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“ Tribulation patience works,
Hope from thence we borrow;
In dark days of sorrow.” The week which Herbert had resolved should terminate his visit passed away, and two others followed, before he finally left the hospitable roof of his kind friends.
This lengthened stay proved of great benefit to him, both mentally and physically ; for, though he was now well enough to dispense with the professional services of Dr. Gibson, and could not complain of any particular symptom of remaining illness, he still found himself subject to constant fits of unaccountable weariness and lassitude ; and it is possible that had he been left entirely to his own companionship at this time, he would have endured much additional suffering, and perhaps relapsed into a state of severe mental depression.
But Sir Edward tried by every means in his power to dissipate the effects of his recent sickness, and call his thoughts from the melancholy regions of the past. He saw, without being told, that it was often a great effort for Herbert to join them in their walks and drives ; and his kind heart experienced a pang of sorrow as he noted the expression of intense pain which would sometimes overspread his noble countenance even in the midst of his most agreeable occupations.
Still, though the young baronet did much towards alleviating his grief, Lucy and Ella unconsciously did more. They--especially the former-kept him perpetually employed, scarcely allowing him a moment for indulging in those morbid reflections which could only be productive of unnecessary disquietude and bitter regret.
Every day witnessed the planning of some new scheme of pleasure, or the accomplishment of some cherished design ; while Lucy's fertile brain invented a hundred novel kinds of amusement; and the joyous gaiety of her disposition, her sparkling humour, and unfailing flow of girlish spirits, united to render her a truly valuable acquisition in the various excursions they undertook for the purpose of introducing Herbert to some of their numerous friends, besides making him better acquainted with the scenery round about Lanchester; until at length he began almost imperceptibly to recover something of his former cheerfulness and animation.
Occasionally, it is true, the sight of Lady Stanley's placid face, as her eyes rested with mingled complacency and affection upon her children, would nearly unman him, by causing the deep surgings of bygone emotions to revisit his memory so freshly and distinctly that it seemed but yesterday since he too had in like manner been the object of a fond mother's tender regard, and the happy recipient of her devoted love.
And then an unutterable feeling of loneliness would silently steal into his heart, and he longed-oh, how fervently !--for one brief glimpse of that face which was to him as yet the fairest and best beloved of any, and to hear once more her well-remembered voice whispering soft words of loving endearment.
The strange interest with which he regarded her at these times did not escape Lady Stanley's notice; and, though she studiously avoided alluding, either by word or look, to the subject, there was an added tenderness in her manner towards him, and an unwonted gentleness in her tones whenever she addressed him, which proved that her kind heart was touched with sincere compassion for his sufferings.
One evening he felt unusually depressed in spirit.
He had written again and again to his friend Charles Hastings, earnestly imploring him to give him some imformation respecting his mother, and also inclosing several notes to herself; but as he had hitherto received no answer to his communications, he concluded that he too had left England, probably at the same time, and in company with Mr. and Mrs. Seymour. As long as he entertained this persuasion he was comparatively happy, knowing that in the society of the careless, good-humoured young man, whose animated versatility and undaunted perseverance in the pursuit of amusement often infected those around him, the poor lady would feel less keenly the loss of her own son, and become, not reconciled, for that she would never be, nor resigned-years must elapse ere she could submissively acquiesce in the sad fate which had befallen her—but accustomed to the separation.
On the day to which I refer, however, Herbert was undeceived. He had just returned with Sir Edward and the young ladies from a long drive, and was hurrying to his room, when a servant met him, and handing him rather a bulky missive, said, respectfully
• Your own man brought this about half an hour ago, sir, and desired me to give it to you directly I saw you."
" Thank you,” replied Herbert, outwardly composed, though his pulse quickened considerably, and his heart beat with expectation.
Without another word he passed on; but no sooner had he shut himself up in his apartment, than he gazed anxiously at the handwriting, which he instantly recognised as belonging to Mr. Hastings.
With trembling eagerness he tore open the cover, and as he did so several inclosures fell at his feet.
His feelings may be better imagined than described when, on hastily gathering them up, he perceived that they were the very letters he had from time to time written to his mother.
A blank, bewildered look came to his face, and for the space of some minutes he stood vacantly staring before him, apparently incapable of reflection. Theu a low stifled cry of anguish escaped his lips; and, sinking down in a chair, he covered his face with his hands, and tried to still the tempest of grief which had so suddenly arisen within his breast.
Presently he lifted his head, and his countenance, pale, grave, and sad, bore the indisputable impress of acute but patient suffering.
Not until he had counted these sealed letters, glanced briefly at the address inscribed on each, and laid them one by one aside, did Herbert attempt to decipher the contents of Mr. Hastings' closely written epistle, which occupied several sheets of paper; but this done he at length proceeded to read his friend's explanatory communication
with firm compressed lips, and a contraction of the brow most painful to witness.
And while he is thus engaged in perusing the long, rambling, and, in many respects, unsatisfactory, account of what had transpired in his own and Mr Hastings' family since his departure from Mertonsville, I will, instead of inflicting the same task upon my readers, merely inform them that the latter's apparent neglect had been occasioned by illness, and not design.
In falling from his own favourite horse-a beautiful, though fiery and vicious animal, who had once before thrown him with considerable violence—he sustained such serious injuries, that he was taken up for dead, and lay for weeks without being able to think or speak.
As soon as he was sufficiently recovered, he penned a few lines to Mrs. Seymour, according to the direction she had herself given him, enclosing a letter from Herbert.
To this he received no reply; and after waiting a short time longer he wrote again.
Nor was he more fortunate the second time; in consequence of which he hit upon another scheme that he hoped would prove successful.
He was mistaken. Every plan failed; and at last he boldly wrote to Mr. Seymour, saying that as the doctors had recommended him to go abroad for a while he entertained some thoughts of joining them at Constantinople.
The answer soon came—short, polite, but decisive. Mr. Seymour regretted extremely—so he said—that circumstances over which they had no control would unfortunately prevent himself and Mrs. Şeymour from having the pleasure of seeing their dear young friend on his arrival at Constantinople, they being, in fact, about to leave that interesting city.
A postscript was added, to the effect that Mrs. Seymour begged to return unopened the letters which had been sent to her (probably by mistake), and to express a hope that for the future she might be spared the inconvenience of receiving any more such inclosures.
This, then, was the end of his planning; this the result of all the trouble he had taken on his friend's behalf. No wonder that Charles Hastings began to look upon the case as more hopeless than he had at first imagined it to be; and no wonder that Herbert, as he read his discouraging report, and mused upon this fresh instance of Mr. Seymour's implacable disposition, felt his heart sink within him.
A gentle tap at the door disturbed him in the midst of these sorrowful and conflicting thoughts, and with a slight start Herbert dropped the letter, which he still held in his hand, and going slowly forward, mechanically opened it.
· My dear fellow,” laughingly exclaimed Sir Edward-for he it was -stepping inside the room, do you know how late it is? The dinner -but what is the matter ?" he continued, instantly changing his tone from gay to grave, on perceiving that his friend looked very pale; “you are certainly ill.”
“No, no,” said Herbert, trying, though somewhat ineffectually, to conjure up a smile; “I assure you I am quite well, only”—he glanced at the papers, and hastily putting them into his desk, prepared to accompany Sir Edward downstairs—“I have been busily employed, you
see, but that does not of course make my forgetfulness the less inexcusable."
" I think I understand what is wrong," retuned the other, knitting his brows; "you have had bad news. Am I right ?” he asked, gazing kindly and earnestly into his face.
Nothing but what I might have expected,” replied Herbert, speaking as cheerfully as he could. “I will tell you about it by-and-by, and then you can judge for yourself. Now I must go immediately to Lady Stanley, and apologise for my want of punctuality.”
Its vanity and pride ;
For ever crucified !” Had Herbert simply obeyed the dictates of his inclination, he would have preferred absenting himself from Lady Stanley's dinner-table that evening, especially when he found that the usual family party would be augmented by the presence of several guests; but he was so much in the habit of considering what was due to others, rather than what would be the means of contributing to his own pleasure, that he forced back the rising wish almost before it had assumed a definite form in his, mind, and, without betraying any peculiarity in his manner or countenance, exerted himself to sustain his part in the conversation with that calmness and intelligence which had never yet abandoned him.
Still it was an effort-greater perhaps than some of my readers can understand—and we shall scarcely blame him if, as the evening wore away, he witnessed the departure of the last remaining guest with secret satisfaction.
“Now we are alone again,” said Lady Stanley, turning smilingly towards him. “I hope we have not tired you, but it appears to me that you are looking somewhat paler than usual.”
“It is very kind of you to notice my looks,” replied Herbert, with emotion; for the gentle tones of her voice, no less than the glance of almost maternal tenderness which accompanied her words, once more had the effect of bringing all too vividly before him the image of his own passionately loved mother.
“I must leave you for a moment,” returned the lady, who probably guessed whither his thoughts had flown, “as I think I hear Lucy's voice in the hall, and am fearful lest she should suffer from so thoughtlessly exposing herself to the cold night air.”
Having said this, she passed hastily out of the room; and as soon as the door had closed upon her, Herbert, believing himself the only remaining occupant, leaned back in his chair, and heaved an involuntary sigh, an expression of the deepest anguish wandering over his erewhile unruffled features.
He did not know that Ella, instead of having, as he supposed, fol. lowed Lucy and her brother downstairs, was at that moment seated on a low ottoman near himself, quietly arranging a portfolio of en. gravings, while at the same time she was regarding him in mingled surprise and perplexity.
But suddenly an irresistible impulse caused him to turn his head slightly round, and in doing so he encountered her soft eyes fixed full upon him with a world of kindness and sympathy in their expression.
They were instantly withdrawn, however, and the young girl bent her head to conceal her confusion.