that it did, so far as I am concerned !'

But ever before her was the thought of the grim and receding future-the horrible, cheerless, joyless, unloved, and unloving future.

Rosamund was a curious compound, and, with all her hoidenish love of gaiety, was wont to spend hours in the old shady library at Ringwood Hall, among books antique, quaint, and forgotten now. There the somewhat parallel sorrows of Julia de Roubigne had made a deep impression upon the girl, as the matrimonial net was being woven around her; and now, when shrinking from Sir Ayling's arm and side, she recalled a letter, where the heroine writes to her friend: 'Maria, in my hours of visionary indulgence, I have often painted to myself one-no matter whomcomforting me amidst the distresses which misfortune had laid upon me. I have smiled upon him through my tears-tears not of anguish, but of tenderness; our children were playing around us, unconscious of misfortune; we taught them to be humble and be happy ; our little shed was reserved to us, and their smiles to cheer it. I have imagined the luxury of such a scene, and affliction became a part of my dream of happiness.'

But of the latter there could be none in store for Rosamund, and her thoughts were sad and terrible for an enthusiastic young girl on her marriage day; yet she made a resolute attempt to appear composed and to listen to Sir Ayling, who, perceiving that she did recoil

from his blandishments, as he flattered himself, in childish or girlish fear, was good-natured enough to attempt to interest her in the passing objects-spires, villages, woodlands, and uplands-now steeped in all the golden glory of an August sun, while ever and anon he looked at his watch and calculated to a nicety the time at which they must reach the station and quit the train for Winklestoke.

But ever and always, out of the chaos of her thoughts and of all that seemed to gather round her, came the strange face and wistful eyes of the woman she had seen in the church, and the general expression of whose sharp features had an unwarrantable and most unpleasant fascination for Rosamund, who strove not to think about her.

Once again they were in a wellhung and luxuriously cushioned family carriage, with its four gray high-steppers in their flashing silver harness, followed by a mailcart with all their luggage. The well-wooded roads were swiftly traversed in the deepening twilight; ere long the lodge-gates of Winklestoke were past, and the preparations there to welcome home the bride' brought neither joy nor satisfaction to the suffering heart of Rosamund; but they were all to be undergone nevertheless.


There were the cheers of the tenantry, the shouts of the Giles Chawbacons and Timothy Tugmuttons in canvas frocks and hobnailed shoes; the dreadful music discoursed by the band of the Aldwinkle Rifle Volunteers on the lawn; an address, delivered by a steward, butler, or some one in black, at a triumphal arch of evergreens, while the village bells chimed pleasantly in the distance; and then Sir Ayling handed his bride from the depths of the

carriage at the open door of a stately old English mansion, where the now world-weary girl became an object of intense interest, admiration, and too evidently some little commiseration to the whole household assembled in the hall, through which she had to pass, between two lines of them facing inwards, all curtsying or bowing, their faces wreathed in smiles got up for the occasion.

Undoubtedly Winklestoke looked like what it really was, a magnificent old mansion, to the aching eyes of Rosamund, as the carriage, with its stately high-steppers, swept up to the perron that led to the grand entrance, whence a flood of warm light seemed to gush into the evening outside. It was Tudoresque, and somewhat in the style of Ringwood Hall, but twice its size, and had in its substructure some fragments of the Norman castle, built upon the site of the old Stoke or wooden dwelling of the Saxon Winkles of Aldwinkle.

The great stone staircase reminded Rosamund of Hampton Court, especially as it was all frescoed by the brush of the same decorator who adorned that palace, Antonio Verrio, who died in the year of the Union, 1707, and whose florid designs-gods, goddesses, fruit, flowers-covered the walls pell-mell. This staircase was vast in size and extent, and its shadows would have been ghostly, but for the flood of light from a vast chandelier, which pervaded every part of it.

Off it opened a stone flagged hall, having a mighty oaken table and high square-backed chairs, in which old Noll had sat with Monk, Hesilrig, and others, when on the march to Scotland, greatly to the disgust of the then lord of Winklestoke. On the walls were Vandykes, Lelys, and so forth, in faded frames. In other rooms was fur

niture of Queen Anne's dayssettles whereon Addison might have lounged, or Clarissa Harlowe have graciously accorded the tips of her fairy fingers to Sir Charles Grandison, while kneeling b. fore her 'refulgent magnificence; and there were brass-bound escritoires, at which she might have penned her replies to her solemn, distant, and courteous adorer. On every hand there seemed to open long suites of old-fashioned rooms, panelled with oak, hung with pictures and heavy draperies.

Everything was stately and grand, and bore the impress of rank and family; but as the girl looked wearily around her she thought she should have preferred 'the shed' of Julia de Roubigne better, if the said dwelling, however humble, were to be shared with Kyrle Desborough.

While Sir Ayling repaired to the stately dining-room, where a paragon of respectable butlers poured out some refreshing beverage for his delectation and mumbled his congratulations, Rosamund was conducted by her maid to the rooms that were prepared for her; and notwithstanding all that she had seen and been accustomed to in London and elsewhere, their luxury, splendour, and the general atmosphere of wealth and taste that pervaded them could not fail to impress the girl, all weary and heart-stricken though she was.

Wax candles in blue Sèvres branches lighted the gilt tables and carved mantelpieces of white marble, which were exquisitely garlanded with flowers. No fires were in the grates, the month being August, but they were marvels of elegance and polished steel, and filled with artificial flowers. The draperies were of the most delicate satin, the boudoir and dressing-room were miracles of taste and elaboration, and the low

Arabian bed looked as if meant for the bride of Aladdin, save that it had around it rugs that were pure, white, and soft as the bosom of a swan, the softest and downiest that Siberia could furnish.

Her maid deposited Rosamund's magnificent morocco'travelling-bag, and hastened to relieve her of her shawl, when the girl, whose whole soul at that moment was longing for the voice, the presence, and the kiss of her sister Gertrude, said, so petulantly and half imperiously, as if now thoroughly hunted and worried,

'Leave me, please, for a little time; when I require you I will ring.'

On this the girl curtsied and withdrew, to make her report in the servants' hall, and compare notes with the gossiping and now fairly-wondering denizens of that locality, to whom the extreme youth of the bride was a source of immense speculation; so much so that even her beauty was forgotten amid it, by the women at least.

But the moment the girl left her, and Rosamund found herself alone, the kind of false excitement which had sustained her since the morning, since the time she had been in the hands of fashionable modistes and bridesmaids, now completely gave way; the room swam round her, she sank upon a sofa, and felt as if she were dying.

And with a prayer in her heart and on her pallid lips, she earnestly hoped she was so, as sight and sound left her and she became perfectly insensible.

Half an hour, an hour, passed away; the bridegroom fidgeted about the dining-room, sipping some Chablis from time to time, and comparing his watch with the great ormolu clock above the mantelpiece.

Lady-Lady Aldwinkle is very long. What can detain her thus?' he muttered aloud. 'Oh, doubtless

her maid is giving a finishing touch for the fiftieth time to some part of her costume. Ah, the little rogue is anxious to please me after all !'

And then the old fellow chuckled as he surveyed the remains of what had undeniably been a handsome young face some forty years ago, and thought what ‘a sad dog' he was yet.

At last he rang the bell and desired the maid, a little impatiently, to see after her mistress, who he was confounded to find had been all this time in her room alone.

The abigail knocked again and again without receiving the faintest response.

'She's asleep!' thought the girl, opening the door softly; and how deadly pale she looks!' she added, as she saw the breathless figure recumbent on the sofa, with a face white as Carrara marble reposing on an outstretched arm.

Something of indefinable awe and dread crept over the girl, or rather superseded surprise; for she thought that she would not have slept or been 'taken like this' on her marriage night. She drew nearer, and her dread deepened. The dark lashes lay still and motionless on the marble cheek, without the slightest quiver or flicker, and the pale face looked painfully, terribly still in its marble-like repose.

A piercing shriek escaped the girl, who rushed from the apartment, and came flying like a scared bird down the grand staircase.

'Dead-dead-my mistress is


Such was the wild cry with which she startled the household of Winklestoke, inspiring a panic of horror in the hearts of all; but certainly in none more than poor old Sir Ayling, who became almost palsied with terror.

Selfish, feeble, and superstitious, with weakness that was childish and unpardonable in his horror of

a dead thing, this old man, so near his own grave, dared not go near her, touch her, or look upon her, the lovely bride of that auspicious morning, and around whose shrinking form his lean arm had been lovingly the live-long day; and a tumult of terrible and aggravating, rather than sorrowful, thoughts swept over him.

Ill, dying, dead, or what, upon her bridal night! If the story got abroad, as it must do, Sir Ayling Aldwinkle, who loathed scenes, worry, speculations, and explanations, and all that sort of thing,' instinctively and nervously beheld, with horrible anticipation, the newspaper paragraphs, the post-mortem examination, and the coroner's inquest, with all its morbid elucidations, evidence, pros and cons, learned vulgarity, and the prodigious excitement and esclandre of the whole affair in 'society,' that stupendous bugbear.

Mounted messengers scoured all the district for doctors; the telegraphs to London and elsewhere were set to work. Sir Ayling drained the last of his Chablis, and sat in an armchair, polishing his bald head with a white-silk handkerchief, and looking the picture of well-bred misery and woe as the night of his marriage-that most terrible night-wore on.


VERE'S REFLECTIONS. Ar the time of the ill-omened marriage we have just related, either Miss Finch or her brother Toby had greatly exaggerated, or at least anticipated, the state of affairs at Mango Garden.

Vere certainly did avail himself of the old planter's (Mr. Bellingham's) hospitality to remain in his mansion on the night of the storm; and on that occasion, Vere, though

as a soldier accustomed usually to be able to sleep anywhere and with a total indifference as to his surroundings, either from the closeness of the atmosphere or the chatter of the negroes outside and other external sounds, found sleep almost impossible, and for hours he gave way to reverie, in which thoughts of Gertrude, of Virginia, of Moreno and the discontented blacks, and then of Gertrude, again and again occurred to him.

The moon was shining brightly above the mountains, and at such a time the negroes are fond of sitting up the greater part of the night in the verandahs, conversing and telling 'nancy stories,'-i.e. tales of ghosts and hobgoblins,-or singing to the banjo, tambourine, and pipe; but on this night, as there was a strong infusion of politics in the subjects of conversation, they were gesticulating violently, and chattering like so many monkeys-Quashy, the valet, taking the lead in everything, and being daringly noisy. And so, with their strange voices and occasional bursts of savage-like laughter in his ears, while watching the red fireflies flashing about near the open spars of the green jalousies, Vere thought with some surprise over the pleasant quarters in which he so suddenly found himself.

Virginia Bellingham was undoubtedly beautiful, and her image occurred to him again and again. Was this the effect of fancy, or the jolly planter's heady Madeira?

'Gertrude' he muttered, 'God knows that from my heart I now wish that I had never seen-never, never known-you! But hearts don't break nowadays.'

Brooding, he thought over all the stories he had heard, after the small hours at mess or elsewhere, told in a maudlin way, when brandypawnee and mild weeds' succeeded the wine, by fellows who became

« السابقةمتابعة »